Christians and Unitarians Do Not Worship the Same God

I am still surprised that I receive negative feedback from Christians when insisting that Unitarians worship a different god than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -- the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ -- the God and Father who sent the Son into the earth, both of Whom sent the Holy Spirit to minister Jesus among us mortals. This God is denied by Unitarians (i.e., any non-Trinitarian rejecting the orthodox and biblical reality of the Trinity), rendering them outside the Christian fold, not because they misunderstand the Trinity, but because they do understand the concept, and they boldly reject the same as heresy. Their god is not the God taught in Scripture and by the orthodox Church fathers.

When we consider the nature of God we are inquiring into the primary characteristics of His existence. For example, when the author of Hebrews refers to Jesus, he does so in terms of Him being τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ, the substance, nature, or reality of God. (Heb. 1:3b) Theologians refer to this phenomenon as hypóstasis, hypó, referring to being under, and hístēmi, referring to standing or possessing -- figuratively, to possess a title or claim. Jesus, then, not only reflects the glory, δόξα, of God, referring to honor, splendor, or the divine quality of manifestation (Heb. 1:3a); but Jesus also possesses title-claim, in representative form, to the existence, nature, or essence of God (Heb. 1:3b).

This is not merely a claim to the deity of Jesus, though it is, to be certain; but this confession is also attributive to Jesus representing the characteristics, nature, or essence of God His heavenly Father. What this truth informs us is that God exists at least in two separate Persons: Father and Son: cf., for example, John the apostle's affirmation that the one abiding in the teaching of Christ is indwelt by "the Father and the Son." (2 John 1:9, emphasis added) We have here the Father, and the Son, two notable and distinguishable characters.1 When we consider St Peter's confession that the Holy Spirit is also God (Acts 5:3, 5, 9), with attributes of God (cf. John 3:3, 5, 8; 7:37, 38, 39; 16:8, 9, 10, 11; Acts 8:29; 10:19; 13:2; 20:28; Rom. 8:26, 27; 1 Cor. 2:11; Gal. 4:6; Titus 3:5), then we must also include the Person of the Holy Spirit in the Godhead: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

These truths have been affirmed since the early days of the Church. Athenagoras, in 175 CE, writes: "Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men called atheists who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order?"2 He states further:
Christians know God and His Logos [cf. John 1:1, referring to the Son of God, Jesus, who is also called God in the same passage]. They also know what type of oneness [union in fellowship, mind, and heart] the Son has with the Father [two distinct Persons] and what type of communion the Father has with the Son. Furthermore, they know what the Spirit is and what the unity is of these three: the Spirit, the Son, and the Father. They also know what their distinction is in unity.3
We are not permitted to suggest that the doctrine of the Trinity is a late invention of the Church fathers -- that simply is not the truth. As early as 96 CE, with Clement of Rome, we find Trinitarian language: "Do we not have one God and one Christ? Is there not one Spirit of grace poured out upon us?"4 This oneness, ἕν (cf. John 10:30), refers not mistakenly to sameness but to individual agreement or commonality. For example, Jesus says, "My Father is still working and I am also working." (John 5:17) Jesus cannot be speaking of Himself in both references or we would account Him schizophrenic. For Jesus to allude to God as His Father, in a very special manner, is to commit blasphemy in the Jewish mind. When Jesus confesses that His Father is at work, and that He is also at work, He is suggesting that He is equal with the Father -- a notion which the Jewish people consider damnably heretical. (John 10:31; cf. Luke 4:1-30; John 8:59) But we have more early witnesses:

  • The three days which were before the luminaries are types of the Triad of God. His Word, and His Wisdom. -- Theophilus (180 CE)
  • I have also largely demonstrated that the Word, namely the Son, was always with the Father [John 1:1, 2, 3]. Now, that Wisdom also, who is the Spirit, was present with Him [the Father] before all creation. -- Irenaeus (180 CE)
  • The universal Father is one. The universal Word is one [i.e., Jesus, John 1:1-3]. And the Holy Spirit is one. -- Clement of Alexandria (195 CE)
  • Thank the one [and] only Father and Son, Son and Father. The Son is the Instructor and Teacher, along with the Holy Spirit. They are all in One, in whom is all, for whom all is One, for whom is eternity. -- Clement of Alexandria (195 CE)
  • We pray at a minimum not less than three times in the day. For we are debtors to Three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. -- Tertullian (198 CE)
  • The earth is moved by three things: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. -- Hippolytus (205 CE)5

These early fathers maintain the theological tradition handed down to them directly from the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ. God is One: In the Persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, God is one essence, reality, or being, manifested in three equally-divine Persons. This is the only God that exists in all reality.

Because this Triune God is the only God that exists in all reality, the conclusion of our early Church fathers defend this truth, and do so in the strictest sense possible: "Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic [the One, Universal, Christian] Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance." (emphasis added) Anyone not adhering to Trinitarian doctrine is considered apostate -- not a Christian, not a true believer, but someone who worships a different god. Why? The answer is simple: There is only One God, and this God is manifested in Three equally-divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To reject this biblical reality is to reject God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Origen, in 225 CE, writes:
However, many of those who profess to believe in Christ differ from each other not only on small and trifling matters but also on subjects of the highest importance. I mean, for example, the things concerning God, or the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit. . . . For that reason, therefore, it seems necessary first of all to fix a definite limit and to lay down an unmistakable rule regarding each one of these [Persons]. . . .

