the Spirit Watch
The Trinity Studies:
An Analysis Of Gwen Shamblin's "Essence Of God" Statement
Part 3: "The Nicene Creed / When The Debate Started "
by Rafael D. Martinez, Co-Director, Spiritwatch Ministries
Shamblin’s document now turns our attention to her account of how the Christian doctrine of the Trinity came into being. It becomes immediately clear that Gwen Shamblin believes that the development of the doctrine of the Trinity was suddenly formulated at the great church council of Nicea in 325 AD. To her, the Nicene Creed was the product of towering compromise, a sucker-punch to the face of apostolic truth which was engineered by the geopolitical and religious intrigues of wicked men out to corrupt true Christianity. In typical black and white terms, Shamblin now begins to set forth her views on how the doctrine of the Trinity emerged, doing so in a very simplistic and idealized form that serves her propagandizing very well indeed.
Our discussion by necessity must now shift to discussions of history and theology which Shamblin doesn’t even begin to touch upon. And yet it is the content of these two subjects in relationship to the Nicene council that simply must be raised. There’s an old saying that says that there are few more tragic things to see then when beautiful fables are brutally slain by ugly facts. Be advised – there will be much we will be looking into which will unveil a slaughter.
THE NICENE CREED (325 A.D.)
Three hundred years past the death of Christ, a council met in Nicea, and they started developing a totally new concept that was both foreign to the Jews and the early Christians.
This man-made creed, now known as “the trinity”, has been summarized as follows:
“Are there more Gods than one? There is but one only, the living and true God. How many persons are there in the Godhead? There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” (Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 1963). (6)
WHEN THE DEBATE STARTED
Prior to the release of the “god-head” trinity statements, there were no books written on the essence of God, nor were there any controversies, for everyone knew that God was God and that a Messiah would come. There was no discussion of three heads, three “persons” or three anything. God had never been referred to as a person or a “triune being.” There was no need for debate given that this concept never crossed anyone’s mind until 325 A.D. Since then, there have been volumes written to try to explain this new creed. Why would it take volumes? The reason is because it is inexplicable in light of the Word of God.
Shamblin sets out to review both church history and theological development in the first three centuries but only shows how woefully deficient she is in both of these fields. She first cites the Westminster Shorter Catechism's concise description of the doctrine of the Trinity. Then she claims that “a council met in Nicea” and that “they started developing a totally new concept .. (a) man-made creed” which had never been heard of before. Obviously, to Shamblin, this is the formal statement of the doctrine which emerged from the conciliar deliberations held at Nicea in Asia Minor. She goes on to quote from a well-respected standard reference work by Zondervan to provide a concise version of this doctrinal position – that there is one God eternally existent in three divine persons of Father, Son and Spirit. This is one of the rare times you’ll see Gwen Shamblin actually approach a degree of fleeting objectivity in her work here.
But notice how quickly this fades as she describes the work of the Nicene council: she declaims it as developing “a totally new concept .. foreign to the Jews and the early Christians.” And she never actually quotes the Nicene Creed itself, either. Shamblin’s deconstruction of the historical reality is summarized in her bold statement that prior to Nicea, there had been no belief in the deity of Christ or the Spirit, and that such views were unknown to believers and Jews alike. And implicit in her denials is that the teaching of the doctrine of the Trinity was nothing less than the product of drybone and backslidden theologians who only brought confusion to an issue supposedly long settled since the time of Christ. But this is a gross misrepresentation of what we know now, with the hindsight that two millennia of Christian historical scholarship has provided.
