Unitarians and Deistic Christians

by Lewis Loflin

"We cannot learn anywhere from the Scripture of God, that his words and the religion are meant to be spread by fire and sword." "God always took care of his truth Himself and He will always do that in the future as well."

Francis David

Opening extracts from: First Unitarian Congregation in Budapest

"No one is allowed to threaten anyone with imprisonment or deprivation of his office; for faith is the gift of God, this comes from listening, listening to the words of God."

Principles of Faith

God is one, spirit, creator and preserver of the world. The Unitarians adopted the scientific world-view in all times believing in addition that a conscious spirit is working behind the evolutionary events. They believe in God as a personal and spiritual power who takes care of his creatures by his providential act manifested in nature and history, on the universal and personal level alike.



The human kind is God's most noble creature, with the faculties of reason, awareness and conscience. God gave man the ability to do good and free will. Due to reason, man is able to distinguish between moral good and evil. Further he is able and free to chose...

Free will means moral independence...The purpose of human kind is accomplishing the kingdom of God on Earth, which means fulfillment of the good natural endowments of men, on personal and social level. Most valuable virtues are: faith, free will, conscience and love. Humans are all children of God, equal brethren and sisters.

Jesus was God's best child as he lived his life according entirely to God's will. Jesus was a man. Jewish religious teacher, prophet, regarded by the Unitarians as an example to follow, a master of religious and ethical life in teaching and acting.

It is from Jesus' teaching you can find out what kingdom of God should be like. Most important part in his teaching is the "twofold commandment of love": "Love your God and love your neighbor as you do your own self".

The Bible is a collection of man-created writings, including teachings of Jewish and Christian teachers, historical accounting and literature. These works were inspired by God but we are not to forget that this inspiration was grasped by those who lived long-long time ago in a certain historical time and place.

This is why each writing has the marks of a cultural trend from ancient times, with that characteristic world-view, containing precious intuitive insight but mistakes too. This is why the Unitarian theology follows and accepts the results of the scientific criticism of the Bible in adopting it's ethics in life and philosophy. Most valuable part of the Bible is the New Testament, more closely the four gospels, where you can learn about Jesus' life and teachings.

Thanks to the First Unitarian Congregation in Budapest.

The word "Unitarian" historically refers to the oneness of God as opposed to the Trinity of God, referred to as "Trinitarianism".

The word "Trinity" is not in the Bible, nor is the concept. The naming of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit hardly occurs; except as a echo of a baptismal formula. The doctrine dates from the late Roman Empire, as an effort to reconcile Jewish theology with Greek philosophy, and was adopted as doctrine at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD at the behest of Constantine, claiming conversion.

At that time the Unitarian position was called "Arianism" for its leader Arius of Alexandria. He and the idea were declared heresy, and was wiped out except for a few remote Germanic tribes. His ideas while holding Jesus is not God but a "created" being, was still a deity. All later Unitarians and many at the time considered Jesus human.

I need to point out that Arianism has little in common with the 16-17th century Unitarians and Deists. There is a tendency to associate any form of Trinity rejection as Arianism. This is wrong. Arius pictured Jesus while not God but one step just below God or as a sub-god. Early Deists would more readily accept Socinianism (we see Jesus as human) perhaps some Arminianism but Christian Unitarians go strongly for Arminius.

Arius' actual beliefs are totally different from present day, or even Reformation-era Unitarian beliefs. Although Arianism includes any belief that Jesus is not God, Arius' personal position that Jesus was divine in every way but needed to clarify some philosophical problems he had about the doctrine of the Trinity.

Following Greek Neoplatonism God was very remote but that a mediator (Jesus) could bridge the gulf between God and man. Arius reasoned that if God has no connection with the world then God couldn't have created the world. So Arius imagined that God created only Jesus, and then Jesus created everything else. God thus creates Jesus and then remains far away while Jesus creates the universe, the Earth, etc. and has an ongoing relationship with humanity. This is no less illogical than the Trinity, which claims Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit, are three views of the same thing.

As noted by the First Unitarian Congregation in Budapest, Unitarians center the faith on Jesus and the Four Gospels, but most Christian theology is centered on Paul, a man that never even met Jesus in the flesh. Salvation is based on living a moral life as Jesus defined it as love for ones fellow man and repentance.

This is at the polar opposite of Paul who taught "by faith" which was interpreted by Augustine and later Martin Luther and John Calvin to mean the total exclusion of all moral conduct from playing any part in salvation. Considering these men were immoral men, this false idea can be understood from their viewpoint.

With the invention of the printing press, and the wide reading of the Bible, people discovered that the Trinity was not there, and Unitarians sprang up all over Europe like weeds.

In many places they were killed. Calvin burned Renaissance Unitarian theologian Servetus, in Geneva. He was burned slowly, taking half an hour to kill him, with his book strapped to his leg. Earlier he had been burned in effigy by Catholics. (Servetus was also doctor, and had discovered the pulmonary circulation of the blood.)

Side note: The Wall Street Journal reports (April 22, 2002) that some colleges are recruiting Jewish students to give them higher status in terms of SAT scores. It also reports that highest three groups in SATs are Unitarians, Jews, and Quakers.

Many early Unitarians tended to be scientists or doctors. The Polish king's doctor was Unitarian, and Krakow, Poland, was one of the few place Unitarians were allowed to live without being killed. They gathered there from all over Europe, establishing a university and printing press. Books were smuggled to England, and Unitarianism took root there.

With a change in the throne (as in Bloody Mary in England) Unitarians in Krakow had to choose between death, becoming Catholic, becoming Jewish (since Jews were infidels rather than heretics they were not being put to death), or fleeing.

