The Trinity Issue
Personal Background and Context
Final Message . . .
"I feel my spirit stirred within me. I feel to the depth of my being that the truth must be borne to other countries and nations and to all classes.
Let the missionaries of the cross proclaim that there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, who is Jesus Christ the Son of the Infinite God. This needs to be proclaimed throughout every church in our land. (Ms40-1891.78; Ellen White 1888 Materials 886.3)
"The knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ expressed in character is an exaltation above everything else that is esteemed on earth or in heaven. It is the very highest education. It is the key that opens the portals of the heavenly city. This knowledge it is God’s purpose that all who put on Christ shall possess" (MH 457).
. . . Focused Ministry . . .
“The Galatians were given up to the worship of idols... And in the light of the cross many who had never before known of the true God, began to comprehend the greatness of the Father's love. “Thus the Galatians were taught the fundamental truths concerning ‘God the Father’ and ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.’ ‘By the hearing of faith’ they received the Spirit of God and became ‘the children of God by faith in Christ.’ Galatians 1:3, 4; 3:2, 26.” (AA 207.2-AA 208.1)
. . . Final Movement
"Of all the great religious movements since the days of the apostles, none have been more free from human imperfection and the wiles of Satan than was that of the autumn of 1844. Even now, after the lapse of many years, all who shared in that movement and who have stood firm upon the platform of truth still feel the holy influence of that blessed work and bear witness that it was of God" (GC 401).
The issue is important on at least two counts:
1) The unity of the church is tied to a true knowledge of the Son of God: "Until we all come to . . . the knowledge of the Son of God" (Ephesians 4:13).
2) The 3 Angels' Message - Revelation 14 - is the most important chapter in Scripture for the Advent movement. It contains 3 imperatives; 3 commands to humanity before the 2 final harvests. God is telling us what to do before the end - and all 3 commands re-direct human focus to God the Father.
4 texts make the case clear: Rev 14:7 with Acts 14:15, Matthew 16:16, and John 6:69.
The final call to humanity before the end is a call to take God the Father seriously.
And so, my invitation to . . .
Getting to Know the Father and His Son Better
"And this is life eternal, that they might
know thee the only true God, and Jesus
Christ, whom thou hast sent"
"One God and Father of all" (Eph 4:6).
"and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess 1:9-10).
"Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love" (2 John 3).
"Christ came to preach the gospel to the poor. He reached the people where they were. He brought plain, simple truth to their comprehension. How simple His language! Even the poorest, the unlearned and ignorant, could understand Him. Not one needed go to a dictionary to obtain the meaning of the high-sounding titles or words that feel from the lips of the greatest Teacher the world ever knew. While the priests, the rulers, and the expounders of the law were considering themselves as the only teachers of the people, He told these learned rabbis that they were both ignorant of the Scriptures and of the power of God"(RH July 19, 1887).
Clearing up a Misconception About Christ
Simply put, Jesus is the Son of God. Period.
"From the beginning [=before the incarnation!], God and Christ knew of the apostasy of Satan, and of the fall of man through the deceptive power of the apostate. God did not ordain that sin should exist, but He foresaw its existence, and made provision to meet the terrible emergency. So great was His love for the world, that He covenanted to give His only-begotten Son, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
And from the beginning, Jesus as the Son of God was the target of an obscuring misrepresentation:
"This fact the angels would obscure, that Christ was the only begotten Son of God" (Lt 42-1910.3).
This is the heart of the Great Controversy!
"Christ was the only begotten Son of God, and Lucifer, that glorious angel, got up a warfare over the matter, until he had to be thrust down to the earth" (Ms 86, Aug. 21, 1910).
"Satan was well acquainted with the position of honor Christ had held in Heaven as the Son of God, the beloved of the Father. And that he should leave Heaven and come to this world as a man filled him with apprehension for his own safety" (RH March 3, 1874).
I therefore include several presentations on this topic, including:
The Truth About the Trinity
A humble appeal to the Church - an earnest plea with God's people
"That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God,
even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:6).
A Simple, Practical Proposal
I simply propose a reversion to the pre-1980 wording of our fundamental beliefs, esp. #2-5. As a supportive Seventh-day Adventist, I believe in God the Father, His literal Son Jesus Christ, and their Holy Spirit:
”But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. 6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. 7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ“ (Gal 4:4-7).
Trinitarian 3-in-1 language goes beyond the revelation of Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy.