From the time of Jesus onwards, right alongside the growth of the Christian church there also sprang up sects that adopted an unholy mix of elements of the Christian faith along with their own teachings. The Gnostics, the followers of Marcion and the Ebionites were part of the incredibly diverse and at times tumultuous sectarian division the Christian Church withstood in its first three centuries of existence. Such factionalism occurred over doctrine and practice in Christian communities all across the ancient world: it completely refutes the romantic notions about the Christian Church being a shining, perfect beacon of truth throughout the ancient world at that time. One writer’s account of the times attests to how one could visit one seller in a marketplace and hear one view of Christ preached by them and go to another seller around the corner and hear a completely contradictory view pushed them! Some would go so far as to make your affirmation of what you believed about Jesus a test of fellowship as well as worthiness to do business with them! And all of this was going on decades before the Nicene Council ever convened.
Both these rival groups and the Jewish nation stumbled over and rejected truths that Shamblin tries to claim were never known – that is, that Jesus Christ Himself asserted to be the I Am, God incarnate in human flesh and as God the Son is no less Lord than His Father. The historical reality is completely different. Scripture itself is our primary testimony to this: we’ve already seen this in just a few verses in the book of Revelation. We’ll see more as this study progresses. There is also the vast amount of religious scholarship that compellingly shows that the first Christians were viewed Jesus Christ as God who “appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16). The most convincing primary sources for this scholarship date back to the earliest known oral Christian traditions. Preserved in the writings of the leaders of the first century church, they attest to the deity of Christ repeatedly. We will quote sparingly from these here since deeper research could easily fill a book. One example is found in the writing of the bishop Ignatius, said to be a disciple of the apostle John and one of the earliest well known Christian martyrs, in his famous epistle to the Ephesians written around 107 AD:
“We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.” (8)
Time simply won’t allow us to go into any great review of this. Ignatius’ teaching, drawn from the godly traditions he very likely had heard from one of the authors of the New Testament itself, is just one of many examples contained in these ancient church writings (called the Ante-Nicene – or “pre-Nicene” – Fathers, an entire volume set I personally own). But what I will again emphasize is that the burden of proof is far more crushingly borne by Gwen Shamblin’s divisive dogmatism than that of the Christian Church. We will see the evidence for this mount as we go on to the next portions of Shamblin’s discourse:
There was a big difference between the two approaches for persuasion: one side used/uses the loving words of Jesus, the Prophets, and the Apostles for promoting the truth, while the other side used/uses slander, sarcasm, labeling, fear of isolation and, in the past, torture and burning at the stake (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, John Foxe, 1583). Reason and fear are very different. Since we originally released the Essence of God statement, several preachers have called, come by the office, or written to say that they agree with my statement. Some admitted to having remained quiet because of the unyielding and forceful criticism and labeling that they would have to endure. Never did Christ force His view by fear - but the enemy would try to get Him to change His views by threatening death and carrying it out.
Gwen Shamblin’s case for her “Essence of God” teaching shifts suddenly to an appeal to the moral high ground she thinks she occupies as a result of her very public rejection of the Trinity doctrine. As I have pointed out in our series of Bible studies on her “do Scriptures”, this is a literary tack she will take in her writings. She will jump back and forth between bursts of teaching and unabashedly emotion-laden rhetoric meant to confuse the issues at hand. Here, she defines the controversy in characteristically and comfortably black and white terms by trying to clumsily draw parallels between her troubles and loss of church market share to the persecutions and violence of sectarian rivalry that occurred in the Dark Ages. There is even an extraordinary claim made of a band of preachers calling in to say they supported her antitrinitarian positions but remained silent to avoid being “labeled.”
Her chief concern about the “two approaches for persuasion” at first glance sounds like a plea for toleration but instead only reveal the depth of her paranoiac worldview, further inflamed by the controversy she undoubtedly felt under fire from. Shamblin viewed reality around her in terms of who was with her, aboard her fanciful “ark” and supportive of her vision, and who was not, those who walked in darkness and who were out to get her. She pathetically assumes that the rejection and outcry against her heresy was the bitter fruit of those on “the other side” who were out to spread lies and fear about her. It’s a typically self-centered interpretation of events, and her report of preachers calling in saying they believed in what she said appears to have the ring of a self-promoting falsehood. She claims but offers absolutely no proof of a groundswell of preachers who rose up to defend Shamblin’s heresy: instead there is just the opposite (Don Fisher, the ex-pastor who joined Remnant Fellowship doesn’t count, by the way).
