all the theological questions that evoked controversy in the ancient
"universal church," none was more hotly debated than the
question "Who, and What, is God?" Today, the debate continues.
Some claim that Jesus Christ is "very God of very God,"
while others claim that He was an archangel in His preexistence
state, or that He didn't preexist at all. Just what does the Bible
say about this? Did Jesus preexist? Does He have the right to the
names and titles of divinity? And what about the Holy Spirit? Does
the Bible present the Spirit as the Third Person of a Trinity?
the beginning of human history to the present, men have believed
in the existence of a supreme, eternal, Spirit Being known as "God,"
"Theos," "Elohim," "Allah," and countless
other names and titles. God has been described as everything from
the supreme Personage who dwells "out there" someplace
to the omnipresent, impersonal "Force" that binds all
things together; from the supernatural Creator whose existence transcends
the space-time universe to the divine Presence who is the
believe God and the universe are identical, while Panentheists believe
that the universe is part, but not all, of God. Polytheists believe
there are many gods, while Monotheists believe in only one God.
the three great Monotheistic religionsChristianity, Islam
and JudaismChristianity is unique in that it teaches that
the one God exists as more than one Person. Mainstream Christians
have for centuries believed that the one God is three Personsthe
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, Christians have not
been unified in their beliefs about how the three Persons of the
Godhead relate to each other; nor has belief in the truine nature
of God gone unchallenged.
fact, of all the doctrinal issues that threatened the unity of the
pre-Reformation church, none was more divisive of more threatening
than the debate over the nature of God. From the fourth century,
A.D., through several succeeding centuries, bishops of the historic,
visible church convened in "ecumenical councils" to resolve
such issues as whether Christ was a creature or Creator; whether
the Father, Son, Holy Spirit were co-equal and co-eternal; whether
Christ had one or tow natures; and whether Christ had one of two
the fringes of the historic church were the sectarians who denied
the co-equality and the co-eternity of the Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit. Some accepted the miraculous conception of Christ, but denied
His deity. Others rejected the Virgin birth, claiming that Jesus
was a natural son of Joseph and Mary. And still others accepted
the deity of the Son but believed the Holy Spirit to be an angel,
or created entity.
the doctrine of the Trinity as we know it today did not emerge in
its fully developed form until the latter part of the fourth century,
belief in the Trinity (or a form of it) pre-dated the fully developed
Trinitarian creeds by at least two centuries. The Ante-Nicene "Church
Fathers"the theologians of the pre-Nicean Council (A.D.
325) period whose works (in whole or part) have been preservedspoke
of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three distinct Persons, while
maintaining that there exists only one God. They generally described
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in vertical order, with the Father
at the top, the Son second, and the Holy Spirit third, therefore
differing from later Trinitrianism, which presents Father, Son,
Holy Spirit on a horizontal planeeach said to be "co-equal"
as the availability of the New Testament increased, the difficulty
of reconciling the biblical assertion that "God is one"
with scriptural passages attributing Godhood to both the Father
and the Son would produce differing interpretations. It was this
difficulty that led to so much controversy in the fourth century
over the nature of God. However, Christological controversies developed
much earlier in the history of Christianity.
there were the various Gnostics sects, which taught that the Christ
had not come in the flesh. They believed in the existence of only
two realities, good and evil. God and His spiritual realm were equated
with "good," and all the material things, including the
physical universe, were equated with "evil," and were
attributed to the activity of an evil god. Therefore, they concluded
that the Christ could not have come as a flesh-and-blood (physical)
human being, for then He would have been evil. While some Gnostics,
or Docetists, believed that Christ was a "phantasm" who
had only the appearance of flesh, others apparently believed
that the material Jesus was distinct from the spiritual Christ.
They held that Jesus was an ordinary human being born to human parents,
but "the Christ" was the spiritual entity that descended
upon Jesus at His baptism and departed from Him during the crucifixion.
term "Gnosticism" is used of a fairly large number of
sects holding a mixture of Christian and pagan philosophical views.
(The terms Gnosticism and Docetism are often interchangeable,
though beliefs among sects described with these terms varied.) Perhaps
some could be described as "Unitarian." (Unitarians deny
the deity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, believing the Father
to be the sole Personage of the Godhead.) However, all early Unitarians
probably did not owe their Christological concepts to Gnostic influence.
first Unitarian sects appeared early, perhaps before the end of
the first century. At least one Jewish sect believed in the miraculous
conception and virginal birth of Jesus, but denied His preexistence
and deity. At least one other Jewish sect denied the virgin birth,
believing Jesus to have been the righteous son of human parents.
