Some things are worth fighting for. Issues of truth make a difference, but the differences under discussion often appear much smaller than the differences that are really at stake. Would you be prepared to die for a little squiggle on a piece of paper?

The story is told of a woman trying to communicate with her husband across the Atlantic back in the days of the telegraph. While in Europe, she found a bracelet she wanted, priced at $75,000. So she sent a brief message to her husband asking if she could buy it. He replied by cable: "No, price too high." The cable company missed out the comma. She got the message "No price too high" and, excited by her husband's loving generosity, she bought the bracelet. The husband successfully sued the cable company who ruefully acknowledged that the presence or absence of a comma makes a lot of difference.

Another little squiggle created a far bigger stir in a different kind of court centuries earlier. It all revolved around a letter in the Greek alphabet, an iota - ι - equivalent to the English letter "i". That little mark made all the difference between truth, and Christianity being reduced to paganism.

We're back in the 4th century and the world was buzzing with theological controversy. Emperor Constantine wanted to bring the factions together as part of his desire for a cohesive Empire. Who wants political instability throughout the civilized world because of an obscure point of theology? Today it is unthinkable that doctrine could possibly matter that much, but Constantine was accurate in his assessment of how crucial this was. And back then everybody in Constantinople was discussing theology on the streets.

A man called Arius had wanted to defend the truth that the true God is eternally One. He thought that any claim that Jesus was also God opened the door to polytheism. So he taught that the Son of God was a created being rather than eternally God; the first and greatest of all creation, but not God-without-beginning. There was a certain logic to his arguments, and he put his ideas in popular rhymes and set them to music like little TV commercials that were being sung by illiterate people all over the city of Alexandria where Arius pastored a church in an influential university suburb.

The churches argued about the issue and Constantine called together a Council in Nicea in 325AD to settle the matter. A young man called Athanasius marshaled the arguments that led the bishops to reject Arius' view. It was agreed: as we say in the Creed of Nicea, "We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ... true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father..." While Arius died shortly after, the battle raged for 50 years, during which time Athanasius was exiled 5 times and spent 17 years in the wilderness for his defense of the deity of Christ. It seemed that the whole world turned against him. And while Arius' position was largely discredited, a compromise version of his views seemed to be a way to keep the peace - and that's where it came down to the little iota.

In simple terms, the radical followers of Arius proposed that the Son is unlike the Father - a creature rather than the creator. Athanasias demanded that the Son is of the same "substance" (the word that was used in the creed) - the same nature and essence of God. In Greek: homo ousios. But the semi-Arians wanted to change it to homo iousios - and the little squiggle changed it from meaning "of the same substance" to meaning "of like substance". And that marked a bigger change than the $75,000 price tag for a missing comma. It makes Jesus kind of God, but not really God.

The world is still divided over the iota. It remains the offence to Jews and Moslems who cannot accept that there is room for the Son of God in the doctrine of the One true God. Yet if Christ is not God, to give one example of the implications, God has no direct relationship with the world - he may be the supreme being but he is not our Father and we have no mediator, for only One who who is both God and man can reconcile the unknowable God to the fallen world.

And we think theological issues don't matter much! Why would a squiggle on a piece of paper create such a stir? But some things are worth fighting for. Unity at all costs is a demonic lie. Would you, like Athanasius,  spend 17 years in wilderness exile for an iota?

For more on this historic battle, there is an audio recording on our web site.

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