The First Council of Nicaea, which condemned Arianism.

A fresco of the First Council of Nicaea, which condemned the heresy of Arianism.

This is just shocking. Worse, it’s terrifying. Apparently, heresies condemned more than 1500 years ago by the Church are making a come back in American Evangelicalism.

That’s not hyperbole either. Christianity Today has a new report highlighting a survey of American Evangelicals on fundamental beliefs, like the nature of the Trinity. And while some of the the numbers are good, many are horrifying. More than half (51%) of American Evangelicals deny that the Holy Spirit is an actual person (and think He’s just “a force”). 16% believe Jesus was a created being made by God. And countless others are unsure on these questions!

At the same time, 22% of American Evangelicals think Jesus is less divine than the Father, and 9% believe that the Holy Spirit is less divine than the Father and the Son. The article goes on to highlight the Pelagian thinking that is infecting American Evangelicals’ understanding of salvation.

These are not small problems. These are big problems—Church dividing problems. There’s a reason the early councils took pains to reject and condemned these heresies. There’s a reason orthodox Christianity faced real persecution over these questions. If you needed a reason why you should read the writings of the Early Church and the Ecumenical Councils, this is it. Scripture is very much the ultimate authority in the Church, but the tradition of the Church helps us to norm our understanding of that Scripture. When we ignore this tradition, we end up resurrecting old heresies.

Churches which divorce themselves from the history of the Church effectively throw away a map which would help keep them on track. Let this be a warning to us all (whether Evangelical or not): we need to encourage stronger teaching of the essentials of the faith in our churches. And that means teaching real doctrine.