Ancient Church

Some stories in Christian history seem too exciting to be true. We often think that some of these stories are hagiography, but some of the greatest stories are well documented. One such story is the death of Arius the heretic (with a name like Arius, you are almost guaranteed to be an Arian). Arius had won the hearts and minds of the people, despite his denial of the orthodox Trinity. Arius had caused much havoc in the Christian world and many people prayed imprecations, asking that God would deal with him. God did. The story of his death is solemn and reminds us of the truth of Scripture- our God is a consuming fire.

At that time [the year 336] Alexander presided over the church in Constantinople. He was a devout and godly bishop, qualities he clearly proved by his conflict with Arius. When Arius arrived in the city, the people divided into two factions and the city was thrown into confusion. Some insisted that the Creed of Nicaea must be obeyed, others argued that Arius‘ views were in harmony with reason. This forced Alexander into grave difficulties, especially since Eusebius of Nicomedia had violently threatened to have Alexander instantly deposed unless he admitted Arius and his disciples to holy communion…. At his wits’ end, Alexander said farewell to the resources of human wisdom, and took refuge in God, devoting himself to continual fasting and ceaseless praying. Without telling anyone, he shut himself up in the church called “Peace”, went up to the altar, and prostrated himself beneath the communion table, where he poured forth his fervent prayers with weeping. He did this without ceasing for many nights and days. And he received from God what he so earnestly sought; for this was his prayer: “If Arius‘s views are right, may I not be allowed to see the day appointed by the emperor for discussing them. But if I myself hold the true faith, may Arius suffer the penalty his ungodliness deserves, as the author of these evils….”

It was Saturday, and Arius was expecting to take communion with the church on the following day; but divine vengeance overtook his daring crimes. As he left the imperial palace, attended by a mob of Eusebius’s followers like guards, he paraded proudly through the city, the centre of attention. But as he approached the place called Constantine‘s market, at one and the same time the terrors of conviction attacked his conscience, and a violent seizure attacked his bowels. He asked if there was somewhere nearby where he could relieve himself, and someone directed him to the back of the market. There he fainted, and his bowels came spilling out of his backside, together with streams of blood; parts of his spleen and liver poured out in the bloody flow. He died almost instantly. People in Constantinople still point out where this calamity happened, behind the meat-market in the colonnade; this constant pointing out of the place has preserved a perpetual memorial of this extraordinary death. The disaster filled with dread and alarm the party of Eusebius of Nicomedia; and the news spread quickly through the city and indeed the whole world. The emperor, growing more earnest in Christianity, confessed that God had vindicated the Creed of Nicaea, and rejoiced at what had happened.

– N Needham, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power


The creation is an amazing thing. It is quite easy to see how people will give the creation praise and glory since it is so beautiful and amazing to behold. The Scriptures teach us that part of the purpose of creation is to point us to the one who made it.

The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoices like a strong man to run its race. Its rising is from one end of heaven, And its circuit to the other end; And there is nothing hidden from its heat. -Psalm 19.1-6

“I asked the earth and it answered me, ‘I am not He.’ And whatsoever things are in it confirmed the same. I asked the sea and the deeps and the living creeping things, and they answered, ‘We are not thy God, seek above us.’ I asked the morning air, and the whole air with its inhabitants answered, ‘Anaximenes was deceived, we are not thy God.’ I asked the heavens, sun, moon, stars, ‘Nor,’ say they, ‘are we the God whom thou seekest.’ And I replied unto all the things which encompass the door of my flesh, ‘Ye have told me of my God that ye are not He: tell me something more of Him.’ And they cried out with a loud voice, ‘He made us.'”
-Saint Augustine, Confessions

In a discussion on the article of faith, “He descended into hell” you will find much confusion. The ancients intended this phrase to mean just what it says- Jesus descended into hell after his burial. Most views say that he preached or proclaimed his triumph over sin and death before demons and/or the damned.

Reformed Christians historically deny this interpretation. We have reinterpreted this phrase in our ancient creed to mean that he either entered the place of the dead or he suffered the pains of hell on the cross. My personal belief (which does not find much support in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition) is that we strike this phrase from our Creed or we place a giant footnote at the bottom of every printing and state that we disagree with the original meaning of the authors of the text.

As far as I see there are three camps in the Reformed tradition here:
1. Those who are revisionists and reinterpret the creed.
2. Those that do not think that it is that important to change or redefine.
3. Those who want to strike the phrase out of our ancient creed.

Of course, all three have consequences. What should be done though? Does a revisionistic interpretation open the door to liberal interpretations of the Scriptures? Does striking the line show disrespect to our ancient heritage?

Three quotes were given in the discussion that shows the confusion that this phrase has made in the evangelical world. These quotes left me astonished that some have gone so far as to redefine Christ’s atoning sacrifice to fit into a creedal system. I see these as the bad fruit of not dealing with this early on in the Protestant Reformation (I understand that the Reformers would not have been able to maintain their claim on catholicity if they began disassembling the creeds of the historic Church):

When Jesus cried, ‘It is finished!’ He was not speaking of the plan of redemption. There were still three days and nights to go through before He went to the throne…Jesus’ death on the cross was only the beginning of the complete work of redemption. -Kenneth Copeland

Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case, the two thieves could have paid your price. No, the punishment was to go into hell itself and to serve time in hell separated from God…Satan and all the demons of hell thought that they had Him bound and they threw a net over Jesus and they dragged Him down to the very pit of hell itself to serve our sentence. -Fredrick Price

He [Jesus] tasted spiritual death for every man. And His spirit and inner man went to hell in my place. Can’t you see that? Physical death wouldn’t remove your sins. He’s tasted death for every man. He’s talking about tasting spiritual death. -Kenneth Hagen

The Celtic Church fought for many years to maintain the rule of Saint Patrick against the pressures of Rome. It was not until c. 900 that Rome finally won over the hearts of the Celtic people, thus taking the ideals of Saint Patrick under the authority of a bishop that Patrick never gave homage to. Patrick is to be commemorated by Protestants as the Evangelist to Ireland. The Lord used Patrick mightily for his honor and Ireland’s good.

Thus I give untiring thanks to God who kept me faithful in the day of my temptation, so that today I may confidently offer my soul as a living sacrifice for Christ my Lord; who am I, Lord? or, rather, what is my calling? that you appeared to me in so great a divine quality, so that today among the barbarians I might constantly exalt and magnify your name in whatever place I should be, and not only in good fortune, but even in affliction? So that whatever befalls me, be it good or bad, I should accept it equally, and give thanks always to God who revealed to me that I might trust in him, implicitly and forever,and who will encourage me so that, ignorant, and in the last days, I may dare to undertake so devout and so wonderful a work; so that I might imitate one of those whom, once, long ago, the Lord already pre-ordained to be heralds of his Gospel to witness to all peoples to the ends of the earth. So are we seeing, and so it is fulfilled; behold, we are witnesses because the Gospel has been preached as far as the places beyond which no man lives. -Saint Patrick

Read the Confessio of Saint Patrick here.

The ancient Roman world was one that had a very low view of marriage. The love between a husband and wife was seen as inferior to the ‘love’ that a homosexual relationship could bring. The Christian Church fought against this idea and showed forth the beauties of what a life according to the Word of God would accomplish in a home. Below is a text from c.160 by the theologian Tertullian (the theologian who coined the term ‘Trinity’). This type of marriage would be counter-cultural to the typical Roman marriage. Is it counter-cultural to our view of marriage as well?

How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts. Tertullian, c.160