The Fate of Those Who Deny the Deity of Christ

Those who reject the deity of Christ, which, by necessity, includes the Christian dogma of the Trinity, are not saved, cannot be saved, and will not be saved unless they repent and trust in the Christ of Scripture. This confession, which is merely Christianity 101, originates in the Christian scriptures and has been carried along as orthodox Christian doctrine since the first century. The habit of some to allow or hope for the salvation of those who reject the deity of Jesus Christ is, in itself, uncontested heresy.

NEW TESTAMENT ORTHODOXY

St John, in his Gospel account, quotes Jesus as insisting: "Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes." (John 5:21) This is a remarkable confession, as no other person on earth, living or dead, could ever contend to inherently possess the resurrection-power of God. Here Jesus equates Himself with God the Father. Jesus then says: "The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him." (John 5:22, 23, emphases added)

First, that all future judgment has been granted to the Son suggests that Jesus is not only unlike all other human beings ever born, or ever to be born, but that He is also equal with the Father. God is considered the only Just One in the universal who can render judgment. That Jesus is granted this task demonstrates a divine characteristic inherent to His Personhood and eternally-divine Being. However, unless a person honors and regards the Son, Jesus Christ, as one does God the Father, a person is not, cannot be, and will not be saved. Denying Jesus Christ His rightful divinity and, thus, equality with the Father (and the Holy Spirit) is to deny Christ.

Second, St John elsewhere states, "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?" (1 John 2:22) The "Christ," Χριστός, is the Anointed One, the long-awaited Jewish Messiah of Israel sent by the God of Israel.1 The Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, was to be Immanuel, God with us, divinity in flesh. (cf. Isa. 7:14; 9:6; John 1:14) Rejecting Christ His rightful divinity is to deny that Jesus is the Christ.2 St John continues: "No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:23; cf. 2 John 1:9) -- an explicit statement that undermines both Unitarianism as well as all others who reject the divinity of Christ.

The primary issue here is not merely the sake of being right: it is for the salvation of souls. We should not be guilty of allowing those in the clutches of religious deception (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarians, Mormons) to continue in that deception by either a neglect to tell people the truth or by a passive-yet-hopeful notion that God will somehow have mercy on them and, by logical consistency, irresistibly regenerate and save them in spite of His own words to the contrary. I. Howard Marshall explains:
From [2 John 1:9] it is, however, clear that he believed that a false view of the person of Jesus destroyed the possibility of a religious relationship with God. From I John it is apparent that for the elder, "Christ" and "Son of God" were virtually synonymous; hence a denial that Jesus was the Christ was a denial that God's Son had truly become incarnate and revealed the love of God by dying as an atoning sacrifice for sin. The historical basis of Christian faith was thus removed [by such an empirical and devastating denial].3
Third, and most likely the most convincing proof we own supporting our thesis, Jesus Himself insists that, unless people believe in His deity, they will die in their sins: "I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I Am," ἐγώ εἰμι . (John 8:24; cf. John 8:28) The Greek phrase ἐγώ εἰμι, I Am, refers to a statement found in Exodus regarding the Covenant Name of God.

When Moses questioned the LORD, asking Him whom he should tell the Egyptians is commanding the release of the Jewish people, God responded: "I Am Who I Am ... Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I Am has sent me to you' ... This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations." (Ex. 3:13, 14, 15) In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, the phrase "I Am" was translated as ἐγώ εἰμι. This is the Name that Jesus claims for Himself.4 (John 8:58) For any mere mortal to claim the name "I Am" for him- or herself would be overt blasphemy and a promotion of idolatry. But Jesus insists that, unless people believe that He is the great I Am, they will die in their sins and are not, cannot, and will not be saved unless they repent.

APOSTOLIC WITNESSES OF NEW TESTAMENT ORTHODOXY

Orthodox Christians in the late first century, and into the second, have maintained this essential dogma of the Christian faith; and the deity of Christ is essential to salvation. The only individuals throughout the history of Christ's Church to deny the essential nature of Jesus' divinity to salvation are those rendered as damnable heretics. One cannot deny an essential aspect of Jesus' eternal existence and still maintain that one is worshiping the Christ of the scriptures.



From the late first-century canonical work, titled Revelation, St John attributed not only worship to the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 5:12, 13) but also titles of Godhood (Rev. 1:8; 22:13). In the mid-second century, Justin Martyr (c. 160) confessed Christ as "King, Priest, God, Lord, Angel [Messenger], and Man."5 Irenæus (c. 180) concurs: "Jesus is Himself in His own right beyond all men who ever lived, God, Lord, King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word ... He is the Holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God."6 In the early third century, Origen claims Jesus as "the Word, and Wisdom, and Truth, and Righteousness, and everything else that the sacred Scriptures call Him when speaking of God."7

The biblical truth witnessed and attested to by Christ and His apostles regarding Jesus being divine and, thus, equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit culminated in the famous creeds of the Christian church, which taught early Christian orthodoxy, namely, the Nicene and Athanasian creeds; the latter of which, that contains clear and explicit references to the deity of Jesus Christ, concludes: "This is the catholic [i.e., universal] Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved."

