Homosexuality vs. the Trinity #UMC

One of the common lines I hear from moderates and progressives alike is that the issue threatening to split our church (homosexuality) is not the same as a doctrinal one.  Who sleeps with whom is not an official doctrine of the church in the same way the Incarnation or the Trinity or Atonement are.

Drew McIntyre, one of the writers for Via Media Methodists and a panelist on this weekend’s discussion around the Dr. Ogletree “just resolution” case, stated in a comment to me on his most recent blog, 

First of all this isn’t something that is remotely a chief piece of doctrine – this isn’t of the same order as the Trinity or Incarnation, which are our ultimate non-negotiables (emphasis mine).

 

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I’d be happy to be proven wrong, but this seems to be a majority consensus among moderates and progressives.   What’s all the fuss about?  It’s not like we are talking about the Trinity!

I find this distinction between the doctrine of the Trinity (a non-negotiable) and the practice of homosexuality (apparently negotiable) fascinating and problematic.   Below are my three (fittingly) reasons  why and I encourage you to add your own or to defend your distinction in the comments below.

1. The doctrine of the Trinity has arguably less Scriptural support than the Scriptural condemnations of practicing same-sex sex.   How many times have we heard the argument, “Homosexuality is only mentioned x number of times, and never by Jesus, at least not directly”?   Well, I guess I must ask, how many times does the word “Trinity” appear in the Bible?  How many times did Jesus directly mention it?

Now, I believe Scripture provides an adequate witness to the truth of God’s Triune nature, even though Jesus did not say so clearly, and despite the fact that one of the two greatest commands Jesus quotes begins with, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Mark 12:29).

And yet, despite some ambiguity in Scripture we are so certain of our doctrinal belief in the Trinity based on the revelation from Scripture as a whole and our tradition as Christians that we can call it a “non-negotiable.”  Meanwhile, we hem and haw around homosexuality, of which there is clear condemnation and coherence throughout all of Scripture as well as within our tradition.  Why?

2.  I know some “Jesus-only” followers who are passionate about making disciples of Jesus Christ.  They are really wonderful people and it’s obvious they are gifted!  On what basis would you exclude these wonderful, Jesus-loving people from our ranks of ordinands when their only crime is that they disagree intellectually on a matter that does not affect their service to God or neighbor?

Does Scripture specifically say that it is a sin to not think of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit?   Is a Jesus-only believer committing sin by being unconvinced of scriptures revelation of God as Triune?   I’m not convinced they are committing sin. They may be mistaken (and I believe they are), but immoral?   Will they be kept out of the kingdom of God?   Rev. 22:15 states that those outside “are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”   If practicing homosexuality is sexual immorality (as I believe it is) then perhaps what we do with our bodies and with whom should be of much greater concern to us than whether or not someone loves Jesus only?

3.  Why should a doctrine which is confined in large part to the intellect (most congregants, even pastors, cannot articulate the doctrine of the Trinity in a way that makes much sense, nor describe how it affects their day to day living) take precedence over a belief which affects both mind and body (as all sex does)?    Why should our non-negotiables be relegated to only those things which we think about and not also include what we do with our bodies?   Didn’t Paul say we have been bought with a price, therefore, honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20)?

I believe that what we do with both our minds and our bodies matters.   It’s unclear to me why we would make one a non-negotiable while being willing to negotiate the other.   Scripture gives plenty of exhortations to flee from sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), to have nothing to do with those who practice it (1 Cor. 5) or approve of those who do (Rom.1:32) and yet is very silent about what to do with someone who doesn’t believe God is Triune.

I think both are important and both should be non-negotiable.   What do you think?

 

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43 thoughts on “Homosexuality vs. the Trinity #UMC

  1. This is an important topic of conversation. A fourth issue that I see here is that the doctrine of the Trinity is crucial precisely because it touches on salvation. All those ancient arguments about whether Jesus was God or not had to do with the power of Jesus to save us. We might never have gotten to the point of hammering out Trinitarian theology if it were not for all the heresies that were seen as imperiling salvation. Trinitatarian theology is inherently soteriological.

    Which is why questions about the law and holiness are also of crucial importance. Salvation is what ties them together in my mind.

    • I agree. Thanks John. Is it necessary to believe in the Trinity, however, to be saved? Could someone be a Jesus-only follower (believing Jesus was God, but in some modalistic sense perhaps), and still be saved?

