The Unitarian Church - A Study Outline: Salvation by Character

By Braxton Greathouse (1992 )
I. History of the Unitarian Church

i. 1531-Michael Servetus published a book entitled On the Errors of the Trinity. The book caused such an upset at the time that Servetus had to go into hiding. He remained in hiding for the next twenty years until he was caught and imprisoned, and on October 27, 1553 he was burned at the stake. After Servetus death anti-Trinitarian churches began to appear in Poland and Transylvania. These churches were under the leadership of two men, Fautus Socinus and Francis David. ii. 17th-18th centuries-Unitarianism had found its way across the English Channel. There under the leadership of men like Theophilus Lindsey, John Biddle and James Reily the Unitarian church began to pick up momentum. Mid 18th century James Reily started the first Universalist center in London and shortly afterward in 1774 Theophilus Lindsey started the first Unitarian society in Great Britain.

iii. 1776-First permanent Unitarian church in America was founded in Philadelphia under the leadership of Joseph Priestly. Joseph Priestly was a scientist and former member of Theophilus Lindsay's Unitarian society in Great Britain. After a mob in Great Britain burned his home and laboratory he immigrated to America.

iv. "Much of this early growth can be attributed to the leadership of three men: William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and Theodore Parker (1810-1860). In their speeches and writings these men spoke out against many of the basic doctrines of Christianity. As a result of their influence, Unitarianism in America "reacted against Calvinistic doctrines that emphasized human sinfulness, as well as the Trinity. Unitarians argued that such doctrines were inconsistent with the Bible and contrary to reason"1

v. 1961- Unitarian and the Universalist Churches merged -Total membership then 180,050.

vi. 1987-U.S. Membership 171,838. I. Unitarians and the Bible; do they believe that it is inspired and infallible? A. "No. The doctrine of "revelation," of the absolute and indisputable authority of the Bible, is alien to Unitarian faith and teaching." (Karl M. Chworowsky, What is a Unitarian) B. "Churches, Bibles and creeds are the creations of men who once exercised their freedom to create." (Jack Mendelsohn, Why I Am a Unitarian Universalist)

1. The Bible is God breathed.

II Peter 1:20-21 " Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." II Timothy 3:16 "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"

2. Gods Word is Eternal

Luke 21:33 "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away." John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 3. God has Promised to keep His Word.

Titus 1:2 "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began."

II. Do Unitarians believe in the Trinity?

"In general, a Unitarian is a religious person whose ethic derives primarily from that of Jesus, who believes in one God-not the Trinity." (Karl M. Chworowsky, What is a Unitarian?)

There is just one God, but when we study the scriptures we find that God is manifested in three persons or as the scripture says in a Godhead. Deuteronomy 6:4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD." Romans 1:20 "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:" Colossians 2:9 "For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Matthew 28:19 "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Matthew 3:13-17 "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, Lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And Lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Genesis 1:26 "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (Man was created in their image: body, soul and spirit.)

III. Do the Unitarians believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ?

A. "Most of us believe that on the basis of the evidence available to us, Jesus, at most, thought of Himself as the Jewish Messiah. It was later followers and interpreters, like the Apostle Paul, who transformed Jesus into a Christian Saviour atoning to God for the sins of mankind." (Jack Mendelsohn, Why I Am a Unitarian Universalist)

B. "Unitarians do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah either of Jewish hope or of Christian fantasy. They do not believe he is God incarnate or the Second Person in the Trinity or the final arbiter at the end of time who shall come to judge the quick and the dead." (Karl M. Chworowsky, What is a Unitarian) 1. Christ the Savior for all Mankind

Luke 19:10 "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." II Peter 3:9 "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (Salvation to all without exclusion)

2. Deity of Christ

Matthew 1:23 "BEHOLD, A VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BRING FORTH A SON, and they SHALL CALL HIS NAME EMMANUEL, which being interpreted is, God with us." Isaiah 9:6 "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:...... and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father..." John 1:14 "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," Exodus 3:14 "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you."

(Then in the New Testament Jesus said) John 8:58 "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." John 5:17-18 "But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God." John 17:11 "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are." Matthew 18:20 "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. John 14:6 "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." John 10:30 "I and my Father are one." Revelation 19:11-16 "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.......And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."

"IF": Christ's Deity Seven Times Questioned and Seven Times Affirmed.

1. The "IF" of Satan: "....if thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." (Matthew. 4:3). God's Testimony: "....This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matthew. 3:17).

2. The "IF" of the Jews: "....If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly." (John 10:24).

Christ's Testimony: "....I am the Son of God" (John 10:36).

