REASONS WHY THE ADVENTIST CHURCH IS ‘TRINITARIAN’ AS OF 1892
Where Satan cannot lead into absolute unbelief, he will endeavor to mystify so that the belief remaining may prove ineffectual. From the confusing idea of ‘one God in three Gods’ and ‘three Gods in one God’ – the unexplainable dictum of theology- [i.e. the traditional Catholic Trinity explanation, of a singular threefold organism/Being or a singular tri-personal substance] - the enemy gladly leads to what appears to be a more rational, though not less erroneous idea – that there is no trinity, and that Christ is merely a created being. But God’s great plan is clear and logical. There is a trinity, and in it there are three personalities…We have the Father described in Dan. 7:9, 10…a personality surely…In Rev. 1:13-18 we have the Son described. He is also a personality… The Holy Spirit is spoken of throughout Scripture as a personality. These divine persons are associated in the work of God…But this union is not one in which individuality is lost…There is indeed a divine trio, but the Christ of that Trinity is not a created being as the angels- He was the “only begotten” of the Father…let not the lips of man speak of Christ as a created being. He is one of the divine trio- the ‘only begotten Son’ of the Father…” - Robert Hare, Australasian Union Conference Record, July 19, 1909
It is easy for the person with an open mind to see why Adventists, since 1892, have accepted, and have been using, the word “trinity” in referring to the Godhead. This, the Church has endeavored to do, by the method of ‘common consent’ over time, (not by Church decree); despite there are those within the Church who differ in opinion on the matter. This writer believes that every man should be convinced in his own mind; that is his God-given right. This presentation is not forcing anyone to believe or accept what it supports doctrinally’, but is simply meant to show why, within all good reason, Adventists can feel justified in being ‘Trinitarians’ (even if by unorthodoxy). When the following points are borne in mind, it will be seen that the Adventist Church’s pre-1915 acceptance of ‘a Trinity’ (though not exactly the Roman Catholic explanation), is an acceptance that has reasonable foundation.
Reason 1. Firstly it must be recognized that no one has a ‘divine copyright’ on the doctrinal use of certain words. Christians cannot claim exclusive rights in the use of certain words coined to express doctrines, such as “hell”, or the “incarnation”, or the “millennium”, or the “Trio” in the Godhead. These words, though not originally found in the Bible, do have some foundation in the scriptures, as Christians try to capture in these words, what is evident in the scriptures, even though Christians may sometimes differ in their explanations. The same is true of the noun “trinity”, which comes from the Latin, “TRINUS”, and literally means ‘a group of three persons’. Though the ‘Catholics’ were among those first to doctrinally use the word “Trinity” (certain Apostolic Fathers and other Church Fathers predating Roman Catholicism used it too, but in the Greek form), they too have no exclusive rights to how the word should be used, since its root meaning, drawn from the prefix, “tri” (three), and the suffix, “nity” (union of), cannot be denied, that is, it should denote a unity of ‘a group of three persons or things’. Even in false religions, divine personalities existing in ‘groups of threes’, even being of different sexes, have been called ‘trinities’. Thus the word ‘trinity’ does not properly mean, from its root, a ‘single being or multi-faced person’, as Catholics have so used the word. In the same vein, Adventists could not sensibly use the word “Trio” to mean only two (2) separate persons or beings (a “duo”) in the Godhead (as some falsely claim), else this would be a denial of the very root meaning of the word. This truth in semantics is what J.H. Waggoner and R.F. Cottrell, two Adventist pioneers, were seeking to remind Catholics of, when they stated, quote:
“Is Christ the Father in the trinity? If so, how is he the Son? Or if he is both Father and Son, how can there be a trinity? For *A TRINITY IS THREE PERSONS [or supposed to be]. To recognize a trinity [a true group of three persons, or trio], the
*DISTINCTION [separation] between the Father and the Son must be preserved”.
J.H. Waggoner, Review and Herald, Vol. 22, Nov. 10, 1863, pg. 189
“That one person is three persons, and that three persons are only one person, is the doctrine [of ‘the Godhead’ as explained by others at the time] which we [Adventists] claim is contrary to reason and common sense. The being and attributes [nature of] of God are above, beyond, out of reach of my sense and reason, yet… our Creator has made it an absurdity to us that one person should be three persons, and three persons but one person…” R.F. Cottrell, Review and Herald, July 6, 1869
Did this mean that the Adventist Church rejected the “Three Persons” in the Godhead? Eventually NO! What Adventism clearly rejected then, about the traditional ‘Catholic’ doctrine concerning the “Eternal Godhead”, was the explanation of how the three persons are “one”.
