When I worked at the library at Dallas Theological Seminary during the days of my formal training, I had many beloved friends with whom I worked. We often talked about our dreams of ministry and changing the world through the Gospel of Christ. There was one girl that I worked with who was a foreign student from Burma. I will call her Stephanie. Stephanie and I became good friends. We found we had so much in common. She was incredibly passionate about the Gospel. Her relationship and commitment to Christ was something that I could not help but take notice of. She was in training to be a missionary, hoping one day to take the Gospel back to her home which was in such desperate need. Much of our conversation, naturally, turned toward theology. While we had some minor disagreements here and there, it was never anything significant through the years. She was solid theologically and in love with the same Lord as me. At least I thought . . .

It was just before I graduated that I found something out that would hit like a 10.0 on my theological richter scale. During a conversation we were having, she told me in confidence that she was Modalist. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it is a belief about the doctrine of the Trinity that has been condemned as heresy over and over again throughout church history. In essence, Modalists believe that there is one God who displays himself in three different ways, not persons. In other words, the Modalist does not make a distinction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is the Son and the Son is the Holy Spirit. God shows himself wearing three different masks. Historic Christianity formally condemned Modalism in 268 at the Council of Antioch and has not looked back since. God is one in essence, three in person. One what, three whos.

Getting the doctrine of the Trinity wrong is not a minor thing. Sure, I believe that people can ignorantly hold to false views of some things, being undiscipled. But what about illustrations like my friend here. She was trained at DTS. She was taught the orthodox understanding of the Trinity left, right, and center. Yet she denied it in favor of a false view.

I did not know how I was supposed to process this. For years I had no reason whatsoever to question the legitimacy of her Christian confession. Her “fruits” were ripe in every other area and every other doctrine. But now, I was left wrestling with the Lord about whether or not she, a convinced modalist, could really be a Christian.

This is a question that I have often struggled with over the years. It can hardly be denied that Christians can have beliefs that are wrong such as false views about the interpretation of certain passages of Scripture, the age of the earth, and end times (hey, someone has to be wrong). It is also true that Christians can have misunderstandings about more important doctrines such as the nature of the Trinity (modalism), the grace of God (legalism), and the will of God for your life (health-wealth Gospel). In all of these areas I concede that Christians, indeed even Evangelicals, can and do have wrong doctrine from which the church needs soldiers of the truth to rescue them. Even Paul sought to rescue the Galatians from a slide into legalism as believers were in danger of returning to the bondage from which their belief in the Gospel had rescued them. Yet, I believe that it is pretty clear that Paul still believed that they were genuine Christians.

So how bad can a Christian’s doctrine be? I don’t really know the answer to this question, but I did notice something today in reading Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that I had not taken notice of before. Paul is warning the Corinthian believers who he considers to be “strong” not to make the “weak” stumble. It would seem that the “strong” believers were eating meat sacrificed to idols and in doing so were causing much spiritual consternation among the “weak” who thought it sacrilegious to their new faith to participate in such a practice.

Paul says,

“Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. 7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. ” (1 Cor. 8:4-11)

Paul readily admits that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating meat that was sacrificed to an idol based upon the fact that the gods that the idols represented did not exist. In other words, good theology tells us that there is only one God. This is basic monotheism 101. It is a theological bedrock of the Christian faith. You cannot be a polytheist who believes in many gods and be a Christian, right? It would seem that this is the case, but what do we make of Paul’s exhortation here?

In this passage, Paul defines “strong” Christians as those who have a monotheistic worldview and act accordingly. But then in verse 7 he does some interesting. He says “not all have this knowledge.” There are two important questions here: 1) What is the knowledge? and 2) who are the “all” that don’t have this knowledge?

What is the knowledge? The knowledge that there is only one God and that the other gods don’t actually exist. Who is the “all”? We understand that the Roman culture in Paul’s day did not have the knowledge that there was only one God, as they were polytheistic. But the problem is that the “all” is not those outside the Church, but Christians within the Church. Notice, these people were “accustomed to the idol until now” (v. 7; emphasis added). Before, they worshiped the idols; now they worshiped Christ. Notice also in verse 11 Paul says that these people were brothers “for whose sake Christ died.” Could it be that Paul was conceding that there were redeemed individuals in the Corinthian church who did not know or truly believe yet that there was no such thing as other gods? Was Paul speaking of Christian polytheists? It would seem to be the case.

If I am right, this would in no way lighten the burden of the church for teaching good theology. In fact, it only strengthens it. Paul calls those who have bad theology “weak” and those who have correct theology “strong.” I know the intent of this passage is how to show grace to those who are weak in their faith, but it is a strong case that good theology is the foundation for Christian strength. If the Corinthian church was dealing with polytheism within its ranks, how much more should we, who did not have the Apostle Paul as our visiting teacher, be on the look out for those who need to have their foundation strengthened with the basics of the faith.

Is there such a thing as a Christian with bad theology? Yes. I think we all have some bad theology. I think we will all have adjustments to make when we enter eternity. But how bad can a Christian’s theology be? Can there be Christian polytheists? I don’t know, but in the Corinthian case there seem to have been. Can their be Christian Modalists? My friend I spoke of above has always served as a fly in the ointment for what would otherwise be my black and white view of this stuff. 

What do you think?

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C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    87 replies to "How Bad Can a Christian’s Doctrine Be Before they Are No Longer Christian?"

    • phantom

      The doctrine of the trinity (or any other description of God’s being) is not spelled out in scripture, and therefore we are not expected to understand it. God’s character and qualities are spelled out in scripture, and so we are expected to understand them. In other words, a modalist who is otherwise orthodox (like your friend) is a Christian, but a trinitarian who thinks God is unjust is not a Christian. God does not condemn ignorance where he has not instructed us.

      Just my 2 cents

    • Thrica

      First of all, I like the new website. Much cleaner than the old.

      Second, I think it’s absolutely correct to cast this question in the light of Christian liberty. I wrote about roughly the same thing a bit ago ( http://thri.ca/archives/506 ). Ultimately one can’t divorce the question from individual experience. There are some who have spiritual eyes so attuned to the glory of God that they can apprehend it even through extremely murky lenses (modalism, polytheism, etc). There are others who can only see the glory of God through the clearest of lenses.

      So, defining a Christian as one who apprehends and values the glory of God, the question becomes how good does a person’s doctrine have to get before they can apprehend the glory of God? Not to say that anyone shouldn’t progress beyond that point, but I would argue that point is different for every person.

    • Michael

      Someone who’s studied theology, even more so one who’s studied theology at DTS, would not be considered “weak in knowledge.” To be ignorant of the Trinity as a baby Christian is one thing, but to deny it once it is presented to you is unacceptable as a Christian.

      In essence, as Grudem shows (p. 241), modalism denies the baptism of Jesus, the atonement, and the independence of God. Can a person deny the atonement and still be saved?

      John Piper said this in an “Ask Pastor John” session:

      “Would someone need to believe in the Trinity to be saved? They certainly wouldn’t have to know that word, and they wouldn’t have to be able to articulate it very well. But, what they need to do is not deny essential things about it. So a person may never hear of such a thing as a “trinity” and be saved. But if you asked them, “The Jesus you are believing in, is he divine or is he just a man?” If they said he is not divine, then I think that is a major problem. ”

      Can a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit deny the Trinity?

      Let us be generous with true Christian liberty, but not all-inclusive to the point we invite modalists, Arians, and other heresies to join under the name of Biblical Christianity. Hey, why not bring in the JW’s and Mormons as well, after all we wouldn’t want to say someone is not a Christian, would we?

    • bossmanham

      I too think about this a lot, Michael. I’m married to a pretty strong Catholic whom I think is a Christian (or I wouldn’t have married her). Heck, I think Joseph Ratzinger is a true Christian who is saved by God’s grace, even though I think that Roman Catholics are pretty wrong on a few key issues. It isn’t an easy thing to work out in my head what can be so damaging in a person’s beliefs that could cause them to not be a Christian. Christian church people believe in baptismal regeneration. Presbyterians believe in infant baptism. I don’t know if I’ll ever figure it out.

      I think there are, however, some pretty clear theological issues that would seriously cause me to question someone’s salvation. But, like you, my “inner circle” is getting smaller all the time.

