Monday, November 09, 2009

Can You Be a Christian and Deny the Trinity?

From Pulpit Magazine, a question asked to John MacArthur:

Question: A Mormon asked me this question a number of years ago, and through the years here at church, I’ve asked a number of people this question, and I wanted to get your opinion. Can you become a Christian if you deny the Trinity?


I would answer, "No." If you don’t believe in the Trinity, then you don’t understand who God is. You may say the word “God” but you don’t understand His nature. Second, you couldn’t possibly understand who Christ is--that He is God in human flesh. The Incarnation of Christ is an essential component of the biblical gospel, as John 1:1-14 and many other biblical passages make clear.

To deny the Trinity is to deny the Incarnation. And to deny the Incarnation is to wrongly understand the true gospel.

In saying that, I realize that such an answer is going to not only impact people that you may have witnessed to (like Mormons), but it also applies to some in the broader Pentecostal movement, called United Pentecostals or "Jesus-Only" Pentecostals. Such individuals hold to a kind of modalism, where God is sometimes in the mode of the Father or the mode of the Son or the mode of the Spirit, but He’s never all three at the same time. That too is a deficient and heretical view of the Trinity. It denies the distinct Personhood of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The same question sometimes arises about the Virgin Birth.

I think it is possible for a person to become a Christian before learning about the details of the Virgin Birth, though that person would certainly assume that Jesus Christ must have had a unique birth since He is both God and man. But, if someone knows about the Virgin Birth and says, “I deny the Virgin Birth,” then he is simultaneously denying the deity of Christ, and also the Trinity. Such a person betrays the fact that they do not understand the gospel, and therefore cannot have truly been saved.


Jonathan said...

It begs the question, "What exact information must a person be introduced to before they are “ready” to make a proper decision?"

I don't like that question and I think it's unnecessary. If God is calling a person then they can respond accordingly without all the "facts." If they receive God and His redemption, then they, of course, will be open to learning the truth as they go. That's what we call growth, maturity, sanctification, etc.

Wayne Dawg said...

I think, Jonathan, because the question was originally coming specifically from a Mormon, it was predicated in an denial of the Trinity first.

I think the question assumes a deliberate denial of a basic Christian truth from a person who, in their current belief system, would not give up that belief to follow the one true God.

Now, I do agree with you on the fact that God can save a person and then the He, through the Holy Spirit, reveals truths to the person that were unknown previously.

Could we not put Saul in that catagory before he became Paul?

I did not believe in the Trinity before I was saved; but I certainly didn't deny the Trinity.

But the moment I was converted the Holy Spirit began His work in me revealing things previously unknown to me.

So, I think the question is asked in the frame point of denying the Trinity first and foremost and then saying, "Can't I still be a Christian." (From a Mormon viewpoint)

Joe A. said...

I like MacArthur and all but there isn't much to chew on in terms of implications/evidence of the Trinity from scripture in this piece. Just a single quote from John.

Do I actually have to do the research myself? Geesh...

by the way, that group picture turned out well, but I was startled at how... big my face is compared to other human beings. Or maybe it's my entire head?

Wayne Dawg said...


Wayne Dawg said...

Actually Joe, I think our SS teacher has you by a half a head.

Anonymous said...

I suppose the real question is what is the Trinity? There has been a great deal of debate on the subject since the beginning of Christianity and certainly it was one of the major debates at several of the Ecumenical Councils. Very few 'regular' Christians could actually give a competent theological answer as to the nature of the Triune God yet the division between Trinitarian and non-Trinitarian Christians is as hot as ever, as this post demonstrates.

The actual codification of the Doctrine of the Trinity is not Biblical - is came from the Ecumenical Councils and it was to the Church Fathers of East and West that the Protestant Reformers turned to when evaluating the Doctrine of the Trinity. Within the Bible there are those verses tagged on to the end of Matthew mentioning Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but there is little evidence to suggest these are authentic parts of the Gospel (they don't appear with the earliest copies of the Gospels - alas there are no originals to compare with...). The Trinity is a dangerous topic...
Does it really matter? Who are you or I to decide whom God calls His own? Jesus states that there will be those that can do much in the name of Jesus, powerful and miraculous signs and yet he will reject them at the end (Matt 7: 22); it is dangerous to think we know the mind of God. Scripture is unclear on the matter of the Trinity – indeed many of the most heated disputes and schisms of Christianity have resulted for the debating of the nature of the Trinity.
The Syrian Orthodox, The Coptic Churches and other Oriental Orthodox Churches (Churches that were around when many Northern Europeans were still pagan – churches still alive today) do not have the same understanding of the Trinity and the Incarnation as many Western Churches. The Orthodox Church broke from the Western Church almost a 1,000 years ago because of disagreements concerning the nature and relationship of the persons of the Trinity. Are the members of these Churches also not Christian?
It is one of the great tragedies of human nature that we are forever striving to emphasise our differences from each other instead of celebrating what we have in common. The former is used to produce a hierarchy of human life – the ones with no or little difference to ourselves are placed at a higher level than those who are different: the greater the difference the further to the bottom of the pile our neighbours go. Whereas if we could just looked for what we had in common, the differences might not look so great and we could live on a par with each other.
But, silly me, I was forgetting, Mormons proselytise don’t they? And have good results, one of the fastest growing NRMs (New Religious Movements) in the world. Yes, of course, we get down to what is really at stake; who is telling the truth? Well thankfully, there is the Holy Spirit and surely this Holy Spirit is able to help us decide? So why the fuss?

Anonymous said...

P.S. Muslims believe in the Virgin Birth... The Qur'an states Jesus was born of a Virgin..

It's all terribly confusing...

Dorci said...

Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning, God - Elohiym, plural form of the Supreme God..

The entire Bible is filled with God being described as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Ike said...

It is not a sin to worship Jesus. On the contrary, it is the highest and noblest privilege and duty ever given to man. It is not a sin to worship the real Jesus. It is not a sin to worship the Jesus who is God and man. But it is a sin to manufacture a Jesus who was man only and not God, and then after you have manufactured that purely human Jesus to bow down and worship Him.

Dorci said...

That's true, Ike.

Wayne Dawg said...

londonlad -

Dorci is spot on; the Bible is full of many references to the triune God.

"It is one of the great tragedies of human nature that we are forever striving to emphasise our differences from each other instead of celebrating what we have in common."

The differences in theology (The Trinity, virgin birth, fully God-fully man, God in the flesh) can result, as Ike points out, in worshipping the wrong Jesus.

Worshipping the wrong Jesus is just plain ole idolatry.

"Yes, of course, we get down to what is really at stake; who is telling the truth? Well thankfully, there is the Holy Spirit and surely this Holy Spirit is able to help us decide? So why the fuss?"

Right! Who is telling the truth?

The Holy Spirit does tell the truth and teaches us all things (John 14:26)...but Satan, the deceiver (Did God really say?), works at odds against the things of God and leads cults and faux Christians astray with just enough truth to keep them comfortable within the confines of idol worship.