The Doctrine of Christ
THE DOCTRINE OF
The Key to having "both the Father and the Son"
"The Doctrine of Christ"
"Any one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son." (2 John 9, RSV)
"THE doctrine of Christ" was clear in Johns time. He was unwilling to receive any contrary thinking. John held uncompromisingly to this doctrine, saying, "If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares his wicked work" (2 John 10, 11, RSV). In this booklet, we will discuss the false teaching John was addressing. Suffice it to say here, it did not include a defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity concept was foreign to the early Church and did not emerge until the third and fourth centuries. Through time this "doctrine of Christ" has developed into a theology meaning something different from that which was held by John and the entire early Church.
The Christian Church started out exclusively Jewish and, as such, had a singular God. "The LORD our God is one LORD" is the basic concept of the Jewish faith (Deut. 6:4). This was universally accepted and stressed by Jewish authorities from ancient times. They understood the Old Testament Scriptures to portray God as truly singular in being, and they consistently rejected any other characterization. With one voice, Jehovah was believed to be the only all-powerful, unoriginated, immutable, eternal and self-existing Onethe one true God.
There is little doubt the Christian religion started out with this original concept of God. The Church of England, in the Book of Common Prayer, presents the Apostles Creed as a Unitarian Creed, which it affirms was the belief of the Church during the first two centuries. This Unitarian Creed is still quoted in many churches today. (We should distinguish between the Unitarian Creed, which presents God as a single being, and the Unitarian Church, which believes Jesus is not the son of God but only the son of Joseph and Mary.)
In the fourth century, under Constantine (A.D. 325), the Nicene, or Semi-Trinitarian concept, was forged making Jesus and God one in substance. Then in the fifth century, the Athanasian, or Trinitarian Creed, came along, adding the holy Spirit, to complete the Trinity doctrine. Though called the Athanasian Creed, it is now generally admitted to have been composed by some other person. It is noteworthy that the word Trinity nowhere appears in the Bible. More importantly, the early Church debates of the Apostolic Era were centered on keeping newly converted Gentiles from being brought under the Jewish law. There were no ongoing debates on whether Jesus and God were two persons in one. Yet since the early Christian Church was mostly Jewish, any deviation from the "Lord our God is one Lord" foundation would have taken enormous discussion and debate.
The formulators of the Athanasian Creed well knew they had to meet the singular requirement: "The LORD our God is one LORD" (Deut. 6:4). How could they make three persons into one? Some of the best minds forged this explanation"There are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated; but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible." It was an explanation that did not explain. With such incantation of words, they presented their case and, apparently, prevailed. They claimed the One God was three persons, yet only One God. No wonder they said it was "incomprehensible."
There was subtlety here. God himself, in one sense, is incomprehensible, in that He is above and beyond our grandest conceptions. (In another way, He is not incomprehensible, because we are created in His image with the ability to reason and think in the same mode, though vastly inferior to the divine.) Many people will grant that in one sense God is "incomprehensible," and therefore, by association, they propose that the doctrine about God is "incomprehensible." They shift the "incomprehensible" from the person of God to a doctrine made by men about God. Yet, "the doctrine of Christ" was clear and comprehensible in Johns time.
Jesus Presented Himself to Israel Covertly
Jesus did not go about declaring he was the "Christ" or the "Anointed One." He did not encourage his disciples to do so. Jesus inquired, "Who do men say that the son of man is" (Matt. 16:13-20)? The answers were: Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Nothing very dramatic, was it? Nobody guessed he was the "Christ"much less God. No!not even His disciples. Jesus asked, "Who do you say that I am?" Peters answer pleased our Lord"You are the Christ [Anointed], the Son of the living God." That was correct. Only by the aid of the holy Spirit was Peter able to speak thus.
But notice what the holy Spirit did not suggest: It did not imply Jesus was Godnot even the vaguest hint of it. The holy Spirit owed us the truth, and it gave us the truth. "You are the Christ [Anointed], the Son of the living God." They were then charged, "Tell no one." If denied from presenting Jesus as the Christ, would they present Jesus as God? Did the holy Spirit tell Peter a half-truth about the Christ?
The "doctrine of Christ" is: Jesus is the "Anointed" One. The Jews knew only priests, kings and some prophets were anointed, and it was strictly forbidden to make or use the special "holy anointing oil" improperly (Ex. 30:31-33). Jesus was not a Levite and, therefore, could not be of the Levitical Priesthood. He was, however, of Davids line and could be anointed "King." Before his death, Jesus rode into Jerusalem saying, "Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you" (Matt. 21:5-16).