      Thanks for this post. It’s good to see that I’m not the only one who struggles with these issues. God bless.

    • Michael T.

      Michael (the Michael who is not me),

      “In essence, as Grudem shows (p. 241), modalism denies the baptism of Jesus, the atonement, and the independence of God. Can a person deny the atonement and still be saved?”

      Grudem may very well be right here, but real people are not always logically consistent in their belief (in fact people are often completely inconsistent). So for instance I can honestly believe in modalism and the atonement even though someone more educated might realize that believing them both creates a logical contradiction (which by the way is more the realm of philosophy then theology).

    • Hodge

      Michael,

      I like the new set up as well. It looks more scholastic. 🙂

      I wonder if Paul is using “knowledge” here as it is commonly used in the OT (i.e., experience). Not all would have the knowledge that there was one god, but couldn’t they just be informed? I think the issue is that their experience is that these foods are sacrificed in the worship via an idol, so when they are exposed to it, that experience gives them a weak stance that does not allow them to participate in that food’s consumption.
      Furthermore, I’m not sure we can leap from the possibility that God is still OK with henotheism in a salvific sense, as He was in parts of the OT from this passage; and I’m really not sure that we can leap from that to the idea that God’s nature in terms of His identification does not affect one’s salvation. What do we do with Christ’s claims that unless we believe that He is Yahweh, we will die in our sins; or John’s claim that he who denies the Father and the Son are of the spirit of anti-Christ (i.e., replacing Christ/God with a false Christ or God)? What do we do with the passage that the devil is an angel of light and so his messengers also look like messengers of light (specifically in regard to preaching another Christ) if in fact one’s other “fruit” negates any claim that they might not be Christians by preaching another Jesus?

    • Dr Mike

      I think a rudimentary knowledge of biblical anthropology (man is sinful), Christology (Jesus is the Christ), and Soteriology (that we are saved by grace through faith) are necessary and sufficient for the true gospel that must be believed.

      Is a belief in and understanding of trinitarianism required? A knowledge of the workings of penal substitutionary atonement? The nature of the hypostatic union? The answer is negative to all. Those are necessary, it seems to me, for true Christian growth but it doesn’t seem taught in Scripture that one needs such knowledge in order to be saved.

      If we are truly dead in our sins, what can we know (in the epi sense) prior to regeneration and conversion? How much does or can a dead man know, and how can we utilize such knowledge even if we did have it?

      God requires faith, not knowledge, at the moment of salvation. To demand more is to front-load the gospel (which is certainly a habit of some). I’m of a different tribe, however, and I think my position is tenable and is faithful to the teachings of Scripture.

    • Part of the issue here is can we really determine who is a genuine believer. The real issue is one of the heart. While we are told to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5), we are not told to judge who among others is saved. What we are told is to correct false teaching (2 Timothy 2:24-26) and sinful behavior (Galatians 6:1). That whether or not the person is saved they need to be restored to the right way. Now there are undoubted things that we can pass over as insufficient but who God is, is not one of them.

      • Doc from TTP-CGCC, Manteca

        “But if material content (“what is said, or the truths taught”) is the criterion by which we measure whether a theological model is consonant with the orthodox theological Christian tradition, then liberal and neo-orthodox theology, cults, other world religions, philosophies, and neotheism are not consonant with the theological Christian tradition.” (page 311; The Battle for God, N. Geisler, H. House; Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan)

        This book is a good read. I agree with Mike the Mad Theologian in what he says, but I would like to interject the above for a matter of thought. How Bad Can a Christian’s Doctrine Be Before they Are No Longer Christian? I believe that what falls outside the essentials of orthodox Christianity is heretical; however, there is much which falls to the various traditions within Christendom in which we struggle. The essential tenants found in Scripture if held in light of orthodoxy are the source of truth. I also know that what a person affirms in faith is not always what happens in practice. This is another area that we all struggle with as finite creatures in a fallen creation.

    • James in Houston

      It seems to me that this discussion would greatly benefit from a clear definition of the word “Christian.” It does no good to debate whether someone has a kerfukel on their head or not without first defining what a kerflukel is (I just made that word up.)

      In my experience there are two popular ways in which Evangelicals go about defining this word. (1) The first is to lay out a list of “essential” beliefs that one must hold to in order to be a “Christian”. (2) The second is to equate the word “Christian” with the word “saved.” Both of these methodologies are theological in nature, and not socio-historical.

      The first method suffers from the fact that no authoritative source neatly lists and defines the essential doctrines. As history has shown, the Bible can be interpreted in numerous ways (correctly and incorrectly).

      The second method suffers because it simply begs the question “what does it mean to be saved, and how do we know if someone is saved?”.

      My suggestion is to come up with a practical definition of the word Christian, one that accounts for the myriad of beliefs and practices that all swirl around and claim some kind of origin in the ministry of the historical person Jesus Christ. Basically, it would include anyone who places the historical person Jesus Christ at the center of their theology. It has nothing to do with being right or being saved. It is a practical, socio-historical definition.

      This definition does not sit well with most Evangelicals, but it is the most consistent way I know how to do it.

    • Hodge

      A denial of God’s nature in the face of the truth presented is the issue here, not simply ignorance or misunderstanding of the issue. It is one of rebellion against the true God. We would not say that someone who was in willful and unrepentant rebellion against God for their lifetime has a good chance of being saved (at least I wouldn’t based on Christ’s words). One who worships Zeus anyway when confronted with the true God is in rebellion against God. One who worships Baal anyway when confronted with the true God is in rebellion against God. One who worships a unitarian deity anyway when confronted with the triune God is in rebellion against God. I see no reason to doubt that last statement when the others are clearly true. This is not about how one becomes saved. It is about the fruit of one who is saved, and how that looks in both doctrine and morality.

    • Curt

      It seems silly that an almighty God is even worried about what we frail humans believe. Why would entry into heaven require accurate understanding of anything? Surely he could correct our misunderstandings once there.

    • Hodge

      Curt, again, because what we do and believe reveals the state of our heart. It doesn’t have to do with misunderstanding, but rebellion and love of evil/falsehood/corruption.

    • Curt

      Hodge, are you suggesting that having the right “state of heart” can impact what we believe? How does that happen? What set of beliefs can we look at to determine if we have the right state of heart?

    • Bible Study

      The bible tells us that he who hears of not is not of God, hereby we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Therefore, true Christians must have “knowledge” and those who will not hear (or agree with this knowledge in one mind and one accord) are not true Christians. This is found in 1 John. Christ is not divided, we who are in him should have one mind by the spirit. We should not be divided by doctrine, by divided I mean in understanding. However, I have always seen God as one who is demonstrated in three different ways. The spirit,son, and father all agree in one. Jesus said I and my father are one. He also said if you have seen me, you have seen my father as to say they are one and the same. Anyway, the definitive divide is based on grace vs. works. Those who believe and trust in Jesus alone for salvation are saved, they will eventually come to other spiritual knowledge through the teaching of the spirit. However, those who are like esau who sold his birthright for one morsel of meat, those who follow one rule in the flesh a work they see as necessary to earn and/or keep salvation are lost.

    • bethyada

      I am more concerned about the trinitarian who has become a modalist than I am about the modalist who has yet learn about the trinity.

      The modalist who has studied the trinity and has yet to be convinced is between these 2, but should be very careful before he teaches others.

    • Hodge

      Curt, no, I don’t think you’re grasping the concept. The Bible indicates that those who have been regenerated accept the truth that God gives to them once it is understood. Those who reject the truth are not of the Spirit but of the spirit of antichrist. Hence, what one accepts displays his or her “teachableness”/humility that has come about from his or her regeneration. The one who is still in an unrepentant state of willful rebellion indicates that they may have not been regenerated. Hence, whether one is submissive to what God says (especially about His nature and what our response to that is supposed to be) is illuminated by his or her rejection or acceptance of that. So it is not a matter of “what beliefs we look for,” but whether the individual is submissive to what the Bible/the Church that stands as the messenger of God teaches.

    • Lisa DeLay

      Here is what you must believe to be considered a Christian.

      It was figured out a while ago. Enjoy

      Nicene Creed First Council of Constantinople (381)

      Read both, juxtaposed, at this free data base
      http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds1.iv.iii.html

    • Ed

      Stephanie – anathema. No other way to cut it.

