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An Explanation of Unitarian Christianity

D. R. Miano

PREFACE

 

A manual such as this is meant simply to express the general belief of the majority of Unitarian Christians and is intended to familiarize the interested person with the Unitarian Christian faith. The term “Unitarianism” once referred specifically and exclusively to a Christian denomination. Over the last century, however, particularly since the advent of the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1961, the movement has transformed into a diverse body in which there is great variance in theological opinion, including non-Christian theists and even “humanist” atheists. The sentiments outlined in this handbook are representative only of those holding to the original Christian tradition in the Unitarian movement.

 

Briefly described, Unitarian Christianity is, like other forms of Christianity, a religion that asserts the divine character, divine spirit, and divine foundation of the teaching of Jesus Christ. It places particular emphasis on reason, conscience, and free will in religion and uses contemporary methods to understand myths and symbols of the past. It is a progressive religion, founded on and patterned after the elemental Christianity of Jesus and his disciples. Like that model, it seeks ever to form surer and nobler understandings of God and of the world by a conscientious search for truth. It lays great stress on the ethical responsibility of individuals, of the Church, and of the human race. Unitarian Christianity is distinguished from other Christian religions in four main respects:  

 

1) the belief that human nature in its present condition is neither inherently corrupt nor depraved, but exactly as God created it and intended it to be from the beginning, capable of both good and evil;

2) the conviction that no religion has a monopoly on holy spirit or theological truth;

3) the belief that the Bible, while inspired of God, is written by humans and therefore subject to human error;

4) the rejection of traditional doctrines that malign God’s character or veil the true nature and mission of Jesus, such as the doctrines of predestination, eternal damnation, the Trinity, and the vicarious sacrifice or satisfaction theory of the Atonement.

 

Other religions may subscribe to one or more of these views, but Unitarian Christianity is unique in upholding all of them. It is the rejection of the Trinity doctrine that gave rise to the name “Unitarian,” although disavowal of the Trinity teaching is hardly the emphasis of Unitarianism. Unitarians have great respect for all forms of Christianity, but are convinced that their Christianity best reflects Jesus’ own vision.

 

What follows will attempt to explain in more detail the reasons for the views outlined above and provide further information about Unitarian Christians and their religion. This handbook is based loosely on the “Manual of Unitarian Belief,” penned by James Freeman Clarke in 1884, but reflects developments made in Unitarian Christian thought since that time. As in the case of the original, every proposition contained in it is liable to discussion, correction, and revision. There is, of course, a variety of religious opinion even among Unitarian Christians and no doubt many Unitarian Christians would find something in this handbook with which they disagree. Nevertheless, it is a fair representation of Unitarian Christian thinking. The author hopes that it will stimulate and arouse inquiry and deeper reflection on Unitarian Christianity among both Unitarian Christians and those interested in learning more about the faith.

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

I.                    Religion

II.                 Christianity

III.               The Bible

IV.              Creeds

V.                 God

VI.              Jesus Christ

VII.            Faith and Belief in Christ

VIII.         The Work of Christ

IX.               The Holy Spirit

X.                 Humanity

XI.               The Problem of Evil

XII.            Atonement and Reconciliation

XIII.          Probation, Judgment, and Retribution

XIV.         The Future Life

XV.            Conversion and Regeneration

XVI.         Prayer

XVII.       Religious Duty

XVIII.    Free and Rational Christianity

XIX.          The Church

 

 

 

ARTICLE I.
RELIGION


§ 1. Religion may be defined as the worship and service of God. It is an expression of appreciation for and towards the Creator, who deserves such worship, and is a reciprocation of that One’s love, honor, and respect.

 

§ 2. Religion can be an enhancement to human life, as it heightens consciousness, increases emotional wellbeing, draws one to better oneself, and nourishes the sense of self-value. It is a vehicle through which to express or develop spirituality through prayer, ritual, religious or spiritual readings, and connection to others and God. For some it adds meaning and purpose to life, or a personal sense of mission. It also provides a source of guidance or comfort when needed. Faith in things unseen and eternal give people the hope of continued existence. Successful religion produces a change in worldview and leads to a wiser, more compassionate society.

 

§ 3. The following elements in the human soul constitute the basis of religion: (a) a sense of dependence upon the Creator, (b) conscience, or the sense of right and wrong, (c) the ideas of duty and responsibility, (d) reason, or the faculty which perceives universal and necessary laws, and (e) aspiration, which tends toward the good, the beautiful, and the true. That religion is natural to humans is demonstrated by the fact that, in a higher or lower form, it has been manifested among all peoples and cultures, in ancient and modern times.

 

§ 4. Natural religion is that which is awakened by the sight of the order and beauty of nature, of its suitability to the use of living beings, and of its variety and unity, leading the rational mind up to the conception of a Creator who is supreme in power, wisdom, and goodness.

 

§ 5. Revealed religion consists of the disclosures, or discoveries, of divine truth made to inspired persons, thus producing lawgivers, prophets, philosophers, and spiritual leaders for the human race.

 

 

ARTICLE II.
CHRISTIANITY


§ 6. Christianity is the religion taught by Jesus of Nazareth and his apostles, as recorded in the New Testament. As such, it is a revealed religion. However, it is not exclusive of or in opposition to natural religion, but is complementary to it.

 

§ 7. All those who try to live by the words of Jesus are Christians. When they read the life and teachings of Jesus, they find in them what feeds their moral and spiritual nature and satisfies the highest needs of their inner being. They then believe consciously and experimentally in him, because he helps them to be good and to do good. When a Christian is able to compare the character and truth of Jesus with those of other teachers and masters (like Moses, Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, or Socrates), he or she finds in him a greater depth and fullness of spiritual life than in any other. Although they respect and find value in the sayings of the other great teachers and masters, they believe intellectually in Jesus as the best of them (1 Cor. 3:11). This is what makes them Christian.

 

§ 8. In accordance with Jesus’ teaching, Unitarian Christians hold that practical religion is summed up in love to God and love to humankind (Matt. 22:34-40). Unitarian Christians highly value those forms of Christianity that strive to be ever more in accordance with the teaching of Jesus and that are more frequently associated with free thought and social progress, two principles that Jesus himself promoted and exemplified.

 

 

ARTICLE III.
THE BIBLE


§ 9. Unitarian Christians regard the Bible as a sacred book because it brings us near to God by placing us in communion with the deepest and loftiest experiences of other humans who searched for God. Many of its authors were successful in their search and, on occasions of divine inspiration, discovered and revealed divine truths. Inspired writings are not merely the result of pure thinking, but come from a region higher than the human experience. Thus the Bible, in many ways, may be seen as a form of Divine self-disclosure. It is not the only such work, but Unitarians hold it in high esteem because it is the foundation of the Abrahamic tradition from which come Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the three great monotheistic religions.

 

§ 10. The Bible was inspired, not to be perfectly accurate in matters of science and history, but to teach, to reprove, to correct, and to train in righteousness. In other words, the purpose of its instruction and training is to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Bible accomplishes this purpose perfectly. With this in mind, Unitarian Christians are keen to pay attention in the Scriptures to whatever admonitions are directed toward a universal audience and to learn from principles governing admonitions directed toward a limited or circumscribed audience.

 

§ 11. The respect that Unitarian Christians give to the Scriptures is a reason, they believe, for studying them with particular care and for understanding the principles of interpretation by which God’s messages, embedded within, may be uncovered. We ought to expect occasional obscurity in such a book as the Bible, which was written for past and future ages, as well as for the present. But God's wisdom is a pledge that whatever is necessary for us, and necessary for salvation, is revealed too plainly to be mistaken, and too consistently to be questioned, by a sound and upright mind.

 

§ 12. Although considering it, on the whole, an inspired book, Unitarians also regard the Bible as coming not only from God, but also from humans. It is full of human experience, sorrow, joy, temptation, sin, repentance, trust, hope, and love. Coming from the deepest places in the human heart, it goes to the deepest places. Written by many people and at different times, it is of various application and value. We find that many portions of the Bible, instead of being concerned with universal truths, refer specifically to the times when they were written, to the cultures, people, concerns, states of society, and patterns of thought that have passed away, and without the knowledge of which we are constantly in danger of assigning to all times and places what was of local (and temporary) application. These documents often strongly bear the mark of the persons who wrote them. That an individual’s genius and character show themselves clearly in such writings tells us that they did not compose by Divine dictation. Therefore, acquaintance with their feelings and influences is a vital preparation for understanding their works. Human language is subject to various interpretations, and every word and every sentence must be understood and explained according to the subject under discussion, according to the intentions, beliefs, circumstances, principles, and idiosyncrasies of the writer, and according to the idioms and capabilities of the language that he uses. With these views of the Bible, we feel it is our duty to exercise our reason upon it constantly, to compare, to infer, and to look beyond the words themselves to the spirit of the message itself.

