I would like engagement in this topic mainly from protestants as I feel this is most challenging to them in proposing that there is a tradition which is not explicit to scripture but is nonetheless of necessity for the Christian who calls himself or herself “right believing.”
That is we all confess the trinity and recognise it as being found in scripture, but in a conversation with someone the other night who confessed the trinity and confessed to be a biblical Christian I asked them a simple question. Is the son of the same substance as God the father, by that I mean the classical doctrine of the trinity espoused at Nicaea, the fathers Athanasius, Basil, Gregory and more and which has more or less been settled doctrine for every church regardless of it’s opinion of other churches.
Within the conversation I could not get a straight answer to this question in the affirmative, rather I only got bible quotes and strict insistence on being loyal to the bible. Quotations regarding the son, his greatness, the father and the spirit but no answer to my actual question. I have no doubt this individual was loyal to the bible and I doubt we really disagreed on the substance of the faith, but with the refusal to admit Christ was of the same substance as the father( substance can be understood here as Ousia, not a material substance but rather that which composes an entity, i.e. the Ousia of God is perfect divinity which is eternal, all powerful, simple and unlimited and beyond material matter and purely spiritual) I have to question that person’s understanding of the trinity.
It seems to me that it is required as a matter of one’s orthodoxy, in a general sense, at the bare minimum requirement of what it requires to be called Christian. One cannot at the very least deny this proclamation of the fathers and the councils. That this has become a measuring pole for one’s trintarian beliefs; confessing there are three distinct persons (Hypostasis) who share the same substance (Ousia). I am not saying every layman needs to go into the depths of this doctrine but what church, be it lutheran, Anglican, Baptist, Pentacostal, Orthodox, Oriental, Catholic and etc would tolerate someone denying the equality of the substance which is the Father’s and the son’s? None in my mind. All these, which comprise the majority of Christendom, confess it.
Yet it seems to me that this is not a biblical doctrine strictly speaking. In that we have no talk of essences or hypostasis of the father and the son and the spirit and their relation. Much less do we have any semblance of the idea of Homoousious (same substance). This isn’t to suggest the doctrine is unbiblical, clearly it is based on the bible and worked from the bible as those fathers and no doubt many protestants will contend. They worked from the scripture primarily but they came to conclusions which were not directly expressed within the word itself, rather they saw this as the substance behind the words of the Bible itself.
We can see the difference in language alone when we compare the ante Nicene fathers to the post Nicene fathers, when Christians were more concerned with systematizing their doctrine in response to Arians. The ante Nicene fathers did not so much care to define or speak like us, though their trinitarianism is brought out in the consequences of how they spoke concerning Christ being the wisdom of God and the salvation of God.
Now if my argument is true, that the bible strictly speaking doesn’t directly say but rather implies the language of same substance, and if that language is understood via interpretation and indeed with the help of a philosophical tradition, then it is not strictly speaking the scripture becoming the standard by which we judge the faith. It is the interpretation of scripture, a subsequent tradition which is clearly marked in time and not directly apostolic that has become a universal standard for Christian orthodoxy.
So, is this trinitarian tradition of understanding and interpreting the scripture necessary? Must one confess they (The Persons of the trinity) are of the same substance and not deny it? Now I will clarify my point is not to say the trinity is unbiblical (I beg no one accuse me of this), for it as a doctrine makes the best sense of the scriptures and I have no doubt the writers would confess it as we believe it today. But I only point out this, could one still be an orthodox Christian, deny they are of the same substance (Heteroousious) or say something like they were of a similar substance (Homoiousious) but then say; “I believe in One God, I also believe in the Father the son and the Holy spirit. The Father is the prime mover, the son is the very radiance of the father who the father creates and saves through, and the spirit his very energy poured out on the believer”?
From my perspective as an orthodox we are required to do two things, more or less, when entering the church, confess the creed and curse Satan. We don’t merely confess the creed because it is merely what scripture teaches, but because it is the authoritative definition of the church about God and his relationship to man.
If you force them to accept your interpretation of various verses, are you not then making the interpretation the authority instead of the word which can be potentially read otherwise? Again I am not arguing that scripture necessitates that view, but I am wondering how in the worldview of sola scriptura the trinity could ever be a necessary doctrine. I cannot conceive of it being so.