The Past Heresies of Arminianism, Appolinarianism, and More - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonHistorical Theology Articles
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The most prevalent and destructive heresy of the church today is Arminianism. This heresy began in the garden of Eden under the subtle guise of Satan’s ploy to destroy the proper relationship between God and man. Satan tempted Eve with the words, “You shall be like God…” Arminianism is simply this old lie redressed in new clothes.
James Arminius, which is his Latin derivation, (Jacobus Harmenzoon is his name in Dutch) began conscientiously teaching his unorthodox doctrine in the Universities of Europe during the late 1590’s. Though he vowed to uphold the university’s teachings following the Belgic Confession, he secretly, and maliciously, passed out papers to his students that opposed the Bible’s teaching on the will, election, reprobation, predestination, providence and other doctrines. His teachings consisted in a summary of 5 points which bore direct witness against the last 1500 years of orthodox teaching, and completely against Biblical truth. He taught: 1) That though the fall affected man, it did not affect him completely to render him spiritually helpless. 2) That God based His election of people to salvation in Christ on foreseeing their faith down through the halls of time. Those who were seen as having faith in Christ, were elected. 3) That Christ died for all men universally, making the possibility of salvation open to all if they would have faith. 4) That the Holy Spirit’s work in regeneration could be resisted. That any man could reject the saving work of grace on his heart and resist the Spirit by his own free will. 5) That the believer can, by unbelief, fall from grace, and lose his salvation.
As a result of the teachings of Arminius over the next few year (which grew in popularity especially among the unregenerate), the Netherlands’ churches formed a council in the city of Dort in 1618 which was made up of many elders, pastors and doctors from all over Europe. They met specifically to challenge and examine the teachings of Arminius, who had recently died, but had many followers called the Remonstrants (the Opposers). His followers were summoned before the council, and upon examination, his teachings were condemned and outlawed. Consequently the Remonstrants were banished from the country, and ejected from their pulpits to secure more orthodox pastors and teachers. In 1620 an official statement was released outlining 5 Biblical points as a rebuttal. The Synod drafted the response later to be called T.U.L.I.P. (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the saints.) It simply reiterated the same teachings that the church propagated since the time of the early church fathers, and up until that day.
When heresy enters the church, it takes a great deal of time to be rid of it. It is the intention of this tract to briefly show that Arminianism does not teach what the Bible teaches. In all truthfulness, Arminianism teaches the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches, and purports another Gospel. If Arminianism represents another Gospel and another Jesus, and most of Christendom believes this other Gospel, then the importance of this short tract becomes spiritually crucial.
We will look at the Bible and examine it against Arminianism through a series of 4 brief propositions and a concluding synopsis.
Proposition 1. The Bible teaches that all men have completely fallen in Adam and are at enmity with God at conception. Genesis 6:5 states, “And the Lord saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intent and thought of his heart was only evil continually.” Romans 3:1, “There is no one good no not one…” Psalm 51:5, “In sin my mother conceived me.”
Arminianism teaches that all men have fallen in Adam, but not completely—only in part. Arminius could not give up the idea that man has lost his will to do good before God. Genesis 6:5 demonstrates that man cannot do good as it refers to man’s heart as wicked upon “every intent.” Arminianism teaches, then, that man is not completely sinful, and that he may deem himself capable of good works. This denies Romans 3:1, “There is no one who does good, no not one.” Arminianism is against the Bible on this point and ties to make man greater than he is.
Proposition 2: The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over all things, even the hearts of men. Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” God is sovereign over every aspect of the created universe. Even the king’s heart is under His complete control. Romans 9:18, “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” God softens some hearts and hardens others. His will is accomplished in every creature, whether to save them and show His mercy to them, or to pass over them, and leave them in their sin. He changes the heart of those he will save, and passes over others hardening them in their sin.
Arminianism teaches that God is not sovereign over the entirety of the created order. It teaches that men may frustrate God’s plan, resist the Holy Spirit, and reject God even if God comes to them to change their heart by His grace. Arminianism places the sovereign control of a human being’s life, not in the hands of the Creator, but in the hands of the creature. Man has the final say on whether he will allow God to work in him or not.
Proposition 3: Christ came to die for the sins of his own people (his sheep, his church, his elect) and not all men, ensuring their salvation wholly upon his merit and his death. Ephesians 5:25 states, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Jesus died for His church. He did not come to ransom all men, for if he came to die for all men, and he is the Savior, then all men would be saved just because he dies for “all”. But Acts 20:28 says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Jesus purchased the church, not the whole world. His church are the souls of his own people. Since he died for them, they will be saved, for his atoning death actually procures and seals their salvation. If Jesus has died for a soul, that soul shall be saved because of what Christ did alone.
