This dialogue began as a comment exchange at the end of Appendix II (which is a summary of the book) of The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven. It began with Stephen’s first comment here, and continued until it transferred from here to this post.
I moved the dialogue here because I thought Stephen’s questions deserved a dedicated place with a little more elbow room. He may respond to this topic here, and/or he may respond to other topics as he sees fit. This exchange about the Trinity arose in a dialogue about everyone going to heaven and the completed Second Coming.
Here then are my responses to Stephen’s last note:
Thanks for answering my questions. I do understand that the word Trinity is not in the scripture, but let’s be honest, to say that God is not Trinitarian is to go again pretty much every branch of Christianity since the very beginning.
I don’t really feel like I’m going against every branch of Christianity, and I’ll say more below about why.
Remember, we can read the works of men like Irenaeus, Polycarp, and Ignatius who were disciples of the apostles.
My understanding is that Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, and Clement of Rome were the three church fathers who had direct contact with apostles (the first two with John, and the third with Peter). While Irenaeus (who died in 180 AD) is certainly numbered among the church fathers that followed, I don’t think anyone has claimed that he was a direct disciple of one of the apostles.
As the apostles did not use the word “Trinity” neither did the apostolic fathers (Polycarp, Ignatius, and Clement). Nor did Irenaeus. That term did not come into use until the church father Tertullian began to use it in the 3rd Century. The concept was more fully explained by Athanasius early in the 4th Century and adopted as church doctrine by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. It came about in response to various challenges to the nature of Christ as presented in the Scriptures.
The evidence couldn’t be more clear that Christians since the beginning held to the belief in the Tri-personal God head. To say that this is a 4th century add on by the Emperor does not hold any water unless you are a Jesus Seminar follower.
I am not a Jesus Seminar follower, nor do I think the decree of Constantine drove the issue. However, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that “the evidence couldn’t be more clear that Christians since the beginning held to the belief in the Tri-personal God head.” For one thing, the Scriptures never use that term either.
Do you really think that it is honoring or even smart to say that pretty much every branch of Christianity has gotten this bible hermeneutic wrong. You are really going at this alone.
I do not make any statements about God lightly, knowing 1) that He will judge me for everything I say, especially about Him, and 2) I might lead people away from God rather than to Him if I am wrong. Concern for these two issues drive me to always do my best to speak only the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures and by the Holy Spirit.
I have benefitted greatly by what Christians down through the ages have taught. I do not consider myself as rejecting that heritage. On the contrary, I embrace it – especially its best parts.
The early church sorted out among all the documents written about Jesus those that came from the apostles, and thus we have the New Testament appended to the Old Testament. Where would I be without the Bible? The Reformation church pointed out that the Scriptures had more authority than church leaders, and thus the light of the gospel of Jesus escaped the shadows of a corrupt clergy. Where would I be without that knowledge? The modern day evangelical church has made clear that the Scriptures bear witness not to themselves but to Jesus, and thus the preeminence of Christ in all things is the central message of the Bible. Where would I be without Christ as the head of all things?
Thus, what God has revealed down through the ages to Christians is of the utmost importance to me. I treasure their sacrifices and I revere what they have taught me. Thus, it is they who have helped lead me to the understandings that I have. Christians through the ages have not always agreed and so when I take one of their teachings and not another, I have not rejected them – I have only made a choice that their disagreement forced on me.
You have chosen the Orthodox Church. You could have chosen the Catholic church. Or you could choose a Reformed Church. If you had your druthers, you’d rather not have to make a choice. That is, you would probably prefer that there be only one united church. It is the divided church that has forced you to make a choice you otherwise wouldn’t have made. Because if there was only one church, you certainly would not leave it to go out and form your own.
Therefore, the problem with your logic is that if I try to find “safety in numbers” by siding with historic Christianity, there’s too many choices! From John Calvin to John Spong is a long way – both chronologically and theologically – and there are a whole lot of John’s in between. Where does one choose to land? For me, I have chosen to land with the John in the Scriptures (and the rest of the apostles, and prophets before them). If that leads me to differ with certain church fathers, then I have to live with that. And they, of all people, should not accuse me because they are the ones who taught me to revere the Christ of the Scriptures above all else.
Without trying to sound harsh, there is no time in Church history (bar none) that if someone came out against the Holy Trinity that they were by definition a Christian. I don’t mean that judgmentally but only factually.
I am not trying to meet the church’s definition of a Christian. For one thing, many have failed to meet it and went on to establish a name for themselves as great Christians – even greater than those who said they didn’t meet the definition. (Think of John Hus being burned at the stake…and innumberable others.)
Only the Arians and several other groups who were cut off from the rest of the Christians believed this. Even now the only “Christians” who don’t believe in the Trinity would be Jehovah Witnesses, Mormon or maybe One-ness Pentecostals or those of completely liberal denominations that have tossed out almost everything.
I have done a little reading (truly only a little) of those who have proposed alternatives to a Trinitarian understanding of God and I have not found a single one with which I would feel comfortable. The common thread I have found in all of them is that they seem in one way or another to subtract from Christ. The Scriptures teach me to let nothing subtract from Him. As John said, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God” (2 John 9).