However, all Jewish Christians of that period did not share these
views. Evidence indicates that the Nazarenes, whose history can
be traced to the original church at Jerusalem, believed in the deity
of Jesus Christ and in the Virgin Birth.
similar to Unitarianism in some respects, arose in the second century.
Two forms of Monarchianism emerged. One asserted that Jesus was
a created being whom God had adopted as His Son. The other, called
Modalism, held that "Father, Son, Holy Spirit" are three
forms through which God operates, but not three Persons.
of the early Unitarians sects seems to have posed little threat
to Christianity in general, and were always regarded as "outsiders."
The Gnostics were far more influential, but their influence was
overshadowed by the influence of the developing "universal
church." Gnosticism was vigorously and successfully opposed
by the early church "Fathers," particularly Irenaeus (A.D.
130-200) and Tertullian (A.D. 160-220).
the famous "Father of Latin Theology," accused the Monarchians
of having "crucified the Father" by claiming that the
Father and the Son as the same Person. He used the word "Trinity"
(Latin:Trinitas) in his description of God as one God existing
in three Persons. His works were an important contribution toward
the later development of Trinitarian dogma.
Christological heresies appeared early, the most threatening controversy
over the nature of Christ and His relationship with the Father did
not come about until the fourth century.
319, Arius, an Alexandrian theologian, began teaching that Jesus
Christ is a spiritual being who does not share the essential nature
of the Father, but was made before the foundation of the world.
To Arius and his followers, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit were
second and third,respectively, in the spiritual hierarchy headed
by the Father. Both the Son and the Spirit were regarded as personal
beings, but neither were considered "God" in the absolute
and other controversial issues resulted in the first "ecumenical
council," known in history as the Council of Nicea. The council
was summoned in 325 by the Roman Emperor Constantine, who had granted
full toleration to the formerly persecuted Christian church in 313,
and had become emperor of the East as well as the West in 324. The
Nicean Council, consisting of about 220 bishops, formulated a creed
condemning Arianism and affirming that Jesus Christ "is God
from God, light from light, true God from true god, begotten, not
made, of one substance with the Father." The creed contained
the single statement, "And in the Holy Spirit," but made
no statements regarding the Spirit's personality or relationship
to the Father and the Son.
the foundation for later Trinitarian creeds was laid at the Council
of Nicea. While the "holy catholic apostolic church" officially
stated its position in the form of a creed, the teachings of Arius
continued to be widely held until the latter part of the fourth
the church's struggle with this issue, Arianism took several forms.
The "Semi-Arians" held that Christ was similar in substance
("essence," "being," or "nature")
with the Father, but was not of the same substance. The "Anomoeans"
held that the nature of the Son was completely dissimilar to that
of the Father. The "Homoeans" held that Christ was like
the Father, though different in substance.
first, the controversy centered on the nature of Christ, but by
359, Athanasius, who fought so vigorously against the Arian heresy,
was faced with the challenge of defending the doctrine of the Holy
Spirit as the Third Person of the Godhead who is co-equal and co-eternal
with the Father and the Son. Athanasius' writings on the Holy Spirit
was in response to the views of the Tropici, an Egyptian group who
held that the Father and the Son are co-equal and co-eternal but
the Holy Spirit is a created being inferior to the Father and Son.
Athanasius was the first to present Trinitarian dogma in its developed
Trinitarian dogma that developed in those early centuries has remained
the official teaching of the "holy apostolic and universal
church" to this day. Trinitarians believe that there is one
God, and that the one God exists eternally in three Personsthe
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three Persons of the Godhead
are not three Gods (Tritheism), but one God; neither are they three
"parts" of God, for God cannot be divided into parts.
To Trinitarians, "Persons" does not mean "Beings,"
but "personal distinctions." In fact, some Trinitarians
point out that God can be described as a Person or as three
Persons, depending upon the definition of "person." Thus
God is "one God in three Persons," or "a Person with
three personal distinctions."
agreement on the truine nature of God developed early and has been
made maintained among "orthodox" churches to this day,
Christological disputes continued for some time to send ripples
of controversy across the sea of Christendom.
the fifth century, "Monophysitism" made its debut. The
word comes from the Greek monos ("single") and
phusis ("nature"). The Monophysites believed that
Christ has only one naturethe divine nature. They held that
Christ's human nature either never existed or was absorbed by His
divine nature. The Council of Chalcedon (451) declared that Christ
has two natures, human and divine, and that the two natures co-exist
in perfect unity. Monophysitism was finally condemned at the Third
Council of Constinople (680-681), but is to this day the official
teaching of the Armenian, Coptic, Jacobite, and Syrian churches
of the East.
controversy over whether Christ has one or two natures was not only
dispute that divided Trinitarians. The "Monothelites"
held that Christ has only one will. The Third Council of Constinople
asserted that Christ has two natures as well as two wills, and that
the human will is in subordination to the divine.
