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Chapter 1. A Brief History of CDC’s Position on Trinitarianism

– Chapter 1 –

A Brief History of Christian Disciples Church’s Position on Trinitarianism

Christian Disciples Church (CDC) is a fellowship of churches united by belief, history, and leader­ship. Most of our churches are located in Asia, along with a small presence in western count­ries such as Canada, Aust­ralia, and the United Kingdom.

Our website at lists some 25 or 30 churches, but we have a similar number of other groups not listed.

Our story begins circa 1976 when Eric H.H. Chang (1934-2013) was invited to pastor a young church in Montreal, Canada. Initially there was no church called Christian Disciples Church, but over the years, CDC emerged from its early roots and took on a more internat­ional presence, notably in Asia. Chang served as CDC’s main pastor (along with many other pastors) for over thirty years until his retire­ment from leadership sev­eral years ago.

Prior to Montreal, Eric Chang had lived all his years in China and the United Kingdom, and for a time in Swit­zer­land. He was born in Shang­hai. As a young adult he had come to know God in post-liberat­ion China through a series of mira­cles, as recounted in his book How I Have Come to Know the Living God (see the bibliography at the end of this book).

In the 1950s, Chang left China for the United Kingdom where he would end up staying two decades. He stud­ied at the Bible Train­ing Institute (Glasgow) and London Bible College (now London School of Theology) before reading Arts and Divinity at the University of London (King’s College and SOAS). Dur­ing his time in London, he served in a local church. After completing his studies, he served in a church in Liverpool where he was or­dained by the Reverend Andrew McBeath.

Why are we called Christian Disciples Church?

Christian Disciples Church teaches that every Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. The predominant New Testa­ment term for a follower of Jesus is “disciple” (Greek math­ētēs) which occurs 261 times in the NT, whereas “Christian” (christian­os) occurs only three times (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1Peter 4:16).

Discipleship involves right doctrine and right life. Right doctrine means accepting the truth of what Jesus taught about God and him­self even if it runs counter to church tradition. Right life means applying Jesus’ teachings to our daily lives.

Two books by Chang (see the bibliography) — one on total commit­ment to God, the other on the new life in Christ — are representative of our empha­sis on the spiritual life. This is seen, for example, in our stand against the mat­erial­ism that is so prevalent in Christendom today.

Eric Chang breaks with tradition

We move forward to 2005 or 2006 by which year Eric Chang had been an ardent trini­ta­r­ian for half a century, hav­ing done much to pro­mote trinita­rian­ism in his preach­ing, in his defense of Christ’s deity, and in his lead­ing many to the div­ine Christ of trinitar­ianism. But in his re­reading of the Bible he had come to see that his trinitar­ian view of things such as the deity of Christ is not supported by the biblical data.

He then wrote a book, The Only True God: A Study of Biblical Monotheism (see the bibliography) in which he rejects his form­er trinita­rian­ belief. In the introduct­ion to the book, he reflects on his trinitarian past:

“I am writing as one who had been a trinitarian from the time I became a Christian at the age of 19 — a time which spans over fifty years. During the nearly four decades of serving as pastor, church leader, and teacher of many who have entered the full-time ministry, I taught trinitarian doc­trine with great zeal, as those who know me can testify. Trinitarian­ism was what I drank in with my spiritual milk when I was a spiritual infant. Later, in my Biblical and theological studies, my interest focused on Christology which I pursued with considerable intensity. My life centered on Jesus Christ. I studied and sought to practice his teaching with utmost devotion.

“I was in a practical sense a monotheist, devoted to a mono­theism in which Jesus was my Lord and my God. Intense devotion to the Lord Jesus inevit­ably left little room for either the Father or the Holy Spirit. So, while in theory I believed in there being three persons, in practice there was act­ually only one person who really mattered: Jesus. I did indeed worship one God, but that one God was Jesus.”

Why did our church reject trinitarianism en masse?

CDC could well be the only multi-congrega­tion church in the past 20 years to abandon trinitarianism as a whole church. This scena­rio is not to be confused with the case of a few individuals who, after hav­ing seen the errors of trinitar­ian­ism, choose to leave their trinit­ar­ian church to join a monotheis­tic one.

How did a church of almost 30 congreg­at­ions rooted in trin­itar­ian­ism come to reject trinit­arianism and the deity of Christ en masse? The answers to this quest­ion may be instruct­ive for other churches grap­pling with similar issues. Here are my observat­ions:

  • Even in our trinitarian days, our church did not force any­one to accept trinit­arianism as a condition for staying with the church. We did not ask people to sign a membership form or a docu­ment of doctrinal assent. We have never taught that we are the only true church. We advocated trinit­ar­ian­ism but no one was forced to ac­cept it. This is seen in the case of my wife Sylvia who all her life to this day has never been convinced of trin­itar­ian­ism, not even when she was or­dained in 1996 at our church in Melbourne, Australia. My point is that CDC even in its trin­it­arian days had people like Sylvia who did not believe in the trinity, and peo­ple like me who were caut­ious trinit­arians because we were keenly aware of the weak­nesses of trinitar­ian dogma.
  • When the day came for CDC to abandon trinitarian­ism in the light of Scripture, those who weren’t yet ready to go along with our new stand were given the freedom to stay with us or to leave with­out the fear of being cen­sured. In our churches world­wide, a minority left us over the issue of trinitar­ian­ doctrine, but a clear ma­jor­ity chose to stay, with the percent­age varying from church to church. Against ex­pectat­ions, we have been see­ing more peo­ple attending some of our church events. This deep­ened our trust in God, for He will show His mer­cy and pro­tection when we faith­fully pro­claim the truth about Him.
  • Chang’s re-evaluation of trinitar­ianism enjoyed a good measure of credi­bility because of his long­standing reputation in our church as a careful and com­petent Bible exposi­tor. That reputa­tion is impec­cable among his fellow pastors and coworkers.
  • Chang did not reject trinitarian­ism in a dog­ma­tic ex cathedra manner but participated with his co­work­ers in a year-long evaluation of the scriptural evidence for biblical mono­the­ism. It was a Berean exercise that sharp­ened our under­stand­ing of the biblical data, and assured us that the Bible was being held as the higher authority over church tradition and doctrine.
  • Throughout our history, notably our early history, CDC has been train­ing lay peo­ple in biblical exe­gesis. When I was still a lay­man in Canada, many ordinary church people were already using tools such as Greek grammars, New Bible Dict­ionary, Modern Concordance, Greek-English interlinear NTs; and even UBS3, BDB, TDNT, Blass-Debrunner, and BAGD before it became BDAG. When a church finds itself in a situat­ion of doctrin­al reeval­uation, it is crucial that the lay people, or at least some of them, be equipped to study the Bible for themselves and to assess the bibli­cal merits of a doctrine such as trinitar­ian­ism. Church lead­ers gain trust and credibility, and are perceived as being open-minded, when they willingly give the lay people the freedom — and the means — to study the Bible for them­selves.

The final and ultimate reason for our departure from trinitar­ian­ism is that it has weak biblical support. In my trinit­arian days, I was already aware of the weak­nesses of trinitarianism. So when the day came for CDC to aban­don trinitarianism in the light of Scripture, we were doing it with an aware­ness of the strong biblical basis of our new position.


(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church