Is the Trinity Necessary For Salvation?

What does a person need to believe to be saved?

To Christians this is an important question; not so that we can bash people over the head with the label ‘heretic’ who don’t meet that standard, but for sake of evangelism to the world. We are, after all, called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19); one of the church’s greatest missions on earth, and one of the greatest ways she shows her love for her Lord, is to seek the salvation of the lost. This is something that should be near and dear to the heart of all Christians then, firstly as we ourselves know the great value of salvation, which should motivate us to share that with others; and secondly, if we genuinely love God and the Lord Jesus Christ, we will genuinely love and care about our fellow man as They do, and desire man’s salvation, to the glory of God.

The question of ‘what does a person need to believe to be saved?’ then, is very important one to be able to answer, if we are going to try to reach the lost. Faith is of course required for salvation; it is upon grounds of faith and repentance that scripture teaches a person may be baptized as a Christian and received into the fellowship of the church. But faith in which doctrines is required? Scripture, after all, teaches many doctrines; which together comprise “the faith handed down once for all”, as Jude calls it (Jude 1:3). Yet, scripture does not teach that a person must know and believe everything revealed in the holy scripture to be saved.

Rather scripture distinguishes between doctrinal ‘milk’ and doctrinal ‘meat’; there are some doctrines suited for new believers, who are not spiritually mature or discerning, and some that are suited for more mature believers. Less mature believers, which scripture at times refers to as “carnal” and ‘immature’ may not be able or willing to accept the ‘meatier’ doctrines of the faith right away; yet scripture does not for that reason declare these believers to be any less true Christians than those who are more mature. Scripture itself then distinguishes between parts of the faith which are required for all Christians to believe, and those which are not required to be saved, but are to be learned and accepted by the spiritually mature.

“Concerning him [Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.” Hebrews 5:11-6:2 (NASB)

The “faith handed down once for all”, then, is much broader than what scripture calls the “gospel” or “foundation”. The gospel, or foundation, is what is must be known and believed in order to be saved; its acceptance is required for Christian baptism or reception into the church as a believer. The other doctrines of the faith are not required for Christian baptism, yet, they are true, revealed doctrines, that can be known with certainty to be true on the basis of the holy scriptures. These ‘meaty’ doctrines cover a much wider variety of topics than the gospel does, and include more detail on topics that are aspects of the gospel; and these doctrines, as true, known, revealed doctrines, are worthy to be taught, preached, believed, and known by Christians as important parts of that faith handed down once for all. Yet, their importance and value does not make them part of the gospel; and while knowledge and assent to them can be reasonably expected to accompany growth as a Christian, as one matures in their understanding and studies the scriptures, they are never to be added to the gospel as something which must be known and believed in order to be saved.

For when answering the question, ‘what must a person believe to be saved?’, we can err in one of two ways in answering this question, by either setting the bar too high, and requiring more of people than God does, or by setting it too low, and thereby giving people a false assurance of salvation when they have not met God’s standard. Both are serious problems; adding to the gospel can do great harm by making someone to trust in something other than the provision God has made for their salvation to save them; it can also simply set a stumbling block before them to accepting the gospel at all.

An example of this is found in the ‘Judaizers’, early Christian teachers who taught that in addition to believing the gospel preached by the apostles, a person must also be baptized and observe the law of Moses to be saved. This addition to the gospel, if believed, would cause a person to not only trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation, but also their works of fleshly circumcision and law-keeping; and by causing a person to not trust solely in God’s provision for them, could jeopardize their own salvation, scripture tells us (Gal 5:4). In response to these teachings, the apostle Paul wrote:

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel more than what we have preached to you, he is to be anathema! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel more than what you received, he is to be anathema!” Galatians 1:8-9 (NASB)

The above anathemas, or, declarations of curses, are one major motivation for us to not add to the gospel. Besides the great harm doing so can cause to others, scripture tells us that the one who preaches a gospel more than what the apostles taught is anathema, or accursed. This does not include merely the particular additions of the false teachers Paul was dealing with, but any addition to the gospel. That includes other works besides circumcision and those of the Mosaic law, as well as false doctrines. But let us also note that in addition to works and false doctrines, true doctrines which are not part of the gospel would be equally prohibited; for it is just as much an addition to the gospel to preach some revealed, true doctrine, that God has given as ‘meat for the mature’ as part of the gospel, as it is to add anything else to it.

