Sunday, February 18, 2007

Athanasius Still Speaks

To those who have studied church history, especially the portion dealing with the early church fathers and the heresies they faced, the name of Athanasius stands out strong. Not to say that today's evangelicals will necessarily agree with everything Athanasius wrote, however his bold, fearless stand against the Arian heretics that swept half the church away still inspires to this day. Apologists still quote to one another the famous line, "Athanasius contra mundum," or "Athanasius against the world."

Many of us have been concerned with the heresies promoted by the extremes of the Emergent Church movement. Some pastors and church leaders believe that the Emergent Church movement will die out as quickly as it arose. Some view it as already "passe.' Yet, as Ecclesiastes tells us, there is nothing new under the sun. The errors of the EC are not new, just regurgitated and morphed into new dress. Should our Lord tarry in His coming, they will surface again in new guise. Knowing this is what has led me to read Athanasius again.

I am especially intrigued at the moment by Athanasius' reply to the Arian heretics who insisted that Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, backed their false view of Christ being a created being rather than eternal God Himself. Athanasius was incensed by what he considered an insult to the memory of Dionysius. I had to chuckle in reading the preamble to his defense of Dionysius, as his language was rather sharp. When I - and others - have taken on the EC errors, sometimes rather sharply, we have received howls of protest about our supposed "intolerance" and "intemperate tone." Well, take a look at this excerpt from Athanasius himself . . .

"You have been tardy in informing me of the present argument between yourself and the enemies of Christ; for even before your courtesy wrote to me, I had made diligent enquiry, and learnt about the matter of which I heard with pleasure. I approved of the right opinion entertained by your piety concerning our blessed fathers, while on the present occasion I once more recognize the unreasonableness of the Arian madmen. For whereas their heresy has no ground in reason, nor express proof from holy writ, they were always resorting to shameless subterfuges and plausable fallacies. But they have now also ventured to slander the fathers: and this is not inconsistent, but fully of a piece with their perversity. For what marvel is it if men who have presumed to 'take counsel against the Lord and against His Christ,' are also vilifying the blessed Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, as a partisan and accomplice of their own? For if they are pleased to extol a man, for the support of their own heresy, even if they call him blessed, they cast upon him no slight affront, but a great one indeed; just like robbers or men of evil life who, when branded for their own practices, claim sober persons as being of their number, and thus defame their sober character."

This particular letter defending Dionysius' reputation is rather long, but worth reading as there are interesting comparisons to our own day. The EC is enamored of certain early church writers and medieval monastic, mystical practices. But anyone who knows even a little about the patristics realizes that they were not all cut out of the same cloth doctrinally. As Athanasius shows, one can cherrypick things written by an early father and claim that they buttress a position. However, when one looks at their work as a whole, a different picture can emerge (pun intended). One thing I love about Athanasius is his consistent standard pointing to the authority of Scripture to settle theological arguments, instead of the mere opinions of men. And, as it was in the days of Athanasius, a low view of Scripture leads to damnable heresy.

There are many figures of days gone by who I look forward to meeting in eternity. Athanasius is near the top of the list. I hope and pray with all my heart that God will raise up similar lions of the faith today - men who fear God more than men, and who love His Word more than life. I praise God for Athanasius' godly example, and pray that I can emulate it in my own small way.

1 comment:

Phil Perkins said...

"I praise God for Athanasius' godly example, and pray that I can emulate it in my own small way."

You already are.

Liked your pun. More and more vile things emerge as I get older.

Phil Perkins.