This is the fourth in a series of articles on the Trinity, excerpted from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available in print and Kindle versions from Amazon.com.
Some critics of the Trinity doctrine protest that it is a late invention, formulated only after the Roman Emperor Constantine, a convert to Christianity, decreed an end to all persecution of Christians in AD 313 and convened the first ecumenical council at Nicaea in AD 325.
But the charge of doctrinal invention simply isn’t true, as we see from Scripture and the history of early Christians, who embraced both the deity of Christ and the deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit – although admittedly they often struggled to understand the mystery behind it.
Yes, the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople (AD 381) produced the Nicene Creed, but neither the councils nor Constantine manufactured the Trinity. Rather, the Nicene Creed settled the question of how Christians can worship one God and also claim that God is three persons.
It was also the first creed (a formal statement of Christian beliefs) to obtain universal authority in the church, and it improved the language of the Apostles’ Creed by including more specific statements about the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
As theologian Millard Erickson points out, there is no virtue in continuing to hold such a difficult doctrine as the Trinity if it is not actually taught in the Bible: “The church … drew the inference of the Trinity from two sets of evidence it accepted. On the one hand, the Bible taught that God is one. On the other hand, there were three persons whom the Bible seemed to identify as being divine.”
This is the first in a series of columns on the Trinity.
Would it surprise you to know that six out of 10 U.S. adults say the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being? Or, more shocking, that 78 percent of Americans with “evangelical beliefs” agree with the statement that Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God the Father?
These views, part of Ligonier Ministries’ 2018 State of Theology survey of 3,000 Americans, expose the soft underbelly of evangelical Christianity in our country.
If Jesus is God’s first and greatest created being, then Arius, the fourth-century heretic, was right after all. On the other hand, if Jesus is the uncreated, eternal Son of God, then the church has made little headway in promoting sound doctrine since the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople pushed back against Arianism.