Did Arianism Help the Church?

Church History

AriusOne of the greatest theological disputes of the early 4th Century church revolved around the question of Christ’s divinity as it related to his humanity and suffering. Arius was the voice being opposed, and was confronted under the leadership of Alexander of Alexandria. Alexander led the initial charge against Arius who, along with his companions, was eventually condemned as a heretic by the synod of Alexandria. However, while arguing for orthodox Christology largely after the death of Arius, Athanasius is most often credited with the refutation of Arius’ claims. The charges of heresy against Arius were a serious matter, but they positively served the church in the establishment of a biblical Christology and a well defined trinitarianism.

Arius was an Alexandrian cleric born around 256 in Libya. While Arius was still a young man, the issue of modalism was still being settled, and even though modalism was suppressed, the underlying issue of subordinationism was yet unresolved. Around 319, what is known today as the Arian heresy came to the attention of Alexander. [1] Although more complex and nuanced, Arius’ concern was how God could be one (The singularity of God) and how simultaneously the Son could be God. “This is an authentic theological concern, and one that had been percolating in the early church for a long time… If God was one, then the Son, Arius concluded, could not possibly be God and, therefore, he must be a creature.” [2] In other words, Arius denied the full divinity of the Son. As a successful propagandist, Arius invented catchy jingles to convey his point, the most famous of which became, “There was a time when the Son was not.” In Arius’ mind, so long as it was to be said that the Father begat the Son, the conclusion must be that the Son had a birth, or a beginning, which denied his immutability and eternality as the supposed divine. Therefore, embedded in Arius’ claims was the belief that an immutable God could not become man, and the divine cannot become passible. The Arian heresy threatened the trinitarian monotheism of the early Christian church.

In a rather short period of time, Arius was formally excommunicated by an Alexandrian synod around 320. Immediately following his excommunication, Arius made an appeal to Eusebius, the bishop of Nicomedia who was the most sympathetic prelate to Arius’ theology. Eventually Arius and some of his supporters found their way to Nicomedia and began what became an “epistolary battle” involving a Palestinian synod, Arius, and Alexander. Alexander eventually took to writing a series of letters, “spelling out the exact nature not only of Arius’ heresy but of his behaviour and that of his supporters in Alexandria.” [3]

Alexander sought to make his case against Arius from the Scripture and taught that “the Son of God was of one and the same majesty with the Father, and had the same substance with the Father who begat Him.” [4] Alexander’s criticisms of Arius were strong and clear, leaving no room for the assumption that there might be areas of agreement among them:

For since they call in question all pious and apostolical doctrine, after the manner of the Jews, they have constructed a workshop for contending against Christ, denying the Godhead of our Saviour, and preaching that He is only the equal of all others. And having collected all the passages which speak of His plan of salvation and His humiliation for our sakes, they endeavour from these to collect the preaching of their impiety, ignoring altogether the passages in which His eternal Godhead and unutterable glory with the Father is set forth. [5]

One of Alexander’s greatest concerns was that Arius and his supporters were seeking to deceive the simple-minded through lengthy and complicated letters. Based upon the sheer volume of letters, two synods of the bishops of Egypt, and the eventual convening of the council at Nicea, the Church was deeply concerned with Arius’ claims and sought to either confirm or deny their validity on several occasions.

The Claims of Arianism

Unfortunately, most of what is known about Arianism comes not from Arius, but rather from those who sought to refute his claims. Several historians have suggested that Arius himself was rather insignificant and nowhere near the insurrectionist that modern historical accounts portray him to have been. All that remains of the writings of Arius are three letters, a fragment of a fourth, and a scrap of a song, the Thalia. [6] M.R. Barnes comments:

Perhaps the most central finding in the last fifteen years of renewed research… has been to show how peripheral the person of Arius was to the actual debates which occupied the church for most of the century… Arius himself, therefore, had only a minor role in the theological debates which were reputed to be a conflict over his views and which eventually bore his name…few Greek polemicists, even if they are clearly pro-Nicene, bother to refute Arius. [7]

Whether Arius was significant to the issues leading up to Nicea or not, his name is forever attached to the controversy, and the historical record seems to accurately indicate that his views were indeed consistent with that which was being refuted. However unfortunate, it is very likely that “his name is simply a term of theological abuse.” [8]

