Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why Is the Trinity and the Deity of Christ Important?

In light of the fact that evangelicalism has lost its way, theologically speaking, and become utterly pietist (a resurgence of anabaptism and nineteenth/early twentieth century liberalism, including all of the cults it produced in between), I wanted to stop for a moment and discuss a little bit of why the Trinity and the Deity of Christ is important (especially in regard to the events of the Elephant Room 2 and the "buddying" up of Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald to a known unrepentant false prophet).

First, we need to understand that even if we can't figure out the Trinity's and Deity of Christ's importance, our faith in what God has revealed needs to submit to His telling us that it is important. So let's begin with what Scripture says by beginning with John, who is the apostle who is specifically given the task in Scripture to preserve the part of the gospel that relies upon believing in the Son of God as God, the Son.

John 8:23-24:   And He was saying to them, "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.`Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins."

It's important to understand here what John has been arguing all along: that Jesus is the Son of God, which means God the Son, and is both a distinct Person from the Father, but one with the Father in terms of being equal as God Himself (1:1-14; 5:18; 10:30-31; 20:28; etc.). The term ego eimi "I am" is a reference to the Hebrew term 'eyeh found in Exodus 3:14. It is the first person plural of the verb hayah, which means "to be," or "to exist." The divine name Yahweh, itself, is likely from this verb and means "the one who exists," conveying the idea that Yahweh is the only real God who exists. When Jesus then uses this of Himself, and the Jews finally get what He's saying, they are, of course, offended to the core, and take up stones to kill Him for blasphemy (8:58-59).

1 John 4:1-6: 4:1  Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the [spirit] of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak [as] from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error . . . For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

I think this passage is self explanatory. It is written against what seem to be both docetic and monarchian gnostics who would hold a view is very close to T. D. Jakes, although differs slightly from it. But what is more important here is showing that to deny the deity of Christ, the incarnation of God the Son, or the distinction between the Father and the Son in the Godhead is to promote the spirit of antichrist, which means to promote another Christ as a false prophet.

It is interesting, then, that the offense of the gospel is linked to the exclusive claims about who God is and who Jesus is, rather than just the message of the cross emptied of Trinitarian theology. It is God dying and rising from the dead on behalf of the unacceptable sinner that is so offensive. It says that you are so bad that God had to come Himself and die to save you. It says that, therefore, you're only way of salvation is through faith in this One and Only God and His One and Only Christ. You cannot be saved through any other religion, and that includes an alternate one you make up with your own God the Father and Jesus Christ.

It should be obvious by now that most people, regardless of their religious backgrounds, like certain things about Jesus. If nothing else, as we like to conform God to our image and make up our own versions of God rather than deal with the living God presented to us in Scripture, we also like to make up our own "Jesuses." The Lord Himself warns us that when He leaves, many who call themselves Christians will turn away from Christian orthodoxy and follow other Christs, which no doubt refers to other versions of Christ (Matt 24:4-5, 24). Paul talks about Satan appearing as an angel of light, and his ministers appearing as godly Christians, but present another gospel and another Jesus that cannot save (2 Cor 11:3-4, 13-15).

We can see, then, that the offense of Jesus is not in the name or in portraying some of His loving actions, but is in the demand that He be honored as the Father is honored, and as God incarnate. This is what the Greek philosophers found so foolish about the cross, i.e., that God would come and die and rise up from the dead for the sins of mankind (Acts 17:18). This is what the Jews found so offensive in Christ's message (John 5:18).

It's not, therefore, that the gospel is offensive because any Jesus is offensive, but because the Jesus who is coeternal with the Father, making Himself equal with God, very God of very God, is offensive. It demands that all human forming of gods immediately cease, and the Christ presented to us by the apostles be the only presentation of God we receive. Hence, who Christ is is a very important question, one that Christ Himself will ask of His disciples so that they do not go astray by forever keeping that question at the forefront of their gospel message.

Now, it is easy to spot someone flatly denying, in no uncertain terms, the Trinity and who Jesus really is; but the heresy that concerned the New Testament writers, and the Holy Spirit of God who spoke through them, was subtle heresy (Jude 4 that undermined who Christ was due to some sense that the grace of God gives us license to believe and practice whatever we wish, i.e., to have our own "Jesuses" instead of the one and only Master and Lord presented to us by the Holy Spirit through divine revelation).