Arminianism teaches that Christ did not save any man in particular, but that he died for the whole world and the possibility that they may be saved. In reality that makes the death of Christ of no affect. It would mean Jesus died on the cross he did not save a single person. His death really did nothing concretely, but only hypothetically. The Arminian would say that Christ’s death was a hypothetical atonement. Thus, the Arminian does not believe Christ is really the Savior, for if Jesus died for all men, then all would be saved. The Arminian says that the cross does not become effective until man makes a choice to believe in the work of Christ. This places salvation in the hands of men rather than on Christ. That would mean Christ ceases to be the Savior, and the will of man becomes the all determining factor in salvation. We then see that man becomes the “savior” instead of Christ
Proposition 4: The Bible teaches that once a man is saved through the atoning death of Christ, he cannot be anything but saved and will persevere to the end through the power and help of the Spirit of God. Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” John 19:30, “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” The Scriptures teach that when Christ dies for an individual, he will be saved. God begins the work in the believer, and finishes that work. Through Christ’s finished work of redemption on the cross, and the work of the Holy Spirit, God applies it to all those whom he died for. Part of this application consists in preserving the sinner in grace until the day of redemption. This does not mean the Bible teaches perseverance of the sinner—that the sinner may still continue in his sin but be preserved—certainly not. The change wrought by the application of the cross pushes the sinner to good works before God. God is the one who motions us and keeps us upon the straight and narrow path. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” Jesus is the Author (He begins it in us) and the Finisher (he completes what he has begun) of our faith.
Arminianism teaches that man can fall away from God even after he has been regenerated and saved by the work of Christ. Again, this places the work of salvation in the hands of man. And if this doctrine were really true, and man examined his life as he ought, he would find himself falling in and out of grace every other second because he does not please the Lord with his whole heart at any time. Man can choose to walk away from salvation whenever he desires. Man, again, and not God, is the one dictating the terms of salvation.
Concluding exhortation: Arminianism teaches that, 1) man is not completely sinful, 2) that God is not really sovereign over all His creation, 3) that Christ does not really save anyone from his death on the cross, 4) that man can resist the pouring out of grace by the Holy Spirit and reject salvation even after grace has been introduced to him, and 5) that the work of Christ can ultimately be discarded and salvation lost even after one believes on Christ. What error! The devil tempted Eve, and Eve tempted Adam, and Adam fell for the very same doctrine the Arminians propagate today: man can be ultimately in control—man can be like God. The irony of this is that the Arminian “god” is not really in control, and the Arminian Christ does not really have any power to save. Why then would anyone want to be like the impotent “god” which Arminius propagated? Arminians believe sincerely that they teach the Gospel, but they really teach a different one. Sincerity does not mean what you believe is true. Paul states in Galatians 1:9, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” Paul does not say that those who preach a false Gospel will be forgiven when they die, he says they will be eternally lost and tormented among the damned of hell. How important is it then to have a right understanding of the Bible?
Arminianism is not the Gospel of the Bible. It is a grand delusion of the depraved mind. It is a damning heresy for those who continue in it defending it as the truth. Arminians believe that their faith is the determining factor of salvation, and they then treat Christ as the “cosmic bell hop” who caters to their every whim and fancy. Man is the sovereign and Christ is the lackey. In doing so, they have denied Christ, as Jude says in v. 4, as our only Sovereign and Lord. They have propagated a false view of God, of salvation, of grace, and of the redeeming work of the cross.
If you are an Arminian, and have read this tract, you are now in grave danger. If you reject the biblical teachings about God and Christ held herein, you then reject the God of the Bible, and you reject his Son. You then damn yourself for your unbelief in the truth about Christ and his work. You cannot believe in a fabricated “god.” You must take God at His Word. He has revealed the truth to you. If you reject it, you reject the sweetest doctrines of His pure grace. If you think nothing more about it these doctrines, and consequently stay complacent in your own beliefs, you will not only be damned for your heresy and false gospel, but you will be tormented with even greater punishment because you have gained a greater understanding and light about God. If you do not understand what has been said, then continue to wrestle with it. Wrestle until you understand it. And if you do believe what has been said, ponder continually how wonderful God is in saving you.
What is Easy Believism?
You might hear the “preacher” at the end of the sermon say “All heads bowed and all eyes closed…” You may hear him say, “If you want to make a decision for Christ, then come down to the alter and…” You may be using “Evangelism Explosion” while witnessing to a friend and say, “Now just pray this prayer with me…” It may be that you yourself have filled out a visitors card at church last week, and it read, “If you accept the Lord Jesus Christ today then check this box…”, and so you did. These are all roads which lead to what we call “Easy Believism”.
Mainstream Christianity today is built upon the past 100-150 years. It does not reach into the depths of the Reformation, or into the heart of Augustinian theology, or even into the Pauline Epistles or the Gospel of the first century. Rather, it is following the theological practice and doctrines of Charles Finney, and arch-heretics of sound doctrine, instead of embracing the teachings of Jesus Christ.