 

§ 13. Unitarians see some variation and discrepancy in the Bible’s theology and morality, which are affected by the times and circumstances of the various writers. Beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures and progressing to and through the New Testament, the truth has unfolded itself gradually to human eyes and continues to do so. Unitarians give due regard to this phenomenon. The apostle Paul refers to the growth and development of knowledge about divine things and compares it to his own personal experience: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child; now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11). Unitarians likewise put away the childish things of former days.

 

§ 14. Unitarians therefore do not believe in the infallibility of the Bible, as some other Christians do. Objections to the doctrine of plenary or infallible inspiration of the Scripture are such as these:

 

(a) The Scriptures nowhere claim or assume infallibility. The texts usually relied on (2 Tim. 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21) teach that the prophets and apostles were inspired, but do not assert that their inspiration made them infallible.


(b) The Bible contains errors and contradictions that are fatal to the theory of its infallibility. But if its authority consists in its being more full of truth and goodness than any other book, then its errors of detail cannot shake its divine power over the mind and heart.


(c) The apostle Paul distinctly declares the partial, provisional, and temporary nature of that which he teaches. Having said that he is inspired and led by the Spirit to know and to speak Christian truth (1 Cor. 2:10-16), he adds, in the same epistle, that all knowledge, so far as we are able to state it, is partial, relative, and incomplete, and will be done away with (1 Cor. 13:8-12). Accurate knowledge is something of the future—both for Paul and for us.

 

Inspiration leads to the sight of truth and reality, but not necessarily to a perfectly accurate description of what is seen. But these errors of expression do not detract from the authority of the Bible as a teacher of the best moral and spiritual truth.

 

 

ARTICLE IV.
CREEDS


§ 15. The union that exists among Unitarians is one of sympathy and cooperation, not of formulas. No one among them has the right to decide what the others should believe.

 

§ 16. A creed is simply a statement of belief or a list of points on which people can agree. In this sense creeds are good, useful, and desirable for individuals. If a number of persons who hold the same belief unite to convince others of its truth, this also is natural and right. If they state their beliefs in propositions and articles, this also may be useful. To such creeds Unitarians do not object. Many of their churches and organizations have adopted such statements of opinion.

 

§ 17. But Unitarians object to religious creeds under the following circumstances: (a) When they are made a test of character; (b) When they are made a condition of fellowship; (c) When they become an obstacle to the spiritual progress of the Church or of an individual. Most of the creeds of the Christian Church have been liable to these objections. They have been made a test of Christian character, contrary to the distinct statement of Jesus that obedience, not belief or profession, is the true test of character (Matt. 7:15-27; 19:16-21; see also Eccl. 12:13), and that true religion consists in love to God and fellow humans (Mark 12:28-34). They have been made a condition of Christian fellowship, contrary to the declaration of Jesus that whosoever shall do the will of God is like a mother and sister and brother to him (Mark 3:35). They have been obstacles to progress, imposing the opinions of past centuries upon present belief. Though Unitarians reject such creeds as these, their religious convictions are no less distinct and earnest. But since perfect knowledge is of the future, it is wise not to be dogmatic at this time (1 Cor. 4:5).

 

§ 18. Some object that Unitarians’ aversion to creeds results in too great a divergence of opinion in their religious views. But Unitarian Christians agree on the fundamental aspects of their religion, which include the indispensable tenets of Christianity (in their most basic, unrefined form), and which emphasize that which Jesus himself emphasized, namely, godly attitude and behavior. One of Christ’s apostles, in a letter to Timothy, urges his reader not to teach doctrine beyond the healthful words of Jesus and the teaching that accords with godly devotion, warning that questionings and debates about words can lead to envy, strife, abusive speech, wicked suspicions, and violent disputes about trifles (1 Tim. 6:3-5). Indeed, history has shown that whenever Christian leaders required all worshippers to accept doctrine beyond the necessary exhortations for good living, these were the sad results. God has so made the human mind that, as soon as people really begin to think, they begin to differ. If, therefore, there is no difference of opinion in a church, it shows that there is no individual thought in that church. Men think alike only by not thinking at all. This is assent, not conviction. Such belief is, in reality, no belief and has no value. The only agreement in opinion that is worth anything is that harmony which comes after full and free inquiry about subjects on which men differ. Only thus can questions really be settled; without such free discussion, differences are only covered up. The variety of opinions among Unitarians is therefore the evidence of free thought.

 

 

ARTICLE V.
GOD


§ 19. Unitarians believe that God is one—one being, one mind, one person, one intelligent agent, and one only, who is supremely wise, powerful, holy, and good, and whose highest attribute is love. This is the one called “Father” by Jesus and his disciples.
Unitarian Christians recognize and openly acknowledge that God is genderless, but because of the limitations of language and the difficulties in describing the Deity in non-human terms, they sometimes follow the biblical convention of using masculine adjectives and pronouns to refer to God. The Unitarian belief concerning God can be expressed in the words of the New Testament:

(a) As regards God’s indivisible unity. Jesus answered, “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord” (Mark 12:29); “We know . . . there is no God but one” (1 Cor. 8:4); “God is one” (Gal. 3:20). We find no intimation that this language was to be taken in an unusual sense, or that God's unity was a quite different thing from the oneness of other intelligent beings that were created in God’s image. 

(b) That this one God is called “Father” in Scripture. “To us there is but one God, the Father” (1 Cor. 8:6); “One God and Father of all, who is above all” (Eph. 4:6).

(c) That God is supremely holy, supremely powerful, supremely knowledgeable, and yet near and accessible to all. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Rev. 4:8); “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20); “He is not far from every one of us; for in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:27); “For of him, and through him, and to him are all things” (Rom. 11:35); “One God…who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:6).

(d) That God is essentially love and loves all his creatures, both bad and good. “He that does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8); “God is love, and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16); “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten son” (John 3:16); “Love your enemies . . . that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:44-45).

(e) That God is deserving of worship. “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). However, we give honor, not merely because God is our Creator, but because we were created for good and holy purposes; we pay allegiance, not simply because God’s will is irresistible, but because God’s will is the perfection of virtue. Could we bow before a being, no matter how great and powerful, who governs tyrannically? We respect excellence, whether on earth or in heaven, and believe that in no being is the sense of right so strong, so omnipotent, as in God. We believe that the Deity’s almighty power is entirely submitted to that One’s perceptions of rectitude; and this is the ground of our piety. We venerate not only the loftiness of God’s position in respect to the creation, but the equity and goodness on which that position is established.

 

§ 20. God cannot be portrayed in pictures or sculptures, because God is spirit. Therefore those who worship God—according to Jesus’ teaching—must worship God in spirit and truth (Acts 17:29; John 4:24).

 

§ 21. The doctrine of the Trinity, as stated in the creeds of all the so-called orthodox churches, is this: that there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and that these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory, but distinguished by personal properties. Unitarians reject the doctrine of the Trinity for the following reasons:

 

(a) Because the doctrine of the Trinity is claimed to be derived from the Bible, but is nowhere plainly taught there. This difficult and profound doctrine, if it were so fundamental to Christianity, must have been presented by Jesus and his apostles with great clarity and precision and guarded from misconstruction with particular care. However, in the many passages that speak of God’s nature, there is not one in which we are told that God is a threefold being, or that God is three persons, or that God is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In fact, the Scriptures abstain from stating the Trinity so entirely, that when Trinitarians wish to describe it, they are forced to go outside of the Bible and to invent words and phrases not found in Scripture. The Unitarian opinion is reflected well in the words of W. E. Channing: “That a doctrine so strange, so liable to misapprehension, so fundamental as this is said to be, and requiring such careful exposition, should be left so undefined and unprotected that it must be made out by inference and hunted through distant and detached parts of Scripture, this is a difficulty which, we think, no ingenuity can explain.”

