We don't think much about the Ebionites anymore. In fact, we don't talk or think much about the great heresies of the first few centuries of the Church. True most of us confess the Nicene or Apostle's Creed weekly, and they were created as the direct result or response to some of the great heresies of the early church. But, we don't really concern ourselves much with this. The ELW has eliminated the Athanasian Creed - which was the most polemic of the creeds, but as Pastor Colville-Hanson says in her blog (she's the ice skating Pastor - see below) this is a pity because it has some incredibly beautiful sections. Nevertheless I received a very friendly comment from someone whose screen name is Adam Pastor (see the comments section) and he suggested that I might want to watch a video entitled "Jesus is Human." He seems to think that by watching this video I would be convinced that the Trinity was error once and for all. Well, thank you Pastor Adam for the chance to watch the video, and for the opportunity to re-think many of the theological issues surrounding the Trinity - but I remain strongly and staunchly Trinitiarian as a result.
I put off writing this for a little while because the issue is so complex that I just didn't feel much like writing a dissertation. So I will resist the temptation to write a dissertation and make just a couple observations about what I saw and what I believe about the Trinity.
Now, the video is two hours long and I confess up front, I got tired of it after about and hour. So I did not watch the whole thing. The English professor who is the host began to repeat himself and the interviews began to get a little more strident (I thought) so I stopped. But judging from what I saw it seems to me that this Professor and this video were essentially a remake of the ancient Ebionite heresy - which believed that since Jesus was Jewish, Christians must become Jewish in every way, especially theologically. And, most important, that even though Jesus was the Messiah and a great Rabbi, he was not God. There was no room for the Trinity in the Ebionites theology. The video's main point seems to be that since Jesus was a unitarian - believing in the One God of the ancient Hebrew religion then the Trinity is an abberation and should be rejected. The message was repeated over and over again. One technique was to corner some poor unsuspecting Evangelical literalist and then the English professor would tied the poor person up in theological knots. I thought this technique was unfair, and completely unconvincing. The young and inexperienced evangelical tried so hard to make literal sense of the Trinity, but could not do it. It was interesting to me that only mostly young lay folks were interviewed. I saw no Pastor or theologian interviewed. Why not interview a Pastor - say Rick Warren. It would also have been interesting if they had actually interviewed a Roman Catholic or a Lutheran or Episcopalian clergy or theologian. But I am not sure that the English professor was prepared to deal with that perspective. (Why is it that when someone wants to try to debunk some tenet or aspect of Christianity they take aim at the literalist Evangelicals? There is another perspective which is equally valid and has a lot to say).
Well, I am not a literalist, but I believe in the Trinity. I also believe that God is one. It may be that Jesus was not a Trinitiarian - he was, after all not a Christian. But the church came about in response to His ministry and in response to the strong belief (expressed in particular by St. Paul - who was particularly disliked by the ancient Ebionites) that Jesus was God incarnate. The Trinity emerged from the Church as a way of understanding how God works in the world and acknowledging that Jesus is God incarnate. This is not three Gods - like the Gnostics believed - this is one God. Can I explain it any more convincingly? Not really. Do I feel that I need to? Not really. This is how I and many other Christians experience God in our midst. It is this doctrine that proclaims God's incarnation in Jesus and affirms God's continuing presence with us in the midst of our lives through the Holy Spirit. For me, to affirm the Ebionite belief proposed by the video would be to abandon God to the distant heavens. The Trinity promises God's presence here in our midst.
I am sure that others can put this more eloquently than this. And I am equally sure that the Ebionites will find this unconvincing. But this is not only what I believe mentally, this is my experience of faith. Finally, I must completely reject the suggestion made by the video that the creation of the doctrine of the Trinity was a "sinister plot." Sorry, I think you might need to revisit your early church history. I would recommend any book by Bart Ehrman - also Dominic Crossan. To any reader who might like to weigh in feel free. I will post responses. I reserve the right to comment, and I will not post mean or disrespectful comments.
Again, to Adam Pastor - thank you for your comment and for the opportunity for me to reaffirm by strong and unwavering faith in the Holy Trinity - One God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tiny Desk Sermon: Proper 16 A, Isaiah 51:1-6 - Tiny desk sermon, an impromptu first reflection on the texts for Sunday, August 21.
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