So now that we see that denying the Father and Son as distinct Persons of the Godhead, denying that the Son is Yahweh, the great I AM, will leave us to die in our sins, and ends up denying Jesus as our only Master and Lord, we can understand why Satan would send out so many ministers within the Christian community to subtly tweak who Christ is just enough to lead us onto the wrong path. But now we can also further our faith by thinking about why the Scripture says this about distorting Christ and the doctrine of our Triune God.

1. We need to know who God and Jesus really is in order to distinguish Him from other gods and other Christs that cannot save us. We might speculate that serving Baal is just serving Yahweh with a different name and slight variation from who Yahweh presents Himself to be in the Old Testament, but God's take on that is very different than ours. There is no compromise here. If you serve Baal, you will perish. God does not see it as worshiping Him, even if you were to change Baal's name to Yahweh. Yahweh is distinct from Baal, and the revelation we are given in the Old Testament about God becomes vital for us to be saved. Hence, identifying who the real God is, and who the real Christ is, is of the utmost importance if we are being told that we need to trust in Him in order to be saved. Think of religious claims as false ropes sent down to you, as you dangle from a cliff, promising you salvation if you grab one. It does not matter what you label them. What is important is identifying the nature of the rope and its origins, its source, in order to know its ability to save you. As the New Testament will repeat time and again, there is only One God and One Lord Jesus Christ, not many. Hence, there is one faith characterized by allegiance to the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, and to craft the only true God or Jesus Christ into a false one is to deny the only true God and Christ, and to teach another gospel and to reject the faith.

2. Based on what was previously said, if eternal life is knowing the true God and Jesus Christ who He has sent, and one does not know the true God and Jesus Christ who He has saent, then one does not have eternal life. Hence, to preach a gospel that does not require one to believe in the only true God and Jesus Christ, but allows for other Gods and Christs to be preached, even if the individual preacher himself believes in the true God and Jesus Christ, is to give aid to a false gospel that will damn others, and therefore, to have a ministry of hate rather than love that seeks to save what is lost, even at the cost of support from the multitude that does not concern itself with what it views as fine distinctions of truth.

3. To deny Jesus is eternal God is to deny His ability to save eternally. He cannot take upon Himself an eternal punishment and He is not able to take upon Himself the sins of all who would believe in Him. He is just one man, a human being who has the Father in Him; but cannot be punished by the Father, as then the Father would be punishing Himself, since, in Oneness theology, the Father is the divine nature of the Son, and the Son is the human nature of Jesus; but the Son is not a divine Person with a divine nature distinct from the Father. But John's whole point is that the spirit of antichrist (i.e., the spirit that replaces the true Christ with a false one--as the Greek preposition anti does not mean against in the NT, as many think it does, but "instead of") is to deny that the Son, who in John's presentation is God the Son, has come Himself in the flesh, and is to deny the Father and the Son as distinct Persons. Hence, the one who teaches or supports this (see 2 John 7-11) is not born of God, but is of the spirit of error, and is a false prophet, leading many "Christians" down a path that distorts, waters down, and/or denies the goal of the gospel to reconcile us to the One and Only true living God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

4. Any truth presented to someone from the Holy Spirit, even if we do not see its importance, shines a light upon the person's heart. He or she will accept the truth in repentance, once it has been shown from Scripture and taught by apostolic authority, if the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth, is in him or her, since he or she has been born of the Spirit. Offense and rebellion will not be the end of their journey. However, offense and rebellion will be there if the spirit that has been accepted in one's religious journey was the spirit of error and antichrist. Then, that person will claim the name of Christ with all of the labels, but either preach what is false himself or give aid to those who do, even while he himself claims to believe the truth. Hence, to reject the teaching concerning who God is and who Christ is, either in theory or in the rebellious unwillingness to part company with friends over the matter, is to evidence a spirit that is contrary to the claim that is being made as to one's legitimate birth in Christ. Hence, even the person who has an orthodox understanding of who God and Christ are, and yet, calls those who deny (subtly or otherwise) who they are "brothers," refusing to part company with them, preaches another god and another Christ by way of implicature, even while what is explicitly said may seem to be its opposite.

