Just What Is the Doctrine of the Trinity? Part 2

Trinity

Part I of Just What Is the Doctrine of the Trinity? contained a brief introduction followed by stating just what we mean by the doctrine of the Trinity as well as discussing how claims such as “The Trinity is above logic,” etc. are without warrant.  In Part II of this 3 part article on the doctrine of the Trinity we will examine two major errors that we really need to be careful to avoid. After that we will look at why using analogies could possibly be dangerous despite how helpful they initially sound.  Before we do that however, I want you to focus your mind on four statements1 that all orthodox Christians will affirm as true. This will be crucial so that we can see how each one of these errors we discuss below strays from the Trinitarian concept of God.

Four Facts Concerning the Trinity
1. There is only one God
2. The Father is God.
3. The Son is God.
4. The Father is not the Son

What you will find is that to remain an orthodox Christian one must affirm that all 4 of these statements are simultaneously true2.  To deny any one of these will be a denial of the Doctrine of the Trinity and would of course be heretical3.

Two Common But Dangerous Errors

Now keeping those four facts in mind, I would like to introduce you in turn to two of the most common errors one will face when engaging in Trinitarian discussions.  The first is Modalism4, the second is Arianism5. In part 1 of Just What Is the Doctrine of the Trinity? we stated that God is three separate and distinct persons (God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit), but one being. This is VERY important to keep clear as we press forward and examine two heresy’s that stray from the Trinity by denying one the four statements above.

Modalism

Remember our four statements above.  Modalism, as it is called, agrees that statements 1 through 3 are true, but denies number 4.

Modalism
1. There is only one God
2. The Father is God.
3. The Son is God.
4. The Father is not the Son

Modalism states that God is one being, BUT also just one person (not three), which is where it parts ways with the Trinitarian concept of God.  Having a concept of God as one person (also known as Unitarianism6) actually leads to problems which we will take up in part 3 of this article. The Modalist claims that God is one being who is one person but that He takes on any one of three “modes” so to speak.  So God could be the Father, the Son, OR the Holy Spirit, but never all three simultaneously.  Again, I just want to introduce you to where this parts ways with our four statements concerning the Doctrine of the Trinity.  In part 3 we will examine Scriptural support to show how Modalism fails to account for the Biblical data.  So Modalism affirms there is one God, but denies there are three separate and distinct persons in the one being.  Modalism is still encountered today usually through groups such as Oneness Pentecostals.  As we will see below many of the analogies given by Christians to help explain the Trinity are unfortunately actually examples of Modalism.

I would like to note here that we need to learn to think through these serious issues with anyone we encounter, and we need to be very sure to lovingly present the Trinity and be able to defend it as truth and expose the flaws in other views out of love, as well as listen to what they present to us and take them serious.  It is critical to interact with what they present and be able to be discerning and expose the flaws in their arguments and to never get emotionally heated.  We need to have the goal of truth as our high priority.  We need be concerned about not necessarily “being right,” but finding “what is right,” and then adhering to the truth.

Arianism

Named after Arius bishop of Alexandria, Egypt in the fourth century A.D., Arianism actually takes a different approach to trying to solve the seeming logical problem of our four statements and that is by affirming 1, 2 and 4 but denying number 3:

Four Facts Concerning the Trinity
1. There is only one God
2. The Father is God.
3. The Son is God.
4. The Father is not the Son

Those who historically espoused Arianism actually held that God the Father created Jesus, then created everything else through Him.  So Jesus/the Son according to the Arians was only a demi-god so to speak.  He is not, according to them, co-equal or co-eternal with the Father.  This actually is blasphemous, as it deems Jesus as part of the creation and disqualifies Him from sharing in God’s very nature.  Again, we will look at the Scriptural support against this view in part 3.  One can still encounter Arianism today, the most widespread being the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Dangers of Analogies

Often we try to give illustrations or analogies to help get a better handle on a concept we struggle to understand.  This is no different when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity.  However, we need to pause and realize that the Trinity is so unique it is difficult to give a fitting analogy, and I would offer that here is NOTHING at all that is completely analogous to the doctrine of the Trinity.  One I often used before I actually studied and knew what the doctrine of the Trinity was is the analogy of water.  Water can exist as a liquid, solid (ice) or a gas (water vapor) but all three are still water!  Sounds like a great analogy right?  Once we think about it a little harder we can see what this actually teaches is Modalism, our first heresy that we just examined.  In Modalism remember that God is one being, but also one person.  God has three “modes” of existence: He is either the Father, or the Son or the Holy Spirit but never all three simultaneously.  So to the Modalist He is one person with three roles He plays.  That is the same as our analogy.  Just as water can exist in three separate states and never in all three states at the same time (water can’t be a solid, liquid or gas all at once it either a solid, or a liquid or a vapor), it is the same for God (according to the Modalist that is).  He is one person (just as in Modalism God is one person) who exists in one of three “modes” or roles either as the Father, or as the Son or as the Holy Spirit. There are some helpful illustrations that help us to better understand certain aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity7, but ultimately we need to proceed with caution and really study carefully anything we find helpful by way of analogy to make sure we aren’t passing on to someone else something that is heretical but instead passing on something helpful.

Join us next time for Part III of Just What Is the Doctrine of the Trinity? when we examine some of the major Scriptural data related to the doctrine of the Trinity as well as why so much of the controversy over the Trinity deals primarily with the Father and the Son and seems to leave the Holy Spirit by the way side. We will also draw some conclusions based on all three articles and I will leave you with a recommended resources list that will have something for everyone, whether a beginner or a seasoned veteran in this important area of study.

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