Many Unitarians have asserted the unity of God merely as a means of distancing themselves from uncomfortable Christological issues, including the “Father and Son” language used to describe Christ’s relationship with God. Sadly, for many American Unitarians in the 1800s, this developed to the point of dismissing Jesus and declaring themselves non-Christians.
It is particularly ironic that Muslims take the Christhood of Jesus more seriously than many who continue to call themselves Unitarian, a theological term that makes little sense outside of the context of post-Nicene Christianity.
Still, the Reform understands the difficulties that Christology has posed for rationalist Unitarians, and particularly the difficulty that the Father-Son relationship creates for those dedicated to worship of One God. AUR also sympathizes with the monotheistic impulse in Islám to condemn the easily misinterpreted Father-Son Christology, even as Islám recognizes Jesus as the Christ/Messiah (مسيح) and the Word of God, or Kalimat-Alláh (كلمة أﷲ ) in Arabic.
Talking about the relationship of God and Christ in such creaturely biological terms as “Father and Son” carries with it the danger of confusing the ignorant and diminishing the Creator.
However, Reform Unitarianism does not stand in rejection of Father-Son Christology, but in defense of its underlying meaning. The theological purpose behind describing the link between God and Christ in terms of a Father and His Son is to establish an intimate but vertical relationship between the two as the very definition of Christhood.
Fathers and sons are not equals; fathers are above and sons are below.
Denying Father and Son
The Trinitarian denial of this vertical, unequal relationship necessitates all sorts of twisted exegeses (particularly of the original Greek in the first few verses of John’s Gospel) in order to “prove” that God and his Anointed are equal persons in a triune Deity.
This is particularly problematic, not only when advocates of sola scriptura assert a Trinitarian theology that is nowhere to be found in scripture, but further because — as many non-Trinitarians among the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Church of God are quick to point out — none of the special case arguments that Trinitarian theologians read into scripture for the equality of the Son and the Father can be found for the Holy Spirit.
In reality, the imagined equality of Christ and God is a crude misunderstanding of Jesus’ identification with — and submission to — the will of God, as exemplified by the sentiment common to both the Lord’s Prayer and the Prayer of Gethsemane: “Thy will be done.”
This is clearly a vertical relationship. The scriptural evidence asserts this identification of will between Christ and God in several places, but in many other places it is made clear that the Son still remains subordinate to the Father.
The Annointed messenger speaks for the Annointer not because they are equal partners, but because the Annointed has emptied himself, saying “Thy will be done.” As Paul described Christ to the Philippians, “being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grabbed at, but emptied himself taking the form of a servant.”
The claim of equality between Father and Son is not simply a difference of interpretation: it requires Trinitarian theologians, even those who assert that the Bible is inerrant and sufficient, to read meanings into certain passages that simply are not there and to dismiss other passages that clearly show Jesus as a servant of God rather than an equal.
It is a position that requires an act of self-delusion unbefitting a soul on a search for spiritual truth and salvation.
But there is a more urgent reason for a Reform Unitarian view of Christ’s subordination to God, one also based on a reasonable respect for scripture. In the Second Epistle of John we are given the definition of Anti-Christ: one who denies the Father and Son.
Despite all of the bizarre, un-scriptural, and science-fictionesque theorizing about the identity of Anti-Christ by many misguided but popular authors, Anti-Christ is mentioned in the Bible only in John’s two short letters, and is defined in a very simple and straightforward way that makes no reference whatsoever to other evils featured in the Bible‘s apocalyptic literature, like the “little horn” of Daniel or the Beasts of John’s Apocalypse.
These stretches of the imagination were read into those books in the 2nd Century by Irenaeus, who also contributed other well-meaning but silly arguments to the early church, like the idea that there can only be four Gospels because there are four compass directions. While his enthusiasm is endearing, sensible Christians should take his philosophy (including the wild eschatalogical speculations) with a grain of salt.
So, what does Anti-Christ really mean? Go read John’s letters for yourself; they are quite brief, and what they say is that Anti-Christ is someone who denies that the Messiah came in the flesh (First Epistle) or who denies the Father and the Son (Second Epistle). Very clear and very simple, for those with ears to hear.
A theology that describes God and Jesus as equals makes the titles of Father and Son utterly meaningless. Why use the terms Father and Son for two equal persons? Father-and-Son is a vertical, not a horizontal, relationship.
Trinitarian theology is a denial of the Father and Son relationship between God and His Messiah even while absurdly maintaining the Father-Son language when talking about Christ. It transforms Christianity into an arbitrary collection of words with no coherent underlying meaning.
Living in Darkness
In his second letter, John also warns against those who claim piety with their words, yet reveal the opposite with their actions and attitudes. According to John, they still “live in darkness.”
To honor God and His Messiah as Father and Son while simultaneously asserting the contradictory notion that they are equal persons is just this sort of superficial piety of ignorance. It only compounds the error to invoke faith and mystery as excuses for what is, by definition, an Anti-Christ theology denying the Father and the Son.
Reform Unitarianism rejects Trinitarian theology not as other Unitarians have, to distance themselves from Christological issues, but rather to clarify and fully embrace the Christhood of Jesus: by believing in One Creator God and His Word, “the image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creatures” (Colossians 1:15), made flesh as the Anointed/Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth.
To deny the essence of Christhood, this vertical Father and Son relationship between God and Christ, would be Anti-Christ.