Modern Anti-Trinitarianism and Islam

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Modern Anti-Trinitarianism and Islam  (1912) 
by Nicholas M. Steffens

Missionary work among Mohammedans is beset with many difficulties, which are not encountered in other fields. Missionaries among Moslems have to deal with a fanatical opposition to the Christian faith in God as triune. To speak of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, causes in every bigoted Moslem an outburst of hatred, that lies latent in his heart. Taking this into consideration, would it not be better to emphasize the ethical character of Christianity and to leave the obnoxious doctrine of the Trinity severely alone? If the signs of the times do not deceive us, some missionaries are inclined to answer this question in the affirmative. We would be sorry, indeed, if such a policy should ever prevail. This would involve a compromise, which is impossible for a loyal Christian who believes that Christianity is the religion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It would be a calamity if anti-Trinitarian leanings ever obtained a foothold in mission fields among Moslems. Of course, missionaries should make use of common-sense and pedagogical wisdom in presenting the revelation of the triune God to fanatical opponents, but as followers of Jesus Christ they must also have the courage of their convictions.

There have been many anti-Trinitarian movements in the Church of Christ since she began her course. I prefer to call these movements anti-Trinitarian instead of Unitarian, because they are a reaction from the Trinitarian development of the Christian faith. It is true, modern Unitarians look upon their conception of God as an advance upon the traditional Trinitarian development; their view, they maintain, is more in harmony with culture and science, than our Christian faith in the triune God.

This is a grave mistake; we also wear a modern dress, although Christianity is old. We believe in progress on the right and safe tracks, but modem Unitarianism is an advance along a wrong road; it is a descent and not an ascent; it does not represent progress but rather retrogression. I also prefer the term anti-Trinitarianism to that of Unitarianism, because Christians are, as far as their relation to polytheism is concerned, Unitarians, Monotheists in the true sense of the word. It may be that the unity of God has been placed now and then in the background, but as a rule the Christian Church has always upheld the unity of God. But we protest on behalf of God's unity against an abstract uniformity in God's essence. We adore, as true Theists, the mystery of the Holy Trinity, as revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures, and we also admire the work of the Church in building up the doctrine of the Trinity.

Let men criticize as they will the formulation of this doctrine in the works of Systematic Theology, but let them have reverence for the mystery of the triune God. We cannot comprehend this mystery in its height and depth, its length and breadth; we apprehend it, however, by faith, and see so much glory and beauty in it that we rejoice and are glad. Our faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the only true and living God, seems to us so reasonable that no rationalistic attacks upon it can really alarm us. The rationalistic pseudo-Trinity, viz.: God, freedom and immortality, shows the barrenness of any monotheistic view, that is not based upon the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

We are rich in our Christian faith, we become poor if we enter into a compromise with anti-Trinitarianism in any form. F. C. Baur, the father of the Tubingen School, who cannot be accused of being a friend of traditional orthodoxy, was correct in his statement that Christianity would have lost its character as the universal religion of mankind if Arianism had been triumphant at Nicea.

Let us with boldness proclaim it everywhere in the face of anti -Trinitarians of every description, that Theism and faith in the triune God are intimately joined together. We have real communion with God, because in Jesus Christ we are in blessed relationship with Him. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, because He is the Son of God.

God created man as a religious being, forming him in His likeness. This endowment gave him an indelible character - as God's offspring, which even the deepest degradation of his sinful estate cannot efface. This is the reason why savage tribes still possess a craving after God. How can this communion with God, which alone is eternal life, but which was lost in Adam's fall, be restored to man?

By a God, perhaps, who in majestic transcendence is enthroned on high, out of the reach of His creatures? Certainly not. Even if it were possible to be admitted to the court of this heavenly monarch and to have audience with Him for a few moments as Mohammed claimed to have enjoyed, would this be communion? The deistic conception of God excludes communion with God most rigidly. Or is it, perhaps, possible by a God, who, without being transcendent, is immanent in the monkey as well and in the same manner as in man, God's image bearer? Such an immanence, wherein as a rule modern Unitarians delight, does not constitute conscious communion between God and man.

Neither Deism nor Pantheism lead us up to God; the former is cold and unattractive, the latter attractive to a certain extent, but unreal. It is a fact, that the anti-Trinitarian conception of God forces Mohammedans as well as modern Unitarians, as a rule, to vacillate between Deism and Pantheism. No wonder these systems are rather philosophical than theological, hence they share the character of most of the philosophical systems, viz.: to be either deistical or pantheistical, either Kantian or Hegehan.

In Christian Monotheism alone the transcendence and immanence of God are so intimately joined together that the transcendence of God fills us with awe and reverence, which leads us to adoration, while the immanence of this transcendent God binds us to Himself with the cords of love, creating within us filial confidence and devotion. The unity of transcendence and immanence, although it is beyond our comprehension, is more easily understood than the abstract Monotheism of the anti-Trinitarians. When we say that we believe in the triune God, we indicate thereby that we believe in a God who is separated from His creatures, having placed His majesty above the heavens, and who is near them in His Son, who was willing to be His servant, and assumed our nature in order to be obedient unto death. Our God is the living and true God, because there is a divine movement in the eternal inter-relation between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The true nature of this inner divine life we cannot comprehend, but it is a reality, which we apprehend by faith. In the works of God, ad extra, this life of God is clearly manifested. The Father is the source of everything, the Son reveals the Father's footsteps in creation, and the Holy Spirit changes the chaos into a wonderful cosmos. This life of God, which truly is immutable but by no means immovable, guarantees us our communion with Him, who is the life of His creatures. And applied to the sinful condition of mankind, we have approach to God the Creator through the Son, who not only reveals Him as our Father but who also dies to save us, in the Holy Spirit, who by indwelling in us completes and perfects our communion with the triune God.