Arius’ claim to the emperor Constantine was that he wished nothing more than to be loyal to the Scripture and the faith of the Catholic church, avoiding “unnecessary issues and disputations.” [9] Nevertheless, Arius lays out his primary claims to both the Antiochene Council of 325 and Constantine which clearly contradict the faith of the Catholic church. Arius’ theology of the Trinity, and more specifically his Christology, was as follows:

  1. God is transcendent and inaccessible, but has providential governance of the universe; He is Lord of the Law, the Prophets, and the New Covenant;
  2. The Son of God exists alēthōs (truly) and is, like the Father, “unchangeable, inalienable,” yet not agennētos (unbegotten); [10]
  3. The Son had an origin ex nihilo (Created out of nothing). There was a time when he did not exist. Since the Son was begotten of the Father, he was created, existing by the will of God; [11]
  4. When God wanted to create, He made a person (Word, Spirit, Son) who was an intermediary;
  5. The Word is mutable and remains good through the exercise of freewill, so long as he chooses to remain good;
  6. The ousiai (primary substances) of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are divided and differ from one another. The Father is the Son’s origin, and the Son’s God. There are two wisdoms, one that existed eternally with God, the other the Son who was brought into existence in this wisdom. Thus, there is another Word of God besides the Son, and it is because the Son shares in this that he is called, by grace, Word and Son. [12]

At the heart of early Arianism was the desire to harmonize the clear indications from Scripture that Jesus was a man and creator, while simultaneously upholding the orthodox positions of God’s immutability and impassibility. Arius argued that a creature could suffer and die in a way that the creator could not (viz. How could an impassible God experience passibility?). Letham writes, “The ‘Arians’ (for want of a better word) wanted to protect God from involvement in creation, from human experiences and suffering. Jesus’ human limitations showed that he was inferior to God. So he should not be worshiped. In the Incarnation, the Son took on a human body, but not a human soul or mind.” [13] To have a suffering savior while simultaneously holding to an immutable, impassible God, gave need to a god of lesser status than the Father, one that was less divine.

Refutation of Arianism

Alexander was the first major opponent of Arius and took the most significant measures toward refuting the Arian claims:

Wherefore without delay, brethren beloved, I have stirred myself up to show you the faithlessness of these men who say that there was a time when the Son of God was not; and that He who was not before, came into existence afterwards, becoming such, when at length He was made, even as every man is wont to be born. For, they say, God made all things from things which are not, comprehending even the Son of God in the creation of all things, rational and irrational. To which things they add as a consequence, that He is of mutable nature, and capable both of virtue and vice. And this hypothesis being once assumed, that He is “from things which are not,” they overturn the sacred writings concerning His eternity, which signify the immutability and the Godhead of Wisdom and the Word, which are Christ. [14]

The Christological significance of Arius’ claims were of immense concern to the early church. If the Savior is not God, it destroys our salvation. Emperor Constantine thought the ongoing debate was a matter of semantic disagreement and sought to gather the opponents for a discussion to settle the matter, thus resulting in the council of Nicea in 325. However, the theologians involved knew the issue was not mere semantics; the difference was between pure Christian orthodoxy and heresy.

After the Nicean Council met, the most prominent voice in opposition to Arianism because Athanasius even though Arius had since died and been condemned as a heretic. One of the primary concerns of Athanasius was the co-essential nature of the Father and the Son and the inability of some to understand what was decided at Nicea. There were those who opposed the findings of Nicea altogether, thus siding with Arius. On the side of orthodoxy, Athanasius described the anti-Arian bishops as follows:

But the bishops who anathematized the Arian heresy, understanding Paul’s craft, and reflecting that the word ‘Co-essential’ has not this meaning when used of things immaterial, and especially of God, and acknowledging that the Word was not a creature, but an offspring from the essence, and that the Father’s essence was the origin and root and foundation of the Son, and that he was of very truth his Father’s likeness, and not of different nature, as we are, and separate from the Father but that, as being from him, he exists as Son indivisible, as radiance is with respect to light, on these grounds reasonably asserted on their part, that the Son was ‘Co-essential.’ [15]

How Did Arianism Help the Church?

