In our society, February, among other things, is dedicated to celebrating Black history; to pause and remember specifically the history of that particular ethnic and cultural heritage.
At Pembroke, we are using this month of February as an opportunity to honor some “Champions of the Faith”. These men committed their lives to serving the God of heaven and his gospel, and each one of them was also of African or black heritage.
So this month, we want to highlight just three of many of God’s faithful ministers, who championed the Gospel through thick and thin. These men understood that God had chosen for himself people from every tongue and tribe and color and culture, and that their fundamental identity was not African or American, but Christian.
We want to honor these champions as men of God, who also wore a certain color of skin and came from a certain ethnic heritage.
Three hundred years after Christ, wolves had entered the fellowship seeking to devour the sheep; teaching false things about Jesus–contending that he was not truly God; that he was a created being.
Around this time was born in an obscure village along the Nile River in modern day Egypt a champion whom God would call to defend the truth. They named him Athanasius, and in the deserts of Africa he learned discipline in spiritual things. By his early 30s, he had already written one of the most important works of theology in the early church: On the Incarnation of the Word, where he taught the importance of God coming in human flesh in the incarnation, the taking on of human nature and flesh by Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
Around this time, he was also secretary for Alexander who was the bishop of Alexandria in northeast Africa. With Alexander, Athanasius attended the theological discussions of the Council of Nicea, which in 325 AD, rebuked the teachings of a man named Arius, who taught that Jesus was a created being lower than God. In 328, at the age of 35 or so, Alexandar died, and Athanasius reluctantly became bishop of Alexandria in Alexander’s place. Around that time, the heresy of Arius and lies about Jesus began to grow and influence the church.
Athanasius fought against this heresy, and his opponents mockingly called him “the black dwarf”, because he was very short and very dark-skinned. Athanasius stood his ground, being exiled five different times for his convictions. The Latin phrase “Athanasius contra mundum”—Athanasius against the world—was coined to describe his fight. He fought valiantly his whole life to defend the truth, and for 1700 years the church has benefited from his bravery.
This Februrary, Athanasius, “the black dwarf”, reminds us of the Gospel–that Jesus crossed the biggest chasm in the universe, so that he might bring us back to God. This month, as many celebrate the heritage of black history, we celebrate as well!
We celebrate because of men like the one they mocked as “the black dwarf”, who stands as a giant and a champion and casts his courageous shadow across the ages of the church.
More importantly, we celebrate the Jesus he loved and championed, who died for people of every color and culture.