If we lived 350 years ago, and we believed that all it took was a prayer of confession, or a check box on a church visitor card, or a walk down the sawdust trail to the altar to “get saved” and “accept Christ”, we would be standing in front of a Synod as Arminianism did, and would tried for heresy. Could you imagine a church today getting together to put your pastor on trial because he believed that a person could be saved if he accepted the Lord Jesus? You may think it preposterous, but the Bible never states that we are to “accept Christ”. We are called to “believe”, “trust”, “receive”, and the like, but never “accept”. “Accepting” places the ball on our side of the court and gives us the “opportunity to accept or reject” Jesus as our Savior. Where does the Bible say this? Jesus never “invites” us to accept him into our hearts, rather, He commands men everywhere to repent. Jesus never, ever, asked if anyone wants to “accept” Him. He commands they believe in Him.
To define “easy believism” would be to say this: that a person may make a confession that he or she believes that Jesus Christ died for their sins, and upon that confession alone, would be saved. By the mere act of walking the aisle so everyone could see, or checking off a box on an “invitation” to the Gospel card in a church, a person would be saved. People would say that he or she had made a profession of faith and upon that profession the promises of the Gospel are true.
It is true that one must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. It is not by Buddha, Mohamed, Krishna, or any other false prophet or false religion will any man be saved. So it is at least commendable that “Jesus” is the center of the invitation given at a church meeting or upon a witnessing venture. But the whole scheme of the invitation system is unfounded biblically, and easy believism is nothing more than a Satanic ploy to undermine the Gospel and cause people to be secure in themselves rather than Jesus Christ. They become secure that they have believed, or that they have walked the isle, or that they have marked the box with a check, rather than on the saving work of Christ. It may seem like a “semantic” game I am playing– but it is no game; it is not a matter of semantics. It is wholly a matter of the essence of the Gospel.
Charles Finney made this “decision” popular. He said that any man could believe in Jesus Christ simply by being convinced through a sound argument. It did not take the regenerating power of the Spirit of God to change a man, a man could change himself. He, along with Pelagius of olden days, would not believe that God would tell a man he must believe without giving him the proper moral and intellectual equipment to do that very thing. Finney made the “sawdust” trail popular when he would arrange a “tent” meeting and they would laden the ground with sawdust along the center aisle leading up to the pulpit because of muddy conditions. Finney would beckon and call the sinner to repent, and the sign that the sinner had repented would be his open testimony of confession, just as the Lord said “come to me”, so that the public witness would “prove” the conversion. This was called the “seat of decision”. Subsequently, the sinner may fall away a week or two later, which did not disprove the conversion, but just demonstrate weak faith. Finney, along with Wesley, Pelagius and Arminius, would say that not only is it easy to believe, but is it easily lost through a “heinous” and repeated sin as well.
To understand conversion biblically, it would be best to chose a particular verse which is often used by preachers and teachers to convey the idea of a “pray a prayer and your saved” theology–easy believism. Let us look at one verse used commonly: Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This verse is quoted, an invitation is given, and the plea to Easy Believism begins. The preacher may repeat the verse stating how simple it is to come to Jesus. All you have to do is come to Him, walk that aisle, and you are saved.
First, let us quote the whole context, Matthew 11:28-29, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” It is not enough to “proof” text the Bible and quote verses which seem to say one thing without taking a consideration of the whole. One must use all of Scripture to interpret Scripture.
Second, who are the recipients of the message? Jesus addresses the recipients. They are people who are under “labor” and are “heavy laden”. They are people who are needing rest. This is a picture of an overloaded slave who is looking for rest. They are desiring to rid themselves of a terrible burden which they have, and that they are laboring under. Jesus always reached out to those who were lowly and burdened with sin (Matthew 9:35). Jesus even told the Pharisees that he came for those who were sick in their souls (Luke 5:31-32). Jesus is speaking, not to everyone there, like the Pharisee who was “righteous” but his Gospel declaration was aimed at those who were distressed over the state of their souls, and those who knew they needed a Savior. Jesus’ words would have been great comfort to them, unlike the Pharisee who just hated him all the more.
