Monday, May 24, 2004

One of the country’s oldest denominations, which counts the founder of the world wide web as an adherent, is in terminal decline and will be extinct within decades, one of its senior ministers has said.

The Unitarian movement, a dissenting church that grew out of the Reformation and denies the divinity of Jesus Christ, has fewer than 6,000 members in Britain; half of whom are aged over 65. Many of its chapels are struggling financially.

Senior figures in the organisation believe that, in terms of organisation and structure, the movement could disappear within a generation....

There are more than 180 Unitarian congregations in Britain. Unitarian ministers conduct naming ceremonies and most will perform same-sex blessings. They hold Sunday services with hymns and “worship of the divine”.

I am not about to shed any tears about this news. Unfortunately the reason behind the decline of the Unitarian Church is, ironically, its success. The article goes on to say:

As a proponent of rational, scientific inquiry combined with belief in God, Unitarianism was a natural home for post-Enlightenment scientists, writers and philosophers who rejected the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

But now that it is no longer illegal to embrace a non-Trinitarian belief, and many churches turn a blind eye to “believers” who have liberal views on traditional doctrines, there is not the demand for the Unitarian movement that there was.

The doctrine of the Trinity has been so mauled by liberal and feminist theologians that we no longer need the Unitarians to do it for us. The Trinity in many evangelical churches has been sidelined in worship that is, to all intents and purposes, unitarian. Our worship is no longer entirely shaped by the Trinity but is often directed at a far vaguer conception of God. The Trinity is little more than a 'doctrine', an excuse for not being JWs or Mormons. We should not be surprised at the loss of assurance and the individualism that results when the Trinity loses its centrality. The more that I think about it, the more I am persuaded that many of the recent debates in Reformed circles over such 'movements' as Auburn Avenue and even the New Perspective, are essentially debates about the way that the Trinity functions in theology. Soteriology has often been detched from theology proper and it should not surprise us that our understanding of soteriology needs careful reworking as we begin to recapture the importance of the Trinity. A great place to start is with the work of Ralph Smith.

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