 

(b) Because the texts quoted in support of the Trinity are inadequate or irrelevant. Scriptural passages that list the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together prove nothing except that there are a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit. Frequently, Trinitarians make their argument by showing instances where Jesus and God are described as having the same attributes or titles. But using the same logic, let us notice that in the New Testament almost every “divine” attribute claimed for Jesus is also claimed for his disciples. Was he said to “know all things”? It is also said to them, “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things” (1 John 2:20). Is it said that he was “without sin”? It is also said of them, “Whoever is born of God does not sin” (1 John 5:18). Did Christ work miracles? He says of the believer, “Greater works than these shall he do” (John 14:12). Did God give to Christ a glory which he had before the world was? He says of his disciples, “The glory which you gave me, I have given them” (John 17:22). Did he rise from the dead to a higher life? Paul says: “If the dead are not to be raised up, neither has Christ been raised up” (1 Cor. 15:16) and “As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:49). Did Christ come to judge the world? It is said of the disciples, “Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world?” (1 Cor. 6:2). Did God dwell in Christ? It is written of his followers, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). No faith can be supported on this sort of reasoning. The Scriptural passage on which Trinitarians rely most heavily is John 1:1, which reads in most Bibles, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Most people agree that the Word refers to Jesus. What is important to note about this verse is that the first instance of “God” (theos) is preceded by the definite article (ho), whereas the second is not. The Greek language had a definite article (“the”), but it did not have an indefinite article (“a” or “an”). So when a predicate noun is not preceded by the definite article, it may be indefinite or have a qualitative meaning, depending on the context. In this case, we should understand the final clause to mean that the Word was “godlike,” “divine,” or “a god” (Compare Acts 28:6). Many unbiased translations reflect this understanding. Surely to speak of the Word as God contradicts the earlier statement that he was with God.

 

(c) Because there are many texts in the Bible plainly opposed to the Church doctrine of the Trinity. Such are the texts in which the Father is called the one or only God, which could not be said if the Son is also God and the Holy Spirit God: “For though there are many that are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, (as there are many gods and many lords), to us there is one God, the Father” (1 Cor. 8:5,6); “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Jesus prays to the Father, saying, “Father! The hour is come!” and immediately adds, “This is life eternal, that they might know you are the only true God” (John 17:3). He also says, “My Father, who gave me them, is greater than all (John 10:29), and then he makes it clear that he is one of the “all” when he says, “I go to the Father, for my Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). The apostle directs the Ephesians to give “thanks always, for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:20). If the Son were God, and the Holy Spirit God, it would be our duty to pray to them also. But all prayers are commanded to be addressed to the Father (See Matt. 6:9; John 4:23, 16:23).

 

(d) Because the Trinity teaching, said to come from Jesus, arose long after Jesus. The history of the evolution of the doctrine is well known. The Apostles’ Creed, which in its substance goes back to a very early Christian period, contains no trace of the doctrine of the Trinity. It calls God “the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” Before the outbreak of the Arian controversy, almost every theologian thought that the Son was in some sense subordinate to the Father. The original Nicene Creed (produced at the Council of Nicea in 325) took the first step and declared that the Son is of the same substance as the Father. A number of bishops were reluctant to sign the creed because of this expression, but they were coerced into doing so by an appeal to “unity.” Even so, the creed knows nothing of the Trinity. It calls Jesus “God,” but speaks of him as “God of God,” meaning “God derived from God,” and so makes his divinity derived and dependent. It was not until the year 381, after much controversy and party strife, that the doctrine of the Trinity was established in the Church at the Council of Constantinople. Immediately after the Council, Theodosius the Emperor issued an edict that decisively established this version of the Christian faith by threatening to declare anyone who did not accept it as a heretic.

 

(e) Because the doctrine has no other foundation. Not only is there inadequate support for the Trinity in the Bible, no valid or credible evidence in support of the Trinity doctrine outside of the Bible has ever been found.

 

(f) Because the doctrine is unintelligible. Although many attempts have been made to explain it, none have proved logically or philosophically satisfactory to the human mind. It therefore remains, even by the admission of its advocates, a mystery; and a mystery is something unintelligible and therefore cannot be an object of belief.

 

It is clear that Unitarians are no less Christian than the early followers of Jesus, who also never put Jesus on the same level as God the Father.

 

§ 22. Unitarians object to the doctrine of the Trinity, because, while acknowledging the unity of God in words, it subverts that unity in effect. The doctrine divides and distracts the mind in its devotion to God. It defeats the effectiveness of true monotheism, which is to offer us one object of worship, one supreme figure, one person to whom we may ascribe all goodness, in whom is concentrated all our love and vitality, and whose beautiful and venerable nature may pervade all our thoughts. True piety, when it is directed toward an undivided Deity, has a singularity and a chastity that strengthens and enriches religious reverence. But the Trinity, though claiming to represent one God, sets before us three distinct objects of the highest honor, three infinite persons having equal claim on our hearts, three divine agents each performing different roles and who are to be acknowledged in those roles and worshipped accordingly. The doctrine of the Trinity degrades God and injures devotion, not only by creating additional objects of worship, but by taking the highest affection away from the Father, who rightfully deserves such affection, and transferring it to the Son, the most attractive person in the Godhead for most Christians. People are inclined to worship a figure most like themselves, and this is where the snare of idolatry lies. A God who appears in our own form, having the same desires and feelings that we do, speaks to us more strongly than an invisible spirit in heaven, who is unapproachable in a human sense and difficult to comprehend in human terms. Veneration of Jesus as God is a form of idolatry.

 

 

ARTICLE VI.
JESUS CHRIST


§ 23. All Unitarians believe that Jesus is one mind, one soul, one being, as truly one as we are, and equally distinct from the one God. They believe Jesus to be a created being, finite and not infinite, and therefore below the Supreme Being in his nature and person. We cite the following reasons for this conviction:

 

(a) Because the Scriptures teach that there is one God, who is distinct from the Christ. See 1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; Eph. 4:5-6.

 

(b) Because Jesus plainly distinguishes himself from God. See Mark 10:18; John 16:27; 17:7-8 (compare also John 13:3).

 

(c) Because the highest powers and glory ascribed to Christ are said to be given to him by God. See Phil. 2:9; Col. 1:19; Acts 2:36; 3:13; 5:31; Matt. 28:18; John 5:19; 10:29; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 1:2, 9; etc.

 

(d) Because we find no account in Scripture where Jesus reveals to his disciples that he is God. They regarded their Master as a man, but wiser and better than themselves, and having an intimacy with God so as to be called “Son of God” (Matt. 16:15-17). We should surely have found in the New Testament some trace of the astonishment and awe that must have come upon them if the wonderful fact had been communicated to them that their Master was the Supreme God.

 

(e) Because we find no opposition made by the Jews to the doctrine that Jesus was God. It must be remembered that Christianity was born and grew up among enemies who were on the lookout for any part of the religion that might be seen as objectionable. They would have found the Trinity doctrine, with all its apparent contradictions, a particularly gratifying target. Nothing could have seemed more abhorrent to the Jewish mind, which adhered to a belief in the unity of God, than to be told that Jesus was the Sovereign Lord Yahweh. But in the apostolic writings, which relate so much about objections against Christianity and to the controversies that grew out of this religion, not one word is said in defense and explanation of the Trinity. Had Jesus’ apostles preached a God of three divine persons, co-equal and co-infinite, one of which was the man who had recently been executed as a criminal, they would have been obliged to repel a continual barrage of verbal assaults. Is it not strange that such objections are not recounted in the early Christian writings? Not even a hint or whisper reaches our ears from the apostolic period. To be sure, on one occasion the Judeans falsely bring the charge that Jesus, being a man, made himself God (John 10:33). Jesus, instead of saying, “Yes! I am God,” answers by quoting a passage in the Hebrew Scriptures, where those to whom the word of God came were called gods, and then says that he had only called himself the Son of God (John 10:36). After this, no such charge was made by the Jews. We find many accusations made against the apostles, but they are never charged with calling their Master the Supreme God. They were only commanded not to teach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18, 5:40).

 

(f) Because Jesus prayed to God. See Luke 6:12; Matt. 11:25; Luke 22:42; Heb. 5:7.

 

(g) Because he taught us to pray, not to himself, but to the Father. See Matt. 6:9; John 16:23; Luke 11:1, 2.

 

(h) Because he taught us to worship, not himself, but the Father. “The true worshippers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him” (John 4:23).

 

(i) Because God is called the God of Jesus Christ. See Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 11:31; Eph. 1:3, 17; 1 Pet. 1:3.


