The Litmus Test

Recently I had a “conversation” with one of our local seminary professors and occasional teacher of our Discipleship group regarding the Trinity.  In a recent class she taught regarding her specialty, Old Dead Guys (Edwards, Luther, Calvin, etc.) she made a comment that seemed to indicate if one did not believe in the Trinity then they were not a Christian.

If you follow this blog you’ll know I took exception to that idea. Not because I don’t believe in the Trinity but because adding orthodoxy as a litmus test of personal faith is problematic. So, I asked her about her comment via email.  She confirmed my understanding and explained that belief in the Trinity was so important to proper orthodoxy that men were willing to die for it.

Here are my concerns with that and some thoughts I shared in reply. First, dying for a cause or a belief is not indicative of the credibility of the cause or belief. Men died over slavery, both pro and con, in the Civil War. Terrorists have died and continue to die over their beliefs. That commitment to die over a belief does not necessarily lend credibility although it does speak to a level of devotion.

Second, having any portion of orthodoxy attached to the sincerity of one’s faith in Christ does something very important—and perhaps wrong. It adds something to the Christ alone concept of salvation. We can’t proclaim Christ alone and then add an element of orthodoxy to it. It doesn’t matter whether that orthodoxy is the Trinity, belief in the virgin birth, eternal conscious torment, or a 6 day creation. (Think here of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.)

Certainly we can expect a particular group to adhere to a particular orthodoxy and that’s perfectly fine. Like-mindedness is a common denominator among the varying denominations that dot the landscape of Christendom. However, once we measure another’s personal faith in Christ with the yardstick of a particular orthodoxy I believe we run into problems.

This does not mean anyone can believe just anything. Scripture gives us quite clear guidelines on a good many things. Some may have been conditioned by culture and some more universal in nature. Nevertheless, whether one believes in a literal 6 day creation and another believes in 6 ages, neither should serve as a litmus test regarding faith in Christ. However, if one believes God was not involved at all in creation, then there may be a problem. Not necessarily a problem of saving faith, but a problem of a reasonable understanding of the biblical story.

Orthodoxy is a good and helpful product. We need levels of orthodoxy to define what we believe as individuals, groups and even denominations. However, orthodoxy shouldn’t necessarily define who we are in Christ. And it certainly shouldn’t give us any “muscle” to say one person or group is right and the other wrong regarding a good many beliefs. You may believe strongly in the idea of eternal conscious torment as the supposed biblical idea of hell. That doesn’t require me to subscribe to your belief. I should be free to embrace an annihilationist position if supported by similar biblical texts.

There’s only one litmus test that matters; a saving belief in Jesus Christ.



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2 responses to “The Litmus Test

  1. vonleonhardt2

    The real reason the trinity is a litmus test, IMHO, is that no one experiences the Church’s Christ except as the Son, and that entails knowing the Father & the Spirit. We have one God, and we experience him in these three ways. If you don’t know the Son, you don’t know the Father. There are many “Jesus” that people have faith in, liberal Jesus, Mormon Jesus, etc.

    Yes, it’s a MYSTERY (Trinity is to often put forward as an “answer” it’s more a limiter) of how we experience him in multiple ways. Therefore it is an important test to confirm within ourselves the spirit in us is the Spirit of Jesus the Son… it’s so important that salvation speaks in terms of adoption and the Father.

    So I don’t think its a small matter at all if the Church cares to preach the Jesus that can actually save; many people’s Jesus’ can’t.


  2. vonleonhardt2

    not “of how” but it explains how


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