Arius was a Mega-Church Pastor

Obviously this is a fun way of framing a historical discussion. However, in the times when Arius¬†lived, it probably isn’t too far off from reality. Obviously not all mega-church pastors are heretics, but Arius was both a mega-church pastor and a heretic.

AriusArius (CE 260-336) was a significant figure in the Trinitarian disputes surrounding the First Council of Nicaea in 325. He suppressed the divinity of Christ in relation to that of the Father, as well as Jesus’ uncreated, pre-existence. Yet, he had a significant following even as a parish priest in Alexandria.

In the period when Arius was working and deploying his heretical theology, the Church, or churches, were undergoing increasing consolidation of institutional functions and formally identifying the historic doctrines that had lead the Church through the previous several generations. Because of teachers like Arius, the Church began to see the need to formally set the doctrinal boundaries and clarify for all believers what is and is not acceptable theology.

As Epiphanius of Salamis describes him, Arius was a skilled orator who, being tall and athletic, had crowds fawning over him. He possessed a superb intellect, sharp wit, and had an aesthetic lifestyle that made him appealing to many of his day. (Against the Arian Nuts, 49.1-3) Ephiphanus also comments that Arius had taken a large number of individuals from the Church at Alexandria to form his own following (Heresies 69.3.) It is suggested that it might well have been several thousand followers which, given the times, is a substantial following.

Arius might well have been considered a mega-church pastor. But he was also a heretic. 

The lesson here isn’t that all mega-church pastors are heretics, clearly they are not all heretics. Frankly, of the four mega-churches where I’ve been able to serve on a staff role, all the pastors have been thoroughly orthodox and wonderfully evangelical. (Evangelicalism not being a megachurchcondition of orthodoxy.)

It should be mindful for us, though, that just because someone has a large following, or has been able to secure a massive facility to house their annual gatherings of their followers, this does not justify their theology nor their heresy.

Recently, several times recently, some significant leaders is certain wings of American Protestantism have put out Tweets that are laden with heretical theology. In response to criticisms, their various followers will often justify their leaders’ tweets by pointing to their numbers and “success” in ministry. It is not, however, actually a reasonable way to proceed.

Just because someone is able to amass significant followers does not inherently mean they are justified in whatever they say. It is a crude veneration to think this is the case.

Instead, their statements are to be tested along with the rest of us. Now, I’m not suggesting every pastor needs a PhD or even an MDiv to be considered legitimate to accomplish ministry. Though these degrees don’t hurt our ability to pastor, being able to articulate and affirm the core theological doctrines of Christianity have always been the first test of worthiness for a pastorate. We must recognize that in the qualifications for leaders lists which are provided in the New Testament, the test of orthodoxy is still at the top of these lists. If a leader fails to meet this orthodoxy, no matter how much they “mean well” or “are successful” they have failed to meet a primary qualification for being an under-shephered of Jesus Christ.

Arius was a mega-church pastor, but he was rightfully rebuked and banished by the first ecumenical council because of his failure to articulate the proper theology that honors Christ.

May we remember his example and do the same.