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Chapter 1. A Brief History of CDC’s Position on Trinitarianism

Chapter 1

A Very Brief History of Christian Disciples Church’s Position on Trinitarianism

Christian Disciples Church (CDC) is a fellowship of churches united by belief, history, and connected leader­ship. Most of our churches are located in Asia, along with a small presence in western count­ries such as Canada, Aust­ralia, and the United Kingdom.

Our website at www.christiandc.org lists some 25 or 30 churches, but we have a similar number of other groups not listed.

Our story begins circa 1976 when Eric H.H. Chang (1934-2013) was invited to pastor a young church in Montreal, Canada. Initially there was no church called Christian Disciples Church, but over the years, CDC emerged from its early roots and took on a more internat­ional presence, espec­ially in Asia. Chang had served as CDC’s main pastor (along with many other pastors) for more than thirty years until his retire­ment from leadership sev­eral years ago.

Prior to Montreal, Eric Chang had lived all his years in China and the United Kingdom, and for a time in Swit­zer­land. He was born in Shang­hai. As a young adult he had come to know God in post-liberat­ion China through a series of mira­cles, as recounted in his book How I Have Come to Know the Living God.[1]

In the 1950s, Chang left China for the United Kingdom where he would end up staying two decades. He stud­ied at the Bible Train­ing Institute (Glasgow) and London Bible College before reading Arts and Divinity at the University of London (King’s College and SOAS). Dur­ing his time in London, he served in a local church. After completing his studies, he served in a church in Liverpool where he was or­dained by the Reverend Andrew McBeath.

Why are we called Christian Disciples Church?

Christian Disciples Church teaches that every Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. The predominant New Testa­ment term for a follower of Jesus is “disciple” (Greek math­ētēs, which occurs 261 times in the NT) whereas the better known term “Christian” (christian­os) occurs only three times (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1Peter 4:16).

Discipleship involves “right doctrine” and “right life”. Right doc­trine means accepting the truth of what Jesus had taught about him­self and His Father even if it runs counter to church trad­ition. Right life means applying Jesus’ teachings to our daily lives.

Two books by Eric Chang (see the bibliography at the end of this paper)—one on total commit­ment to God and the other on the new life in Christ—are representative of our empha­sis on the spiritual life. This is seen, for example, in our stand against the mat­erial­ism that is so prevalent in Christendom today.

Our church does not support or engage in any political acti­v­ity whose aim is to bring down a government, quest­ion its legit­imacy, or defy its laws, whether it is the gov­ern­ment of USA or that of China. The biblical basis of our position is Romans 13:1-7 and 1Peter 2:13-17 which for­bid Christians from resisting gov­erning authorities on the princi­ple that these authorities are appointed by God.

Eric Chang breaks with tradition

We move forward to 2005 or 2006 by which year Eric Chang had been an ardent trini­ta­r­ian for half a century, hav­ing done much to pro­mote trinitarian­ism in his preach­ing, in his defense of Christ’s deity, and in his lead­ing many to the div­ine Christ of trinitar­ian­ism. But through a re­-reading of the Script­ures, he had come to see that his trinitar­ian view of things such as the deity of Christ is not supported by the biblical data.

He then wrote a book, The Only True God: A Study of Biblical Monotheism,[2] in which he rejects his form­er trinita­rian­ belief. In the introduct­ion to the book, he reflects on his trinitarian past:

I am writing as one who had been a trinitarian from the time I became a Christian at the age of 19—a time which spans over fifty years. During the nearly four decades of serving as pastor, church leader, and teacher of many who have entered the full-time ministry, I taught trinitarian doc­trine with great zeal, as those who know me can testify. Trinitarian­ism was what I drank in with my spiritual milk when I was a spiritual infant. Later, in my Biblical and theological studies, my interest focused on Christology which I pursued with considerable intensity. My life centered on Jesus Christ. I studied and sought to practice his teaching with utmost devotion.

I was in a practical sense a monotheist, devoted to a mono­theism in which Jesus was my Lord and my God. Intense devotion to the Lord Jesus inevit­ably left little room for either the Father or the Holy Spirit. So, while in theory I believed in there being three persons, in practice there was act­ually only one person who really mattered: Jesus. I did indeed worship one God, but that one God was Jesus.