All of these call for disciplinary action with all those involved that must not be in secret, since the false teaching and its mutation into more acceptable language, even while maintaining its substance, was communicated to all as an acceptable belief within the faith, and therefore, even if not communicated as a good, it was communicated as a "good enough" rather than the evil that it is and the destructive corrosive ability it has to bring one to another God, another Jesus, and therefore, damn them in another faith that cannot save. The elder who sins must be rebuked in the presence of all so that all might think twice about doing such evil, and the evil of damning men must be seen as the worst of evils committed in the presence of all. These things I submit to the body of Christ for your mature consideration and in your love for the true God, His Christ, and those who would be saved by Him, and damned by those who would replace Him with another.

I would also call upon the church to remember that in the early Arian heresies, there were three individuals who typify all who enter these disputes: Athanasius (the orthodox bishop), Arius (the heretic), and Eusebius (the compromiser who, while affirming the orthodox doctrine of Christ explicitly gave aid to the Arian bishops and caused more harm to the orthodox bishops with his appeals for balance to Constantine than the Arians would have ever been able to muster). We must affirm Athanasius, and can only truly do so if we disavow, not only Arius, but Eusebius who would imply the acceptability of alternate presentations of Christ, which are really only demons and not Christ at all. Deal with Eusebius, and Arius has no more voice among us. Ignore Eusebius, and Arius wins. Evil thrives because good men do nothing. Here is the evil, Good Men. What are you going to do about it?


  1. "We must affirm Athanasius, and can only truly do so if we disavow, not only Arius, but Eusebius who would imply the acceptability of alternate presentations of Christ, which are really only demons and not Christ at all. Deal with Eusebius, and Arius has no more voice among us. Ignore Eusebius, and Arius wins. Evil thrives because good men do nothing. Here is the evil, Good Men. What are you going to do about it?"

    Would you say Eusebius is an Enabler of Arius?

  2. Oh yes, definitely. He was the primary reason Constantine turned on the orthodox bishops and Athanasius was exiled five times from his church under punishment of death. Heretics are always accompanied by enablers who are more orthodox in their affirmations (think of Erasmus with Luther). Without them, heresy doesn't usually make its way very far into the inner circles of orthodoxy.

  3. Would you say Pastor MacDonald of Elephant Room 2 is an enabler of the false teaching propagated by Bishop T.D. Jakes?

  4. Yes, definitely. That's why I take such issue with this. Now, if he took correction and made his repentance as public as his sin, I would heap grace upon grace on them. We are all sinners. We all may make mistakes in the attempt to do something good, etc., etc. But so far, rebuke has been met with deflection, blame and accusation placed on those doing the correcting, and a further entrenchment in the idea that they were in the right and have no sin in the matter. If they change their tune, I'll change mine as well (and I hope and pray that they will, since the glory of God and many lives are at stake).

  5. Thanks Hodge for confirming that I'm tracking with you.

    Here's another question based on the presumption that God judges and evaluates our political/voting behavior:

    Do folks professing to be Christians who vote knowing that their candidate is a pro-abortion politician and who votes for that candidate in spite of credible alternatives...

    are they, to some small degree, enablers or aiders-and-abetters to the abortions that are fostered by that pro-abortion politician's policies?

    Specifically, are the professing Christians who vote for Obama ... enablers of the pro-abortion support and protection that Obama and his administration provides?

  6. I think that, in one sense, yes, they are, even if that is not their intention. Obviously, if Candidate X gets into office and gives financial support in order for Evil Y to take place, and the individual knows with all probability that Candidate X was going to do this, then he or she is guilty of enabling Evil Y him or herself. Hence, he or she shares some guilt with the crime.
    On the other hand, often it's the intention of some to lower abortion through what they think is a better strategy of keeping it legal and then changing people's hearts and minds. Hence, these people have no problem voting for Candidate X who will enable Evil Y, since they think by doing so, they will eventually destroy Evil Y in the long run. The first post I made on this blog was explaining why that is a morally bankrupt philosophy at the get go, and why those who vote for such candidates are likely guilty of the crimes committed by those candidates, if such crimes are predicted ahead of time, and one votes for those candidates anyway.

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  8. BTW, I completely forgot to add to the "why the Trinity is important" that if God is not more than one Person, God's love is dependent upon creatures to exist and cannot therefore be eternal and a part of His nature. Hence, understanding that He is Triune (One Being existing as three co-eternal Persons) is important to understand the very loving nature of God as eternally His identity, not just a way of discussing His relationship with creation.