My goal when it comes to theology: "As simple as possible, as difficult as necessary" (Eberhard Jüngel, Tübingen).
My basic conclusions are available for free via the pamphlets posted on the side.
At the Risk of Temporal Loss
A Personal Perspective - What Happened?!
How I got into this topic to begin with . . .
For years I had questions in my mind when presenting the doctrine of the Trinity - not that we can fully understand God by any means, but the concept of the Trinity lacked a “Thus sayeth the Lord”, and it defied the most basic of logic. Many texts used to defend this doctrine simply don’t say what we make them say, which was quite disturbing at best, and intellectually dishonest at worst.
But beyond doctrinal and denominational squabbles, I truly wish to know Jesus better. Deeper. Closer. So here’s my story, still unfolding.
I was a “mainstream” pastor and professor for 20+ years, earnestly searching my heart, seeking to teach the truth, learning (and yearning) to love people more genuinely (including my family); in short, going about the Lord’s work.
Turning Point: The TOSC Committee on Ordination
Then came the TOSC Committee on ordination at the General Conference (2012-2014). After an insightful presentation by a pastor on the relations within the Godhead, a top-tier biblical scholar stood up and categorically exclaimed (in my hearing!): “God does not have a Son!” I was stunned - and vowed to make this my next topic of study. [The scholar has since clarified that God didn’t have a “natural” Son, like humans do via pro-creation. I maintain, however, that God had a literal Son, though the details are not revealed).
With the ordination debate getting old and not going anywhere (it was irredeemably paralyzed by analysis, emotions, misunderstandings, and presuppositions), I had asked God for a while what to study next. All during the ordination debate I knew there was something else amiss in our theological exchange; I just couldn’t put my finger on it. But here it was: The Sonship and true identity of Jesus Christ - really, the heart of the Great Controversy and the depth and height of the Gospel.
Reading the Bible
To that end I proceeded to read through the entire New Testament (in Greek), simply paying attention to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - no other literature or sources.
I was stunned again by the clear and consistent distinction between God and His Son Jesus Christ, and the absence of stock phrases such as “God the Son” and “God the Spirit”. The introductions to the New Testament letters in particular caught my attention. Here just one example (it works with every letter!):
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:7).
Mind you, again, I wasn't in any contact with any anti-trinitarian movements, people, literature, or sources at that point. I was simply reading, studying, pondering. Alone with the Alone!
I embraced John 17:3; Rom 15:6; 1 Cor 8:6; 11:3; Eph 4:4-6; 1 Thess 1:9-10; 1 Tim 2:5; 2 John 3; Rev 3:12.
Then at a church conference (at which I presented seminars) a speaker was expounding on Jesus’ relation to the Father. I sat up in my chair and elbowed my wife:”This guy knows what I know!”
To my surprise, other pastors and scholars were studying the issue of the Trinity as well and were independently coming to similar conclusions!
During that time I was also invited to speak at Michigan Camp Meeting on the topic of the Trinity. I eagerly agreed and kept studying. A few weeks before the camp meeting (Summer 2016) I realized that I could not defend the doctrine of the Trinity (meaning 3 divine persons = 1 God, as formulated traditionally and by our fundamental beliefs) in good conscience, esp. not with the Bible in one hand and the Spirit of Prophecy in the other. It slowly dawned on me that I was in big trouble!
Michigan graciously granted me permission to speak on a different topic. I took the opportunity to sit in the Trinity seminar, led by a Conference officer. In startling disbelief I patiently listened to the now familiar misuse of Scripture on the topic, and a puzzling oversight (avoidance?) of key Ellen White quotes. I carefully read the presenter’s book (whom I greatly respected), underlining and taking notes - increasingly confirmed in my conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity was unbiblical.
The 28 Fundamental Beliefs
In the Summer of 2017 representatives from the NAD (North American Division) came and shared with our Religion Department at Southwestern Adventist University that all professors of religion would eventually have to sign an affirming statement of the church’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs. (I don’t think this was in any way related to my situation). If a professor could not support those Fundamental Beliefs in any way, a peer review process of that professor’s beliefs would be initiated. I saw the writing on the wall, but it never came to that process for me.
