This is a fact of history, often obscured, unfortunately, by apologists.
28th November 2017 by KERMIT ZARLEY
Nearly all Christians are Trinitarians because that is what their churches teach them. It was the same with me. What is the doctrine of the Trinity? It means God is one essence existing as (not in) three co-equal and co-eternal persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The initial reaction of most Christians when hearing this definition is, “well, yeah, there is the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. That’s all in the Bible.” Yes, but does the Bible teach that each is a person and equally God?
I was a Trinitarian Christian for twenty-two years. Then I questioned it, did extremely in-depth research, and changed to believing the Bible only says there is one God, who is the Father, so that Jesus is Lord and Savior, but not God. After 28 years of research and writing, I published a book on it entitled The Restitution of Jesus Christ (2008).
While I was researching this subject, I was surprised to learn that the doctrine of the Trinity that we Christians know about did not come into existence until the late fourth century. That is significant information. Why? I had always been told that if you didn’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, and thus that Jesus is God, you were not a Christian. That is what almost all churches have taught for hundreds of years. But did the churches of the first, second, and third centuries teach that? No!
Then, what about all of those Christians in those early centuries who had never heard of the doctrine of the Trinity? Were they not Christians because they did not believe in it? If so, that doesn’t seem quite fair, now, does it?
Not only that, the Catholic Church held its first so-called First Ecumenical Council in 325 at Nicaea. There, the 300+ bishops in attendance produced the Nicene Creed. It says Jesus is “very God of very God.” Then the last third of this creed pronounces multiple anathemas (condemnation to hell) upon all people who do not believe Jesus is very God of very God. They meant Jesus is just as much God as the Father is God. But amazingly, this creed says nothing about all the Christians who lived in the three prior centuries who were never taught that Jesus is just as much God as the Father is God. Were they, then, not Christians?
Christian teachers in the second and third centuries who wrote extant writings on theology are called “ante-Nicene church fathers.” They also are and were called “apologists.” This means they publicly defended the Christian Faith. All of those apologists believed God the Father was supremely God and that Jesus also was God but that his divinity or deity was of a lesser sort than that of God the Father. In theology, this is called “essential subordination.” That is, Jesus was subordinate to the Father regarding their essence, their very beings. I call this teaching “big God, little God.” In my intense investigation, I came to believe that neither it nor the doctrine of the Trinity are biblical teachings. But what about the Holy Spirit?
Until the late 4th century, the Catholic Church had not made any determination about the nature of the Holy Spirit, much less whether God is triune. During the 3rd century, church father Tertullian had put forth legal language, which included “trinity” (L. trinitas), and the Church later used it to forge its doctrine of the nature of God and Jesus’ identity. But this former lawyer was no Trinitarian by modern standards.
Minutes were not taken at the Nicene Council. Some historians claim that this was purposeful. Regardless, there is no evidence in patristic writings that the Nicene Council ever discussed the nature of the Holy Spirit or that whether or not God is three persons. Neither is there any such mention in the Nicene Creed. Like the Apostles’ Creed, it only says, “We believe … in the Holy Spirit.”
The chief purpose for which the Nicene Council was convened was to settle a dispute that had arisen between Bishop Alexander, of Alexandria, Egypt, and Arius, a presbyter in Alexander’s holy see. Both men claimed to believe that Jesus was God. Their dispute was about whether Jesus preexisted eternally as the Logo-Son (Alexander) or that God the Father created the Logos-Son prior to creation (Arius), in which case Jesus did not preexist eternally. So, this dispute was about whether (1) Jesus was just as much God as the Father was (Alexander) or (2) Jesus’ status as God was less than the Father’s.
Thus, church historian J.N.D. Kelly observes that at the time of the Nicene Council, “the Holy Spirit … had not yet become the subject of disputes.” Indeed, I say in my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ (p. 50), “Interestingly, the Nicene Creed portrays only a Binitarian faith. The subject of the Holy Spirit was not even discussed by the Council. Throughout the 2nd and 3rd centuries, there existed no consensus of opinion among church fathers on the nature of the Holy Spirit. Some thought the Holy Spirit (Spirit of God) was merely an impersonal power or attribute of God. Others ascribed personality to the Holy Spirit. A few refused to speculate about the matter, refusing to go beyond the express declarations of Scripture. P. Schaff explains, ‘the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was far less developed, and until the middle of the fourth century was never a subject of special controversy.’ At the time of the Nicene Council, the Church clearly had not developed what later became the doctrine of the Trinity.”