3. The "IF" of the passers-by: "....If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross." (Matthew. 27:40).

The Centurion's Testimony: "....Truly this was the Son of God." (Matthew. 27:54).

4. The "IF" of the Chief Priests: "....if he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him." (Matthew. 27:42).

Nathaniel's Testimony: "....Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel." (John 1:49)

5. The "IF" of the Rulers: "....let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God." (Luke 23:35).

Peter's Testimony: "....Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God." (Matthew. 16:16).

6. The "IF" of the soldiers: "....If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself." (Luke 23:37).

Pilate's Testimony: "....THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." (Luke 23:38).

7. The "IF" of the malefactor: "....If thou be Christ, save thyself and us." (Luke 23:39).

The other malefactor's Testimony: "....Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?" (Luke 23:40)."

IV. Unitarian teaching of Salvation.

A. "Unitarians believe in "salvation by character." They hold that as man develops a society where moral values and spiritual insights are treasured, man will find the road to peace, justice and brotherhood. God's help is not likely to come to those who cast all their burdens on the Lord. There is practical wisdom in the saying: "God helps those that help themselves." (Karl M. Chworowsky, What is a Unitarian?)

B. "Unitarians speak warmly of salvation also, but in terms of character. We prefer to think of it as an achievement dependent on deeds rather than creeds" (Jack Mendelsohn, Why I am a Unitarian)

C. "We are concerned with the ethical relations and understanding of life, not about the salvation of souls. For us, salvation is by character; religion is a matter of deeds, not creeds; and this natural world is the center of our lives." (George Marshall, Why I am a Unitarian)

1. Man's Character

Romans 3:10-18 "As it is written, There is none righteous, no not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes." Romans 3:23 "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" I Timothy 1:15 "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Isaiah 64:6 "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags....;"

2. Salvation through our Jesus Christ

II Timothy 2:10 "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." I Thessalonians 5:9 "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ." Acts 16:30-31 "....Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Acts 4:10-12 "Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole......Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace are ye saved through; faith and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."

V. The Unitarian's view of God.

They say, that they do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit but still worship God the Father of the Bible. Do they worship God the Father, of the Bible, as we know Him, and as the Bible teaches?

"God sent his only begotten son into the world, to die for sinful men. Such doctrine Unitarians find offensive, unbiblical, even immoral. It is certainly inconsistent with the nature of God the dignity of man, whom the Eternal One created in the image of God to love with an everlasting love." (Karl M. Chworowsky, What is a Unitarian). This is the most consistent belief in the Unitarian Church that God is love and only love.

1. God's Incommunicable Attributes

a. God Is Eternal Psalm 90:2 "Before the mountains were brought forth, of ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God."

b. God is Unchangeable Malachi 3:6 "For I am the Lord, I change not...."

c. God is Omnipotent Job 42:2 "I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee." d. God is Omnipresent Psalm 139:7-10 "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me...."

e. God Is Omniscient II Chronicles 16:9 "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him."

2. God's Communicable Attributes

a. God is Holy 1 Peter 1:16 "....Be ye holy; for I am holy,"

b. God is Righteous Romans 9:14 "Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid."

c. God is Merciful Psalm 103:8 "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy."

d. God is Jealous Exodus 34:14 "....For the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God."

e. God is Faithful Deuteronomy 7:9 " Know therefore that the Lord the God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations."

f. God is Love I John 4:8 "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love."

Yes, I John 4:8 is true that God is love but let us understand that love is only one of many of God's attributes. God is love but love is not God.


1 Harold J. Berry, What They Believe, Unitarian, Universalist (Lincoln, NE, Back to the Bible, 1988), pp. 6,7

2 Karl M. Chworowsky, What is a Unitarian? (Look Magazine, March 8, 1955), p. 78

3 Jack Mendelsohn, Why I Am a Unitarian Universalist, p. 34

4 Karl M. Chworowsky, What is a Unitarian? (Look Magazine, March 8, 1955), p. 77

5 Jack Mendelsohn, Why I Am a Unitarian Universalist, p. 43

6 Karl M. Chworowsky, What is a Unitarian? (Look Magazine, March 8, 1955), p. 78

7 WM.C. Irvine, Heresies Exposed, pp. 197,198

8 Karl M. Chworowsky, What is a Unitarian? (Look Magazine, March 8, 1955), p. 78

9 Jack Mendelsohn, Why I Am a Unitarian Universalist, p.28

10 Ibid., Marshall, p. 237

11 Karl M. Chworowsky, What is a Unitarian? (Look Magazine, March 8, 1955), p. 78

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