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Why is the doctrine of the Trinity so important?

January 4, 2018

The doctrine of the Trinity is the teaching that “God is one God in three persons.” The Father is God, the Son is God and the Spirit is God, but the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Spirit or the Father, and the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. Each person of the Trinity fully possesses all the attributes of God; God is not three Gods nor is He divided into thirds. God is a single God comprised of three persons. This is a difficult idea to understand, but it is what the Bible teaches.

The doctrine of the Trinity is so complex it is easy to see how doctrinal errors would arise. One common error is the heresy of modalism. This error teaches that God is one God who manifests Himself in three different ways. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are each expressions of the one God, but they are not three distinct persons. God is never simultaneously the Father, Son and Spirit. He manifests each personality at different times in His dealings with men.

The church long ago decreed modalism to be a heresy. Promoters of this doctrine in the third and fourth century were excommunicated from the church. The early church fathers believed the doctrine of the Trinity matters. Orthodox churches throughout history believed the doctrine of the Trinity is essential. Today few doctrinal conservatives consider the Trinity to be a non-essential doctrine. All of church history affirms that modalism is a serious heresy.

Why is this doctrine so important? The Trinity is not a doctrine that has to be confessed to be saved, nor are all denials of the Trinity acts of apostasy. Why does it matter if God is One God in Three Persons or One God in Three Manifestations? Modalists do not deny that Jesus is God. They do not deny that Jesus died on the cross for sin. Why is correct doctrine about the Trinity so important?

The doctrine of the Trinity matters because the clarity and authority of the Word of God matters. The Biblical teaching about God can be summarized in several brief statements. God is one God. The singular God is plural. The Father is God. Jesus is God. The Holy Spirit is God. All three members of the Trinity interact with one another as distinct and separate individuals. These truths are not inferences drawn from other truths, nor are they deductions from other theological tenets. Each of these truths is clearly presented in the Bible.

The doctrine of the Trinity developed from the plain truths about God is difficult to comprehend, but a denial of one of these clear statements disregards the clarity of the Bible. To deny the teaching of the Bible, to reject clear, though complex, teaching, is to elevate the reason of the individual over the authority of the Bible. No reader of the Bible has the right to reject a Biblical truth because he cannot understand it or because he finds it logically difficult. If a doctrine is clearly taught, it must be believed, even if it cannot be fully understood. To do anything else places the reason of the reader over the revelation of God.

The doctrine of the Trinity matters because the nature of God matters. Trinity defines the essence and character of God. A God who is not Triune is a very different God from One who is. Denying the Trinity has a profound impact on the Christian’s understanding of the nature and work of each person of the Trinity. For example, an early adherent to modalism believed that God in the flesh is called the Son and God apart from the flesh is called the Father. Was the man Jesus also God the Son existing simultaneously and distinctly from the Father or was He a temporary human expression of a manifestation of God?

If Jesus is the manifestation of God and not the eternal God the Son, then everything is changed about how Christians understand God. John 1 and Colossians 1 claim that Jesus is the eternal Creator God. According to classic Trinitarianism, Jesus was always God the Son. As God the Son He created all things. According to modalism, the expression of the Son succeeded the expression of the Father. Did God create as the Father? As the Son? As the Spirit? The Bible declares all three to be active in creation. How is this to be understood if God is not Triune? The modalist God is very different from the Trinitarian God.

The doctrine of the Trinity matters because salvation matters. The Bible presents salvation as the accomplishment of the Triune God. The Son suffered on the cross, and in doing so propitiated the wrath of the Father. The Father sends the Spirit to regenerate. If God is not Triune, whose justice was satisfied at the cross? To whom was payment made? How was Jesus’ forsaken on the cross? How can the transaction between Father and Son that took place at the cross be understood if the Father and the Son are just different manifestations of the One God? Noetus, an early proponent of modalism, taught, “Christ was the Father Himself, and that the Father Himself suffered and died.” Clearly this matters!

A correct understanding of the Trinity is essential to a proper understanding of the Bible and of God. A right understanding of the Trinity is essential for a coherent view of the gospel. A right understanding of the Trinity is essential for a proper understanding of the remarkable work of the God for salvation. A right understanding of the Trinity is essential to a proper understanding of God. The doctrine of the Trinity matters.

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