Not all controversy in the church has an adverse effect, especially in the early years of Christianity. Arianism forced the Church to solidify its Christology. Beginning with Nicea and following through the arguments of Athanasius, the church was able to defend and articulate the orthodox understanding of Christ’s divinity and eternality. Furthermore, the hypostatic union was defined thus answering the questions of the heretics about immutability and impassibility. The church’s trinitarianism was more narrowly defined, highlighting the divine mystery, yet emphasizing the unique personhood of each member of the Trinity while maintaining strict monotheism.

21st Century Christians ought to be thankful for God’s providential design in the Arian controversy. While many “Arians” exist today (e.g. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses), orthodox Christian believers can rightly worship Christ, not as a co-existent man, but as a sufficient Savior and mediator. Additionally, Christians can joyfully recite the Nicene Creed knowing it is a true statement of Christian belief having come through the fires of controversy to defend the true divinity and personhood of the Son of God. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).


1. Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004), 109.
2. Thomas G. Weinandy, Does God Suffer? (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 2000), 33.
3. Rowan Williams, Arius: Heresy & Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 49.
4. James B. H. Hawkins, Alexander of Alexandria: Translator’s Introductory Notice, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VI: Fathers of the Third Century: Gregory Thaumaturgus, Dionysius the Great, Julius Africanus, Anatolius and Minor Writers, Methodius, Arnobius (Buffalo: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 290.
5. Ibid., 291.
6. Letham, The Holy Trinity, 109.
7. M.R. Barnes, introduction to Arianism After Arius: Essays on the Development of the Fourth Century Trinitarian Conflicts, ed. M.R. Barnes (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), xvii.
8.Letham, The Holy Trinity, 110.
9. Opitz, U.30, 64.20-1.
10. Williams, Arius, 96.
11. Letham comments, “The logic here is that since everything created came into being out of nonexistence, and the Word of God is a creature, so the Word of God also came into being out of nonexistence. Thus, God was not always Father, for before he created the Son he was solitary” in Letham, The Holy Trinity, 112.
12. Athanasius, “De Synodis”, tr. by John Henry Newman and Archibald Robertson from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. 4, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Buffalo: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892), accessed on August 9, 2013 http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/.2817.htm.
13. Letham, The Holy Trinity, 113.
14. Hawkins, Alexander of Alexandria, 292.
15. James Stevenson and B.J. Kidd, eds., Creeds, Councils, and Controversies: Documents Illustrative of the History of the Church A.D. 337-461 (New York: Seabury Press, 1966), 44.

(By: Nick Kennicott)

Tullian in the Lions Den? (updated)

Culture, Law, The Gospel

11/4/13 UPDATE- After reading this post I’d encourage you to take a look at this review of One Way Love, which I think strikes the right balance in my larger concern for the way some in the broadly reformed world are approaching issues of grace, obedience, law, gospel etc.  HT: Ref21.

David and Goliath.  Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  Paul at Athens.  Tullian on Morning Joe.

Those of us reared on Sesame Street should be hearing the song “One of These Things is Not Like the Others” beckoning from our repressed childhood memories right about now.  Indeed, one of these things in certainly not like the others.

Pastor Tullian Tchividjian was recently on the MSNBC program Morning Joe for their “Faith on Fridays” segment.  He was there to discuss his new book “One Way Love.”  Here is the segment (I tried unsuccessfully for longer than I’d like to admit to embed the video.  If I figure it out later I’ll edit this and it will look prettier).

This segment had been viewed over 60,000 times online a few days ago.  That doesn’t count those who saw it live.  And what did they hear, exactly?

Actually, the real question is what didn’t they hear.

1. They Didn’t Hear Anything About Jesus.

Pastor Tchividjian seems like a really nice guy, and I know that being critical of this sort of thing is a lot easier when you’re not the one in the TV studio.  But I am critical.  I even slept on it for a few days while this post languished in the draft file.  How can you go on national TV and be asked multiple times about grace, even directly asked ‘how do we get grace’ and only give generalities without ever mentioning Christ?  I suppose there is some value in the fact that his answer was vaguely monergistic, but not much.  I don’t know how I’d do with cameras in my face and a live feed going out nationally, but I’d like to hope that even if it was stammering and stilted I would say something about Jesus.

