Is the Trinity Optional?

Over the holidays, my mother was attempting to explain Mormonism to a 14-year-old boy who lives with her and my dad.  He’s got a Mormon friend and he was wondering about that faith, especially because he’s in confirmation class this year and learning more about Christianity.

My mom looked at me and asked, “Are Mormons Christian?”  It’s interesting that she didn’t ask if, in my opinion, Mormons are Christian, but more as a matter-of-fact.  This, of course, opens that millennia-old can o’ worms: Who gets to say who is and who is not “Christian”?  (More on that in another post.)

My immediate response was, “They do consider themselves part of Christianity, but they’re not.  They don’t believe in the Trinity.”

In fact, that wasn’t quite right.  The Church of Latter Day Saints does believe in a trinity, per se, but not the orthodox Christian Trinity as articulated at the Council of Nicaea (325).  Mormons understand the Godhead to be three distinct divine beings who eternally relate to one another.  At Nicaea and after, the orthodox belief has been that God is three persons (hypostases) but one substance (homoousias).  I, myself, tend toward the social trinitarianism articulated by theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann and Miroslav Volf.  While Moltmann has ocassionally been accused of tri-theism, that charge doesn’t stick based on a thorough reading of his work.

But that’s less my query than the importance of the Trinity for a claim of Christianity.  I’m sure that many of my conservative Christian readers won’t even have to consider this question, and neither will the liberals.  I’m more interested in those of you who are moderates.  Put the LDSers aside for the moment.  How about Unitarians?  They do trace their origins to Protestantism, and many consider themselves Christian, though others do not.  Indeed, some Unitarians (a minority, to be sure) have a traditional (or “high”) Christology.

So my question is basically this: Is an orthodox Christology enough to be considered Christian, or must one also articulate a Nicaean Trinitarianism?

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  • EricW

    Make sure you include the additions from the Council of Constantinople in 381. Nicea I didn’t really deal with the Holy Spirit. More properly, it’s the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.
    You also need to include Chalcedon in your question of what a person must confess re: Christology in order to be a “Christian.” Obviously the so-called “Oriental” Orthodox might take umbrage with a claim that they’re not “Christians” if they don’t accept Chalcedon.

  • Liz

    Gosh – I would have to say no – I don’t believe one has to believe in the Nicaean Trinitarianism to be considered Christian – but then I am no theologian. I come from (and have moved away from) a conservative, evangelical background (sorry) and would now consider myself more moderate than liberal. I find it hard to believe that if someone doesn’t believe in the Nicasean Triniatarianism that it disqualifies them. I don’t know if I believe there is a definite list of beliefs that qualify a person as a Christian. Does that make me a liberal???

  • Chris Rosebrough

    Truth doesn’t change from person to person. There is not one truth for liberals, another for conservatives and another for moderates. Asking people’s opinions on a matter does not get us any closer to knowing what the truth is regarding the doctrine of the trinity or whether it is a fundamental non-negotiable Christian doctrine.
    Furthermore, the Niceaean Creed is derived from scripture and correctly summarizes the Biblical teaching of the nature of God. You’re pointing to the wrong thing.
    Plain and simple if you believe in and worship an idol and refuse to believe God has He has revealed himself in scripture (some idols are made of wood and stone while others are theological constructs) then you are not a Christian. Anyone who does not believe in the Triune God as He has revealed Himself in scripture but instead chooses to substitute their own idol and false God for the true one, that person is not a Christian…period.

  • Since when did our view of the Trinity (or any belief for that matter) establish grace or what happened on the cross?

  • EricW

    That should be “one baptism for the remission/forgiveness of sins.”

  • I’m tempted to suggest that a Christian is anyone who is actively trying to follow Jesus, as he or she knows him (which would include working to improve one’s current understanding of Jesus and God, which is bound to be inadequate for any of us).
    Does that make me an uber-liberal? 🙂

  • There have been Christians with an undeveloped or nonNicaean view of God all along our history, take for example every believers pre-Nicae like Paul, Peter, and John even.
    Of course that doesn’t get at the complexities of present orthodoxy, yet realizing that history is there helps speak into the conversation I believe.

