Why is this method so important for us today? The ancient church can give us a truly Christian frame of mind. This community can show us how they understood the way of seeing and the way of knowing God. It helps us to stay on course as we pursue an understanding of Christ in us. In the Patristic era, they had a clear understanding of God who acts, particularly in His great act of becoming Man and drawing close to us bringing humanity into His presence. It can help us to stand on our own two feet with confidence knowing that what we believe will be faithful to all the Apostle’s taught. The one thing they were certain is this: the nature of God equals the nature of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the ground of their belief resided in the very being of Jesus Christ. The very being of Jesus Christ was of the same being with the Father. It gives simplicity to understanding who God is and what it meant to those who assented to this knowledge.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
The beauty of the work of Michael Faraday, James Clerk-Maxwell and Albert Einstein is the work they published is open to all who are interested in understanding the true nature of the physical universe. It means anyone can test their results and see for themselves. If one disagrees, then they need to provide whatever information they have to show why it is they disagree and leave it open for anyone to follow their method of investigation, to see how they interpreted their results, the conclusions they have drawn and lay it open for all in their field to critically review their findings. In the case of the nature of electricity, magnetism and light and how they are related to each other, to say otherwise is to say something different happens to what they are according to their nature. It is to say that light does not travel at 300,000km/sec and is not the constant invariant object through which everything else is measured. It is to say that there is something outside or behind light that is different to the nature of light in which we have missed. It says science has been lying to us and the technology we have is trying to trick us or is based on a myth or is some kind of magic. This really is insane!
In the heart of ancient theology lies the truth that there are no theories about God. There are no theories about atonement. There are no theories about the incarnation. The reference point regarding all the ways and works of God resides in God Himself. The concern for the ancient church was to hold together the relationship of Jesus Christ with the Father as the one who precisely represents His very being. To know God is to understand God who defines Himself precisely in the Person and work of Jesus Christ who has become Man just as we are. It is to believe in the same manner as the Apostles who were personal witnesses of this event and endeavoured to write down all the saw and heard. Jesus Christ is the True Light who lightens every human being who is willing to be enlightened by God Himself. The Light is the very same Light of the Father. The Light of Jesus Christ and the Light of the Father shine together so that in Him we truly see their light.
The heretics tried to insert their own information that often cannot be verified nor adequately confirmed by the whole scope of scripture. Instead, only Scripture that supported their theory will be used as the key interpretive passages to prove their case. The core of evangelical theology commonly references the passage, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me,” as the proof text to show there was a separation between Jesus and the Father. Jesus had all the sins of the world placed on His shoulders leaving Him in such a state that it was too much for the Father to look upon. So He turned away.
If we look at this from the perspective of the Apostolic tradition, this shows the horrifying self-abasement where Jesus Christ allowed Himself to experience such suffering all for our sake. In this case, Jesus Christ became human and did not allow Himself to breach the rules of His human existence. This cry shows such horrifying suffering to the degree that as a complete human being, he did suffer abandonment. However, in His divinity, He knew His Father would never hide His face from Him. He suffered in His humanity and experienced our abandonment of Adam, but in His divinity He remained fully united to the Father. There is the Arian mindset trying to re-interpret this passage from a non-Apostolic framework of thought. The greatest problem we face today is convincing the mainstream church they have abandoned the apostolic tradition and have totally allowed their mind to be conformed to Arianism.
Another example that Athanasius highlights of the Arians is this: “For if it was impossible for things originate to bear the hand of God;” “because nothing originate, as you say, can bear the absolute hand of the Unoriginate” (De decretis 8). The Arians tried to keep God at an infinite distance from human beings. In the Arian context, they believed because God was so holy and had to be kept at a distance from human beings, Jesus was a created intermediary through whom all things were created. This may not be entirely the belief within mainstream evangelicalism, but elements of this Arian concept has crept into certain sections and infiltrated much of their doctrine. The more fundamental the Christianity the greater the distance between God and human beings where some believe just like the Arians that God has to be kept at an infinite distance. By entertaining what in essence is a myth, the rest of the “theology” has to be developed from this premise in a logical way from this folk story so the end result is far removed from the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
The main concern I have with such an approach to understanding the Biblical text is the tendency for privileged hierarchical power structures within their model of the church. It is widely believed that such power structures reflect the pattern of the Trinity. The Father is considered the Monarchy or the supreme source and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are respectively subordinate to Him. However, this is entirely an Arian construction having never had place within the Apostolic tradition. The thrust of Arius’ argument rested on the Father being the “sole source” of the Son and the Spirit. Athanasius condemned such interpretation as undermining the homoousion principle. The Arians insisted the Father is the Soul Source while the Son and the Spirit has an inferior position to Him. Thereby the Father has authority over the Son and any authority He has is that which has been given by the Father. Though vigorously condemned by Athanasius, the focus of attention shifted from the homoousion towards the Monarchia caused a shift in focus from a unity of being towards a subordination of the Persons of the Trinity making the Father the sole source of the other two. Arians used references outside of the apostolic tradition to explain the shape and structure of the Trinity in this extreme monarchial sense. In time, these influences have gradually crept in to mainstream doctrine to the degree that is widely assumed this subordinate structure of the Trinity is of the apostolic tradition.
