Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 4, 1951

The Unitarian Question

Thomas Allen Robertson, Ontario, California


The name "Unitarian" originated in Transylvania and is first found in records in the year 1600 A.D.; it became the authorized designation of a religious body in the year 1638. The first Unitarian bishop was Francis David, who was made head of the Unitarian churches in Transylvania in 1668. The first congregation of Unitarians in England was organized under John Bidle about the year 1662, but more than a hundred years went by before they opened their regular meeting place, Essex Street Chapel, opened in London on April 24, 1774.

Unitarianism in America developed out of New England Congregationalism and Episcopalianism, more particularly from the former. The Congregational churches had as a rule unwittingly left the way open for serious doctrinal changes in that they simply required those joining them to join in a covenant rather than to subscribe to a creed. Because of this many of the Congregational churches of eastern Massachusetts little by little moved away from traditional Congregational beliefs and far in the direction of Unitarianism, during the second half of the eighteenth century. The first American church to make its belief and form of worship positively Unitarian was Ring's Chapel in Boston, which in 1785 omitted from its liturgy all references to the Trinity and all prayers to Christ. Strangely enough, this church did not take the name "Unitarian;" the first American church actually to take that name was the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia, founded in 1796.

The formation of this new denomination out of the liberal wing of the Congregational Church was a very gradual process, moving slowly from one congregation to another, The cleavage was hastened somewhat by the election of Henery Ware, a liberal, as professor of theology at Harvard College in 1805 (in spite of strenuous orthodox protests), and by the fastening of the name "Unitarian" upon the liberals by the conservatives about 1815. After this there was a clearly pronounced split within Congregational ranks, the liberals being denied fellowship by the conservatives, who desired to exclude them from the denomination. In 1819 William Ellery Channing of Boston, acknowledged leader of the liberals, preached an ordination sermon at Baltimore which defined and defended the views held by the Unitarians; this sermon was henceforth accepted by the Unitarians as their doctrinal platform.

In 1825 the American Unitarian Association was formed to do aggressive missionary work and to promote the interests of the churches concerned. The new denomination was now organized separately and independently of Congregationalism, and has functioned as a separate denomination ever since.

Doctrinal Beliefs

Unitarians deny the verbal inspiration of the Bible, especially of those parts of both Old and New Testaments which deal with miracles and the supernatural. These they term "folklore" and "fantasy." They deny in particular such things as the record dealing with "Noah and the ark," "Moses and the fiery serpents," "Joshua and the walls of Jericho," "Jonah and the fish," and some of the more liberal deny the story of creation as found in Genesis.

In spite of these denials, however, they emphatically declare that "Unitarians accept the religion of Jesus."

Just how illogical and unreasonable this claim is easily demonstrated when the Bible student examines the record long enough to see just what was "the religion of Jesus." Christ and the New Testament writers all accepted the story of creation as found in Genesis, chapters 1 and 2. (Matt. 24:37-38; 1 Peter 3:20, 21) They believed fully the story of Moses and the fiery serpents. (John 3:14, 16; 1 Cor. 10:9) And they gave complete credence to the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho (Heb. 11:80), as well as to the story of Jonah and the fish. (Matt. 12:40, 41) In short, to believe the New Testament is to believe the Old; to deny the Old is to deny the New.

The New Testament claims verbal inspiration for itself (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 1 Cor. 2:1-13), and endorses the verbal inspiration of the Old Testament. Peter said, "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Peter 1:20, 21) He said further that the prophets prophesied concerning things they neither knew nor understood. (1 Peter 1:9-12) This is verbal inspiration, pure and simple. This is what the Bible claims for itself; if these claims are not true, the Bible is false. To deny the verbal inspiration of the Old or New Testament, or to deny the miracles of the Old or New Testament is to deny "the religion of Christ."

The Trinity

Unitarians deny the trinity of the Godhead. "Unitarianism may be defined in the most general terms as the religious doctrine of those holding belief in one God in one person (as distinguished from the Trinitarian belief in one God in three persons)." (U. S. Census of Religious Bodies) The Bible does not teach that God is ONE God (Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:29), but it also teaches that this God is made up of a plurality of divine beings. When man was created, God had said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." (Gen. 1:26) In keeping with this idea of plurality here set forth, the Bible teaches that all three persons of the Godhead had a part in creation. God was there (Rev. 4:11); Christ was there (Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:15-20); and the Holy Spirit was there. (Gen. 1:2)

Again, at the baptism of Christ we find the three persons of the Godhead in evidence: Christ is baptized in the Jordan river; God speaks from heaven; and the Holy Spirit descends as a dove. (Luke 3:21, 22) When Christ gave the great commission, he commanded baptism in the name of the "Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." (Matt. 28:19) The apostle Paul recognized the trinity in Romans 15:30, where we find Christ, the Spirit, and God mentioned separately. Our God is one God, made up of three co-eternal and divine persons: God the Father (1 Cor. 8:6); God the Son (John 1:1); and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3, 4).

Our next article will deal with Unitarian beliefs concerning the deity of Jesus Christ, and concerning heaven and hell.