Monophysitism and Monothelitism threatened the unity of the "universal
church" during the fifth century, the most devastating controversy
came much later when the Western church added the Latin phrase filioque
("and the Son") to the creed. The original creed, sanctioned
by the church councils, stated that the Holy Spirit proceeds the
Father. With the inclusion of the filioque clause, the creed
states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father "and the
Son." The Byzantines objected to the West's adding the clause
without consulting them, and claimed that "and the Son"
suggests that the Holy Spirit has two sources of procession rather
than one. To them, such suggestion was heretical.
dispute over the inclusion of "and the Son" in the creed,
along with other controversies between the East and the West, resulted
in the "Great Schism" of 1054. No longer was the "universal
church" a united body, and to this day the Eastern and Western
divisionsthe Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churcheshave
yet to resolve their differences.
Protestant Reformation, beginning in the sixteenth century, brought
no changes to Trinitarian dogma as defined by the West, and the
Reformers proved themselves no more tolerant than their Romish opponents
in dealing with those who held contrary views.
The Protestant Reformation
the Reformers challenged the Roman Catholic Church on many points
of doctrine, the doctrine of the Trinity retained its place of prominence
among the proponents of the new "orthodoxy." However,
as in the Christendom of earlier centuries, Trinitarian dogma did
not go unchallenged. And like earlier times, those who challenged
the dogma found themselves relegated to the ranks of the apostates.
In fact, some of the Reformers resorted to methods of purging the
church of heretics that the theologians of the fourth century never
Calvin, the famous Swiss Reformer who established a theocracy in
Geneva in the sixteenth century, is highly esteemed by modern leaders
of the Reformed church, but his brand of "righteousness"
left no room for those he and his followers regarded as heretics,
idolaters, blasphemers, and infidels. While Calvin denounced the
Roman Catholic hierarchy, his methods of dealing with apostasy were
no less chilling than the methods employed by the Catholic Inquisitors.
unfortunate victim of Calvin's "justice" was Michael Servetus,
who has escaped the cruel hands of the Catholic Inquisitors in Lyons,
but met his fate in Calvin's Protestant Geneva. Servetus was strapped
to a stake and burned, an act Calvin attempted to justify in his
tract, The Defense of the Orthodox Faith in the Sacred Trinity.
Servetus' crime? He denied the doctrine of the Trinity.
the Reformation period, various individuals and groups challenged
Trinitarian dogma. Among them were the "radical Reformers"
such as the "Anabaptists," or "re-baptizers."
Not all Anabaptists, however, rejected Trinitarianism. Of all the
individual theologians who denied the Trinity, perhaps the most
influential was F.P. Sozzini (1539-1604), better known as Faustus
his modern Unitarian counterparts, Faustus Socinus held that human
reason is foundational to Christianity. Socinus, an Italian theologian,
wrote several books challenging the main tenants of the Protestant
mainstream. He denied the Trinity, claiming Christ did not preexist
His human birth, and rejected the traditional views of Redemption
and the Atonement, among other things.
teachings were adopted by the Minor Reformed Church of Poland, and
were expressed in the Racovian Cathechism, composed in 1605. His
teachings, though opposed by the Reformers, have survived the centuries,
and form a part of today's Unitarianism.
fact, virtually all of the non-Trinitarian views of the past are
expressed in one form or another in the various sects of our time.
Modern BeliefsNothing New
present-day counterparts of Arius, Socinus, and Athanasius are found
within churches and sects throughout the professing Christian world.
Witnesses hold a form of Arianism, believing that Christ was created
at some point in time. The Witnesses believe that Christ is "a
god" (note the lower-case g), but is not God in the
absolute sense. They teach that Christ, in His preexistent
Witnesses hold a form of Arianism, believing that Christ was created
at some point in time. The Witnesses believe that Christ is "a
god" (note the lower-case g), but is not God in the
absolute sense. They teach that Christ, in His preexistent state,
was Michael the Archangel. Many of the "Sacred Names"
sects hold the same teaching.