Athanasius along with Alexander included the entire Godhead as the One-Arche and therefore maintaining the One Ousia and the three Hypostasis without any hint of the dualist subordination model the Arians proposed. If Jesus is posited as something less in authority and power to the Father and the Holy Spirit even less in authority and power the perceived hierarchical structure can flow into the church body. This increases the likelihood of an abuse of power and an inappropriate exercise of authority of which the Arians had a tendency to do. One of the things that made Arianism appealing to many people is the prestige and position given to those who are in the know as part of an exclusive club. The important functions in the Arian church such as looking after the widows and the orphans were considered tasks too menial. Instead one had to be in the inner circle of their church to be entitled to its privileges. Thus charitable works were often unfairly distributed. One of the most disturbing characteristics of the authoritative subordinate structure of the Trinity that favours patriarchy over women, is the justification of the subordinate structure of marriage. The husband has the authority over the wife who must be subordinate to him. For some, this might work well. For others this authoritative position can place women at high risk of abuse. It may also leave women feeling trapped in an abusive marriage as there is such a stigma about divorce. It is likely the use of the word ‘the husband is head of the wife,’ is in sense of the creative source of the woman coming from the side of Adam, while the source of Adam is Christ. We do not think of a fountain as having authority over the river it feeds. Instead, we see the fountain as providing life to the river. Therefore Jesus Christ gives life to Adam, while a part was taken from Adam side and was used to give life to Eve. It is both the husband and the wife who have to mindful of where their source of the life is derived.
When we bring the homoousion into the Monarchy we start to see a true reflection of the Trinity that Athanasius, Alexander and Gregory Nazianzen had in mind. Positing the Father alone as the Unoriginate while the Son and the Spirit have the origin in Him breaks down perichoresis. This means the knowledge we have of the Father cannot be entirely drawn from Jesus Christ. It falls into the trap of the Arian mind where the Son is only in likeness of the Father. Such a perception leaves questions about who the Father might be as there might be questions about His nature that it not like Jesus. There is something about the Father that is dark and even frightening. By maintaining the emphasis of the Father, Son and Spirit as having One Being means Jesus Christ is all the Father and the Spirit is except Father; the Father is all the Spirit and Jesus are except the Spirit and Jesus; Jesus is all the Father and the Spirit are except Father and Spirit; means through the Personhood of Jesus Christ we have assurance that He discloses to us all the ways and works of the Triune God. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world who sheds the very same Light of the entire Triune God.
The doctrine of the Monarchy can only be understood entirely in the context of the doctrine of the coinherent, perichoretic relations of the Father, Son and Spirit. Love is exhibited in God as Triune, which is the very ground of His existence and core of His nature. The love between the Father, Son and Spirit is the very same love that has been poured into our hearts. It has no hierarchy and so it is in the Christian community: No hierarchy! Suddenly positions within the church become functions with the purpose of building each other up. It embraces all we do in our day to day lives. It means what we do in our families, communities and work places have real intrinsic value where the functions in sacred duties begin to overlap and spill over into our natural secular activities. Wherever we go, whatever we do, the love of the Triune God wraps and enfolds us bringing us all into the indwelling of the life of the Father, Son and Spirit and never lets us go.
The only Mediator between the Triune God and humanity is Jesus Christ. We can amass a great deal of knowledge and gain one recognised academic qualification after another and write numerous books on Christian subjects. Yet, it makes no difference to the union established in the Person of Jesus Christ. If all we know is our union with Jesus Christ then what we know has as much value as the most eminent of theologians, the most eloquent of speakers and ministers who may have spent years studying this very reality. Yet, if we preach anything different to the reality of our union in Christ, it does enormous injury to the way the body of the church functions and takes the life out of it. If we start to leave people in doubt about the union the have in Christ, then they will start wondering if they are truly Christian, or whether they have really repented or whether they really have enough faith.
When we are left in this no-man’s land due to lack of assurance, people are wide open to all the winds of doctrine with endless debates on all its points. The Arian influence places a dualism between the knowledge disclosed in Jesus Christ and the knowledge of the Father who the Arians considered to be incomprehensible and ineffable to the Son. It means our mind does not actually have access to the mind of God. When this gap is created then it falls back on human beings to fill this gap with non-Apostolical and non-Christological explanations rife with paganism. When the appeal to tradition is disregarded, then we have no object or rule to govern the way we carry out our theological exercise. Our minds become conditioned to that of a pagan. It is with great delight to the academic elite who more or less become the mediators to teach us to grasp what it is we are suppose to know. Even then grasping for ourselves is often so complex that it can cause anguish for some that can lead to mental health problems. Others may abandon the faith altogether distressed, confused and exhausted. This is in stark contrast to the tradition of the Apostles where there is plenty of opportunity and space for people to work it out for themselves. There is such simplicity in the gospel grounded in Jesus Christ who clearly shows us the reality of God in Himself through His Person and work. In the ancient church I believe that it goes without saying that all will clearly understand the gospel, whether they are highly educated or have received even the most basic of instruction. Their confidence is in the ability for anyone to understand if they assent to the knowledge of Jesus Christ as He truly is; God who has become Man. It is especially here that the homoousion principle is of the utmost importance for the care and well being of the Christian knowing their hearts are held together by the loving hands of Jesus Christ.
There is the general public perception that Christianity is all about living a morally pure life. To even mention one is a Christian can make a non-Christian immediately feel they are going to be morally judged. In fact, it is widely perceived that Christians make themselves to be the moral policemen of society. When we push aside the homoousion principle then it is a judicial, morally based understanding of holiness that creeps into the Christian way of life. In addition, the Arian mindset takes away the personhood and isolates people into individuals, this includes the Persons of the Trinity. Patterns of relationships become conditional by fear of failing to reach high expectations based on rectitude.
It has its origins in the Greek philosophical ethical basis that were logically and causally debated without any real object to draw from. In general, it was widely known in ancient contemporary culture that there was a source or a cause from which all things originated from. However, there was a high degree of ambiguity about the nature of what this might be or who it was. Whatever it was, it was assumed to be far more powerful in all aspects than we mortals could ever be. Without any real tangible contact, the nature and character of this cause and source were debated. Based on conjecture, this god was constructed on what was considered to be the best of human qualities, such as strength, knowledge, purity, excellence, courage, moderation and justice etc., and taken to the highest degree possible. Their information was incomplete because their object was only what they imagined it to be. Depending on the quality of the argument and on the reputation of the one who presents the argument, some of their ideas might be considered matters based on fact when in reality it is nothing more than a theory based on imagination. This left morality open to interpretation. Moral values may justify bringing harm to others while a different approach to moral values may find this abhorrent.
For the ancient church, what they presented was based on the event of the Incarnation. This is the event where at the one time in history, God has made Himself known. The object the philosophers were striving to grasp through endless argument and debates has now appeared in this One Person, Jesus Christ. As far as the church were concerned, they had the facts. More importantly, it is these facts that speak for themselves from the inner core of God’s own being. However, making such a claim in the secular community sounded almost insane. As far as the ancient philosophical community were concerned, the Incarnation was impossible. This could not have happened as the Christians were claiming. Something else must have happened. For the Church, Jesus Christ, God become Man, was their True thesis par excellence and all else was the antithesis, nothing but lies. The struggle for the church was to preserve their Thesis while the secular community was striving to work towards a synthesis of the two. To the church, this meant a blending of the Truth with the lies. As far as the church were concerned Let God be true and every man a liar.
In time, however, the ideas of the secular community started to infiltrate the church. Institutional doctrine started to take priority over the apostolic tradition. If there was conflict between the two, then it was the institution that would preserve its doctrine over the apostolic tradition. Institutional doctrine would become the rule for how scripture was to be interpreted. It would become the rule for measuring who was right and who was wrong in the history of the church. The institution becomes selective about which of the fathers corresponded with their systems of theology.
