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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.

11
Jun 2014
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Apologetics

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How Do We Call Out False Teachers?

Several months ago the Christian hip-hop artist Shai Linne put out a song that was bound to be controversial. The song is provocatively titled “Fal$e Teacher$” with the dollar signs intentionally placed. Check out the song here.

Now some of the controversy has been pointed out here with posts by one of the questioned ministries here along with a response by Shai Linne here. This an important topic to consider, particularly as we continue into an age defined by social media driven instant news and content. What does it look like to call out false teachers in the church? In an age of increasing sentimentality, celebrity worship, and political correctness, how does one identify and offer corrective to false teachers?

As we are reminded a in the New Testament, false teachers have and will abound among the churches which comprise the Body of Christ (Matthew 24:24; Galatians 1:6-9; Ephesians 4:13-14; 2 Peter 2:1-3; etc.) At multiple points, the writers of the NT personally identify and call out false teachers who are operating within the ministries of various churches to whom they are writing (1 Timothy 1:20; 3 John 9; etc.) So not only are the NT writers familiar with false teachers, they also present a pattern of identifying false teachers and warning their flocks about them.

One of the things that seems apparent from the NT dealings with false teachers is that when each of the writers speaks specifically to a context which they are familiar. They have an established relationship with the people and the churches they are writing to and upon this relationship each, it appears, feels they have an obligation to warn of and ward off false teachers. Later first century documents (cf. The Didache) lay out specific tests for false teachers.

In our contemporary age we should be honest and note that there are false teachers within the Church. Any significant organization will always have to deal with people who attempt to come in and disrupt its core beliefs and practices. Also, the Church is a place where good teaching is given platforms. There is power in being a good teacher.

Our task, as church leaders, must be to mind the flocks and be on the alert for those who seek to divide and destroy. As leaders in the church we need to be mindful of destructive doctrines, false teachings, immoral practices, and other challenges to a complete understanding of biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

We also must be aware that sometimes of the times where quick tongued pastors and leaders have condemned a ministry and person who had only good intentions or out of a hidden motivation.

One of the goals for us all should be to pursue understanding before indictment. We should go out of our way to engage with and hear from various ministries and individuals. Making a good faith effort to confront, biblically, might also allow us to have a better understanding of where a person or ministry is coming from and how we can encourage them or understand them.

When false teaching persists, church leaders have an obligation to call out such teaching (after private confrontation has been attempted) and protect those within our ministry.

False teaching will always persist in God honoring churches.

As ministry leaders we must also recognize that there comes a time and place to appropriately engage and warn of such teachers. The purity of the Gospel and the power of its proclamation alone are worth this work.

One of the great challenges that confronts us arises from the work of the Satan who knows that the opposite of biblical Christianity is not humanistic atheism (though that does pose a unique challenge.) The challenge for us to today, as it was in the first century and since then, has been that the opposite of biblical Christianity is pagan idolatry that looks like Christianity but is, in fact, not related Christianity at all.

 

The Golden Calves of false teaching proliferate too much in our lands and times. We must be on guard.

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