In this series we take a look back at some of the most notorious errors and
heresies that have threatened the church over the centuries, as well as the subtle (and not so subtle) ways in
which those false teachings continue to haunt 21st century thought and theology.
You probably know more about Arianism than you realize. Even if the name eludes you, the heresy won’t. It is well known and embraced by several religious groups today. If you’re not familiar with its anti-scriptural position, you are most certainly familiar with the biblical response. You confess it every time you speak the words, “begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
Arius was a 4th century priest who denied the deity of Christ. He taught that Jesus did not always exist, but was created by the Father. The Father made Jesus like Himself and used Jesus to create the world. He then gave Him every honor short of being His equal. Arius based his argument on his reckless misinterpretation of Colossians 1:15-19. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things
consist. . . . For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell.”
The Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) was gathered in order to clarify the church’s position. The resultant Nicene Creed was (and still is) a full rejection of Arianism. It declared that Jesus is not merely “like” God, He is God. He is not merely of a “similar substance,” but is “of one substance with the Father.” Jesus is not just “His only Son.” He is “His only Son, our Lord.”
Sadly, old errors die hard. The pulse beat of Arianism lives on in the Jehovah’s Witness who goes door to door, spouting the same ancient deceit. It is also found in other non-Christian groups that, similarly, attack the doctrine of the Trinity. This is not some small lie that sneaks in the back door. This is a frontal assault against the true God and His Word. Arius did much more than mishandle Scripture, he blatantly distorted crystal-clear passages to prop up his heretical views.
The Bible is unequivocal: Jesus is the eternal, almighty God, equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30), He explained to His enemies. “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58), Jesus remarked, and thereby identified Himself as the very Yahweh Whom the JW’s claim to worship. If Jesus were less than God, the Jewish Sanhedrin would have been correct in charging Him with blasphemy, and Thomas would have erred when he called the risen Christ, “My Lord and My God.” (John 20:28) Had He been inferior to the Father, Jesus’ ministry would have been compromised with lies.
The “gospel” of Arianism is nothing like the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ. If He is not God, then Jesus is nothing more than an example for us to imitate. That is the best that Arianism can offer.
Remember that whenever you speak with someone who is caught in this deadly lie. Most likely, you won’t convince them with “proof passages” against their false teachings, or Arianism would have disappeared long ago. But the Spirit can convince them through the real Gospel of Scripture, the fact that eternal God entered the world He created in order to take our place and save us from our sins. God Himself was in the manger of Christmas, on the cross of Good Friday, and was raised from Easter’s tomb. Knowing Jesus as your example won’t save you. Knowing Him as your Substitute already has.
James Albrecht is pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Okabena, Minnesota.