  • EricW

    Joe Bumbulis January 7, 2009 1:39 PM There have been Christians with an undeveloped or nonNicaean view of God all along our history, take for example every believers pre-Nicae like Paul, Peter, and John even. Of course that doesn’t get at the complexities of present orthodoxy, yet realizing that history is there helps speak into the conversation I believe.
    So is it kind of like: “Before Christ came, people could be saved without knowledge of or acknowledging Him, but after He came, faith in Him is a requirement of salvation”?
    I.e., before the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, people with an incorrect Trinitarianism (or lack of one) could be Christians, but after the Councils’ decrees, those who do not affirm, confess and believe in the Creed and the Christology/Trinitarianism decreed by the Creed cannot be Christians unless they adopt and believe and confess such a Christology/Trinitarianism?

  • For me personally, the Trinity helps me wrap my head around the relational and communal way in which God is active in history and my subsequent responsibility to participate in that activity.
    But is a person required to believe and actively articulate Nicaean Trinitarianism in order to be aware of God’s action in and through Christ and to participate in the divine commonwealth? I’m not so sure.
    I tend to agree with Mike. It would be very hard for me to tell a person who is not only aware, but has joined in God’s ongoing program of redemption and restoration that s/he cannot be considered a Christian because s/he has not properly understood the Trinity.

  • Jim

    I don’t think you can separate Orthodox Christology from Nicean trinitarianism. Orthodox Christology takes it cues from what is said about the trinity in the Nicean Creed. If you take only the Christology from the creed then you are taking it out of the context of the creed. The creed defines the three persons of the godhead in the context of how they relate to one another in the trinity. If you take only the Christology from the creed I think you have to take the rest of it. I guess that makes me conservative… who knew?

  • Jen

    I would consider Peter and Paul Christian as well the disciples. I don’t think they had a chance to agree or disagree with the Nicean Creed.
    I don’t know all the history but this was to bring how many theories of Christianity all under one blanket? How do we know that they got it right in the first place.
    The Bible clearly says “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Not by our creeds and customs.

  • Your Name

    Why would someone who is God create something so different than a form of Himself? Yes, He has divine power, His priesthood, and He shares that with us. There is a Godhead. Three seperate beings that are guilded in one belief. They want to help us bring from this life the immortality and eternal life of man. Christ is our mediator with the Father. The Holy Ghost is our comforter and guide to our Savior.
    There are many people who believe in Christ that are different from myself, but I do not take away that belief, it is not in my pay-grade to do so…lol… and it would be very un-Christian like to do so.

  • JustChuck

    As a former member of the LDS church, there was a lot of rethinking to do as I embraced simple salvation found at the foot of the cross. Having lived both lives, I continue to be saddened how LDS leadership chooses to obfuscate their true beliefs.
    The LDS version of the trinity masks the infinite divide between them and historic Judeo-Christian beliefs. It’s sort of like me saying, “I only believe in three humans: my wife, myself, and my daughter.” Well, those may be the only three humans with whom I live, but in reality, I believe there are billions of other humans around. And LDS teachings allow for billions upon billions of other gods equal to or greater than the three they point to in their “trinity.” This is a huge difference between, “I believe in the trinity, just not YOUR trinity.”
    At its root, the Trinity is an explanation for Christians to attempt to grasp the mystery of a single God in three persons. The LDS version masks their underlying openness to a multitude of gods.
    But is belief in the trinity optional? In a fundamental way, I think it is. The salvation doctrine found in the New Testament calls for an intimate, personal encounter with your sins and your savior. Beyond that, I believe there may be much latitude. But the New Testament also warns against following false messiahs, because on that final day many will recite their good works in the name of Jesus, just to have Him reply, “I never knew you.” I believe that you’ve missed the mark if you follow LDS teachings of a god who was once a human and progressed to godhood through a process of grace and good works. I’m convinced that the Jesus described as the offspring of this god is a false one.

  • Andrew Murray

    If we are talking about formally promoted beliefs of a group, yes, I would say trinitarian theology is necessary for that group to be considered Christian. A “high Christology” doesn’t seem like enough.
    However, if we are talking about individuals just going about their normal everyday lives, I would say that full-blown trinitarian theology may not be “necessary,” per se. I would guess that many Christians are functionally non-trinitarian (i.e. their theology is underdeveloped). Does this mean they are not Christians? No, it simply means they still need to do some thinking and reading and study so that they can develop their theology and grow/mature in their faith.
    However, on both the individual and corporate levels, one cannot DENY the Trinity and still be classified as a Christian in any meaningful sense of the term. There is a qualitative difference between (1) simply having an underdeveloped theology, and (2) having a well-developed theology which denies the Trinity.