This serves to greatly highlight how important the distinction between doctrinal ‘milk’ and ‘meat’ is then; for to mix them up, and to give doctrinal meat to spiritual infants as something that they must know and believe in order to be saved, may not only present an enormous stumbling block to those who are being saved, but may cause us to fall under the anathemas given by the apostle Paul. We may not add anything to the gospel of Christ, as preached by His apostles- even true doctrines which have been handed down by those same apostles as part of the Christian faith. We may not safely lay any other foundation, or preach any other gospel, than what the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ preached. Thus we have very good reason to want to be careful that we do not add anything to the gospel.

But we must avoid the opposite extreme of detracting from the gospel as well; for if we risk great injury by adding to it, we must remember that a watered-down gospel poses an equally serious problem; there are things scripture tells us must be believed by a person in order to be saved, in order to qualify for Christian baptism, or to be received into Christian churches as a brother in the Lord. A watered down version of this, missing some required component, will not be able to save a person.

An example of this is the Docetist heresy faced by the early church during the lifetime of the apostles. These false teachers taught that the Lord Jesus Christ had not really come in the flesh; He was, according to them, a mere phantasm or spirit of some kind, which although it appeared human, was not human. And so, they detracted from the gospel preached by the apostles Christ’s real humanity, and with it, His real suffering and death on our behalf, and His real bodily resurrection. In short, they preached a different Christ than the apostles. Although they would have affirmed parts of the gospel, their denial of other parts of it disqualified them from really being Christians in the eyes of the apostles; for scripture teaches that in order to be saved, one must believe the entire gospel. Thus 2 John 7:10 tells us Docestists were to be regarded as antichrists and false teachers, and to be rejected from Christian fellowship.

All this should highlight how important it is to get the gospel right; if we preach a gospel less than that of the apostles, it is insufficient to save; and if we preach a gospel more than the apostles, we ourselves are anathema. So scripture presents this as something which we must get right, neither adding to nor subtracting from the gospel.

What then, is the gospel? It is not, as we have said, all things taught in the scriptures; for many of those doctrine, while part of the Christian faith, are not part of the foundation, the gospel, required for Christian baptism, but are intended to be learned and known by those growing into spiritual maturity. And it certainly does not include anything not delivered in the holy scriptures; for although we may speculate about things not revealed, no such thing can be part of the gospel, for we have the gospel preached by the apostles repeated many times in the scriptures, full, and complete. The gospel is then, that simple message preached by the apostles, which men, upon believing and repenting towards God, could receive Christian baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). It then must surely include faith in “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”; and as we read earlier, the foundation includes teaching regarding “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.” (Heb 6:1-2 NASB). The gospel is likewise summed up by Paul:

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (NASB)

The good news of God’s coming kingdom, over which Christ is God’s appointed king, is also an important aspect of the gospel:

“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” Matthew 4:23 (NASB)

“But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.” Acts 8:12 (NASB)

This may sound like a lot, but ultimately, this gospel is simple. Combined with the teaching of the apostles throughout the book of Acts, we might sum up the gospel, or doctrinal “foundation” of Christianity as follows:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible;

And in the man Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, our Lord, Who was crucified, died for our sins, and was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead; Who ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from which He shall come to judge the living and the dead;

And in the Holy Spirit;

And in the resurrection of the flesh, eternal judgement, the kingdom of God and Christ, and the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. Amen.

This simple creed may sound familiar as the ‘rule of faith’ so frequently referred to by early church fathers in their writings as the doctrinal standard of their day. Creeds like this would typically be used as baptismal creeds; a summary of a person’s faith in Christ to be recited at the time of baptism. Belief in said faith and repentance from one’s sins was the only requirement for baptism for the remission of sins, and with it, reception into the Christian church.

This summary encapsulates the message found throughout the book of Acts as preached by the apostles. It includes all the elements of faith listed in Hebrews 6 (faith towards God, in the resurrection of the dead, and in judgment with eternal consequences), and the main points of Paul’s summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, including the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It includes faith in the only true God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ; for one can hardly believe that Jesus is the Christ of God, the anointed of God, without believing in the God whose Christ and Son He is. “For He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:20-21 (NASB). It includes all that according to Jesus is necessary for eternal life; “This is eternal life, that they may know You [Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 (NASB). In short, it includes everything that scripture reveals to us is part of the gospel, everything that during the ministry of the apostles, a person was expected to know and believe in order to be a Christian.

