2 Corinthians 13:14
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
The term ‘Christianity’ today embraces a diverse range of thoughts and beliefs. Although Christianity focuses on Christ, there are many views on what Christ means, on the relationship of Jesus and the Christ, of Jesus and God, of the Christ and God.
Every theological difference today is represented by a distinct denomination, and according to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, as of mid-2022 there are approximately 46,400 denominations worldwide. By 2025, there will likely be 49,000.
Within our 46,000 sets of beliefs, I suspect that there are cases where the defining characteristics between these denominations is barely distinguishable. That reminds me of a joke. Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What denomination?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"
Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.
Some differences are significant, some are trivial. There are denominations that assert that Jesus is God; they are one in the same. There are denominations that believe that Jesus is the Son of God, divine but lesser in equality. Others believe that Jesus is not divine, but a teacher, guide, and moral and spiritual authority.
Differences exist not only in the nature of Jesus, but in Mary and her position in all of this and immaculate conception. There are differences regarding the Bible: how it was inspired and its inerrant nature. There are divergent opinions on Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. Denominations disagree in their views on predestination, atonement, free will, and church government.
Some churches are unitarian in belief: that God is not a composite of three entities; He is one entity. These churches believe although Jesus the Christ is a savior, he is not a deity or God incarnate, but that he was inspired by God in his moral teachings and became the Christ, the Savior, as the presence and awareness of God within him grew. Many unitarians believe that God has given Jesus functional equality with Himself, and that only with regard to the throne is God greater than Jesus.
Some, but not all, unitarian churches believe that Jesus was designated by God to be the mediator between God and man. They believe that in his earthly ministry Jesus was granted all authority on earth by God to teach, heal, raise the dead, forgive sins, and act on behalf of his Father, whom he represented.
They believe that God is “holy” and that He is “spirit,” and that He is often referred to as the “Holy Spirit” in Scripture. God is the Giver, and the gift He gives is the “holy spirit,” His divine nature. So, the Holy Spirit is another name for God, like Lord or Creator.
In contrast, a more common theological component of Christianity is belief in the Trinity – that God is comprised in a triunal nature: The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, and Methodists all believe in the Trinity. This was established at the Council of Nicaea in 325 as religious leaders sorted through the various beliefs and sought a consensus to represent all of Christendom.
Even in the early church, from 100-300 AD, there were many beliefs and disagreements regarding God, Jesus and how it all worked. For instance, a common belief at the time was offered by Arius, a priest in Alexandria. Arianism taught that although Jesus was divine, he was not quite equal to God. The Son was subject to and obedient in all things to God the Father. Arians held that Christ did not always exist along with the Father (was not "coeternal"). Instead, Christ was begotten by God before the world, and even time itself, was created. The two divine beings were of "similar substance" but were not consubstantial.
In 325, Constantine, the Roman Emperor and a recently converted Christian from Paganism, thought he could bring everyone together and smooth over the differences in Christianity. By a clear majority, Arianism and all other variant beliefs were voted down by the 300+ bishops who attended the Council of Nicaea.
The most important theological decision made at this Council was to adopt what would be called the Nicene Creed. The creed used today is from the First Council of Constantinople in 381. Over the next 200 years the church leaders destroyed all writings that argued against the theologies established by these councils. People were condemned, excommunicated, and otherwise anathematized.
There is some history on the origins of the Trinity, which is comprised of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I grew up calling it the Holy Ghost, but now it is the Holy Spirit. The idea is that God is comprised of three “Persons”, or natures. These persons were separate but equal. There is one God, yet God has three constituent parts: the Father nature, the Son nature, and the Spirit nature.
So, are there three Gods? No; there is only one God. I can only give you my perspective on this topic. Some will disagree, because my attitude is an amalgamation of three or four of the 46,400 possible denominations that exist. So, forgive me if I am not speaking your language.
I try to make sense of this philosophy by thinking in terms of how I relate to them. God the Father is the Creator of all. I also think of this essence as Divine Mother. God is whom I usually speak with if it involves something going on ‘out there,’ in Creation.
Christ, the Son, is that individualized essence of God that is begotten within me. Jesus, fully human and fully divine, came to know his divine nature so profoundly that he became the Christ, the Savior. After being baptized, God said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased,” we are told in Matthew 3:17. I speak with Christ Jesus when I am praying about what is going on within me: my changes, my growth, my feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and how I relate to the world. I pray to that individualized personal and intimate essence of God within me.
Is there really a difference? Does it matter to which aspect of God that we pray? I don’t think it makes a difference. There is only one God, after all. Many Christians feel most comfortable praying to Jesus, praying to the Christ. Jesus demonstrated that we pray to the Father … to our Divine Father. But when he left his body, it became customary to pray to Jesus, as Paul taught. Jesus was so in tune with the nature of God within him and around him that I typically go to that Christ nature within me when I am praying in private. But does it make a difference? No.
Then there is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the active energy of God that gets things done. God is Spirit, so moves and acts in Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Presence of God responsible for creation; it is the creative vibrating energy of God moving in and through us and every atom of the Universe. It is the Holy Spirit that moves through our bodies, cells, and all life to animate us. The Holy Spirit is God in action. I often pray to the Holy Spirit when I need things to change, to transform, grow, and come into being.
I’ve heard the Trinity described this way: The Father is God as the Creator existing beyond creation. The Son is God's omnipresent intelligence existing in creation. The Holy Ghost is the vibratory power of God that manifests into creation.
The Trinity is not Biblical; the most often cited verse of support are the final words of the Gospel of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28:19). The early church developed the Nicene Creed and the idea of the Trinity to help define the role of Jesus and explain his relationship to the more familiar God of Jewish scripture and traditional belief.
God is all that is, and more. There is nothing but God in existence. God is the name we give to the infinite energy of creative love out of which everything flows. Sometimes it is useful to understand our spiritual Source as Divine Mind, eternally creating and expressing its energy as Divine Ideas. Christ is the Divine Idea from which all other ideas flow, the presence of God that is the truth of our own identity. Some denominations believe that the second aspect of God is not Jesus directly, but the Son, the ‘Only Begotten Son’, the Christ — the creative power which Jesus perfectly expressed, the power that also lives within us in perfect potential. This is not to lessen the importance or power or place that Jesus has, but to lift up the gift that Jesus brought. “The Father and I are one”, says Jesus, and it is the Christ nature within him to which he directs our attention. “No one can come to the Father except through me.” No one can come to the Father except through the Son, the Christ nature within each of us. Jesus was the vessel for the Logos, the Word of God, the only begotten Son of God. So, does it make a difference if we address Jesus or Christ? No. Jesus the Christ lives within each of us. Christ wants us to know that we are all part of the “Trinity.”
The Holy Spirit is the energy of God, the activity of God in all creation. It is an energy that embraces and supports us as we work to express our own unique Oneness with God and allow our Christ nature to be the source for all our choices more perfectly.
The Trinity is a spiritually mysterious attempt for limited human minds to describe and understand the unlimited and indescribable. I wish it were as easy as saying: God is like H2O – it has three states: solid, liquid, and gas; ice, water, and steam – but it is still H2O. Or, God is like the sun: we receive from it heat, light, and radiation. But there are no good descriptions for an unlimited God.
It is my prayer that no matter how we see God, or Jesus, or Christ, we can know that God loves us and all the other 7.959 billion souls on this globe. Our awesome God draws His children to Him through whatever path makes the most sense for them. No matter what we believe, theist or atheist, no matter our religion or denomination, we can get along if we choose love each other. And to this goal I pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.