Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, once wrote “False teachings emerge anew in every generation it seems, but inventing a new heresy is quite a challenge. After all, once every doctrine vital to Christianity has been denied, all that remains is a change in packaging.”[i] Old heresies once declared anathema by Christians, every so often are brought out, dusted off, and repackaged into some new cult. Doing street evangelism and abortion ministry, I’ve recently come into contact with some of these various cults. A couple of things that most if not all cults have in common is a redefinition of God and a works-based salvation.
A New Old Heresy
One such cult that I’ve recently come into contact with is a group that calls themselves “Yahweh’s Restoration Movement (YRM).” They are a small sect of what is often called “The Sacred Name Movement” which in turn is an offshoot of the “Hebrew Roots Movement” which developed from the Church of God (Seventh Day) in the 1930s. The movement was influenced by Joseph Franklin Rutherford who named the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult which has a long line of false prophesies including the false prediction that Christ would return in 1925.[ii] The Sacred Name Movement is essentially a cross between 7th Day Adventism and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
They advocate for the use of the sacred named of God (Yahweh) and the use of Christ’s name in Hebrew. They put such an emphasis on pronouncing these names “correctly” that salvation is dependent in part upon getting this correct. This is humorous when one realizes that there are several different sects arguing over the correct pronunciation which disagree with each other. You can find some that say that Christ’s name must be written and pronounced as Yahshua while others may say Yeshua , Yehoshua, Yahushua, Yahoshua, Yaohushua, Y’shua or Yahshuah.
While it may seem harmless enough to debate over how to properly pronounce the name of Christ in Hebrew even though the New Testament was written in Greek, these cults have other more dangerous beliefs. They reject the Christian and Biblical doctrine of the Trinity while claiming that the Trinity is an invention of the 4th Century. They reject the eternal divinity of Christ rehashing the Arian heresy that Christians decidedly dealt with in the Nicene Creed. According to the website of the “Yahweh Restoration Movement” they believe that “The Son was created by the Father.”[iii] They believe that Jesus is a lesser being than God though they would claim that he is the Messiah. To deny the eternal divinity of Christ by making him into a created being thus denying the trinity is to fundamentally get wrong the revealed nature of God. To get this wrong is to get God wrong. It ultimately results in a created false god leaving those who hold these views to be relying on a god who does not have the power to save. Ironically, while these cults are so intent on getting the name of God right they completely get wrong the nature of the one whose name they are so worried about.
So how can we respond to these cults? I will be writing a series of articles on this blog looking at the scriptural evidence for the eternal deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. Of course, Christians for almost two thousand years have been writing on the doctrine of the Trinity and yet this glorious doctrine still provides rich blessings for us to explore as we will never plumb the depths of the knowledge of who God is even in eternity. For the remainder of this article, I will provide a brief response to two challenges that these cults make towards Christianity regarding the trinity.
Those who hold to the views of YRM claim that the doctrine of the trinity is a pagan invention that the Church plagiarized into its beliefs during the 4th century. Again from the YRM website, “Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it… From Egypt came the ideas of a divine Trinity.”[iv] In a recent conversation I had with a YRM follower, I was told that it was not until 381 AD that the doctrine of the trinity was created because the early church fathers never taught the teaching of the trinity. There are two basic accusations being made here: 1. Christians stole ideas from Pagans and 2. The Ante-Nicene (Pre-Nicene) Church Fathers did not teach the Trinity. We will deal quickly with each below.
Christianity Stole from Pagans?
It is quite the internet fad today to argue that Christianity plagiarized from Pagans. The story usually goes that there were ancient Roman, Egyptian, or Middle Eastern Cults that all had gods who were born of virgins, were crucified, died, and were resurrected. Some usual candidates identified to have been copycatted by Christians are Mithra and Iris. Tektonics has an in depth article detailing the fallacies in this accusation regarding Mithra and Christ.[v] To summarize, the comparisons between these ancient mystery religions and Christianity are not even close. For example, the claim that Mithra was born of a virgin are false. Mithra was believed however to have been born out of a rock. Mithra was not crucified but was believed to have killed a bull. The more one studies these pagan religions the quicker one finds that any similarities are completely superficial.
In his “A Ready Defense”, Josh McDowell outlines four basic fallacies that people often commit when linking Christian accounts with mystery religions:
- Combinationism or universalism – This fallacy basically takes all the different mystery sects from 1500B.C. to 500 A.D., amalgamating them together, and saying that they are a coherent belief system from which Christianity borrowed. Many of these religions evolved greatly over that 2000 year time span. To say that Christianity stole this belief or that one when those beliefs weren’t necessarily even regarded as part of that system any longer (or had yet to be developed) is ridiculous.
- Coloring the Evidence – Basically, this error occurs when a critic distorts the teaching of the mystery religion by using Christian-type language to describe a belief – and then claiming that Christianity stole from it because the beliefs read similarly. In reality the mystery practice is usually something completely different in intent or symbolism that the Christian “counterpart”.
- Oversimplification – Many critics will find thing such as a resurrection story and then try to demonstrate how Christianity borrowed from this type of belief. Usually, this is at the expense of many crucial details that really differentiate the myth from the historic Christian account. Also, many of these stories aggrandize the myth more than is necessary.