(j) Because Jesus himself teaches his subordination to God. “The Father is greater than I am” (John 14:28); “I have not spoken out of my own impulse, but the Father himself who sent me has given me a commandment as to what to tell and what to speak” (John 12:49); “Concerning that day and hour, nobody knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32); “This sitting down at my right hand and at my left is not mine to give, but it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matt. 20:23). Paul teaches similarly: “The head of the Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3).

 

§ 24. The Bible is clear about Jesus’ subordination to God, but its testimony is less so regarding Jesus’ precise nature in relationship to God. The titles “Christ,” “Son of God,” and “Lord,” although undoubtedly accurate and fitting descriptions of Jesus from a Christian perspective, are somewhat abstract, and thus Unitarians may differ in their understandings of them. Some Unitarians believe that Jesus was a man, entirely human in mind and body (1 Tim. 2:5; Rom. 5:15). However, they say, he was an exceptional man, made free from sin and kept so by an exceptional divine influence, made perfect in all spiritual and moral attributes, that he might be the leader of his race. In this view he was endowed with supernatural gifts by which he was distinguished from other men. Some Unitarians think Jesus to have existed as a spirit before he was born a man on earth and to have been created by God before all other finite beings. This view is supported by a few texts that call Christ “the first-born of every creature,” the being through whom all other things were created, etc. (Col. 1:15, 16; John 1:3), and by Jesus statement: “Before Abraham existed, I have been” (John 8:58). Other Unitarians hold that Jesus was neither divine, nor even an exceptional man, but a representative man, such a man as all are intended to be. In this sense he is the ideal man. In their view sin is not natural, but unnatural, and a sinless man is more truly a man than is a sinner. They also believe that all men will grow up into the stature of Jesus and become like him, so that he will be the first-born among creation. They contend that the typical man is not the imperfect, but the perfect man, just as the typical plant or animal of any species is not an imperfect but a perfect specimen. Any other view, say they, takes us back to the doctrine of natural depravity (see § 40).

 

§ 25. As the Scriptures frequently call Jesus “the Son of God,” but never call him “God the Son,” he must have been the Son in the sense of an intimate union with God and dependence on him, rather than something of God’s own essence. When Jesus said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), he must have meant one in sympathy, since he prayed that his disciples might be one, even as he and the Father were one (John 17:11). He certainly could not have intended to ask that his disciples might be one in essence or substance.
 

§ 26. Unitarian Christians believe that the great glory of Jesus is his spiritual and moral glory. His true greatness was in his devotion to the Divine will, his sympathy with suffering people, his readiness to perform the lowliest tasks and bear a death of shame in order to save humankind from the power and evil of sin. All this is continually expressed in the New Testament, in passages similar to that in Philippians 2:5-11. In this place the apostle exhorts his disciples to have the same mind that was in Jesus, who, being the chief manifestation in the world of the Divine character, did not ambitiously grasp at the honor of that high dignity, but was willing to die the death of a slave in the service of humanity; and he adds: “Wherefore God also has highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This passage, often quoted as a proof-text by Trinitarians, is actually an argument for Unitarian views of Jesus, because, while it attributes to him the highest honors, it states that these are all given to him by God, that he is exalted by God, and that this great authority is “to the glory of God the Father.” And it also ascribes the origin of all this glory, not to the divine nature of Jesus, but to his humility of character. The Scriptures thus teach that (1) all that Christ had, he received from God and (2) that all he received, he received in order to impart it to his fellow humans.

 

§ 27. Though Unitarian Christians do not believe it right to call Jesus “God,” some see no objection to the epithet “divine,” or even “a god,” in the sense that it is used in the Bible of those who receive honor (John 10:34-36), but not in the sense that he should be equated with the Supreme God. All agree that he revealed God as Father, as Love, as Infinite Goodness, as perfect Providence. He is portrayed as the image of the unseen God, the Word of God uttered to the world, the beloved Son dwelling in the bosom of his Father; it is said that he who has seen him has seen the Father, that God dwells in him and he in God. All these expressions teach the intimate union of his soul with the Infinite Spirit, an intimacy which he desired to communicate to all his fellow humans. Unitarian Christians therefore believe in Jesus as a man raised up to be the mediator to his fellow humans of the divine life; but they do not believe that he was God himself.

 

 

ARTICLE VII.
FAITH AND BELIEF IN CHRIST


§ 28. Faith in Christ is trusting in him as a revelation of truth and love. Jesus says, “Have faith in God; have faith also in me” (John 14:1).

 

§ 29. Jesus asked people to believe in him because he knew that he clearly saw the way to help them. If they would only trust in him, he would give them comfort and peace, put their feet in the right path, and enable them to conquer their sins. If we have faith in the wise, the good, the noble, the generous, we also become wiser, nobler, more generous; and as Christ is the wisest and most generous soul that we have ever known, faith in him is the strongest influence of all. His great hope of the coming of a kingdom of heaven on earth has inspired his disciples to overcome the evils of the world. His faith in the parental love of God has brought comfort to the sorrowful and the unfortunate. His faith in the triumph of good over evil has filled the world with a living hope.

 

§ 30. Besides belief in Jesus, there is a belief about him. We form this belief by study and reason. The good of having a distinct belief is that it saves us from doubt, hesitation, and confusion of mind.

 

§ 31. Unitarian Christians believe that the four Gospels contain an adequate historical account of the life, teaching, and character of Jesus. They believe him to be the Lord, Christ, or King, not in the same sense as were the former kings of Israel, but as one who is to be the master of the world by the power of the truth that he taught. That he himself held this view appears from John 18:37: “To this end was I born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.” Some Unitarian Christians believe that Jesus wrought wonderful works of healing, but that it is possible that some of the accounts in the Gospels may have been imperfectly reported. Other Unitarian Christians reject the miraculous element in the Gospels altogether and yet believe in the leadership of Jesus.

 

 

ARTICLE XIII.
THE WORK OF CHRIST


§ 32. Unitarians believe that Jesus felt himself to be sent by God to reveal the truth (John 18:37) and God’s pardoning love (John 1:17; Matt. 9:2, 6), to seek and save the lost (Matt. 18:11; Luke 19:10), to give rest to the weary and heavy-laden (Matt. 11:28), to carry up to a higher morality the law of duty (Matt. 5:18. 20, 21, 27, 33, 39, 44), to sacrifice himself for the good of others (Matt. 20:28), to call sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17), to preach good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, sight to the blind, and comfort to the sorrowful (Luke 4:18; 7:22), to reveal the parental love of God (Matt. 11:27; John 17:26), and to give spiritual life and hope of eternal existence (John 6:40, 47; John 10:10). Among Unitarians there are sometimes differing explanations of these texts; but all agree that the essential mission of Christ is to make people better, wiser, and happier in this world and in that which is to come.

 

§ 33. Unitarian Christians believe it was, and is, the chief work of Christ to save men from sin and death, here and now.

 

(a) Sin refers to all those actions that are committed with consciousness, through which the moral teaching of God is violated. The apostle Paul speaks of human slavery to sin and defines this slavery as obedience to corporeal desires (Rom. 6:12-23). Christ saves or frees us from slavery to sin by his teaching, which reveals what sin is and how we can avoid it: “Whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house upon a rock” (Matt. 7:24). His teaching shows us that right and wrong are rooted in the very nature of the universe and iterates the laws of moral consequence (examples: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” [Matt. 23:12]; “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving” [Acts 20:35]; “With whatever judgment you judge, you shall be judged” [Matt. 7:2]; “Give, and people will give to you” [Luke 6:38]; “No one can slave for two masters” (Matt. 6:24); ‘A tree is known by its fruit’ [Matt. 7:15-20]; “Happy are the pure in heart, for they will see God” [Matt. 5:8]). While the teaching of Jesus manifests the duty and expediency of doing right, Jesus’ life and sufferings demonstrate the truth of his teaching, and how persons can achieve freedom from sin by turning their allegiance over to righteousness. His example shows the possibility, reality, and beauty of a life given to the service of God and humanity: “I have given you an example so that you should do as I have done to you” (John 14:15), “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5), etc.

 

(b) The death that Jesus delivers us from is a spiritual death, referred to in Scripture also as the “second death” (Rev. 2:11), by which we would fall into a state of alienation from God (Rev. 21:7-8; see also §56). By consistently obeying Jesus’ teachings, we “conquer the world,” become regenerate (see §§60-61), and attain everlasting spiritual life, which is the ultimate goal for worshippers of God (Eph. 2:4-5; Heb. 12:9; 1 John 5:11-12).

 

Thus, by a gracious mission, by simple and clear instructions, by encouraging representations of God’s parental love and pity, by winning examples of the transcendent beauty of goodness, and, most of all, by that grand consummation, death, by that exhibition of the curse of sin, and by his compassion even while he was made to bleed, Jesus brings us nearer to God by helping us to escape sin and spiritual death.

 

 

ARTICLE IX.
THE HOLY SPIRIT


§ 34. Unitarian Christians do not believe the Holy Spirit to be a separate person in the Godhead, but to be the influence of God on the human soul, to give strength, peace, light, love. It is said to be poured out, shed abroad, given, distributed, etc. (Acts 1:5; 2:16, 17; 10:45; Luke 11:13; Titus 3:6; Hebrews 2:4). People are said to be “filled” with it, as with wisdom, faith, or joy (Acts 6:3, 5; 13:52). These expressions apply to an influence, but not to a person. It often appears in the text without the definite article. To be sure, the holy spirit is occasionally personified in the New Testament, but so are other non-persons, such as wisdom, death, grace, and sin (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:35; Rom. 5:14, 21; 6:12).

 

§ 35. Unitarian Christians believe this influence to be given by a constant operation, wherever the human heart is prepared and ready to receive it. It helps us to do good, clarifies the intellect, cleanses the heart, and strengthens the will, thus enlightening, calming, encouraging and making one happy. Therefore Christians are told to “live in the Spirit,” to “walk in the Spirit,” and the Spirit is said to “dwell in them” (Gal. 5:16, 25; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). It is given not only to prophets and apostles, to saints and martyrs, but to all who desire help to lead better lives.

 

§ 36. The difference between the influence of the Spirit of God and other influences which come from the Deity is this: that whereas the others come to us from without, through nature, events, and our fellow humans, the influence of the Spirit is God speaking to us within our very being. We commune with God outwardly through God’s works and through the events of our earthly life. We commune inwardly when we are by ourselves and when, in the secret chamber of our hearts, we lift up our thoughts and wishes, our sorrows and sins, to our Heavenly Parent.

 

 

ARTICLE X.
HUMANITY


§ 37. Unitarians respect and value all life, but believe that the noblest creature of God on the earth is the human being. In all persons there are religious capacities, by which they may come into communion with God. These are reason, conscience, freedom, love of truth, of beauty, of goodness, the sense of the infinite, the capability of principled love, and the kindred sentiments of veneration, awe, aspiration, etc. These are found, more or less developed, in all people, and, where properly educated and unfolded, demonstrate the true dignity and worth of human nature (Rom. 2:14-15).

 

§ 38. Unitarians believe that all virtue derives from the human moral nature, that is, from conscience, and from the power to mold one’s disposition and life according to conscience (1 Tim. 1:18-19). This God-given moral faculty distinguishes human nature from animal nature, and its very existence assumes an ability to choose between good and bad. Unitarians therefore reject the notion that all of our actions are predetermined by God. We are commanded to be virtuous, and virtue cannot exist without free will, any more than it can exist in the instinct of lower life forms.

 

§ 39. When Unitarians speak of “the dignity of human nature,” they do not mean the dignity of human nature in its actual condition, but as God means it to be and can make it become. No one can say about him- or herself that she or he has committed no sin, because in spite of the resistance of our spirits, we frequently do bad instead of good (1 John 1:8). We break the laws of God because we are weak, that is, we are children of God in development. Besides our virtues, we have failings as well, which are a constant danger to our humanity because they obscure our understanding, they destroy the quietude of our hearts, and disturb the peace among us (James 1:13-15). But we find in all people powers and faculties which unite them with eternity, no less than with time. We have within us reason, which is capable of seeking and finding the noblest truths. We have conscience, which shows us the difference between right and wrong. We have the power of freedom, by which we can choose good and refuse evil. We have the sense of the beautiful, the true, and the good, and a longing for what is unchanging and eternal. These powers, which are in all people, constitute the dignity of human nature and make it capable of perpetual progress.

 

§ 40. Unitarians reject the Calvinistic doctrines of original sin and total depravity, the responsibility of the human race for Adam's fall, and the belief that, until converted, man is under the wrath of God. They maintain, on the contrary, that God, being just, punishes no one for the crimes of others, and that evils committed by our forefathers may inflict misery, but not guilt. They maintain that the Bible does not teach that human nature was corrupted by Adam and passed down hereditarily to all. When Paul says that “through one man sin entered into the world” (Rom. 5:12) and “by one man’s trespass, many died” (Rom. 5:15), he means that Adam was the one who introduced sin and who set a poor example that others followed. But Paul is very clear that “death spread to all men because they had all sinned” (Rom. 5:12), and not because someone else had sinned. When Paul speaks of involuntary wrong-doing (“sin that dwells in me” [Rom. 7:17, 20]), he is not referring to a something he inherited, but to a selfish habit, which became ingrained when he personally allowed sin to take residence inside of him.

 

§ 41. Unitarian Christians agree with the apostle Peter, who said that anyone that fears God and works righteousness is acceptable to God (Acts 10:34). Jesus accepted people who were supportive of him, even if they were not directly associated with him and his movement (Mark 9:38-40). In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), he commends the good qualities of an “outsider.” And the account of the Day of Judgment indicates that those who treat Christ’s family well, even if they do not embrace Christ himself, will be placed among his sheep (Matt. 25:31-40).

 

§ 42. Unitarians therefore reject the doctrine, taught in some Christian denominations, that God selects a limited number (the elect) to be saved from the corrupt mass of the people of this world and retrieves them by a special influence from the common ruin. Some of them may condemn other religions and assert that God is revealed to one group and to one group only, and that the rest of humankind must affiliate with that group and accept its doctrines of theology (which people by nature may be disposed to reject) or suffer penalty from the Almighty. Nature, conscience, common sense, the general message of the Bible, which includes the mild example of Christ and the numerous positive statements of God’s universal kindness and equity, stand in direct contradiction to these positions. The remonstrances of such groups do not produce all the effects on character that might be anticipated. They tend to discourage the timid, to feed the egotism of the fanatical, and to give excuses to the bad. By portraying a severe and partial Deity, this religious system tends to corrupt and pervert the human moral sense and to create a religion that is ominous, proscriptive, and servile. Instead of moving people to tender and impartial charity, it leads them into censoriousness, bitterness, and prejudice. This system, which begins by degrading human nature, may indeed promote humility at the start, but may be expected to end in pride; for pride grows out of an awareness of distinctions, and no distinction is greater than that between the elected and rejected of God.

 

 

ARTICLE XI.

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

 

§ 43. Any successful religion has a satisfying explanation for why evil exists in the world and why good people suffer. Too many people have turned their backs on God because they cannot see how the presence of evil can be reconciled with the idea of a loving God.

 

§ 44. There are two types of evils that need explanation: evils of will and evils of nature. Evils of will result from the choices that various creatures of God make and usually result from deficiencies or weaknesses on their part, i.e., a lack of love, tolerance, or empathy, a lack of knowledge or understanding, a lack of courage, or a lack of resources. Evils of nature, such as natural disasters or unpreventable illnesses are not a by-product of free will, but are attributable to dangers that are built into creation.

 

§ 45. With regard to the first type of evil, Unitarians Christians are in full agreement. God created the universe and its laws. As part of that creation, we have free will. God does not determine what we will do ahead of time. We can exercise this freedom for good or for ill. Just like a human parent who agrees to allow a child to make some of his or her own decisions, God cannot countermand the choices that his children are free to make by divine permission, even if he knows some harm may befall them. Like a human parent, God can try to persuade them to do otherwise, but ultimately the decision is up to the child. And sometimes the young and inexperienced foolishly get themselves into trouble. Sometimes they actually hurt someone else, someone who may not deserve to be hurt. God can discipline us afterward, but the Almighty cannot prevent it from happening without taking away the gift of free will. God knows that if humans have no free will, then concepts of virtue and the soul have no meaning. If human beings cannot choose to be evil, they cannot choose to be good.

