I have been preaching on the eleven Christian doctrines that I depicted from Mere Christianity, which C. S. Lewis suggested to be “common to nearly all Christians at all times”—God as Absolute Being, The Corrupted World, Life beyond Death, God of Creation, God of Trinity, God of Revelation, Jesus, the Son of God, Jesus, the Redeemer, Jesus’ Resurrection, Jesus, the Only Way, and Jesus’ Second Coming. I am going to talk about God of Trinity today.
One of the Foundational Doctrines
Baptism: When I baptize someone I say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Wedding: As part of the Wedding service, the bride and bridegroom say vows to each other, which reads, “I love you, (name) , today I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, or for worse, for richer, or for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love, to honor and to cherish unconditionally. Forsaking all others, I will be faithful to you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then I declare that “In the light of the love that led you here, and of the promises you have made to one another before God, I declare you to be Husband and Wife in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” And I close the wedding service with Blessing, “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always.”
Funeral: When I lead the funeral service, I close the service with this blessing, “And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be amongst you and remain with you always.”
Sunday Service: Every Sunday we close the service sharing the words of blessing that, “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.”
The phrase “in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” is known as the Trinitarian formula, which is based on the doctrine of the Trinity: One God and Three Persons. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the distinctive doctrines of Christianity. As Millard Erickson notes in his book Christian Theology, “Among the religions of the world, the Christian faith is unique in make the claim that God is one and yet there are three who are God. Although it seems to be a self-contradictory doctrine and is not overtly or explicitly stated in Scripture, nevertheless, devout minds have been led to it as they sought to do justice to the witness of Scripture.”
And it is one of the foundational doctrines of Christianity. Dr. Ray Pritchard, President of Keep Believing Ministries. an American Christian writer and speaker writes, “All Christians believe the doctrine of the Trinity. If you do not believe this—that is, if you have come to a settled conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true—you are not a Christian at all. You are in fact a heretic. Those words may sound harsh, but they represent the judgment of the Christian church across the centuries.” His expression may sound provocative to someone, and yet he emphasizes how significant the doctrine of the Trinity in Christianity is.
What is the Trinity?
Then, what is the Trinity? The doctrine of the Trinity means, “One God and Three Persons,” or “God is one in essence and three in person,” which means that there is “one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons— the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” These definitions express three crucial theological points: (1) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons. (2) Each Person is fully God. (3) There is only one God.
Number 1 is well understood because there are various cases in the Bible which describe the presence of each Person. Today’s reading from Mark is one of the examples. When Jesus, the Son, was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove on him and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”(Mark 1:9-11).
Number 2 is not a problem for us. Firstly, the deity of the Father is scarcely in dispute. As we know, there are a number of cases in the Bible where Jesus refers to the Father as God. Secondly, Scripture identifies Jesus as God. One of the key references to the deity of Christ Jesus is Philippians 2. Thirdly, there are biblical references that identify the Holy Spirit as God. For example, Acts 5:3-4, Jon 16:8-11, John 3:8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.
Now, Number 3 is problematic. My conclusion is that I am not able to help you understand it. What I can do it only pray that you may believe it, if you are still in question about the doctrine of the Trinity.
All Christian theologians agree that the Trinity is incomprehensible. As Millard Erickson notes, “We cannot fully understand the mystery of the Trinity. When someday we see God, we shall see him as he is, and understand him better than we do now. Yet even then we will not totally comprehend him because he is the unlimited God and we are limited in our capacity to know and understand, he will always exceed our knowledge and understanding.”
I agree with Millard Erickson. We are part of the creation of God and God is the Creator. Having said that, let me give you some illustrations which do not perfectly explain the Trinity. So they will only help us know how difficult it is to explain or to understand it. So, please take them just as illustrations.
A Simple Equation: The Jehovah’s Witnesses, who pointedly deny the Trinity, would offer this simple equation to prove how ridicule the doctrine of the Trinity is: 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. Our answer would be another simple equation: 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. There is only one God. Number 3!
Liquid, Steam and Ice: The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are not three “forms” of God—like, steam, water and ice. The idea of “One God and Three Forms” is called Modalism, which is not of Christian Orthodoxy. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons. Number 1!
A father, Son and Husband: The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are not three “roles” of God—like, of a father, of a son and of a husband. The idea of “One God and Three Forms” denies the distinction of three Persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons. Again, Number 1!
An egg-shell, the yolk and the egg-white: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not “parts” or “pieces” of God. Jesus is not 1/3rd God, the Father is not 1/3rd God, and the Holy Spirit is not 1/3rd God, either. Each Person is fully God. Number 2!
I think, this is enough of our endeavour in exploring the question What is the Trinity? because “If you try to explain the Trinity, you will lose your mind. But if you deny it, you will lose your soul” (from an unknown source). I do not want to lose my mind, and also I do not want you to lose your soul, either. So while I decline more explanation, I will continue to pray for you, if you are in doubt about God of Trinity. Instead, now I turn to one of implications, which I think if of significance for us as the church.
God is Love
When I was preparing the sermon during the week, I asked myself what the doctrine of the Trinity has to do with me personally and also with us as the church. Is it just an abstract idea? Is it merely a non-imperative theological concept? Or does it give us any compelling thought that asks for our immediate response in our daily lives? While I was pondering on these questions, two biblical passages popped up in my mind: John 17:23-26, which was Jesus’ last prayer for his disciples just before his ascension, and 1 John 4:16, which claims that God is love.
“I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. …. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’” (John 17:23-26)
“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1 John 4:16)
Love cannot exist by itself because love is relational. My love cannot stand without you who I love. Your love cannot stand someone that you love. In this sense, if God is not of three Persons, the declaration that “God is love” would not make sense. So now we know why “God is love” is true. 1 John 4:16 implies the loving relationship among three Persons. And now we know that Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in John 17 indicates that agape love is the essence of the relationship among three Persons.
We agree that the doctrine of the Trinity is incomprehensible, but the loving relationship of the Trinity is comprehensible. The doctrine of the Trinity not only teaches us who God is, but encourages us to love one another and empowers us to do so. So, Jesus prayed, “the love with which you have loved me may be in them.” We are the church who are called to be part of the loving relationship of the Trinity. We admit that it is not possible for us to love one another with the love of God, which is agape, unconditional love, because we are limited in capacity, However, we can offer ourselves as the channel of love, so that God’s love may freely flow through us toward our friends, family and neighbours.
Thanks be to God who called us to be the channel of peace, the channel of grace, and the channel of love. Amen.
God of Trinity. Mark 1:1-11 and Matthew 28:16-20. Rev Joohong Kim. Crossway Community Church. 8 July 2018.