It is true that Adventism did not at first use the word “trinity” to express its Godhead doctrine. This, however, was understandable because of the then strong ‘anti-trinity’ sentiments, and even a denial, in some quarters, of the “third Person of the Godhead”, in the early days of the Church. Eventually, interestingly, the Adventist Church taught a “Trio” in the “Eternal Godhead”, simply because Mrs. White was inspired enough to admit that not only (in reality) is there ‘a group of three persons’ (or “Trio”) in the Godhead union of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, but that their oneness is not numeric but spiritual, as John 17:21 stated. So, contrary to what some in the
Adventist Church may think, the Adventist Church is probably the only church really teaching a true Godhead of literally “three persons”, since there must be a “distinction between the Father and Son” if one is “to recognize a trinity”, as J.H. Waggoner so unwittingly phrased it. The truth about the meaning of words should be admitted to. There should not be the “throwing out the baby with the baby water” as falsehood is rejected. This is the challenge to you dear reader. Will you be honest in this?
Reason 2. When Adventists are therefore said to be ‘Trinitarian’, it does not mean they fully accept what all other ‘Trinitarians’ teach about “the Godhead”, but only about literally what a true trinity is. To illustrate this point, let the reader bear in mind that Adventists share the label “Christian” with all other Christians, but this does not mean they fully accept what all other Christians deem to be “Christian” (such as what the true Christian “Sabbath” is). Many forget that pagans have even been the ones to have coined the word “Christian”, as a mock and tease word for the ‘followers of Christ’ in the pagan city of Antioch (Acts 11:19-22, 25,26). Does this mean that the basic meaning of the word “Christian” should be rejected, because of its pagan source, or because denominations differ on what a “Christian” should be? Certainly not! The same is true about the word “trinity”. Even the various dictionaries of the world show that there are various definitions of what Christians call “The Trinity”. However, all definitions have one common element, an undeniable truth, that is, “three divine Persons” are in a cooperating union in the “one Godhead”. Notice carefully the following definitions.
(a) COLLINS DICTIONARY
“TRINITY” (noun)- “a unit formed of three persons (from Latin, trinus, triple)” and (in Christian theology)- “the union of Three Divine Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in one Godhead”
(b) OXFORD DICTIONARY “TRINITY” (noun)- “a group of three” and (in Theology) “The Three
Persons of the Christian Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), from Latin, trinus, meaning threefold”.
(c) WEBSTERS DICTIONARY “TRINITY” (in Theology)- “ a threefold, consubstantial personality [singular] existing in one Being or substance”
(d) ENCARTA ENCYCLOPAEDIA 2000 “TRINITY”- “in Christian theology, the doctrine that God exists as three persons- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- who are united in one substance or being”
Before going on, carefully note again that the Adventist Church uses
the word “God” to mean: (1) a class of persons having the ‘divine nature’ (or ‘Godhead’) and is called “Deity”, and (2) the person of “the Father”. Grammatically, it is correct to say that “Man”, the class of beings with the ‘human nature’, exist only as male and female. Likewise, to an
Adventist, it is true to say that “God”, or the class of beings with
the ‘divine nature’, exist only as “three Persons’. This is because that is what historic Adventism teaches; that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but are “three Persons”! However there is only one Person of the Father; that is, “one God, the Father”. It is also true to say that there is ‘a union [cooperating group] of Three Divine Persons in one Godhead’, because that is what Adventism believes. How many ‘Godhead’ (union) is there? Only one! How many persons are there in that one ‘Godhead’? Three! Let the reader here note that the word “Godhead”, used to
mean a cooperating union of ‘three divine Persons’ in Heaven, is (historically) exclusively ‘Trinitarian’. The true Adventist cannot
deny ‘trinitarianism’, because by the dictionary definitions of “the Godhead”, to believe in the “Three Persons” of “the Godhead”, that is what ‘trinitarianism’is! However you will quickly notice that there are significant differences in the dictionary definitions of “the Godhead”:
(1) In the definitions (c) and (d) above, some see God as one (1) single, solitary Person or Being, but existing as three ‘extensions’ or ‘forms’ (so- called ‘persons’) living in that one indivisible substance. This is the “orthodox” (common) “Trinity” explanation that Adventism was opposed to.
(2) In definitions (a) and (b), others see “one (1) Godhead” (a ‘divine nature’ and ‘divine union’) as, not one person, but “a group” of “Three Divine Persons” (‘trio’). This is historically what Adventism gradually came to accept; a “Godhead” doctrine true to the root meaning of the word “trinity”.
ADVENTISM COULD NOT DENY TRINITARIANISM IN COURT!
