By Clete Hux –
It’s been said that the only difference between orthodoxy and heresy is emphasis. It has also been said that when heresy crawls in one generation, it walks in the next. The writer of Ecclesiastes knew this when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (1:96). Solomon’s words can remind us that when an individual or organization claims to have received new revelation different from the revelation of Jesus Christ in Holy Scripture, ancient heresy likely has once again raised its head in contemporary garb.
THE TRUE CHRIST
As I will show later, the Scriptures teach that Christ was the unique “theanthropic” (theos=God; anthropos=man) person of history. That is, He was the only God-Man of history, having both a human and a divine nature. Three basic truths are essential to our understanding the Person of Christ. First, Christ was undiminished Deity. He remained what he ever was! He was no less God when He was man than He was before He became man. There was no change at all in the essence of God.
Second, Christ was true and complete Humanity. He became what He never was! He was everything that was essential to manhood, experiencing everything as humans do—He grew, hungered, thirsted, was tempted, etc. (Luke 2:52; John 19:28; Heb. 4:15). Christ wasn’t faking it—“man acting” or “God playing man”—during His incarnation, but was fully man!
Third, Christ’s divine and human natures are united in one Person eternally without confusing the natures or dividing the Person. He was all of God and all of man—the God-Man—in one Person. His divine nature was never absorbed into the divine—the divine and human natures were distinct. He is not two persons (a “schizophrenic Christ”), but one person with two natures. HE WAS FULLY GOD AND FULLY MAN!1
THE ARIAN CHRIST
Historically, the first great Christological question which came up in the early church had to do with Person of Christ. This took precedence over the work of Christ because who Christ is interprets what He did. So, most early heresies based their beliefs on the assumption that Christ must be either divine or human, but not both. Because these two natures of Christ seemed to be naturally exclusive, heretics usually held to one nature while rejecting or diminishing the other.
One of life’s most crucial questions is: “What think ye of Christ?” (Matt. 22:42). We all have to answer this question and it must be answered biblically. Answer it the way Arius and his followers did, and we have erred from the truth.
The heresy of Arianism, which denied the eternality of Jesus Christ—the Son of God as the Logos (Word), was named after Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria in the 3rd Century A.D. Actually, the “father of Arianism” was Lucian of Antioch. According to Arius, it was Lucian’s views that shaped and foreshadowed Arius’ Christology. Arius taught that there is an essential difference between God the Father and Christ the Son, which makes the Son secondary. This started the controversy that broke out between Arius and Alexander of Alexandria— though after Nicea it was the young Athanasius, deacon to Alexander, whose defense of biblical Christology eventually triumphed over the Arians in the 4th Century.
The Arian emphasis was a misinterpretation of Christ as the “only Begotten Son.” They tended to reason this way: “If the Father begat the Son, He that was begotten had a beginning of existence; so, from this it is evident that there was a time when the Son was not.” To them, the Son was not co-eternal with the Father. This is a type of “subordinationist” Christology. Arius believed that because Christ is begotten He must have had a beginning. So, in maintaining that Christ was not eternal, the Arians saw him as created by the Father out of nothing, the first and highest of all creatures. He in turn created the world, and because of the power given to Him by the Father, He is to be looked upon as God and therefore can be worshiped. As such, Jesus was to be called God only by courtesy. Any preeminence due Him was due to the fact that He alone was created immediately by God, while all other creations were created by Jesus.
Arians also held that the Holy Spirit was the first and greatest of the creations called into existence by Christ’s power. This meant that a God who had a beginning might also have an end, and a creature, no matter how highly exalted, must remain finite. Thus, the Arians, in demanding worship of their concept of Christ, were in fact asserting the central principle of heathenism and idolatry, which is the worship of a creature.
Arius also thought that deity could not appear substantially on the earth. So, Christ had to be created. Such an error arose because Arius and his followers misinterpreted certain biblical statements regarding Christ’ state of humiliation.
Arianism was condemned at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 because the Arians asserted that Christ was not of the same substance (homo-ousia) with the Father, but of similar substance (homoi-ousia). At this council, the Church faced what most scholars believe to have been the greatest crisis in the entire history of doctrine! To many today, it is odd that the church Fathers could have gotten so upset over rejection of a simple letter of the alphabet; but in reality the absence or the presence of the iota signified the difference between a Savior who is truly God and one who is only a creature—between a Christianity which is able to save the souls of men and one which cannot.”2
CONTEMPORARY ARIAN CULTS
There are many Arian-like Christologies in existence today. They take the form of Bible-based cults. First, and perhaps most noteworthy, are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Denying the Trinity and the Deity of Christ, the Watchtower teaches that Jesus Christ is Michael the Archangel. While on earth, Michael went on “pause” for thirty-three years and became Jesus. Then, at his resurrection, Jesus became Michael again. Being a spirit creature (an angel), he was raised not physically, but spiritually. He was the first and greatest creation of God, not God—even though they refer to him as a lesser god in their translation of John 1:1.
Secondly, another group, which was more prominent from the late 60s to late 80s, is The Way International, started by Victor Paul Wierville. Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Way believes the Trinity to be a concept borrowed from pagans. Wierville’s book, Jesus Christ is Not God, lets the reader know up front their view of the deity of Christ. He was not God, and they would say that nowhere in the Bible is He called God. They would also say that certain Bible verses that seem to assert Christ’s divinity were deliberately tampered with by ignorant believers in previous centuries. To Way followers, Jesus did not exist before his birth in Bethlehem. He only existed with God in God’s foreknowledge. Since He wasn’t God, He did not create all things.
Thirdly, are the Christadelphians. Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Way, they too deny the Trinity and the eternality of Jesus Christ. To them, Jesus did not exist until He was miraculously begotten of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Ghost. Jesus is not co-eternal with the father. Jesus was not God, yet He was still “divine.” They teach that by being begotten by the Holy Spirit, Jesus received within Him the very pattern of God’s nature and character. Accordingly, God the Father was in Him, making it proper to speak of Christ as being God manifested in the flesh (as long as it is understood that Jesus was not God in and of Himself).3
It is amazing how many different ways one eternal truth— Christ’s Deity—can be sliced and diced, making it into a counterfeit. In denying who Jesus really is, heretics have to ignore, twist, and distort the plain teaching of the Scriptures which are virtually replete with the truth that Jesus is God from all eternity. Not only does Jesus specifically claim to be God (John 8:57-59; John. 10:30-31; 17:5), He is specifically identified as God by the biblical authors (John. 1:1, 1:18; 20: 28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Col. 1:15; 2:9; Titus 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1). Also, the Scriptures teach that Jesus eternally existed before the creation (John. 1:1; 1 Jn. 1:1: “In the beginning…” and “…from the beginning.”; John. 1:1-2: “…with God.”; John. 17:5; “…before the world began.” John. 1:14: The Word became flesh” [which implies previous existence]).
The verdict has been in on Jesus’ deity a long time against Arius and his errors. In denying the deity of Christ and at the same time demanding worship for him, Arianism was opening the door to polytheism. Young Athanasius understood that only as the deity of Christ is maintained can there be established a firm basis for the Christian faith.4 As the Nicene Creed puts it, “We believe. . .in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all the ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made.”
1 See J. L. Williams, Identifying and Dealing With the Cults: A Biblical Analysis (Burlington, NC: New Directions Press, 1975), 15-17.
3 See Wayne H. House, Charts of Cults, Sects, and Religious MovementsMovements 39.
4 Loraine Boettner, Studies in Theology (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973), 59.