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It seems some Protestants hold that belief in Trinitarianism is required for salvation. According to those who hold this, is there a distinction between Christians who assent to this and understand what Trinitarianism actually is, as opposed to Christians who assent to it but don't really understand what Trinitarianism is? For ex., I can say "Jesus is God," but the 'is' there is ambiguous. It could be taken in all sorts of senses, one of which is the 'official' Trinitarian sense. Yet it is not clear how many rank-and-file Protestants understand Trinitarianism to the extent that they could articulate it in detail.

What's required for salvation in terms of depth of belief, according to Protestants who hold Trinitarian belief is required for salvation?

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    Understanding does not usually precede the new birth but...when the comforter comes He teaches all things. Feb 28, 2023 at 13:22
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    @OnlyTrueGod I try to write an answer based on the talk The Light of Reason and the Light of Faith, which shows how the light of faith allows reason to assent to spiritual truths at a basic comprehension level (i.e. the Apostles's Creed) but YET still leaves reason unsatisfied, even if a complete understanding of what has been revealed is achieved (let's say by a theology professor). Thus it is "faith seeking understanding" but not "understanding seeking faith" ! Feb 28, 2023 at 23:18
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    The guy at the pool of Siloam initially didn't know who it was that healed him. The apostles didn't remember or understand most of what Jesus said and did until the Spirit was given. That sort of thing is what I mean. People search the Scriptures thinking to find life but they speak of a relationship with God as a person. In relationship, understanding follows after encounter. Mar 1, 2023 at 13:49
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    My mentally handicapped son will never understand what the word "Trinity" means. There's no denomination anywhere that would say he is damned because of it. What would they say instead? "Suffer the little children to come unto me."
    – Maverick
    Mar 1, 2023 at 14:48
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    @OnlyTrueGod Well, for sure, ultimately and empirically, God is not two opposite things. Things have to be put in right categories. For instance, all of the predictions of Christ's 2nd coming are up against Matthew 24:36. The reconciliation is that I try to die to myself every day in order to know Him more and you do the same. He sees our hearts and will resist us where we are proud and grace us where we are humble. Eventually, ultimately and empirically, everyone will be on the same page in one place or the other. Mar 4, 2023 at 1:07

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It is generally acknowledged that the precise nature of God is beyond human comprehension. God is infinite, and all humans are limited, fallible beings. He is much more than our limited understanding can comprehend (Job 36:6, Job 37:5, Isaiah 40:28). We can have some understanding of God, but a complete understanding is beyond us.

There is, in my experience, no minimum level of understanding that is required. I know of many people in many churches whose position is "I don't really understand it, but I believe it". No church leader I am aware of has ever criticized this position. I have known many people of simple understanding who have come to faith, and many of the intellectual concepts of Christianity are beyond them. Nobody I know has ever sought to exclude them on that basis. Doing so would appear to be completely contrary to the teachings of Jesus, who taught that faith and not intellectual rigour was the cornerstone of salvation, and who welcomed children into the Kingdom of God.

While the subtleties of the Trinity are rarely gone into, the essence is usually taught clearly in churches:

  • Jesus is God
  • The Father is God
  • The Holy Spirit is God
  • These three together are one God
  • Jesus is also fully human.

Most Christians would understand all of those points.

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    If anything, God is more forgiving of those with less knowledge. Feb 28, 2023 at 7:25
  • Thanks for this - to clarify, if someone assents to 'Trinitarianism', but actually believes something more like Arianism, is their salvation lost? Or are you just denying that Trinitarianism is required for salvation? Feb 28, 2023 at 18:56
  • We can talk about this, but it isn't strictly relevant to the question, and it will get more complicated than is appropriate for the comments section. Do you want to set up a chat room, and we can talk there? Feb 28, 2023 at 19:11
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    Most Protestant churches don't presume to pronounce that a given person is not saved based on details of their intellectual beliefs. Believing someone is God "in some sense" is pretty ill-defined. I've known people who say they believe in God "in some sense" but it turns out they mean God as sociological construct invented by man with no objective reality. On a practical basis if you assented to the points I gave in the answer you'd probably be welcome at our church. Maybe you should work out exactly what it is in the Trinity that you disagree with? Feb 28, 2023 at 21:17
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    There's a big difference between "denying the Trinity" and "not fully understanding the Trinity". Your question was about the latter. Mar 1, 2023 at 21:53
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The question gives as an example of the difficulty, "I can say "Jesus is God," but the 'is' there is ambiguous. It could be taken in all sorts of senses, one of which is the 'official' Trinitarian sense."