Unitarian Universalist Church rejects the belief in the preexistence
and deity of Christ, as do several smaller sects, such as the Megiddo
Church of Rochester, N.Y., the Christadelphian Church, and a few
of the Sacred Names sects. These groups hold teachings similar to
those of Fautus Socinus.
Scientists and various spiritualistic sects hold concepts similar
to those of the Gnostic groups of the early centuries of Christian
"Jesus only" groups, such as the United Pentecostal Church,
teach a form of Modalism, also known as Sabellianism, Monarchianism,
and modalistic Monarchianism. They claim that God is a single Personage,
and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three "modes"
or "titles" God has used in revealing Himself to man.
non-Trinitarian groups believe that the Holy Spirit is the power
of God at work in the natural world, but is not a person distinct
from the Father and the Son. These groups, though generally described
as "Arian" in belief, differ with Arius on this point.
course, Trinitarianism is the prevailing view. It is the official
teaching of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant
churches throughout the world, and is usually considered essential
to true Christianity. However, even these churches are not in full
agreement on every point relative to the relationships within the
Godhead. For instance, to this day Eastern Orthodox theologians
continue to express their disapproval of the addition of the filioque
clause "and the Son) to the Trinitarian creed. Unlike their
Western counterparts, they insist that the Holy Spirit proceeds
from the Father, or from the Father through the Son, but
not from the Father and the Son.
many modern theologians, even within the clergy of Catholic and
Protestant churches, have publicly declared their rejection of Trinitarian
dogma. While the rightly point out that the scriptural writers never
thought of God as a Trinity, they deny the inspiration and inerrancy
of the Bible. Their arguments are largely founded upon the "scholarly"
assumption that the Bible is a compilation of myths reflecting the
world view of the ancients, and that the ancient theologians who
formulated the creeds interpreted the Scriptures without the benefit
of the interpretational skills of today's "higher critics."
Thus, such "mythical" ideas as the Virgin Birth, Vicarious
Atonement, the bodily Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, miracles,
healings, and so forth, reflect an inferior world view, and therefore
are rejected by today's "enlightened" theologians.
theologians are not alone in calling for revision in their church's
long-held beliefs. Clergymen within smaller groups have also revised
their opinions in recent years.
the Church of God (Seventh Day) has been regarded an "Arian"
sect for its teaching that Christ was created at some point prior
to the foundation of the world. However, in more recent years, many
of that church's leaders have adopted a more or less "Binitarian"
view. They now believe that God exists as two Persons, the Father
and the Son, while affirming their faith that the Holy Spirit is
the spiritual power, activity, and influence of God, but is not
the Third Person of the Trinity.
Worldwide Church of God has also altered its view of the nature
of God. Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of that organization,
taught that God is a Family presently composed of the Father and
the Son, and that the Holy Spirit is not the Third Person of the
Godhead, but is the power, influence, and the spiritual extension
of God. In recent times, however, the WCG has adopted a concept
resembles Trinitarianism. The leaders of that organization now speak
of the Father and the Son as "consciousness" within God,
but are unclear as to whether they believe the Holy Spirit is a
distinct "consciousness." They claim that the word "person,"
when used of one of the "consciousness" within God, is
a weak metaphor, and have renounced their long-held belief that
God is a Family.
ex-WCG affiliates have altered their views on the nature of God
and Christ since departing the organization. Some now believe in
a for of Arianism, while others have embraced something similar
to Socinianism, and still others have returned to the mainstream
and accepted Trinitarianism.
of the Church of God, International affirm our long-held belief
that God is a Family presently composed of the Father and the Son,
and that the Holy Spirit is the spiritual presence, activity, and
influence of God in the natural world. We do not believe that the
Father and the Son are "consciousness" within the one
Being known as God; rather, we believe the Father and the Son are
distinct Persons, and that describes each with all the attributes
of Being. We believe that the Son is of the same Kind, or Family,
as God the Father, and is therefore God. Our belief regarding the
godhead differs from the modern forms of Arianism in that we find
no scriptural support for the belief that the divine Logos
(Christ, the Son) was a created being.
We firmly believe that this was the understanding of the apostles
and of the church of Christ founded through them. In the pages that
follow, you will see proof positive that this is indeed the teaching
of the Holy Scriptures, and was the understanding of the apostolic