Monday, May 12, 2008

Church and Trinity

This Sunday is the day known as Trinity Sunday in the Church Calendar. It is one Sunday a year that is set aside to talk about this central doctrine of the Christian faith. Unfortunately, I think that for most Christians, the doctrine of the Trinity is anything but central to our faith. Instead, it is often seen more as a theological abstraction that most Christians are certain has nothing to do with real life. It is more likely to be an impossible mathematical conundrm (how can God be 3 and 1?) than it is to shape our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ in anyway.

This problem is then compounded by the fact that the Trinity is never spoken of in Scripture, at least not by that name (which can be a real problem for folks like us who want everything we believe and do to be "biblically" based). There are passages like Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14 (and many others, those are just two of our readings for this week) where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are listed together and seem to somehow be treated equally and yet also differently from one another. But those limited references don't seem to give any explanation of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to each other or why the Church believes in something called the Trinity.

In spite of that, the Trinity is the central doctrine of the Christian faith. It is the essense of the shape of the Nicene Creed, the most basic confession of Christianity. It is the very first article of faith in our Nazarene Manual (as it is in the manual or handbooks of nearly every other denomination). It is the doctrine that most fully captures the identity and character of the God that we serve (although all doctrines fail to do this at some level).

So how did this seemingly abstract and unbiblical doctrine become the central confession of the Church's faith? It did so because it is neither abstract or unbiblical. The doctrine of the Trinity did not begin as an exercise in philosophical reasoning or lofty ideals. It began in the lived experience of the Apostles and the early church, who were predominantly Jewish and therefore, adhered to a radical monotheism. One of the most firmly held beliefs of any Jew in Jesus' day was that God was one and that there were no other true gods (see Deut 6:4). Yet these early Christians knew that the one God that they believed in was present in some special way in the person of Jesus Christ and later in the presence of the Holy Spirit among them. They knew that God was one but they also knew that God had revealed Godself in these two distinctly new ways. In essence, the doctrine of the Trinity actually contains the story of our salvation. It tells the story of the God who created us and sent the Son to redeem us and the Spirit to transform us. It was this reality, which is the overarching story of all of Scripture, that would lead the Church over the first several hundred years of its existence to work toward articulating its belief about God in the doctrine of the Trinity.

Not only was this doctrine borne out of the lived experience of the Church. It continues to guide the Church in its life together today. This is true because we believe that as humans beings we were created in God's image and we believe that we, as the Church, are the people on whom God's Holy Spirit has been poured out in a special way so that God's image might be redeemed in us and so that we might be about the business of seeing God's image redeemed in others. As we say in our mission statement every week, we are called to be a community that is a faithful image of God's love. In other words, we are to be an image of the Trinity. The love that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a model of the kind of love that we are called to exhibit as the Church; an intimately interconnected, missional, self-giving love that so binds us together that we become one body, the Body of Christ.

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