Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Trinity: Three Gods?

Is it true that to believe in the Trinity is to believe in three gods? There are some groups, such as the Oneness Pentecostals, who believe this so profoundly so as to call you heretic to your face. This happened to me in the heart of American Pentecostalism, Topeka, Kansas, in a job where I once worked. A young African-American kid in his very early 20's found me in the lunchroom sharing my faith. So incensed was he that I would be talking to someone about Christ when I was a Trinitarian, that he promptly walked up to the table where I sat and interrupted my attempt at explaining the Gospel to another young man. I never had another chance to talk to this person before leaving that place employment.

Though I do not mean to suggest all Oneness Pentecostals would do the same behavior, I do mean to say that the Trinity issue is a highly charged topic with some of the groups who, in rejecting the validity of the Trinity, find themselves in the unorthodox camp.

So, does "The doctrine of the trinity teaches that there are three Gods?" Trying to answer that question leaves me in much fear and trembling. It is an incomprehensible theological concept that mankind has been trying to answer for centuries. And, to try and explain this in a paper of a thousand words of so has to be where even angels fear to tread. It is, however, important to try and understand the Trinity since it is an aspect of theology that reveals the very nature of God.

In spite of anti-Trinitarian rhetoric and its detractors, to hold to the doctrine of the Trinity is NOT to believe in three gods. This orthodox view of God, Trinity, is monotheistic despite what naysayers claim. One definition of the Trinity is:

"The Trinity is monotheistic, one God, not three. However, God has three ways of being God, just as a triangle has three sides, but is one shape. This idea of God working in three ways is expected to strengthen the Christian belief in the 'Oneness of God.' All three are regarded as eternal (everlasting) and fully God without dividing the true nature of God."

"God had three ways of being God…" seems a little unsettling to my thinking so I thought of this: "Trinity is a theological concept within the systematic structure of Christian doctrine that demonstrates a monotheistic God who is (somehow) divided into three perfectly equal beings. Each being is perfectly God. The Father is perfectly God; the Son is perfectly God; the Holy Spirit is perfectly God. All beings are perfectly God, in perfect unity, in absolute perfect agreement."

I used the phrase, "perfectly equal beings," because it may be that the distortion of the Biblically orthodox Trinitarian doctrine results from the misuse of the words "persons" and "beings" and the differences within the two ideas. "Being is what makes something what it is. Person is what makes someone who he or she is. As Hank Hanegraaff puts it, when speaking of the Trinity, we speak of one what (the Being of God) and three who's (the three divine Persons)."

Being implying "essence" and "person" implying personality and work (ministry). And, it is important to maintain this difference since it may be the problem in the vast errors that exist concerning the Trinity. An easy way of understanding this is that the Father is not the Son but is God. The Son is not the Holy Spirit but is God. The Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son but is God. "God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity."

Probably the most common Trinitarian error is modalism. This distorts the nature of God in that it claims that God is a single person and has revealed Himself throughout history in different forms or modes. Throughout the Old Testament, God was revealed as "the Father mode." At the birth of Christ, God was revealed as "the Son mode." After Christ's ascension, God was revealed as "the Holy Spirit mode." Never, says this doctrine of modalism, do these modes of God appear at the same time. I've always wanted to ask a modalist just to whom Christ prayed when He addressed God as "My Father…?" Was Jesus praying to Himself?

Another error is that of Arianism. This heresy states that Christ was a created being and subservient to God the Father. Therefore, the Deity and preexistence of Christ is rejected. Actually three sub-forms of Arianism came out of the initial error. "Radical Arianism-the Son is "dissimilar" to the Father; Homoeanism-similar to the Father; Semi-Arianism-touched on orthodox teaching in that the Son was similar to the Father but distinct."

Oneness Pentecostalism is another error with which I'm personally acquainted. They teach that God is one and not divided up into three persons. The terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are mere titles that reflect the modes in which the Deity is manifested to humanity. The Father is a mode indicating parental relationship. The Son is a mode of God in the flesh. The Holy Spirit is the mode of God in His ministry as Spirit. A dangerous (yet interesting) thing about their theology is that the Oneness sect does not believe that "the Son" existed before the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us." They believe that Jesus became "the Son" when he was born on Earth. Prior to that, He (the Son) was the Father. That is to say, Jesus was in heaven as "the Father" but became "the Son" at the incarnation. This presents massive problems scripturally and in logic. And yet, it is to logic my Oneness Pentecostal friends have pointed me when we debated this issue.

Logic does not negate that three persons can exist co-equally in perfection in one being. Because someone may not like it does not qualify him or her to reject the idea or doctrine. The detractors to the Trinitarian doctrine object most vociferously based on the fact that "the word" Trinity does not appear in the Bible. Well, the word oxygen does not appear in Scripture and yet few will doubt the existence of it though few of us have ever scientifically viewed oxygen molecules. If the unorthodox wants to deny the Trinity, then let him do so by stating so in a testable hypothesis why it cannot exist. Then let's test it.

One test in which the Trinity passes with flying colors is a Scriptural one. Though not using the word specifically, the amount of Biblical evidence is impressive. Any inquiring mind could use this as a beginning study and in conjunction with a good study Bible like The Ryrie Study Bible or the Geneva Study Bible:

1. Compare Scripture with Scripture: Isaiah 6; John 12: 35-42; Acts 28:25-27
2. Christ's Baptism: Matthew 3: 16,17
3. The Trinity at the Great Commission: Matthew 28:19-20
4. Paul's benediction: II Corinthians 13:14

You can try using an Internet search Engine using this search term "scriptural proof of the trinity" (without the quotation marks). Be sure to check all verses using a Bible Commentary at Bible Study Tools.