Third, we must see that there are 3 things required in this declaration of the Gospel. 1) Come unto me, 2) Take my yoke upon you, and 3) and learn from me. Jesus requires 3 things to be done. It is not simply to “come” to Jesus. You must also learn of Him and you must take up His yoke. These are requirements. Jesus does declare that the lowly of soul comes to Him, yet this is not all He does. He tells them to “take his yoke on them”. What does it mean to “take a yoke”? A yoke is something which a slave would have to a master. Here, it is a receiving of Jesus’ yoke upon those who wish to come after him. Jesus spoke much of the yoke people were to take up. He said in Luke 14:25-26, “And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”” A person cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ unless he gives himself up to Jesus. He must go so far as to have all his affection to Christ. There is no room in Jesus’ kingdom for those who would love him and another at the same time. The “yoke” is the complete and utter giving over of one’s self to Jesus. In continuing with that verse, Luke 14:27 says, “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” There is an engaging here which causes the disciple to bear a cross. It is not a mere coming, but a bearing as well. Then in verse 28 he says, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” And there is also a counting the cost to this yoke as well. One must understand and see the yoke, desire to have it, be sure he will go through with it, and count the cost of following Jesus.
Now it is not just that Jesus wants a yoke to be taken, but also requires another thing: “learn from me…” Learning from Jesus means heeding what he teaches. It is a following in the teachings of Christ. If you do not follow the things said by the Lord, you are not a disciple. Luke 6:46 says, “Why do you call me Lord and do not do the things which I say?” There must be an ever learning to be a disciple. It means keeping the commandments. The commandments of the Lord are not burdensome to those who have a lowly heart. 1 John 5:2-3 states, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” Jesus knows you love him by keeping his commandments. And his commandments are a delight to keep because Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light. The lowly heart loves to follow the Lord in all he says.
Now in saying all of this, when the stadium is packed and Billy Graham gives the invitation to the masses to come and accept the Lord, where is his theology coming from? When preacher after preacher beckons the people to come to the altar, where are they getting their theology from? Jesus is not asking for the multitudes to come publicly and show forth a profession of faith, check a box on a card and go home assured of their salvation. Rather, he is setting the requirements up for those who are lowly of heart. These are those whom the Spirit of the Lord have regenerated. These are those whom He has given a lowly heart so they can respond. Jesus is simply declaring the Gospel message to the regenerate so they will hear the message with “ears to hear” and a heart to respond. Acts 16:14, “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” Paul preached, just as Jesus preached, and Lydia believed. Why? Her heart was opened. She was not persuaded upon a good argument alone, God had to change her heart. Those who heard Jesus were no different. Those whom the Lord had changed heard the message because they were prepared to hear it. God has given them an open heart to hear it. And if one were to say that God gives everyone an open heart, then why did not all believe?
Easy believism is not true. A man cannot just “come”, without learning of Christ or take up His yoke. They cannot “accept” and be done with it. Easy believism is not the Gospel. It is a cheap counterfeit. It is not even a good argument! It is not convincing. It is not biblical. It is a false angle of the Gospel and heresy. And those who propagate it will suffer for propagating it: Galatians 1:10, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”
The birth date for Arius, the North African priest who gave his name to one of Christianity’s most troublesome schisms, is uncertain. He seems to have been born in Libya. He was in all probability a pupil of Lucien of Antioch. During the bishopric of Peter of Alexandria (300-311) Arius was made a deacon in that city and began the Stormy pastoral career which is known to history. He was in rapid succession excommunicated for his association with the Melitians, restored by Achillas, Bishop of Alexandria (311-12), and given priestly orders and the church of Baucalis. Sometime between 318 and 323 Arius came into conflict with Bishop Alexander over the nature of Christ. In a confusing series of synods a truce was attempted between adherents of Alexander and followers of Arius; in March Of 324 Alexander convened a provincial synod which acknowledged the truce but anathematized Arius. Arius responded with his publication of Thalia (which exists only as it is quoted in refutation bv Athanasius) and by repudiating the truce. In February, 325, Arius was then condemned at a synod in Antioch. The Emperor Constantine was intervening by this time, and it was he who called the first ecumenical council, the Council of Nicaea. This council met on May 20, 325, and subsequently condemned Arius and his teaching. Present in the entourage of Alexander at this council was Athanasius. He took little part in the affairs of the Council of Nicaea, but when he became Bishop of Alexandria in 328, he was to become the unremitting foe of Arius and Arianism and the unflagging champion of the Nicene formula.
Following his condemnation Arius was banished to lllvricum. There he continued to write, teach, and appeal to an ever broadening circle of political and ecclesiastical adherents of Arianism.
Around 332 or 333 Constantine opened direct contact with Arius, and in 335 the two met at Nicomedia. There Arius presented a confession which Constantine considered sufficiently orthodox to allow for the reconsideration of Arius’s case. Therefore, following the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem the Synod of Jerusalem declared for the readmittance of Arius to communion even as he lay dying in Constantinople. Since Arian views were being advanced by many active bishops and members of the court, and Arius himself had ceased to play a vital role in the controversy, his death in 335 or 336 did nothing to diminish the furor in the church. Instead of resolving the issues, the Council of Nicaea had launched an empire-wide Christological debate by its condemnation of Arius.