    • Susanne

      I don’t think Jesus ever told us we had to understand the doctrine of the Trinity in order to be saved. Oh wait…he never mentioned the Trinity. How can we be expected to fully understand? Is this what makes our faith complete and gives us our ticket to heaven? I think God is more concerned with how we treat others and how we love Him than whether we believe God as three Persons or God as revealing Himself three ways. Jesus summed up the Law with loving God and loving others. I think being able to perfectly explain the Trinity is not as important as you’ve made it out to be.

      By their fruits (not their correct view of Trinity) you will know them.

    • Greg M

      This is an intersting question, I think, because it deals with the issue of whether someone can lose their faith or not due to bad doctrine.

      I’m not familiar anywhere in scripture where people come to faith with a knowledge of the full doctrine of the Trinity. In fact, in places like Acts 17, it appears that people can even come to faith not knowing about the divinity of Christ, only that God raised him from the dead, and that they are to repent.

      So say Stephanie does that. Say she’s a Christian by all the regular Biblical standards and has the fruit to prove it.

      Then she develops this modalist view of the Trinity. Does she suddenly lose her faith then? Was she saved, but now isn’t saved? Even if she started with this view, somehow, the question can still be asked.

    • Lee H

      I also think think the Trinity matters that much or at all to salvation. As the person above me said Jesus didn’t teach it, so is what Jesus taught not good enough?

      This Modalism makes alot more sense anyway and seems alot less arbitrary than your view of the Trinity. I mean one God in three persons, why 3, it seems a bit strange for a transcendent God to be anything other than 1 or infinite.

      I’ld say if you say Jesus has nothing to do with salvation then you probably arn’t a Christian.

    • DAVY HOBSON

      AWESOME MICHAEL! YOU ARE THE MOST REAL AND HONEST THEOLOGIAN I HAVE HAD THE TO PRIVILEGE TO KNOW.

    • phantom

      As much as we philosophers would like to judge those who have limited philosophical understanding, it is important to make a distinction between practical and philosophical understanding. One can understand and believe who Jesus is, who the Father is, who the Holy Spirit is, and what each does/has done, without having any clear philosophical idea of how the three relate. Jesus told us to have faith in him, not to come up with a correct philosophical description of his nature in order to be saved.

    • Lucian

      Modalism and Tritheism are equally wrong, although being diametrically opposed to each other. Monophysism and Nestorianism are also equally wrong, although being diametrically opposed to each other. The same holds true for Augustinianism and Pellagianism.

    • Zach

      To be modalist in ignorance is one thing, but I think if someone is openly professing a modalist doctrine, especially if they have received instruction from from a place such as DTS. There is a reason modalism was condemned as an early heresy. The word trinity may not be present in scripture but the concept itself is undeniable throughout the text. It just seems that in order to keep that belief one would have to deny many other essentials and then the christian faith would be one completely different than one taught by the church. Can a modalist be saved? That’s not up to me, but I can say that an unrepentant modalist denying the explainations set forth by the teaching of scripture would very easily be grounds for excommunication.

    • Hodge

      I have a question for those who think that this is not related to salvation in any way: What is the difference between worshiping Baal, Zeus, or the God of the Bible in terms of salvation? Do those of you who think that God’s nature does not matter in terms of the three Persons also think that God’s nature does not matter in other areas? Specifically speaking, are the Jews worshiping the same God as the Christians and simply are wrong (something minor and not related to their salvation) about His identification to some degree, or does identifying the God you worship, especially after His true nature has been revealed to you, matter in terms of salvation. Why cannot I just worship a tree and call it “God”? What exactly is the difference in your minds?

    • Greg M

      CMP,

      In other posts, you have made the distinction before between issues of orthodoxy and issues of salvation. I think this question should be one concerning orthodoxy and not salvation.

    • Johnfom

      To be a Christian, there has to be a belief that Jesus, the Christ, was/is the agent of salvation. To disbelieve that necessarily makes you something other than ‘Christ-ian’. To believe that but disbelieve any other doctrine is to become heterodox, a Christian heretic, or even a ‘bad’ Christian but not un-christian.

      As a side note, an we drop the ‘true’ or ‘genuine’ modifier when we talk about Christians, please? It evokes the ‘No true Scotsman’ fallacy and, unintentionally I’m sure, dishonours the discussion.

      Hodge,

      Does God’s nature matter? Absolutely! Salvation does not have any existence outside the nature of God. He is the beginning, end and everything in-between of salvation.

      Does identifying the God you worship matter in terms of salvation? Ummm, not completely.

      Does God’s nature change based on our identification of him? Does God cease to be God if, even after being told, by someone who I may or may not believe in, that He is trinity I (a hypothetical ‘I’ BTW) cannot bring myself to be intellectually dishonest and just ‘believe’ if the evidence has caused a different conclusion in my mind? Of course He doesn’t. Jesus never said those suspicious or sceptical of other people were damned.

      It may effect my ability to relate to God but it doesn’t change who God is nor how He has worked. It may affect my ability to live in the blessings/access the benefits of salvation but, no, it doesn’t affect the actual work God has done in saving me.

      So, I have a question for those who think that salvation is hinged on a correct and detailed articulation of the nature of God: Is God really that malleable/weak that his ability to act depends on a correct knowledge of Him? If one believed (for example) that Jesus was a man (not God) but that God kept Jesus sinless and saved all of humanity through him, does that change the actuality of what happened or the efficacy of it? Would the power of belief get stronger after rejection…

    • Johnfom

      Sorry didn’t realise I’d rambled so long. To finish my question:

      Would the power of belief get stronger after rejection of an articulation of the nature of God from a ‘learned scholar’ such that it could then change the efficacy of God’s work? Does belief have the power to subvert/thwart God or the power to change reality?

    • Bible Study

      After thinking about this, there is one thing that will put someone in great error, that is trusting in their own works of righteousness in the flesh and not faith alone in Jesus for salvation. The gospel is not complicated. If someone knows the gospel and trusts in Jesus alone for salvation, they will be fine. Let us not be moved away from the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus.

    • cherylu

      II Corinthians 11:4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

      So, how bad does a person’s doctrine have to be about the nature of God before they are preaching another Jesus and how far from truth does our belief have to be before we are believing another gospel?

    • Hodge

      Johnfom,

      I appreciate the attempt to answer my question, but it is simply a speculation, and one that counters the biblical evidence at that. The chief concern of God in the OT is one of His people identifying Him in contrast to, not only other gods, but via other mediums than the spirit-oriented one given through the Word.

      “So, I have a question for those who think that salvation is hinged on a correct and detailed articulation of the nature of God: Is God really that malleable/weak that his ability to act depends on a correct knowledge of Him?”

      This has nothing to do with the issue. The question is not whether God is strong enough to accomplish X, but whether salvation is through a relationship with the real God as opposed to a false one. If having a relationship with the true God and the true Jesus Christ who He has sent is eternal life, then those who don’t have a relationship with the true God and the true Jesus Christ who He has sent do not have eternal life. That seems rather obvious.
      This is not to mention that if your reasoning was accurate, God should really have had no issue with Baal or Zeus, since they were just imperfect ways that people worshiped Him.

    • Hodge

      Finally, I’ve tried to articulate a few times now that I don’t believe salvation is “hinged” on orthodoxy. I believe the acceptance of what God tells an individual through the Bible/Church displays one’s salvation, and the rejection and rebellion against it displays one’s lack of salvation. I would argue that point if God told you to pick up your room and you consistently rebelled and called Him a liar without repentance. Cleaning up one’s room is not a matter of salvation, but believing God in relationship with Him is. The issue is irrelevant.

    • phantom

      Hodge,
      Re your question about Jews. A (non-messianic) Jew is unsaved because they don’t believe what God has -done- for us, that is, that Jesus died so our sins may be forgiven. Jews worship the same God we do (we have an OT in our Bible right?)

    • James in Houston

      A man dies, and approaches the pearly gates.

      Peter: Welcome to Heaven! Before I let you in, we have some procedural things to cover.

      Man: OK, great.

      Peter: Looking at your record, it looks like you had a pretty good life. You fed the poor, ministered to the sick, served the needy, loved your neighbor, took care of your family, and raised your kids well.

      Man: Well, I tried my best to do those things.

