Thaddeus participated in the Christmas program at his grandmother’s church that was written by a member of that church and had been performed before. It involved adults in the more difficult parts and children for some cute and a few lines here and there. He did incredibly well, delivered his lines with confidence (even the one he got wrong) and seemed to enjoy himself and have a good time. For that I am happy and thankful. Part of what I learned is that he is a pretty sharp young boy and has paid attention. The program said that the angels and shepherds had to follow the star to Bethlehem and Thaddeus was consistently confused over if he was a shepherd looking after his sheep or a wise man because they followed a star. He also mentioned that he thought the angels went back to heaven after talking to the shepherds and that there was nowhere in the story that angels guarded Jesus in the stables like their program said. I learned that the archangels Gabriel and Michael roam around during the season of Advent making sure that there are Christmas programs and that people hear the story. It appears that the archangels do not care for the details so much, or even big mistakes too, but more on that in a minute. The worst thing that I learned was that Arianism is alive and well and living near me. I also learned that for the first time in my adult life, I wish St. Nicholas would come visit Christmas Eve and drop of some boxing gloves.
From the program: “Even before God created the Word (in reference to Jesus), he knew that he would be the savior of the world.” There are many strains of Arianism in the world today, and I have no desire to delve into them, but a brief history of the heresy and the response of the church to it is necessary I feel so that it can be recognized for what it is, namely, a doctrine that is not at all supported by the scriptures, the church, or by Christianity itself. It damages our relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and because it does that, it has no place in the Christian church and no place in our individual lives unless that place is to speak out against it. On to the heresy.
Arianism was started by the priest Arius who died in 336 AD. It had a profound effect on the church by forcing her to actually define what she believed (orthodoxy) through creeds. Yes, I know the argument has perhaps begun in the minds of many that goes something like “who are you to tell someone what to believe?” Let me answer that before I go on. No one, in fact it is not me who said this is what the church believes, it is the church that has spoken, both through the creeds and continually throughout history to this present day. Don’t confuse the two. Should you not find Arianism (or other actual heresies) a problem or don’t like me saying that they are, it is not me, it is the church, the very Bride of Christ, who has said this, not I. All I have done was repeated her words. The teachings of Arius spread and become popular until he is opposed formally by Bishop Alexander and others. Alexander said that Jesus was of the same substance of the Father (this supports the trinitarian view of Christian denominations) while Arius argued that Jesus was of a similar substance to the Father (this supports the view of sects such as the Watch Tower society, Brothers of Christ, and others) which is to say that Jesus is not God. TO be perfectly clear, this denies the divinity of Christ. This caused such division that the councils became a necessity which led to what the church has maintained as belief for centuries. This is a very short history that lays out the basic ground work. There are numerous resources out there to find more, some with a web search, some on this blog as well as several books. The point is that this heresy tried to divide the church once, and is trying to do so again. I highly suggest we follow the early church in burning writings relating to Arianism. The struggle would continue for many years but eventually the truth, as it does, came to the surface. The history is fascinating, feel free to read it, in fact please do.
Why does it matter you ask? It was just a children’s program after all…well Arius did not learn in a vacuum, nor did he come up with his ideas there, he was taught by Lucian of Antioch who had some peculiar ideas of his own. Granted, Lucian was sainted for some reason, but it was not for his Christology. Had the poor theology been dealt with in the time of Lucian, it may not have become the disruptive force that it was. If dealt with when young, maybe it does not eventually contribute to (perhaps lead to) the Acacians who end up throwing the church into disorder, maybe we don’t end up with heretical sects like the Watch Tower Society, and others who deny the divinity of Christ. Maybe we don’t have to confront and denounce it again (and again, and again, and again) in the UMC as violating not only our standards of faith, but also the standards of faith of the Christian church.
What did I learn from the Christmas program? That the Christmas story, the actual Christmas story that changed everything, has become more important than ever, and that the heresies that are springing forward again and again, desperately needs a new generation of defenders who, even though they may not know the proper name, or exactly why it is wrong, still have the Spirit that leads them to recognize the truth and the lies. That leads them to say things like “Scott, I thought the Word always was no one made Him”.
This is where we have ended up. We allow for heresy under the disguise of theological diversity. There is a great deal of room for disagreement within the basics that the Christian church has defined through the creeds. If someone is telling you that there is no diversity there, they have either lied to you, or know not of what they speak. We allow for a big tent, but never seem to find the walls of that tent that separates us from the outside, and in so doing become the outside. Under the guise of allowing for discussion, we exchange the truth for a lie, not by intention, but because we have so diluted the identity of Christ so much, that we can no longer recognize The Truth.