Arius was a thoroughgoing Greek rationalist. He inherited the almost universally held Logos Christology of the East. He labored in Alexandria, the center for Origenist teachings on the subordination of the Son to the Father. He blended this heritage into a rationalist Christology that lost the balance Origen had maintained in his subordinationist theology by his insistence on the eternal generation of the Son.
The guard against the error of Arius and the Arianism erected by the symbol and anathemas adopted by the symbol of anathemas adopted by the Council of Nicea serve as an, outline of Arius’s fundamental position.
Nicaea’s “in one Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only-begotten, that is from the substance of the Father” was to offset Arius’s central assertion that God was immutable, unique, unknowable, only one. Therefore Arias felt no substance of God could in any way be communicated or shared with any other being. The council’s “true God from true God, begotten not made” set aside Arius’s contention that, since God was immutable and unknowable, Christ had to be a created being, made out of nothing by God, first in the created order certainly, but of it. This limited the concept of the preexistence of Christ even while adapting the dominant Logos Christology to Arianism. The Logos, first born, created of God, was incarnate in the Christ but, asserted Arius, “there was when he was not.”
Nicaea’s “of one substance with the Father” made the Greek term homoousios the catchword of the orthodox. Arianism developed two parties, one of which felt Christ was of a substance like the Father (homoiousios). A more extreme wing insisted that as a created being Christ was unlike the Father in substance (anomoios). Arius himself would have belonged to the first or more moderate party.
The council’s anathemas were extended to all those who claimed “there was once when he was not”; “before his generation he was not”; “he was made out of nothing”; “the Son of God is of another subsistence or substance”; and “the Son of God [is] created or alterable or mutable.” The last anathema attacked another Arian teaching. Arius and subsequent Arius had taught that Christ grew, changed, matured in his understanding of the divine plan according to the Scriptures, and therefore could not be part of the unchanging God. He was not God the Son; rather, He was simply given the title Son of God as an honor. An observer in that day might well have thought Arianism was going to triumph in the church. Beginning with Constantius the court was often Arian. Five times Athanasius of Alexandria was driven into exile, interrupting his long episcopate. A series of synods repudiated the Nicene symbol in various ways-Antioch in 341, Aries in 353; and in 355 Liberius of Rome and Ossius of Cordoba were exiled and a year later Hilary of Poitier was sent to Phrygia. In 36o in Constantinople all earlier creeds were disavowed and the term substance (ousia) was outlawed. The Son was simply declared to be “like the Father who begot him.” The orthodox counterattack on Arianism pointed out that the Arian theology reduced Christ to a demigod and in effect reintroduced polytheism into Christianity, since Christ was worshiped among Arians as among the orthodox. But in the long run the most telling argument against Arianism was Athanasius’s constant soteriological battle cry that only God, very God, truly God Incarnate could reconcile and redeem fallen man to holy God. It was the thorough work of the Capadocian Fathers-Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus-which brought the final resolution that proved theologically acceptable to the church. They divided the concept of substance (ousia) from the concept of person “h osasis'” and thus allowed the orthodox defender the original Nicene formula and the later moderate or semi-Arian party to unite in an understanding of God as one substance and three persons. Christ therefore was of one substance with the Father (homoousion) but a distinct person. With this understanding the Council of Constantinople in 381 was able to reaffirm the Nicene Creed. The able Emperor Theodosius I threw himself on the side of orthodoxy and Arianism began to wane in the empire.
The struggle with Arianism was not over yet, however, for Ulfilas, famous missionary to the Germanic tribes, had accepted the Homoean statement of Constantinople of 36o. Ulfilas taught the similarity of the Son to the Father and the total subordination of the Holy Spirit. He taught the Visigoths north of the Danube, and they in turn carried this semi-Arianism back into Italy. The Vandals were taught by Visigoth priests and in 409 carried the same semi-Arianism across the Pyrenees into Spain. It was not until the end of the seventh century that orthodoxy was to finally absorb Arianism.
Arianism has been reborn in the modern era in the form of extreme Unitarianism, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses regard Arius as a forerunner of C. T. Russell. Ancient heresy often comes back neatly tied up in a subtle package of deceit and error.
The solidification of Trinitarian doctrine at the close of the fourth century inevitably gave rise to controversy as Christians sought to understand the implications of the incarnation “in fashion as a man” (Phil. 2:8) of the eternal Son of God. Although Jesus Christ was confessed as very God of very God, the impression his followers had of hi d through it, of his Father-was the impression of “the man Christ Jesus.” The struggles with docetism and Gnosticism had reaffirmed and strengthened the conviction that Jesus was a real man, not one in appearance only. How could the deity be related to the humanity in a single Person, the “one Lord Jesus” of the Nicene Creed?
