“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
Ambiguity is the Lifeblood of Heresy
The novel use of theological terms (if you can even call it novel) becomes necessary to preserve the truth against those who try to distort it. Right now, we have way too much experience of having sound doctrine attacked. These slippery snakes escape being pinned down by their quick tongues and torturous explanations. Therefore, the early Christians had to develop terms which were very clear as to what they meant. They could not give an inch to the heretics because ambiguity is the lifeblood of heresy. For example, even Arius confessed that Christ was God and the Son of God. The Bible was just too clear on those points. He then pretended to agree with others. Meanwhile, he kept saying that Christ was created and had a beginning like other creatures did.
To drag Arius’s scheme out of hiding, the ancient Church took things a step further and declared that Christ is the eternal Son of the Father, cosubstantial with the Father (having the same “essence” or “substance,” i.e. the same “God-ness.”). Arius’ degradation of God was shown when he began disparaging the term “homousias.” If someone is sincere in his confession that Christ is God, then he won’t protest the idea that the Son is cosubstantial with the Father. Would you really criticize those ancient Christians for debating the use of the term homousios? That little word distinguished the true Christians from the blasphemous Arians!
Next, Sabellius came on the scene. He pretty much believed the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were non-entities. He maintained that the terms didn’t mark distinctions but were different attributes of God. When the issue was debated, he agreed that the Father was God, the Son was God, and the Holy Spirit was God. But he had his evasion from the truth ready: he argued that naming God was doing the same thing as calling Him powerful, just, and wise. He also sung a different tune. He argued that the Father was the Son, and the Holy Spirit was the Father without order or distinction. In order to defeat Sabellius’ dishonesty, the early church leaders who wanted to preserve the true worship of God proclaimed that three persons must be acknowledged in the one God.
To protect themselves from crafty scheming, they sought to simply state the truth: they affirmed that a Trinity of Persons existed in the one God.