2. They didn’t hear anything about repentance.

I get the whole ‘dangerous, extravagant, inexhaustible grace’ thing.  Believe me, I do.  The free grace of God to undeserving a wretch like me thrills my heart.  But it seems to me that the free offer of ‘outrageous’ grace is Biblically linked to the call to repentance, right?  I’m not the only one who has reacted this way to this particular strain of teaching on God’s grace which seems to be in vogue at the moment- see this, and this.  Wasn’t there a Lordship controversy about this a while back?

3. They heard no effort to distinguish between the way Pope Francis has talked about grace and the way the Bible talks about grace.

I counted two times in the clip that the hosts directly linked Pastor Tullian’s message in his book to the recent statements about grace made by Pope Francis.  One assumes they meant his comments about homosexuality.  Or perhaps his comments about Atheism?  Letting that comparison stand may have been the byproduct of the studio setting, or the pace, or the line of questioning, or whatever.  But ultimately, it’s hard to excuse.  In fact it’s down right depressing coming from any Christian, but especially from an ordained Minister in the PCA.

And just to show I’m not alone in this assessment, read this from a freshly minted fellow member of that particular communion.

Again, I don’t know I would have done better.  But if not then I hope that I never end up on Morning Joe, or any other such cultural soap box. And if I had conducted myself that way I hope I’d be tweeting apologies rather than links to it and thanking MSNBC.  I’m all for reasoned conversation and polite exchanges, but there does come a time to have a bit of Elijah in your blood.  Now, just to show that clarity in these venues is possible, and as a refreshing contrast I present this:

(By: Nicolas Alford)

In The Family of Jesus

Devotional, The Church, The Gospel, Theology

Usually when we read that Jesus had a wife and kids it is one of those ridiculous news magazine cover stories that quote some tired old 8th century forgery as an authentic Apostolic autograph or in a sensationalistic documentary claiming to unearth the “family tomb” of Jesus.  An *ahem* Biblical studies expert is usually called upon to hypothesize eloquently about Jesus and Mary Magdalene and what may or may not have been.  Why are these so-called discoveries always unveiled around Easter and Christmas?  Is is possible that their may be a slight profit motive behind it all?  I’d not like to give account for that on the final day, speaking personally.

It is certainly true that Jesus had a family in the BIble.  His relationship biologically to His mother was no different than yours or mine.  And he had an adoptive earthly father in Joseph.  His earthly brothers of course figure prominently in the New Testament.

And from another perspective it is also true that the intra-Trinitarian relationship of Persons is partially revealed to us in familial terms- the Father and the Son. But it is not Jesus earthly, nor intra-Trinitarian next of kin which is the focus in this post.  Rather, I want to share three ways we are spiritually related to Jesus in the pages of Scripture.

1. We are the siblings of Jesus.

…That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers… (Hebrews 2:12)

…I will tell of your name to my brothers… (Hebrews 2:13)

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)

For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. (Matthew 12:50)

Several beautiful truths are highlighted here.  By becoming incarnate the Son of God has become the brother of men.  He was made humanly like us in every respect but our sin.  And because of what He did in the flesh, He has so redeemed you that He is not ashamed to look at you (if you, reader, are His) and call you brother.

In our redeemed lives we are so closely identified with Him and His mission that it even takes priority over our earthly blood-bonds.  When viewed on their own merits our earthly relationships are precious and ordained of God.  Yet when viewed in comparison to our relationship to Christ, it is as though they do not even exist.  And truly the wonder of the thing is that Jesus identifies that way with us.  He turns away from even precious earthly ties and says here is my closest family- those who do the will of My Father in heaven.

2. We are the bride of Jesus.

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready (Revelation 19:7)

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:9)

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2)

Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And  he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:9-10)

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

Rather than attempt to immediately sort out the already/not yet dynamics at play in these verses, can we not simply be quietly overwhelmed by what God is saying to us in His Word?  The redeemed people of God, those purchased by the blood of Jesus, His church- we are called His bride.  A man is called to leave father and mother and cleave to His new wife, and similarly Jesus left the comforts of heaven on a redemptive mission of love.  He came after His intended bride and laid down His life to win her.   His work on her behalf has won many things we could list and rehearse- but among his trophies of grace we must say that He has certainly won her heart.  He has indeed won more that that- glory for Himself, propitiation for us, so much more we could list- but there in the midst of the great roll of the redemptive victories won by Christ is this: he has taken the dead hearts of these spiritual corpses and knit them together into a living spiritual Bride fit for a King, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.  He has resurrected, cleansed, redeemed and thoroughly won the heart of his bride- His Church.