My rejection of the Trinity is in the cause of promoting devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 12:1-2; and many, many more). Jesus Himself said that no man can serve two masters. A trinitarian view of God does foster the cause of obedience to a single master. It may be intellectually satisfying (though only to a limited extent), but it does not satisfy the soul of servant intent on pleasing a single master.
Are you Ok, going out on a limb like this when the clear majority, might I say, every historical Christian: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant (save a couple) all believes that the doctrine of the Trinity is solidly biblical? This is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith and the lack of it distorts the very fiber of the faith.
The Scriptures enjoin us to put our faith in Christ – over and over they enjoin this. They do not enjoin us to put our faith in the Trinity.
But let us assume for the moment, Stephen, that the doctrine of the Trinity is true. Since it is true, there must be a reason it is true. Is it because the Scriptures teach it as such? No; you’ve already conceded that. Is it true because the apostolic fathers taught it as such? No; history demonstrates that. Therefore, if it is true it must be because the conceptual formulation put together by Tertullian, Athanasius, and others must be the logical conclusion required by all that the Scriptures, apostles, and apostolic fathers did teach. I think you will agree that this is indeed the orthodox rationale for why the Trinity is true. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think any of the church fathers claimed that the formulation of the Trinity came by revelation of the Spirit (as Paul and other scripture writers claimed for some of their understandings)
My point is that I am united with Tertullian, Athanasius, and the others regarding the heresies they were fighting against. I believe Jesus was fully human as they did. I believe Jesus was fully divine as they did. The only thing I am disagreeing with is the conceptual construct they formed to fight the heresies. And I am certainly not going to construct my own man-made formulation to put in its place. To the degree that God gives me grace to understand something, I will explain it. However, I dare not explain beyond that point. All I can tell you at the current time is that Jesus is Lord and I want to trust and obey Him.
Can you with honesty say that you can interpret scripture and have it disagree with every bit of historical bible interpretation and just pass if off as the Holy Spirit really didn’t reveal this to them and only you and a small group has the accurate interpretation?
As I have said, I am not setting myself apart from those who have heard the Holy Spirit before me. Rather, I am drinking from the same stream that quenched their thirst. Moreover, I am standing on their shoulders for if they had not stood tall for the Lord, I might not be seeing Him now. In God intends to increase the light of the knowledge of Him in every succeeding generation, who are we to complain? That our children will see more clearly than we do is a blessed thought to us, eh?
As for a “group,” the very last thing I want to do is start a group. That’s why I have no mailing list, no meetings, or anything else that might lead people to follow me. Follow Christ and Christ alone!
You have more faith than I do my friend.
I’d be lying if I said I had all the faith I wanted. I’d also be lying if I said I had all the faith I should have. But I do have faith. And that faith is in Jesus Christ our Lord. That should put me in good stead with everyone else who feels that way about Him.
Even if everything I just cited were a scam or just dead wrong, let me pose the question: If I read the scripture and the Spirit bears witness to me that God is Trinitarian and you read the scripture and the Holy Spirit bears witness to you that God is not trinitarian. How in the world would you and I ever arbitrate this unless we looked historically at the people of God to see what the Holy Spirit bore witness to them.
Good question, though I don’t think your suggested answer works because it leads us only to more uncertainty. For one thing, how would we know if the Holy Spirit spoke to someone in, say, 500 AD? Even if we did, how could we be absolutely sure of exactly what the Holy Spirit said to that person in that context? And after that, we’d have to survey all the people to whom the Holy Spirit spoke on this issue. We’d take a count, but what if there were discrepancies or disagreements? There are over 30,000 Christian denominations and that doesn’t even include the untold number of non-denominational churches. There could not be a more divided kingdom than today’s church. And you’ve probably realized that the ecumenical ones (that is, the ones who try to get everyone on the same page) are even worse than the divided ones. Truth does not stand or fall with a referendum, no matter how august the voters.
Here’s my suggested answer: We just have to live with the tension until the Holy Spirit gives one or both of us greater light. For it cannot be that He has told us different things – how can the Spirit of Truth speak out of both sides of His mouth? I do not say we should turn a blind eye to what Christians have said through the ages. We can and should learn from their experiences to the degree that we can. But remember the greatest and most precious things they have taught us: The Scriptures are more reliable than human religious leaders, and the Scriptures say that Jesus Christ should have the preeminence. None of us can claim to have all the truth, therefore we must all keep listening to Him every day.
Jesus said that gates of hell will not prevail, so if the early church got this wrong and pretty much every Christian has gotten this wrong, it would seem to me that the gates of hell surely did prevail or at least we as Christians have pretty much no hope of ever agreeing on anything.
I agree with Jesus and with the early church about the gates of hell. (Actually, it’s the gates of Hades (Sheol), and it is the issue of these words that started our dialogue in Appendix II of the book.) The gates of death used to lead to Sheol below and now they lead to heaven above, for Jesus has moved those gates – He is our Samson.
It is not necessary for Christians to agree on everything. It is not even necessary to be a Christian. It is only necessary for those of us who have heard of Him to repent and follow Jesus Christ our Lord. If we are going to Him, we shall see each other along the way…or else surely when we reach the destination.
To learn more about Christ versus the Trinity, see: