What is an overview of how nontrinitarians view Jesus?
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Until the third century, the dichotomy of trinitarians and non-trinitarians just did not exist. Jesus was the Son of God, and that was as far as it went. The concept of the Trinity began to provide for the divinity of Jesus within a monotheistic framework. Around the beginning of the fourth century, a Libyan priest, Arius, began to teach that the Trinity was wrong - Jesus, the Son of God, was not co-eternal and consubstantial with his Father, but was rather a created being, subordinate to the Father. Bishop Alexander of Alexandria excommunicated Arius and had the Council of Nicaea declare for the Trinity. However, the Christian world remained divided on the issue until Emperor Theodosius made belief in the Trinity mandatory for Christians at the end of the fourth century. Throughout much of the fourth century, it remained possible, in spite of successive ecumenical councils, that Arianism would win the day and that it would be Trinitarianism that would be declared heretical.
In terms of number of adherents, nontrinitarian denominations comprise only a small minority of modern Christianity. By far the two largest nontrinitarian denominations are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormons") and the Jehovah's Witnesses. According to Wikipedia, other denominations include the Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, Dawn Bible Students, Friends General Conference, Iglesia ni Cristo, Living Church of God, Oneness Pentecostals, Members Church of God International, Unitarian Universalist Christians, The Way International, The Church of God International and the United Church of God. Nontrinitarian views differ widely on the nature of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Some important nontrinitarian views are:
- Jehovah's Witnesses teach that God the Father, Jehovah, is the one true almighty God, even over his Son, God's only direct creation, and the very first creation by God. They give relative "worship" or "obeisance" (homage, as to a king) to Christ, pray through him as God's only high priest, consider Jesus Christ to be Mediator and Messiah, but that only the Father is without beginning.
- Mormons believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct beings that are not united in substance, a view sometimes called social trinitarianism. The three individual deities are 'one' in will or purpose, as Jesus was 'one' with his disciples, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute a single Godhead or a Divine Council, and are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. Mormons believe that God created Christ, who is subordinate to God the Father and that Christ created the universe.
- Oneness Pentecostalism teaches that Jesus was 'Son' only when he became flesh on earth, but was the Father prior to his being made human.
- Swedenborgianism holds that the Trinity exists in one person, the Lord God Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus Christ is the one God; the Father as to his soul, the Son as to his body, and the Holy Spirit as to his activity in the world.
- Some traditions say that Christ the Son and God the Father are co-eternal, but do not teach that the Holy Spirit is a being or person. This teaching is characterised as Binitarianism.
There is a range of views and the Christology of each view can be quite complicated, but here is a potted version of some of them:
- While not ignoring his humanity, Oneness Pentecostals believe Jesus is the one and only indivisible God (cf. http://www.onenesspentecostal.com/christology.htm).
- Jehovah's Witnesses believe he is the archangel - the first-born over creation, a kind of demi-god if you like. (cf. What do Jehovah's Witnesses believe about the nature of God?)
- Somewhat similarly to JWs, Latter day saints believe he is the first of God's spirit children, but contrastingly, they also believe, that he like other spirit children can evolve to the same status as the being we know as God. (cf. How would Mormon christology be classified?)
- Unitarians, have a range of views, but believe he is not God and tend to emphasize his humanity. They generally tend to uphold him as humanity's chief exemplar - in reality, a higher status than your average prophet:
In the early 19th century, Unitarian Robert Wallace identified three particular classes of Unitarian doctrines in history: Arians, which believed in a pre-existence of the divine spirit, but maintained that Jesus was created and lived as human only; "Socinians", which, denied his original divinity, but agreed that Christ should be worshipped; and "Strict unitarians", which, believing in an "incommunicable divinity of God", denied both the existence of the Holy Spirit and the worship of "the man Christ." - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unitarianism#Christology