3. We are the children of Jesus.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;

he has put him to grief;

when his soul makes an offering for guilt,

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;

the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10)

Sometimes lost in the midst of this beautiful account of the Suffering Servant is this prophetic promise- after Christ is crushed and put to grief for the iniquities of His straying sheep and after his soul makes an offering for guilt, there is the promise that he shall see his offspring.

The Bible describes us as the spiritual children of Jesus.  Notice that in the gospels Jesus again and again refers to his disciples as children (Mark 9:42; 10:24; John 13:33-35; 21:4,5).  How good it is to look to him with the quiet expectation and trust of a child.  In Isaiah 53 the picture is that the Servant will endure the Sufferings and afterward he shall be raised up.  Several pictures of the end to which he will be stricken are offered, and the first one listed is that He will see those who once were straying sheep are now his devoted children.  What a glorious and neglected truth- believers are the spiritual children of Jesus.  He is their Federal Head, their Covenant Lord, and their Spiritual Father.  To call Him such is not to introduce Trinitarian confusion of persons, nor to neglect his place as our Spiritual Brother and Spiritual Husband.  It is simply to continue to follow Scripture in the beautiful familial metaphors it paints for us.  

The family of Jesus is about much more than the cheap opportunistic hack jobs thrown up around Christmas and Easter in the secular press.  There are multiple levels of glorious truth to consider.  Jesus was a real man, and he really had a human family.  He was made like us in so many ways.  And the Bible does not hesitate to use the image of a family to describe us as the spiritual siblings, bride, and children of Jesus.  Each of these spiritual bonds draws out and expresses with new depth and clarity the union we have with our Lord.  Although he had no earthly wife and no earthly children, His family is real and it is growing.  If you are in His family, rejoice with me today.  If you are outside, why?

(By: Nicolas Alford- with some heavy influence from Pastor Greg Nichols on point 3)

Working on Sunday

Christian Living, Law, The Church, Worship

My Sundays got a lot better when I started working on them.  Do I mean that I started asking my boss to schedule my hours on the Lord’s Day? No!  What I mean is that observing the 4th Commandment takes work.  A Biblical, edifying and enjoyable Lord’s Day doesn’t just happen; you must labor for it.  And by far one of the worst ways to approach the Christian Sabbath is by trying to pinpoint the exact amount of secular vocation or physical recreation that is allowed.  That’s coming at the day as though it were a curse, not a blessing.  I wrote about this in an old post called Why Is The Sabbath Controversial?  There I wrote:

the usual questions one gets about the Sabbath concern the exact boundaries of restriction.  How much work is too much? What sort of work is forbidden? For what part of the day is the restriction in effect?

This is not unlike the teen boy who awkwardly asks you how far is too far to progress in his physical relationship with his girlfriend until he goes over some invisible line of sin.  But we know from experience that trying to define these sort of boundaries and then flirt with sticking our toes over them always leads to disaster.

Rather than approach the Sabbath asking “what can I NOT do today,” we would do far better to ask “how much of a spiritual blessing CAN this day be?” Then, when we have filled our day with worship, fellowship, rest and mercy, questions regarding whether or not I can pay bills or watch football become largely irrelevant.

This post is simply an expansion on that last paragraph.  I want to encourage us all to work on Sunday, and by that I don’t mean do the labors we ought to be pursuing on the other six days.  Rather, I mean let’s work on Sunday by working on our faithfulness, purposefulness, and delight in this good gift from our God.  Here are five ways we should work on our Sundays:

1. We should work to structure our lives in a way that honors the Lord’s Day.

There is an old maxim that states ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’  How very true that is regarding the Lord’s Day!  Although Sunday is really the first day of the week, our cultural nomenclature of ‘weekend’ and the rhythms of our work week make it feel like it’s the last chance we have to get our tasks done before Monday rears its ugly head.  It’s so easy to leave our bills, yard work, laundry, and a million other tasks for Sunday, even when we didn’t intend to.  We just failed to plan… but that old maxim has a convicting second half!  Much of our ‘working’ on making Sunday better actually involves our organization and planning Monday through Saturday.