From the days of the early church, we see two themes running parallel in the proclamation of Jesus Christ: the eternal, preexistent Son, and the historic, individual man. These two themes do not need to conflict; orthodoxy sets itself the goal of keeping them united. When either one or the other, either the deity or the humanity, is considered in isolation and its implications systematically developed, a one-sided presentation results, eventually leading to a position the orthodox reject as heresy.’ The earliest attempt to develop the meaning of the deity of Christ as expressed in the Nicene Creed, Apollinarianism, was made in the latter part of the fourth century; its implications virtually denied the humanity of Christ. During the fifth and sixth centuries, greater refinements were introduced, in the positions that will be known as Nestorianism, Eutychianism, monophysitism, monergism, and monothelitism. At the time, the adherents of the Chalcedonian position considered them all heretical, in varying degrees; today we are less certain.
Alexandria, the most sophisticated and theologically the most productive metropolis of early Christianity, gave birth to a number of conflicting views and personalities. Both Arius and Athanasius were active there. On the whole, however, Alexandria is associated with one tendency in Christology, Antioch with its opposite. The church in the West was theologically less fertile, which is one reason why Rome appears more than once as the defender of traditional orthodoxy. The Alexandrian school tried to explain what it means to say that God became man and what happens to the human being God becomes. It soon began to invert its formulation and teach, in effect, that the man becomes God. This was not an adoptionist Christology in which a complete, existing human being is adopted and elevated by God and thus becomes in some sense divine. Instead, it contends that the preexisting Son, always fully God, transformed the humanity of Jesus in assuming it, so that it, a humanness, was divinized. Jesus was not a person whom God adopted and exalted to be the Christ, but the Logos, in becoming human, took upon himself a human nature and exalted it to deity.
In contrast to the Cappadocian-Alexandrian tendency, the school of Antioch held firmly to the clear biblical picture of Jesus Christ as a historic, human, individual person. God became incarnate in this person and took him on, not it (a mere human nature). The tension between the Alexandrian and Antiochene interests was accentuated thanks to the efforts of one man. His intellectual ability is comparable to that of Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers, but his name has gone down in obloquy because his views fed into the substance of heresy, rather than orthodoxy. Apollinarius of Laodicaea (d. ca. 390) was a strict adherent of the Nicene homoousion; he extolled the deity of Christ, but to his opponents he seemed to be minimizing or destroying his humanity.
Prior to the solidification of Trinitarian doctrine, theological interest had centered on the nature of the divine Persons and on the way in which they related to one another in the godhead. The tendency to fragment the godhead into three divine beings was condemned by the orthodox, Athanasian emphasis on the unity of God. Apollinarius began his effort to explain the relationship of God to man in Christ by making an assumption that many think is biblical, even though it is not the only possibility the Bible suggests, namely, that each individual man consists of body (sarx), soul (psyche), and intellect (nous). This is called the trichotomous view of man. Historically Apollinarius may be compared to Arius because like Arius he sought to give a rational explanation of what appeared an insoluble mystery. The simplicity and clarity of his argument rapidly won him adherents, but its apparent threat to the human identity of Jesus mustered the orthodox against him. Theologically, Apollinaris differed from Arius in that he affirmed rather than denied the full deity of Christ and thus never seemed to the faithful to cast doubt upon the ability of Christ to save us from our sins. If Jesus is not fully God-as Arius denied him to en ordinary Christians quickly begin to wonder whether he can safely be trusted as having the power to save; if he is not a fully human person, as Apollinaris in effect taught, the danger to salvation is less evident, for full humanity is not necessary to the power of Christ, and hence to the reality of our salvation.
One problem arises, and it is a major one. If Christ is not truly human, how does he help us? If he is less than fully human, it is hard to see how the merit secured by a nonhuman Saviour may justly be applied to human beings. However, this is a somewhat more sophisticated problem than that caused by failure to accept the full deity of Christ. It was perceived as a great problem, and like Arianism it brought contending parties quite literally onto the field, where they not merely verbally but physically assaulted one another. Despite this, Apollinarianism simply was not as capable of destroying Christendom as was the quarrel over the homoousion. An Apollinarian theology and church would still be identifiably Christian, albeit defective; an Arian theology and church, at least in their implications, are no longer Christian.
Like Arius, Apollinaris took an acceptable, naive view-in Arius’ case, the view that the Son was begotten, in that of Apollinaris, the view that Christ is G d elaborated it to a point at which it began to threaten another ma . or element of Christian doctrine. Like the Arian controversy, the Christological controversy sparked by Apollinaris began and ended in the East, but was decisively influenced by a clear stand taken by the Western church, particularly by Rome. Apollinaris, unlike Arius, had a firmly established Christological dogma to which he could appeal, that of Nicaea; the Antiochenes, who stressed correctly, as we believe-the full and complete humanity of Jesus Christ, had no leader of the caliber of Athanasius around whom they could rally. Although Apollinaris was defeated, the Antiochene position was not fully vindicated; its clearest exponent, Nestorius, will ultimately be branded a heretic, and the ultimate solution, although not Apollinarian, will continue to reflect the influence of Apollinaris in a way that far exceeds any ongoing influence of Arius within the main body of orthodoxy.