By the sixteenth century, this "catholic (universal) orthodoxy" was as staunchly maintained and defended as any essential doctrine of the Christian faith. Jacob Arminius (1559-1609) resolutely preserved early Church orthodoxy on this matter:
Though the person of Christ is, on account of its excellence, most worthy to be honored and worshiped, yet, that He might be according to God the object of the Christian religion, two other things through the will of God were necessary: (1.) That He should undertake some offices for the sake of men to obtain eternal salvation for them [namely, Prophet, Priest, and King]; (2.) That God should bestow on Him dominion or lordship over all things, and full power to save and to damn, with an express command, "that all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father" [John 5:23], and that "every knee should bow to Him, to the glory of God the Father" [Phil. 2:11].8 (emphasis added)
Arminius' colleagues, the Remonstrants, in their Arminian Confession of 1621, insist that "our Lord Jesus Christ, as far indeed as is necessary for salvation, is chiefly contained in two parts. For it pertains partly to the person and partly to the office. In respect of His person, Jesus Christ is true and eternal God, and at the same time, true and perfectly just man, in one and the same person."9 That tradition is the sole orthodox position on salvation regarding the deity of Christ.

This is the orthodox tradition still defended in my tradition, The Episcopal Church, in spite of the likes of rank heretic John Shelby Spong. Samuel Wells argues: "The heart of the Christian faith is that God came among human beings as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is God, fully present to humanity, and humanity, fully present to God."10 Moreover, Jesus Christ is the centripetal object of our faith and worship:
The axis of the Christian faith is how God enters the disorder of human life in such a way that not only humanity but also the whole creation is redeemed ... The dignity of humankind resides in that we were the dimension of created existence God chose to assume and embrace in becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ ...

In his kindness and generosity, in his ministry to outcasts, sinners, and the sick, in his close relationship to the Father, in his prophetic confrontation with the oppressor, and most of all in his selfless and faithful journey to the cross, Jesus offers himself as the one who transforms our hearts to follow in his steps. ...11
Andrew Doyle, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, in his book, Unabashedly Episcopalian, reminds us that we do not believe in just any God, or perpetuate just any notion of God; but we believe, by Scripture, in "a God who watches over human life and interacts with all life on earth, with a particular relationship to the human community, through Jesus Christ."12 Christ is always kept in our center frame.

Episcopal priest Christopher Webber, in his book, Welcome to the Christian Faith, very accurately reminds us, however, that Jesus is "not a creedal statement to be affirmed line by line but a living person with whom Christians enter into a living and changing relationship."13 Even if one affirms an orthodox view of the historical and present Jesus, this does not mean ipso facto that such a one cultivates a living relationship with Him, by being in union with Him, and is thus saved.

Webber also reminds us not to fix our sole focus on who Jesus was but who He is for us today. In his book, Welcome to the Episcopal Church, he emphasizes the fact that theology is "not simply statements that we accept or reject; it has a direct relationship to our way of living as Christians."14 While we must not deny any essential of the Christian faith, such as the deity of Jesus Christ, we must also be careful to avoid viewing Jesus as merely an idea, through the ink on a page. We have the privilege of experiencing and worshiping the living Christ in our daily lives. May we help others experience Him, too, through the truths revealed to us in the life-changing Word of God!

__________

1 A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, third edition (BDAG), revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1091. The word is also "marked by certain passages in which Χριστός does not mean the Messiah in general (even when the ref. is to Jesus), but a very definite Messiah, Jesus, who now is called Christ not as a title but as a name."

2 R. Morey comments: "To deny the Messiahood of Jesus was to deny He was the divine Son of God. To deny that He was the divine Son of God was to deny the Fatherhood of God." Robert Morey, The Trinity: Evidence and Issues (Iowa Falls: World Bible Publishers, Inc., 1996), 283.

3 I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John: The New International Commentary on the New Testament, eds. Ned B. Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 72.

4 Dr. Gary Burge notes: "Two times in this discourse we hear the refrain, 'Who are you?' (8:25), 'Who do you think you are?' (8:53). Now the answer is given. Jesus' existence has been eternal -- before Abraham -- and he is the bearer of the divine name (8:24, 28, 58). His attackers understand him fully now and try to kill him for blasphemy, but he slips away (8:59; cf. 7:44; 8:20)." Gary M. Burge, "John," in The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, eds. Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), 1133.

5 A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed by the Early Church Fathers, ed. David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), 370.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Jacob Arminius, "Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XXXV. On the Priestly Office of Christ," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:380.

9 The Arminian Confession of 1621, trans. and ed. Mark A. Ellis (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005), 70.

10 Samuel Wells, What Episcopalians Believe: An Introduction (New York: Morehouse Publishers, 2011), 2.

11 Ibid., 20, 23.

12 Andrew Doyle, Unabashedly Episcopalian: Proclaiming the Good News of the Episcopal Church (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2012), 10.

13 Christopher L. Webber, Welcome to the Christian Faith (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2012), 48.

14 __________, Welcome to the Episcopal Church (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 1999), 62.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.