  • Your Name

    I don’t think any of us have lived long enough to be in the “I knew you” catagory. JustChuck, I hope you have found what you are looking for at our Savior’s cross. I am looking for his direction and guidance everyday in places where He has visited after His death.
    I don’t think that any of us can say for sure, until our Savior comes for each of us at our earthly death, if we were following the right path. We just shouldn’t count other out who believe differently. I have researched many historical writings and see contradictions everywhere. So, YES!!!! We need to not fall into the trap of following blindly. A lot of people do miss the mark as you say. That is why most will get to learn in the next life. You see, He does love all of us, even those that are weeded out, reasons are many, but most are because they quit learning, and didn’t want to make the effort.
    I don’t know the reason you left, and it doesn’t matter to me. I am just thankful that I am lucky enough to have my own personal relationship with my Savior. I am sorry that being LDS did not work for you. Many of my family have found it to hard to grasp. It is out of love that our Savior has brought us His gospel. Not hate. There are going to be many false messiahs, yes. But, “by their works ye shall know them”… What are you going to become? By what grace would be worth your saved soul except that you would progress to what they are? I hope you have what you are looking for, seriously, I am glad that you are not a wandering sheep. Keep your God ever so close, so many go without Him.

  • Your Name

    You have got to quit mixing up corporate level and spiritual understanding… Christ did not do corporate…I understand what you are trying to say, but it is coming from the form thinking of man in general and not the spiritual principles that God and Jesus work through. I agree with growth and a mature base as being needed, that is why one must continue to learn. What about current revalation? Those who believe in the Trinity. What is your belief about personal and new revalation given to man? Does God still talk with us who are now living like He did in biblical times?

  • i would say that it is absolutely essential to affirm the trinity in order to belong to the orthodox christian religion, however, i do not believe it is a necessity in order to be a disciple of Christ.

  • How many committed Christians articulate a non-heretical Trinity? I led a break out session for Youth Ministers called “Trinity WTF?” and had them all write out definitions. Of the 48 received attempts only 30-40 percent would be orthodox in a generous fashion. A majority were modalist. My assumption is that if the youth ministers and committed volunteers that were present couldn’t do it, most Christians can’t. If the Trinity is really that important, and most of the time I think it is, then perhaps we need to first admit that to the actual lives of most church goers it is optional to their Christian living and church practice.
    Tony could you convince us the Trinity contributes to Christian living in such a way that it is more than an optional metaphor that is usually haphazardly understood and applied? That would be a fun blog series and if you put ‘interpenetration” in the blog titles you will surely get plenty of hits.

  • Bob

    Christians assert, as does the Bible, that there is only one God. That’s the real issue. The Mormon church has said in plain English that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost “constitute three distinct . . . Gods,” and that this was revealed to the prophets of their “restored church.” That “truth” is the first of 25 listed in the church’s Ensign magazine, “Plain & Precious Truths,” March 2008. Typically, Mormon authorities attack the Trinity, and substitute “one Godhead” or “one God the Father.” They claim they are not polytheists because their 3 Gods are not pagan gods, but, presumably, Christian Gods.

  • Duh-sciple

    All right. I get to be conservative for once. No, the Trinity is not optional. Any church body that does not affirm the mystery of the Trinity is not Christian, including the Mormons. And… Jesus loves them anyway.

  • Several people (Andrew M. perhaps most clearly) have made a good point re: the distinction between the individual and corporate versions of this question. You were asking the corporate version; I was answering the individual one – sorry about that. I still like my answer to the individual question, and by that measure would probably call (many? most? about the same % as for Episcopalians or Presbyterians? I dunno) individual Mormons “Christian”. Or maybe Dave’s distinction between “follower of Jesus” and “member of the orthodox Christian religion” is the better way to think about it. (In which case I’m not overly concerned about the latter category, personally.)
    As for whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or any given LDS community) is corporately “Christian” or not? This question, thankfully, would seem to be above my pay grade. And I’m not sure what practical difference it makes to me. Would the answer to this question influence whether or not I would engage in conversation / relationship with a member of one of these communities, and vigorously debate our differing concepts of God and Jesus, much as I do with members of my own community? I don’t think so. Would the answer influence whether or not I would encourage my community to partner with a Mormon community on a project? Perhaps, I guess. Depends on the project.
    I guess I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

  • the Athanasian Creed is really the orthodox statement of the trinity. I am quite disgusted that it would damn to hell anyone who disagrees with ANY part.[since that would be another Gospel]
    I myself am a Unitarian who grew up trinitarian and I can assure you that I’m still a christian. I have not rejected anything the bible says about God, Jesus, the holy Spirit, or the Gospel.
    “Jesus is Lord, and God raised him from the dead” – amen
    I have rejected the Trinity doctrine, and any idea of Jesus being ontological (one substance with) God, but I don’t damn my trinitarian brothers and sisters to hell. I wish they would afford me the same charity. Especially, since I believe the trinity is extra biblical and unintelligible. I simply got tired of pretending it made sense[to me].