This is the first of many attempts where Gwen tries to drape herself in the colors of martyrdom: frankly, in light of the horror and agony that the true Christian martyrs of the past endured – and today, yet suffer – her efforts are singularly repulsive. Martyrs were those who underwent horrific social and physical agonies too horrible to describe here for the sake of their faith in Christ, and who didn’t have the benefit of e-mail pulpits, a cushy mansion and frequent cocktail parties to help them. But in her twisted mind, Shamblin readily accepted this delusional rationale and proceeds on with more of it: in so doing, she raises even more questions.
There has been many a Christian killed by the hand of professed Christians for disagreeing that God and Jesus are “one person” and disagreeing that God’s Spirit is a third person. People were, and still are, disfellowshipped and labeled for believing that Jesus is the Son of God. This practice was adopted by mainstream Protestant churches, and even today one is still labeled a “cult” if you do not believe that there are three co-equal partners in one godhead – a description that is not found in the confines of Genesis to Revelation.
Again, Gwen is long on dramatic assertions, but very short on any kind of support for them. First she speaks of outright murder of those who were antitrinitarian but who claimed to be believers at the hand of those who also claimed to be Trinitarian Christians. It’s an assertion that certainly is plausible in light of the historical record that is on hand where religious conflicts among rival Christian sects across history sometimes did occur in the shedding of blood and outright murder. The sad history of the Christian church does have such cases to own up to.
But what does this prove? What point is she trying to make here? The answer would appear to be that she’s trying to get all the mileage she can out of her supposition that she’s just a victim of the evil System of Protestant churches who demonize and destroy those who don’t agree with the doctrine of the Trinity. She seems to be referring to Remnant members whose only crime was that they believed “that Jesus is the Son of God,” and who were “labeled” cultic and were “disfellowshipped.” It’s evocative and troubling at face value, but Shamblin’s repugnance at finding herself, and by default, her movement’s followers, having to go through “labeling” is what she’s really railing about. She is indignant that the Christian Church would dare to rise up and discern that her view of Christ’s sonship is heretical. She portrays her Remnant heresy as an innocent assertion of pure faith in Jesus as God’s Son, when as we have and will see, is a complete and bald faced deception.
And it is interesting to note that in this portion of the document, she clearly implies that she denies the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. We’ve already seen that she completely ignored the role of the Holy Spirit in her initial diagramming on the “essence of God.” She wants people’s attention on the relationships between God and Christ Himself, which is where her focus on the distinction between their persons and Christ’s Sonship is really going to be emphasized. And this is done only in the middle of a rambling diatribe where she protests the outrages she perceives herself as enduring for the sake of her beliefs. It’s not a clear way for you to find someone affirming them, but it is trademark Shamblin. So in this portion of her talk, we’re already seeing where she’s going in defining her views of the “essence of God”: to her, the Spirit of God is an impersonal reality of some sort and is irrelevant to the discussion at hand, and since there is only “THE GOD”, Jesus can’t be Him, but someone else that is perplexingly called “Lord.”
(6) Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 1963 edition, p. 871. The rest of Dr. James Oliver Buswell's article immediately following this citation appears to have been lost on Shamblin:
It is important to realize that the doctrine of the Trinity has not been given to the Church by speculative thought. It is not an a priori concept, nor in any sense derived from pure reason. This doctrine has come from the data of historical revelation. In the process of history, God has revealed himself as one God, subsisting in three Persons. God as revealed in the Bible is not a simple undifferentiated Subject, but His being is in three objectively distinguished Subjects.
(7) The Ante Nicene Fathers, (Eerdmans: reprint 1989), vol. 1, p. 52
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