As a church, we are learning the Apostle's Creed. Over the next few weeks, we will have different members of our church explaining the different lines of the creed.
This week, we have Ryan Martin! Ryan is a teacher at Legacy Christian Academy in Frisco, and volunteers in our college ministry. Ryan's wife, Kristen, sings with our worship team, and they have an adorable son named Judah.
It’s been said that more times than not, a Jehovah’s Witnesses can twist Christians into theological pretzels regarding the Trinity; which is a shame because they actually deny the Trinity.
The fact of the matter is that the Trinity is one of the core doctrines of God, articulating His very nature. It is such a fundamental part of the faith that it has classically been used as a litmus test for orthodoxy. While Christians are free to disagree on many topics, the Trinity is not one of them. To deny the Trinity is to deny the very nature of God.
The Trinity actually has implications on the way we view human nature, male/female relationships, the purpose of life and much more. It’s a crying shame that it’s often neglected.
Because of the confusion that commonly accompanies it, I’ll first try and define the Trinity and show its logic in an understandable way. Then I will show Biblically why we believe in it as opposed to what Trinity denying theological cults believe (i.e. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Oneness Pentecostals).
What is it?
Two things immediately stick out when you read over the Apostles Creed: it’s primarily about Jesus and it affirms the basic components of the Trinity. The belief in the deity Jesus and the personhood of The Spirit drove the Church fathers to deliberate long and hard on the doctrine of the Godhead. Early Christians unanimously agreed on three biblical teachings (or ideas) that lead to and undergird the doctrine of the Trinity as we articulate it today: (1) There is only one God, and (2) full divinity is attributed (3) to three distinct persons.
I cannot emphasize this enough: while the church spent its first 3 centuries discussing the best way to understand and summarize them, the early church unanimously accepted the three key ideas that undergird the doctrine. The Church has classically summarized these three ideas into the simple statement, “The one God exists in three persons.”
You will hear cultists try and deny the doctrine by saying, “The Trinity isn’t in the Bible!” Your response should be a kind and confident, “You are absolutely right, that the word ‘Trinity’ isn’t in the Bible, but that is just a title for a teaching that is in the Bible, namely that the one God exists in three persons.”
At this point, you may be thinking, “That basically makes no sense to me.” I completely understand, so we will briefly look at the logic involved.
The Trinity is commonly charged as being illogical or beyond understanding. While we may not be able to fully understand it, that doesn’t mean it’s illogical. It’s impossible to fully understanding both History and Quantum-Mechanics, but neither is illogical. We actually know quite a bit about both. Likewise, while we may have questions about the Trinity, the doctrine contains no logical contradiction.
We don’t believe that 3 Gods are 1 God, nor that 3 people are 1 person. Those are contradictions. What we believe is that the one God exists in three persons.
With the same logic we use to say “a triangle is a single, tri-sided shape,” we say “God is a single, tri-personal being.” You may think, “A tri-personal being is hard to comprehend.” Sure, but so is calculus. Remember (especially when talking with cultists), being complex is different from being illogical.
From experience, I encourage you to ponder the Trinity. Think on it. Mull it over. Listen to some good podcasts. 1 The more you consider logic of it, the clearer it will become.
With extreme brevity lets move on and consider the biblical evidence for each of the three key ideas in contrast with their denials.
Monotheism vs. Mormonism
Similar to Christians, Mormons believe that the Father, Son & Spirit are fully divine and are distinct persons. Good so far. Unfortunately, they deny that there is only one God. They instead believe that the Father, Son and Spirit are 3 separate gods. 2 Christians deny this and accept that there is only one God because of the myriads of verses that explicitly teach that there is one God. 3 I particularly appreciate the Isaiah 44:8 which asks, “Is there a God beside me…I know not one.” Surely if Jesus and the Spirit were separate Gods, the Father would know it, right?
All 3 Divine vs. Jehovah’s witnesses (JW)
Similar to Christians, JW’s believe that there is only one God and in the separation of the persons, but they deny that all 3 are divine. Instead, they believe Jesus is just an angel.
Contrary to The Da Vinci Code and JW’s, Jesus’ divinity was not created at the council of Nicaea. In fact, the New Testaments authors consistently employed no less than 5 ways of communicating the full deity of Christ.
In simplest terms, Christians believe that Jesus is fully divine because Isaiah, Matthew, John, Thomas, Luke, Paul, Peter, Jude, God the Father and Jesus himself said He was. 4
Persons vs. Oneness-Pentecostals (OP)
Similar to Christians, OP’s believe in the divinity of all 3 members and that there is only one God, but they deny that the persons are distinct. Instead, they think the Father, Son and Spirit are only different modes or manifestations of a single divine person.
To show these are 3 persons and not manifestations, ask the question, “What unique properties do each of the 3 have?” The Bible attributes unique relationships, wills, activities, and communications. For example, Jesus prays to the Father, the Father sends the Son, and the Spirit gives gifts according to His own will. What kind of a thing has relationships, communicates, has a will, makes decisions, etc.? A person. Therefore, Christians believe that there is one God in three persons, not three manifestations.
It is clear biblically that there is one God who exists in three distinct persons and that there is no logical contradiction in that idea. I pray that this was helpful and that you are encouraged to seek out a more full understanding of this wonderful truth.
1 Check out the 8 part Defenders Podcast on the Trinity. You can find it in iTunes or @ reasonablefaith.org
2 Check out this website to see their belief about the Godhead: https://www.lds.org/topics/godhead?lang=eng&old=true