Photo credit: publicdomainpictures.net
As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, I once befriended a family of Christians who hosted a weekly Bible study in their home.
One evening while I was hanging out with one friend from this group, she randomly mentioned about how she told off her Catholic high school teachers to ‘forget the Trinity‘ during religion class. I was caught off guard by her seemingly flippant comment and asked her,
“What do you mean, ‘forget the Trinity?‘ Isn’t that a core teaching of the Bible?”
“Actually,” she replied, “the word ‘Trinity‘ isn’t even found in the Bible! That means it’s not true!”
Interesting perspective, I thought. How would people summarize the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit without using such a term? Does this mean everything has to be explicitly mentioned in the Bible in order to be true? Or is using these so-called unbiblical terms a form of unnecessarily adding to the Word of God?
One evening in the same month, the leader of the Bible study (who happened to be my friend’s father) decided to make the Trinity a topic of discussion. I’m not sure whether it was eerie timing or if my friend had told her parents about our discussion and were conspiring to make me renounce my beliefs. Either way, I found the particular discussion topic rather suspicious. Because of the absence of the seemingly heretical T-word, he referred to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the deity of Jesus.
Another thing that struck me as odd was how this study group believed in theological ideas that were also not explicitly mentioned in Scripture. They believed the King James Version of the Bible was the only untainted translation out there, yet there is no evidence within its own pages that supports such a notion – aside from the fact that King James authorized his own translation nearly 1600 years after Christ walked on earth. They also believed in an imminent rapture before Christ’s return, yet even the word rapture is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, except in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 where the KJV verbalizes it as being caught up. I never had the opportunity to grill them about the latter observation, but it appeared to me that this group was picking and choosing what certain passages in the Bible were most convenient for them. It was as though they were building their own theology.
In that same year, I had a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at my doorstep. After a friendly conversation about the neighborhood and the weather, they passed me a Watchtower tract whose headline read, ‘Should You Believe in the Trinity?‘ I graciously accepted their paper offering as I slowly eased the door shut to shoo them away. It was then I learned for the first time that one of the major differences in belief between JW’s and Orthodox Christians is their rejection of Jesus as God.
The main arguments presented in the Watchtower tract were the Trinity is a form of pagan polytheism that snuck its way into church dogma during the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople in the 4th century, and the Jews and first-century Christians apparently did not worship Jesus as equal to God the Father. It seems like a very strange charge in light of the fact that Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and most mainline Protestant denominations seem to align with the position that God exists in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
But how does a religious movement that began in the 1870’s such as the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses reject a fundamentally important part of Christian theology that was tried and tested over centuries of debate?
It appears as though Jehovah’s Witnesses are not alone in making such a claim, either. Mormons, Christian Scientists, Universalists and certain branches of Pentecostalism also reject the Trinity (or the use of the term), yet their own theologies are all inconsistent with one another in spite of proclaiming themselves to be believers in Jesus. But like my former KJV-onliest friends, they all share one thing in common….
They all reject the Trinity because it is not a word explicitly mentioned in the New Testament.
I truly admire their unwavering belief in Scripture, but the family who hosted the Bible study did not have a church to call their own. Despite claiming the Bible being their only authority for living, many Christian families who close themselves off or refuse to partake in a church community over doctrinal semantics seem to view themselves as their own authoritative office. In many cases, this is not something they can help on their own due to their own biases – and I, myself, have been guilty of thinking the same way. In my own observation, viewing the Bible through a lens that’s fogged by our own uninformed assumptions is not the healthiest way to decipher what the truth is.
This is generally how some churches are started in people’s basements. When a person claims to be led by the Holy Spirit through reading the Bible without the guidance of a pastor, priest or theologian, it can possibly lead to serious error. Without an accountable teaching body, a person can drawn their own subjective conclusions and create God in their own image. It’s kind of like a student who takes a textbook about quantum physics without the guidance of a professor, or when the Hebrews fabricated a golden calf to worship in place of God while Moses was away on Mount Sinai.
Is it Sola Scriptura, or Sola Mea Sententia?
As controversial as it sounds, if I believed I had a better understanding of the Bible than the historical Church does, it would be as though I were ordaining myself to be my own pope.
For it was the Apostles of the Early Church who proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God.
It was the Early Church Fathers of the 4th century who assembled the canon of the Bible through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And through discerning Scripture by that same Spirit, it was the Early Church that affirmed the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as three persons in one entity.
The Holy Trinity.
It can be difficult to explain the relationship between the Three Persons of the Trinity to someone who is new to Christianity or isn’t familiar with it. One way I thought of describing the nature of God is how water can take the form of solid ice, liquid or vapor. Without knowing what these are made of, one could assume each of these forms were completely different objects. Yet no matter what state they’re in, they’re still made up of water.
But the problem with the water-comparison is it wrongfully portrays God as taking on individually different forms in different moments of time. This is a belief known as Modalism, which denies the distinctiveness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and considers them all to be Jesus.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are different persons, but they all exist as the same entity simultaneously and eternally.
Both Catholic and Protestant Christians unanimously agree that Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6-7). The doctrine of Solus Christus (Latin for ‘Christ Alone’) was established by the leaders of the Protestant Reformation to reaffirm that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. To the surprise of many, this does not contradict what the Roman Catholic Church has taught from the beginning. However, allowances for a subjective interpretation of the Bible have led some individuals to embrace Modalism and reject the Trinity – therefore nullifying who Christ truly is.
It’s arguable that an acceptance of Modalism could be rooted in a Bible-alone mindset paired with a lack or absence of Spirit-led, authoritative teaching. This is one of the reasons why many churches who desire authenticity to their historically orthodox roots recite the Nicene Creed as part of their proclamation of faith.
The Nicene Creed
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father, by whom all things were made.
For our salvation, He came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and became man; and was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried; and on the third day He rose again, in accordance to the Scriptures; He ascended into heaven, and is seated on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, in glory, to judge the wicked and the dead; and His kingdom shall have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified; who has spoken through the prophets.
And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins; and I look to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Trinity is a mystery of God that human minds can hardly fathom, yet it all the more reinforces the relationship between God and man. The Father loves us through sending us His only Son, and He lives in us through the Holy Spirit.
I may not be a biblical scholar, but I will close this article by sharing some verses from the King James Bible that have reassured my faith in the Trinity throughout my years not only as an Evangelical, but even nowadays as a reverted Catholic….
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
– Genesis 1:26
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…..And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
– John 1:1,14
“But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.”
– 1 Corinthians 8:6
“And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
– Luke 1:43
“And God said unto Moses, ‘I Am That I Am,’ and he said, ‘Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you.’”
– Exodus 3:14
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.”
– John 14:6-7
“Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.”
– John 18:3-6
“One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. ‘Peace be with you,’ he said. Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!’
‘My Lord and my God!‘ Thomas exclaimed.”
– John 20:24-28
“Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
– Matthew 28:16-20
“I and my Father are one.”
– John 10:30