Baptists insist that we are not liturgical. Until you move the communion table, or try to take up the offering after the sermon, or sing a different doxology. But we rarely observe the church calendar. We do Advent, Lent/Easter, and maybe Pentecost. Traditionally, the Sunday after Pentecost is set aside as a Sunday to focus on the Triune nature of our God, a doctrine Brackel calls, “the mystery of all mysteries” of which we are “able to grasp a fragment or the external fringes of the doctrine at hand”. we never really get it. Various people have up with ways to demonstrate it, but none really capture the simultaneous one and three.
Q: How many times does the word Trinity appear in the Bible?
The Doctrine of the Trinity as it’s usually “understood” (I use that term loosely, as no one truly understands how this can be) wasn’t really finalized until the 4th century (300+ years after the time of Christ). Even then, it wasn’t “defined”, but boundaries were drawn around the doctrine to preserve the mystery without misleading people. That doesn’t mean it was “invented” then, as some critics would have you believe. It was just being debated how it holds together. Batted around for clarification if you will.
Three authors stand out as the most influential, Gregory of Nyssa, his brother Basil the Great and their good friend, Gregory Nanzianzen. The doctrinal frame was drawn up in the Nicene Creed, which was clarified at the Council of Constantinople in 381, using the language drawn up by Gregory, Gregory and Basil. From this we have the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed which establishes some basic principles about how we talk about this mystery of Trinity.
However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t biblical. We see Father, Son, Spirit used together and spoken of together as all interconnected in this being we call God:
Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
2 Cor. 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Eph. 3:14-19 For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Is Trinity biblical? Absolutely. But wait, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut 6:4). There are numerous ways to try to solve this problem. None are sufficient.
But Why Does it Matter? I want to highlight 4 reasons the Trinity should impact who we are and what we do.
1. Salvation & the Knowledge of God
In Romans 8 we see that all three take part in salvation. The Father authors the plan and sends the Son. The Son is obedient and provides a new reconciled standing between mankind and God. The Holy Spirit indwells, fills, guides, illuminates the repentant. He (The Holy Spirit) is our seal and guarantee: “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Eph 1:13-14).
All too often, our theology emphasizes one over the other two. Each has a different danger when pushed to the extreme.
Karl Barth speaks of the Trinty as Revealer, Revealed, Revealedness. It is in the Trinity that we see more of who God is, and what God is like. To miss the Trinity is to limit our understanding of the immensity of God. We either miss the source, the means, or the continued presence of God via God`s self-revelation.
Your conception of God is always going to be too small. Evagrius of Pontus writes, `God cannot be grasped by the mind. If he could be grasped, he would not be God” (Patralogia Graeca 40:1275C). Similarly, Gregory of Nyssa writes, “God’s name is not known; it is wondered at” (Commentary on the Song of Songs, xii). An infinite God cannot be “understood” but are you missing part of who God is, which he has made available to you? Are you getting a broader understanding of who God is, or is your view of God so narrow that you miss who God is and what God is “up to”? Do you feel like there should be more? Do you crave something deeper? Are you wowed by God? Maybe if you aren’t, you need to dig into some of the mystery of who he is and what he’s like.
The Eastern Orthodox apophatic approach of knowing by admitting mystery is helpful I find. Bishop Kallistos Ware suggests “we see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much to object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.” (The Orthodox Way, p. 14).
Stanley Grenz states “the doctrine of the Trinity suggests a more theologically mature manner of praying. Because God is triune… our prayers ought to be addressed to the three persons in accordance with both the purpose of the specific prayer we are voicing and the function of each trinitarian person.” (Theology for the Community of God, p. 75). In other words- we should be praying to one of the persons depending on what we’re praying for.
Do you pray only to the Father? “Our father who art in heaven…” Some of us will pray to Jesus, or close our prayer “In Jesus’ name”, but do we ever think about what that means? Do you just do it as a habit?
Ever pray to the Holy Spirit? Why not?
Nowhere does the bible say we have to, but we have a few instances telling of the importance of the role of the Spirit in prayer:
Jude 20-21, “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
Romans 8:26-27, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
The Spirit guides our prayer… directs us, and facilitates prayer. If we don’t have a fuller appreciation of Trinity we may have a stunted, or perpetually immature prayer life. Do you want to broaden your prayer life? Embrace more of the mystery of the Trinity and it will open up new avenues and opportunities for catching glimpses of God.
Stanley Grenz also writes, “Because God is the social Trinity, the ideal for humankind does not focus on solitary persons but on persons in community. God intends that we reflect his nature in our lives.” (Ibid. p. 76). Because God is love, he is in a relationship of perfection within himself. The church should look the same- perfect unity.
How often do you think of Salvation and faith as a “private” matter?
You were made in the image of God. You were made for community and relationship.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love… And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 1 John 4:8.
God wants to be in community with you. Not just a superficial relationship with the person checking out your groceries. I have a lot of relationships. I have a relationship with my insurance broker. But that’s hardly community that reflects the oneness of the Trinity. We were created for intimacy. With God and with others. You were created in the image of God- to reflect the love and oneness of God.
You are actually only being fully you, is when you are in community. It is only in the unity in diversity dichotomy that we actually live out who God has created us to be. It is only when we live out truly loving relationships that we authentically and truly live out our identity as children of the living God. And that love is the self-sacrificing love we see exemplified by Jesus.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus had in his very nature the fullness of God, and chose not to exploit or use that nature for his own benefit. In other words, the fullness of God living in Jesus Christ is most fully realized in being a servant. Divinity is seen most clearly in a life devoted to the other. Jesus, as doulos is able to live out the divinity he possessed. Kurios (Lord) and doulos are not mutually exclusive terms.
Because we are called to live out God’s perfect love in the world, we should be missional people. A people working together naturally, and with a single vision. Philippians 2:2, “make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
When was the last time the entire Christian Church was of one mind?
Being the Church means being missional. God’s threeness is indicative of his commitment to do all that is necessary to bring justice love and salvation to his world, in and through his people. The fact that all three persons of the Trinity take part should make it clear to us that we all have a part to play. We are all joined together for a purpose. And we are called to make disciples and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We acknowledge the part that all play in process of discipleship. Discipleship and mission is something appointed to one person or small group of people. As my mentor often says, “You cannot subcontract out your christian duty.” God does not relegate his saving mission to the Son, but that mission happens in and through the community which exists within the Godhead.
God himself is a loving community, and we are made in his image. Therefore, we are designed with community embedded in who we are. We only live out our purpose when we are unified. That’s why Jesus prayed on his final evening before the cross, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” To paraphrase: “Make your people reflect the loving unity which already exists in perfect love which the very nature of who God is.”
The Kingdom of God will prevail. Of that we can be sure. We are given the promise that Christ will build HIS Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail. Why will Hades not prevail? Because we’re so awesome and skilled that we can take on everything and everyone with the skills we have? Our ability to make 1+1+1=1? No. The gates of Hades will not prevail simply because Christ said he will be the one to build it. We are rooted not in our own abilities and character but the character of God.
However, this does not excuse missional laziness. We are called to be part of this beautiful redemptive mission. And God is most visible in us when we reflect the loving unity of the Trinity.
Some good resources for Trinity stuff:
Stanley Grenz. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994. pages 53-76.
Darrell W. Johnson. Experiencing the Trinity. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2002.
Kallistos Ware. The Orthodox Way (Revised Edition). Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003.