The Romance of Heresy and Christmas

Heresy is the new girl in town. She shows up with her golden hair and short skirts to turn heads and upset fidelities. There’s a quality about her that seduces the hearts of fickle men. She’s sexy. She’s novel. She’s edgy. She’s everything the orthodox girl next door is not. And men, tired of truth, are titillated by the romance of her seemingly wise and worldly ways. Soon her suitors trail her about, sing her praises, and conclude that anything less than full devotion to her is bondage to irrationality.

She goes by many names, but in this season leading up to the celebration of Jesus’s birth, one begs our special attention.

Arianism

Who is that child in Mary’s arms? Let’s ask a pastor who served a church in Egypt in the 300’s. His name is Arius. And here is his commonsense, rational answer. That child is, Arius says, is the Son of God. He existed before all other creatures. But there was a time when he did not exist. God alone is eternal. He brought his Son into being, made him, and through him made all other things. Jesus is like God, to be sure, more like God than anything or anyone else in all creation, but he is not God. He is made not begotten. The Father needed someone to create the world, enter the world as a child, and redeem it. So he made his Son for that very purpose. That is who the child is in Mary’s arms. So says Arius. And so said his followers—the Arians.

What you may not realize is that, for a time, large swaths of the church were seduced by the romance of this heresy. Roman emperors defended it; many bishops espoused it; countless Germanic tribes embraced it; hymns sang its teaching. You can hear the frustration in his voice as Jerome, in the mid 4th century, writes that “the whole world groaned and marveled to find itself Arian.”

Arianism is attractive because it makes sense. That is one of the hallmarks of heresy—making sense. It makes sense to keep God somewhat aloof from the dirty work of creating and redeeming a world. You wouldn’t catch God in a manger, much less dead on a cross. So the Almighty made someone for that labor. He made a Son. And this Son did the dirty work necessary to rescue a mucked up world. After all, he himself was a creature, says Arius, so he was the man for the job. A creature to save his fellow creatures.

Heresy Is Not 2 + 2 = 5

@@The problem with Arianism is the problem with every heresy: it ungospels the Gospel.@@ It is not simply that such teachings were wrong, like 2 + 2 = 5 is wrong. Heresy is not an error in fact so much as it is an error involving life itself. What every heresy does, in one way or another, is ungods God, unchristens Christ, uncrucifies the Crucified. It strikes through the good of Good News. The Gospel becomes helpful information useful to misguided people endeavoring to get right with God.

The church responded to Arianism the way it has always responded to heresies: by condemning it. We have no other option. The new girl in town may be sexy and smart and world-wise, but she is the devil in disguise. It is not the kisses and caresses of men heresy desires, but the contents of their soul. What is at stake is not merely “being right” or “being orthodox” but being the church, the Bride of Christ, the proclaimer of the only Good News that will save the world.

Kicking Arianism in the Teeth

Most churches, every Sunday, kick Arianism in the teeth as they recite these words from a 4th century council: “[I believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made,” (Nicene Creed).

Who is that child in Mary’s arms? He is the Son of God, equal to the Father in all ways according to his divinity. He is eternal, uncreated, of one nature with the Father and the Spirit. He is not a creature but the Creator who has come down and taken upon himself our human nature. He becomes fully man while remaining fully God. He becomes all of who we are while yet being all of who the Father is. And as the GodMan, he is the perfect bridge between earth and heaven, the Father and us. If he is anything less than fully God, we are less than fully saved. And if we are less than fully saved, we are not saved at all.

@@Who we say that child is, is what we say the Gospel is.@@ And what is the Gospel? The Good News that this child of Mary is the child of the Father. God is born. God learns to walk. God eats and drinks and goes to the bathroom. God is arrested, beaten, executed, and rises again. And everything that God does, he also does as a full-fledged human being—all for us.

This is the Good News which Arianism destroys, but which the church proclaims and defends. It may not be as rational and sexy and edgy as the various heresies of the world, but it is the only truly Good News there is. And, if we have eyes to see, we spy beauty incarnate in this faithful, loving, orthodox girl next door.