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Don't Be a Heretic, Patrick



In the Spring of 2017, I stepped into my first theology class. After syllabus day and a few overview classes, we entered into the discussion of Trinitarianism. On the first day of this section, my professor played the somewhat famous YouTube video "St. Patrick's Bad Analogies."[1] The humorous video has practically become a guide for me to know what is and isn't orthodox Trinitarianism. The video subtly asserts two truths about Trinitarianism: First, it's difficult for the natural man to grasp. Second, it's really easy to get it wrong. These two truths mean that unorthodox Trinitarianism very quickly becomes a threat to every local church. Well-intentioned people can quickly lead people astray by using analogies that can never explain the intricacies of the Trinity. Since there are numerous Trinitarian heresies, this article will define what Orthodox Trinitarianism is, why unorthodox Trinitarianism is dangerous, and how to protect your local church from going astray.


What is Orthodox Trinitarianism?

Explaining the Trinity is complex. We believe in one God, as Deuteronomy 6:4 says. We believe that the Father is God, as 1 Corinthians 8:6 states. We believe that the Son is God, as Titus 2:13 states. We believe that the Holy Spirit is God, as 1 Corinthians 2:10 states. We believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one name, as Matthew 28:19 states. We believe in one God in three persons, all persons being truly God and co-equal in majesty. Yet, that's hard to comprehend, and a lot of questions come out of all of those beliefs. God, being gracious to us, allowed two Creeds to be developed in Christian history that rightly describe the nature of the Trinity. These Creeds are not inspired, inerrant, or sufficient like the Bible is, but they rightly reflect what Scripture says where they speak of the Trinity. For brevity's sake, the entirety of each Creed will not be included, but rather the most vital statements. The complete Creeds can be found in the footnotes.


The first is the Nicene Creed, which states:


We believe in one God,

the Father almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

begotten from the Father before all ages,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God, begotten, not made;

of the same essence as the Father.

Through him, all things were made.

For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven;

he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

and was made human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered and was buried. The third day, he rose again, according to the Scriptures. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.

His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. He spoke through the prophets. [2]

 

The second is the Athanasian Creed, the beginning of which states:


That we worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal. What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has. [3]

 

In the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed, we are taught that the Triune God has three distinct persons who are all of the same essence. No person is more or less God than another person. We believe in one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity. Anything belief that denies what these Creeds say about the Trinity rejects the Biblical teachings of the Trinity. We do not understand the Trinity through human reason but accept it by faith.


Why is Unorthodox Trinitarianism a Threat?

The danger of unorthodox Trinitarianism is that failing to affirm the Trinity subverts the gospel. If God is not triune, then God cannot save. The Father must send the Son. The Son must be the humble sacrifice. The Spirit must seal those who have faith. If any of the persons are not God, then salvation is impossible. All persons also must act in unity or salvation is unable to be accomplished. One God in Trinity and Trinity in unity is vital to salvation. If a denial of the Trinity arises in your church, it must be dealt with quickly.


Protecting the Flock

The way to protect a local church from the dangers of unorthodox Trinitarianism is, strangely enough, to keep the Trinity confusing. That sounds counterproductive, but in your preaching, don't try to make it make sense to the human mind. Don't use analogies. Not even the one you think nails it, because it doesn't. The Trinity is something we accept by faith. Just like the resurrection of Christ does not make sense to human reasoning, the Trinity is a supernatural truth that transcends our reasoning ability. No preacher would dare try to scientifically explain the resurrection of Jesus but rather would call on all to accept it by faith. Likewise, assert what the Bible says about the Trinity and call people to accept it by faith.


Secondly, take time to do a theology class during a Sunday Night or Wednesday Night series and explain the Trinity. People are capable of comprehending more than you think. Read the Creeds and explain what they mean. Show the "St. Patrick's Bad Analogies" video and explain why each analogy is heresy. Then, call on everyone to believe it to be true even when it's confusing.


Lastly, be quick to correct analogies graciously. Don't be mean about it, but when someone tries to explain the Trinity with an analogy, correct it quickly so it doesn't take root. Analogies will take on a life of their own, and a seemingly harmless analogy of water will quickly turn into denying the divinity of Christ.


Conclusion

Getting the Trinity right is absolutely vital. The domino effect that will ensue when the Trinity is wrong will destroy a church. At all costs, protect an orthodox understanding of the Trinity.




 





Written by Klayton Carson


The "Threats to the Church" series is also on the Text-Driven Podcast. You can listen to the Text-Driven Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or at www.textdriven.org/podcasts. New episodes are released every Monday, just in time for your morning commute.


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