In Jesus last encounter with the Pharisees, he asked: "What do you think of Christ? Whose son is he?" They knew Christ (Messiah, the Anointed) was spoken of as the Son of David and that David looked for a son he would call Lord. They answered: "The son of David." Jesus said, "How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him Lord" (Matt. 22:42, 43, RSV)? We ask: Did David believe he would father a son who would be God himself? Would he father God? Certainly not! David, through the Spirit, was showing that the Messiah of promise would be born of Davids royal line and, by faithfully laying down his life as the ransom price, would be raised as Lord of both the living and the dead. (See Rom. 14:9.) This would be the Fathers reward for His son Christ Jesus, to enable him to carry out his great future work as Judge and Mediator in the Millennial Kingdom.
If the doctrine of Christ meant Jesus was God, the holy Spirit failed to make this known. The title "Anointed" is never applied to God. That would be a sacrilege. The greater always anoints the lesser. God is above all. He anoints, but is not anointednor can He be. We repeat: God is never called anointed! Never ever! It would be a grave impropriety to do so.
We Have Found the Messiah (The Anointed)
Andrew found his brother Simon and said, "We have found the Messiah [Christ, the Anointed]" (John 1:41). That is what they were looking forthe Anointed One of Godcertainly not God. When they met Jesus, he did not tell them to take off their shoes because they were standing on holy ground, as Moses was instructed to do (Ex. 3:5). Jesus simply said, "Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas [Peter] (John 1:42)." We find no instance where they fell at Jesus feet worshipping him, nor of Jesus looking for such worship. As a matter of fact, we are told "Even his brothers did not believe in him" (John 7:5, RSV). They did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, and certainly they did not believe he was the God of Moses. Could they be Gods brothers? Surely not! (See Heb. 2:11, 12.)
Jaroslav Pelikans Observation
Jaroslav Pelikan, sterling Professor of History at Yale University, who is called "The Doctrine Doctor," is quoted saying: "You are not entitled to the beliefs you cherish about such things as the Holy Trinity without a sense of what you owe to those who worked this out for you. . . . To circumvent St. Athanasius on the assumption that if you put me alone in a room with the New Testament, I will come up with the doctrine of the Trinity, is naive."1 The renowned Doctor of Doctrine is telling us the Trinity cannot be found by open study of the New Testament. He is admitting that it is not a doctrine of clear Biblical statement. Rather, the Trinity is a doctrine of inference, not of statement. That is why the Trinity has such troubled acceptance. We could add to Dr. Pelikans statement and say that if you placed 10,000 people in rooms with New Testaments, they would not find the Trinity. We also have not found it.
The churches have had consistent trouble with unbelief in the Trinity. We quote Larry Poston, writing for Christianity Today, who looked into why the average age of Christian conversion was 16 years old whereas the average age of Muslim conversion was 31. His explanation in part was: "The Muslim is not asked to give credence to allegedly irrational concepts such as the Trinity, the Incarnation. . . . If one does consider it essential that concepts such as the Trinity be explained before conversion, are the common presentations of these teachings adequate?"2
Can you have a rational explanation of an "irrational" concept? Mr. Poston cannot be a rational believer in the Trinity, and there are more like him. Such members within the church find themselves put upon to accept something that is inherently not understandable. The Athanasian Creed tried to present the Trinity not as "three incomprehensibles" but "one incomprehensible." As much as Mr. Poston would like to see a more adequate explanation of the Trinity, it is unlikely that anyone will come up with a clear explanation of it.
The early Christian Church converts were mostly adult men and women. Mr. Poston must believe the modern church attracts members in their teens because mature minds are less inclined to accept irrational tenets. We must not conclude that everyone who professes belief in the Trinity teaching is necessarily a wholehearted believer. Some are silent doubting Thomases or, even worse, it is mandatory they confess the Trinity in order to be a member of a church denomination or that they put down theologically programmed answers to become degreed ministers. Forced belief was the stock and trade of religious oppression, but it has proved ineffective in making true believers out of people. "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."
For Those Who Have Doubts About the Trinity
The purpose of this writing is not for those who have no doubts about the Trinity. That is their fixed belief. Nothing we could say would penetrate their patriotic zeal for the Trinity. However, if you are one with gnawing doubts about it, and wish to satisfy your reason and heart, then this message may be very helpful. You may be glad to know early Christians did not believe in the Trinity, so you have lots of company. Also, there are increasing numbers in the churches today who sincerely doubt it, including some of the scholars as well.