  • G

    Since the doctrine of the trinity as described by the councils is not contained in the Bible, and is extra biblical, and those who voted yeah or nay on it did not claim to be prophets of God, I do not need to believe them or the extra biblical creeds in order to be a Christian.
    It is so fascinating for me to see and hear Christians claim to be saved, yet so quickly tell others they are going to hell or that they are not Christians because they don’t believe exactly like they do.
    Frankly, this passed year, more than ever has shown me that many self proclaimed “Christians” can’t get past the fact that they do not speak for God, they do not see the hearts of people, and it is not their job to go around damning everyone.
    IF they went around striving to do Christ’s doctrine rather than condemning others, many more would flock to the gospel of Christ, sadly, many people are turned away by the pharisiacal factions of Christianity that swallow at a gnat only to swallow a camel.
    Disagreeing on the doctrine of the trinity is no reason to shun people from running for public office, treat them as infidels, or using scare tactics on the same level as Hamas uses the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to teach those of ones flock to propagate bias and judgment.

  • Your Name

    Thank you for your comments. I tend to lean toward finding God through service. Getting to know our Savior, by sacrifice of time and talents for the love of others. Listening to the Holy Ghost, as he guides and leads me through this life on a path that will bring me closer to God (My Father in Heaven). Jesus (My eldest Brother).
    I love everyone no matter….

  • Fern RL

    I liked your comment, John C-W. Before this, I didn’t know that Unitarians did not accept the Trinity doctrine. I also agree that it “is extra biblical and unitelligible.” It makes no sense to me either that those who think it is essential to accept that doctrine, also claim that nothing outside the Bible is to be considered scripture.
    I am a Latter-day Saint (LDS), also known as Mormon. I consider myself to be Christian, but not Credal-Christian. To me, it is at least misleading, if not downright dishonest, to say that Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) are not Christian. Some say we do not believe in the “same Jesus,” but we clearly believe in the only Jesus Christ whose life and teachings are found recorded in the New Testament.
    Also, there is a strong continuity in what we are taught in our church meetings from congregation to congregation throughout the world—this is deliberate on behalf of our Apostles and Prophets at Church Headquarters, and is referred to as the “Correlation Program.”
    If you say you are Christian, I will believe you, and would like that you do the same for me.

  • David Drake

    G: you said: Since the doctrine of the trinity as described by the councils is not contained in the Bible
    This is just not true….the word perhaps is not but the doctrine itself is…It was the Bible that forced the councils to Trinitarianism not the Councils that forced Trinitarianism on the Bible: John chapter 1 along with Deuteronomy 6:4 are hard to reconcile apart from the Trinity as one example.
    As to the actual question: I am sure that many modalist and oneness pentecostals are Christians…even though I think they are wrong on the trinity.

  • David Drake

    John C-W: Isn’t the Resurrection unintelligible? What about the incarnation? What about the Concept of the Holy Spirit…I don’t make what I don’t understand the basis of belief, if I did essentially I would be arguing that my reason is god, and it is not. By definition the idea of God suggests transcendence…I mean who really needs a God that is not smarter or more powerful than them.

  • Your Name

    As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) I believe that through the atonement of Jesus Christ all mankind may be saved. Whether you want to call me non-Christian is your business; it doesn’t change that I’m striving to follow the teachings and example of Christ. For all you protestants who believe that the Catholic church got it wrong (else you would still be Catholics), what makes you believe that they got it right with the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (beliefs that were articulated hundreds of years after the death of the original apostles of Christ and beliefs that were debated by a group of men before being adopted by a non-unanimous vote).

