Is knowing what we believe and being confident that we have it right, all that important? This is a serious question, that has troubled the Church for almost two thousand years. While there may be some things that we can agree to disagree upon, we do need to seriously consider those things that truly define Christianity.
Above all, who we believe God to be, is very important. At the heart of that is the Doctrine of the Trinity. This is the one area of our belief that throws us into ideological conflict with Islam. The beginning of the central call of Islam, “There is but one God…”, Clearly takes issue with the Doctrine.
When pushed, the gap between Judaism and Christianity is much smaller than most imagine. Their call is, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one.” In English that seems very definite, however not so. The Hebrew word for a god is ‘El’. However, in this verse we find ‘Elohenu’, which is a plural form of the word, meaning three or more.
The Hebrew Scholars will generally argue that the plural is used to highlight how huge God is. But that is a defensive argument, it works if you want it to work and it fails if you want it to fail. This verse can be read as “Hear O Israel, the Lord you threefold God is one.” The real question for Jewish people is this, ‘Is Jesus the anointed one of God, the Messiah?’
However, the real issue for us today arose in the Fourth Century with a man named Arius. Arius was the Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, which had been growing more divergent in its teachings over the past 150 years. Arias pushed hard that Jesus was not equal to God the Father, nor was He eternal, in that there was a time in which He did not exist. He also taught that the Holy Spirit was a lesser creation, perhaps an esteemed angel.
These teachings continue to plague the Church to this very day. Arius had introduced a form of Christianity that denied the divine nature of Jesus. He began a schism in the Church that has from time to time been regenerated and exists in a variant form today (The Jehovah’s Witnesses). Also, his school began a process of eliminating various ‘Trinity supporting portions’ from the New Testament.
Because the manuscripts which are thought by many to be the oldest, are from this school, our newer translations of the Bible, being influenced by them, have eliminated a significant portion of the New Testament. This editing out was reported by Jerome in the mid 4th Century. Of most concern to Jerome was the removal of 1 John 5:7. This verse was damming to Arius’ distortion of the faith.
“For there are three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one.”
The testimony of all Scripture is clear. God exists as three separate persons, yet remains one as God. All three are equally Divine, existing before Creation, and participating in Creation. The opening verse of both Genesis and John’s Gospel demonstrates that all three were involved in Creation.
While the Jehovah’s Witnesses follow Arius’ teachings on Jesus, their view of the Holy Spirit is far more heretical. While Arius demotes the Holy Spirit to a created being, the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny His existence as a person and believe the Holy Spirit to be the conveyed power of God, perhaps something akin to electricity.
This second Heresy is quite damning and of much concern. In a quick scan of the New Testament over one hour, I found no less than 19 portions of Scripture from the New Testament alone, which emphasis the person-hood of the Holy Spirit.
Consider this, if the Holy Spirit is a ‘power’ and not a person, how is it possible to sin against Him? If the Holy Spirit is just like electricity, what would be the problem?
If I stand in front of a power outlet or a light switch and start telling it lies, does it care? (Acts 5:3 a stark reminder not to lie to the Holy Spirit.)
And how would I be able to offend or grieve the power outlet? (Eph 4:30 grieve not the Holy Spirit)
Or what if I called my light switch some rather defamatory names? Matt 12:3, Mark 3:29, and Luke 12:10 all record Jesus warning us not to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.
Not only is the Holy Spirit a person, He is God. For only God can dwell in a Temple and the resident of the Temple of our body, is the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 6:19)
Representing God properly and in a way that is consistent with Scripture is important. If God took the effort to reveal Himself to us, how rude would it be for us to ignore that revelation and contort God into our prejudices?