Trinity or Travesty?

John David Clark, Sr. - May, 1994

My systematic theology professor once told our class that in order to be a true believer in Jesus Christ one doctrine which we all must believe is the doctrine of the holy trinity. Being probably the only one in the rather large class who did not believe that doctrine, his adamant tone made an especially vivid impression on me. Since those days in the seminary, in conversations with many Christians, I have repeatedly encountered the same passionate confession of faith in the trinity, and I marvel that folks have such an attraction to a doctrine which is not found in the Bible and, from my view, suggested by nothing in it. One book on the trinity concluded by saying, in words close to these, "While no one can fully explain the trinity, and no one can fully understand it, anyone who does not believe in the holy trinity is not truly a follower of Jesus Christ." I must add to that statement that not only can this doctrine not be fully explained or understood, but it cannot be explained or understood in any measure, either fully or in part. At least, I have never met or heard of anyone who could do so.

That the doctrine of the trinity has been adopted by Christians as a sure, holy standard by which one may judge true faith is a matter of constant wonder to me. By what means and by what authority has it been carved onto the hearts of so many people - not a single one of whom can understand it at all? It seems to me that, since neither Jesus nor Paul, nor yet any other biblical man of God ever taught it, it is only reasonable to ask by what authority have Christian theologians taught it for the last two millennia. As the Lord asked a deceitful worshipper long ago, "Whence comest thou?"

Being thoroughly convinced that the doctrine of the trinity is not from Jesus, I have often wondered what the Enemy's reason could have been for introducing the doctrine of the trinity to the church. I believe, after much reflection, that one of his principal purposes is to discourage souls from pursuing with zeal the holiness of God. If Satan can persuade us to believe that Jesus is one-third of an incomprehensible, divine trinity of nebulous form and meaning, then we will be more inclined to feel that Jesus was sinless because he had an inside track to righteousness, and that he overcame the world by virtue of a connection with the two-thirds of God which he left behind in heaven rather than by obedience to his Father's commandments. But if we see Jesus as he was, struggling with the same temptations we face every day and overcoming them by the strength of the Spirit of his Father, we can believe that he was in real terms our example. And we can have faith "that we should walk, even as he walked" - and that we can overcome the world as Jesus did because he did it AS ONE OF US, not as an alien. The doctrine of the trinity obscures the fact that Jesus suffered and died to make available to men the same power - the only power - he had from God, so that we might live as he lived, know God as he knew Him, and serve God as he served Him. Only if Jesus overcame the world with a strength that is available to us can his life truly serve as our example.

The doctrine of the trinity offers men a reason not to pursue perfection, for it makes Jesus' perfectly upright example seem unattainable for ordinary people. If Jesus was acceptable to God by virtue of a special connection with God which we cannot have, he is not our example at all. He was not holy because, and he did not overcome the world because of special membership in an exclusive triumvirate of divine, united personalities. That heavenly triumvirate does not exist. The only power by which Jesus lived a holy life was the spiritual power which he received from the Father. The doctrine of the trinity is merely a heathen philosophical intrusion into the faith of Jesus, a faith so simple that, as Isaiah prophesied, "even a fool need not err". Listen to the truth! "He was in all ways tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb.4:15).

The Christian doctrine of the trinity holds that the Son is "co-equal in power and co-eternal" with the Father and that the holy Spirit is also a person ("Holy Spirit"), equal in every respect to the Father and the Son. It teaches that the Spirit of God is a third person who, with the Father and the Son, comprise the trinity of divine beings who are one and the same God, being one person, though each is a person in his own right. Are you confused? Go ahead and admit it. You're confused. Maybe a better way of asking that question would be, "Does that sound to you like a bunch of babble?" Go ahead and admit it. It is babble. Mere, incomprehensible babble. It is the language of Babylon, the despised "Mother of harlots and abominations of the earth", where the children of God are in bondage to doctrines and forms of worship which are repugnant to the Savior and antagonistic to his holiness. It is the language of Christianity, intentionally unintelligible so as to cause impressionable souls to marvel at the serene depth of it all. Some, thinking to please God, will defend that marvelous mystery to the death (usually yours, not theirs). But beyond the appearance of deep spiritual knowledge and the awe-inspiring impression this doctrine at first makes, stands the fallen spirit that envies the wondrous glory of our God.

Defenses of the trinitarian doctrine, which I have heard and tried to understand, range from the obscure to the humorous. Historically, explanations usually rambled through thick hedge rows of lofty sounding erudition which intimidated the listeners into thinking that the speakers must have known what they were talking about. Can you imagine trying to figure out whether the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are "one in substance" or "one in essence"? Such is the dizzying history of the trinitarian debate. In modern times, explanations of the trinity which I have heard include a comparison with water in its three forms (ice, liquid, and steam), and a two-layered cake (the Father and the Son) with icing all around (the holy Spirit). This latter theology, as you might imagine, was cooked up by a professional restauranteur. One deeply religious trinitarian whom I know personally teaches that when we see God, what we shall see is the body of Jesus. "That", he said, "Is the body God will forever use." Another famous evangelist recently said that when we see God, we will see three beings sitting on three thrones in heaven. Where in heaven's name he got that idea only God knows.

Now, it hasn't yet dawned on me how a two-layered cake with too much icing, or how various forms of water, are supposed to explain to me that Jesus is and is not the Father, that the Father is and is not the Spirit, and that the Spirit is and is not both of them, or either of them. Nevertheless, I grant such street-level theologians one thing: they make every bit as much sense to me as do the professors who use six-syllable words. So, if their goal is to appear profound, I guess they succeeded. From what I can see, and I am very sincere in saying this, the doctrine of the trinity makes God seem to be a big, mysterious, and divine Blob. Now He's one thing, now another. Yes, He is. No, He isn't. "You'll never understand it, but let me explain it to you. I don't understand it either, but I know it to be true." Is that really the way of Jesus? Do you really believe that Jesus talks like that, or that he suffered and died to have us believe such things?

Every one of us knows how it feels to find that we have made ourselves look foolish because of a wrong idea about God. That's what wrong ideas about God do to all who embrace them. Foolish behavior and speech are two things from which the truth sets us free, as we grow into it (Jn.8:31-32). Until the truth comes, precious people of God can be persuaded to think many wrong things about the Father. But when it comes, He expects His children to receive it. How I thank God for my teachers, who rescued me from one wrong idea after another until I was able to find that sweet balance between over-religiousness and insincerity. One is just as harmful as the other; in fact, I believe that to be zealous for wrong ideas about God may be more harmful than to be completely uncommitted to Him. Solomon warned of the dangers:

Be not righteous over much, neither make thyself over wise. Why shouldest thou destroy thyself?

I think it would encourage anyone hungry for righteousness to know that they will not be asked to believe incomprehensible doctrines which lie hidden in the twisted caverns of man's cunning imagination. Jesus is the door - not into superstition, but out of it. How sweet it is just to enjoy the presence of our heavenly Father's Spirit, to commune with him in truth and in peace, and to share that communion with others! That is what real life is. And for every one who loves the fellowship of the saints in the peace of Christ, God has a place prepared where the issue of the trinity - and every other oppressive vanity of man's carnal mind - will never intrude.

To that end, we cry out,


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