      Peter: It also looks like you went to church regularly, believed in Jesus Christ, read your bible, prayed, sung in the choir, volunteered to teach youth Sunday School, and helped a youth recover from drug addiction by teaching him messages from the Bible.

      Man: I really enjoyed helping that young man.

      Peter: Oh….oh no. This is not good. It looks like you were a modalist. Your pastor taught you about the Trinity, but you simply didn’t agree that the Trinity was taught in the Bible. Instead, your best efforts led you to believe that Modalism is taught in the Bible.

      Man: Yes, that is true. But I still lived the best Christian life I could.

      Peter: Sorry. We have a no Modalism policy here. You are going to straight to hell.

      At that point Peter pulls a big red lever and a trap door opens up beneath the man, and he plummets into the depths of hellfire for eternity.

      Too bad he wasn’t smart enough to “get it”.

    • Melanie

      I am just glad that my salvation or my ‘Christian-ness’ is not judged by a board of advisers (or theologians). I am equally glad I don’t have the responsibility of judging anyone else’s. I am busy enough dealing with the logs in my eyes. Thank God for Grace!

    • Andy C.

      I don’t understand how a belief in something that Jesus, nor any of the other Biblical writers didn’t specifically define, can derail our salvation. Is our salvation based on the list of facts that we understand to be correct about God, or is it based on God picking us first out of our spiritual state of death, and our having faith that Jesus and only Jesus can save us?
      I believe in the “3 persons” Trinity, predestination, etc. These are difficult things to understand that are not clearly and specifically defined, but can be inferred based on your interpretation of Scripture. No one says, “Ok, I see clearly that the Bible teaches this way, but I choose to believe another way because I like it better.” No, they choose their belief because the way they interpret Scripture demands that they believe this other way. It may be wrong, but it’s still based on what they believe God is telling them in the Bible. This is not like worshiping a Tree or Zeus. Its all subsequent to their belief and trust in Jesus for salvation.
      If our salvation is at all “knowledge based,” then it’s not entirely “faith based,” which I think all Christians would admit is wrong.
      The finer points of the nature of God are absolutely important for Christian growth and even for teaching, but I don’t see how they are necessary for salvation. I, for one, wouldn’t want to go through my life wondering if every one of my beliefs about the details are God are good enough to save me any more than I’d want to wonder if I did enough good things to earn salvation. I’ll put my trust in Jesus, then try my best to understand God’s nature, knowing that I’m bound to get something wrong, but that won’t keep me from the saving Grace of God.

    • Hodge

      Phantom:

      “Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.”

      Does that sound like identifying Christ as God is related to the Jews’ salvation?

      The problem is that the God of Abraham is only partially revealed until the God of Moses. The God of Moses is only partially revealed until the God of the prophets. The God of the prophets is only partially revealed until the God of the NT. The God of the NT is only partially revealed until the God of the orthodox Church. Christ said that if you believed Moses, you would have believed Me, indicating that one who has a relationship with the true God will accept the further revelation of His nature given later on. One who does not, does not have a relationship with the true God. Hence, to believe in the God of Abraham in contradiction to the God of the NT is to no longer believe in the same God. The God of Abraham may look like Allah, but further revelation of His nature tells us that He is completely different. It is the rejection of this difference that causes the Jewish person to worship a different deity.

    • Hodge

      I’m taking it by some of the comments here that people believe if one is saved by grace, the identification of God is irrelevant to one’s salvation. Does this mean I can worship my bookcase, or a Hitler, as long as I call them “Jesus” and I’ll be saved because there’s magic in the five letter English transliteration of a name?

    • Mark

      I struggled with this question as well in determining if an old coworker of mine was saved or not. He belonged to a house church that sounded a bit cult like to me. It was a mashup of a few different heresies. They believed in Modalism, they believed that the evidence for salvation was in the speaking of tongues when being baptized in “Jesus name only”, and they believed that the 300+ Old Testament laws still applied and needed to be obeyed, although oddly enough they didn’t comply with the dietary restrictions at all. I guess the leader must have liked bacon or something.

      I was a new Christian at the time and didn’t really know what to do with his odd beliefs. I struggled with the same questions, the Trinity is obviously in the bible, but is belief in the Trinity a requirement for salvation? Then a year or two ago, I came to the conclusion that Paul stresses the importance of Jesus physical resurrection. I haven’t heard this used as an argument against Modalism before, and while I’m guessing most Modalists would probably agree with the physical resurrection – what do they do with the body after that. Is Jesus body just gone now? Is it packed away in a heavenly closet? I’m having a much harder time seeing Modalism as a legitimate branch of Christianity.

    • Greg M

      Hodge,

      Not irrelevant, just not all-encompassing as you wish it to be, that’s all.

      I don’t really think that people’s salvation is going to hinge too much on their understanding of what the Trinity is and what it isn’t. For one, if you can come to faith with no knowledge of the Trinity, then you can remain in the faith with a screwed up, but partial, knowledge of the Trinity.

      I asked a question regarding the loss of one’s salvation due to modalistic thought earlier that I don’t think anyone has touched upon. What’s your opinion on that?

      Anyway, when the best definitions of the Trinity the church has come up with in 2,000 years ends with the words “its a mystery”, I’m very hesitant to define away one’s salvation simply because they may be a modalist.

      I think you can go about defining God’s attributes all you want, but in the end not only will it be incredibly incomplete, but I think it will also have missed the point entirely. From a Biblical perspective, that is.

      We worship a God who has done things, and regardless of his attributes, He’s the only one who as done these things. So I think if you identify God by the things He’s done, rather then the thing He is, your going to be on much more solid ground because of it.

      Stephanie worships the God who saved her by raising Jesus from the dead. I think that places her firmly within our camp.

    • James in Houston

      Why are we talking about salvation? Does being a “Christian” have anything to do with whether someone is saved or not?

      It seems to be taken for granted around here that “Christian” = “saved”, but what is the justification for that? Can’t one be a Christian and not be saved?

    • Hodge

      “I don’t really think that people’s salvation is going to hinge too much on their understanding of what the Trinity is and what it isn’t. For one, if you can come to faith with no knowledge of the Trinity, then you can remain in the faith with a screwed up, but partial, knowledge of the Trinity.”

      This is not what I am saying. 1. I’ve made it clear that it’s not simply a matter of understanding, but of submission to God. 2. It is simply begging the question to say the one comes to faith without submission to a teaching and therefore can remain in faith in the rebellion against that teaching. “Faith” is an act of submission toward God and His truth, not just calling out a generic name into the dark. Hence, if one comes to faith, he or she will remain in submission toward the truth of God’s identification when it is taught to them. My whole point is that rebelling against the teaching evidences that one never came to faith. That’s the point.

    • Hodge

      “We worship a God who has done things, and regardless of his attributes, He’s the only one who as done these things. So I think if you identify God by the things He’s done, rather then the thing He is, your going to be on much more solid ground because of it.”

      So if God gives you good crops and Baal gives you good crops, the individual who worships Baal is in the same camp as the individual who worships YHWH?
      Again, I don’t think this idea pans out. The Babylonian gods gave the same law that YHWH gave. Why does God have such a problem in the OT with the worship of false gods who do the same things that He does? Did He change in the NT? Can I believe that Zeus is God as long as I believe He is the one who raised Jesus from the dead?

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      “Can’t one be a Christian and not be saved?”

      Can you provide a specific example of what you mean?

    • phantom

      Hodge,
      For the record the quote in your post #38 (“Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.”) was not said by me. I can’t find the post it was in so I’m not sure what you were responding to.

      In your latest post you stated “Can I believe that Zeus is God as long as I believe He is the one who raised Jesus from the dead?” I am not sure what this is supposed to entail. Are you renaming God Zeus? You can call God whatever you want. There is only one God, and so obviously the One God is the one who raised Jesus. The difference between the idea of Zeus and the idea of the true God is in their qualities. The mythological Zeus would not have done such a thing as sending Jesus to die for our sins. The important or necessary distinction is in their qualities, not in the philosophical discription of their being.

