On the Doctrine of the Trinity - by Paul Stringini - August 24, 2012

I hope I can adequately communicate, in this article, my true feelings on this subject, because they are complex and I have something to say about the Trinity.  Part of understanding my perspective on the Trinity required you to understand a bit about me and my history. I do not come from the Trinitarian tradition, sure, when I was a kid, I heard the word a few times, but the term meant very little to me. As an adult, seriously searching for God, the term Trinity has been alien to me, most of what I heard was conflicting and negative, and it is not a biblical term. So I did not make a study of the Trinitarian doctrine.  And, even now, I am not a researcher, I have not read all kinds of historical documents dealing with the Trinity and the Council of Nicaea, I read the Wikipedia articles (linked). And when I judge this doctrine, I have the word and my experiences as a guide.  I am a bible teacher, I use the gifts God has given me, I stick with the original source material and try to be as conscientious as possible about the way I handle my duties. Since about 1998 I have not paid much attention to what other Christian teachers are saying, or have said in history.

In my studies of the bible, as I have learned the doctrine taught by the bible, I have not made a practice of consulting extra-biblical sources. I do not generally consult outside sources except when questions from emails about certain subjects (like the Trinity) require such consultation or when outside sources are directly presented to me for an opinion.  The Trinitarian doctrine can only be properly learned by consulting traditional historical sources (or the Wikipedia article, that will do nicely).  You can't just take the word "Trinity," open the bible, and find out what it means. Of course, the Trinitarian doctrine is derived from the bible, and references itself to the bible, but what I'm saying is that Trinitarianism is something that came out of history, like Lutheranism, or Calvinism.  So the Trinity cannot merely be whatever we fancy it to be.  The Trinity has its foundations in history so its meaning is fixed in history.  We cannot learn about the Trinity by opening our bible and labeling the truth we discover, "the Trinity."

As a young adult, I was involved with a non-Trinitarian/Psuedo-Trinitarian cult (The Shepherd's Chapel), which basically denies the historical doctrine of the Trinity out of one side of their mouth, and and from the other side pays lip service to the word, "Trinity,"  infusing it with their own customized meaning.  When I came out of that cult, I did so by the hand of God through the words of the scriptures, which led me away from the false teachings of that ministry, there were no Trinitarians with me to reprogram me to see Christianity through their perspective and terminology.  I went out, and I consulted with the bible, because the bible is what led me out.

What I want to convey here,  is my opinion on the matter of the Historical Trinity doctrine, and hopefully make peace with anyone who believes in the words of the scriptures, but through affection for the term, "Trinity," may be concerned about some of my past statements regarding the doctrine of the Trinity.

When I first began speaking out against the ministry of Arnold Murray and the Shepherd's Chapel, I made some related statements about the Trinity on the page which detailed my opposition to that ministry. 

In that writing, I had said, "Trinitarianism is one of the cornerstones of the Apostate Church (Orthodoxy)." and  "Arnold Murray doesn't believe in the Trinity any more than I do;"

To say the least, I have gotten some negative feedback for that statement.  The reason given for my objection was related broadly on that page (linked above), but I'm not going to go over that here. In fact, I am dropping the objections I made.  Those objections were not made with thoughtful consideration, I objected to the Trinity, but I was not entirely sure why.  When I wrote that page,  I was mainly interested in beginning my work against the ministry of the Shepherd's Chapel and provoking a response from people faithful to that ministry.  So I just made objections based on what seemed plausible to me at that time.  After all, I didn't really know anything about the Trinity.  "God in three persons" is not terminology I had read in the bible, so  it was easy to say "that's not biblical."  I did not know what the terms mean to Trinitarians. So that objection does not adequately explain my current position in regard to the Trinitarian doctrine.

Subsequent to my making those statements, in the same document, I also said, "Anyway, there are lots of good reasons to reject the Trinity.  I'll just say that I like to describe God and the Son of God using only the scriptures. That is good enough for me and for anyone."

I soon realized that I had better put together that description of God and the Son of God, using only the scriptures, which I had boasted of, so that people could see exactly what I was talking about. It was time to put up, or shut up. So I put together my article "On Jesus Christ and the Nature of God" of which this subsequent article is written in reference to.  

After writing that article, I asked several devout Trinitarians read it over, and they told me that it was essentially in agreement with the substance of the Trinitarian position, using different, more conservative terminology, and they affirmed that there was nothing heretical about my beliefs about the facts of the nature of God and the relationship between the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The only caveat was that one person suggested that I did not go far enough.  But I was satisfied with my writing.

