Today in 100% True History from the Annals of Church History we consider Athanasius & the Dismembered Bishop.
Even those casually acquainted with church history should know the name of the 4thcentury theologian, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria. The fact is we owe him quite a lot. Without the influence of Athanasius we would not have the Nicene Creed nor the Athanasian Creed. Truth be told, without Athanasius, Trinitarian Christianity, at a human level at least, may have not survived the tumultuous 4thcentury. In that century the great Arian Heresy reared its ugly head and led many astray into Christ-denying lies. Against these lies stood one man – Athanasius.
In today’s post we will take a quick look at Athanasius’s background and influence before looking at one of his many adventures – namely, a sensational court case in which his Arian opponents accused and ultimately convicted him of committing murder and dabbling in black the black arts.
Athanasius’s Background & Influence
The name Athanasius literally means “immortal” and is a fitting name for a man whose theological impact has stood the test of time.
Listen to how C.S. Lewis describes him:
“His epitaph is Athanasius contra mundum, ‘Athanasius against the world.’ ...he stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, ‘whole and undefiled,’ when it looked as if all the civilized world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius– into one of those ‘sensible synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is Athanasius’s glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains…. when those times, as all times do, have moved away.”
Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt sometime between 296-98. Though we know next to nothing about his childhood or his his family background, history has left us this one fact about his appearance – he very short.
Yep.... that’s it... what a way for a giant of a theologian to be remembered!
Besides this we have the fawning descriptions of him given by his admirers long after his death. They claimed that that Athanasius had “the face of an angel” while his contemporary theological enemies nicknamed him “the black dwarf” because they saw him as short, dark, and ugly and called him “the black dwarf.”
These enemies would be the bane of Athanasius’s life resulting in 5 separate exiles. More than this Athanasius would find himself constantly having to respond to various smear campaigns they launched against him. The results of one such campaign and the court case that it spawned is described below.
Athanasius & the Dismembered Bishop
Sometime during the Autumn of Athanasius’s life a number of Arian leaders began circulating a very dark (not to mention, very false) rumor. Their claim was that Athanasius was not the saintly bishop he seemed to be. According to them Athanasius, in a fit of satanic-inspired rage, tracked down an Arian bishop named Arsenius, and ritually murdered him before dismembered the corpse, keeping one of his severed hands for use in black magic rituals.
In support of this claim Athanasius’s enemies even produced a severed human hand, parading it around the streets of Alexandria. According to them it was the hand of the late Bishop Arsenius which some brave men had managed to steal from Athanasius.
Then as now, the news-consuming public gobbled up these sensationalistic reports until eventually there was massive public outcry for an investigation. Seizing the opportunity, the Arians called a fraudulent church-council and summoned Athanasius to defend himself. Athanasius, armed with a secret trump card, obeyed their summons and appeared before the council.
As the trial began the Arians repeated their lies against Athanasius, even producing a number of false witnesses who testified against him. These incredible accusations reached their crescendo as, much to the revolution of the council, the Arian’s produced the severed hand of Arsenius as their final piece of “evidence” against Athanasius.
The case seemed airtight. Athanasius looked done for. The Arians tasted blood in the water and like hungry sharks and like wolves on the prowl they licked their chops in anticipation of their victory.
But it was then, much to the surprise of nearly everyone, that Athanasius played his trump card.
It seems that prior to the trial, Athanasius, fully aware of the seriousness of the charges against him had set out to do the only thing he could do to clear his name. Athanasius had set out to find the body of Arsenius, and find it he did. And far from the body being dead and dismembered, Athanasius found Arsenius’s body very much whole... and very much alive! Just as Athanasius has suspected, the Arian bishop Arsenius wasn’t dead at all but was hiding out in a cave as an active participant in the conspiracy against Athanasius.
Without his opponents realizing what he had discovered Athanasius now began a theatrical display of his own before the council. With the help of some friends Athanasius actually managed to introduce Arsenius, heavily veiled, into evidence.
His face hidden and his hands concealed under unusually long sleeves, Arsenius was led before the council. Those present at the council watched as Athanasius quietly proceeded to roll up the sleeves of the cloak one by one, exposing first one hand and then the other. Then in a manner reminiscent of a Scooby Doo episode, Athanasius pulled back the hood of the cloak revealing the face of Arsenius.
As the assembly gasped in surprise Athanasius dramatically turned to his accusers and asked them to explain how it was that Arsenius was not only alive but was also in possession of both his hands.