Apollinaris embodied elements common both to Athanasius and the Antiochenes; Athanasius used many terms and concepts later propounded by Apollinaris; indeed, some of the works of Apollinaris were circulated under the name of Athanasius, thus cloaking them with the latter’s impeccably orthodox credentials and to some extent disarming the suspicion they would otherwise have engendered. This was possible because the views of Apollinaris, as we have already indicated, were subtler than those of Arius and it was more difficult to discern why they were objectionable. In Athanasius’ Four Orations Against the Arians, he speaks of the humanity of Christ more in an instrumental than a personal way. Eusebius of Caesarea spoke of the humanity of Christ as the “human vessel,” the “human instrument,” and the “temple” of the Logos. However, this language was still paralleled by equivalent language speaking of the Logos uniting himself with a man, not an instrument.
Prior to Nicaea, the position of adoptionism tried to explain the degree to which and the manner in which God gave his power to a man. The developing positions of both Apollinaris and the Antiochene school questioned neither the degree completely-nor the manner-incarnation, not adoption-and went on to attempt to explain the relationship between God and the man Jesus that incarnation established. The forerunner of the Antiochene position was Eustathius of Antioch (d. ca. 360), who taught that the human Jesus lived in perfect unity with the spiritual Logos. Unlike Apollinaris, who held a trichotomous view of man, dividing him into body, soul, and spirit, Eustathius distinguished only a body and a rational soul, the dichotomous view. The body and soul of Jesus were of the same substance as those of all other human beings. Inasmuch as Eustathius correctly held the divine Logos to be a real person, not a mere spiritual power, to say that Jesus had a rational human soul appeared to give him two personalities, one human and one divine. The understanding of what it means to be a person and individual with a distinct memory, will, emotion, and a unique personality-was becoming clear only as the doctrine of the Persons of the Trinity came into focus. Consequently, the difficulty caused by postulating two personalities in Christ was not immediately recognized. It was Apollinaris who exposed it and in doing so also attracted attention to his own views and the problems that come from thinking of Jesus as not having a human personality.
(Christological Heretics of our day: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Unification Church, Seventh Day Adventists, New Age, and others.)
It is almost a fad today to have a new “corner” on revelation. There are those self appointed prophets scattered about Christendom who have deceived themselves, and hoodwinked others, into believing they posses the ability, in one form or another, of receiving a new revelation from God. There are the hard-core revelators who believe they periodically see visions of Christ, or of angels, which carry some message for them and their church to better their walk with God. Others, more moderate, believe the Holy Spirit is continually bringing new revelations to those who may posses the gift of “wisdom” or “knowledge” to further edify the body. And there are the conservatives on this gamut, who, if asked if they believed God conveys revelations in our day would emphatically deny such–yet they seem to arrive with “new” and innovative” ways to worship each Sunday, or add new traditions to the church periodically. Where do these new and innovative ideas spring forth? Whether we peer down one end of the spectrum or the other, all this “newness” of revelation shouts forth the same message: “the Scriptures are not sufficient.”
Anyone, whether in word or deed, which believes the Scriptures are not sufficient, is heretical. To add to, or subtract from the Biblical record is to invoke God’s holy anger upon that person for all eternity. Revelation 22:18-19 sets forth a specific prohibition to adding or subtracting to the book of “The Revelation of John”, yet also the principle of adding and subtracting to the word is still ever present. “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Taking away or adding to the Bible is to presume that God does not know what He is taking about, and that human beings know better. To supplant the Word is to charge God to be a liar and His Word is not adequate. It is to scream unfaithful to the Logos of the universe. God says in Deut. 4:2, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” How could any man keep the commands of God if he added to them, changed them or took away from them—he could not. The Scriptures must be seen as sufficient in and of themselves as given to us in the canon of the Bible.