Now, it’s not my intent here to argue for the validity or invalidity of any of those or any other specific tasks I mentioned.  That might be a worthwhile thing to do, it’s just not the point of this post.  However, there are some helpful questions we can run specific aspects of our lives as we work to structure our lives in a way that honors the Lord’s Day.  Is this activity something that properly could be done on another day?  Does this activity rob time from my pursuit of the principles of Sabbath (worship, rest, fellowship, mercy)?  Does this serve the ends of the day or take away from them?  What can make it a little complex is that we may answer somewhat differently in different scenarios.  For instance, its difficult to argue that joining an Ultimate Frisbee league that has games every Sunday morning, thus disrupting your ability to attend worship services is a valid choice for a Christian.  But tossing a Frisbee around with your kids or with friends from church in the afternoon, or as an outreach activity Sunday evening in a city park with a few other Christians is difficult to censure.  The issue isn’t the Frisbee, nor the physical exertion it takes to fling it.  It’s whether or not the activity serves the purpose and principles of the Sabbath or the Sabbath is being bent in service to the activity.  That’s the sort of ‘work’ it takes to improve our Sabbaths- careful thought and Biblical consideration.

2. We should work to build up the body of Christ

Some people love their Sunday afternoon nap.  I’ve even been known to snooze a bit between services, especially if I’ve just taught or preached.  But in light of the ‘one another’ commandments of the New Testament, let’s all be careful not to sleep away hours we could be better using in purposeful fellowship.  One of the best parts of Sunday is opening your home to the saints, or being invited into the home of another.  If we take the community aspects of the New Testament seriously at all, we have to see that briefly chatting over the back of a pew is a totally insufficient expression of communal church life.  We need to be building up the body, and Sunday is a wonderful opportunity to prioritize that effort.

3. We should work to involve the totality of our being in the worship of God

What does that mean?  Well for starters it means get enough sleep Saturday night so that you don’t sleep through the service.  If you’ve ever wondered if the preacher notices this, the answer is yes.  But that’s not the reason you should stay awake- you should do it because you are including your whole spirit, soul and body in your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 5:23).  It’s a Godward, not a manward concern primarily (although it is a bit discouraging for the preacher when you can see the congregants tonsils quiver as they snore).

Again, we run into the issue of flexibility and motive.  If an afternoon nap is necessary to refresh yourself for evening worship, maybe that is better than having fellow church members over for fellowship.  But what if you purposefully got enough sleep during the week to allow you to do both without struggle?  That’s just one example of working to involve the totality of our being in the worship of God.  We must not neglect the physical, nor be simplistic about it.

4. We should work to relieve the sufferings of our fellow man

Although it is not universal, there is a general tendency in Sabbatarian circles to treat acts of mercy as an allowed exception, rather than part of the actual essence of the Sabbath.  Basically the attitude is that if your ox falls in a ditch you are permitted to pull it out, but don’t you go out searching for oxen to rescue!

I used to think that way as well, but my time in the gospels changed my mind and refined my understanding of mercy and the Sabbath.  Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  In Luke 6:6-11 he healed the man with the withered hand and asked the Pharisees “Is is lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life of to destroy?”  This caused the Pharisees to be filled with rage.  Speaking personally, I want to be more like Jesus in this story and less like the Pharisees.

So what does that look like for us?  It might look like showing mercy to an elderly widow by bringing your kids to visit her and read Scripture with her on the Lord’s Day afternoon.  It might look like purposing to be evangelistic by inviting visitors to your home, or having neighbors over for lunch with gospel intentionality.  It might look like stopping to help people broke down in the snow on the way to church, even if it is going to mess with your schedule.

Elevating mercy to a Sabbath component rather than a Sabbath exemption does not in  my mind depreciate any other aspect of the day (and it shouldn’t be inappropriately used that way).  It simply fills out our observance and reforms us more and more to the example of Christ in the pages of Scripture.

5. We should work to grow in our enjoyment of the gifts of God

This is the invisible but sometimes arduous labor we need to do within our own hearts.  If we’re not loving the Sabbath, it is possible that something about our Sabbath keeping might need to change.  But it is also true that something in our heart simply might need to change.  Perhaps what we need to do is work on the fact that we sinfully refuse to delight in what the Lord has called good.