      • I don’t think our salvation depends on understanding or being able to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity. I’m not familiar with the ins-and-outs of “Jesus only” theology, so I would not want to speculate on whether affirming that is contrary to the love of God and holiness of heart and life.

        I would not ordain a pastor who rejected or could not speak with some coherence about the Trinity — which you did not ask about.

      • I would not ordain such a person either. I think it’s important. It’s just very strange to me that some would happily ordain a practicing homosexual but vigorously object to ordaining someone who doesn’t understand the Trinity. It seems inconsistent and hypocritical to me. What am I missing?

    • The obsession seems to largely reside on the left, where the obsession is with ignoring God, his followers, and Jesus and accepting deviant sexual practices. Our society shoves sex in our faces every day, and some factions in our church want us to accept deviant sexual practices. But we are the obsessive ones for daring to step back and challenge whether or not it is healthy??????????? Please.

      • I agree, Richard. It does seem rather hypocritical. The burden of proof to change 2000+ years of teaching (which Evan and others think is important when it comes to the Trinity and other doctrines) rests on those wishing to make such sweeping changes.

  2. I know of some UMC clergy who, through their teaching and preaching, disseminate doctrines contrary to our established doctrinal standards (The EUB confession of faith, the articles of religion of the Methodist Church, Wesley’s notes on the NT and sermons – all of which vigorously defend the Trinitarianism), which, according to paragraph 2702, is grounds for charges. All I’m saying is I’d like to see this same level of engagement in those issues, which, I believe, are much more vital. Do I believe that people who deny the Trinity are outside the Kingdom of God? It’s not up to me to make that call. Neither is it for people who are homosexual. To put someone beyond the scope of God’s grace is to cease to be Wesleyan, and, in my perspective, Biblical.

    • Evan, I agree that both are important, and both ought to be defended vigorously – both holiness of body and mind. And while I don’t know for sure whether believing in “Jesus Only” puts someone outside the kingdom of God, scripture is quite clear that unrepentant sexual immorality does (and of course, no one is beyond God’s saving grace, nor His sanctifying power to transform us from the inside out).

      Why do you think defending the Trinity is more important than defending what God says we can and cannot do sexually?

  3. Chad, as far as the passage you quote from Revelation: the Greek word is πόρνοι (pornoi), which refers to male prostitutes, many of whom were enslaved. While we might disagree over the morality of same-sex attraction, I think we can both agree that, at the very least, a monogamous same-sex relationship and prostitution are different.

    And I defend the Trinity because, if we are going to defer to the traditions of the church as authoritative (which I believe we both do – correct me if I’m speaking wrongly on your behalf), then Trinitarianism is held by the church councils and fathers as a very clear, non-negotiable boundary of who is an and who is out of Christendom (the Arian controversy, for example). Historically, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity trumps same-sex sex in order of importance for the church catholic regarding the Kingdom of God.

    • Monogamous same-sex sex is still sexually immoral just as prostitution is sexually immoral or pornography use by any gender, or incest or polygamy, etc.

      I defend the Trinity as well, but fortunately (at least now) I don’t have to “defend” it. I have no doubt that Nicea would have defended Jesus’ teachings on what constitutes marriage if Arius had also advocated for full inclusion of homosexuals, and I believe they would have seen it as very important to do so. Today, we don’t have a battle regarding the Trinity (a non-negotiable) but one of sexuality, which I believe is also non-negotiable.

  4. “Monogamous same-sex sex is still sexually immoral just as prostitution is sexually immoral or pornography use by any gender, or incest or polygamy, etc.”

    And that’s a perfectly reasonable position to take. All my point was is this: if you are going to use Scripture that refers to sexual morality, know what the Greek says. 🙂

    • Evan, I don’t think pornoi is limited to just prostitution. In any event, Rev. 22:15 is only one of many passages which makes clear that what we do with our bodies matters a great deal to God. It could even be argued that what we do with our bodies is of even more importance to God than what doctrines we think in our minds. But I’m willing to say they are both of equal importance. After all, what we believe affects how we live. That being said, if it is the case that homosexuality is sexually immoral (as the church has taught from the beginning) then changing that belief will alter how many people use their bodies, and that could in turn have salvific consequences.

      I’m still unsure why you hold a doctrine which is largely confined to the mind as non-negotiable but hold sexual practices as negotiable.