The Beginning of the End
After simply liking some relevant and non-antagonistic questions on the Trinity on Facebook, one thing led to another and I lost several camp meetings in 2017 and 2018 over this issue. Some cancellations were based on mutual agreement of cordiality and respect. I did not want to bring ill repute on any church entity or leaders. “Touch not mine anointed” (1 Chron 16:22; Ps 105:15). This is one reason I have not engaged in theological debate on social media. The tone of sarcasm, irony, belittling, ridicule, etc. is not befitting a dialogue involving divinity.
A mere Like on Facebook . . . and the emails started coming. Mind you, I hadn’t spoken, printed, published, preached, or taught any anti-trinitarian sentiments. I also discovered along the way that other denominational employees can deny Ellen White, 1844, the heavenly sanctuary, the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments, the veracity of the Sabbath from Friday evening to Saturday evening (from the pulpit!) with no implications. But merely touch the doctrine of the Trinity and the axe falleth quickly. Unfortunately, rational thinking, biblical dialogue, and historical frameworks are overshadowed by emotional, knee-jerk reactions and dismissal - and much bearing of false witness. If the pioneers could turn over in their graves, the inside of their caskets would be polished to a silver shine!
I very much appreciate the handful of scholars, pastors, and leaders who have reached out to me in a spirit of respect and constructive dialogue. Face-to-face dialogue is still the best.
Summer 2018: At the Risk of Temporal Loss
After confiding in a church leader that it was best for me not to participate in a Conference’s camp meeting due to the rumblings of a rising rumor mill, word quickly spread of my pre-1980 pioneer views (which, again, I had neither taught, preached, or published at that point). A couple of phone calls by third parties in May 2018 led to the quick end of a 20-year teaching/pastoring career for the denomination - overnight, with no study committee, no peer review, no departmental consultation, no prescribed denominational processes, and no pioneer-like wrestling with Scripture together and prayer.
In my over 25 years of denominational ministry - and during those difficult summer days - I have learned that it is best to speak to people face-to-face. Regretfully, this is often not the case. How much misunderstanding and interpersonal harm would be prevented by following this simple procedure!
Most stunning was a comment by a church administrator during all this: “Ingo, you might be right (!), but they have to protect the institution.”
No comment. The statement speaks for itself.
The need for my resignation became most apparent - though I entertained no “new light” . . .
I discovered and supported a belief acceptable for over 100 years!
Historical Context: Landmarks
Consider this historical factor - and affirmation:
“The leading points of our faith as we hold them today were firmly established. Point after point was clearly defined, and all the brethren came into harmony. The whole company of believers were united in the truth. There were those who came in with strange doctrines, but we were never afraid to meet them. Our experience was wonderfully established by the revelation of the Holy Spirit” (3MR 413 1903).
“As a people we are to stand firm on the platform of eternal truth that has withstood test and trial. We are to hold to the sure pillars of our faith. The principles of truth that God has revealed to us are our only true foundation. They have made us what we are. The lapse of time had not lessened their value” (Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 2, p. 51. 1904/CWE 52).
Simply put, "God is the Father of Christ; Christ is the Son of God. To Christ has been given an exalted position. He has been made equal with the Father. All the counsels of God are opened to His Son" (8T 268).
“No line of truth that has made the Seventh-day Adventist people what they are, is to be weakened. We have the old landmarks of truth, experience, and duty, and we are to stand firmly in defense of our principles, in full view of the world” (6T 17).
The Gospel is so precious and meaningful in the framework of the one true God and His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ. Honestly and humbly, I have gained a whole new understanding (and really appreciation and admiration) of the love of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Gospel. My heart is warmed, my mind at awe. I bow as the shepherds did, with really no gift in my hand. The gift is all His.
For the sake of peace and unity, I also resigned as head elder from my beloved church plant my wife and I helped raise between 2014 and 2018. I did not wish to split a thriving congregation into an independent movement, or cause discord among the brethren. I also did not want to put my local conference in an awkward position.
Interestingly, since my departure from denominational labor literally dozens of staunch church members and respected elders (even pastors) have quietly confided in me, sharing my concerns about the wording of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs - which were never meant to be a creed AND are subject to change at every General Conference.
Some high-ranking leaders have admitted to me privately that the wording of Fundamental Belief #2 in particular was, indeed, problematic.
I simply advocate for a return to a previous, more biblical wording of our fundamental beliefs. In my studies I have concluded that trinitarian formulations are the result of a misguided attempt for the Advent movement to become ecumenically acceptable to other Christian entities.
