Not every church communication hero is a household name. Case in point: Anthanasius. Who? Exactly. He was a fourth-century theologian who argued for the divinity of Christ. His claim to fame (and what’s perhaps a little more well-known)—the Nicene Creed:
“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made…”
That’s just the first part of it, the part that Athanasius fought for. What we believe and the words we use to communicate those beliefs are worth fighting for.
A popular idea of Athanasius’ time was that God the Father is eternal, but Jesus Christ is only a creature, a mere demigod. You can imagine the implications of this. If Jesus is “lower on the totem pole” than God, then some of his actions (walking on water, rising from the dead, etc.) and even value/worth (Savior of the world, love, bread of life, living water, etc.) might be called into question. Theologians have referred to this belief as non-traditional and controversial. Athanasius went a little further and called it “ignorant, godless, impious, heretical, hypocritical, non-Christian.” Yikes! He wrote pages and pages of text to explain why he believed Jesus was more than just a pretty-divine guy.
So how did he do it?
- He read and reflected on the words of Scripture: “John says, ‘In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and apart from him not one thing came to be,’ [John 1:14].” -Orations Against the Arians
- He thought deeply about the words of his predecessors, building on some and rejecting others. Athanasius comes from a long line of theologians who were struggling to make sense of the gospel. He tended to agree with a lot of what church father Tertullian and Christian ruler Constantine had to say; he didn’t like a guy named Arius at all.
- He wasn’t afraid to form and fight for his own very deep convictions. The Nicene Creed was first formulated at the Council of Nicaea in 325, but it didn’t actually take hold until the Council of Constantinople in 381. Athanasius was bold and uncompromising throughout this time. His tenacity, which brought about persecution even to the point of exile five times, was key to the victory of the Nicene Creed.
- He stayed focused. After reading Athanasius’ various treatises, there’s no question what he’s after. Athanasius wants people to see that Jesus = God. And he’s very convincing.
And why does all this matter?
The Christian faith as a whole is well, confusing. It is hard, if not impossible, to fully understand and articulate it. But Athanasius knew that what we say about the gospel—and how we say it—matters. Athanasius shows us that it takes time and a lot of hard work, but we can be successful.
Athanasius also teaches us that our communication today can shape faith and even become legendary in the years to come. People in the pews might have no idea who Athanasius is, but the Nicene Creed could very well be their “go to” for how to articulate what they believe about the God they worship.
If Athanasius shied away from heresy, our doctrine would have suffered. If we fail to communicate what God has placed on our hearts, our churches will suffer.Photo by Lawrence OP