While we might think that introducing this evidence should have silenced Athanasius’s accusers once and for all it didn’t. This is history. And history does not, often times, have the neat and tidy endings of Matlock episodes. Despite the powerful evidence in his favor – namely a living, breathing, two-handed Arsenius – the council, packed full of Arians, were furious and declared Athanasius guilty.
In the confusion and outrage that immediately followed Athanasius somehow managed to escape, fleeing to Constantinople to appeal his case before the emperor.
So ends one of the many adventures of Athanasius.
What else will it take to convince you that the PCUSA is no longer a Christian denomination?
I am not asking this to ruffle your feathers nor am I asking in a rhetorical way. I am quite serious and I would like you to consider how you would answer.
A couple of years ago (6/30/16) I wrote an article entitled Liberal Presbyterians Pray to Allah. No Joke. This article (which included a link offering video evidence) showed a Muslim man leading attendees of the 2016 PCUSA General Assembly in prayers to Allah. While, as far as I know, no Mohammedan’s were invited back to subsequent General Assemblies to do encore performances, it must be said that things have only gotten worse.
During the “ecumenical faith” worship service held on June 20 as part of the PCUSA’s 2018 General Assembly, Christian attendees were instructed to pray a theological train wreck of a prayer.
The prayer ran as follows:
“We praise you for the gift of faith we have received in Jesus Christ. We praise you also for diverse faith among the peoples of the earth. You have bestowed your grace that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Practitioners of traditional religions and others may celebrate your goodness, act upon your truth and demonstrate your righteousness. In wonder and awe we praise you great God.” (source: page 113 of the 223GA Program Book)
One PCUSA pastor responded to this prayer in a blog post by writing:
“Reading this prayer carefully, one discovers that faith in Jesus Christ is just one of many diverse faiths on earth, all of which are good. God’s gift of grace is not linked uniquely to the work of Christ opening up salvation for all the world, but is rather only one way of coming to God.”
Now, of course, the Lord Jesus, the Word of God, and the history of the Christian church all confirm that the above prayer is total hogwash. Moreover Christians have always believed that to deny salvation in Christ alone is not merely to deny a particular doctrine but it is to reject the living Triune God, Himself. The Lord Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer on this point, saying in Luke 10:16, “If you reject me you reject the Father who sent me.”
So to my PCUSA brethren I ask you – How far is too far? How much is too much? What more will it take for you to conclude that the PCUSA, whatever its claims, is not Christian in any biblical or historical sense of the word?
I ask you, not as a judge or critic, but as a brother in the Lord and as a fellow Presbyterian. I ask you because there is a great need in our day and in our land for a faithful Presbyterian witness. I ask you because the PCUSA, having seemingly turned from the truth to lies, appears to have become mired down in theological falsehoods that only get bigger and bigger (not to mention more and more indefensible) as the years go by.
The great Protestant Reformer, Dr. Martin Luther once warned against doctrinal lies by saying: “A lie is like a snowball. The longer it is rolled on the ground the larger it becomes.” The past 100-plus years of Protestant liberalism’s impact upon mainline Presbyterianism bitterly proves Luther’s point... so much so that we are now witnessing what would have been unthinkable to Presbyterians of the past... so called “prayers” which blaspheme the Lord Jesus Christ and His redemptive work for sinners.
My PCUSA friends, how much is too much?
When it comes to the discussion of BIG subjects there is none bigger than the sovereignty of God. And yet this discussion is also a very dangerous one. To misstate it is to misrepresent God Himself and therefore caution is necessary.
In this post I intend to give my readers three safeguards to bear in mind when thinking of and/or discussing the sovereignty of God.
As we begin, let me lay my cards on the table....
I am a Calvinist, through and through.
I am not a Calvinist because my parents were Calvinists (they weren’t).
I am not a Calvinist because I was raised in a Calvinistic church (I wasn’t).
I am not a Calvinist because my theological training took place in exclusively Calvinistic institutions (some were wildly Arminian.)
I am not a Calvinist because “John Calvin is my homeboy” as a popular t-shirt once inopportunely put it.
Truth be told I don’t even like the title “Calvinist,” preferring instead the less bellicose designation of “Reformed Christian.”
All of this to say, I am not a Calvinist because I was force-fed it, conned into it, didn’t know any better, and/or wanted to jump on the bandwagon.
I am a Calvinist because I believe Calvinism best expresses and explains the teachings of the Bible.