With morality as the foundation, the actions of this “holy” God become twisted as He is depicted as showing wrath towards our lack of morality. He is the great moral Arbiter who is deeply offended by our lack of morality. This has to be punished. There is no one who is morally pure enough to take up the sins of the world, so He sends His Son Jesus Christ. The wrath of God is absorbed into Jesus Christ and is prevented from reaching us. Jesus’ propitiation is often describe as the ‘wrath absorbing’ sin offering. Instead of humanity receiving what is due to us, Jesus becomes what Baxter calls, the whipping boy for Father, who turns to humanity more less saying, ‘let that be a lesson to you!’ We are supposed to be horrified by the fact that God would send His own Son to suffer punishment from Him on our behalf. So we are supposed to confess our morally sinful behaviour, have faith in the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse us and ask for God’s forgiveness, then we become Christians. With moral rectitude as the foundation of holiness this becomes the guide by which we live day by day. Some call this sanctification, something which we do. It is defined in this way: It is becoming like Jesus day-by-day. We take steps and measures to become holy by sinning less and less. Thereby we gradually become conformed to the image of Christ. The stress is, little by little, over time, from conversion till Jesus comes back, or you die, you are in the process of sanctification, becoming sanctified, becoming holy.
The moral ground based on a careful interpretation of selected scripture and sin would become the guide for the Christian to live a morally upright life that would be perceived to be pleasing to God. Often the interpretation would be according to the institution’s own idea of what action was deemed ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Moral goodness means one is in God’s favour while moral badness would mean one is out of God’s favour, back-slidden or even separated from God. To become a Christian it is believed through confession and repentance one will try not to be bad anymore because God has forgiven their bad behaviour. One Scripture in the New Testament can cast doubt over such a moralistic approach. John 1.29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! If this is true then there must be a different approach to the question of sin. If Jesus Christ takes away the sin of the world, why do Christians make such a big deal about it? If we protest to this, then perhaps this passage is wrong? If we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, we cannot hold to a morally based approach to sin and the fact Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world together. This is the clue to an approach that pays total respect to the Incarnation. It takes God to know God and without God, God cannot be known. For us to be taught the things of God then it is God who must teach. This is the crucial point of contact where we can make our wrong ideas about God right. As we learn from Jesus Christ and begin to realise we are not face-to-face with God Himself, then our sin is taken away.
When the Arian gospel is cast against the Apostolic tradition, if one believes the Arian version, then the Apostolic tradition does not make sense. There are some who assume this Arian gospel is in fact consistent with the Apostolic tradition. Some may even conclude it is this tradition that must be wrong. They may even go so far as to say that the period between the apostles and Augustine, they may have been right about some things. However, it was Augustine who finally got it right. It is often perceived that any other way other than the moral, judicial gospel must be heresy. There appears to be satisfaction with the idea that the Father is someone who is dark and unknown, whose will is inscrutable and is different to Jesus Christ. Some are satisfied to have their lives governed by the fear of this unknown, that it is part and parcel of what Scripture teaches. For some there is always the underlying fear of whether of not they have repented enough, have enough faith or believe enough. Some are constantly searching for God’s will in their lives. They may not feel that the day to day activities are enough to live in God’s pleasure as whatever they do may not be pleasing in His sight.
All these problems have their ideology based outside the whole scope of Scripture. This is very important. This mythology often disguised as “theology” can be supported by scripture in a logically constructed way from whatever mythological foundation they choose. For example, Albert Einstein would say you cannot trust mathematics because it can say whatever you want it to mean. To put it in context, when you do not have a fixed object to dictate how you undertake and construct your mathematical formulas then its outcome is totally meaningless. If scripture does not have a fixed object from which you proceed in putting together a theology that is consistent with the Apostolic tradition, then it, too, will be totally meaningless. The Apostolic tradition begins with Jesus Christ as the one who discloses to us what was once the hidden secrets of the Father, Ephesians 1.9:
he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.
Interpreted in the Light of Jesus Christ and the reality of His identity of Being (homoousion) with the Father, this reality smashes the Arian gospel to pieces. It turns the whole approach on its head. When we look into the heart of Jesus, we are literally looking into the heart of the Father. When we look at the nature and character of Jesus Christ, we also see the nature and character of the Father. When we look at Jesus Christ, we see His human nature and divine nature operating as one. When we look to Jesus Christ we see God has entered into creation in our space and time bringing humanity into intimate closeness to Him.
Time and time again throughout the ancient period of the church they are referencing continuously what was said in the beginning. The Apostles who were first hand witnesses of the Word made flesh, whose words they heard, whose hands they touched and whose eyes they beheld. They saw fit to write down these things in the New Testament and it is to this they held with such vigour and conviction. It was important for those who defended the apostolic faith to take into consideration the whole scope of Scripture as was handed down by the apostles and continued in the tradition of the fathers. These were not just a few select figures but a whole community throughout the ancient world. Why would we abandon such an approach as we see here? This is the perplexing question of the millennium!