Classical Trinitarianism vs. Egalitarianism and Subordinationism

Three Different Views of the Godhead (Father-Son)

I would like to introduce some concepts here of a simple way of categorizing the three different views of the Godhead that exist.

1. Subordinationism

Nature (Deity)            Person (Function)

Father > Son                Father > Son

In this view, the Son is inferior to the Father in his essential nature, his deity, as well as function. It is the view held by Arians, Historic Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. This view fails to acknowledge that Jesus is very God, that in him dwells “all the fulness of deity bodily”.

2. Egalitarian View

Nature (Deity)            Person (Function)

Father = Son                Father = Son

In the second view, the Father and Son are akin to twin brothers: there is no sense in nature in which they are are superior or inferior, and in function, they are equivalent, God #1 and #2. Presumably, with this model, either could have assumed the title of “Father” or “Son”, either could have come to earth to die for our sins. I have heard Adventist theologians explain it exactly like that.

The weakness of this view is that equality of nature has been confused with equivalence of functions (this probably stems from radical feminist philosophy and theological bias), therefore the relational terms and examples of the bible are undervalued, and the persons essentially indistinguishable. This would have been historically viewed as a tri-theistic view of the Godhead and poses difficulties.

3. Classical View (Historic Creeds of Christianity)

Nature (Deity)            Person (Function)

Father = Son                Father > Son

In this view, the Father and Son share equally of the same divine nature. Neither has a greater amount of “Godness” than the other. Yet, eternally, in their persons, there has always been a distinction between them, the Father as ultimate ruler, always loving the Son. The Son always submitting to and performing the will of the Father.

In this classical view, the Son is said to be ontologically equal, and economically subordinate.

This view reconciles verses which hold the Son as equal to the Father (“I and my Father are one”), and others which which plainly state that the Father is greater than the Son (“My Father is greater than I”). The relationship of Father and Son as expressed throughout Scripture can be read literally while maintaining the full dignity of the Son’s position.

Classical Trinitarianism

The doctrine of the Trinity, as expressed at Nicea, was not so much to explain exactly who God is, as to protect the doctrine of God from certain errors. A set of statements about Father, Son and Holy Spirit were agreed upon and upheld which have been maintained in much of Christianity through 1700 years. 

Historically, the Christian Church has believed that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal in their divine nature, while eternally exhibiting an order of authority and submission in their relationships.

The old creeds and confessions clearly expressed certain beliefs about the relationships of Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the Trinity. They described the relationships by affirming the headship of God the Father, the eternal generation of the Son, and the procession of the Spirit. The current Adventist belief is an egalitarian model, which is missing these intertrinitarian distinctions.

The following are a survey of historic Trinitarian confessions. Note the common terms, themes, and expressions:

AD 325: Nicene Creed (Ancient Orthodox)

(SL8) We believe in one God,

          the Father almighty,

          maker of heaven and earth,

          of all things visible and invisible.

(SL9) And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

          the only Son of God,

          begotten from the Father before all ages,

               God from God,

               Light from Light,

               true God from true God,

          begotten, not made;

          of the same essence as the Father.

          Through him all things were made. …

(SL10) And we believe in the Holy Spirit,

          the Lord, the giver of life.

          He proceeds from the Father (and the Son)

1561: Belgic Confession (Historic Calvinist/Protestant)          

The Father is the cause, origin, and source of all things, visible as well as invisible.

The Son is the Word, the Wisdom, and the image of the Father.

The Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son.

1647: Westminster Confession (Historic Anglican/Protestant)

The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; 

the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; 

the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. 

1689: Baptist Confession, (Historic Baptist/Protestant)

The Father was not derived from any other being; He was neither brought into being by, nor did He issue from any other being.

The Son is eternally begotten of the Father.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

These  have been since Apostolic times.

The Father is unbegotten, the source of everything

The Son is eternally begotten, and as begotten, is equal in essential nature to the Father

The Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son

1990 27/28 Fundamental Beliefs (Adventist/Modern)

This is modern and has been around only since 1990. It caused the over-corrective backlash that has been making waves in Adventism from its adoption.

There is one God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation. He is forever worthy of worship, adoration and service by all of creation.

The Adventist statement is certainly different in tone and emphasis to the preceding confessions of faith. It is not so much different by what it affirms, but what is notably absent: the traditional descriptions of the intertrinitarian relationships. Because these are missing, it paints a picture of God that differs from classical trinitarianism. 

 

Athanasius: “For the Father and the Son were not generated from some pre-existing origin, that we may account Them brothers, but the Father is the Origin of the Son and begat Him; and the Father is Father, and not born the Son of any; and the Son is Son, and not brother. Further, if He is called the eternal offspring of the Father, He is rightly so called. For never was the essence of the Father imperfect, that what is proper to it should be added afterwards; nor, as man from man, has the Son been begotten, so as to be later than His Father’s existence, but He is God’s offspring, and as being proper Son of God, who is ever, He exists eternally. For, whereas it is proper to men to beget in time, from the imperfection of their nature, God’s offspring is eternal, for His nature is ever perfect.
If then He is not a Son, but a work made out of nothing, they have but to prove it; and then they are at liberty, as if imagining about a creature, to cry out, ‘There was once when He was not;’ for things which are originated were not, and have come to be. But if He is Son, as the Father says, and the Scriptures proclaim, and ‘Son’ is nothing else than what is generated from the Father; and what is generated from the Father is His Word, and Wisdom, and Radiance;”

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