Whether or not the Trinity is the proper understanding of the nature of God is the oldest doctrinal fight in Christianity. You heard our verses this morning, you can clearly find the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament; but the Jews were constantly taught to “Hear oh Israel, the LORD your God is one.” It was on this difference between the Old Testament understanding of God, where the Jews were taught to avoid other gods vs. the New Testament understanding of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that the argument began. The word Trinity is nowhere to be found in Scripture; yet the idea roars from every part of the New Testament.
You see, it all started with this guy named Arius in about 300 AD, he was a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt. Arius and his supporters agreed with the Jews, and said God & Jesus were two different beings, they were made from different stuff. But their detractors in the Church said; No, God & Jesus are Homoousious! Isn’t that a great word…it’s even fun to say…Homoousious. It’s from Homo meaning same, ousious meaning substance. That’s where we get the word oozes, when a wound oozes something, it oozes its ousious. Sorry, wordplay is a rabbit trail… These people who disagreed with Arius believed that God & Jesus were from the same divine substance. What was at risk was this more important question: Was Jesus a created being, or was truly the biological son of God the Father?
Both parties could make a really good case! This is why it was impossible to come to an amicable solution. Eventually even the Emperor got involved! Yes, Constantine himself read the arguments, sat down, and eventually sided with the trinitarians—or should I say, the Homoousians. Don’t get me wrong, Constantine thought this was a stupid argument over semantics. He quickly learned that no one can split hairs like theologians!
But, within ten years of this Ecumenical Council, Constantine became convinced that Arius’s ideas did, in fact, fall within the pale of orthodoxy. While Constantine & his sons, as well as other Roman emperors, did occasionally get involved in questions of Theology; they were more concerned with preservation the unity of the church than engaging in prolonged debates over what, to them, seemed like theological nitpicking.
That first Ecumenical Council was in a city called Nicaea in the year 325, their final statement most all of you have heard, and many of you can recite from memory, we call it the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
or our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
Now that you know why that particular creed was written, you understand why it’s worded so oddly—it was all about pounding Unitarian beliefs out of existence. “You will agree with this creed, or you too will be branded a heretic.” It was never meant to be an all-inclusive statement of faith, as we misuse it today.
Earlier I mentioned the JW’s & the Mormons, who don’t buy into this whole trinity thing. And there are others: Iglesia ni Cristo from the Philippines, and a number of other smaller groups, including Christadelphians, Christian Science, Oneness Pentecostals, Unitarian Universalists, and a few others you’ve never heard of.
Yes it’s almost 2,000 years later, and we’re still arguing semantics! But that’s what the Church has always done, argue semantics; because if everything in Scripture can be argued as literal, then the Fundamentalists are right about everything. Conversely, if the original authors used figures of speech, metaphor, and other symbolic language, then we, the mainstream denominations, are correct in trying to understand Scripture in light of the overarching message.
Today, even scientists are jumping into the conversation, in a way our 2,000 year old ancestors never could have understood. We all understand living in a three-dimensional world; everything has length, width, and height. Most of us learned in school that time is a fourth-dimension, which we pass-through, day-by-day; Einstein gave us that when he explained Special Relativity. A hundred years ago physicists first started saying there could be more than four dimensions. By the 1960s and 70s physicists had followed all this until we got to what’s called string theory; which tells us that there are eleven dimensions. If any more than that were to occur, by some cosmic event, they would be unstable and collapse back down to eleven. But that’s another rabbit trail…
If you’ve watched any science documentary in the last 20-30 years, you will recognize Professor Michio Kaku from CUNY. Let’s hear, from him, what scientists—not necessarily Christians, but at least not radical atheists, are saying about looking at the Universe, with modern scientific eyes, to understand what an intelligent creator might have been thinking. It’s in his conclusion of a very short talk on math & physics.
What on earth would our doctrinal ancestors, or Constantine, have thought about this talk? They would have been deer in the headlights! They might have understood Newton’s question about the apple and the moon, but that’s all. They would have been completely lost!
Imagine yourself an artist painting a picture. You live in a three-dimensional world, and you’re passing through time—as we all are. But your painting is flat; two dimensions length & width, no depth…and nothing changes in the picture over time. Can you, the artist, climb inside your own created, two-dimensional world? No, no mater how skinny you hold your breath, you can never get flat enough to enter your two-dimensional world. Yet that is exactly what God did—reducing himself down to our three-dimensional world, subjecting Himself to the passage of time, just as we experience it, from physical birth through physical death.
Why do you think God gave our ancestors simple explanations, and analogies? In the case of the Unitarian vs. Trinitarian attempts to explain God, Scripture isn’t just simplified, it’s intentionally vague. But I ask you: What could God have spoken through His authors 2,000 years ago, to possibly explain a multi-dimensional, all powerful God reducing Himself to down four dimensions so He could interact with us? Anything? Or, would it be better to be just a little vague on that point?
This is the foolishness of trying to carry-on these kinds of doctrinal fights dating back to the reformation, or the dark-ages, or the Roman Empire; God intentionally didn’t explain everything, in enough detail, because those readers couldn’t possibly have understood it.
Let’s not waste time rehashing the debates of people from 2,000 years ago, who were just realizing that letters didn’t make good numbers. Let’s concentrate on loving the LORD our God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. It’s far more important than trying to fit a limited human understanding on an all-powerful, multi-dimensional God.