 

§ 46. The second type of evil is more difficult to account for. All Unitarians reject the belief that God uses natural evils as a form of punishment, a lesson learned from the book of Job. Natural evils are just that: natural. They occur in a more-or-less random manner, and often we are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, God, as the Creator, is responsible for the existence of natural evils, and if humans are harmed by these things through no fault of their own, we may wonder why God refrains from protecting them. Indeed, some may say, if God can stop something, but allows it, it is as much his doing as if he caused it willfully. There is no uniform Unitarian position on this issue, because the Deity has chosen not to give us a full explanation. Although the Bible addresses the topic on occasion, its witness is indefinite. It would seem that the only reason an omnipotent God of love would refrain from helping people in these sorts of straits is because some form of restraint exists to prevent such an action. But who or what could restrain God? Since God is subject to nothing, the restraint must be of the Deity’s own design. In other words, there are physical laws and personal principles that God has already set in place and over which God does not cross. God may feel pained to see people experience adversity and may suffer along with us, but God’s own principles prevent him from stepping in and stopping evil (here and now, anyway) because of some greater good. It may be that, in the “greater scheme of things,” the suffering on earth is an acceptable price to pay toward some other aim. In other words, only through a certain amount of suffering caused by forces that God has set in motion is God able to truly achieve his purpose. By interfering, the Divine betrays the Divine. It is a scientific principle that an element of chaos or indeterminancy in the ordered universe serves as a much-needed catalyst for change. Natural evils likewise may be an impetus to necessary change, human progress for example. The great bulk of human advancement has been aimed at overcoming adversities. We are learning to combat sickness and catastrophe. And we are getting better at it as time passes. Some day, we will conquer these enemies to human life. This must be what God wants. We are meant to mature and grow and better ourselves. Without these challenges, we would stagnate. Thus the development of our people as a whole may be the overriding concern.

 

§ 47. No theory about the problem of evil is entirely satisfying to the human mind. We may never comprehend it. Regardless of the reasons for evil’s existence, the Unitarian way is to have faith and trust in the Creator. It is possible to believe that God is good—even as we understand it—if we accept that God’s goodness and eternal aims transcend what we consider good. “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is the only one who understands what is really best for the human race, and for us as individuals. We trust God’s judgment. We could never make the sorts of decisions that God makes, and we best not even try. We leave that up to God. The best faith is the faith that accepts and embraces the perfection and infinity of God’s wisdom and judgment, even though we have difficulty understanding it ourselves.

 

 

ARTICLE XII.
ATONEMENT AND RECONCILIATION


§ 48. Unitarian Christians believe that atonement and reconciliation are the same thing. Both mean a state of union and peace between humanity and God, the harmony between the Divine justice and Divine mercy, and the substitution of trust in and dependence on God for fear and the dread of God’s displeasure.

 

§ 49. Unitarian Christians do not believe that Christ came to reconcile God to humanity, but to reconcile humanity to God, not to make God love us, but to reveal God’s love, not to harmonize God’s justice and mercy, but to show that they are always in harmony. Christ's death was not a sacrifice made to appease the Divine anger, but it was an expression of the Divine love. Paul says, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). The idea that Christ's death has an influence in making God placable or merciful in awakening his kindness towards humans communicates very degrading views of God's character. It gives the impression that the death of Jesus produces a change in the mind of God towards humankind, and that in this its efficacy chiefly consists. Unitarian Christians earnestly maintain that Jesus, instead of calling forth in any way or degree the mercy of the Deity, was sent by that mercy to be our Savior, that he is nothing to the human race but what he is by God's appointment, that he communicates nothing but what God empowers him to bestow, that our Parent in heaven is originally, essentially, and eternally placable and disposed to forgive, and that God’s unborrowed, underived, and unchangeable love is the only fountain of what flows to us through Jesus.

 

§ 50. Unitarian Christians also agree in rejecting as both nonsensical and unscriptural the popular teaching that the human race, because it has sinned against an infinite Being, is infinitely guilty and is consequently subject to an infinite penalty. According to this view, sin, whatever the degree, exposes humanity to endless punishment, and, according to Divine justice, the whole human race, being sinful by nature, cannot escape this awful penalty unless a substitute is found to bear a penalty in its stead. It teaches also that, since the guilt is infinite, no substitute is sufficient except the infinite God himself; and accordingly, God, in his second person, became human in order to pay to his own system of justice the debt of punishment incurred by humans. As a result, humans may now be forgiven of their sins. Unitarians believe, however, that the guilt of any being, in all fairness, must be proportionate to that being’s nature and powers. Moreover, there is not one biblical text in which we are told that God took human form that he might make an infinite satisfaction to his own justice, nor one text which tells us that human guilt requires an infinite substitute, or that Christ’s death could have been effective only if he were an infinite being. In the mind of a Unitarian, God cannot, in any sense, be a sufferer or bear a penalty in the stead of his creatures (although some Unitarians hold that God may suffer along with us). How dishonorable to God is the supposition that the Divine justice is so extreme as to exact infinite punishment for the transgressions of weak and ailing humans, and yet so amenable as to accept the relatively brief pains of Jesus’ human soul as a full equivalent for sins of humans past, present, and future. According to this doctrine, God, instead of being inclined to forgive, requires for forgiveness something humans could never give. It seems absurd to speak of humans as forgiven, when their whole punishment, or an equivalent to it, is borne by a substitute. While Unitarian Christians gratefully acknowledge the importance of Jesus’ death, they believe that he was sent on a much nobler mission, namely, to deliver us from sin itself and to assist us in becoming a virtuous people. They regard him as a Savior in the sense that he is a guide through the darkness and a physician for the diseased mind. They believe that salvation comes, not from the supposed value of a human death in the eyes of God, but from the use of Jesus’ teachings, precepts, promises, and the example of his whole life, character, sufferings, and triumphs, as the means of purifying the mind and heart, and of transforming these into the likeness of the Divine.

 

 

 ARTICLE XIII.
PROBATION, JUDGMENT, AND RETRIBUTION


§ 51. We often hear it said that this life is a state of probation; but we believe it to resemble rather a school, where we are to be educated for a better and higher life hereafter. The trials and sorrows of this life are a wholesome discipline, meant to unfold and strengthen the powers of the soul. We are to learn here the difference between right and wrong, between truth and error, learn to form habits of goodness, learn to love and trust God, learn to live with our fellow humans as family members. To do this, we must often examine and prove ourselves and thus find out our strength and our weakness. In this sense, life can be said to be a period of probation. God does not need to prove us to find out what we are. Indeed, “all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting” (Heb. 4:13). But God delights in seeing us better ourselves.

 

§ 52. We expect forgiveness of our sins only from God. However, God is a patient, loving Parent, who does not reject us because of our evil, but gives us time and the possibility to reform and improve ourselves. This is the forgiveness about which Jesus taught us (Mark 2:15-17; John 8:3-11). We can expect forgiveness of our sins by God if we sincerely repent, turn away from our sins, and daily strengthen ourselves in love and goodness (2 Pet. 3:9).

 

§ 53. Our conscience demands a Divine judgment on all human conduct and character, not so much that the good shall be rewarded and the wicked punished, but that goodness, which has been misunderstood, shall be justified, and that wickedness, which has passed for goodness, shall be exposed, that wrongs shall be righted, and that men shall see the justice of God. The judgments to come, like the judgments of this life, may be different for each individual person. The “Day of Judgment” arrives when anyone comes to know himself as he really is and is seen by others in his true character. It is necessary for a person's own moral progress that he shall be undeceived if he is deceiving himself. But the more a person is able to see his sin here and is ready to confess it and to repent of it, the less he makes the judgments of the future life necessary for him. Therefore it is said, “If we would judge ourselves we should not be judged” (1 Cor. 11:31), and “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). In John 5:22, it is said, “The Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son.” Elsewhere Christ says, “I judge no man” (John 8:15). These passages are clarified by the saying of Jesus, “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). The truth that Christ taught is to be our standard, and by it we shall be judged. The essential thing in the judgment to come is the manifestation of truth to every man's conscience in the sight of God, to see ourselves as we are, and God as God is.