The particular points that are clearly delivered in the teaching of the apostles are as follows: First, that there is one God, who created and arranged all things, and who, when nothing existed, called all things into being. . . . Secondly, that Jesus Christ Himself, who . . . in the last times divested Himself and became a man. He was incarnate although still God. . . . And thirdly, the apostles related that the Holy Spirit was associated in honor and dignity with the Father and the Son. . . .6
Elsewhere he argues: "Saving baptism was not complete except by the authority of the most excellent Trinity of them all. That is, it is made complete by naming the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this, we join the name of the Holy Spirit to the Unbegotten God (the Father) and to His Only-Begotten Son."7 The collective statements regarding our Triune God precede the Athanasian Creed by at least between one hundred fifty to two hundred fifty years. In other words, those who disagree over issues such as the Trinity or, perhaps, the deity of Jesus Christ, or the distinguished Person of the Holy Spirit are considered dissidents -- e.g., Arius and his non-Trinitarian adherents, who also deny the deity of Jesus Christ -- even one hundred fifty years prior to the Athanasian Creed.


Why is the truth of the Trinity so vital? Or, better, why do Trinitarians take such umbrage at non-Trinitarian beliefs, relegating advocates of non-Trinitarian theories, including a rejection of Jesus Christ as deity, the eternal Son of God as damnable heresy? What is the motive? As an Arminian who rejects the error of unconditional election -- i.e., that God has unconditionally chosen to save one person and not another, and that He regenerates those on His pre-selected list in His own "sovereign" timing -- I believe that God will actually save anyone who will respond to the grace of the Holy Spirit toward faith in Jesus Christ; a grace-induced response that conditions God's saving act.

So I want as many possible to be saved that can be saved. Since I agree with the early Church fathers, that non-Trinitarian beliefs not only contribute toward the condemnation of an individual but also keep one imprisoned in that state, I desire more than any other desire that non-Trinitarians forsake their heresy and receive the salvation of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. My goal is not to be right; my motive here is not to make non-Trinitarians angry; I merely long for the salvation of Unitarians. I want them to understand that their errors are not trite. The god whom they worship does not exist. In reality, all false gods are actually demons (1 Cor. 10:19, 20), and thus Unitarians and all other non-Trinitarians are counted as tragic idolaters.

Mind you, many non-Trinitarian defenders confess the same regarding Trinitarians, especially our practice of offering worship to Jesus and considering Him deity. This is why apostates like Dale Tuggy devote so much energy in attempts at correcting our Trinitarian orthodoxy. There is even attempts made to relegate the early Church fathers as non-Trinitarians (link) -- a futile attempt at best. I consider all non-Trinitarian propaganda as harmful to the Gospel, the life of the Church, and to the salvation of souls. I regard dogmatic teachers of non-Trinitarian theories as wolves in sheep's clothing. My aim is to warn unsuspecting sheep -- or future-potential sheep -- from the ravages of the damnable heresies of all forms of non-Trintian belief. Allan Coppedge writes:
In practical terms, everyday ministry forces the church to articulate more clearly the truths seen in Scripture. This is particularly important when non-scriptural views (i.e., heresy) have a negative impact on the life and ministry of the church. Since most heresy begins with only a partial truth, the church's responsibility is to utilize all that God has revealed to state the whole truth. This is what happened in the third and fourth centuries when incorrect thinking about Jesus, the Spirit and God began to influence the church. While the church had intuited the meaning of the Scriptures, now it had to spell out in more detail what biblical revelation says about God.8
His concluding remark is crucial: we must carefully outline our doctrine of God in order for people to know God and to trust in God. Adopting any conception of God imaginable will not suffice. God revealed God's self within the pages of Scripture. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is God. There is no other God, no other orthodox or viable conception of God, no other reality known as God. In essence, non-Trinitarian heresy is a blight on Christian orthodoxy when Unitarians and other non-Trinitarian adherents refer to themselves as "Christian." Non-Trinitarian belief kills: it destroys the soul, the grace-saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the heart of Christ's church. Only the Truth of our Triune God brings life. "This is the catholic Faith," states the Athanasian Creed, "which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved." (emphasis added)

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1 At least with regard to monotheism, and worthship of both the Father and the Son, Dr. C.C. Newman concludes: "The later NT documents and the apostolic fathers demonstrate that the office of the one true God had been enlarged to include Jesus as worthy of worship and service." C.C. Newman, "God," in the Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, eds. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 430.

2 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, Inc., 2003), 652.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 652-53.

6 Ibid., 654.

7 Ibid., 655.

8 Allan Coppedge, The God Who is Triune: Revisioning the Christian Doctrine of God (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2007), 79-80.

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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.