This shows a common misunderstand many people who don't understand the Trinity doctrine have. Not understanding the doctrine, however, is not the critical issue, but misrepresenting it to others is what causes confusion. The Bible states that the Word, who was with God in the beginning, and who is God, and who made everything that was made, was made flesh - John 1:1-14. This has to be believed even though it cannot be explained in words outside of the Bible. This is demonstrated by doubting Thomas exclaiming before the risen Christ, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). Christ accepted that declaration of faith and worship. But it's doubtful if Thomas could have explained it in a way that people today look for it to be explained.

The point here is that those who do not have the belief in Christ being the Son of God, that John's gospel was all about (Jn.20:31), would wrongly suppose that his opening words could be taken to mean that this One who became flesh was "a god", or was "divine". Those are two examples of ambiguity with the Bible saying the Word was God. A lesser (seconary) god, or some kind of divinity is supposed. Yet the Bible disallows that, which is what the Trinity doctrine is careful to state. When it comes to the Trinity doctrine, it is more about saying what the Godhead is not, than what it is! This surprises a lot of people, but there is wisdom in that, for no mere human can ever fully explain God. Yet God has provided us with enough revelation of himself, through the person of Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit, to enable even the newest, least-learned Christian to kneel down and proclaim of the risen Christ, that he is their Lord and their God.

That's a basic point of the Trinity doctrine. Believe that, and you are in mainstream, orthodoxly Christian belief. You might not be able to explain it, but that's not what anybody's salvation depends upon. It is faith in who this Son of God is - the only One who has dealt with our sin so that God can forgive us - that is vital - Matthew 16:15-17 - and it comes with divine revelation, as Peter discovered there (and which Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants are agreed on.) Theology can explain why it had to be God incarnate who became flesh and died for righteous judgment on sin to be poured out, but that's another question. To begin with, a Christian must bend their knees in Jesus' name and confess him to be who the Bible says he is (Acts 2:21-39) - not what some groups claim him to be - a sinless man, a great example, but a creature nonetheless. That is what the Trinity doctrine protects from.

It's belief in Jesus Christ as being Lord and God that saves, whether or not we can explain that to others. Those who genuinely assent without really understanding can confidently study the scriptures to have understanding, for the Holy Spirit teaches such ones (John 15:26 & 16:13).

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  • I'm a Biblical Unitarian. I believe Jesus is God in some sense. Am I therefore in the 'mainstream, orthodoxly Christian belief'? Are Oneness Pentecostals also? Also, how can one 'genuinely assent' to a belief that one doesn't understand? What does it even mean to say this? Mar 8, 2023 at 19:35
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26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

I have clear recollections of the time when I was a new believer. I was asked by my Bible study leader to memorize this passage in Galatians 2:

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

This verse is about receiving a new identity in Christ, of dying to the old self. I had no clue at the time what it meant. One month later, I was freed from the fear of death and the fear of living a worthless life of no consequence. I attribute that change in me to those verses. The Holy Spirit made words I did not understand grow inside me, though I did not know how, just like the farmer in Jesus' parable.

I assume that assent to the Doctrine of the Trinity is the same. The Holy Spirit can lead an ignorant but faithful Christian into all truth, though it may take time. Understanding can produce faith, but the walk of faith can also produce understanding. Sometimes the Word must change us before we can understand what it means.

In the end, it is not assent to the doctrine of the Trinity that saves you. What saves you is embracing each member of the Trinity as they visit you. The doctrine is the light by which you can understand each visit. I remember crying at the thought that Jesus died on the cross for me personally. That was when I knew that Jesus was a real person, because I could not cry for an abstraction. Likewise, when I visited a Christian woman on her deathbed out of obedience, the Holy Spirit overpowered me and delivered me from a decade of depression. I knew that it was the Holy Spirit because I had been taught that there was a Holy Spirit and Joy one of its fruits. Finally, when in a dream I was warned of years of suffering about to begin and later struck deaf in one ear, then healed after reading a passage in Exodus about how the Father can cause deafness and sternly directed Moses to go to Egypt, I realized I had met with the Father.

