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The Doctrine of the Trinity
(A Brief Overview)
Excerpt from The Restitution of Jesus Christ, Appendix A, pp. 512 - 518
By Kermit Zarley, Servetus the Evangelical
While this book is about Christology, many readers may wonder, “What about the doctrine of the Trinity?” Trinitarian Philip Schaff states, “The Trinity and Christology, the two hardest problems and most comprehensive dogmas of theology, are intimately connected.”1 Yes they are. In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity was later formed because the Church finally settled on its dogma that Jesus is fully God. Even though we touched on the doctrine of the Trinity in Chapter Two,2 we will now briefly consider it further.
We have seen that the Catholic Church decided on its final formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity in the late 4th century. It was that God, also called “the Godhead,” is one ousia (substance or essence) consisting of three co-equal and co-eternal hypostases (subsistences, similar to beings): God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Church officially made belief in this doctrine essential for acquiring salvation. That is, if you did not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity—or, more specifically, after having known about it you refused to believe it, or after having believed it you disbelieved it—the Church deemed that you were not a genuine Christian.
This dogma sustained throughout the Protestant Reformation and remains the official teaching in all mainline church denominations to the present. That is why eminent Presbyterian, systematic theologian A.A. Hodge could assert, “it is essential to salvation to believe in the three persons in one Godhead.”3 Yet Hodge wrote in the same volume, “A church has no right to make anything a condition of membership which Christ has not made a condition of salvation.”4 Did Jesus Christ make belief in three co-equal and co-eternal Persons in one Godhead a requirement for salvation? Chapter and verse, please!
The deity of Christ is the foundation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Without it, the doctrine of the Trinity collapses. G.W.H. Lampe rightly explains, “The Trinitarian distinctions,… had originally been developed in order to affirm that Jesus is God.”5
Nathaniel Micklem even questions if it is legitimate to speak of “the doctrine of the Trinity,” as if there is and always has been only one. He informs, “There are many doctrines of the Trinity.” Then he cites a few, including those of Augustine, Abelard, L. Hodgson, Karl Barth, and Paul Tillich, showing that they all “differ greatly.”6 Of course, church denominations have identified the doctrine of the Trinity as the one the Catholic Church deemed official in the 4th century and thus have endorsed it as the correct one.
1 P. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3:705
2See also Chapter Four/Is the Trinity in Genesis?/ Man in the Image of God.
3 Archibald Alexander Hodge, Outlines of Theology (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1886), 198.
4A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, 114.
5 G.W.H. Lampe, God as Spirit, 225.
6 Nathaniel Micklem, Ultimate Questions (Nashville: Abington, 1955), 135.
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