  • Tony, it’s interesting in the same article where you conclude that Mormons are not Christians, you admit that you yourself are a “Social Trinitarian” in bent.
    You ought to check out Mormon scholars like Blake Ostler and David Paulsen. Their central argument and thesis is that Mormonism is actually social trinitarian. They make a pretty compelling case based on Mormon scripture in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. The idea is that there are three distinct individuals who are perfectly united in love. Perichoresis I believe is the term. A perfect unity of will and purpose such that each member of the godhead literally inhabits the mind of the others. To know one is to know the others.
    I myself am an active Mormon and consider myself Social Trinitarian. I find it to be completely compatible with Mormon scripture and the statements of Joseph Smith and other LDS leaders. Most Mormons would not know the correct theological term for their beliefs. But I believe few would find much to criticize in the language of social trinitarianism. Some Mormons do tend to lean more tri-theist. But then again, I’ve found modalism to be pretty darn prevalent in Evangelical and Protestant circles – even the ministers are almost outright modalists (though they’d never admit it).
    Problem is that both modalism and tri-theism are at least logically coherent statements about God. Classical trinitarianism tries to have it both ways and ultimately makes sense neither way. It’s an utterly illogical and incoherent mess. Social Trinitarianism gets around the problem by making the unity of the three not one of “substance” (a purely philosophical innovation the theologians at Nicea beggared from the Neo-Platonists), but rather a profound unity of purpose, will, mind and love.
    This same sort of unity or perichoresis is at the very heart of the highest aspirations of every Mormon. I ultimately seek the same sort of perichoresis with my wife. I hope ultimately to experience it with God as well. “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.”
    Anyway, Social Trinitarianism is very much a possibility for any Mormon, and indeed, I think various passages in the Book of Mormon about the unity of God all but demand a Social Trinitarian read on Mormon theology.
    Anyway, I just found it rather odd that a professed Social Trinitarian would have a problem with Mormonism’s views on trinity. We basically are social trinitarians, even if we don’t know the correct term for it.

  • G

    Dave, for myself, the following Bible verses explain the Trinity best to me. Whether others agree or disagree, it really has no bearing as to whether or not I am a Christian, it’s my relationship with Him and my desire to learn of Him, His words,and His example that makes makes me a follower of Christ and a Christian, not whether or not I believe in the Trinity as the mainstream Christians do.
    Gen. 1: 26 God said, Let us make man in our image.
    Gen. 3: 22 man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.
    Matt. 3: 17 (Matt. 17: 5) This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
    Matt. 20: 23 not mine to give, but . . . of my Father.
    Matt. 26: 39 not as I will, but as thou wilt.
    Matt. 28: 19 baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
    Luke 1: 32 called the Son of the Highest.
    Luke 3: 22 Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove.
    John 5: 19 Son can do nothing . . . but what he seeth the Father do.
    John 8: 18 Father that sent me beareth witness of me.
    John 10: 30 I and my Father are one.
    John 10: 38 believe the works . . . that the Father is in me.
    John 12: 28 a voice from heaven, saying, I have . . . glorified it.
    John 14: 28 my Father is greater than I.
    John 17: 3 that they might know thee the only true God.
    John 17: 21 That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me.
    John 20: 17 I ascend unto my Father, and your Father.
    Acts 2: 33 being by the right hand of God exalted.
    Acts 7: 55 saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.
    Acts 17: 29 not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold.
    Rom. 1: 20 even his eternal power and Godhead.
    1 Cor. 8: 6 to us there is but one God.
    2 Cor. 4: 4 Christ, who is the image of God.
    Eph. 3: 14 I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord.
    Col. 1: 15 image of the invisible God, the firstborn.
    Col. 2: 9 dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
    Heb. 1: 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.
    1 Jn. 5: 7 three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost.

  • Mata

    I am a Biblical unitarian christian and believe that monotheism is the Bible teaching. I strongly disagree with the premise that unitarians cannot be christians.
    Note to G: 1 John 5: 7 is a flawed text. Check any other version than KJV

  • jane

    The irony of this whole discussion is that the Book of Mormon serves as another witness of Christ. If people would just read the Book, without forming biases ahead of time, they would realize that it constantly talks of Christ, the atonement, the nature of God and his relationship with us. Perhaps the greatest irony in this whole discussion of Christianity is that so many are so quick to dismiss the LDS religion and the Book of Mormon. At a time when Christians are being ridiculed around the world, Christians decide to ridicule a faith that actually supports the whole idea that Christ is real and communicates with man.

  • Pastor

    On my way home from China in December, on the plane I sat next to a Super AG. In her earnest effort, she explained that their concept of God is like an egg: the yolk, white and shell. I once heard this when I was a teenager. I’m now 63, and still don’t quite get it.

