Tag Archives: Jehovah’s Witnesses

If it’s Saturday, it must be Arians [Trinity Misconceptions]

This is a post in a series about the Trinity. The introduction is here, and part two is here.

It’s a Saturday morning. Two well dressed guests knock on your door. They introduce themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and ask if they can show you what the Bible really teaches. They deny that Christ is the second person of a Trinity, and say instead that He is the first of God’s creation, who created everything else.

Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a very recent development, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes got it right: There is nothing new under the sun. The teachings of the Witnesses about Jesus are an ancient heresy known as Arianism.

The History

Early in the history of the Christian Church, a young man named Arius was studying in Alexandria. From the work of earlier teachers (perhaps Paul of Samosata) he concluded that the Son was created; that is, there was a time when the Son, the Logos in John, did not exist. The teaching of Arius was very popular among the Alexandrian schools, and his theology spread fast.

Proponents of orthodoxy initially won out, led by Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria. The Emperor Constantine, a catechumen in the church at the time, called a council at Nicaea in 324 A.D. and all but two of the bishops there agreed that the Scriptures taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are “consubstantial” (i.e. they share the same substance, or essence, or being). They composed the Nicene Creed, to put into a succinct statement of faith what the Scriptures teach.

Many have criticized the political power with which Constantine upheld orthodoxy. Often there are myths such as “Constantine determined the canon of Scripture at Nicaea,” or other such silliness. Those improper understandings of the council aside, Constantine did use his power inappropriately (in my estimation) when he ordered the destruction of Arian documents and the death penalty for those who did not volunteer Arian documents in their possession.

Ironically, Constantine later exiled Athanasius, the hero of orthodoxy, in an attempt at conciliating Arian sympathizers. At any rate, when Constantine’s son, Constantius II, assumed power, he used it to spread Arian doctrine throughout the Roman Empire by force. The point being, political force was used inappropriately on both sides of this issue. What we must look at, then, is the doctrines themselves.

The Theology

For a good starting point in discussion with any Jehovah’s Witnesses you may meet, I don’t suggest John 1:1. In their New World Translation of Scripture, they twist this verse to read “and the Word was a god.” Unless you speak Greek fluently, and are able to teach them Greek fluently, it won’t be much use to tell them that their translation is wrong. They simply won’t believe you.

Rather, I’d suggest jumping over to John 1:3. Even in the NWT it reads “[a]ll things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” When I read this with them, I’ll change the “all” to “some” and “not even one thing” to “almost nothing.” So I will (mis)read “some things came into existence through him, and apart from him almost nothing came into existence.”

When I misread it, they will usually correct me. When the answer comes from their own mind, instead of being supplied by someone with whom they disagree, it is much more effective at communicating the point.

That point is that, according to the grammar of John 1:3, Jesus cannot have come into existence. Why? Because all things that came into existence came through him. Can a man be his own father? His own cause of being (in other words, his own efficient cause)? Of course not. So also, if not even one thing came into existence apart from the Word (that’s Jesus, remember? see Jn. 1:14) then Jesus can’t have come into existence, because then at least one thing came into existence apart from Jesus.

If you’re more of a visual learner, you’ll appreciate this very helpful blog post by Greg Koukl. It is essentially no different to what I outlined here, but he has a visual aid that make the point very clear.

Like I mentioned before, I’ll only be posting on Thursdays for a while during my summer intensive at school. I hope to get back to a regular Monday post soon, but I may edit the schedule further to allow for all of my obligations. God’s blessings on your week!

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Filed under Apologetics, Christology, Theology, Theology Thursdays

Four ways evangelizing helps you grow.

I’ve been reflecting lately on the many benefits of evangelizing, and especially to members of groups like the Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the past few weeks God has given me many opportunities to converse with various members of both groups mentioned above, plus with many others who do not know Jesus. I’ve noticed a few things that seasons of intense evangelism has done in my personal life.

1. Evangelism helps you to know what you do, and do not, believe. 

The Church has historically been refined by fire. When the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ was under attack by Arius, the Church’s understanding was hammered out, guided by Scripture, so that we would be able to confess Christ as “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.” There is no longer ecclesiastical confusion about this doctrine because it was challenged.

Think of your life as a microcosm of this history of the Church for a moment. We come to know what we ought to believe when we are made to examine the Scriptures “to see if these things might be so” (Acts 17:11). In my experience, almost every time I share the good news with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, I come away with a question I haven’t heard before. Thus, by evangelizing others, God causes me to grow in faith toward Him by teaching me more about who He is through the questions of those who do not yet know Him. The Church continues to be refined by fire.

2. Evangelism ignites a serious prayer life.

When you are intentionally spending time face to face with people who reject Jesus and His saving work, you will often feel helpless. This is a good feeling for you to experience for, while unpleasant, it is a true feeling — that is, it is a feeling that accurately reflects reality. After all, God has told us that His children are borne of His will (John 1); it is not our will that saves others, nor is it their will that saves them, but it is the gracious will of God the Father who draws them to His Son (John 6).

As a result of this, spend time evangelizing and it will draw you closer to God in prayer. You will keep adding names to your list of people for whom you petition the Father, asking him to graciously grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2). You will begin to ask the Father for more opportunities to tell people about His Son. Even if you only pray for other people (despite our Heavenly Father’s desire that you share everything with Him) your prayer life will be kindled as you engage others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

3. Evangelism will help make you grateful.

After walking away from conversations with Mormon’s or Jehovah’s Witnesses, I immediately pray “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” I listen eagerly to the Scripture readings on Sunday mornings, and to the sermon. I am drawn to the Lord’s Supper with great adoration for the gift of forgiveness given there by the God who rose bodily from the dead. Truly, God’s Word cannot return to Him void, for even if the ears you intend to share it with are deaf, it will always fall on your ears as well.

A lot of people think doctrine is boring and irrelevant, but every thing that I learn about God drives me to greater devotion to God and greater thankfulness for His Son. When I see how the promise of forgiveness that Christ gives us in Baptism is so much better than the fear that Jehovah’s Witnesses carry that they haven’t done enough to save themselves from God’s wrath, I’m necessarily captivated by the True God’s love. When I compare the promise that God will uphold His Word with the confusion of a “god” who changes his mind; when I see the God who is eternal, unchanging, and sinless triumph over the “god” who is created, volatile, and possibly a sinner; when I meet the God who came to save me, versus the god who demands I save myself, I cannot help but be transfixed by this God Almighty. I cannot fathom the greatness of God, but when I see the smallness of god in the eyes of unbelievers, I get a glimpse of how much better our God is. How could the knowledge of the God who saved you be irrelevant?

4. Evangelism works!

I have saved the most important point for last. The reason we evangelize is not because it serves us, but because God Himself has given the proclaimed Word as a means of Grace — God uses this Word to make new Christians by granting them repentance and faith. Sharing God’s Word means you may get to be a part of that! You can be a firsthand witness to the continuing work of God through His Word; what else could be said about that?

I hope this post has encouraged you. God’s blessings on all your efforts to share His word!

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Filed under Apologetics, Ecclesiology, Evangelism