Its just as noteworthy what is not included here as what is. Notice that it does not include any teaching that a person needed to become a member of one particular church; in baptism a person became a member of the body of Christ, and as such, was qualified to become a member of a local church, but membership within a certain local church was not part of what saved a person. Likewise, while acceptance of a gospel other than that of the apostles could cause a person to “fall from grace”, and trusting in any other gospel was dangerous, notice that the gospel preached by the apostles did not include any very detailed teaching on soteriology. A person was to understand that they were receiving salvation, including forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit, as a gift from God on the basis of their faith in the gospel and their repentance; but the detailed mechanics of soteriology were not included in the gospel. For instance, when Peter preached to the Jews in Acts 2, or to the gentile Cornelius and his household in Acts 10, detailed breakdowns of God’s foreknowledge and predestination never seem to have entered the discussion, although scripture includes teaching on these subjects.

Its also worth considering what teaching about the Trinity is included in this apostolic gospel. Faith in the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one God, the Maker of all things, was included; and although with many audiences in the book of Acts this point was able to be assumed and built upon by the apostles without much explanation, we see that when Paul preached to those not familiar with the Old Testament and the God of the Bible, he spent considerable time beginning his presentation of the gospel with an explanation of Who the one God is, as we see when he preached to the Athenians in Acts 17.

Regarding the Lord Jesus Christ we may note that his humanity is frequently asserted, as are the details of his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and the good news of his kingdom. His role as God’s appointed Christ, Lord, King, Savior, and Judge features heavily in the apostles preaching, and the fact that God will judge all men through the Lord Jesus Christ is emphasized much.

But it is very noteworthy that there is basically no mention whatsoever of the Lord’s pre-existence or divinity in any sermon in the book of Acts, or in any of the first three gospels; He is only spoken of as a man empowered, appointed, and sent by God. This indicates that even if these doctrines are true, delivered as part of the faith handed down once for all, they are not part of the gospel, or something required to be known and believed to be saved. The fact that, according to the book of Acts, basically everyone who heard the apostles preach would have been entirely ignorant of these doctrines when they were baptized for the remission of sins and reconciled to God, shows us that they are not part of the gospel which must be known and believed to be saved.

Finally it may come as a shock that while belief in the Holy Spirit can seen to be required by the baptismal formula’s inclusion of the name of the Holy Spirit, basically no detail about the Holy Spirit seems to have been required to be known or believed. Bare belief that, in addition to God and His Christ there is also a Holy Spirit, seems to have been enough for the apostles to view someone as having sufficient faith to receive baptism. Notice that not only is the Holy Spirit never explicitly taught to be God or to possess a divine nature, but it is also never even clarified that the Holy Spirit is a person. The personhood of the Holy Spirit is taught by scripture, and can be known with certainty to be a true doctrine; yet this is never shown to be a point emphasized as necessary to be understood in order to be saved.

Its noteworthy that the details of trinitarian doctrine are absent from the gospel. Of course there is an enormous amount that God has revealed to us about Himself, His Son, and His Spirit; there is much scripture says concerning the relationships between these persons, their roles, their attributes, etc. Yet these truths are not therefore part of the gospel, but are rather valuable truths revealed to us that we may grow in the knowledge of God and Christ as we mature in the faith. And if those many details revealed in scripture pertaining to these things are not part of the gospel, how much less could anyone rightly think that any extra-biblical speculation, or mere theories, or plausibilities, which are not revealed in the scriptures themselves, are part of the gospel?

Whatever one wishes to guess or theorize about concerning the nature of the Son or the Holy Spirit, or if the Son was begotten by the Father before the world was and literally pre-existed his conception in Mary, or other such questions, cannot even be regarded as truly being part of the Christian faith, unless they are delivered as such in the Bible; much less can they be considered to somehow be required of anyone for salvation, or made a requirement to be imposed upon a person without which they cannot receive Christian baptism, or be admitted to, or remain a member of, a Christian church.

Those then who believe such doctrines to be required for salvation should examine themselves and their beliefs closely, to see if these things they say are necessary for salvation really have warrant from the scriptures as such. For despite whatever any council or pope may have said, the anathemas of the apostle Paul, or rather, the Lord Jesus who spoke by him, will be of more weight than any decision of theirs; and when God has declared that no man may add to the gospel of His Son without being accursed, let us not suppose that popes and councils may have made it otherwise, or done anything to controvert what the Lord has said. Anyone who adds to the gospel preached by the apostles is, according to the scriptures, anathema; let us each beware lest that be us.