  • Your Name

    The two arguments I’ve heard most often to explain why Mormons aren’t Christian are 1) they believe in extra-Biblical scriptures, namely the Book of Mormon, and 2) they don’t believe in the Nicean creed. Isn’t this ironic, believers in one extra-Biblical document shun those who believe in a different extra-Biblical document.

  • Ama

    The house of God is the house of order…perhaps its very important for every christian to understand & know who they worship & pray to. Do you worship & pray to…Jesus Christ?…or to the one God that Jesus worshiped & prayed to? There is nowhere in the Holy Bible that Jesus asked His followers to pray & worship Him. He made it clear that no one comes to His Father but by Him (John.14:6) The only one “mediator” between God and men, the man Jesus Christ (1Tim.2:5)
    The message of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world is the First Vision of Joseph Smith, when he was visited by God the Father & His Son Jesus Christ (Two personages) In which one of them spoke, calling Joseph Smith by name, while pointing to the other saying: “This is my Beloved Son, Hear Him” I do believe that God the Holy Ghost was present too & that made THREE PERSONAGES.

  • Your Name

    The irony of this whole discussion is that the Book of Mormon serves as another witness of Christ. If people would just read the Book, without forming biases ahead of time, they would realize that it constantly talks of Christ, the atonement, the nature of God and his relationship with us.
    Yes, I keep my copy of The Book of Mormon on my bookshelf right next to my other Christian fiction books that constantly talk of Christ, the atonement, the nature of God and his relationship with us (e.g., The Shack).

  • Faithful American

    Trying to think out-side of the box on this one. Maybe taking a look at the “fruits” of a group or individual is another way to define them. Do they live a life directed as the Savior himself directed us to live? Of course all of the satanists who read this will find individual cases where people who claim a belief are……in prison some place. However…..going back to your mothers attempt at an explanation of a Mormon’s Christianity, the Mormons that I know are for sure Christians.
    In my opinon specific doctrine will be debated until the end of time, but I agree with the poster above that not only Christians, but all moral religion is under attack in our world now. If we get too caught up in this now, we will see a very very sad day in this great country. Put aside our doctrinal differences and lets work together against those who are destroying our country.
    I believe The Savior himself will come again, to stand with the righteous. I believe that there are prophets alive now, to help us be the righteous people that our Heavenly Father would have us be. We need to love righteousness more than just being “right”.

  • angie

    If you believe in Christ, you should have the right to consider yourself Christian.
    Seems to me like the believer should be able to decide whether or not they are Christian.

  • judith millward

    It is interesting that the Nicene Creed wasn’t written during the early Christian Church when Christ’s apostles were at its head, but two hundred years later. Were they Christians? Mainstream Christian use the Nicene Creed arbitrarily to define “Christian” rather than Christ’s definition: By their fruits ye shall know them.” Wherefore, in my opinion, you will know when a person is a follower of Christ by his actions.
    More than which church a person belongs to he will be known as a Christian, if he follows Christ’s teachings.

  • Bret

    The question of being “Christian” and whether you believe in the Nicene Creed version of the trinity should not be linked at all. Only a few biased organizations seem to take this route. Why define “Christian” in this way?
    To most people, the term “Christian” means to believe in Christ and what he taught in the Bible. The belief in the Nicene creed version of the trinity is a more narrow version of “Christian” that seeks to identify the nature of Christ and his relationship with the Father. To equate the terms seems rather narrow minded and biased to me.
    This seems like saying a guy who does plumbing is not a plumber unless he works for Roto-rooter. Quite silly I think.

  • Joe W

    I consider Mormons to be “Christians” – if thats what THEY consider themselves.
    Having attended Christian schools growing up, I know first hand that my pastor’s job was on the line if he didn’t make a point to create hatred between us and the Mormons – and I resent that.
    Let’s ALL be more loving and kind, and let God Himself work this out in the end.

  • john C-W

    David Drake: you asked “Isn’t the Resurrection unintelligible?”
    i can conceive of the idea of a resurrection. it’s unbelievable(in a colloquial sense) but i can conceive what it would mean and therefore accept or reject it.
    While I believe that God is far outside our understanding, I also believe Rom1 19,20 tells us that what CAN be KNOWN about God’s invisible qualities are made PLAIN in nature.
    There is nothing in nature that explains what it could possibly mean for 3 persons to be one substance. Therefore, i conclude that we cannot KNOW that GOd is in trinity(in the traditional sense).
    Also there is a definition of the word person that only applies in this one undefinable instance. I can’t even understand what the doctrine means, so how can i accept it(or reject it i suppose)?