The oneness of God is clearly not one of 3=1, but as Ellen White defined in MH 421 (which, I have discovered, is what many faithful Adventists believe):
“The Scriptures clearly indicate the relation between God and Christ,...The unity that exists between Christ and His disciples does not destroy the personality of either. They are one in purpose, in mind, in character, but not in person. It is thus that God and Christ are one” (MH 421; John 17:22!).
Therefore, I am convinced and convicted that our 1872 Statement of Fundamental Principles was sufficient in concept and wording:
“IN presenting to the public this synopsis of our faith, we wish to have it distinctly understood that we have no articles of faith, creed, or discipline, aside from the Bible. We do not put forth this as having any authority with our people, nor is it designed to secure uniformity among them, as a system of faith, but is a brief statement of what is, and has been, with great unanimity, held by them.
I. That there is one God, a personal, spiritual being, the creator of all things, omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal, infinite in wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, truth, and mercy; unchangeable, and everywhere present by his representative, the Holy Spirit. Ps. 139:7.
II. That there is one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father”
Simple. Straight-forward. Biblical.
Many have pointed out to me that “we cannot understand God”. Agreed. But also consider this:
“We must know Him as He reveals Himself...all depend upon a right knowledge of God. This is the knowledge that is essential preparation both for this life and for the life to come”... “A knowledge of God is the foundation of all true education and of all true service” (MH 409).
From August 2018 - December 2020 I had the privilege of working as a hospice chaplain. What a blessings this ministry is. But the times are critical; I believe we live in the final generation. I have decided to dedicate myself full-time to the proclamation of the 3 Angels' message.
Labor in Bonds
At times we labor in bonds. Many who have embraced the truth of the Father and Son of late are experiencing this hardship. But courage! Gen 50:20!
”And yet in less than two years the gospel found its way from the prioner’s lowly home into the imperial halls. Paul is in bonds as an evildoer; but ‘the word of god is not bound’” (2 Tim 2:9; AA 462).
”Yet it was at this very time, when its chief advocate was apparently cut off from public labor, that a great victory was won for the gospel” (AA 462).
”In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul ascribed to his own imprisonment his success in winning converts to the faith from Nero’s household. Fearful lest it might be thought that his afflictions had impeded the progress of the gospel, he assured them: ‘I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel” Phil 1:12; AA 463).
”Human expectations had failed, but not the purpose of God. Not by Paul’s sermons, but by his bonds, was the attention of the court attracted to Christianity. It was as a captive that he broke from so many souls the bonds that held them in the slavery of sin. Nor was this all. He declared: ‘Many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Phil 1:14; AA 464).
Finally . . .
“Paul’s patience and cheerfulness during this long and unjust imprisonment, his courage and faith, were a continual sermon His spirit, so unlike the spirit of the world, bore witness that a power higher than that of earth was abiding with him. And by his example, Christians were impelled to greater energy as advocates of the cause from the public labors of which Paul had been withdrawn. In these ways were the apostle’s bonds influential, so that when his power and usefulness seemed cut off, and to all appearance he could do the least, then it was that he gathered sheaves for Christ in fields from which he seemed whollly excluded” (AA 464).
”By meekness under trial, no less than by boldness in enterprise, souls may be won to Christ. The Christian who manifests patience and cheerfulness under bereavement and suffering, who meets even death itself with the peace and calmness of an unwavering faith, may accomplish for the gospel more than he could have effected by a long life of faithful labor.
Often when the servant of God is withdrawn from active duty, the mysterious providence which our shortsighted vision would lament is designed by God to accomplish a work that otherwise would never have been done.
Let not the follower of Christ think, when he is no longer able to labor openly and actively for God and His truth, that he has no service to render reward to secure. Christ’s true witnesses are never laid aside . . From the ashes of the martyrs has sprung an abundant harvest for God” (AA 465).
[I’m indebted to my faithful wife for pointing out this admittedly painful reality to me from her personal devotional time.]
I encourage all believers in the one true God and the Lord Jesus Christ not to let “any root of bitterness springing up” (Heb 12:15).
A church leader recently asked me what I consider myself, regardless of outcome of all this? Without hesitation I responded:
A Seventh-day Adventist. From head to toe.
So, at the risk of temporal loss, onward, Waldensians.
”Lord! Open the eyes of the King of England!” - Tyndale
Ingo Sorke, Ph.D. - update 1.9.2021
“Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest reasoning I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word.
I cannot or will not recant anything. For to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us.”