These are not my only encounters with each member of the Trinity, but they are the most potent. The doctrines prepare you to recognize God however He chooses to appear to you. It is up to you to embrace God, whether as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, or all three at once in an undifferentiated unity. It is that embrace, obedience, trust, and acceptance of God when He appears as He chooses to make Himself known that counts. That is what saves.

When Joshua met the man with the drawn sword in Joshua 5, why did he accept the man's declaration that he was the commander of the host of the Lord? It is because of a worship song in Deuteronomy 32 that Moses spoke to the people. Moses said that God would draw his sword and fight for his people, but they must take the words of the song to heart. That passage makes a big deal out of the fact that Joshua was present for the singing of that song. Joshua remembered the song and therefore recognized God on the day He came to visit him. That is what the doctrine of the Trinity does for us: it helps us recognize God when he visits us, so that we may not be deceived by counterfeits.

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  • "In the end, it is not assent to the doctrine of the Trinity that saves you." I agree. This question is for Protestants who hold that assent to the doctrine of the Trinity is necessary for salvation, though. I've had some tell me if I don't buy into the Trinity I can't be saved. Mar 1, 2023 at 17:07
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What "Protestants hold that belief in Trinitarianism is required for salvation"? My understanding of Protestantism is that salvation comes only because of divine grace or "unmerited favor" (sola gratia).

I suppose that Jehovah's Witnesses and Swedenborgians and Oneness Pentecostals are not considered Protestant by some mainline denominations, but I think they consider themselves Protestant.

But I know of no Protestants that insist that you must believe exactly as they do to receive God's love and salvation from your own sin and corruption. Even those Protestants that I know that are, themselves, strict Trinitarians. Some believe that Modalism is a heresy, but ya gotta be careful condemning heretics (they might be closer to God than you).

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  • This is just what I'm told repeatedly by (some) Protestants. "You have to believe in Trinitarianism or you can't be saved!" I think this goes to why some Protestants feel this is a core doctrine. Otherwise, why is it so important? Mar 10, 2023 at 0:38
  • I can only comment to my own answers. I used to have more rep, but the owners of this SE site are not very tolerant. There are lots of "Christians" who believe a lotta nutty stuff about God, the nature of God, and the historical person of Jesus. Just because someone identifies themselves as "Christian" hardly makes them a theological authority of the faith. Even that within the denomination that they belong to or identify with. Mar 10, 2023 at 0:45
  • All I need are 2 more points and I'll be able to comment again (on other answers or questions). Mar 10, 2023 at 0:48
  • Hope you can comment now, Robert. Please do try to back up any claims you make with some sort of evidence!
    – Lesley
    Mar 11, 2023 at 18:17
  • Oh, dear. "Claims [I] made"? I wrote "My understanding of..." and "I suppose that ..." and "...but I think..." and " ... I know of no ...". What claim other than my own knowledge or opinion is in that? Mar 13, 2023 at 4:11
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Salvation comes from repentance of sins and faith. This question deals with the latter. We could ask ourselves, faith in what or in whom? Let's look at Acts 20:21

Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

The goal of faith is our Lord Jesus Christ. So it is not about a general vision of God, in which you have to have faith, but something specific. It is believing in Christ as our Lord and Saviour, our Redeemer, our Propitiation, our Reconciler. It is believing in Him as the only one with power and authority to save us, because He is God. He is not a god. But, the only living and true God.

So, if He is God, necessarily the doctrine of the Trinity is a requirement for salvation, because Jesus is refered as God, as well as the Father and the Holy Spirit. You must recognize this, even if you cannot fully explain it. Knowing that no one can really explain God, be it the Trinity or any of His attributes, since He surpasses our understanding. We can grow in the knowledge of God, but we will never be experts.

To reject the full humanity of Christ or His full deity is to change the gospel, thereby making salvation impossible. Anyone who flatly denies these truths would be considered a heretic and therefore not a Christian.

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