 

§ 54. God’s justice is the justice of a good being, supremely benevolent. All punishment is intended to reform us and to do us good. This principle of the Divine government is expressed in Heb. 12:10, where it is said that the Father of spirits chastens us “for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Unitarian Christians understand this to mean that the Divine system of justice is designed, not simply to give people what they deserve, but to incite them to be good and benevolent, as God is. God's justice has the happiness of the creation as its end, because it understands that virtue leads to happiness, and it punishes for this end alone. Unitarians believe that future retribution comes from the operation of the same laws that produce retribution here. By the everlasting principles of Divine Providence, right-doing tends to moral health, peace, and spiritual growth; wrong-doing to moral disease and suffering. These laws are beneficent in their operation in this world and in all worlds. God's mercy plays a role in these matters too, but it does not work at odds with justice. It is not a blind instinctive compassion, which forgives without regard to the interests of virtue. This would be incompatible with enlightened benevolence. In other words, God’s justice and mercy are intimate friends, always at peace, always in harmony, reflecting the same spirit, and working for the same end. God's mercy has a regard to character as much as his justice does. It strongly desires the happiness of the unrighteous, but only through their repentance. It defers punishment and suffers long that the sinner may return to his or her duty (2 Pet. 3:9).

 

 

ARTICLE XIV.
THE FUTURE LIFE


§ 55. Unitarian Christians generally believe that there is a future life and that it will be a continuation of the present life with opportunity for further growth and development. They see the resurrection of Jesus as a sign and guarantee of this truth. Although the Scriptures do not expound on the nature of the afterlife, they give the assurance that every person will go “to his place,” the place where that one belongs, the place where it is best for that one to be. Jesus says, “In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you” (John 14:2).

 

§ 56. According to the New Testament, there are two forms of death: the death of the body and the death of the soul, or self (Matt. 10:28). The death of the body is a literal death, but one that we are rescued from through resurrection (Acts 24:15). When we do God’s will, when we believe that God cares for us and loves us, we are free from the fear of death. We trust ourselves entirely to our faithful Creator, and say, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit,” sure that when we are with God we are always safe (Eccl. 12:7). The only death to fear is the death of the soul (“the second death”), which is the death that no one can bring us, except we ourselves. Unitarians believe that this is a spiritual death, by which we fall into sin, unbelief and ignorance. The practice of sin results in our separation from God and the denial of our relationship with God as a son or daughter (Rev. 21:7-8). In such cases, it is not God who has left us, but we who have left God. However, if we turn back to God, we may experience a resurrection from this death as well (Eph. 2:4-5; John 11:25-26). This scenario is illustrated well in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). When the wayward son finally returns home, his father turns to his other son and exclaims, “We should enjoy ourselves and rejoice, because your brother was dead and came back to life!”

 

§ 57. Unitarians do not believe that hereafter there will be two distinct and separate worlds, one for the good and the other for the wicked, the one of perfect unchanging happiness, the other of entire and unchanging misery. The “great gulf” (Luke 16:26) between the good and the bad person in this and in all worlds consists in the everlasting distinction between good and evil. So long as one is in the hell of selfish desire and will, no consoling drop of heavenly content can be brought to him. Unitarians believe in many hells and many heavens, according to the character and condition of each person. They believe that the purpose of future suffering will be reformatory and not vindictive, and that if a man is selfish and willful, it is best for him to suffer the consequences of these evils in order to become better.

 

§ 58. Unitarians oppose the common doctrine of everlasting punishment as being hostile to the sovereignty, wisdom, justice, and mercy of the Divine Being, and also as limiting the redeeming power of Christ and his Gospel. They believe that, the object of punishment, being reformatory, will only continue until the sinner shall be reformed. Infinite punishment is not a proportionate punishment for finite sins. If it be said that we have no right to reason from human justice and mercy to that of God, we answer, (a) that all we know of justice must come from the principle of justice implanted in the human consciousness by God; (b) that Jesus himself compares the love of the Heavenly Parent with the love of the earthly parent, and shows us from an example of imperfect goodness what we may believe that the Divine goodness will do for us (Matt. 7:9-11). The doctrine of everlasting punishment tends to destroy faith in the redeeming and conquering power of the Gospel, for in that we are taught that goodness is stronger than evil, that love is able to conquer all sin, and that it is the pleasure of the Father to reconcile all things on the earth or in heaven to himself by Jesus Christ (Col. 1:20; 2 Pet. 3:9). When Jesus declared that “more joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7), he implied that the grief in heaven over one lost soul would outweigh the joy over ninety-nine that are saved, and that even the angels cannot be happy while one sinner turns himself away from the love which is waiting to bless him.

 


ARTICLE XV.
CONVERSION AND REGENERATION


§ 59. “Conversion” is the translation of the Greek New Testament words strepho and epistrepho that mean “to turn around.” When we are going the wrong way, we must turn around in order to travel the right course. Religious conversion follows repentance (Acts 3:19). When we are conscious that we are not obeying the truth and not doing our duty and feel regret over this (= repentance), we need to turn around and to enter at once upon a new path (= conversion). This act may become necessary many times in the course of our life.

 

§ 60. The scriptural word palingenesia, translated “regeneration,” “rebirth,” or “re-creation,” is used to signify the new life which has its source not only in the sight of God's law, but also in that of God's love (Titus 3:5). Then, when we come to see the love of God in all things, we are born again and become new creatures. We can turn away from our sins, but we cannot create for ourselves the new heavens and the new earth of spiritual joy and love. They are revealed to us by holy spirit.

 

§ 61. A converted man is one who has determined to do right and has begun to do right. The regenerate man is one in whom the custom of right-doing is established, one who has come to love it, and to whom it has become a habit.

 

 

ARTICLE XVI.
PRAYER


§ 62. Prayer is turning to God and speaking to our Heavenly Parent in full confidence that we will be heard. This is the heart of prayer. An active, hopeful reliance on the Deity so opens the soul that God’s life flows in and gives us strength. Prayer is the deliberate effort to see the Divine purpose more clearly and to pledge ourselves more loyally to its fulfillment. When the disciples came to their Master, and said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” his answer was in the words that we to this day call the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matt. 6:9-15; Luke 11:2-4). It serves as a model for our own prayers, which should come from the heart. The first preparation for prayer is to wish to love and to serve God. If we do not find this desire in our hearts, we should examine ourselves to see what is wrong in our will and ask God to help us to a right state of mind and heart. To pray aright we must be sincere. Jesus says, “God is a spirit; and whoever worships him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). We must not say with our lips the prayer that we do not feel. When we are happy, our joy may overflow to the Heavenly Friend from whom all our blessings come; when we are unhappy, we may pray to the same loving Friend for comfort. When we are away from God, we should pray to be brought back again; and when we have sinned, we shall find no peace until we have asked our Parent to forgive us and to help us to be obedient children again.

 

§ 63. Objects of Prayer: The chief objects of prayer are spiritual. We ask God for strength, peace, purity, love, etc., that is, for the fruitage of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24). We know that to do any duty effectually it should be done in the right spirit. But we cannot always obtain a right spirit by an effort of the will. We may be depressed, or anxious, or vexed, or irritated. In that case this bad spirit will go into our words and actions and prevent us from exercising the good influence we really have at heart (Gal. 5:19-21). But if we open ourselves to God and ask for help to feel right in order to do right, we may be sure that this help will come. May we also ask for outward blessings? Some good and wise persons think that we ought not. They consider it selfish to do so, and they also believe that this is asking God to suspend the action of universal laws. Others, however, say that we may ask God for anything we desire and that God wishes to have us do so, just as a good father and mother like to have their children bring to them all the wishes of their heart. Only, in such cases, we must ask in submission, as Jesus did, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). We also are wise to ask in Jesus’ name (John 16:23-24). This, however, does not mean merely repeating the words “through Jesus Christ,” as though these words might have some magical power. But “the name of Christ” means the spirit of Christ. We must ask in Christ's spirit, not selfishly, but including the good of others in our prayer. To pray in his name is to pray in the same spirit in which he prayed, just as the phrase “in the name of a prophet or righteous man” (Matt. 10:41) means in a spirit of sympathy with the prophet or righteous man.

 

§ 64. Times of Prayer: It may be well to have some fixed times for prayer, for example, the beginning of the day, when we are about to resume the duties of life and need to go to them in a right spirit, and at the close of the day, when we may look back and give thanks for what God has helped us to be and do and ask forgiveness for our failures. It is also desirable to pray, even for a moment, before any work that requires preparation that it may be done aright. But this is left up to each individual.

 

§ 65. Answer to Prayer: Some Unitarians believe that the only answer to prayer is the good influence that the thought of God's presence exercises on the soul. In this sense, prayer has the same result as contemplation or meditation. Others, however, believe that by a law of the Divine government, prayer puts the soul into such a relation with God that we can receive a direct divine influence. This law requires us to ask as the condition of receiving some special blessing, which we should not be in a condition to receive unless we pray for it. This makes a real communion between God and the self. Jesus says, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you: for every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened” (Matt. 7:7, 8). 