    • Catslinger

      I think it’s refreshing to read responses here that aren’t so quick to yank the soteriological rug out from under folks’ feet. Because this notion of calling into question the salvation of scores of Christians if they fail to precisely express the codifiers of a theological construct is troubling. It is especially troubling when the essential core of this construct – three eternal persons of one divine essence – isn’t even remotely taught in scripture much less explicitly articulated. Then further, the strength of the argument is thrust upon the grammatical dithering of a personal pronoun (Genesis 1:26) and definitional category of a single preposition (John 1:1) found in lexicons.

      The doctrine of the Trinity is simply a theological construct which honestly attempts to reconcile a seeming contradiction found in scripture between the strong monotheism of the Old Testament and the introduction of father son terminology and divinity of Christ found in the New Testament. But assembling a construct in an effort to account for biblical data then ensuingly bind the whole of Christendom to it is a foul.

    • Hodge

      Phantom,

      No, the quote was said by Christ. I quoted Him because He is the one who said that if the Jews did not believe in Him as YHWH they would die in their sins. Hence, they needed to identify the true nature of God and Christ in order to be saved.

      What you seem to be doing is restating that you only think God’s moral nature is important, not His being, is necessary to identify God. You say that Zeus would not have sent Jesus to die on the cross, but the Jews thought YHWH would not have done this either. I could simply retort that YHWH did, or I could retort that Zeus did, and thus disprove your point. My point is that the nature of Zeus, not only morally, but also in essence from YHWH, is essential in our identification of Him. If not, we can worship a rock and call it God as long as we say that the mighty rock sent Jesus because it loved us. (BTW, Baal would send his son, as it may be the case that he did this in the missing portions of the Epic.) You’re simply emphasizing an act that could have been done by anyone, but what I would say was only done by the one true God who can and must be identified by something more than His actions in order to be worshiped, in order for us to be saved by Him, in order to evidence our submission to the truth that He tells us about Himself.
      Again, the Bible is not on your side on this matter. God is continually emphasizing Himself over other gods who do the same things that He does, but are in essence different.

    • Hodge

      Let me put in human terms. A wife does X, Y and Z for her husband. A mistress does X, Y and Z for her lover. Are we to differentiate between them on the basis of what they do, or on the basis of who they are?
      To put it more plainly. My wife washes dishes. My dishwasher washes dishes. Should I identify them as one and same? If I give all of my love and affection to my dishwasher, do you think my wife will view it as giving all of my love and affection to her? Perhaps we ought to be commenting on the latest post instead. 😉
      I simply find this idea that God would be fine with people identifying Him correctly through His actions but incorrectly in regard to His being as something contrary to what we see throughout the Bible.

    • Hodge

      BTW, I take it by your arguments that you all are universalists? Would that be correct? If not, how would you argue against universalism?

    • phantom

      Hodge,
      Sorry for misunderstanding your post. Some days this brain just isn’t in full gear. 🙂

      “I simply find this idea that God would be fine with people identifying Him correctly through His actions but incorrectly in regard to His being as something contrary to what we see throughout the Bible.”
      I am distinguishing between being in a practical sense (qualities) and being in a philosophical/abstract sense (definition).

      Let me use water as an illustration. You can describe water in terms of its function, in terms of its properties, or in terms of its chemical formula. You must know what water is good for and what its properties are to understand it and use it. You do not need to know its chemical formula before you start using it. Knowing its chemical formula may become useful (and possible) after you already have it.

      In the same way, it is necessary to know what God has done (how to be saved and such) and what God’s attributes are (that he is good and just and all-powerful and so forth) in order to be a Christian. The philosphical description of God as a trinity or anything else is not a deal breaker any more than not knowing that water is H2O prevents you from drinking it. That’s not to say that a philosophical description of God is unimportant.

      Jews are not unsaved because they believe in the wrong God or believe the wrong things about God. They are unsaved because our current instructions are to have faith in Jesus (that is, to have faith that he died to forgive our sins-that is the extent of Biblical instruction we are given). It is the result of this, rather than the cause as you seem to be claiming, that they have a flawed definition of God.

      I like your wife vs. dishwasher example. You know “who she is” based on her individual characteristics and her specific relationship to you. You do not need to provide a full legal definition of “spouse” to understand who she is.

    • Josiah

      Can someone please tell me how belief in the Trinity is life changing? Transformational to our walk?

      I have yet to see some poor sinner…or some struggling believer fall to the ground with tears streaming and cry “Amazing doctrine of (insert heady intellectual orthodox teaching/idea/doctrine)! I once was blind but now I see! I once was lost but IT (insert doctrine of X) set me free!”

      Do I find value & intellectual comfort in the orthodox? Yes. But honestly, does it make me a better Christ-follower? No.

      I accept the words of John “He is anti-christ who denies the Father & the Son” at close to face value. If some unorthodox belief requires words with more than three syllables to explain why its “anti-christ”, chances are it’s NOT.

      Anyway, just my two cents.

    • Hodge

      Phantom,

      I think where we’re missing each other is that you are assuming “being” in the abstract sense and then saying that you can define it by its function. Yes, you can define water by it’s function, but you cannot identify it by its function.
      Now, if you have one glass of water in a million glasses of poison that look like water, how is one to differentiate between the water and the poison? You are assuming you already know what the water is. That is not the case. You must identify the water by its properties if you want to live.

      In the same way, God must be differentiated by His nature. I’m not arguing that the delineation of the formula must be followed exactly, or even understood exhaustively. I’m simply saying that the true God and true Jesus are in a sea of other gods and “Jesuses” who cannot save, even if one puts the right labels on them as “God the Father” and “Jesus.” Simply drinking the glass that says Jesus, when there are thousands of glasses that say that, is not enough to save the individual from the fact that they did not drink from the real glass.
      The wife analogy doesn’t work in regard to her relationship with me because I must know her/identify her before and after I begin a relationship with her. Otherwise, a wife can be confused with a dishwasher or another woman. Your use of “characteristics” cannot be in terms of what she does, simply because other women do those things. Her characteristics must be seen in what differentiates her from those others, in her uniqueness in terms of who she is, and therefore, I must identify her correctly in order to have a relationship with her.

    • Hodge

      Josiah,

      “But honestly, does it make me a better Christ-follower? No.”

      It doesn’t make you a better Christian to follow the true God as opposed to a false one? A true Christ as opposed to a false one? Isn’t this like asking how knowing where my job is makes me a better employee? If Christianity were only a matter of works and not a faith relationship with the one true God, then you might have a point; but if otherwise, the point seems to fall flat.

    • phantom

      Hodge,
      I agree that it is vital to know who God is. I disagree that it is vital to be able to describe the trinity to know who God is. In other words, I do not think abstract philosophy is necessary for identification.

      You can identify water without knowing that it is H2O. Chemists, in fact, were able to distinguish between identical substances for centuries before we knew about chemical formulas or even atoms. They did this by knowing that substances act and react in known ways and have known properties.

      Same applies God. I can identify a false god from the true God without resorting to abstract constructions like trinitarian philosophy. I can describe the true God as creator, judge, all-powerful, all-knowing, patient, good, jealous, etc. These are all concrete descriptions of who God is, and anyone can understand them. Furthermore they are all explicity taught in scripture.

      The fact is, it takes some background in philosophy to correctly articulate the trinity. Every Christian I know can tell me who God is, and strive to live in a way that reflects that understanding. Most couldn’t explain the trinity to me in a way that would be acceptable to theologians. Does that mean all my Christian friends are actually not Christians and are going to hell?

    • Hodge

      “I disagree that it is vital to be able to describe the trinity to know who God is.”

      I’m arguing for the need to believe in the Trinity, not describe it.

      “Philosophy” is really being used disparagingly here. We’re really talking about the logical ordering of Scriptural data. Hence, theosophia, not philosophia. And I can simply state what you did to show that God is not identified correctly if limited to the things mentioned:

      “I can describe the true Allah as creator, judge, all-powerful, all-knowing, patient, good, jealous, etc. These are all concrete descriptions of who Allah is, and anyone can understand them. Furthermore they are all explicity taught in scripture.”

      “Every Christian I know can tell me who God is, and strive to live in a way that reflects that understanding. Most couldn’t explain the trinity to me in a way that would be acceptable to theologians. Does that mean all my Christian friends are actually not Christians and are going to hell?”

