This week on Advent Next theological podcast, we are discussing the development of trinitarian doctrines in the Christian church, particularly the development of the trinity within Adventism. Dr. Denis Kaiser is the assistant professor of the Church History department at Andrews University. Surprisingly, Dr. Kaiser began his journey in the church as a staunch anti-trinitarian.
“I think the difficulty we encounter is we have one term that we use. And it’s the same term that other Christians use. So the term ‘trinity,” which I think in general, just describes the basic concept that there are three divine persons, personalities, and they are one. But the question of course, is, What does it mean that they are one? What does it mean that there are three persons? How do we understand the term ‘person’?”
We begin our journey in the 4th century during the council of Nicea. Dr. Kaiser provides a brief overview of some of the tensions and argumentations presented in the early church that contested our modern understanding of the trinity. The early church wrestled with understanding the dual divine and human nature of Christ, as well as the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
“Tertulian talks about the triad. Now the language is not Biblical, but in the Bible, we seldom have technical language. We just try to capture what we see, the phenomena, and try to find terms to capture that and grasp that.”
Even in the early century, the concept of the trinity was present. Questions about Christ’s relation to the Father (was he co-eternal or did He have a point of origin in the distant past?) became a topic of debate.
Moving forward through history, these same questions regarding the relation of Christ to the Father and the nature of the Holy Spirit were present in the Adventist pioneer history. Early Adventists, according to Dr. Kaiser, were semi-Arian, meaning they believed that Jesus had a point of created origin in the distant past, yet this view evolved. Eventually, these same pioneers left their semi-arian beliefs and came to understand that Christ was indeed co-eternal with the Father.
Dr. Kaiser reflects on his early anti-trinitarian view saying, “I felt closely connected to the Adventist pioneers...Since we believed that God led the Adventist pioneers, we thought, therefore that they must be right in everything. But of course, this is based on a very monolithic static view of Adventist history.”
You don’t want to miss this insightful discussion with Dr. Kaiser on the topic of the trinity and the development of trinitarian theology within the Sabbatarian movement, also known currently as the Seventh-day Adventist church.