I do not think my work was the end of the subject, by any means. I was not trying to exhaust the subject and make my work "the final word" on the subject. I have merely showed that the Trinitarians were bolder than I am.  And I'm not ashamed of that, nor do I judge them, but I prefer to be more cautious. The Trinitarians got where they are because they were dealing with large groups of believers and diverse opinions and they were trying to authoritatively answer for their flocks certain questions that people had about the nature of God which are not easily answered from direct reference to one or two scriptures.  If they were easily answered, there would not have been any councils. Heresies were arising which sought authority and the opposition wanted to stomp them out permanently by making authoritative statements of their own.

In my experience with the Shepherd's Chapel, I have seen what an over-reaching attitude towards forming doctrine can generate. I prefer  to resist coining new terminology to describe biblical ideas, at least to the best of my ability.  In my opinion, when they say, "God is three separate persons," they have added a layer of explanation to their doctrine.  It has to be explained what exactly a "person" is, because, I may think God is a person, and that three persons means three Gods (many do think this). Now, I know that is not what Trinitarians mean by the term "persons,"  but unless this is explained to people, confusion can result. I think this is what makes the doctrine undesirable to me, it is intended to please those who already believe, without considering how it effects new believers who are only looking at the bible and trying to make sense of this inside terminology.

In my doctrine I can say, "there is a distinction between the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit, and there is also a lack of distinction,"  and then I can show the various scriptures. You could even call it a "distinction of person, or lack thereof,"  but I resist over-reaching. My way of approaching the subject makes it much easier to contend with heretics.  "Are you saying there is absolutely no distinction between the Father and the Son? Then why do they Call them Father and son?"  or for the other side,  "Are you saying the Son of God is not to be worshipped?  Then why did God command all the angels to worship him?(Hebrews)" My view does not require extra layers of explanation to clarify the terminology.   I don't like the terminology, I think it is overreaching, and I think I'm entitled to that objection. 

Special labels are matter of convenience for religious institutions and their leadership.  When they chose to use a word like "Trinity,"  it is like they decided that they don't have to explain God anymore, they just tell people that the elders have decided that God is a Trinity, and that this decision is to be accepted all argument to the contrary is instantly dismissed.  And anyone who opposes the term "Trinity,"  is labeled as opposing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The most memorable thing about the Trinity, for me, is the line from the old song, "God in three persons, blessed Trinity."  What else do you need to know? It is too convenient.

The very idea of a special word, specially coined, (by special people) to describe the nature of the Christian God, beyond that which was written by the Apostles whom Christ appointed, is not as bad as the idea that, sixteen centuries later, I must accept this special word and pay homage to its "greatness," on pain of being labeled an heretic by those who label themselves orthodox.  With many people, if I reject the coined term "Trinity," and reject the authority of the Council of Nicaea, or the Council of  Constantinople, (and I do this purely on principle),  I will be instantly brought under suspicion of heresy without reference to what I have actually taught about the nature of God and Christ.  By this doctrine they have tied their authority to the very nature of God and thus have made it an heresy to reject their authority.

What was once a collection of ideas contained in the scriptures, becomes a symbol of obedience to earthly religious power structures and authorities, that is what the Trinity represents to me.  I do not come from a Trinitarian tradition, I have heard the word "Trinity," but I was initially taught doctrine through a modern heretical cult (the Shepherd's Chapel), not one of the ancient cults or more traditional cults such as Roman Catholicism or it's offspring, the Protestants.   I have never been a believing Protestant or Catholic, and I don't want to become one.  (I did attend Catholic church very early in life, stopping soon after first communion, of which I remember nothing but the fact that I picked up an habit of blinking which, at the time, I believed convincingly feigned interest in what the communion teacher was saying.) Their history does not generate the doctrine that I believe about Christ, certainly not directly. My doctrine was derived by instantaneous revelation subsequent to an experience which I perceived to be supernatural, and as a result, I am not interested allying myself with their coined terms such as the Trinity or other historical doctrines which require study beyond the scriptures. 

The Apostles did not give us the term "Trinity," and they did not sanction the council which coined it,  I live in the 21st century, and I have the right to question actions which I believe do not follow proper Christian doctrine.  There is so much history between the Apostles and those alive today, that I prefer to avoid the middle men.  It is no wonder that the printing press sparked so many wars and revolutions in the Christian world.  Earthly power structures are corrupting and suppressing influences.  When there is a seat to fill, power to be wielded, wicked men eventually move in, take over, find ways to protect their status and pass on their authority to likeminded men. 