      There’s a lot of question begging here. How do you know they’re Christians? You’re assuming that they are and then arguing based on your belief that they are without a true knowledge of God. Now, I again, would say that I’m not talking about articulation or the mere misunderstanding of who God is. I’m talking about 1. identifying the God you worship in distinction to other gods when that distinction is revealed to you. 2. Accepting that truth in submission rather than evidencing the void of the Spirit in rebelling against the truth of God’s nature.
      So my question is this: “Are Muslims going to heaven?”

    • cherylu

      Hodge,

      Since it is explicitly the Trinity being discussed here in these last few comments at least, what is your answer to the question, “Are those that claim to be Christians but don’t believe in the Trinity going to Heaven?” Do you think that those that have some form of understanding of who God is that doesn’t include a belief in the Trinity per se are not Christians? Modalists for instance? I’m specifically wondering what you think about those that would certainly say Jesus is God. (If you have already answered that question, I don’t remember.)

    • phantom

      How can you be said to believe in the trinity if you can’t describe it?

      Muslims are not going to heaven because they don’t believe forgiveness of sins is through Jesus, not because they don’t believe in a trinitarian God. They could believe in a trinitarian God, believe everything about Jesus that Christians do, and still not go to heaven because they believe you earn heaven through the observance of five pillars rather than through faith in Jesus.

      Let me add to the description of God that I gave previously, since it was very incomplete: I can describe the true God as creator, judge, all-powerful, all-knowing, patient, good, jealous, etc., and I know that he sent Jesus to earth to die for our sins, and that we are forgiven through faith in him. If you truely believe this, you are saved. Note it did not require an elaboration of the trinity.

    • Hodge

      Phantom,

      “How can you be said to believe in the trinity if you can’t describe it?”

      Because it’s a matter of belief. I know tons of evangelicals who were modalists in their thinking, believing they were submissive to trinitarian thought, and continued to believe once the true doctrine was described to them. This is the same to me as the Jew who then believes in the triune God once articulated to him. Again, this is a rebellion or submission issue.

      “Muslims are not going to heaven because they don’t believe forgiveness of sins is through Jesus, not because they don’t believe in a trinitarian God.”

      So if I believe in Hitler as God, and believe that Hitler sent Jesus to die for my sins, you believe that I’m saved? And, of course, since it’s a matter of just believing that the abstract Jesus (in my new religion Jesus is a giant butterfly that becomes a man), I don’t need to know who He is either, correct? So it just comes down to me believing that a man, one that does not have to be known, dying for my sin so I can be reconciled to an abstract God that has the same qualities that a hundred other gods have.
      I think it’s just easier to believe the Bible when it says, “This is eternal life, to know the only true God and Jesus Christ who He has sent.” I mean, do you believe Paul when he says that some who were ministers of Satan were preaching “another Jesus”? How can one preach another Jesus? In your view, would just be a Jesus who didn’t die on the cross? So as long as one has a Jesus that dies on the cross for the sins of man, that Jesus, whoever he may be, is sufficient?

      And if Muslims suddenly did believe in a fully human Jesus prophet that died for their sins, but still believed he was just a man, and Allah was God, you believe they would be saved? Are JW’s saved?

    • Hodge

      Cheryl,

      “Do you think that those that have some form of understanding of who God is that doesn’t include a belief in the Trinity per se are not Christians?”

      No, by definition they are not Christians. Christians follow the true Christ, not a false one. They would be considered followers of antichrist (i.e., a christ who replaces the real Christ). Now, whether someone is saved, only the true God is life to those who have a relationship with Him. Only a relationship with Him will save, just like only an oxygen tank will give life to someone who cannot breathe, not a tank of laughing gas. One may label the tank oxygen, and ask why that isn’t good enough, but it seems rather silly to suggest that it will still save his life. In the end, God will judge those who do not have a relationship with Him, and it’s not for me to do so. I can only go on what I have from the Scripture/Church, and those who reject the HS communication through that, according to that, do not have eternal life, but are anathema.

    • cherylu

      Hodge,

      I’m sure you know that I am a firm believer in the Trinity. However, the problem that many would say (and have said on this issue) is that to them the Bible isn’t all that clear on this subject. It seems quite clear to me, but obviously not everyone is so convinced. So, I don’t know if this one is as cut and dried as that or not.

      I do, however, believe that there are certainly “false Christ’s and false spirits” out there that many believe in. I am just not l00% convinced that not believing in the Trinity puts a person into this camp. I have certainly known “oneness” people that appeared to be very sincere Christians except they were modalists.

    • Hodge

      Cheryl,

      I think this is where I part with many Prots, as I believe that the councils are led by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, although I firmly believe on my own that identifying God and submitting to the truth He reveals about Himself to us is essential to knowing Him, the fact that the Church has declared this to be an essential issue seals the deal for me.
      Now, I could argue that many Mormons seem like very sincere Christians as well; and according to Phantom’s argument, they ought to be considered Christians as well, unless he wants to argue that only people who believe in faith alone are saved. I just don’t believe the Bible supports the idea that worshiping Marduk instead of YHWH just because one believes Marduk sends Jesus to die for our sins cancels out the necessity to submit to YHWH as YHWH identifies Himself through the Scripture and the Church.

    • phantom

      “This is eternal life, to know the only true God and Jesus Christ who He has sent.” Exactly! My point is that it is possible to know the only true God and the true Christ without being able to articulate the trinity. “To know” does not equate to “be able to create a comprehensive theological description of its being.” The writers of the Bible never needed the trinity to know who God was and wasn’t.

      Mormons are not Christians because they are polytheists, among other things. They reject the clear, scriptural doctrine of one God (so of course it follows that they also reject the trinity as we understand it). If I believed Hitler was God I would also not be a Christian, because Hitler isn’t God! Any three year old could tell you that without resorting to trinitarian theology to make the distinction.

      Hodge, are you saying that everyone who is a Christian needs to be right about everything concerning God, or they are in rebellion and doomed to hell? Or are you just assigning special importance to the trinity? Are Catholics going to hell for believing in faith + works, a subject that is actually explicitly addressed in scripture?

    • Hodge

      Phantom:

      So the nature of God being One rules out polytheists? Why? They fell into the group that believes God is X, Y and Z as you delineated.

      “Hodge, are you saying that everyone who is a Christian needs to be right about everything concerning God, or they are in rebellion and doomed to hell?”

      It’s a bit of stretch to take my position from having to submit to what makes God distinct from other gods, especially when that requires real faith to show itself, and caricature me as saying that everything having to do with God must be correctly known in order to be saved. The nature of God shows us who He is in distinction to the Mormon God. You believe just as exclusively as I do. You just subtract the Trinity as essential. So now Mormons aren’t saved because they’re polytheists. How about JW’s? Telling me that Hitler isn’t God misses the point. I’m asking you if I believe that Hitler is God and sent Jesus, what would you say about my salvation and be consistent with what you have said about what is necessary? Apparently, you wouldn’t be consistent precisely because God must be correctly identified by us.

      I have no idea how your Catholic comment relates to the nature of God, which is the issue we’re discussing. Catholics don’t have a distorted view of God’s nature. A modalist does. And let’s be clear, the historic Church assigns special importance to the Trinity. To reject that is to reject the Holy Spirit’s leading through the Church. But as I said, the Scripture says “to know the only true God and Jesus Christ who He has sent.” John tells us that God is known through what He reveals of Himself, and what He reveals in John is that He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in essence unity and in Person distinction. This is the only true God who must be known. To not know Him is to not have eternal life.

      “a subject that is actually explicitly addressed in scripture?”

      So you only believe that the something is essential if the Bible…

    • Johnfom

      Just been re-reading the thread.

      Doesn’t this talk of polytheism take us back to what Michael was talking about in his post?

      “Can there be Christian polytheists? I don’t know, but in the Corinthian case there seem to have been.”

      What is the difference between Paul’s polytheists and the Mormon polytheists?

      I don’t think we can argue Paul’s polytheists were unknowing ignorants (not having been taught). It seems to me from the passage that it was more likely that monotheism didn’t fit their world-view and was therefore rejected, but I can’t say that for certain.

      Where does that leave Paul’s Christian polytheists in light of what Hodge has been saying that ‘the acceptance of what God tells an individual through the Bible/Church displays one’s salvation, and the rejection and rebellion against it displays one’s lack of salvation.’ (post #33)?