  • I’m not sure about this and I often ask people this question. What makes someone a Christian? Is it a verbal profession? Praying a prayer? Adherence to a doctrine?
    I don’t really think these are very good qualifiers. I think many churches use a creed so that the people who attend there will know what kind of church they are in, but many people don’t even understand the theological implications of what they are saying. It doesn’t make them Christian or not, in my opinion. Other churches seem to look at the way people live their lives as if being a Christian has to do with how well they keep the rules. Still others only call you Christian if you have had a certain type of experience (born again).
    My experience is that there is no definitive way to identify or know Christians. I think God resists the idea of fitting into a set of rules or a list. I think his very nature frustrates our attempts at classification. Humanity’s tendency to rely on systems and rules is just to compelling for God to allow himself to be constrained by any systematic set of rules.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with Judith – how would you ever think that the defining belief of a Christian was effectively born from a creed developed centuries after the death of the apostles? That makes no sense at all. I would much rather develop my Christology, and indeed my theology, from Jesus himself, and from Paul, rather than from a church creed developed in controversial fashion. I find it amazing, and somewhat disheartening, that all the recent focus on the Trinity cannot be found in Christ’s teachings or in the letters of Paul. It’s not there unless it is put there.

  • Charles Cosimano

    LIke all ancient Orthodoxies, the Trinity is going to be just another plate in the banquet of belief options. The mere fact that some group of bishops got together a long time ago and came up with a creed carries little weight.

  • Ben Abrams

    Concerning Pastor ‘s remarks of
    January 8, 2009 7:40 AM
    “On my way home from China in December, on the plane I sat next to a Super AG. In her earnest effort, she explained that their concept of God is like an egg: the yolk, white and shell. I once heard this when I was a teenager. I’m now 63, and still don’t quite get it.”
    I know why you don’t get it from the above explanation. Yolk, egg white and a shell are three totally different substances with three totally different functions. This would suggest that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are made of three separate substances with three separate functions. Moreover, it means that they evolve into one single being, which is a chicken, bird etc.
    The Mormon theology of the Trinity is much more Biblical.

  • Your Name

    I think we need to ask what the point is to the question of who “counts” as a Christian and who not. Why do we have to have a definitive answer to this? Why are we not content to let those who want to call themselves Christians do so? Is it because we want to judge who will be saved and who not? Is it because we will worry if our children join up with a group who some don’t consider Christian, that somehow they won’t make it to heaven? Since it seems pretty clear that no human being has the authority to determine if someone else is a Christian or not, then shouldn’t we leave it to Christ to make that decision and not worry about it so much ourselves? I may be missing something, but I sincerely am open to a better understanding of this.

  • Your Name

    Interesting discussion.
    John 17:3 “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.”
    Surely a knowledge of and understanding of the nature of God and His Son is fundamental to all those who profess to follow Him.
    And yet even amongst followers there seems a wide variety of ideas and disagreement…
    I was interested but not surprised by Tripp’s comments. It is one thing to agree you believe a certain position – another entirely to express just what your position actually is.
    Having established that a knowledge and acceptance of the nature of God is fundamental by Christ’s own statement we take the next step. Either God is knowable, or He is not. The scripture suggests He is. So, is that knowledge ineffable or not? Hopefully not or else any creed is meaningless. So, does the Nicean or any other creed accurately convey the reality such that acceptance of it or not is a requirement to be in compliance with Christ’s injunction above… there’s the rub.

  • Bret

    I re-read your article and some of the comments. I found the one by Seth R. quite enlightening because I did not understand the definition of Social Trinitarianism. So you have beliefs that are not mainstream Nicene creed, beliefs that are very close to Mormonism, yet you call them non-Christian. Wow. Where does that come from? What bias are you carrying around to judge others beliefs? Tony, you need to do some soul searching.
    “My immediate response was, “They do consider themselves part of Christianity, but they’re not. They don’t believe in the Trinity.””

  • Steve D.