The Trinity is a prime example of leaven. 

Matthew 16:12 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

Corruption in doctrine is also referred to as "leaven"  which is the old word for, "yeast."  What does yeast add to bread?  It puffs it up, makes it look bigger, but adds nothing nourishing or substantive to it, it does make the bread more palatable and appealing to humans though, and, boy, that is a perfect analogy. This can be in a large or small sense, but, "a little leaven leavens the whole."  The leaven of the Trinity doctrine is not that the basic ideas behind the doctrine itself are harmful, but the need to establish extra-biblical authority over doctrine is extremely harmful.

Corrupt doctrine is that which does not add to our faith in a way that is truly beneficial or edifying.   That can be difficult to measure, since most people equate edification with "good feelings."  That which truly edifies is leading you to salvation and towards conformity with Christ.  It feels good to be a Trinitarian and to be in agreement with a majority of other believers, it feels good to be approved.  Even when I started writing this I had this feeling where I saw how nice it would be to be approved by so many people.

The nature of God is an important point of Doctrine and we have to be clear about who and what Christ is, if we are to genuinely place our faith in him.  But the Trinity doctrine is an example of what men do with doctrine to corrupt it.  They add their leaven.  The council of Nicaea is not much different than the council that condemned Christ.  It is in such councils that leaven is most likely to arise.  It is in such councils that the need to please men is most active. To compromise,  appease, and bargain.  I don't trust such councils, even if they do no evil.

("But Paul, What about the council of Jerusalem? Are you condemning that council as well?" (Acts 15) No, I'm not condemning any councils at all, but Acts 15 is a prime example of how such gatherings are fraught with peril and faction, and you don't always have the Apostle Peter there to straighten things out. Also the issues supposedly settled by that council are some of the most confusing issues in the New Testament (i.e. the question eating of thing sacrificed unto idols, or eating blood, or things strangled), the council of Jerusalem arose from the need to answer man's questions and strife, and it is not clear that it entirely worked (or needed to work, except to satisfy men)

"So you don't believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit?"  That is a question I get pointlessly and ignorantly hammered with.  The Trinity doctrine is not merely the fact of the existence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The Trinity is a specific explanation if the relationship and nature of God in those three persons. Trinity is an historical doctrine, that means that it has a specific meaning and description which cannot be legitimately tampered with.   I certainly believe in the father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; read my article "On Jesus Christ and the Nature of God" and see.

I object tot he Trinity on principle rather than on substance.  I object to the idea that the Trinity is the one and only true and completely sufficient encapsulation of the nature of the Christian God into a single idea which all true Christians ought to accept.   I believe that I can be a true Christian without reference to the historical doctrine of the Trinity. The fact that I can arrive at the proper view of God merely by accepting the scriptural description of the relationship between, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, without recourse to historical authorities, is testimony to me that the writings of the Apostles are sufficient without reference to authorized councils and earthly authorities to instruct the believer on this subject.

One additional, negative facet of the problem of the Trinitarian doctrine is one I alluded to earlier, the fact that half the people that give me negative feedback over my statements regarding the Trinity have no idea what the historical doctrine of the Trinity really is.  These people express decidedly non-Trinitarian ideas about God, yet seem to have formed a deep allegiance with the word "Trinity," and having no actual attachment to the facts of what the Trinity doctrine actually teaches, these people are very negative ambassadors for the Trinity.   They seem to harbor the misapprehension the the Trinity is just another name for God.  That the Trinity is whatever they believe God is, so they will say things like, "The Trinity is like water, it can be a solid, a liquid, or a gas." But as any well instructed Trinitarian  knows, the water analogy is a modalist conception (saying that the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is defined by God taking on different roles or modes), and this is neither Trinitarian nor biblical, (not that God cannot take on roles or modes, but the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is not explained by God playing roles or changing modes).  To many, the practical use of the word "trinity," has become like "kleenex," because it seems neither word deserves a capital letter anymore, because neither refers to the name brand more often than not.

From my perspective, the trinity is like the rapture, it is something other people talk about, a lot, and it is a coined term and a source of confusion and strife.  It comes preloaded with all kinds of history and emotion, but as someone who comes from a cult and has had his fill of "coined terms" and professional religionists, I'm not anxious to add such things to my doctrine, they smell of leaven, and leaven stinks.

Paul Stringini
August 24, 2012 (edited December 12, 2012)