The Adventist Church is technically ‘Trinitarian’ because it clearly taught, even when Mrs. White was alive, a ‘group of three persons’ (or a “Trio”) in, what it calls, the “Eternal Godhead”, not as an indivisible substance, but as a group of inseparable persons who are united for all eternity (past, present and future). Because the word “trio” (‘group of three persons’) and the simple noun “trinity” (‘a group of three persons’) both mean the same thing literally (see the Oxford and Collins Dictionary), the Adventist Church is in reality ‘trinitarian’. At least by one definition, Adventists believe in and “serve” a ‘group of three persons’, or ‘a union of three Divine Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in one Godhead’ (the union). It must be repeated, that is basic ‘trinitarianism’! Let the reader note the following overwhelming evidence, which, in a court of law, would be enough to declare ‘trinitarianism’ in pioneering Adventism before 1915. The quoted phrases below, from Mrs. White (her exact words in underlined quotation marks), can be easily verified, for accuracy, by anyone wishing to do so. The lately published CD-ROM of her writings, along with the earlier quotations in this presentation, would be a useful tool. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, evidenced by the writings of Mrs. Ellen G. White (before her 1915 death), believed in the following even before 1931:
1. That there exists the “Eternal Godhead” of “Three Persons”. The Church believed in a “Heavenly Trio”. The word “trio” was clearly a coined word, just like ‘trinity’ (also a coined word), which sought to express a group of “three living persons” in the Godhead, not the traditional ‘Catholic’ view of ‘one Being, with three forms existing in one indivisible substance’. Adventism felt that the traditional ‘Trinity’ was misleading because, in the true sense of the word, “a trinity is three persons”, literally a “trio”. It taught, however, that the Father is God, that Jesus is God, that the Holy Spirit is also God, and that the “essence of God” is found in Matthew 28:19, “the Eternal Godhead”.
2. That the Holy Spirit is not just the ‘personality’ of another. Note carefully, He “has a personality” (E.G. White, Evangelism, pg. 617). He is “also a Divine Person”, the “Third Person of the Godhead”. He is described as a
“Heavenly Dignitary”, as “omniscient” (‘knowing all things’), as “infinite”(‘beyond comprehension’), as “Eternal” (Heb. 9:14), and as “God” (Acts 5:3,4/ 2 Sam. 23:2,3). More importantly, Mrs. White said we should “serve” the Spirit (compare Matt.4: 10). This alone amount to ‘trinitarianism’, if nothing else does. Any ‘Jehovah’s Witness’ or Watch Tower Bible student would know this to be true. Only those unable to or unwilling to come to grips with our doctrinal history as a Church would continue to deny the obvious. Note again dear reader the full impact of the following crucial evidence:
“The Comforter that Christ promised to send after He ascended to Heaven, is the Spirit in all the fullness of the Godhead [compare Col.2: 9] … There are *THREE LIVING PERSONS [or ‘personalities’] of the Heavenly Trio; in the name of these *THREE GREAT POWERS- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit- those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized…” E.G. White- Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7, pg. 63
“When we have accepted Christ, and in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit have pledged ourselves to *SERVE God, the Father, Christ, *and [thirdly] THE HOLY SPIRIT- the three Dignitaries and Powers of Heaven…” E.G. White- Manuscript 85, 1901
Who are we only to “serve” in the spiritual sense? God! Adventism teaches what the Bible declares; that the Father is God, Christ is God, and the Holy Spirit is also God. Adventism also teaches that these three are “living Persons” of the “Eternal Godhead”. The truth here is obvious. That is basic ‘trinitarianism’! However, Adventism CANNOT successfully show mathematically how the three Persons, all called “God”, each having the “fullness of the Godhead”, make up “one [person] God”, for this is impossible. It simply has to accept that the three persons are “one” as John 17:21and 22 illustrates it.
3. The Adventist Church also taught that Jesus, though ‘subject to the Father’ (in a certain context), is with the Father, “one in authority”, not ‘next in authority’. He is also “Sovereign” (‘supreme ruler’), “equal in dignity (rank, title, office) and glory” with Him. Jesus is “the Deity” because he is “one with God”. The “existence of a personal God” is “the unity of Christ with His Father”. Jesus and the Father are “of one substance”. Jesus was “from all eternity… God over all”, along with the Father, and is Himself called “Jehovah God” or the “I AM” because, though “begotten” from eternity, He was “a distinct (separate) person”, not ‘from partial eternity’, but “from all eternity”. This again is basic ‘trinitarianism’!
Truth is truth, though it may make you uncomfortable, or it may surprise you, or it may force you to rethink your position, or it may even make you unable to answer all questions about that truth. The truth is that the Adventist Church, gradually, in its history, showed the basic features of ‘Trinitarianism’, even before 1931 (when the *term was first officially adopted), even if it was of a different kind from the traditional. This conclusion is not based on speculation, but on factual evidence. ‘The blindest person is he who will not see’. Amen!