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Errors Regarding The Trinity

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Those who fail to learn from past Trinitarian errors are destined to repeat them.

Errors Regarding The Trinity Those who fail to learn from past Trinitarian errors are destined to repeat them. 1. I recounted last time the discussions around the Trinity with my mother: my mother had believed that Jesus was created by God, the Father, and did not exist prior. 2. Throughout history there have been errors around the doctrine of the Trinity. Some errors are more persistent than others but we will look at some major errors today. 3. This is not an area where we can differ and be OK. Newton, in his hymn What Think Ye of Christ captures the importance. What think you of Christ? is the test To try both your state and your scheme; You cannot be right in the rest, Unless you think rightly of him. As Jesus appears in your view, As he is beloved or not; So God is disposed to you, And mercy or wrath are your lot. Some take him a creature to be, A man, or an angel at most; Sure these have not feelings like me, Nor know themselves wretched and lost: So guilty, so helpless, am I, I durst not confide in his blood, Nor on his protection rely, Unless I were sure he is God. 4. I repeat from my prior message: Page 1 a. It is important we understand this doctrine because the wrong Jesus or the wrong God cannot save us from eternal death. b. The proper understanding of the Trinity cannot be divorced from a proper understanding of salvation. c. If we know what the true doctrine looks like we will be able to spot when fake or false alternatives are offered. Errors Around the Trinity 1. When I was working on my M.Div I took a class called a philosophy of history; in this class we discussed historians and their views. 2. It has been said, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. 3. These errors all come from denying one or more of the motifs of Trinitarianism: a. There is only one God b. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons. c. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all equally God. Error 1: There Is More Than One God 1. This is a failure to hold that there is one God only: we call this either Tritheism or Polytheism. This is a denial of the first motif of the Trinity: there is only one God. 2. For example, one charge by the Jehovah’s Witnesses against those who are Trinitarian is that we worship three Gods. This is, of course, wrong, but there have been men, in the past who held to Tritheism. John Ascusnages of Constantinople and Philoponus of Alexandria 1. The most famous men who held Tritheism such were John Ascusnages of Constantinople, and Philoponus of Alexandria, who lived towards the end of the sixth century. 2. They held that there are three gods, who are all of the same sort, and yet distinct and separate from each other. Mormonism 3. Mormonism holds that there are multiple gods. 4. In our last message we looked at The Oneness of God - Scripture is full of this truth. There are not three gods - there is one in three distinct persons. a. God is an exalted, perfected man b. God has a physical body c. There is more than one God d. Human beings have the potential to become like God e. The Godhead consists of three separate and distinct beings, united in purpose. 6. How do Mormons get here? a. It starts with the belief that the Bible is insufficient: The LDS church teaches that as the Bible has been transmitted over the centuries it has “suffered the loss of many plain and precious parts.” b. The book of Mormon states, “Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible.” (2 Nephi 29:6). c. For this reason they have the Book of Mormon that is, actually, superior to the Bible (which they use the KJV translation). What Does the Bible Say? The truth that there is only one God is seen in the following passages: 1. Deuteronomy 6:4–5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 2. Isaiah 45:5, I am the Lord, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me. 3. Mark 12:29, Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 4. James 2:19, You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 5. John 10:30, I and My Father are one.” Page 3 6. Genesis 1:26-27, Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Error 2: God is One God Who Expresses Himself in Three Ways 1. The view that God expresses Himself in different ways is called Sabellianism or Modalism and it is one of the oldest errors in the trinity. 2. This is a failure to hold that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons. 3. Modalism, also called Sabellianism, is the belief that God is one person who has revealed himself in three forms or modes: in essence, God reveals Himself differently at different times. a. According to Modalism, during the incarnation, Jesus was simply God acting in one mode or role, and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was God acting in a different mode. b. Thus, God does not exist as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the same time. Rather, He is one person and has merely manifested himself in these three modes at various times. c. This was an early church heresy championed by figures like Noetus (2nd century), Praxeas (late 2nd/early 3rd century), and Sabellius (early 3rd century), all of whom opposed the doctrine of the Trinity. d. The church father most known for combating this view was Tertullian (AD 155–240), who wrote scathing polemics against modalism, particularly in his work Adversus Praxean (“Against Praxeus”). 4. Modalism denies the basic distinctiveness and coexistence of the three persons of the Trinity. 5. Present day groups that hold to forms of this error are the United Pentecostal and United Apostolic Churches. What Does The Bible Say? Scripture teaches us that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons who exist at the same time. 1. One of the key passages is Matthew 3:13-17, Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”. 