      And, to use the analogy of post #61, it is equally silly to suggest that when giving the breathless person oxygen from a tank they mistakenly think has the nature of laughing gas that it wont save them. The knowledge of the nature is irrelevant, it is the relationship between the gas and the circulatory system which saves them, regardless of the understanding of the recipient or the insistence of the one teaching them that it is the nature of oxygen which is saving them, not laughing gas.

    • Johnfom

      A quick case study:

      I have the good fortune to know some culturally Muslim Christians. The trinity is one of those doctrines which is stumbling block for them. It just doesn’t make sense. They believe without doubt that Jesus is the one who saves them by the grace of God, but they frequently cannot accept the trinity. This isn’t just a case of ‘I didn’t know’ but it is ‘This cannot be.’

      Now they have faith in God, they work for His kingdom, they worship God individually and in community with other Christians. On almost any test you with to give them they would score as Christian, except that they cannot, in good conscience accept the trinity. For many of those who do end up accepting the trinity it takes a dream of Jesus himself telling them it is true.

      Does that mean that the others are not Christian? Or is this an area where a Christian can be in error and still be Christian, just like in many other doctrines?

    • Johnfom

      A quick case study:

      I have the good fortune to know some culturally Muslim Christians. The trinity is one of those doctrines which is stumbling block for them. It just doesn’t make sense. They believe without doubt that Jesus is the one who saves them by the grace of God, but they frequently cannot accept the trinity. This isn’t just a case of ‘I didn’t know’ but it is ‘This cannot be.’

      Now they have faith in God, they work for His kingdom, they worship God individually and in community with other Christians. On almost any test you with to give them they would score as Christian, except that they cannot, in good conscience accept the trinity. For many of those who do end up accepting the trinity it takes a dream of Jesus himself telling them it is true.

      Does that mean that the others are not Christian? Or is this an area where a Christian can be in error and still be Christian, just like in many other doctrines?

    • Hodge

      Johnfom:

      If you’ll note on that thread, I rejected Michael’s interpretation of that. I believe the use of knowledge there is talking about experience, not information. Their experience is that food sacrificed to idols is done solely to worship the gods. When offered it once they become Christians, they cannot partake. So I don’t believe there is any such thing as a Christian polytheist, unless we’re talking about someone who is just uninformed.

      “And, to use the analogy of post #61, it is equally silly to suggest that when giving the breathless person oxygen from a tank they mistakenly think has the nature of laughing gas that it wont save them. The knowledge of the nature is irrelevant, it is the relationship between the gas and the circulatory system which saves them, regardless of the understanding of the recipient or the insistence of the one teaching them that it is the nature of oxygen which is saving them, not laughing gas.”

      So you’re arguing that God/the oxygen is the default. In other words, one is already worshiping God and it doesn’t matter how one identifies it, since he is automatically hooked up to the tank. That, of course, is not biblical. One’s identification of which tank is which is mandatory if he or she is to live.

      “On almost any test you with to give them they would score as Christian, except that they cannot, in good conscience accept the trinity.”

      The stumbling block is different for everyone. If the messengers/followers of antichrist are clothed as angels of light then we would expect conformity on all sorts of issues except for at least one that matters. You’re entire remark in terms of their serving God and His kingdom, of course, begs the question. Christ said to the Jews, “Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” This is true for Muslims too.

    • Hodge

      BTW, Christ’s nature is connected to the gospel, so trying to separate them is a misunderstanding of the historical issues involved in the Church condemning the modalists and Arians.

    • phantom

      Hodge,
      Is it possible that God expects different levels of understanding from different people? I am very much a philosopher, and so God has gone to great lengths to correct my doctrine. It is vital for me to understand who God is. If I were to reject the trinity, it would be in rebellion. I’m honestly unsure whether God would send me to hell for that.

      On the other hand, there are people who are primarily relational. They are the wisest people when it comes to our relationship with God and with others, but they have little interest in theology. God won’t send them to hell for being unable to articulate the trinity.

      I guess what I’m saying is maybe we’re both right. For some people, to reject the trinity constitutes rebellion against God which could constitute the worship of a false god. For others it is simply a lack of understanding or a lack of need for understanding. People like me need to understand the trinity to distinguish between false gods and the true God, but there are better people out there who can know God without all the theological terminology.

    • Hodge

      Phantom,

      I think we’re in agreement. I think there are a lot of genuine Christians in the second category. I don’t think the girl about whom Michael was originally speaking falls into that category, but do think there are plenty who do. I also agree that it is definitely rebellion for us when we who have a greater ability to understand what is being taught reject it. Thanks for the good discussion. God bless.

    • William Mayor

      I may be late to this conversation but might I note two things, both relate to the Corinthian correspondence. First, I have been studying Corinthians recently, and it seems that Paul’s reference to “strong” Christians may have been the Corinthian’s self-assessment, not Paul’s. The main place one woulkd have been eating meat was in a pagan temple or some other venue with strong pagan overtones. Further it would have been strongly linked with associating with the “proper” people. Thus the theology involved in being “strong” would have more to do with being in the proper social group than God. Secondly, in 2nd Corinthians, while Paul does seem to support the Trinity, he seems to be supporting the “economic” Trinity rather than the “transcendent” Trinity. You seem to be supporting the “transcendent” version.
      Bill

    • Alex

      Is correct Doctrine/Theology a prerequisite to Regeneration?

      If Regeneration is Monergistic, then must God impart a “correct” understanding and articulation of Doctrine/Theology for one to be Regenerated?

      Or rather, God Regenerates the Elect and we “see through a glass darkly”. What is “born of the Spirit is spirit”…and Doctrine/Theology are secondary and not a prerequisite to Salvation. It cannot be. If ones “understanding” of “correct” Doctrine/Theology is a prerequisite it suggests Synergism.

      The Native in the deepest darkest jungle who has a divine appointment with a Missionary…how much “correct” Doctrine/Theology must the Native have for God to Regenerate them? How much “correct” Doctrine/Theology did the Thief on the Cross have when he was Regenerated by God and Jesus confirmed He would “see him in Paradise”…

    • Jacques

      Hodge,

      The way you present Jesus’ description of himself as I AM is a choice that you and others make based on your theology.

      The passage itself uses the same Greek words a number of times to identify the speaker with the person under discussion. It is only translated as I AM in this specific case and leaves me questioning whether this is an accurate translation.

      It makes a lot more sense that Jesus is describing himself as the messiah since this is the context of the dialogue with the Jews.

      It is belief in Jesus as messiah that is imperative to our salvation, not necessarily believing him to be YHWH.

      In John 8:24 Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah and uses the term ἐγὼ εἰμι to identify himself as such. The ESV translates correctly and those that follow exhibit progressively more bias:

      * “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” – English Standard Version (©2001)

      * “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.” – New International Version (©1984)

      * “That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I Am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” – New Living Translation (©2007)

      * “That is why I told you that you will die in your sins, for unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” International Standard Version (©2008)

      It is also interesting to note that in the Greek LXX the focus of God’s self-revelation in Exodus is not even really on the “I am” but on what follows ego eimi ho on, translated as, “I am The One Who Is.” (Ex. 3:14 NETS). As such Jesus’ use of the first part of the statement without the next is nowhere near the divine name of Exodus. The truth is that the messiah existed, whether physically or potentially in the mind of God way before Abraham was ever born. Therefore Abraham placed his hope in the…

    • Hodge

      Jacques,

      Actually, according the theology of John and the immediate context, the issue is Jesus as the divine Messiah, not just the Messiah. Note that Jesus is talking about where He comes from. That’s why John specifically uses the “I AM” (a translation of the Hebrew not the Greek) in reference to Christ’s divinity. The same goes for how John uses “Son of God,” and “Father” in relationship to Jesus. It’s all over the place in John, and specifically in chapter 8.
      I’m sure I see it because I have been given eyes by historic orthodoxy, but it is there all by itself. Take for example, the Jews already know Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah. They also think He’s just crazy for claiming to be old enough to have seen Abraham. However, it’s not until this statement that they pick up stones to kill Him for blasphemy: Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM” (8:58). The connection of ego eimi to the divine name was well understood in the context, and John certainly wants his readers to acknowledge it.