      • “Evan, I don’t think pornoi is limited to just prostitution.”

        Well, that’s fine, but you are going against the most solid Greek scholarship available.

        ” It could even be argued that what we do with our bodies is of even more importance to God than what doctrines we think in our minds.”

        I think that would be an absolutely unarguable position, but, if you are willing to go in depth with that, I’m willing to hear you out.

        “I’m still unsure why you hold a doctrine which is largely confined to the mind as non-negotiable but hold sexual practices as negotiable.”

        I place greater weight on the Trinity because two millennia of church tradition have clearly done so. I am not willing to speculate what Nicea may or may not have done regarding sexuality, because speculation is useless.

      • “I place greater weight on the Trinity because two millennia of church tradition have clearly done so.”

        Two millenia of the church have also clearly seen same-sex sex as sin. Yet you are willing to dismiss that? The concept of Trinity was at least argued 1700+ years ago,presumably because it was arguable (and winnable!) But homosexuality? Pretty lock solid in step for all of Jewish and Christian history yet you are so convinced it is negotiable?

  5. Chad, my point is that it has never been on the level of Trinitarianism. You will not find the writings of the church fathers, of church law, of teaching from across the spectrum on sexuality that you find on Trinitarianism.

    At the risk of employing a tired, old argument, church tradition has also taught that women are inferior to men, that slaves should obey their masters, and that, in more recent history, whites are superior to any other races. But that has changed. Same-sex interaction – indeed ALL sexual interaction – in the ancient near east was understood and employed quite differently that we understand sexuality today. Sex acts had to do with power, with dominance, with enforcement of strict gender roles, and marital relationships were seen as an economic exchange. But we have (I hope, and thank God) moved past this understanding of sexuality.

    All of these arguments you have no doubt heard before, and I really don’t want to argue them with you. It’s pointless. I know what you believe on this issue, since you write at length about it nearly every day.

    • No one is forcing you to read, Evan, or comment.

      The fact that the Trinity has been contested in the past (and overturned, then reinstated, and continually contested throughout church history and today) would, by reason alone, render it suspicious. I believe it as an article of faith, and because I wish to be obedient and submissive to the teachings of the Church.

      Imagine how much easier women’s ordination would have gone over if in the 300’s there was a council to debate women’s full inclusion! But women being in ministry has been a LONG part of Christian history, even within Jesus’ day, and so we have been able to faithfully discern a way forward today, which I believe honors the biblical witness.

      But there has never been a need to debate homosexuality because it has been OBVIOUS to everyone for 2000+ years that it is sin. It’s only recently that this has been brought into question.

      Had this been brought up 1700 years ago I’m sure Augustine and Athanasius, et. al. would have written much about it, too. But people were too busy trying to say that God is one rather than 3, so that took front and center.

  6. I believe if there was an active, organized effort to change our church’s position on the Trinity there would be a plethora of writing on the Trinity – and I would happily join you in that, Evan. If I didn’t believe strongly that what God has said about homosexuality is as true for today as it was when it was written or that our church’s push to relax our sexual morals is a serious move in the wrong direction, doing far more harm than good, then I wouldn’t say a word.

  7. What we do with our bodies surely does matter, Chad. We are an incarnational faith.

    But the church early on made a distinction, viz. orthodoxy, between doctrine (what must be believed always and everywhere) and discipline (what may vary from place to place because of varying cultural or historical norms or forces).

    Let’s be clear, doctrine is not a head trip. The most widely used creeds of the church (Apostles and Nicene) both begin “I believe into” (Credo in plus accusative, or Pisteuo eis + accusative). This does not mean “I give intellectual assent to” or “I can explain” but rather “I entrust my whole life to…” Doctrine, as the church historically formulated, thus always involved bodies, too.

    I would not these same creeds say nothing about marriage. Or the role of women in the life of the Church. Or slavery. The Nicene Creed mentions the Bible once (“on the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures”), maybe twice, if you count “[The Holy Spirit] has spoken through the prophets.” But it does so to ratify other things relating to the nature of God, not human cultures– the resurrection of Christ in the first instance, the work of the Holy Spirit from before the time of Jesus in the other.

    Orthodoxy was quite generous in the early centuries of the faith to allow variances across the world in practices of marriage (including polygamy in some places), the role of women (deacons, widows, virgins, elders, perhaps even a bishop or two), and slavery (Muslims were abolishing slavery while Christians were still defending it in some places, but not all, into the 9th century).

    How could orthodox Christians– who nearly all confessed the Nicene Creed or some form of it after the late fourth century– disagree on these “bodily matters” yet still recognize in each other “one holy, catholic and apostolic church?” Quite simply because orthodoxy was understood to be about the doctrines, which also had bodily cognates to be sure, but not fundamentally about the disciplines.

    Chad, I don’t make this argument to support a case for inclusion, nor for continuing policies of exclusion.

    I make this argument simply to say it’s historically problematic to conflate doctrines and disciplines together under the label of “orthodoxy.” Orthodoxy is about making sure we’re staking our life on who the Triune God really is and what the core story of this God with us is. It’s a very strong center, Where varying approaches to discipline were able to make their case for a place in that core, they could be divergent yet the practitioners of them be recognized as orthodox.

    So for those who can honestly say they stake their lives on what our doctrinal standards call for, orthodoxy is not and should not be alleged to be a dividing line. It’s not.

    The issues where we have divided have typically had far more to do, in fact, with discipline, not doctrine. Differences over what holiness exactly entailed (or did not) were creating divisions among Methodists in the US a good two decades before the North/South division over slavery (and the power of bishops, I might add). These were not divisions over orthodoxy, though. Unless one “side” could actually make a claim the “other” had in some way actually denied the doctrines of the church (like, if one side were unitarian, or the other denied the resurrection), heterodoxy would have been an inappropriate claim to make.

    So– Chad, it’s not about orthodoxy.

    It’s about very different views of what constitutes appropriate boundaries for church discipline.

    • Taylor, thanks for your comment. I agree with you that doctrine is not a head trip, or at least shouldn’t be. However, I disagree with the distinction you are making between doctrine and discipline. I don’t see in scripture the sort of divide you (or better yet, the church) tends to make. Just the opposite, I see doctrine and discipline as being one and the same thing. All doctrine was for the purpose of a changed life – for the sanctification of the believer. Doctrine WAS discipline, and vice versa.

      Perhaps this is better left for another post altogether, but a few examples come to mind:

      Eph. 4:14 warns against being carried away by every wind of doctrine and from the context (both before and directly after) it seems clear that doctrine has to do with how one lives the Christian life. Yes, what you believe matters, but how one lived – the transformed life of holiness – was the goal.

      And what of 1 Timothy 1:10, which specifically names the practice of sexual immorality (and homosexuality!) as contrary to “sound doctrine”? “the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,”

      Or Titus 1:9 and 2:1, both teach that doctrine is important and that those who teach something contrary to it should be rebuked. The entire 2nd chapter is all about “sound doctrine” and ALL of it has to do with discipline: being self-controlled, pure, household codes/rules, living integral lives, etc, etc.

      For the sake of brevity I’ll stop here, but don’t you think an “orthodox” life should be a disciplined one? A person can believe the right things about the Trinity but they can still be cheating on their spouse. I would say such a person needs to be taught sound doctrine, which would include, “without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” Surely holiness includes how we use our bodies, how we order our loves under God’s rule rather than our appetites, and how we live as sexual beings, yes?

    • It’s funny you should mention that, Taylor. Scott Kisker points out in his book Mainline Or Methodist? that Methodists have never split over doctrine…only over discipline. (He is probably a little overly broad, given the existence of small sects like the Bible Methodist Church and Southern Methodist Church, but probably not by much.)

      I guess we’ll see whether that continues to hold true.

    • This is clearly revisionist and inaccurate. In Acts 15, the apostles debate and decide the doctrinal issue of obedience to the law as a prerequisite to salvation. They decide that gentiles do not need to be circumcised in order to be saved. They IMMEDIATELY make disciplinary application of this new doctrinal standard that is by no means “generous:” Acts15:20 “we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood.” This is the model established by the Apostles and CONTINUED at the ecumenical councils and in our Methodist tradition. Establish doctrine. Clarify application. There is another tradition – the one you are refering to, I believe – that was stamped out at the Council of Trent and which held to something similar to what you propose – strict conformity to doctrine, but generous liberty with discipline. It is called Antinomianism. Trent declared that position heresy.

  8. That’s fair enough, Chad. Even if we might disagree on this issue, I support the Book of Discipline because I submit to our church polity. And, I also will continue to pray for your ministry at MVUMC.

  9. IM nothing special in the body of Christ, and IM not big theologian, but I think God gives us all areas where we can bring more light than others. I think there are places that I can debate better than others because I have been there, or it has been a special time of study for me. I think it is perfectly fine that a person who has been in the clutches of sexual sin spends most of his or her time speaking on what they have learned about sexual sin. I think it is equally as important to have those people who are more sensitive to hearing and learning the truths of other areas. I think that is specifically why we need each other, and why God asks us to join together with other believers, so we can learn what He has taught us all. I think sometimes God wants us to listen to what HE is teaching through HIS vessel instead of expecting them to have all the answers to all the problems. You can only teach what you have learned. Not saying Chad doesn’t know or hasn’t learned the Trinity doctrine, but maybe that just isn’t the vessel God is choosing to use to get that doctrine taught. I appreciate knowing where you stand Chad, and I trust your walk, and what God is showing you to teach to us. I don’t rely totally on you to bring me the WHOLE gospel, but when it comes to THIS topic, you can bet I am going to listen to someone who has been there and dug his way out! 🙂 Thank you for sharing your wisdom on sexual sin with us.

    • Thanks Gina! And you ARE someone special in the body of Christ! I hope you’ll be at church Sunday for my sermon on Satan’s favorite lie: You’re Not Good Enough. 🙂 Love you!

  10. Back to our conversation. I think it is that most of those you are thinking about do not think it is a sin. So they see the two as categorically different. If we were talking about something that they clearly viewed as a sin then there would be a more consistent response to the two cases.

  11. Pingback: Homosexuality vs. the Trinity, or your heterodoxy is showing #UMC | Unsettled Christianity

  12. You ask “what do you think?” Here goes:

    1. It is a very good post that summarizes the conservative position well. Thank you.

    2. Language is being co-opted before our very eyes. “Orthodox” is now radioactive. Just ask Tim Tennent who has been taken to task this week by folks who don’t have his academic or ecclesiastical or leadership chops but write as if he is a simpleton.

    3. I imagine your adrenaline started flowing during the back & forth of the 24 comments (so far). It works that way with me when people push back against what I have written on the same subject. All your commenters are nice people. Yet the level of frustration I’m sure you felt writing and responding — and that I felt reading — just demonstrates that the dialog on this matter in the UMC is no longer productive. Minds are not changing and ground is not being surrendered.

    4. Because I believe #3 above to be true, that’s all I have to say.

    • Talbot, right on all 4 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to comment. And yes, I had to back away for a spell to catch my breath. Sometimes with 5 kids running around and feeling rushed I am afraid the tone of haste or frustration comes through stronger than I would like. In any event, I believe you are right about our entrenchment. “Deep listening”, which some of our bishops seem to think is the way forward, is not going to do anything but prolong the inevitable.

  13. There is one verse in the Old Testament that makes a direct prohibition of homosexuality in the context of a patriarchal social order in a command that presumes that only men have sexual agency and in a book that prohibits a lot of other things that we consider “old covenant” today. There is another verse in Romans in which Paul makes a passing reference to same-gendered intimacy in the context of talking about explicitly adulterous polyamorous behavior in the process of making an entirely different point. There are a couple of words with disputed meanings that are thrown around in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1. Anyone with exegetical integrity would hesitate to call this a slam-dunk case. If this were any other issue, you would recognize the legitimacy of a variety of possibilities of interpretation. The Bible says a whole lot more that explicitly prohibits the basic practices of capitalism, which is all waved away quickly as anachronisms, but yet it’s inconceivable that what Paul was talking about was a different phenomenon than monogamous same-gendered intimacy.

    What’s so hurtful to me is that you’re building your “holiness” on your lack of empathy for other people and the amens of those who share that lack of empathy. I care deeply about pursuing a holy life, and you’re making what I care about look ugly. That’s why I’m so pissed off at you. You have not written about ANY other topic on this blog which names itself “UMC Holiness.” That makes “holiness” into a code word and confirms the cynicism of non-believers that spouting off our opinions about other people’s behavior is all that Christianity is about. Did John Wesley get together with his covenant groups to discuss other peoples’ sexuality? Is that what sanctification is? To agree that gay people don’t really exist and should either pray away their gayness since Chad was able to pray away his porn or else be hermits for life?

    This isn’t what God delivered you from your sin to make you become. Jesus doesn’t just say, “Desire mercy.” He says, “I desire mercy NOT sacrifice.” When you give yourself credibility with talk about how you’re walking on the “narrow, hard path” of sacrifice, you’re illustrating exactly why Jesus said what he did. You twist up so many scriptures in so many of your posts just like that. I have tried so hard to find things I could affirm in what you were saying. It’s been a spiritual discipline that I gave myself.

    The middle road IS the narrow road. It is the road of having a little bit of interpretive humility and the charity to consider the possibility that your opponents may actually be seeking to live in faithful obedience to the Bible also, even though they have heard a different word from it than you have. It’s much more thrilling to be on the wide path of fighting epic battles and getting resounding alleluias from your echo chamber.

    It’s fine if you want to ignore and dismiss everything that I say. If you don’t consider my calling and my gifts to be worth anything along with the vast majority of our fellow class at Duke who disagree with you on this issue, that’s fine too. But if you want to have any influence with people who don’t already agree with you, then you will need to demonstrate that holiness means more to you than the right for you to get on a soapbox about gay people because God healed you from porn. Right now, you’re a one-note symphony. Are you interested in the many dimensions of holiness that don’t have to do with sex?

  14. You have severely underestimated the importance of the Trinity to our identity as Christians. In the absence of the Trinity our entire faith and all hope we might have of salvation breaks down. I do not say this to mean “our belief” in the Trinity saves us, but rather the fact that Trinity exists is why we are saved. By suggesting that the doctrine of the Trinity should not be held more essential than our traditions around marriage is paramount to saying that our belief in God at all should not be held more essential and therefore to have faith at all should not be held more essential. Surely you see the problems with this?

    • Phil,

      Thanks for your comment. If nothing else, this post has helped me bone up on my Trinitarian theology, which is always a good thing IMO!

      As I say in the post a few times, I believe in the Trinity and agree it is a non-negotiable. As for all hope in salvation being destroyed if we abandon it, I’m not sure I can agree. The United Pentecostal Church, for example, believe they are saved by Jesus alone (who is God) and believe we are in error with our Trinity talk. Modalism (the belief that God is one acting is three different “modes”) was condemned as heresy in the 3rd century, but is still very common in churches today.

      As I read Scripture there seems to be far more weight placed on living a life of holiness (practices regarding marriage, how we speak, how we use our money, what we do with our sex drive, how we love, etc), then on how we think in our head about the nature of God. Yes, the latter is very important, but Scripture seems full of admonition on how to live holy and pleasing to God. The will of God is our sanctification (1 Thess), and this includes a wholistic transformation, IMO.

      “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

      The above list does not include Modalists, or those who don’t affirm a Trinitarian God. Again, I’m not saying the Trinity shouldn’t be non-negotiable of our faith, but so too should be how we use our bodies. Both are vitally important to God, it would seem.

      • It probably doesn’t include modalists because the heresy wouldn’t be named for another two hundred years, but neither here nor there. I think you’ve misunderstood my point. I’m not saying belief has to always trump discipline when it comes to salvation. I would not be quick to suggest the opposite either. Pelagianism and Antinomianism are two sides of the same heretical coin. What I’m saying is that salvation itself would not work in the absence of the Trinity, whether we believe it or not. You’re comparing apples to oranges. Or to put more accurately, your comparing sun to sunscreen, suggesting both are equally important while overlooking the obvious fact that in the absence of the sun, there would be no sunscreen. By the same token the Trinity as a doctrine validates the need for the spiritual disciplines.
        Here’s why I believe the Trinity is only valid Christian understanding of God. All Christian theology is soteriological in nature, meaning that it comes out of an acknowledgment of our need for a savior. We also acknowledge that salvation must come from God and not lie in ourselves. So we start with the idea that salvation comes from God and not from man or any part of creation. With this we are told in Paul’s Letters and John that salvation is irrevocably tied to the person of Jesus Christ.

        “No one can come to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

        “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” Romans 5:1

        How can our salvation come both from God and a mortal man? How can the merits of Christ help us? If Christ were as the Arians believed merely a created being entrusted by God to bring salvation to man, then it would teach us that salvation lay in creation itself and that man did not need God to obtain it. Therefore we must hold that Jesus was both man and god, standing in for us on the cross and saving us from sin and death. The Gospels themselves teach this truth by declaring Jesus to be the eternal Logos and by declaring that he and the Father are one.

        This is surely the conclusion that the so-called Binitarian groups have reached. They assume they can affirm the Father and the Son as one, while relegating the Holy Spirit to a lesser status. This is, however, on closer examination no better than the religion of the Arians. Like Christ the Holy Spirit is directly tied to our salvation in scripture. We must be baptized not only in water, but with the Holy Spirit to enter the kingdom. Baptism through the fire of the Holy Spirit is referred to interchangeably with being justified by the blood of Christ as necessary to salvation. We need both the blood of Jesus and the baptism of the Holy Spirit for salvation? Are these contradictions in scripture? Surely not. Why would Jesus tell his followers to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Should a name of a lesser being than the Almighty be used to seal a baptism? How can the Spirit be absolutely necessary to one’s salvation and not be of the same as the Father and the Son? Why would blasphemy of the Holy Spirit be treated as most severe and unforgivable above all others if the Spirit itself were but a created being? To consider the Holy Spirit a lesser being than God would mean relying upon another being than God for salvation. You see, there is more scripture establishing the Trinity than condemning homosexual behavior.

        I am familiar with the Modalist controversies of the 3rd Century Church. I would consider this a lesser heresy to the Arians and the Binitarians, but it is still a heresy. Trinitarian theology is tight-rope walk. On one extreme lies modalism and on the other polytheism. We must acknowledge only one God, while acknowledging that that God exists in the persons of the Father whom Jesus and his people prayed to, the Son who died for our sins, and the Spirit who gave life to the church. We must acknowledge that in scripture Jesus prays to the Father and the Spirit descends upon him in baptism. We must remember that our proper relationship to God is manifested in the person of Jesus. If Jesus were not distinct from the Father than he would not be in relationship to him and therefore one of Jesus’ most basic missions to demonstrate proper obedience would not be possible. Beyond this a Son not distinct from the Father cannot be separated from the Father, making his sacrifice on the Cross and final cry out to heaven meaningless. The Son had to be temporarily forsaken in order to save the forsaken. This is an essential truth modalists failed to grasp: That Jesus had to both be paradoxically united with the Father and separated from him in order to save humanity, just as he must be paradoxically human and divine. Finally modalism (at least in certain forms) has treated the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as existing separately in time with the Father existing before the Incarnation, the Son during the Incarnation, and the Holy Spirit after the Ascension. This is contradicted in scripture where John makes it clear that the Son is co-eternal with the Father as the Logos. In the end modalism fails the same basic test of accounting salvation that Arianism does.

        Without the Trinity there can be no grace. Without grace the laws serve no purpose. Therefore the Trinity is more important than any law or letter of scripture concerning marriage, because as Christians we would have reason to follow those laws in the absence of the Trinity except as perhaps vain and misguided attempts at earning God’s favor by own merits. This is the reason why as Methodists we acknowledge the orders and sacraments of every denomination, except for those that are not Trinitarian.

        You talk a lot about how some Christians discount the importance of spiritual disciplines and you are correct. However, I must caution one to consider the words of Karl Barth. While affirm that proper laws and discipline were an essential part of Christianity, Barth also saw them as potential idols we might put in the place of God, expecting our obedience to them to take the place of our need for God. Without the Trinity, we would lose our connection to the God of the Trinity and therefore the essence of Christianity itself. Even the most otherwise depraved individual can through the Trinity be connected to God. That is the essence of Christianity.
        I find your method of determine the importance of certain doctrines or practices based upon the number of and clarity of references in scripture disturbing. There are perhaps more verses in scripture explaining with more clarity the proper way to sacrifice an animal than there are instructing Jews and Christians not to murder. Yet we would not declare such verses more important than those concerning murder. There might be more instances of God telling the Jews to slaughter all the Canaanites, Moabites, Amalekites, etc. than there Jesus telling his followers to turn the other cheek. Yet we don’t elevate these verses condoning violence over those condemning it. Even Martin Luther, the author of the doctrine of sola scriptura did not believe all scripture should be read in the same manner or hold the same status.

        I want you to know I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this. It’s not every day a Christian gets to engage in the old school debates of the Ancient Church and directly draw from the greats like Athanasius.

      • Phil, thank you for helping us all see more clearly some of the features and important aspects of Trinitarian theology. As I stated before, but perhaps not clearly enough, I am fully onboard and find it a non-negotiable, too, as well as highly important for life, both as a church and as a Christian.

        One point of clarification, however. You wrote, “I find your method of determine the importance of certain doctrines or practices based upon the number of and clarity of references in scripture disturbing.”

        I wasn’t speaking of me, but of progressives who insist that homosexuality is “only” mentioned so many times in Scripture, as though God must say it X number of times before we heed it. My point was simply that there are more references to homosexuality explicitly being sin while no mention of the word “Trinity” in the bible, yet we make the former negotiable and the latter non-negotiable. I think that’s a mistake.

  15. Many who support same-sex marriage and gay rights argue that, since Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, He did not consider it to be sinful. After all, the argument goes, if homosexuality is bad, why did Jesus treat it as a non-issue? Rather than focusing on what He did not say, I believe we are served on this issue with what He did say about sexuality.

    So, yes…..It is technically true that Jesus did not specifically address homosexuality in the Gospel accounts…… however, He did speak clearly about sexuality in general. Concerning marriage, Jesus stated, “At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:4–6). Here Jesus clearly referred to Adam and Eve and affirmed God’s intended design for marriage and sexuality.

    For those who follow Jesus, sexual practices are limited. Rather than take a permissive view of sexual immorality and divorce, Jesus affirmed that people are either to be single and celibate or married and faithful to one spouse of the opposite gender. Clearly, Jesus considered any other expression of sexuality sinful. This would include same-sex activity.

    Also, are we to believe that any and every action is good unless Jesus specifically forbade it? The goal of the Gospels was not to give us a comprehensive list of sinful activities, and there are many obvious sins that are not found in the “red letter” section of the Bible. Kidnapping, for example. Jesus never specifically said that kidnapping was a sin, yet we know that stealing children is wrong. The point is that Jesus did not need to itemize sin, especially when the further revelation contained in the Epistles removes all doubt as to homosexuality’s sinfulness.

    Scripture is clear that believers are to have nothing to do with sexual immorality….. “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Sexual immorality, whether same-sex activity or otherwise, is a sin against a person’s own body.

    I realize that it is important to note that sexual immorality, including same-sex activity, is listed alongside other sins in Scripture, indicating that God does not rank one sin as worse than another. While the consequences of some sins are greater than others, Scripture often simply lists sins side by side. For example, Jesus said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19–20 …..check out Romans 1:24–31 also.

    The Bible teaches that followers of Jesus are to practice sexual purity, and that includes abstaining from same-sex activity. In addition, unbelievers who practice homosexuality stand in need of salvation just like any other unbeliever. Christians are called to pray for those who do not know Christ, to serve others in love, and to share the message of Jesus with all people, including those involved in homosexuality…..which I am certain in the midst of this “debate” some forget.

    In short……Its not negotiable.

  16. A couple of thoughts:

    1. Many moderates and progressives are being disingenuous (probably unwittingly) when they make a distinction between the Trinity as non-negotiable and homosexuality as negotiable. In reality, since most do not believe in the Trinity in an orthodox sense, though they say the opposite, this too falls in the category of negotiable. Since they usually believe in the “divinity” of Jesus only by redefining the meaning of the term, not in the sense that Jesus is God the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and often do not believe in a physical resurrection, the liberal / progressive concept of the Trinity becomes quite different from the orthodox concept of the Trinity. Saying that traditionalists, liberals, and progressives all agree that the Trinity is a non-negotiable is essentially a non sequitur; what would it even mean since we don’t share a common understanding of Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit?

    2. John Wesley discusses various parts of your points in the sermon, On the Trinity. http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-55-On-the-Trinity
    (Caveat: This is one of Wesley’s less cohesive sermons.) His final paragraph discussing belief in the Trinity summarizes much of what you’ve written in the post and the comments:

    ‘Not that every Christian believer adverts to this; perhaps, at first, not one in twenty: But if you ask any of them a few questions, you will easily find it is implied in what he believes. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible for any to have vital religion who denies that these Three are one. And all my hope for them is, not that they will he saved during their unbelief, (unless on the footing of honest Heathens, upon the plea of invincible ignorance,) but that God, before they go hence, “will bring them to the knowledge of the truth.”‘

    Also, many thanks to both you and Cliff for all the edifying articles you guys are posting. I have personally been both incredibly blessed as well as sorely convicted by what you’ve written. May God continue to bless your ministries and your families!

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