    I certainly HOPE that one doesn’t have to believe Nicaean Trinitarianism to be considered Christian. Otherwise, NO ONE could be considered Christian.
    The bottom-line is this: people may say they do, but no one actually believes the Trinity as articulated at Nicaea.
    To believe something, one must first think it; if something cannot exist in the mind, it is incapable of being believed. The Nicaean Trinity is (in a completely non-colloquial way, but still with the voice of Vizzini from the Princess Bride) “inconceivable.”
    Suppose someone asked you to believe that they knew someone that knew someone that discovered a “four-sided triangle.” Then after they saw the dumbfounded look on your face, they asked you to just believe the mystery.
    You can’t believe in the existence of a “four-sided triangle,” because you can’t conceptualize what it would mean for a triangle, any triangle, to have four sides.
    A human being is not capable of conceptualizing one being as three persons. You can memorize the words, and even confess them every Sunday, but you can’t believe them, for you can’t even know what they mean.

  • Your Name

    On one Trinity Sunday my then Pastor described the trinity like her relationships. She is a Mother, a daughter, and a Grandmother. She was a wonderful pastor, but her description was condemned as a heresy by the Church (Sabellianism).
    The best simple explanation I heard was God is One “What” and Three “Whos” (One essence manifest in three persons).
    If most Christians (laity and clergy) can’t explain it correctly, then it cannot be criteria for inclusion.
    The earliest Christians prayed and sang songs to Jesus. As one pagan historian noted, “They rise before sunrise and sing hymns to Jesus as unto a god”. How one squares this with the commandment, “To worship God alone” is important but not a test for inclusion.

  • Steve D.

    Your Name, I’ve heard the whole “one what and three whos” thing before, and I must confess that it is a great modern articulation of the Nicaean Trinity. But it is far from an explanation!
    Words are simply symbolic representations of ideas.
    Every idea doesn’t NEED to have a symbolic representation, but every communicable idea does. Ideas without symbolic representations are expressed in everyday speech as “I can’t really put it into words.”
    Most ideas have more than one symbolic representation. That’s why we can translate the Bible into different languages. An English Bible and a Spanish Bible may have different symbolic representations, but (hopefully) the ideas are approximately the same.
    Conversely, there exist many symbolic “representations” that actually represent no idea. Using a random sentence generator that I found on the Web, I generated these five sentences:
    The tall breakdown precedes a judge.
    A ditch boosts the contest into the recursive earth.
    The venture mails a virtue over the demolished magic.
    Past the traveled wound reacts the aerial rose.
    An unworkable vowel turns.
    These sentences can’t be believed, since they can’t be thought (i.e. conceived in the mind). They’re pure nonsense, in the most literal sense of the word.
    Such is the Nicaean Trinity: pure nonsense.
    One can conceive of other Trinities, like Sabellianism and tri-theism (neither of which, in my opinion, are compatible with Holy Writ). But the orthodox doctrine is utterly nonsensical.
    It is literally unbelievable, because it is literally inconceivable.

  • Maureen

    If someone says they are Christian, whose right is it to say they are not–by whose criteria? What would Christ say? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t exclude ANYONE who worshipped Him, confessed His divinity, believed in His eternal atonement, and–most importantly–behaved as he taught and treated others as He would.

  • I just don’t know if its the right question. But the one I would substitute is this: is it possible to articulate an enduring missional theology apart from the Trinity? And the answer to that I believe it “no.”

  • John Blackburn

    Belief in the Trinity is not essential to live out the faith, but in order to confess a true, decent Understanding of Christianity, I do believe that one must arrive at a similar conclusion to those of the Council of Nicaea.

  • John Blackburn

    Belief in the Trinity is not essential to live out the faith, but in order to confess a true, decent Understanding of Christianity, I do believe that one must arrive at a similar conclusion to those of the Council of Nicaea.

  • Anastasia

    Well personally, I don’t think it’s a Salvation issue, not believing in the Trinity. When the man asked Jesus, “What must I do to be saved?” Jesus only said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus CHrist and you will be saved,” and I think it would’ve of been rather helpful for Jesus to have said, “Oh, and you need to believe that I’m God, and that it’s a three-in-one deal, or you’re not gonna make the cut.”
    Also, I think it’s a matter of heart. Where is your heart before God? I think we spend so much time trying to believe in teh right things so that we can go that we miss the whole point of being here on earth! We are here to serve our God, not to argue about who’s going to Heaven and who’s not! I think God probably knows what He’s doing, and I’m pretty sure He’s not going to send a whole bunch of people to hell randomly if they’re actively searching for truth and loving Him wholeheartedly. What do you guys think?

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