No God In Heaven Unlike Jesus
Christianity, far from being a Western faith, thrived In North Africa and the Middle East, and through Turkey there were Christians aplenty, but the political leadership ensured that those who took their faith seriously could readily be martyred.
Then something happened to Constantine, and being a Christian became mainstream.
Division arose. Christian Choirs battled on the streets with their religious themes. Chief among the disruptive voices was Arius, pastor in Alexandria, who dared to question the long established message of the church and ask: ‘Is Jesus the eternal Son of the Father?’
Constantine gathered the good and the great. Over 300 turned up in Western Turkey, in a town called Nicea. Among them was St. Nicholas who, legend has it, punched the heretic on the nose. Go Santa.
Whatever Dan Brown says, Nicea didn’t invent the faith. They affirmed it against Arius’ objections.
In the room, observing, was Athanasius, a young man whose parents had dared to give him a name meaning ‘The Immortal.’
Athanasius took up the fight in the following years with much opposition. Arius named God ‘the Unoriginate’ and Athanasius notes:
Unoriginate is a word of the Greek philosophers who do not know the Son.1
Arius had got into bed with the thinking of the establishment and begun to define the God of the Christians from the thoughts of the Greeks. Athanasius continues:
Father is what the Son said: ‘I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me’ and, ‘He that has seen Me, has seen the Father,’ and ‘I and the Father are One;’ but nowhere is He found to call the Father Unoriginate.
The Greeks and heretical Arius dishonour the Son by defining God from creation instead of from the Son, says Athanasius:
If they had any concern at all for reverent speaking and the honour due to the Father, they would acknowledge and call God Father…it is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call Him Father, than to name Him from His works only and call Him Unoriginate.
Arius looks out the window and sees a God of power. Athanasius joins with the church throughout history to look at the Son and see the love of his Father.
#1 Prayer is Triune.
The Son teaches us to pray, not saying: ‘When you pray, say, O God Unoriginate,’ but rather, ‘When you pray, say, Our Father, in heaven’ Luke 11:2.
#2 Baptism is Triune.
We are not baptised into the name of the Unoriginate and originate, but into the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are made sons in the Son and use the name Father. The Arian name for God is fantasy.
The Western churches have tended to return to the vomit of Arius and start with ‘one God’ with various ‘omni’ attributes, among which is Trinity. Count the pages before the chapter on Trinity in your Systematic Theology.
The Eastern churches, for all their foibles, have, more helpfully, tended to start with the three, and see them in perfect loving unity.
The East and the West divided in 1054, theologically at least, over the Filioque, a clause in the Nicene creed about whether the Spirit comes from the Father alone, or from the Father and the Son. It says something about how un-Triune we are that most Western/Protestant/Evangelicals wouldn’t know which side of that divide they fall or on why it would make any difference.
#3 Revelation is Triune.
God speaks in creation, but how? Of power – yes but more with Trinitarian shape, like the life of the Son…of seeds that die to give life, of light that overcomes darkness, the sun less a nuclear inferno and more a bridegroom. The glory of God is in the face of the Christ.
Even “The Christ” is a name that evokes Trinity for Christ means The Anointed One. Anointed with the Spirit. Anointed by the Father. In this way God reveals himself, in person, through people, and in the Scriptures, the Father’s Spirit-breathed words concerning his Son to make us wise for salvation through faith the Son who was anointed with the Spirit by the Father.
#4 Atonement is Triune.
In self-giving love the Trinity acts in unity to send the Son to bring us home. The Father, Son and Spirit are all involved in this.
#5 Christian life is Triune.
In union with the Son a Christian participates in the Spirit-filled life of the Son.
Do all religions lead to God? Which God do you mean? This isn’t about a ticket to heaven, but sharing in the life of a divine family. Without Jesus how exactly do you think you’re getting to sonship?
Christians enter communion with the Triune God, mutually indwelling. We know the Father, in his Son, by his Spirit, and are sent out by their self-giving love. Love is not remote or impersonal but came in person and suffered with and for us.
Trinity at the centre.
It’s more Arian than Christian to begin with a generic god and fill that god up with the right attributes… much richer to start with the Son of the Father.
Athanasius left a mixed legacy. He wrote a biography of his friend Anthony, a monk, and gave rise to Monasticism – a new way to take your faith seriously when you can’t be a martyr. But he was also followed by the Cappadocian Fathers whose Athanasian Creed says:
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic [Universal] Faith. Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity…
In the complex world of omni-gods Trinity is another incomprehensible attribute. In Athanasius’ world it’s where everything begins.
Mark tells the gospel of the Spirit-anointed Son of the Father (Mark 1:1). Luke can’t help but speak of the Son of the Father page after page. John tells of the Word of the Father who is his beloved Son.
No fear. No confusion. In some generations, to believe in Trinity is dangerous, in others it’s safer, but always: Trinity is the essential. It’s the difference. For, as Mike Reeves puts it, “there is no god in heaven who is unlike Jesus.”2
1. All Athanasius quotes from Against the Arians, 1:33-34.
2. Quote from Mike’s session at Commission Students & 20s event 2014.