Monday, July 18, 2016

More on the Trinity

In response to my previous post, I have been asked to explain the Trinity. Rather than try to write something original, I thought I would simply provide the summary description found in the Belgic Confession along with the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. These should provide good resources for Bible study.

Article eight of the Belgic Confession reads as follows:

God Is One in Essence, Yet Distinguished in Three Persons
According to this truth and this Word of God, we believe in one only God (1 Cor 8:4-6), who is one single essence (Isa 43:10), in which are three persons (1 John 5:7 [TR]; Heb 1:3), really, truly, and eternally distinct, according to their incommunicable properties; namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (Matt 3:16-17; 28:19). The Father is the cause, origin, and beginning of all things, visible and invisible (1 Cor 8:6Col 1:16Eph 3:14-15); the Son is the Word (John 1:1-2; 1:14Rev 19:13Prov 8:12), Wisdom (Prov 8:12, 22, etc.; 1 Cor 1:24), and the Image of the Father (John 5:17-26Col 1:15Heb 1:3); the Holy Ghost is the eternal Power and Might (Matt 12:28), proceeding from the Father and the Son (John 15:26;Gal 4:6). Nevertheless, God is not by this distinction divided into three, since the Holy Scriptures teach us that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost have each his personality, distinguished by their properties; but in such wise that these three persons are but one only God. Hence, then, it is evident then that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Ghost is neither the Father nor the Son. Nevertheless these persons thus distinguished are not divided nor intermixed; for the Father hath not assumed the flesh nor hath the Holy Ghost, but the Son only (Phil 2:6-7Gal 4:4John 1:14). For the Father hath never been without his Son (Mic 5:2John 1:1-2), or without his Holy Ghost. For they are all three co-eternal and co-essential. There is neither first nor last; for they are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.
For further elaboration, I would suggest additionally reading through and looking up the Scriptures found in Article 9, Article 10, and Article 11.
Older expressions of Trinitarian faith can be found in the ecumenical creeds recited in Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern churches to this day. These include, among others, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Teaching the Trinity

Last year my wife and I visited an Anglican church. We weren't thinking about becoming Anglicans -- we are committed to both Presbyterianism and to our local congregation -- but we saw it as an opportunity to see how another Christian tradition worships. Some of my favorite authors -- James Packer, John Stott, Leon Morris, C.S. Lewis, and on and on -- are Anglicans, so I thought it would be interesting to see a bit of the tradition that they were nurtured in and participated in.
As I would have expected, there were things I liked and things that I found confusing or that I disagreed with. Much of Anglican worship centers around the Book of Common Prayer. It creates the form and content for most of the service. What I most noticed about the worship that day -- and I think that this is fairly standard in churches that adhere to historic Anglicanism -- is that the worship service generated by prayer book was relentlessly Trinitarian. That is to say that no one could leave the service without realizing that they had participated in the worship of one God who eternally exists in three persons. It was emblazoned into the entire fabric of the service.
Over the years, I have known many laymen who have struggled with the doctrine of the Trinity. My own view is that Scripture -- when it is all pulled together -- is clear on the Trinity, but people have a hard time understanding it because it is not similar to anything in human experience. People attempt analogies to explain how God can eternally exist as one God and three Persons, but the metaphors tend to break down in one way or another. Because of that, there is a tendency to resist the data from Scripture. When compiled, the scriptural data is clear and impressive.
Yet, many laymen have said to me that not only do they struggle to believe it; they say that they have never heard it clearly taught. That is sad. Also sad is the fact that in recent weeks a controversy has broken out among some Christian scholars -- mostly reformed leaning folks who do not come from confessional denominations and are not accustomed to thinking creedally -- over the Trinity. If even Christian scholars are not understanding scriptural teaching about the Trinity, what is a layman to do?
I think sermons alone, while helpful, are not enough. Though I am not an Anglican, I like their worship approach, which, as I put it, was relentlessly Trinitarian from start to finish. As another approach, I thought recently about a church I preached at several times last year. They recited the Nicene Creed every single Sunday. While I thought that perhaps every week was a bit excessive, the regular reciting of the creed certainly would serve to help those under the church's care to understand who God is.
And, that is what is important. We can talk all day about the various functions of the church, but if we are wrong about who God is, we have erred on something that is very serious. Whether we are Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, or whatever, there is an understanding derived from Scripture, forged out of controversy, and articulated by God's people that has stood the time for 1600 years. By whatever means we determine best, we need to make sure that the people in our churches understand it.