Arius and Public Debate

The Church of Pergamos

“Write this to the angel of the Church in Pergamum: These words are spoken by him who has the sharp two-edged sword. I know where you live — where Satan sits enthroned. I know that you hold fast to my name and that you never denied your faith in me even in the days when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred before your eyes in the very house of Satan” (Revelation 2:12,13 Phillips).

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The pages of history provide many inspiring lessons of faith. In the above
text, brethren have identified the time setting to encompass the life of Arius, who lived from 250 AD to 336 AD.

“Presbyter of Alexandria, Egypt, he was widely acclaimed for his scholarly, ascetic, and morally exemplary life. Opposed to lordship in the church, he humbly declined the offer of becoming bishop of Alexandria.”

Arius became the chief spokesman for the early church view of the pre-eminence of the heavenly Father above all other beings. He resisted the efforts of churchmen such as Alexander and Athanasius to equate Jesus with God. He believed the Bible taught that Jesus was to be highly esteemed above men and not co-eternal, co-equal, or identical in substance. There was a time when the Son was not; he was made, like all creatures, of a substance that had not previously existed.

The Council of Nicea

In 321 AD he was excommunicated by a synod convened by Alexander, the ruling patriarch. As the dispute escalated to threaten the unity of the empire, the Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicea in 325 to settle the matter.

At the council, the emperor himself took a leading role, although it is doubtful that he could have comprehended the theological points at issue. Essentially a politician, he concluded that the Alexandrian view was the most expedient. He therefore forced its adoption upon the council and threatened loss of position to any who disagreed.

The council decreed that Christ was “begotten, not made,” and “of one essence with the Father.” “Begotten” was understood to mean that Christ possessed the very nature and substance of the Father, and not that he was created by God from nothing. Only Arius and two bishops refused to sign the Creed; all three were banished.

Undaunted, Arius composed a rival creed to that of Nicea, which so impressed Constantine that Arius was recalled. But on the very day of his installation ceremony in Constantinople, Arius died under suspicious circumstances, leading his friends to suspect he had been poisoned”
(The Seven Churches of Revelation, Charles F. Redeker, 1989, page 12).

The description in Revelation cited above fits the circumstances of the Arian debate quite well. The Revelator says his faithful people lived “where Satan sits enthroned.” Arius and others who followed him were still part of the church system but were not silent. They “held fast his name.” How well that describes the doctrinal stand of Arius and others! They defended the truth about the superiority of God above all others, even above the Son. In addition, Arius had declined the position of bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, because he was opposed to lordship in the church.

This demonstrates a humility that did not support the direction the church was taking in creating such a hierarchy. In Revelation 2:15 this is described as the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Bro. Russell describes it as “the theory of lordship or headship in the church. The strife as to who should be greatest existed amongst many of the patriarchs — fathers — of the prominent church.”

He further writes, “Pergamos means an earthly elevation. … During this period, while the nominal Church was growing popular, the true Christians were tested and proved by the introduction and development of Pagan and Papal ideas. The Pagan priests, unwilling to lose their positions of honor and influence amongst the people, sought to bend their ideas to fit the new religion” (R5992,3).

The text also says Antipas was “killed before your eyes in the very house of Satan.” Although this likely refers symbolically to being cast out of favor, in the case of Arius this may have been literally fulfilled when Arius, waiting to be reinstated to the church by Constantine, was likely murdered, and thus became “my faithful martyr” who had not denied his faith for safety or expedience.

This is part of our spiritual heritage passed on by those who defended the true understanding of God — He is one and supreme above all. We owe a great deal to people like Arius. He lived an austere and simple life, refusing to indulge himself as many priests of his day were inclined to do. He lived a life of devotion to both high principles and truth.

The legacy of the saints at that time teaches us to stand up for what we believe in, but in a dignified and noble way.