 

 

ARTICLE XVII.
RELIGIOUS DUTY


§ 66. Unitarians believe that the love of God is made manifest toward us in that we can be raised up from among the creatures and blessed with spiritual gifts, so that we truly can be God’s children and collaborators in building on earth the kingdom of heaven (Eph. 2:19-22; Matt. 28:19-20; 24:14). The kingdom is an ideal environment in which God’s will is done by all persons (Matt. 6:10).

 

§ 67. Unitarians believe that the whole duty of humankind consists in doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8); in loving God with one’s heart, mind, and soul, and one's neighbor as one's self (Matt. 22:37-39; 1 John 4:21). They believe that the essence of religion is goodness, that ‘the pure in heart see God,’ that whoever hears Christ's sayings and does them has built his or her house upon a rock (Matt. 7:24). They believe that if we have an earnest desire to lead a good life, we may trust in the promise that “he who hungers and thirsts after righteousness shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6) and that if we are ready, when we fail, to repent, confess, and forsake our sin, “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

 

§ 68. We believe that the really good person is on the way to salvation, whatever may be that person’s outward form of religion. Mere surface morality, not rooted in principle, we do not call goodness. But whoever seeks to do the will of God and to be faithful and just to other creatures of God, whether they be Christian or not, we believe will be accepted by God, the Creator of all (Acts 10:34-35; Matt. 25:34-41; Rom. 2:14-16).

 

§ 69. Unitarians regard goodness as the end, and religious acts as the means and helps to that end. Inward goodness of the heart expressed by outward goodness in life is primary and essential. Religion is for the sake of goodness and belongs, not only to the church and to Sunday, but to every place and to all times. It must go with us to our home, to our place of work, to our amusements, and be the help and strength of every day. Religion is given to make all of life sacred, to sanctify business, politics, pleasure, work, and all our interaction with each other.

 

 

ARTICLE XVIII.
FREE AND RATIONAL CHRISTIANITY

 

§ 70. Rational Christianity does not mean that we are to make reason the only source of truth. But it means that we are to test every belief by the light of our reason and seek to understand clearly what we think and why we think it (1 John 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:21), as did the first-century Beroeans, who were commended by the author of Acts (Acts 17:10-11).


§ 71. Free Christianity does not mean liberty to believe what we choose, but freedom to seek the truth anywhere, everywhere, and always. It means that we should not only be willing that others should differ from us, but ready to help them to inquire freely, even if their inquiries lead them to believe what we consider erroneous. It means that we are not to judge one another (Matt. 7:1-5; Rom. 14:1-23), nor to submit our own belief to the judgment of any church or human authority (Gal. 1:10-12, 15-17). Unitarians abstain from condemning people who differ from them in the interpretation of Scripture and in points of theology, especially on topics of acknowledged difficulty and obscurity, because they understand the problems and perplexities associated with religious inquiry, which are often attributable to factors such as environment, culture, emotional attachment, possible deficiencies of the mind or reasoning ability, the power of early impressions, respect for religious authorities, and the lack of proper principles of criticism and of important tools with which to tackle such issues. Religion has given birth to innumerable wild and extravagant theories, developed even by good, sincere and conscientious people. Remembering, as Unitarian Christians do, that they have the same weaknesses as others do, they would never dare assume infallibility, nor would they encourage in everyday Christians, who have little time for investigation, the habit of denouncing and condemning other denominations for their beliefs. True Unitarians do not idolize their own viewpoints, shutting their eyes on the virtues, and their ears on the arguments, of imagined opponents. They do not ascribe all excellence to their own group and all saving power to their own beliefs, nor do they offer shelter to the spirit of intolerance in the name of righteousness and justice and trample on people’s rights under the pretense of saving their souls. Zeal for truth is simply a cover for this usurpation of Divine authority, and Unitarians will not encroach on the jurisdiction of God. Charity, forbearance, a delight in the virtues of different sects, a backwardness to censure and condemn—these are virtues that Unitarians admire and recommend; and they would rather join themselves to the church in which these virtues abound than to any other fellowship. Unitarian Christians believe that the best way to demonstrate the rightfulness of these sentiments is to show, in their life and ministry, the value of love, honesty, humility, mildness, liberality, and Christian morals, with a high and delicate sense of duty, with inflexible integrity, and with a habitual devotion to God. If any medicine can eradicate the nasty infection of prejudice, it is the medicine of a pure example.

 

 

ARTICLE XIX.

THE CHURCH


§ 72. Unitarian Christians believe that their church is a union of those who come together to help each other to live a Christian life. The essential character of a church is stated by Jesus when he says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:19-20). To meet “in the name of Christ” is to meet in his spirit, to do his work, and is an activity encouraged in Scripture (Heb. 10:24-25).


§ 73. Unitarians believe that the work of the Church is to help the ignorant to educate themselves, to help the weak to strengthen themselves, to help the vicious to reform themselves, and to cooperate in all attempts to elevate and improve society. For this reason they look forward to the time when all people of the earth shall unite together in the purpose of doing good, when at last God's kingdom comes and his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. It has been found that wherever Unitarian Christian churches are established, they become centers of movements in behalf of education, philanthropy, and social reforms.

 

§ 74. Unitarians do not practice excommunication. Because we are all children of God, we cannot expel those who behave poorly from the church, but we must endeavor to recover them for the good way through brotherly love and exemplary life, as Jesus did (Luke 5:30-32).

 

§ 75. Unitarian Christians regard Jesus as the head of their Church (Col. 1:18). Jesus leads the Church through his teachings. No human individual or body holds sway over the Unitarian Church. Each congregation is independent of others and governed independently, though ready to unite with other congregations in work and sympathy. For these purposes they meet from time to time in regional conferences and at an annual meeting.

 

§ 76. Unitarian churches usually affiliate themselves with a national Unitarian organization, through which they may cultivate relationships with other Unitarian congregations around the country. There are two Unitarian associations in the United States: the Unitarian-Universalist Association (UUA) and the American Unitarian Conference (AUC). The two organizations are independent of one another. The UUA is the larger of the two and has a small Christian contingent, which is represented by the Unitarian-Universalist Christian Fellowship. The American Unitarian Conference is a God-centered association composed primarily of Christians, although non-Christian monotheists and deists are represented as well.

 

§ 77. The AUC, through whom this manual is published, is not a church itself, nor does it govern any churches. It is a publishing and missionary society and an association of like-minded churches and individuals designed to promote the Unitarian tradition in America. In all its endeavors, the AUC holds to the original meaning of the name Unitarian, rejecting humanist atheist, pagan, and polytheist conceptions of Unitarian-Universalism that have come to dominate the UUA. The AUC holds to the following religious principles:

 

1. God's presence is made known in a myriad of ways. Religion should promote a free and responsible search for truth, meaning, communion and love.

 

2. Reason is a gift from God. Religion should embrace reason and its progeny, including the scientific enterprise which explores God's creation.

 

3. Free will is a gift from God. Religion should assist in the effort to find a path that exercises that gift in a responsible, constructive and ethical manner.

 

4. Conscious of the complexity of creation, of the limits of human understanding and of humanity's capacity for evil in the name of religion, we hold that humility, religious tolerance and freedom of conscience should be a central part of any religious experience.

 

5. Religious experience is most fulfilling in the context of a tradition. Our religious tradition is the Unitarian tradition, which emphasizes the importance of reason in religion, tolerance and the unity of God.

 

6. Revelation is ongoing. Religion should draw inspiration not only from its own tradition but from other religious traditions, philosophy and the arts. Although paying due regard for the hard lessons learned in the past and to the importance of religious tradition, religion should not be stagnant but should employ reason and religious experience to evolve in a constructive, enlightened and fulfilling way.

 

7. Conscious of the spiritual and material needs of our fellow men and women, the evil they may be subjected to and the tragedies they may endure, works of mercy and compassion should be a part of any religious experience.

 

The AUC has staked out a specifically God-centered set of religious principles to set itself apart from modern Unitarian-Universalism, but left them open enough to embrace the myriad ways in which people come to know God, allowing members and member churches to choose their own path to God in true non-creedal fashion. However, the majority of the AUC’s members are Unitarian Christians, and many have founded specifically Unitarian Christian fellowships and congregations. In fact, this manual was created to help these groups explore their faith and spread their message.


© 2003 American Unitarian Conference