Why did our church reject trinitarianism en masse?

CDC could well be the only multi-congrega­tion church in the past 15 years to abandon trinitarianism as a whole church. This scena­rio is not to be confused with the case of a few individuals who, after hav­ing seen the errors of trinitar­ian­ism, choose to leave their trinit­ar­ian church to join a monotheis­tic one.

How did a church of almost 30 congreg­at­ions rooted in trinitar­ian­ism come to reject trinit­arianism and the deity of Christ en masse? The answers to this quest­ion may be in­structive for other churches grappling with similar issues. Here are some of my observat­ions:

  • Our church even in its trinitarian days did not force any­one to accept trinit­arianism as a condition for staying with the church. We did not ask people to sign a membership form or a declaration of doctrinal assent. We have never taught or believed that we are the only true church. We advocated trinit­ar­ian­ism but no one was forced to ac­cept it. This is seen in the case of my wife Sylvia who all her life to this day has never accepted trin­itar­ian­ism, not even when she was or­dained in 1996 at our church in Melbourne, Australia. My point is that CDC even in its trin­it­arian days had people like Sylvia who did not believe in the trinity, and peo­ple like me who were caut­ious trinit­arians because we were aware of the weak­nesses of trinitar­ian dogma.
  • When the day came for CDC to abandon trinitarian­ism in the light of Scripture, those who weren’t yet ready to go along with our new stand were given the freedom to stay with us or to leave with­out the fear of being cen­sured. In our churches world­wide, a minority left us over the issue of trinitar­ian­ doctrine, but a clear ma­jor­ity chose to stay, with the percent­age varying from church to church. Against ex­pectat­ions, we have been see­ing more peo­ple attending some of our church events. This deep­ened our trust in God, for He will show His mer­cy and pro­tection when we faith­fully pro­claim the truth about Him.
  • Another factor was that Eric Chang’s re-evaluation of trinitar­ianism enjoyed a good measure of credi­bility because of his long­standing reputa­tion in our church as a careful and com­petent exposi­tor of the Bible. That reputation is impec­cable among his fellow pastors and coworkers.
  • Chang did not reject trinitarian­ism in a dog­ma­tic ex cathedra manner but participated with his co­work­ers in a year-long evaluation of the scriptural evidence for biblical mono­the­ism. It was a Berean exercise that sharp­ened our under­stand­ing of the biblical data, and assured us that during our investigation, the Bible was being held as the highest authority even over church tradition in matters of faith and doctrine.
  • Throughout our history, notably our early history, CDC has been train­ing lay peo­ple in biblical exe­gesis. A few decades ago when I was a lay­man in Canada, many ordinary church people were already using Bible tools such as Modern Concord­ance; Greek grammars; New Bible Dict­ionary; The Inter­linear Greek-English NT; and even UBS3, BDB, TDNT, Blass-Debrunner, and BAGD before it became BDAG.

When a church finds itself in a situat­ion of intense doctrin­al re-eval­uation, it is crucial that the lay people, or at least some of them, be equipped to study the Bible for themselves and to assess the bibli­cal merits of a doctrine such as trinitar­ian­ism. Church lead­ers gain trust and credibility, and are perceived as being open-minded, when they are willing to give the lay people the freedom—and the means—to study the Bible for them­selves.

  • The final and ultimate reason for our departure from trinitar­ian­ism is that it has weak biblical support. In my trinit­arian days, I was already aware of the weak­nesses of trinitarianism. And when the day came for CDC to aban­don trinitarianism in the light of Scripture, we were doing it with an aware­ness of the strong biblical basis of our decision.


[1] How I Have Come to Know the Living God, Eric H.H. Chang, print book ISBN 978-1534995772, Kindle book ASIN B0756Y1ZD8.

[2] The Only True God: A Study of Biblical Monotheism, Eric H.H. Chang, print book ISBN 978-1532898204, Kindle book ASIN B074VXY7LF.

 

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church