Athanasius against the world! This is what it seemed like. The emperor and the leading bishops were on the side of Arius. Arius was well connected. His theology made sense from a human point of view. It allowed that Jesus Christ was divine in nature, but not one in substance with the father. He was ‘a Son of God’ if you like.
Sound familiar? Arianism is abundant amongst Christians and Christian sects in the world today. Mormons think of Jesus as “a Son of God” one among many. Muslims speak of Jesus as one of the “divine prophets”. Jehovah’s Witnesses say Jesus was created by God and became the Son of God. Seventh Day Adventists believe Jesus Christ in his pre-existent state was Michael the ARchangel while Christian Scientists say “‘Jesus’ is the human man and ‘Christ’ is the Divine Being.”
We might say that these non Christian religions, cults and sects are just heretical odd balls. The problem is that plenty of mainstream Christian pastors also disbelieve full Christian historical orthodoxy. Progressive Christians speak of Jesus the Son of God, but when pressed the deny the incarnation and the Virgin Birth as being “mythological”. Jesus is for them, a good teacher, a martyr for a cause, a wandering Jewish rabbi and wonder worker or a kind of guru-holy man.
Others weaken weaken the belief in the incarnation by saying they believe in Jesus the Son of God, but when pressed they’ll use vague New Age type terminology about “Jesus was fully human, and by that we mean that in his humanity he grew into the divinity that was also within him.” When pressed further they’ll say that this is in fact, the same process all of us may go through–to so become “self actualized” and “mature human beings” that we evolve into a condition where that part of us that was “created in the divine image”. All of this is very nice and sounds good but it’s not actually historic, Christological orthodoxy. It’s Arianism dressed up.
The worst, and most insidious form of Arianism today is ignorance and poor catechesis. I shudder to think what the vast majority of Evangelicals in the street actually think about the identity of Christ. I expect it is all muddled up with different notions from a range of teachers all a hodge podge of the old heresies come back again–and as for Catholics. We won’t even mention the lapsed, but even amongst those who go to Mass regularly and recite the Nicene creed–how many of them if asked would say in some sort of way that “Jesus Christ was some sort of good teacher–kind of like Gandhi or the Dalai Lama…” Geesh.
What we need therefore is continued scholarship, catechesis and preaching which affirms the Nicene faith, that is:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly man.
We had better–for our salvation and that of the whole world depends on it.
Go here for a quick summary of the different Christological heresies of the 4th century.