So who was Calvin anyway and what does all this have to do with the discussion of God's sovereignty?
John Calvin (1509-1564), was a French theologian, pastor, and protestant reformer who today is perhaps best known for the emphasis he placed on the absolute sovereignty of God, a doctrine that is (lamentably) considered controversial in many quarters of our post-enlightenment, egalitarian, democratic society.
At this point it is important to offer a definition of God’s Sovereignty, according to Calvinist theology. Simply put the Sovereignty of God is God’s ultimate Lordship and rule over the universe so that the divine will is supreme over all else. (see Ephesians 1:11, Revelation 4:11, etc.) This is the understanding of God’s sovereignty that Calvinism affirms.
Now the question of whether Calvin should be best remembered for his teachings on the sovereignty of God is one of some serious doubt to my mind as Calvin wrote extensively on many biblical and theological themes, all the while writing comparatively little on the sovereignty of God and even then only with great caution and care. To illustrate the point one only need examine Calvin’s theological magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559). In these magnificent volumes Calvin never broaches the subject of God’s Sovereignty in election and predestination until book 3, chapter 21, closing his treatment of the subject with the cautious statement: “After all that has been adduced on this side and on that, let it be our conclusion to feel overawed at the great depth” of the mystery of God’s Sovereignty.
Indeed, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) which was drawn up by Calvin’s English-speaking theological offspring calls God’s sovereignty a “high mystery,” that needs to “be handled with special prudence and care.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 3, paragraph 8). Included in their explanation of God’s sovereignty, the men of Westminster offered the following affirmation and hastened to add a number of qualifiers that we will touch on later: “God did unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”
Clearly Calvin and his followers at Westminster understood what many Calvinists (not to mention their Arminian counterparts) do not seem to understand today. Namely that there is great mystery in God’s sovereignty and therefore, there is great danger in discussing the matter carelessly.
Some Calvinists have rightly been criticized for speaking of this mystery in dangerous and glib terms, acting as if the only real mystery was why other Christians can’t seem to wrap their heads around the sovereignty of God. The Arminian opponents of Calvinism, on the other hand, have sometimes been criticized (and quite rightly in my view) for challenging the very notion of God’s sovereignty altogether (particularly in the matter of salvation) and thereby undermining God’s deity altogether. For certain Arminians the sovereignty of God is not a mystery because the sovereignty of God does not exist.
Both treatments of the subject are dangerous. The former because it is snobby and pretentious (a besetting sin common to we Calvinists) and the latter because it is strips God of one of His essential attributes – the sovereignty that makes God, God. But make no mistake, both errors are rooted in a denial of the mystery that surrounds God’s sovereignty.
So the question becomes – how can we avoid both of these errors? How can we discuss the important doctrine of God’s sovereignty and avoid the dangers?
Let me offer three safeguards, all of which are rooted in the clear teaching of Scripture and enumerated in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 3. Think of these three safeguards as fences to keep us from wandering off the path and into dangerous directions.
When the men of Westminster summed up the sovereignty of God by saying “God did unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass,” they hastened to add these three safeguards:
Admittedly, none of these “fences” are without their own share of mystery. But all of them will keep us from stumbling into danger when thinking about and talking about the sovereignty of God.
"J" is for justification.
But before we get into justification, however, let me share a little phrase with you - "Sola Fide."
Does that phrase ring a bell?
What does it mean?
Does it mean anything?
Does it matter what it means?
Well according to biblical Christianity and our heritage as Protestants it mean a great deal…
Sola Fide means - By faith alone, and it is one of the five Solas of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. This was Martin Luther's cry in reference to Justification, i.e. a person's "right-standing" before God.
For a person to be saved they must be justified – or made righteous – in the sight of God. And Justification, Luther declared, could only come by grace through faith in Christ alone – not faith plus anything else. This was and is no minor doctrinal issue. Luther, along with all of the Reformers believed this was a critical doctrine by which the church would either stand or fall.
The doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone makes this important claim that we all must understand - namely, that righteousness before God is NOT something that human beings possess by nature nor is righteousness something that we can work towards and eventually achieve. Because this is true a person cannot ever be justified unless an “alien righteousness” - i.e. a righteousness not their own - is given to them.
The Gospel is good news because it tells us that this is exactly what God is willing to do for us by grace through faith. To all who believe, the righteousness of Christ is freely given. This means that a person's right standing before God is no longer based upon their own efforts but upon the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to them by grace through faith.
