Political Competition Over Theological Position

Photo courtesy of Naeem Ebrahimjee and Flickr.
Photo courtesy of Naeem Ebrahimjee and Flickr.

Historical Study:

There is a point in church history in which the leaders of the church looked more like presidential candidates of today rather than religious figureheads representing Christ. While the Council of Constantinople firmly settled the issue of the Trinity, it resulted in mini wars between Christians of various areas.
The reality is that there will always be some form of false teaching and heresy. Sometimes those movements are quite large, while other movements are quite small. The Council of Constantinople stamped out a number of heresies, but there were two that would wage on.
For a brief time, Arianism would have a small impact on government and church issues. Proponents of Arianism had sent out missionaries at one point in order to evangelize some of the tribes of Central Europe. While this may seem meaningless, it is important because those same tribes played a role in the downfall of Rome. This opened up a number of doors for people who were otherwise ostracized from society to now play a role in government. Those tribes had been heavily influenced by the Arian teachings and with their political power could promote them more heavily. Inevitably those followers converted to orthodox teachings that came out of the Council of Nicea and Council of Constantinople and Arianism died with those conversions.
However, the second heresy would create a war between worlds. In discussions about the Capaddocian Fathers, we could see the rise of the teachings of Apollinarius. Apollinarius’ family was originally from Alexandria, which he himself considered his home despite living closer to Antioch. Concerned about this false teaching, leaders in Antioch began scrutinizing their counterparts in Alexandria for the slightest indication of wrongful teaching. As accusations abounded, those in Alexandria began doing the same for those in Antioch. A battle was waged between the two areas with both sides accusing the other of heresy.
Ultimately it became a political competition with theology used as its form. This would set the stage for the next 70 years and bring forth the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451.
Present Study:
We can be thankful for the work of so many of the early church fathers. They delved into theology long before our time. They spent hours on the core issues so that we could simply read the ground work and proceed forward to examine systematic theology at a deeper level.
Unfortunately, they provided a negative testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus were a negative example for us. Thankful for their teaching, in no way should we duplicate such a vengeful conflict between two groups. What we see in the groups between Antioch and Alexandria is similar to so many of the conflicts of today. I have learned to dislike labels, names, and figureheads at least in a manner of speaking. This is because most people are swayed not by arguments of Scripture and reason, but instead choose a position based on names and terms without ever understanding the real issue.
We must be careful in the way we formulate understandings, applications, and teachings. Our faithfulness should not lie in following a person or movement, but instead should be committed to pleasing Christ and God by following what has been revealed in the Word of Truth.
Finally, there is a great lesson to see in this controversy. While I would clearly disagree with the methodology of the disagreement, they maintained committed to truth at a high cost. The debate that continued to be waged was not about the Trinity, but about how to explain the Trinity. Seems like such a minor thing to argue about between two groups, but they saw how the minor issues affected the major issues. In this case they recognized how explaining the Trinity affected the very issue of salvation. Like them, we must be concerned with maintaining the integrity of Scripture. We declare absolute truth because absolute truth exists. In a shifting world, we find an example in what it means to  stand firm and truly be committed to God’s cause.

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