Many became Jews, and many fled to Romania (near the border with Islam), and that is the only area with Unitarian church buildings more than 500 years old. The Communist government was in the process of destroying them when it fell.

Unitarianism came to America among the Pilgrims, and separated from Congregationalism in the early 19th century. You can tell which won the vote in each New England town; in some towns the Congregational building is the older, in others the Unitarian.

In the 1930's Unitarianism almost split between the Theists (those who believe in a personal god), and Humanists (who see human values as paramount). They claim the argument has vanished today, it hasn't.

According to the Unitarian-Universalist Christian Fellowship, "Unitarian Christians do share some common beliefs. Most believe in a personal God and a personal savior in his Son the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Most Unitarian Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God and not God Himself (second part of the Trinity).

Jesus never referred to himself as God in the Bible, only as the Son. Unitarians believe that this reference means that Christ is not the same as God, but is of God and in God. Unitarian Christians believe that God became "incarnate" in Jesus as the Christ, That God joined with mankind in Jesus Christ (incarnation).

Most Unitarian Christians think that belief in Jesus Christ begins the process to salvation and transcendence toward God. Most Unitarian Christians believe in Christ's resurrection, but believe that it is still a mystery, not yet fully understood or explained by science or logic, only in belief (phenomenology). Unitarian Christians cannot explain it, but many of us continue to base our lives and beliefs upon it as do other Orthodox Christians."

The radical school of Unitarians hold views not materially varying from deism. They reverence Christ as a peculiarly holy man, with whom the Spirit of God abode, but in no sense other than that in which he abides with every truly holy man. They respect the Bible as a work of transcendent moral genius, but in no other sense inspired. They do not believe in the miracles, and either explain them as the product of natural causes or regard the accounts of them as mythical and traditionary.

With the coming of the Enlightenment and the appearance of deism, Unitarianism in the hands of Joseph Priestly and others became more rationalistic and less super naturalistic in its outlook. Nature and right reason replaced the NT as the primary sources of religious authority, and what authority the Scriptures retained was the result of their agreement with the findings of reason.

See Deism

In the nineteenth century, under the impact of transcendentalism, Unitarianism became steadily more radical. Its later leaders such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker rejected those remaining supernatural elements which William Ellery Channing had seen fit to retain. Transcendentalism belongs in the realm of New Age and Eastern religion and Gnosticism. It's a backlash against both Unitarianism and Deism and has nothing to do with the Unitarian name at all. We commonly call it Romanticism. All it amounts to is wishy-washy emotional speculation.

See Romanticism

The Unitarian movement in the United States was developed chiefly in New England about the beginning of the nineteenth century, under the lead of Dr. [William Ellery] Channing. Many of the oldest Congregational churches in New England passed under Unitarian control and the "American Unitarian Association" was formed in 1825. Outside the denomination proper, Unitarian views are held by the Hicksite Friends, some Universalists, and by individuals in other denominations.

Modern Unitarianism (I should say the Unitarian-Universalist Association or UUA) has become mainly humanistic, pagan, and almost hostile to any concept of God or reason. It's a church best described as a chapel of political correctness. Many members of the American Unitarian Association, founded in 1825, have come to the conclusion that their movement is no longer even a part of the Christian church. In 1961 they merged with the Universalists.

Quoting David R. Burton of the American Unitarian Conference, "In the 1997 Unitarian Universalism Needs and Aspirations Survey, which surveyed about 10,000 Unitarian Universalists, 46 percent of UUs described themselves as humanist and 19 percent as earth/nature centered. 13 percent described themselves as theists, and 9.5 percent described themselves as Christian. Thus, humanists constitute by far the largest group within Unitarian Universalism and are approximately twice as numerous as those holding traditional Unitarian beliefs (broadly defined as Christian, Unitarian, and Deist).

Although there is renewed interest in the traditional Unitarian understanding of God, the primary cause, so far, of a resurgence in "spirituality" with Unitarian Universalism that some have observed is, in the author's judgment, the new prominence of new age, pagan, Wiccan, other "earth centered" and Buddhist practice and beliefs within UU congregations."

Recently some Unitarians broke away from the Unitarian Universalists and formed the American Unitarian Conference (AUC) to try to return to more traditional theistic roots. To quote an article I wrote for the AUC,

Unitarians have a great challenge and a great opportunity. We are not atheists. We have only one God, the God of Jesus, God the Father. We maintain the basic beliefs of our forefathers. Jesus and His teachings are the basis of our faith and lead us to make wise choices. Finally, we must reach out and present the alternative for liberal Christians, Deists, Jews, and Muslims that want a belief in God, but are fed up with fundamentalism on the one hand, or having to embrace leftist and secular politics they disagree with on the other. God is not a Democrat or Republican.

Moreover, as in Late Antiquity, spiritualism is on the rise. The West again has been flooded with new forms of Gnosticism in the form of Eastern and New Age religion, which de-emphasize reason. Equally threatening to the use of reason are earth-worshipping pantheism, sometimes disguised as environmentalism, and Islamic fascism. The reaction against these, at least in America, has been a growing fundamentalist backlash, which can be just as unreasonable.

It is time Unitarianism stands for something again, and the formation of the American Unitarian Conference is a good first step. Let's not fall back into the same mistake Christianity did in Late Antiquity by turning our back on reason, or lose the firm monotheistic foundation that adds the necessary moral element that gives value and impetus to that reason.

Visit the AUC website at http://www.americanunitarian.org/