Anthanasius: father of orthodoxy
Athanasius (296-373) was the man who distinguished himself for the Orthodox and biblical view concerning the deity of Christ. He became the outstanding champion of Nicene theology in the East, and was one of the greatest and most influential thinkers in the history of the Christian Church.
Little is known of his early life; all we can be sure of is that before becoming bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius was the senior deacon and secretary of bishop Alexander, who opposed Arius.
He took part in the Council of Nicaea, where he brilliantly set forth the biblical arguments and evidence for Christ’s full deity and equality with the Father.
How, Athanasius asked, could Christ make men partakers of the divine nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4) if He Himself was less than God? If Christ is Saviour, He must be God and man in one person; in Christ the theanthropos, humanity has been lifted up into the very life of God.
Anthanasius also argued from the fact that the church worships Christ. How can we worship Him unless He is very God? If we are worshipping a created being, we are committing idolatry.
Athanasius set out his understanding of the deity of Christ, and later of the Holy Spirit, by the use of the pen. His writings, such as The Incarnation of the Logos, Orations against the Arians, and his Letters to Serapion all deal with the crucial issue.
He proved to be an unswerving and uncompromising enemy of Arianism in all its forms. He consecrated every moment and every faculty of his being to the defence of gospel truth. If the Church failed in this matter, it failed in its mission and ceased to be the true people of God.
A man for the times
Athanasius lived in the fourth century, during a time when the deity of Christ was being opened doubted and even denied. He correctly saw that if this fundamental truth is torn down then the church has no gospel left, for a creature cannot possibly save us from sin.
From Athanasius' stand for the truth we may draw three major lessons for ourselves in contending for the faith today.
Before the Council of Nicea, when the Christological issue came to a head, Athanasius had already "done his homework." He had written De Incarnatione in 318, a full 7 years before the historic convention of church leaders to settle the issue.
In dealing with heretics we need to know and familiarize ourselves thoroughly with Scripture; we need to know how to use it and how the enemy abuses it, twisting it to their own destruction. Paul said, "We are not as many, who corrupt the Word of God." Great and solemn care must be taken, in full dependence on the illumination of the Spirit, to divide rightly the Word of truth. A skimpy approach to Scripture will yield shame before the enemy; we will be routed.
Athanasius saw the light of day because he could handle the Word in a scholarly, intelligent and honest way.
It was not an easy task for Athanasius or for any Confessor or Reformer in any period of church history, for that matter. The truth must be preached, reiterated, explained; as Paul advised Timothy, "Preach the Word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke with all longsuffering."
Anthanasius struggled for the truth - a fundamental truth for God's people - before, during and after the Council. He never gave up, even though at times he seemed to be fighting alone. What a comfort and lesson can we draw from his stand, which was repeated by Luther's "Here is stand," and must be repeated by us, "Here we stand." Let's hold the torch of truth, and speak up according as we have believed.
c. PROMPT AVAILABILITY.
While the battle was raging, Athanasius did not stay at home, enjoying ease and comfort. Where the battle rages, there we must be. A good soldier of Jesus Christ proves his mettle on the front line. Yes, you will be ridiculed, mocked and maligned, but you must bare yourself and fight, for the battle is the Lord's and his will give us the victory.
He promised us that the Spirit will guide us into all truth; he does. But the truth is made known by those who have experienced its power. The truth is in Jesus; and we, having our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, will make him known, as he is, not lesser than he is.
The church today needs to speak up, shake herself free from the intimidation of pluralistic idealogies and hold forth the Word of life. For in holding forth the truth of Scripture Christ, the light of the world, is made known.
My dear fellow-Christian, are you acquainted with church history? You can find an endless source of encouragement from such men who, like us today, had to fight it out. They spoke the truth in love, and we must continue to bear the torch. “I believed, therefore have I spoken.”