Finally, let us beware of any doctrine which so contradicts the rule of faith as to deny any part of it; for just as the Docetists denied the humanity of the Lord Jesus, and the Gnostics denied the Father of the Lord Jesus, teaching that He is not the one God, the Almighty, the Maker of all things, but that He was one of multiple Gods, and another besides the Maker of all; so too other false teachings have since arisen which deny the gospel as well.

Today there are still some who deny the true humanity and death of the Son of God; there are many who deny that the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only true God; modalism is today a rampant heresy, deceiving many, which, by making God and Christ one and the same, denies the Father and the Son, the first article and the second article of the rule of faith. For one does not believe that Jesus is the Christ of God, if they believe that He is the God Whose Christ He is supposed to be; and they do not believe that He is the Son of God, if He is the same God Whose Son He is supposed to be. For these do not really believe in a Christ of God or Son of God at all, but simply believe in a God which takes on Himself the role of Christ, who may be called both Father and Son.

General

Why Can’t Protestants Affirm the Athanasian Creed?

The pseudo-athanasian creed, usually simply referred to by its supporters by the misleading name of ‘the Athanasian Creed’, was neither authored by Athanasius, nor does it represent his understanding of the Trinity. Athanasius strongly affirmed, for example, that the one God is the first person of the Trinity in particular, the Father:

“But if this is not to be seen, but while the creatures are many, the Word is one, any one will collect from this, that the Son differs from all, and is not on a level with the creatures, but proper to the Father. Hence there are not many Words, but one only Word of the one Father, and one Image of the one God.” (Against the Arians, Discourse II.)

“For, as the illustration shows, we do not introduce three Origins or three Fathers, as the followers of Marcion and Manichæus; since we have not suggested the image of three suns, but sun and radiance. And one is the light from the sun in the radiance; and so we know of but one origin; and the All-framing Word we profess to have no other manner of godhead, than that of the Only God, because He is born from Him.” (Against the Arians, Discourse III.)

We see that unlike the creed, Athanasius’s theology was marked by a confession that the one God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ; and Christ stands in relation to the one God, as His Word and Son. Rather than being truly Athanasian, then, in reality the pseudo-Athanasian Creed is representative of early medieval scholastic articulations of the Trinity, especially following the theology of Augustine.

Despite the creed’s anonymous authorship and its theological clash with the real teaching of Athanasius, it has gained very wide acceptance in the west, in traditions which in some way stem from that latin medieval scholastic tradition, out of which it was formed. Not only do the Roman Catholics affirm it, but also Lutherans, many Anglicans, Presbyterians, and other Protestant groups. It is regarded by many Protestants (falsely so) to be an ecumenical creed; yet this is of course impossible, when we consider the contents of it in relation to the Eastern churches. Many Eastern Orthodox, for example, not only affirm the monarchical trinitarianism Athanasius taught in opposition to Augustinian semi-modalism, but they also universally reject the filoque- the doctrine that the Holy Spirit not only eternally proceeds from the Father, but also from the Son (‘filoque’ means, ‘and the Son’).

Yet, despite the creed being paraded around under so many false pretenses (false authorship, false claim to conceptually Athanasian theology, false claim to being ecumenical) it stills finds acceptance among many tradition-loving Protestants. I want to briefly observe here that this is in fact, grossly inconsistent with the founding principles and ideas of Protestantism; and this is not a difficult point to demonstrate. To do so, we need not dive into the theology presented in the creed itself, but only note that which frames the confession. It begins by saying:

“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”

After 25 lengthly lines of words about the Trinity, we read:

“He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.”

After going on talking about the incarnation for many more lines, the creed closes by reiterating:

“This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.”

Perhaps the only thing in the entire creed that can truly be said to be clear or intelligible to the average person, are these threats against the eternal salvation of anyone who dares not lend their assent to all the things this creed says. Yet, as we noted above, this creed goes into detail explaining not only what is more widely accepted regarding the Trinity by those following Nicea, but a specifically western, latin, and augustinian version of these doctrines. It includes this line, for example, that no professing Christian from, or in agreement with the Eastern Orthodox churches, would ever assent to:

“The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.”

Here we can spot the filoque -the Holy Spirit is said not only to proceed from the Father, but also the Son. This doctrine is repugnant to all Eastern Orthodox, and anyone in the West who happens to side with them on this point. Yet, here it is included in this creed, among things which, according to the repeated expression of the same creed, must be believed in order to be saved, and without which, no one can be saved. In other words, everything in the creed is effectively part of the gospel; for that which must be believed to be saved, and receive Christian baptism, and to be received into Christian fellowship, is the gospel. All then which is included in this creed is gospel, apart from which there is no salvation; for “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”

Yet, such a confession is completely opposed to the founding principles of Protestantism; among which, is that no one may add to or alter the gospel preached by the apostles. For it was on account of this very sin that the various Protestant groups have felt free to depart from the Roman Catholic church, and often to declare it no church at all. They rightly appeal to these verses:

“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel more than what we have preached to you, he is to be anathema! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel more than what you received, he is to be anathema!” (Galatians 1:6-9 NASB)

‘Anathema’ simply means accursed, and has since the time of the above epistle’s authorship frequently been declared by churches upon those they consider heretics. In this case, there can be no question the legitimacy of the anathemas; these are not the decisions of any human council, but of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. But they no not anathematize a trinitarian error: they anathematize anyone who preaches a gospel more than what the apostles preached. This is extremely serious; anyone adding to the gospel, by doing so, jeopardizes their own standing, according to scripture.

For this reason, Protestants rightly protested various ways in which the Roman church had added to and/or altered the apostolic gospel. Yet, here we see a great hypocrisy among many Protestants: while condemning others for altering the gospel, they do so themselves, by adding so many lines of incoherent ramblings about the Trinity to the gospel. And, if one of them should argue that every line of those Augustinian speculations is not only biblical, but part of the gospel, he shall have an enormously difficult time trying to prove that even a small portion of it was preached by the apostles as part of the gospel. For all through the book of Acts, we see men were saved by believing a gospel that included almost none of what the pseudo-athanasian creed says. If this is so, then the doctrines of the creed are not part of the apostolic gospel- and to add them to that gospel, is to be accursed by Paul himself, who spoke in the authority of the Lord Jesus, under the inspiration of the Spirit.

But one will argue that all of Augustine’s dogmas are found in scripture, and perhaps that they are even part of the gospel; so be it, we need not address this question, to prove that the creed adds to the gospel. The Protestants who accept the creed need only answer this question: is it possible for one to be saved without believing the filoque? Or put another way, is the filoque itself part of the gospel, and so, something which a person must believe to be a Christian?

If they answer ‘no’, they do well, in not adding to the gospel, and avoiding the anathemas of Galatians chapter one. But if this is so, then why do they affirm a creed which adds to the gospel? By teaching people to believe that creed, they will by their own admission be encouraging people to learn from it a gospel more than that preached by the apostles. If, on the other hand, they should answer in the affirmative, and say that the filoque is part of the gospel, and required for salvation, they will be far more consistent in affirming the creed; only they will have this problem, that they are anathema. For by adding to the gospel, as they say Rome does, they are just as accursed as they say Rome is, for the same sin.

It is plain then that no Protestant can consistently affirm the pseudo-Athanasian creed, unless they are prepared to deny the possibility of salvation of everyone who sides against the filoque; namely, all Eastern Christians, and all western Christians who agree with them. If they do, they certainly add to the gospel, by teaching that which the apostles did not teach is required for salvation. If they do not however wish to proclaim all Christians who do not believe the filoque to be damned, then let them forsake the pseudo-athanasian creed as something wicked, as something which adds to the apostolic gospel and is anathema for it. For if one can be saved while rejecting the filoque, what good will come from reciting a creed which damns to hell those who you admit may well be your brothers in Christ, over such a minor disagreement? For the creed is as unbending as it is incoherent: there is no leeway given to accept the greater part of it, yet reject some, but it declares “This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.”

It is the duty of all true Christians to reject additions to the gospel, and to preserve whole and intact the gospel, as preached and delivered by the apostles. We have no right to add any doctrine or work to it, which they themselves did not enjoin as part of it. Yet that is precisely what this creed does. Given the pattern of the Roman church, it is unsurprising that they rush into this great sin; but those who keep themselves separate from the Roman church on that very account, would do well to pay heed that they do not, like the Roman church, add to the gospel by way of this wretched creed. Those that do, are inconsistent Protestants; they ought either to reject the creed for its additions to the gospel, or else side with Rome, and accept all of their additions to the gospel beyond that found in this creed, if additions to the gospel are acceptable.

Uncategorized

Could the One God Become a Man?

Modalism and all its variations face a significant problem with the Lord Jesus Christ. These theologies teach that the Son of God is the same individual being as the Father; they are together the one God, the same sole Supreme Being. The Son, in these views, is just as much the one God as the Father is. But if that is so- if the Lord Jesus Christ is Himself a person, mode, subsistence, or part of the Supreme Being in some way, can He also be a man?

Arguments For Unitarianism

Questions For Protestants About the Trinity And the Papacy

1. Did not the Protestant Reformers, and the churches that followed them, believe and even formally confess as their doctrine, that the Pope of Rome is the antichrist?

2. If the Pope is the antichrist, or an antichrist, is it reasonable to suppose that he preserved pure and intact, the most important and foundational doctrines of the Christian faith?

3. Does not Protestantism teach that the Papacy corrupted some of the most important and fundamental doctrines of the faith, including the gospel itself?

4. Did not the Papacy, during the middle ages, not only purport to preserve the teaching on the Trinity they had received from earlier generations, but even claim to improve it and expand upon it?

5. If the Pope, being antichrist according to the Reformers, is the corrupter of the church’s polity, worship, soteriology, and morals, is it reasonable to suppose that he not only faithfully preserved the doctrine of the Trinity pure and intact, but even improved it?

6. Is it not the belief of the Reformers and early Protestants that the Papacy sought to undermine the gospel and prevent men from giving worship to the true God and His Christ?

7. If one sought to undermine the gospel and prevent men from giving worship to the true God and His Christ, would not corrupting the doctrine of the Trinity, as being intimately connected to the very identity of God and Christ, and to the gospel itself, be one of the best places to start?

8. Is it reasonable to suppose that the doctrines respecting the identity of God, and His Son, and the Holy Spirit, viz, the doctrines pertaining to the Trinity, would be the same and identical when based on of scripture alone as they are when they are based of tradition, human philosophy, and scripture together?

9. Is it not strange that the Roman Catholic notion of the Trinity, and the mainline Protestant notion of the Trinity, are precisely the same, when they are supposed to each be founded on two entirely different foundations, the one upon scripture alone, and the other upon a human magisterium, with its human traditions and philosophical notions?

10. How did the Protestant and Roman notions of the Trinity turn out to be the same, when each builds upon a starkly different foundation?

11. If the Protestant and Roman notions of the Trinity are identical, does it not make it appear as though they are both drawn from the very same source and foundation? Does it not stand to reason that their identicality must come from either both being founded on scripture, or both being founded on human tradition?

12. Is it reasonable for anyone to believe that the Roman notion of the Trinity is drawn from scripture alone, a claim which the Roman church itself would deny?

13. Is not the best explanation of the identicality of the Roman and Protestant views of the Trinity, that mainline Protestantism has drawn its notion of the Trinity from the same source the Roman Church has, namely, human tradition and philosophy foreign to the scriptures?

14. Is drawing such a notion of the Trinity from the same sources the Roman church draws hers, in any way consistent with the principles of Protestantism, namely, sola scriptura?

15. In short, can taking one’s knowledge of God from antichrist be anything but the utmost foolishness? And is it not more consistent to, if the Pope of Rome is the antichrist, throughly reject any part of his doctrines respecting God and the trinity not found in scripture, as not only being uncertain, but as very likely being gross corruptions of the Christian faith?

16. Has not mainline Protestantism largely showed itself to be committed to sola scriptura in name and not in practice, by upholding the Roman version of the Trinity, without either testing it or revising it along scriptural lines?

17. Is it consistent for Protestants to unquestioningly accept the papal version of the Trinity as a holy mystery, taken on faith, while they have freely tested by scripture and logic other supposed mysteries of the Roman church, such as transubstantiation, and rejected them as unscriptural?

18. Is it not far more consistent, to either accept all the mysteries of the Roman church on blind faith, or none of them? And if some of them should be tested by scripture, and only accepted inasmuch as they agree with it, why not the rest?

19. Is it not clear from the writings of the Nicene fathers, such as Athanasius and the Cappadocians, that all that was intended to be signified by the term ‘homoousias’ is that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as three distinct individual beings or persons (hypostases), share a common nature or species among themselves, as three men share a common human nature? And did they not use precisely that illustration, of three men sharing a common nature, to explain what they meant?

20. Did not Athanasius, Basil, and other Nicene fathers from that time expressly denounce the interpretation of homoousias which says that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are numerically and individually one substance, as Sabellian heresy? For an individual substance or being, if it is rational, is nothing but a person, and so, to say that all three persons are one individual substance, is to agree with Sabellius that They are in fact one person.

