A 2014 survey conducted by LifeWay Research for Ligonier Ministries reveals that many American evangelicals hold views condemned as heretical by some of the most important councils of the early church. Nearly a quarter of participants believe false teachings about Jesus, and more than half about the Holy Spirit.

Find out if you are among them by answering “true” or “false” to the following statements.

1. God the Father and Jesus Christ are equally divine.

2. Jesus is a hybrid, partially divine and partially human.

3. God the Son is uncreated.

4. The Holy Spirit is a force

5. The Holy Spirit is less divine than the Father and the Son.

6. “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” are three different names for one divine person.


1. True. The Council of Nicaea in 325 affirmed that the Father and the Son are of the same divine essence, and condemned Subordinationism, which teaches that Jesus is inferior to the Father.

2. False. Apollinarianism, condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 381, taught that Jesus is not equally human and divine, but is one person with one nature. Jesus has a human body and soul, but a divine mind.

3. True. The Council of Nicaea affirmed that the Son is coeternal with the Father, and condemned Arianism, which taught that the Son was created by God before time.

4. False. The Council of Constantinople affirmed that the Spirit is coequal to the Father and Son, and condemned Pneumatomachianism, which taught that the Spirit was a created force or power, not a person of the Trinity.

5. False. Subordinationism, ruled out by the Nicene Creed, teaches that the Spirit is inferior to the Father and the Son. Similarly, some proponents of Pneumatomachianism, condemned at Constantinople (381), taught that the Spirit was of a different essence from the Father and the Son.

6. False. Modalism, ruled out by the Nicene Creed, teaches that God’s names (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) change with his roles or “modes of being” (like a chameleon).

The orthodox teaching on these issues is twofold:

1. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are coeternal and coequal in essence, power, authority, and glory. The three persons are distinct, yet are of one substance or nature.

2. Jesus is fully human and fully divine. Being one person, his divine and human natures remain unconfused, unchanged, indivisible, and inseparable; the properties of each nature are preserved in this union.

Grasping the difference between orthodoxy and heresy can seem like a game of “gotcha.” Wording can get technical because how a doctrine is expressed has serious implications for how we live and talk about our faith. While we are not justified by accuracy of doctrine, genuine trust requires a reasonable knowledge of that which—and more important, who—is being trusted.

It’s also good to remember that not all who believe false teachings are heretics. Each of us grows in our knowledge of the faith, and especially early on, we will likely imbibe one false teaching or another, until we are gently shown a better way.

Read CT's cover story:"The Truth About Heresy"

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