Friday, January 11, 2019

The Trinity: Orthodoxy and Error

Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-English Even though most churches that call themselves Christian hold to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, there are still many churches that have strayed from this basic doctrine. Sometimes the deviation is more intentional than others. Sometimes the doctrine is taken for granted, and so misconceptions can linger even among those at basically orthodox churches. Other times, a local leader or a denomination will cast off the traditional understanding and bravely go their own way (which usually ends up being a repeat of some past heresy).

Some groups are better known for their anti-Trinitarianism, groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses, who deny that Jesus is eternal God, and Mormons, who call Jesus "God" but deny that the Father, Son, and Spirit are one being and who blur the distinction between God, angels, and humanity. But you can find error about the basic nature of God in relatively "normal" places as well. For example, one local church states that "The Holy Spirit is simply the Spirit of God and a term the bible uses describing God in action." This denies the distinct personhood of the Spirit. From the rest of their statement, it seems that this "non-denominational" church is influenced by Oneness Pentecostalism. In short, Oneness Pentecostalism denies that the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct persons, but teaches they are they are modes in which the one person of God reveals Himself. One of the major denominations that holds to Oneness Pentecostalism, the United Pentecostal Church International, is headquartered near us in Weldon Spring. It was just announced that their college, Urshan College, will be moving to our town of Wentzville.

In this midst of this doctrinal confusion, I hope to write more about the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. For now, here is a simple statement that covers some of the basic points of the Bible's teaching on this issue.
1. There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Timothy 2:5), and everyone else is not God (Gen. 1:1, John 1:3; Isaiah 45:5-7, 21-24).
2. The Father is God (Galatians 1:1-5).
3. The Son is God (John 1:1, 14; 8:58; Romans 9:5).
4. The Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4).
5. The Father, Son, and Spirit interact with each other as distinct persons (Matthew 3:16-17, Luke 3:21-22; John 15:26; John 17).
The classic statement of Trinitarian orthodoxy that flows from these biblical points is the 5th century "Athanasian Creed," which I would recommend reading here.

And lastly, a fun and helpful overview of the doctrine of the Trinity as set against common distortions is given in the following video by Lutheran Satire.


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