21. Is it not this latter notion of the Trinity, that the three persons are individually and numerically co-essential, which prevailed in the Roman church, to the exclusion of that taught by Athanasius, Basil and those with them? For were not the opinions of Athanasius and the other Nicene fathers represented by Abbot Joachim, whose views were condemned as heresy by the fourth lateran council?

22. Did not then the Pope (for he lead the fourth lateran council and authored its decisions) condemn and reject the orthodoxy of the Nicene church, and embrace in its place what they considered the rank heresy of Sabellius, by proclaiming in council that the Father, Son, and Spirit are numerically and individually co-essential in one supreme hypostasis, rather than generically co-essential as three distinct hypostases?

23. Has not mainline Protestantism, then, in agreeing with the Pope rather than the Nicene fathers, embraced the same serious errors on the Trinity the Roman church has, according to the teaching of Athanasius, Basil, and those with them?

24. Is it in any way consistent or sensible for the Reformed churches to have embraced the theology of the fourth lateran council respecting the Trinity, and yet, reject its decisions on papal authority and transubstantiation? If the latter are deemed gross corruptions of the faith, why should the former not likewise have been examined as a possible corruption?

25. Was it not, all along, only the Homoians in the fourth through eight centuries, who according to their own testimony tried diligently to believe about the Trinity only what could be known from the scriptures, without respect for extra-biblical speculation? And did not their Nicene contemporaries freely appeal to extra-biblical traditions to justify their doctrines?

26. Which then of the ancient views on the Trinity, is most consistent with the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, that of the Homoians, or the Nicenes?

27. Why then, if the Protestant Reformers were truly serious about sola scriptura, was no serious consideration given to the Homoian doctrine of the Trinity? And is it reasonable or consistent to prejudice the papal view of the Trinity, which makes no profession to be truly grounded in scripture, over that of the Homoians, who professed scripture to be the only source of their doctrine?

 

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Can Jesus Be Called ‘God Most High’?

Some have argued that the title ‘God Most High’ belongs to the Son as well as the Father; a simple examination of the subject will show us that is not the case:

The title ‘Most High’ denotes supremacy; being above all others. When applied to the title ‘God’, it denotes the Supreme God, the God Who is above all else. We must consider that such a title is not a sharable or communicable title, but is exclusive; it cannot be possessed by more than one person, as it is only possible for one person to be above all others, absolutely. If two persons were to be considered equal, neither would individually be ‘Most High’, as neither would be above the other; so only one person can be ‘Most High’. Only the person Who is supreme above all else absolutely can be fittingly called ‘God Most High’.

It should be obvious that this person, this God, is the Father, and no other. He alone is the Supreme Being (see Five Simple Proofs That the Father Alone Is the Supreme Being). The Son is not equal to Him, but declared that “the Father is greater than I” (Jn 14:28). The Son everywhere declares that He is another besides His Father, that He lives because of His Father, and that He is always subject to His Father and does nothing on His own initiative. And so it is clear that the Father, not the Son, is the Most High God, as He alone is supreme over all absolutely.

We may also note that the scriptures, as we should expect, reserve this title for the Father alone, and use it as a title for Him in contradistinction to the Son:

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:32 NASB)

“Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.” (Luke 8:28 NASB)

Finally its worth noting that if the title were applied to the Son, due to its exclusive nature, one would not be declaring the Son equal to the Father, but greater than the Father. For, to again reiterate, the title ‘Most High’ is an exclusive and incommunicable title, which denotes the one Who is above all others absolutely. When we apply the title ‘Most High’ to someone, we declare that they are above everyone else. If, therefore, one were to say that the Son were ‘God Most High’, this would be to say that the Son is greater than even the Father, and that He is supreme over Him. Thus Origen rightly said:

“Grant that there may be some individuals among the multitudes of believers who are not in entire agreement with us, and who incautiously assert that the Saviour is the Most High God; however, we do not hold with them, but rather believe Him when He says, “The Father who sent Me is greater than I.”  We would not therefore make Him whom we call Father inferior — as Celsus accuses us of doing — to the Son of God.” (Contra Celsum, 8.14)

We can see there that Origen employs the same logic as above; that since the title ‘Most High’ denotes absolute supremacy above all, calling the Son ‘God Most High’ would be to falsely assert that He is supreme over and greater than the Father; when in truth, the Father is Supreme over all, and greater than the Son. Thus the scriptures and all reason compel us to ascribe the title of ‘God Most High’ to one only, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, “the only true God” (Jn 17:3).

