Thursday, March 8, 2012

Christian Believer: Week Nineteen {Trinity}

Come, Thou almighty King,
Help us Thy name to sing,
Help us to praise!
Father all-glorious,
O'er all victorious,
Come and reign over us,
Ancient of Days.

Come, Thou Incarnate Word,
Gird on Thy mighty sword,
Our prayer attend;
Come and Thy people bless
And give Thy Word success;
Stablish Thy righteousness,
Savior and Friend!

Come, holy Comforter,
Thy sacred witness bear
In this glad hour.
Thou, who almighty art,
Now rule in every heart
And ne'er from us depart,
Spirit of Power!
 ("Come, Thou Almighty King")

Lesson nineteen's topic was "The Trinity" (The Mystery and the Message of the Trinity).

We started with the video.  The first thing the teacher said was that the trinity is a mystery, not a puzzles- we try to solve a puzzle; we stand in awe of a mystery.  Then he said that the doctrine of the trinity is rooted in the confession of Jesus as God's son.  Jesus was God's divine presence and His self expression in history.  Jesus's oneness with God, however, was twofold in character.  It had an aspect of unity- he shared a divine nature with God, but it also had an aspect of distinction- He had a son to father relationship with God.  This is the key to beginning to understand trinitarian doctrine.  Then we move to the Spirit.  The Spirit is both the spirit of the Creator God and the spirit of the Risen Christ.  This affirms the oneness of God, but the Spirit, too, was also distinct and can be seen as a power binding the Father and Son together and "acting through believers as a third center of divine presence".  The church has traditionally understood the Spirit as:
- a divine presence
- the resurrected Christ dwelling in community
- something that enables believers to confess Jesus Christ as the son of the Father

The early church faced the task of "trying to unify the church's experience of Christ and of the Spirit into one coherent doctrine that did not sacrifice the one God of monotheism".  Some wanted to merge the three and say that the three natures of God were simply three manifestations.  Others went the complete opposite direction and said only the Father was divine- He was the Creator and the other two were creatures.  However, we can't reduce the three to one or divide the one into three.  "God is a single essence, but that unity is constituted by an eternal relationship between three persons."

The doctrine of the trinity is a way of reading the Old and New Testaments that brings their various affirmations about God into a coherent whole.  "To grasp the doctrine one must understand the concepts only enough to look through them to the reality they try to convey."  The video also made the point that "the confession doesn't lay out a precise position, but marks the boundaries of any legitimate Christian confession.  Every affirmation should be understood as the rejection of an unacceptable position." Thus, it provides a boundary or a limit.

Finally, the video discussed that the names, "Father", "Son", and "Holy Spirit" are not meant to be understood as assigning gender; they identify the point where the divine persons intersected in human history- in the life and language of Jesus.  To eliminate these names in favor of names drawn from God's actions ("Creator", "Redeemer", "Sustainer") threatens to reduce God's threeness to acts or functions of a singular God.  Finally, "in joining God's triune story, we partake of God's being". 

The workbook also had some good insights.  First, it made the point that the trinity is one big thing that differentiates Christianity from other monotheistic religions.  It then discussed the importance of the trinity to various figures in the church- Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley.  All seemed to regard the doctrine highly.  It also pointed out that during Jesus' baptism, all three members of the trinity were present.  It then went on to discuss Augustine's trinitarian views- he taught that God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are "in union with one another and that their operation is inseparable because it springs from a single, indivisible will and action".  He also described their distinctness in relationship with one another- the Father's begetting, the Son's begottenness, and the Spirit proceeding from both. One example the book gave as a good analogy for the trinity was one Tertullian used- the sun, the rays proceeding from the sun, and the sunbeam reflected by some object on Earth.

It then went on to describe how the Trinity exposes God's personal, communal, loving nature.  Without the concept of the Trinity, we are apt to say "Jesus is love. God the Father is judge".  And many do, misunderstanding the Trinity.  However, the love within the Trinity is indivisible and when Christ died on the cross, it was as much based on the Father and the Spirit's love as on His own.  This also has implications in our fiercely individualistic culture.

Finally, the book touched on the issue of certain schisms of the church that do not completely hold this doctrine, such as Unitarians, who believe God the Father is above Christ and the Spirit.  Also, there exists a more subtle, but more significant, movement within contemporary Christianity to dismiss the Trinity by questioning the divine nature of Christ, having only vague understanding of the Holy Spirit, and not having a clear idea about this supernatural aspect of the Christian faith.

Here are my favorite Scriptures and readings from that week:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." -Deuteronomy 6:5-7

"...I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." -John 14:6

"But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind of of everything I have said to you..."-John 14:26

"This is how we know we love the children of God; by loving God and carrying out his commands." 1 John 5:2

"He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." 1 John 5:12

"[W]e do not learn...that the Father does anything by Himself in which the son does not work conjointly, or again that the son has any special operation apart form the Holy Spirit; but every operation which extends from God to the Creation, and is named according to our variable conceptions of it, has its origins from the Father, and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit." - Gregory of Nyssa

"...not three beings in the plural, but one, that is, the Trinity itself: thus the Father is God, the Son God, the Holy Spirit God; the Father is good, the Son good, the Holy Spirit good.; the Father almighty, the Son almighty, the Holy Spirit almighty; yet there are not three Gods, or three good, or three almighty; but one God, good, almighty- the Trinity itself..." -Augustine

"The right approach to the mystery is to imitate the Trinity...God does not reveal Himself to us for the sake of speculation.  He is not giving us a riddle to solve.  He is offering us life." -Christopher Mwoleka

"That the "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in fact occupies in the church the place occupied in Israel by "Yahweh" or later, "Lord" even hasty observation of the church's life must discover...Our services begin and are punctuated with 'In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit'...It is in liturgy, when we talk not about God, but to and for him, that we need and use God's name, and that is where the trinitarian formulas appear, both initially and to this day.  In the immediately postapostolic literature there is no use of a trinitarian formulas a a piece of theology or in such fashion as to depend of antecedent development in theology, yet the formula is there.  Its home is in the liturgy, in baptism, and the Eucharist.  There its use was regularly seen as the heart of the matter." Robert Jensen

Because we the church believe that the one God is revealed in three Person, I pray the the trinity will be more fully at work in, and glorified by, my life.

1 comment:

Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Sarah Denley

On the subject of the Trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor