Editor’s introduction: In a previous blog, “Storms in the Adventist Church“, we made reference to a number of contested theological topics in the Seventh-day Adventist church that sometimes impact on congregations or individual members. The issues often result in confusion and discord. From time to time members choose to leave the church as a result. We would like to explore this situation further. Our purpose is not to promote a particular cause or to engage in traditional apologetics for the Church. We believe the act of careful listening and trying to understand positions that we don’t necessarily agree with can open dialogue that is enriching for those who are on a journey of discovery. If the process of listening and conversation is conducted sensitively and honestly, it will almost always be an enriching exercise for all who engage in it, even if agreement is not reached. It is in this spirit that we publish Dr. Martin Bredenkamp’s article, even though we do not endorse or agree with his conclusions. Martin Bredenkamp grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist church and worked in its education system, but he has resigned his membership because he feels he can no longer believe in some of the key doctrines of the Church, one of these being the doctrine of the Trinity. We asked him to explain his thinking around this issue. Our questions to our readers are: What do you think of Martin’s general argument? Does he raise issues that require further investigation? Is there room for development in one’s thinking about the Trinity. Please share your insights.
Disclaimer: “The Adventist Soapbox” does not necessarily agree with or subscribe to all the views of our various contributors.
I have heard a sermon where the pastor used the following analogy to try and explain the concept of the Trinity and and their respective roles in the plan of salvation. He stated: “The Trinity is like three people planning a picnic. One said he would bring the food and vegetables, Another volunteered to bring the drinks, and the Last quite willingly agreed to bring the dessert. Likewise the three Gods (that are one) volunteered for their respective roles in the plan of salvation. Christ offered to become human and be the sacrifice to pay for the guilt of man. The Holy Spirit volunteered to be the omnipresent influence among humans to woo their hearts to salvation. The third, the Father, would stay in heaven and take charge of the plan, and orchestrate the activities of the the Trinity,.” This is obviously an extreme oversimplification of the concept, but it does contain the basic ideas that most Trinitarians believe in. I, however, could never agree with, this understanding of God. For me the New Testament is very clear that Christ is subordinate to the Father. Since childhood, I have accepted that God is in charge, Christ is subordinate to Him, and that the Holy Spirit is subordinate to both of them. Then, some years back, my wife was concerned about the Trinity doctrine, and I explained my understanding of it. She was not satisfied with my view, and the two of us embarked on a deep study of the Trinity. We came to the conclusion that the Trinity-concept is not Biblical. In fact the word does not even occur in the Bible. We shared our conclusions with staff and faculty at the Asia-Pacific International University (AIU) where we were employed, and the inevitable happened: We were asked by the church elders to step down from our positions in the church. One of the theologians on campus then provided us with a book written by three Adventist scholars on “The Trinity.” We soon realized that the doctrine is built on a mere 28 texts in the Bible that could be misconstrued to support a godhead of three equal beings, compared to over three hundred texts that indicate that Christ is separate from, and inferior to the Father. A closer look at these 28 texts revealed that these scholars had “cherry picked” translations to suit their dogma for these texts. The original Greek often meant something else. Sometimes it was a missing comma that conveyed the wrong ideas. Two texts had been inserted into the Bible by people promoting the false doctrine of the Trinity:
- Matt 28:19 by Athanasius in the fourth century that states we should baptise in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and
- the ‘Johannine Comma’, 1 John 5:7,8, in the 9th century, that states there are three witnesses in heaven.
The fact that these texts were inserted into the Bible is all the more reason to suspect the doctrine on the Trinity.
Christ the Son
As we were studying through the New Testament, we found that calling Christ the Son, is not just an analogy to have us relate to the connection between the Father and Son, but should be interpreted in a more literal manner. The King James Version says that Christ comes from the bosom of the Father (John 1:18). A study of the meaning of this takes us to the practice of women in the time of Christ who wore a sheet across their shoulders, tying a belt around their wastes. The sheet would make a fold above the waist, and in this fold lactating women often carried their babies, allowing them to suckle unhindered. These babies were in their mother’s bosom. Likewise Christ came from the bosom of the Father. This strongly implies that Christ is the literal son of God. Hebrews chapter 1, quoting Psalms 2, indicates that Christ was an angel that pleased the Father so much, that on a “day,” he made Him His Son. He chose Him from among His companions, the angels. The Father calls Him God at this point. This is one of the few places in the Bible where Christ is called God. Christ was not eager to accept obeisance as God, and discouraged it sometimes such as when the rich young ruler called Him “Good Master.” His reply to that was that there is no one good but the Father. The concept of being chosen from among the angels finds support at an unexpected place: Lev 16. This chapter defines the rituals on the Day of Atonement. Two goats were brought on that day, and lots were cast on them. One became the sacrificial goat, the other the scapegoat, representing Christ and Satan respectively.
The Holy Spirit
Through the years many scholars have found it difficult to determine whether the Holy Spirit is a being or the heart of God among us in His absence. Isaac Newton, for instance, studied this concept throughout his life, and never came to a final conclusion. The Holy Spirit is argued to be a third member of the Godhead. Arguments such as Him having a personality since we must not grieve Him (Ephesians 4:30) have been put on the table. Yet it is indicated that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father, and the Spirit of Christ. For example, in John 14:18, Christ says, He will not leave them comfortless, but will come to them. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is therefore Christ coming to them. The Holy Spirit is actually the Spirit of the Father through Christ.
History of the doctrine of the Trinity
What does history teach us? Eusebius (AD 260 – 340), the theological historian was not a Trinitarian but a Binitarian (Father and Son only). It is clear from his writings that the Trinity was not an accepted church doctrine before his time. Athanasius, mentioned earlier, strongly promoted the concept of three gods in heaven and largely through his influence the Trinity was accepted as doctrine at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381 (http://www.quodlibet.net/articles/perry-athanasius.shtml). The doctrine of the Trinity was one of the changes brought about to unify pagans and Christians in Rome, together with Sunday worship, Easter and Christmas. The pagans believed in three gods: Baal (father), Ashtoreth (mother) and Tammuz (child) (https://biblespace.org/2013/09/30/baal-astarte-tammuz/). In the places of these three heathen gods came the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son. Thus three gods in heathenism became three in one gods in Christianity – the Trinity. When Adventism came into being, many of our pioneers recognised the heathen origins, and the lack of support for the Doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible, and did not believe in it. However, in the 1930’s, long after the pioneers had passed away, LeRoy Edwin Froom, a well known Adventist scholar, developed an interest in the Trinity doctrine in the SDA church. He did much research and wrote the four volume set, “Prophetic Faith of our Fathers,” and also “Movement of Destiny.” He researched the works of E.G. White, and collected every statement that he thought could support the doctrine of the Trinity. From this he compiled the book “Evangelism”. Some have concluded that this book reflects his bias in support of the Trinity doctrine. Many think that E.G. White wrote the book “Evangelism,” but it is a compilation. The publication of this book, together with the volumes mentioned earlier contributed to the formal acceptance of the Trinity doctrine as a doctrine of the Church in 1980.
The Adventist Church an Apostate church
The Adventist church has essentially apostatized. We are characterized as a church defending the fourth commandment. However, while we heroically protected our front door against apostasy in the Sabbath command, an enemy slipped in through the kitchen window and brought in a greater apostasy – the doctrine of the Trinity. We believe we are free from the mark of the beast by not keeping Sunday holy, but in the meanwhile we have received its mark by accepting its greater apostate doctrine of the Trinity. I believe the issue of the Trinity will be the test of loyalty to God at the coming crisis rather than the Sabbath doctrine. In summary, the doctrine of the Trinity is not Biblical. God is one God, and has given us His only begotten Son who lived for us on earth, died for us, and was resurrected and ascended for us. God’s Spirit works through His Son to influence and woo us to Him. The Spirit is not a personal being but the unseen presence of God through His Son. Adventism started in the belief of the One true God, but the forces of Babylon infiltrated the doctrine of the Trinity into our church, making us unwittingly a part of Babylon. The final showdown at the end of time will address this false doctrine and God’s people will return to worshiping Him, the one and only true God.