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5 Arguments Showing that Jesus is Not the One God

The following arguments set out to briefly argue that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is not Himself the one God, the Supreme Being, Who is one person only, the Father, but that He is another distinct person (rational individual being) besides that one God.

Argument 1: Jesus is the Son of God.

A son is necessarily another person than his father, and is not his father.

Jesus is the Son of the one God;

Therefore Jesus is another person besides the one God, and is not the one God.

Arguments For Unitarianism

Distinct Actions of the Persons of the Trinity

“If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;” 1 Peter 1:17 NASB

“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son,” John 5:22 NASB

Here we read from Peter, firstly, that the Father judges men impartially; then we read from John, that the Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son. Is there disagreement between Peter and John? Does scripture contradict itself? Not at all; but rather, the difficulty is resolved when we read “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31 NASB; and, “And He [the Son] commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.” Acts 10:42 NASB

What we have then, is this: scripture says that God, the Father, judges all men; and yet, in another place, it says He judges no one at all. Unless we will say that these statements contradict one another, we must acknowledge each to be speaking in a different sense; one speaks of God judging all men indirectly through Christ, through Whom are all things 1 Cor 8:6. The Father is the ultimate Cause of all judgement, and all judgment is according to His will and command, although it is executed through the Son. And so the Son said “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 5:30 NASB. The Father then may truly and rightly be said to “impartially judge according to each one’s work”, because He so judges mediately, through the Son, Who judges not on His own initiative, but according to the will and command of the Father.

On the other hand, the Son has all judgement given to Him by the Father, and the Father judges no one, in this second sense, in reference to immediate action, since the Father immediately judges no one, but all immediate judgment is given to the Son. For the Son clearly says that He does not judge according to His own initiative but according to the will of the Father; and so the Father judges through the Son, and so, Himself truly judges all- not immediately and directly, but mediately, through the Son, the one Mediator between God and man. Meanwhile the Son alone judges immediately and directly. Since all things from God through Son, so God judges through Son, the Son judging according to the will and command of the Father. The Son alone, however, judges immediately, and in that immediate sense, God judges no one.

We can apply this same sort of logic reasonably to all things that God does through His Son. So there is shown a significant difference between the actions of God and of His Son towards creation; the Father acts towards creation mediately, the Son both immediately, and through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit only acts immediately towards the universe, never through another person of the Trinity. So the actions of the persons are not entirely identical, but each acts towards creation differently and distinctly. This shows that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct individual beings, or persons.

In all this we still see that the persons are united in their actions; the one God, the Father, works through His only-begotten Son, and the Son through the Holy Spirit. This is the pattern of all God’s great works toward the universe: all things are from Him, through His Son. “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NKJV. God created the universe through His Son; God upholds the existence of the universe through His Son; God rules over all things through His Son; God reconciles all things to Himself through His Son; and as we read above, God judges the world through His Son. In the immediate and most high sense, as being the Supreme Cause and Instigator of all these things, the Father is the one Creator, the one Sustainer, the Only Ruler, the Only Savior, and the one Judge of the universe; performing all these actions through the mediation of His Son.

And in the same manner as that judgement was spoken of, we might reasonably speak of any of these acts of God; God, the Father, alone in truth performing all these actions, not immediately and directly, but through the mediation of His only-begotten Son, Who acts upon the universe directly and immediately, according to the will and command of the Father. And so the Son, and not the Father, is the immediate Creator, Sustainer, Savior, and Judge of the universe; in this immediate sense the Father creates no one, sustains no one, saves no one, and judges no one, in the whole of the universe that is through His Son. And so, we see the distinct roles of each person; and we see that although God acts through His Son, and His Son acts on His behalf, and according to His will and command, the roles, and so, the actions, of each person, within these greater works are distinguished from one another.

We cannot speak of the Father as the immediate worker of any of those works; nor can we speak of the Son as the ultimate cause of any of those works. The Father alone is the one from Whom are all things; and the Son alone the one through Whom are all things. Therefore the actions of the persons are shown to be distinct and different; the one working mediately and indirectly, the other working immediately and directly on the universe. As mentioned earlier, this distinction in action proves that God and His Son are distinct persons; the Father, the one God, and His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, are two distinct rational individual beings, not one and the same. Otherwise, if They were the same, one could not be said to do something through the other; and one could not be said to be the one from which an action was, the other the one through Whom an action was performed, unless They are two really distinct persons.

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