If we were to look to the self-appointed prophets, we find them arguing that revelation is fresh and vibrant, immediately meeting every need of the believer in the Holy Ghost. They claim that the Bible may be a good guide, but by their revelations are just as valid as the Bible (which means they should be adding new chapters in the Bible because their revelations should be universally binding). The Moderate camp claims that new revelation must be tested against the Bible, and that if the new revelation by the Spirit received does not measure up to the truth of the Scriptures then it is to be discarded. If it does measure up then it is to be heeded as if it were the Bible itself. (If the new “revelation” must be tested against the Bible, why do they new revelations? Isn’t that redundant? ) If one were to poll the “conservative camp”, those in the mainstream of the “seeker” movement, we would find the CEO of the church, the senior pastor, attempting to restructure the life of the congregation and the ministry of the church to meet the trends of the culture. They would argue that the church should always be changing along with the culture to meet the specific spiritual needs of that culture. One seeker church may target older folks and thus may be on the traditional side, others may target the yuppie generation and move towards a more contemporary scheme. Evangelism may be molded to fit the needs of the hearers; puppet shows, mime, drama and the like are completely acceptable in order to hold the attention of the consumer, or rather, the parishioner. In any of these cases, we still see a disregard for the Bible as sufficient in and of itself to meet the needs of the congregation. God needs help and it is up to man to do the job. The preached word must be supplemented in one way or another so that the people are happy when they leave, and their “needs” have been met. How would you feel is sister so and so had a “Word from God” just for you? Maybe you have been dealing with addiction and the prophets have a ready cure, if you would just heed their message. Maybe the congregation is beginning to dwindle and Pastor so and so has decided to juice up the worship to attract generation “x”. But how does this honor God and His Word? How does this respect God and rely solely on the Word of God?
The question which needs to be briefly answered is this : Does the Bible claim sufficiency? If the Bible did not claim a sufficiency then there would be little or no debate. But does God, in His Word, claim that the Word revealed in the pages of the Bible is enough? Absolutely. Jude tells us, “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” The completion of the body of doctrine, which was given to the saints, was given “once”. It has been given “once for all”. It is troublesome to see why anyone would have a difficult time understanding the term “once for all”, but alas, the revelations continue to emerge. (Its far easier to give a “word” rather than to study the Word.) Jude emphatically states that this body of doctrine, this “faith” given, is to be contended for—but why? It is to be contended for because others desire to supplement it. Who are these “supplanters?” Jude says, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Those who supplant the Word of God are those creeping into the church, those who are godless, who change the nature of God’s grace in the Bible into a lewd and unuseful aberration, and deny the Sovereignty of God. They do not believe the Sovereign God of the cosmos should be allowed to state His own purposes completely and fully in the Bible. They believe God missed a few things in the Scriptures and that His providence is all but perfect. These men are marked out for perdition and everlasting torment because they supplant the Bible and subsequently call God a “liar.” They say, “No God, you are wrong, you Word is not enough, and I am here to help you see that.” Yet, Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete,” but why?—so that the man of God may be “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” How many good works are men prepared for? “Every good work,” and that means all of them. The Scriptures are sufficient to arm the saint for everything he may do before Christ. Jesus even warns those who tamper with the Word that, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him — the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” (John 12:48) The sufficient Word of God will be the judge in the last day. And Jesus Christ is the all-sufficient Logos of God, the logic and eternal Word in the flesh. These Bible mockers and desecrators will pay the price for their unbelief and their false Shepherding of those they teach. As Christ said, as they teach them falsely, they make them twice the son of hell as they are themselves.
Does this mean every time anyone does not rightly apply the use of the Bible that they have fallen into the hands of heresy? No. But it does mean that those who live there, and strive after the aberration are apostate and heretical in their thinking. What if a true minister, who has wrestled fervently with the text of the Bible, has come to the conclusion that having a piano to aid in worship is an acceptable practice based on the Bible alone? What if another true minister has wrestled with those same texts prayerfully and come to the conclusion that there should be no instruments? Both have rested on their understanding of the Bible alone, without addition or subtraction or twisting of the texts, what do we do here? These men are by no means heretics. Though one or the other may be truly right, it does not mean they have done an injustice to the text to supplant and twist the Bible to suit their own ends. (It may be noted that only one of them is right ultimately, but who are we to say which?). It would be better to handle this under the heading “Whatever is not of faith is sin”. If the filter of the sufficiency of Scripture is final Word for them then it is within the realm of reasonable exegesis, so long as they are not supplanting the basics of Christian doctrine and venturing off into new revelations. It would be a far different thing if one of them said; “I have not really consulted the Word, though a few Scriptures come to mind on this matter. I have not exegetically and prayerful considered the entire Bible on this topic, though I have asked God for some help. I have not dove into the deep recesses of the Scriptures to the best of my God given gifts and abilities to rightly divide the Word, but I did ask a friend or two, yet, I am going to do this because I think it would attract more people, meet more needs and help more in the long run.” That would fall under the condemnation of being “shamed” before God, not rightly dividing the Word. “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)
It is a serious sin to supplant God’s Word. Those who do not deem it sufficient, whether in Word or deed, will suffer God’s wrath unless they penitentially seek him and desire the truth of the pure milk of the Word. As Peter said, God has given us everything for life and godliness in the Word of God. Let us hold fast that God is not a liar, and His Word is enough. Christians are to plagiarists of God’s Word. New Revelations mean we have come up with something not in the Word. It is up to every true minister of the Gospel, and every regenerated Christian to test all things against the Word that endures, not to make new revelations.