    • Hodge

      And, of course, the Hebrew name YHWH is simply the third person singular of the first person singular ‘ehyeh, so they are absolutely connected in the Hebrew, not to mention that the actual phrase in Hebrew is the same, “I AM who I AM,” and He continued, “thus you will say to the Israelites that I AM has sent me to you.”

    • Jacques

      I’ve always been a Trinitarian, but have been really challenged recently by some of the arguments used by biblical Unitarians. I’m honestly struggling to find the Trinity in the Bible. I’d like nothing more than to see it more clearly but its far easier to see subordinationism, Arianism or some other form of strict monotheism than it is to see Trinitarianism.

      I trust that God will continue to guide me, either he will continue to lead me towards Unitarianism because it is true or eventually he will show me how to see Trinitarianism again.

      I don’t think God will forsake me just because I’m sincerely struggling to see something that other Christians seem to find so easily. I certainly don’t feel like I’m rebelling against clear teaching. I just don’t see it at the moment. I did in the past, though I always struggled with certain passages (like Jesus saying, “the Father is greater than I”). I think it would be much easier just to be a Trinitarian, to be considering Biblical Unitarianism is not the path I would have chosen for myself.

    • Hodge

      Jacques,

      I appreciate the struggle to understand. I read your site last night and wanted to just put in a bit of information to help you process things. There’s a statement there that when YHWH is being referred to in the NT, the article is present. That’s actually not the case. There are multiple places where YHWH is clearly referred to and no article is present. For instance, in John 1 uses theos numerous times (see v. 18 as an example) without the article when referencing YHWH.
      A further note of help is in understanding that kurios in the NT, when talking about Christ, especially in contexts that refer to Him as Creator or being glorified and praised, etc., is most-likely the LXX translation of YHWH, rather than just saying Sir or Mr. Jesus. It can mean that, but it is more likely to refer to the Greek translation there of the divine name.
      Note also that the term “greater” is an issue of hierarchical authority. Men are also said to be greater than other men. This does not give them a superior nature, but a superior rank (cf. John 13:16, same word).
      The last thing I would suggest to you is that be careful in reevaluating your doctrine. What most people don’t realize when they do this is that they are unwittingly TRYING to see the Scripture differently, in this case, as a non-trinitarian. The results will no doubt be what the experiment seeks to prove. We think we’re being objective by doing this, but that is not the case. We’re just not allowing, or trying hard to suppress, a particular interpretation of a passage in the name of objectivity. There is, of course, no such thing, and God has provided the Church as teacher/interpreter for a reason, especially when it comes to His nature.
      Those are just some things I would offer as advice, as I feel compassion for you struggling with the issue. I just want you to be as informed as you can be. Take care.

    • Jacques

      Hodge,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read some of my struggle, I really appreciate it.

      The reference to John 1:18 is certainly helpful and I will be meditating on your assertion that Jesus as Lord may be better understood as a reference to YHWH than as a title of authority.

      I also agree that I find it very easy to enter into the mindset of another and understand their position. I once considered this a gift, but recently I have not enjoyed this ability as much. It leaves me floating on a sea of doctrine with no anchor to hold me down and no rudder to steer me towards the truth. I once thought Jesus was enough truth to hold me secure but this latest challenge has upset that foundation considerably.

      I have a question for you if you don’t mind. You commented earlier that you differ from many Protestants by your belief that the Councils were guided by the Holy Spirit. Why then are you not Catholic or Orthodox since many of the “lesser” decisions of the councils lay the foundation for Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Ecclessiology and Theology?

    • Hodge

      Jacques,

      No I don’t mind at all. I get the question a lot. 🙂 However, it is a complicated one that I would not be able to answer very well in short blurb; and unfortunately, I’m getting ready to leave on a huge trip, so I’ll try to just briefly, and insufficiently, answer this way:
      I believe the Bible lays the foundation for the HS ongoing direction of the Church through its teachers/pastors and elders in terms of what deals with the gospel and issues of salvation (i.e., knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ). I believe it is directed in its ethical issues as well, as they deal with our doing good in the world as opposed to evil. The early ecumenical councils fall along these lines. I don’t believe the issues of church government, which are largely set up to mimic the Roman Empire, and issues that frankly are things limited to their culture, are necessarily for us (although they may still have been led by the HS on those things for their time). The problem I have, as a magisterial Reformed individual, with the RCC and EO is that 1. I see them adopting heresies in a practical sense, where some of their current doctrines assume what they deny explicitly in order to maintain continuity with the early Church, and 2. that they are largely frozen cultural expressions of the medieval religious ideas more than they are genuinely carrying on NT Christianity. You can see this to a minor degree in the styles of churches, vestments, the use of medieval Latin or Byzantine Greek (although some of these have begun to erode in the twentieth century in favor of adopting twentieth century religious expressions instead–a point reflective of many doctrinal and ethical changes as well).
      I see the Reformation, in terms of the salvific doctrines, and ethical issues to some degree, as continuing in the line of the early Church decisions. Much of what I find disagreement in the gospel with RC and EO is found in how we interpret the early condemnations of semi-Pelagianism…

    • Hodge

      at Orange. I see them assuming what they explicitly deny in their soteriological systems. Of course, there would be much disagreement over that statement. That’s simply my position in short. I’m sorry I can’t draw it out at the moment, but this will have to do, even though it probably raises more questions than it answers. I will continue to pray for you and your struggle to understand these difficult things. God bless.

    • oliver marks

      Hey I only had one year of bible college and share the same red nose problem as you but mostly it flares up with those in ministry that should or rather and hopefully could know better, I do like that you are routinely trying to shed orthodox thoughts on so many little tidbits within X’n culture. I also really like that when you say something you show it through with some expository scripture rather than just quoting it then leaving one to look it up or just take your word that you actually have the right scripture. regards Oliver

    • Ronald Boyd

      Think about Paul’s approach to the Athenians on Mars Hill. How could he say that agnostos theos was Jesus? Also, how could Abraham have known that the god of Melchizedek was his God to such an extent that he paid tithes to Melchizedek?
      The point is, God is defined experientially. What I mean is that He is known by a host of many attributes which describe him as he interacted with Israel as a nation and as an individual. I AM THE GOD WHO was followed basically by a fill-in-the-blank need you have in your life. It is that god whom Jesus declared Himself to be. Paul then extended Jesus to be agnostos theos to the Athenians. All throughout the OT the Holy Spirit is mentioned and is extended into the NT. There could be hundreds of ways God can be known by us, and we would enumerate hundreds of different names for Him, all valid. God revealed Himself to Moses with an unpronounceable name for some reason, maybe just to maintain the fact that He is one. Jesus likewise has a multitude of titles, Counselor being the one equating Him with the Holy Spirit whom He sent after He left. How has God revealed himself to you, even before you became a ‘Christian?’ He is still the same god, but hopefully you have a greater understanding of Him than you did back then. There is always going to be the problem of communication between human minds but it is the same one true God which exists apart from our feeble attempts to describe Him. That’s where Jesus came into the world and into your life.

    • JN

      Andy C., your response was beautiful.
      I would add to this all,
      God sees us as individuals, just as Jesus saw each of his disciples as individuals. As such, He understand that we each have different levels of spiritual and intellectual comprehension. The only problem I see is if one understands scripture and refuses to believe it. Now honestly, how many of us understand the Triune God perfectly? Or even begin to fathom just exactly how God became flesh?
      It all comes down to this, as I see it in my imperfect understanding: If you love God, if you claim to follow Jesus, then you have to believe exactly what He believed. And He believed every word of scripture to be truth.
      But if someone has a limited understanding of scripture because of intellectual or physical reasons beyond their control, and God has not chosen in His wisdom to overcome those difficulties, I don’t believe He will judge them for their misunderstandings. I know many people of faith who love the Lord and have limited intellectual understanding of the Word. Are they not saved because God has not chosen to open their understanding fully?
      Didn’t Jesus say, unless we become as little children we shall by no means enter the kingdom? Doesn’t He extend mercy because “He knows our frame” and our weakness?
      If salvation, as some here gave suggested, is based on having precise knowledge of the Word and every doctrine, then no one would be saved.
      I feel like many of us here are trying to say that unless one recieves near-perfect revelation from God regarding the meaning of His word and the nature of His being, we must not know Him at all.
      I think that is a beam in your eyes, my friends.

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