Only in this way can a person be declared "just" or "righteous" before God, the judge of all. Only in this way can a person have any hope of heaven. Only by looking to the perfect righteousness of Christ and receiving it through faith as a gift.
"The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Gibraltar of the Christian faith and the Waterloo of infidelity and rationalism."
“Nothing will give such power to our sermons, as when they are the sermons of many prayers. The best sermons are lost, except they be watered by prayer. It is easy to bring to our people the product of our own study; but the blessing belongs to the message delivered to them, as from the mouth of God.”
5 Most Ridiculous Books to Ever Become Christian Best Sellers
In the year 270, the slightly insane Roman Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage because he believed married men made for bad soldiers. Ignoring the emperor, Bishop Valentine continued to marry young Christian lovers in secret until his disobedience was discovered... and he was sentenced to death.
According to R.C. Sproul, it's that you don't know who God is....
Take a couple of minutes to watch this video.
Substantive Discussions of Theological Topics
from a Reformed and Lutheran Point of View
Good question... Let’s try to answer it.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we read that while good works don’t earn us God’s acceptance, He, nevertheless, intends believer's to perform them - or "walk in them."
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
(Ephesians 2:10, ESV)
This makes sense when we remind ourselves that the Bible paints a holistic picture of the believer’s life. The Christian is a person whose life is entirely and continually shaped and governed by the grace of God. And this is where good works come into play. It is because every aspect of the believer’s life is lived within the sphere of God’s grace that he/she will perform good works through the gracious enabling of God.
The reason for good works in the believer's life becomes even more clear when we remember that Ephesians 2:10 wasn’t written as an isolated statement – but rather part of a broader explanation about the effect of God’s grace in the lives of His people.
Consider again what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10, but this time noting what he first says about grace in the two prior verses:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
(Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV)
The Apostle is telling us that God, in his grace, is the source of every aspect of our salvation from start to finish, including the good works that we perform. In fact, v.10 tells us that “our” good works aren’t really “ours” at all. They are His. He prepared them beforehand. He gets the credit for them.
As we’ve already mentioned, good works don’t save us but they are proof that God has saved us by grace... and is saving us by grace... and that’s why good works are important.
This article is published here on North of the Clerical Collar with Mark's permission.
by Mark Gilbert
Large numbers of Australians still attend a church service at Christmas, at least half will attend a Catholic service. At the same time families, neighbors and friends spend more time together over the Christmas / New Year period in a variety of different contexts. This makes Christmas a great time to have evangelistic conversations with Catholics. Here are a few tips to help.
Tip 1. Ask about what the priest said at the Christmas Mass and then share about what your minister said (hopefully the Gospel).
Tip 2. Visit your Catholic family member's Christmas service and invite them to yours. By the way, they are more likely to go to yours if you offer to go to theirs. When attending Mass I usually participate in the first part - the Bible reading and reciting the creed. (called Liturgy of the Word). I don't pray publically with Catholics because it portrays a unity I don't want to express. I also don't get involved in the second part of the service (called the liturgy of the Eucharist) because it is idolatry. Because of this I don't stand, kneel or even join with them in saying the Lord's prayer, and I certainly don't go up and receive communion. I just adopt a humble posture and pray for those in the room. Don't worry, there are lots of non-Catholic visitors at Christmas time and you wont be the only one.
Tip 3. It is likely that at some stage during a conversation about Church over Christmas that someone will make a statement like, "Well, we're all the same really." This is the line the Roman Catholic Church is promoting heavily from the top down at the moment. This provides us with a great opportunity to share the Gospel by saying something like,
"That's an interesting idea, I always thought that Catholics believe that good people go to heaven, is that right? Did you know that Protestants believe that only bad people go to heaven? That's a bit of a difference isn't it?"
Then laugh and make light of it. It is Christmas after all! They will almost always ask what do you mean that bad people go to heaven, and then you can explain the Gospel. Works almost every time!
Tip 4. Pray before every social gathering that God will give you the opportunity to share the Gospel with your Catholic family, friends and neighbors and see what he does, at least you'll be ready if he gives you the chance.
Rev. R Crabtree
"...a son, a husband, a father of 6, a friend, a Presbyterian
(not the liberal kind), an eccentric, and a minister of the gospel... I am also the Pastor of All Souls Church and a Professor of Religious Studies at OCBC."
All Souls Church
Attributes Of God
Irenaeus Of Lyons
Journey Of Faith
Means Of Grace
Order Of Salvation
Westminster Confession Of Faith