2. Matthew 27:45-46, Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Cf., Mark 1:911; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34) 3. Hebrews 9:13-14, For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 4. John 17:5, And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. Error 3: Not All Three Persons of the Trinity Are Equal 1. The view that not all three persons of the Trinity are equal can be grouped under a term called Monarchianism, which is failure to hold that there are three persons who are equally God. a. Another term linked to this is Subordinationism, which asserts that the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father in nature and being. b. It is sometimes called the eternal subordination of the Son, or by the acronyms ESS or EFS. 2. These errors have been manifest in many forms and continue with us today. Gnosticism Page 5 1. This arose in the early second century. 2. The Gnostics held that God was one essence, and one person, and that from him emanated lesser divine beings, by which he maintained contact with the world. Arianism 1. This arose in the Fourth Century, asserted that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was begotten by God the Father at a point in time, a creature distinct from the Father and is therefore subordinate to him, but the Son is also God (i.e. God the Son). 2. Arius took the position that the three gods of the Trinity are separate gods; here is a summary of his belief. a. Against Arius stood Athanasius b. From this controversy we received the Athanasian Creed, which boldly states in its final words, This is the catholic faith: one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully. c. Catholic must be understood in its true sense: universal. Do not confuse the word catholic with Roman Catholic. 3. From the Athanasian creed we get that Christ is fully man and fully God. But within the Trinity every person is equally God and, in respect of His divinity, no Person can claim precedence. 4. Primarily, two present day groups hold to Monarchianism/Subordinationism however, a lesser form continues to “pop-up” within Evangelicalism. a. Unitarians (we could add liberal and modernist thinkers to this group) b. Jehovah’s Witnesses c. Evangelicals: Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware, the two most widely known. Jehovah’s Witnesses 1. The perception of many Christians is, “The Jehovah’s Witnesses know their Bible so well, and they’ve got so many verses memorized.” Unfortunately, the truth is, they don’t know their Bible well, it’s just that many Christians are lacking in our Bible knowledge. 2. The error of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who embrace the error of Arius, can be summed up in the following: a. A confusion over the meaning of firstborn/beginning by appealing to verses like Colossians 1:15 and Revelation 3:14. b. An embracing of Subordinationism, the view that the Son and the Holy Spirit are not equally God; for this they use John 14:28 and 1 Corinthians 11:3. The Eternal Subordination of the Son 1. This view holds that the Son, though God, is eternally subordinate to the Father. a. This view believes that the Son obeys not merely as man but as God. And obedience is the eternal nature of the relationship between the first and second persons of the Trinity. b. Just as human sons obey, or ought to obey, their human fathers, so the Son of God obeys his heavenly father. c. Several popular men hold this view: Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware and Mike Ovey who published a book Your Will Be Done: Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility. d. There is an excellent article that goes in depth refuting this view on Banner of Truth: 2. What this view fails to understand are passages that reference that the Father is greater is a reference to ONLY that present humiliation of Christ in being made in the form of a man. 3. Calvin saw this error and in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 13, he attacks those in the Reformation family who while they confess ‘that there are three [divine] persons’ speak of the Father as ‘the essence giver’ as if he were ‘truly and properly the sole God’. This he says, ‘definitely cast[s] the Son down from his rank.’ 4. This is not to say that there is not an Economic Trinity, as stated last time. In salvation each member of the Trinity had a role - this did not relegate One lesser than the other: a. God, the Father, eternally gave a chosen people to his Son, and sent him into the world to save them (John 6:37–40). Page 7 b. God, the Son, was delivered to death for their offences, and was raised again for their justification (Romans 4:24–25). c. God, the Holy Spirit, brings these chosen ones into the enjoyment and benefit of what Christ has obtained for them (1 Corinthians 2:1–5; 1 Thessalonians 1:5–10). The work of the Holy Spirit follows the work of the Son, just as the work of the Son follows that of the Father. This does not mean that one is subordinate to the other; there is an order that does not speak to rank. d. 1 Corinthians 11:3 calls attention to the economic trinity, thought it is used by JW’s and ESS/EFS proponents to teach an eternal subordination of the Son. i. What Paul is using in 1 Cor. 11 is a type (marriage) and an antitype (the relationship of the Father and son) ii. We have learned before: not EVERYTHING true of the type is true of the antitype: this is the CRITICAL error made by ESS/EFS proponents. iii. To extend truths of the type to the antitype that create error and borders on heresy. What is the Economic Trinity? i. Everything God does proceeds from the Father. ii. Everything God does comes to pass through the Son. iii. Everything God does is effected by the Spirit. e. Difference does not mean inequality. What Does the Bible Say? Scripture teaches us that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all equally God. 1. John 1:1-3 teaches the eternal existence of the Son. This closely follows Genesis 1:1, where in verse 2 it teaches the eternal existence of the Holy Spirit. 2. Philippians 2:6-8, teaches us that though Jesus emptied Himself, He was always in nature God and equal to the Father in nature. What Can You Do To Deepen Your Understanding? 1. Read the Bible, especially the Gospels. 2. Study the historic confessions 3. Study our Confession 4. Study books and articles written on this. 5. Study Systematic Theologies Page 9
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