The worship of God may not always be a perfect combination of gripping music, a knockout sermon, and fervent prayer- but we are to delight in the worship of the Lord of the Day.  We may feel the tug to get a bit ahead by doing work that could easily be done earlier or saved for Monday- but we are to rest after the example of the Lord of the Day.  We may not feel sociable or be struggling with relational tensions among the body of Christ- but we are to love the brethren and pursue fellowship on the Lord’s Day.  We may be tempted to play the priest or the Levite from Luke 10:25-37- but we are to be Sabbatarian and Samaritan both, just like the Lord of the Day.

Is this easy? No.  Growth rarely is.  It takes work.  Let’s all commit to a better keeping of the Sabbath by making sure that every week we keep working on Sunday!

(By: Nicolas Alford)

The Anti-Gospel of Self-Harm

Christian Living, The Gospel

Dear Hurting Friend,

I’ll be writing this short post as a personal letter to you.  No, I don’t have you personally in mind, and I don’t claim any sort of divine prophecy or special revelation, but I know you are out there reading.  I know it because there are so many just like you, so many who quietly struggle with the devastating weight of addiction to self-harm.  You are not alone.

Self-harm is a general term that can encompass a multitude of particular battles.  It can take the form of anorexia, cutting, putting yourself in abusive situations, alcoholism, and too many more to list.  It effects men and women, young and old, blue collar and white collar both.  Again, you are not alone.

Here’s what this simple letter is not: a complete answer to your problems.  Self-harm is a complex struggle, one to be engaged in the context of a support team that may include family, your pastors, and specialized medical professionals.  But I do want to say something that I pray might be a help, and might be an encouragement to those who are suffering in the quiet shame of isolation.  Perhaps this is the day when the brighter light of hope begins to break in upon your darkness.

I want to show you how self-harm is an anti-gospel.  The gospel is the Bible’s message of hope and redemption through the person and work of Christ.  At its heart is the historical event which occurred in Palestine approximately 2000 years ago: the crucifixion of Jesus.  But the cross is not just an important historical occurrence, it is the very epicenter of God’s plan to rescue sinners from condemnation and redeem them as his own precious children.  While our redemption does include aspects and events not strictly related to the cross, the heart of the matter is this: on the cross God the Father poured out His wrath against our sins, and Jesus Christ took that wrath upon Himself.  He went through our hell for us so that we could go to His heaven.  The Bible uses the word propitiation to describe what happened, which simply means that Jesus completely satisfied the wrath of God against our sins.  Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Self-harm is anti-gospel in two very important ways.  First, in taking on the role of the one who must inflict punishment, you claim a position which is not yours to claim.  God is the judge.  He is the one who has the right to give out punishment, not you.  He is the one who has the right to pour out wrath, not you.  And second, in taking on the role of the one who must receive harm, you claim another position which is not yours to claim.  Jesus is the Suffering Servant, not you.  He is the Sacrificial Lamb, not you.  He is the one who receives harm to make you whole.  You don’t have to do it yourself.

Therefore, your self-harm is anti-gospel because when you hurt yourself, you are taking over the gospel roles of the Father and the Son.  And what you are doing with them is really a devastating lie- because your self-harm is never motivated by love, while the cross is the pulpit from which God preaches to desperate sinners like us, “look how much I love you!”  God first sent and then pours out His wrath on Christ because of love, Christ receives and propitiates it because of love, and the Holy Spirit pursues you and seals these things to your heart because of love.

My dear friend, God does not want you to harm yourself anymore.  He so deeply desires your good that he harmed his own Son, who willingly participated in this Triune plan because of his own love for those who had scorned and spurned him.  Could it be that today, this very hour, this very minute is when the loving hand of God is gently drawing you out of your brokenness, and leading you to a place of healing through his beautiful gospel?  No matter how dark the night may seem, the light is always just over the horizon.  Friend, you don’t have to do this.  Jesus offers you a better way.  My prayer for you is that you would lay aside your self-harm and the anti-gospel it preaches to you, and step into the light of the true gospel, a message of hope, love, and healing.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:21-26

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.  But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,

and arise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:11-14

(By: Nicolas Alford)