(normal people as opposed to those in academia)
“While the core aspects of the Trinity are clearly presented in God’s Word, some of the side issues are not as explicitly clear. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God—but there is only one God. That is the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Beyond that, the issues are, to a certain extent, debatable and non-essential.” – GotQuestions.org, “What does the bible teach about the Trinity?”
As an Evangelical Christian, most of us are familiar with the term “Trinity”. We might even all be able to recite a hymn with that word in it, or at least give an explanation of who the three Persons are. Some might even be able to recite a creed or two.
Most of us have heard about it because it was a churchy word, and most of us don’t really typically think much of it.
Now if you’re a Oneness Pentecostal, you’re probably MORE familiar with the Doctrine of the Trinity than most, average, church-going Trinitarians. Why? Because you were taught to vehemently defend your contrary position that the Trinity is not a biblical doctrine at all.
This was not a big deal to me, at one time. In essence, I viewed it as over-scrupulousness; I thought, “Sheesh, there are probably more important issues we can argue about, or, even, avoid arguing about this one in general!”
I tended to think of the Doctrine of the Trinity as a very academic attempt to explain something that no one really understood anyway. I mean, we all know that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit make appearances in the bible but are, in fact, all God. So why bother with the difficulty in trying to explain it?
But something about there being conflicting ideas as to its explanation lingered in my mind as an annoyance that needed satisfaction.
It turns out that Trinitarian theology is vitally important in its most core assertion. This will likely raise the hackles of an stalwart Oneness person, but that’s the point.
Let me state plainly that the core of the Doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely necessary in a person’s understanding in order for regeneration. This is not to be confused with the concept that an academic knowledge of the vast complexities of that Doctrine are required to be memorized before a person can safely be considered “justified”, but that even the true acceptance of the Gospel itself is a tacit acceptance of the core truth of the Trinity. This will also cause problems because, just in case you didn’t read between the lines, it means that Oneness believers are, in fact, not believers until such time as they understand and accept the Personhood of the Father, the Personhood of the Son, and the Personhood of the Holy Spirit. To believe they are merely exclusive manifestations of that one essence is to believe in a different God.
I don’t say this lightly. Believe you me that I grappled with this because I came to it *convinced* that such deep, theological waters need not be tread for the sake of salvation; they were reserved merely for those that wanted extra credit work at Sunday School. I have many friends who have clearly stated their Oneness beliefs and the proof texts behind them. I pray for them and worry for them as a result.
Why is this concept so important? I don’t want this to be an exhaustive study on the differences and proof texts for Trinitarian and other theologies; those essays and counterpoints and books have already been written by far greater scholars than I (and even on both sides of the argument!). But I do want to make some basic tenets clear.
It is my desire that the following short list will help people who (like me) admittedly take the Trinitarian Doctrine for granted. Perhaps after this, the importance of actually knowing the God we believe in will become apparent.
- The Trinity is what we believe in salvation: God loves us (John 3:16) but needs His wrath propitiated (Romans 3:23). Jesus, being God, can and does propitiate that wrath (Romans 6:23) and imputes to us His righteousness, providing justification (Romans 3:24) and atonement for our sin. The Holy Spirit indwells us (Acts 2:38, Acts 5:32), regenerating us first to understand these truths (Ephesians 1:13, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Titus 3:5), but also to live out a life aspiring towards the attributes of Christ Himself. For a moment, try to understand this same process of salvation if God could only ever be one of these manifestations at a time. It is why the adoption of the word “Person” exists—in order to give the full set of attributes and tandem workings of a person to each part of the Triune God.
- The Trinity is present in full at the baptism of Jesus Christ (Matthew 3:13-17). Most Evangelical Christians accept this at face value. Without the presence of the Triune God, the validation of Christ as Messiah would be at stake.
- Christ now sits at the right-hand of the Father, and has poured out the Holy Spirit on His disciples (Acts 2:33). For this to be true, each aspect of the Triune God must be regarded as individual Persons—though of the same substance and always United as one God. If the only account of God that we knew today was solely the Holy Spirit, the truth of Christ at the right-hand of the Father would be at stake, and the Father still being on the throne would also be at stake.
In these three instances, you can see that most Evangelical Christians accept the Doctrine of the Trinity, and that, to attest to something else, would mean to attest to a God that could not accomplish the above.
Remember, the Doctrine of the Trinity is not a comprehensive explanation of the Triune God—it is merely an amalgamation of a number of references in Scripture that agree on certain principals. These principals comprise the Doctrine of the Trinity. In other words, there is no *one* Scripture that says, “The Triune God is a Three-Person Trinity”; such a thing would prevent so many common heresies, surely! But instead, there are passages after passages whose explanations require the conclusion of a Three Person Unity within the Godhead.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if the God of the bible cannot match the attributes described by something outside of the bible, it is NOT the God of the bible. If it is another god, it is a god that does NOT save, since the Christian God of the bible—specifically, the Person of His Son—is the exclusive Way to salvation.
Hopefully this helps!
For further study, the purpose of the Athanasian Creed was to distinguish the Christian Triune God from heresies of that time period. You can read it here. You can also read, at the same site, an excellent explanation of the Trinity.