We repeat that the Holy Trinity is a mystery, but it is a mystery which secures to us not only a pure theology, but also a joyful and active religion, and this is not a speculation or poetical conception, but a positive reality. Rationalism has no place in it, but it is thoroughly rational. Truly, there is communion with God, because He is triune in His unity. To know this God, who is the only true and living God, is eternal life, because He unites us to Himself in Jesus Christ, whom He has sent, and who as the Logos became the Son of man and the Lamb of God. Away with that abstract unity which is the unity of a stone. I have often thought that the stone in the Kaaba at Mecca, which the pilgrims kiss, is a fit symbol of the Moslem Allah How oppressive this abstract unity of God must feel when the soul longs for real communion with its Maker. Some one has said, if the locus de Deo is wrong, then the whole S3'stem goes wrong with it. It influences the doctrine of man in his integrity as well as in his sinful condition; and especially is the doctrine of salvation obscured, when there is no place for a divine Saviour. It sometimes seems that we are not always conscious of how great the treasure is, that we have in faith in the triune God.

Let us beware of compromises with Mohammedanism. Let us uphold the banner of Christianity, notwithstanding all the enmity of the Moslem world against it. "Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross and despised the shame." If we are unwilling to preach to the followers of Islam the truth, nothing but the truth and the full truth, it would be better to give up the evangelization of the Moslem world and to leave the field to modern Unitarians, who soon would find out their affinity with the followers of Mohammed in the doctrine of God, and be convinced that they have nothing to give to hungry and thirsty souls who long for righteousness. Cultured Unitarianism has a hopeless task to perform in grappling with the fanatical Unitarianism of superstitious Moslems. The testimony of history is not at all favourable to Unitarianism as a missionary agency. In Ofila's days Arians had succeeded in estabhshmo: Unitarianism among the Goths, and it seemed for a time as if Arianism were to gain the day, in a considerable part of Europe at least. But Arianism has vanished as snow and ice in spring. The Unitarian churches established in those days have left no vestige behind them. They exerted no influence on the nations among whom they dwelt, and of missionary enterprises undertaken by them hardly anything is known.

And who were the great missionaries during the critical period of the migration of the peoples? They came from Britain, and belonged either to the Catholic or the Culdean Churches. They had their differences and quarrels, yet they were to a man believers in the triune God. By them the continent of Europe was evangehzed. Their enterprises were blessed, and their work was by no means ephemeral. Their methods of work were imperfect, their faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, was strong and active. That the Churches of the Middle Ages were not entirely uprooted during all the upheavals and catastrophes of those dark days, that they were able not only to keep their own faith but also to spread faith in regions beyond the civilized world of that day, they certainly owed to their firm belief in Christ as the Son of God, which virtually is belief in the triune God.

Allow me to draw your attention also to the detrimental influence Unitarianism has exercised on missions during the reign of the Rationalism of the eighteenth century. Pietists and Moravian brethren had begun a fine missionary work, the former in India and the latter in West India and other fields. The University of Halle, where Franke taught in the spirit of Spencer, was the centre of pietistical missionary enterprises. The beginnings were grand, and promised much for the future. Ziegenbalg, Schwartz and Pluetschau were very much blessed in their work. It seemed as if India was to turn to Christ and to surrender to Him. But, alas! this was not to be. Pietism, with all its extravagances, yielded to the illumination; and Halle, strange to say, became the citadel of a dry and cold Rationalism, which discarded the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures and with it the doctrine of the Trinity, in order to establish a kind of deistical natural religion. The missionaries, who were then in the field, joined the ranks of the Rationalists, and they soon found out that there was no work for them to do. They left the field, and the promising beginning ended in complete failure. The modern Unitarianism of Rationalism acted as a night frost does upon vegetation. At the same time the missionary efforts of the Moravian brethren continued to grow and flourish. Their theological conception of the doctrine of the Trinity was possibly crude, still their faith in the Godhead of the Son of God was strong and full of devotion. And this soteriological aspect of the doctrine certainly is the core of the matter.

There is really no place for Unitarians in the mission field. Ethics divorced from faith in the triune God is no lever to lift up sinful men from their lost condition. They need the Father in heaven, who sends down from thence His Son as His servant to rescue them from perdition, objectively through His atoning work and subjectively through the application of this work through the Holy Spirit, whereby they learn to apprehend it by faith in Jesus Christ. Trinitarian Christian workmen, full of the Holy Spirit, are the only ones who have reason to expect success in their work anywhere, and especially among Moslems.

Unitarians may succeed in extending Western culture, but people are not saved by culture. Cultured Moslems, stripped of their fanaticism and superstition, remain what they were—enemies of the cross of Christ and of the doctrine of the Trinity. And if their hatred turns into indifference, they are, perhaps, further away from the kingdom of God than their co-religionists were in their former condition.

Nicholas M. Steffens.::Holland, Mich, U.S.A.