- Who’s Influencing Whom? – This error happens quite often. It consists of assuming that because there is an element in an Eastern religion as well as in Christianity, the Christians must have borrowed from the Eastern tradition since that religion’s founder lived first. The problem is that Christianity was so aggressive in its spread over the Roman Empire and Asia, many of these religions adopted Christian symbology and practice in order to make their religion look more appealing to stop losing converts to Christians. This can usually be discovered by looking into the various practices of those religions and noting that a feature similar to Christianity wasn’t recorded or mentioned in any writing until after the Christian era had proliferated.[vi]
These claims then that Christianity aped pagan beliefs are ridiculous and unfounded in history. Any similarities have been grossly exaggerated. In particular there are no ancient religions that have one God in three persons. Let us supposed for a moment however that there were closer similarities than what we already find. What would that mean? Walter Martin wrote in “The New Cults: “In order to find out if the doctrine of the Trinity is true, we do not look to see if it resembles paganism, but to the bible, to see if God teaches it in his word. Pagans also believe in the concept of God. Does this mean that God must not be true? Pagans sleep. Does that mean sleeping is wrong ? We must not dismiss an idea merely because it is held in common with those whom we may not approve.”[vii]
Church Fathers and the Trinity
Scripture is our authority and to it we must look for our beliefs because it is the very word of God. It is in the scriptures where we will find the doctrine of the Trinity. I plan to write a follow up article to this one where I will show from the scriptures the doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ. However, I will finish this article by addressing the second accusation that the doctrine of the Trinity was not taught by the early church fathers prior to the 4th century.
I will provide some quotes from a few of the church fathers. There are plenty more quotes to be found and read but these few will surely put to bed the notion that the trinity was a 4th century invention. You will notice that these early church fathers spoke of the deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit using language reserved for God. The use of Trinitarian language is evident from the beginning of Christianity. Here are just a sample of quotes:
Mathetes 130 AD – “the holy and incomprehensible Word the very Creator and Fashioner of all things. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Savior He sent Him the immortal One for them that are mortal” Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, ANTE Vol.1 pp.63,65
Polycarp 150 AD “Wherefore also I praise Thee [the ever-truthful God] for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen” – Epistle of the church at Smyrna Ch.14 ANTE Vol 1 p.92
Ignatius of Antioch 117 AD “We have also as a Physician the Lord our God Jesus the Christ the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For ‘the Word was made flesh.’ Being incorporeal, He was in the body; being impassible, He was in a passable body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts,” -Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975 rpt., Vol. 1, p. 52, Ephesians 7
Notice how this next quote refutes those who deny the divinity of Christ and those who would say that Christians borrowed from the Greeks and their idle tales:
Tatian the Syrian 170 AD “We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of a man.” – Address to the Greeks, ch. 21 ANTE Vol 2 p.149
Melito of Sardis 170-177 AD “The activities of Christ after his baptism, and especially his miracles, gave indication and assurance to the world of the deity hidden in his flesh. Being God and likewise perfect man, he gave positive indications of his two natures: of his deity, by the miracles during the three years following after his baptism, of his humanity, in the thirty years which came before his baptism, during which, by reason of his condition according to the flesh, he concealed the signs of his deity, although he was the true God existing before the ages.” Anastasius of Sinai’s The Guide 13
Clement of Alexandria 190 AD “I understand nothing else than the Holy Trinity to be meant; for the third is the Holy Spirit, and the Son is the second, by whom all things were made according to the will of the Father.” – Stromata, Book V ch. 14 ANTE Vol.2 p.970
Tertullian 205 AD “”The connection of Father and Son, of Son and the Paraclete [Holy Spirit] makes three who cohere in a dependent series. And these three are one thing; not one person.” – Against Praxeas ch.25
“The Son of God is identical with God. The Spirit of God is God.” – Against Praxeas ch.26
“We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation . . . [which] brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind. They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” (Adv. Prax. 23, PL 2.156-7).
To deny the trinity is to deny the very character of God. It is to deny who God is and thus to make an idol for oneself. It is an old heresy repackaged in a new cult. Yahweh’s Restoration Movement and its sister sects ultimately reject the real Christ and diminish the glory due the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have briefly looked at two fallacious arguments put forth by these heretical groups. The doctrine of the trinity was taught and believed by the early church. Because of the Arian controversy, the church convened a council to deal with this heresy in the 4th century but the teaching of the doctrine predates that council. Not only does this teaching predate that council it can be found in both the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. In the next article in this series, we will examine the scriptures to see what they say in regards to the Trinitarian nature of God.
[i] . “There Are No New Heresies — New Thought Isn’t New | AlbertMohler.com,” accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.albertmohler.com/2007/03/30/there-are-no-new-heresies-new-thought-isnt-new/.
[ii] “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Many False Prophecies,” CARM – The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, accessed December 7, 2015, https://carm.org/jehovahs-witnesses-and-their-many-false-prophecies.
[vi] “Are There Pagan Origins of Christianity?,” accessed December 8, 2015, http://www.comereason.org/pagan-origins-of-christianity.asp.
[vii] Walter Martin, The New Cults (Santa Ana, Calif: Vision House Pub, 1980).