1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,
Titus 1:9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
I know it’s not very popular today because our society has become so anti-theological and anti-doctrinal, but it’s past time that Christians return to studying why we believe what we believe. The opponents of orthodox Christianity have been massing for some time in this nation and, for the sake of peace, pastors and teachers have simply left things unaddressed which should have been addressed. Because of this, many have been led astray. The reason I’m writing this note is to attempt to help anyone interested to understand why the doctrine of the Trinity is so important to orthodox Christianity and the errors that can occur when we misunderstand and twist the truth. In the last 120 years or so, this most basic understanding of the nature of God has come under attack once again. The names of these groups who deny the Orthodox view of God are well-know. They are Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and various Oneness groups, whether they call themselves Pentecostal, Aposolic, or various other random names. I’m placing this picture I’ve created here so that you can have a visual image of what I’m saying. You might want to take a moment to look this picture over. (I made it with “Paint” so it’s far from perfect)
Please note, in this first triangle I have illustrated Orthodox Christianity. This is what Scripture has revealed to us regarding the nature of God. First of all, God is ONE. This was revealed from the beginning of Scripture. The theological word for this is Monotheism. I say “Absolute Monotheism” because this doesn’t change when we begin speaking about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One of the most well-known passages in Deuteronomy states it this way: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! (Deut. 6:4) Other passages that make this clear are Deut. 4:35 & 39, 1 Corinthians 8:4, and Ephesians 4:6, among many others. This never changes because God never changes.
On the left-hand side of the triangle, we have 3 Divine Persons. Please note, there is a difference between “Being” and “Person.” For example, a rock or a tree have being, but not person. In His Being, God is One. Yet, in His persons, He is 3. According to the Scriptures, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all referred to as God. He is one in being and three in person. This is the way God has revealed Himself. A great example is the baptism of Jesus, where the Father speaks from heaven, the Spirit descends like a dove, and Jesus is there in bodily form. So, we have 3 divine persons here.
On the right-hand side of the triangle, we have 3 Co-Equal Persons. They are co-equal and also co-eternal. The Scripture, in John 1:1 where John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes these words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And then later in the same chapter, he says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John *testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ ” It’s clear here that John intends to express here that the Father and the Son are co-eternal and co-equal. Jesus made this even clearer in His priestly prayer in John 17:3-5 “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. So, the doctrine here is clear.
So, what happens when one of these is left out. Let’s take them one at a time. What if you leave out Absolute Monotheism?
As you can see, this is the error of Mormonism. In this model, you maintain 3 Divine persons and 3 co-equal and co-eternal persons, but you lost absolute monotheism. You may well be aware of this, but the Mormon church is actually the MOST polytheistic religion in the world, and that’s saying something. Hinduism has many thousands of gods, but Mormonism actually has an infinite number of deities. As a matter of fact, the men in that religion actually get to become the god of their own planets once this life is concluded, and Jesus is simply the man who once was a man like us but inherited the Earth as his planet to be god over. This is something you won’t hear much about from the outside, but it is a critical part of their doctrine.
So, what happens if you leave out 3 divine persons in the God-head?
In this instance, you maintain that God is one and that God is 3 equal persons, but you leave out the fact that God is three distinct, divine persons. This is the error of Oneness Pentecostals, many Apostolic churches, and old-time modalism or Sabellianism (after its most famous proponent). Modalism, which was denounced as heresy by Early Church Fathers Tertullian in 213 and Dionysius in 263, states that God existed at different times in different modes, but never all 3 simultaneously. That is, prior to the incarnation, God existed as Father; after the incarnation, He existed as Son; and once Christ ascended, He existed as Holy Spirit. Some groups do not view the Holy Spirit as God at all. They see the Holy Spirit as some kind of force used by God, but not a person of God. This heresy has taken many forms such as Monarchianism, which is very similar to modalsim. Oneness Pentecostals even refuse the command of Jesus in Matthew 28 to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They may call themselves Jesus-only Pentecostals, but, in essence, what they are doing is denying the very nature of God as revealed in Scripture.
Lastly, what happens if you leave out 3 co-equal and co-eternal persons?
In this model, the result is monotheism and 3 divine persons, but these persons are not co-equal and not co-eternal. The result is the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Arianism. Arianism was denounced as heresy by the first council of Nicea in 325. This system presents the idea that Jesus Christ is not an eternal being and that he was created at his conception. This leaves Him as both distinct from and inferior to God the Father. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have created their own translation of the Scriptures which is know as “The New World Translation.” They differ from classic Arianism on several points, but the basic error is the same, that of denying that Jesus is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spiirt.
I’m sure that this article has the potential to spark a large debate, but my purpose here is to help Christians understand more clearly what we believe, to help define the primary errors in these false systems, and to help my brothers and sisters in Christ avoid being deceived and led astray.