Mr. Poston is not a lone voice crying in the wilderness on this subject. Quoting another source: "A fruitful cause of error in ancient and also modern times is owing to an attempt to explain or illustrate this [Trinity] doctrine, forgetting that it is a mystery to be received on faith, which cannot, from its own nature, be rendered intelligible to mans intellect."3 We may also here quote H. M. S. Richards, in a Voice of Prophecy Radio Broadcast, who similarly said, "[Trinity] is basic in our faith. . . . None of us can understand it. Its a divine mystery, but gloriously true."4 No wonder children are prepared to believe it more readily than adults.
Three Classes of Trinitarians
The tendency is to group all Trinitarians into one group. Such is not the case. Actually, there are three groups in the Christian world professing belief in the Trinity.
(1) The Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church believe in Apostolic succession. They believe the Word of God is being developed on an ongoing basis through a continuous chain of apostles from our Lords time until now. Hence, they are not embarrassed to accept the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed even though contradictory. They do not need a strong Biblical basis for their beliefs because they can accept a council of bishops or a popes statements as a basis for belief. They believe God invests his truth in an ongoing body of apostles to define and clarify the faith. Hence they accept the fact that the early Church had a Unitarian God concept which evolved into the Trinity. They believe the Trinity just developed over time as the outgrowth of continued apostolic revealment.
(2) Then there is the Protestant Modernist and those who believe in Contemporary Religion. Their belief is that man makes known his understanding of God on an ongoing basis. In each time and place, men have presented their concepts of God. They hold that the Bible was created by men who presented their opinions about God in their time and place, and men have a right to continue presenting their growing conceptions of God and truth. Such do not believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God but merely an attempt to define God in ancient times. Hence they do not waste too much effort trying to harmonize it or understand it. They feel man must continue writing his own Bible as he progresses. In this camp the range of belief is incredibly diverse, and the real question with many of these is not if they believe in the Trinity, but do they, in fact, believe in God. However, in that they do not openly oppose the Trinity or the Bible, but are quite permissive of both, they are acceptable in the Christian community.
(3) The last group are the Fundamentalists and the Evangelicals who believe the Bible is the Word of God and inerrant. To this we agree. This group is uncomfortable with the fact that the Nicene Creed was created in the fourth century and the Athanasian Creed in the fifth century. That is an embarrassment to them because they feel the Bible is their sole basis of belief. Hence, having accepted the Athanasian Creed, they become revisionists of history and try to rewrite it so they can teach the early Christian Church believed it. They also comb through the Bible looking for some support of Trinitarianism. Some of their assertions make the Catholics, the Modernists and Contemporary religionists a bit uncomfortable. As badly matched as these three groups are, they are amazingly tolerant of each other in this regard.
In John 8:13-18 (RSV) the Pharisees were having a little skirmish with Jesus. They said, "You are bearing witness to yourself; your testimony is not true." Here you are, just a plain ordinary person, going about making claims. Why should anyone believe you? After all, we are learned and taught in rabbinical schools, and why should we be concerned with your testimony? Jesus answered, "Even if I do bear witness to myself, my testimony is true, for I know whence I have come and whither I am going. You judge according to the flesh, I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true. . . . In your law it is written that the testimony of two men is true; I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me." If they wanted two witnesses, Jesus gave them two witnessesGod and himself. We might ask, why didnt he give them three witnesses, as provided for in Deut. 19:15, by adding the holy Spirit? Evidently because the holy Spirit was not a person. God and Jesus together make two, no more, no less: 1 + 1 = 2. That is pure math as taught by Jesus.
"They Have Taken Away My Lord"
Remember Mary, standing at the empty tomb. As she stood there weeping, two angels asked her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him" (John 20:13, RSV). Now, she was not looking for her deceased God. God does not and cannot die. She was looking for her Master or Teacher, or at least for his remains. Her only mistake was to look for the living Jesus among the dead after he was resurrected. We might say the same. The Trinitarians have taken away the living Lord and we do not know what they have done with him. If he is the God of Moses, then what has happened to our Lord Jesus? We would not have an elder brother. How could the Absolute God say, "I will proclaim thy name to my brethren" (Heb. 2:11, 12, RSV)? Only Jesus could speak of us as his brethren, and only he is privileged to thus proclaim the Fathers name to us.
God never ever called anyone His brother. He has no brothers or sisters. Jesus taught us to address God as "our Father." Our resurrected Lord Jesus is not "ashamed to call us brethren." God has given us the "Spirit of Sonship"that makes Him "our Father." God is not our "brother." The Trinity concept has taken away our Lord Jesusour Elder Brother, and we do not know what they have done with him. We cannot find him in this doctrine. Gods voice in two Gospels said, "This is my beloved Son" (Matt. 3:17; Mark 9:7). If Jesus is a Son and we are sons of God, then we are brethren. Why have they taken away our brother? What have they done with him?