This month’s issue of Christianity Today magazine has a small piece entitled “Our Favorite Heresies.” It shows the results of a survey conducted by LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries. The survey questioned “Americans with evangelical beliefs (using the four-part definition endorsed by the National Association of Evangelical).” The results of the survey show “12 areas where today’s believers have most gone astray.” No definition is provided for the word heresy. I have blogged before that evangelicals use this word often without defining it. Most people want to know whether being guilty of heresy refers to a non-Christian or just a misinformed Christian.
Each of the so-called heresies are stated and the percentages given of the people surveyed who believe them. The first supposed heresy is, “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” A whopping 73% of apparent evangelicals surveyed said they believed this statement. And 4% said they “somewhat agree.” The second heresy is, “The Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being.” Nearly half, 46%, of those surveyed said they believed this statement. And 11% said they “somewhat agree.” According to the two organizations who conducted this survey, I’m a heretic regarding both statements. But, of course, I believe they are wrong and that I am not a heretic.
To evaluate these two survey statements, we need to consider the doctrine of the Trinity. Evangelicals think you must believe in the doctrine of the Trinity or you are not a Christian. So, evangelicals would also say non-Trinitarians are heretics. The Trinity doctrine is that God is three co-equal and co-eternal Persons: Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit. Accordingly, the Son, Jesus, preexisted throughout all eternity past, and the Holy Spirit is a Person. The article further informs correctly that the first heresy was “ruled out by First Council of Nicaea (325).” And the article rightly says the second heresy was “ruled out by First Council of Constantinople (381).” Thus, the doctrine of the Trinity, established at the latter council, renders all those people who subscribed to the first two so-called “heresies” as non-Christians.
However, a footnote to this article supplies an abbreviated four-part definition of an evangelical by the NAE which LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries apparently endorse. It says, “Evangelicals are defined by the NAE as those who strongly agree that the Bible is the highest authority, evangelism is very important, sin can only removed by Jesus’ death, and salvation comes only through trusting in Jesus as Savior.”
I most heartedly believe all four of these precepts. However, as stated above, I also subscribe to the first two statements asked in the survey. I do so because, as a former Trinitarian for 22 years, I have believed for the past 36 years that that is what the Bible teaches. That is, Jesus did not preexist, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and thus not a separate, individual person from a supposed Godhead. As I have repeatedly stated on my blog, if God is three Persons then man would have to be three persons since man in made in the image of God. Likewise, God’s Spirit is to God what man’s spirit is to man because man was made in God’s image. Since man’s spirit is not a separate person from himself, neither is God’s Spirit a separate person from himself. Most biblical texts which seem to indicate that the Holy Spirit is a Person are merely personifications, just as wisdom is personified in the Proverbs 8.
I have posted before on my blog about this subject and the NAE’s definition of an evangelical. To learn more, click on any of the following posts:
8/11/16: “I Am Not a Heretic.”
1/13/16: “Am I an Evangelical or Not?”
1/16/14: “What Must Christians Believe?“