The Trinity

Last month I wrote a couple of posts about our class on the attributes of God. If you don’t remember them, here are the links:

The Attributes of God

The Attributes of God part 2

In the final lesson of that class we discussed the trinity. No study of God is complete without addressing this doctrine which is the foundation on which the Christian church rests. Although the word “trinity” is never used in the Bible, there are a number of references to the three-fold nature of God. The one cited most often is in the book of Mark:

“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”” Mark 1:9-11

We see here three names and 3 actions: Jesus is baptized, God speaks, and the Spirit descends.

After the death and resurrection of Christ many heresies about the trinity arose. Here’s a brief synopsis of some of the more prevalent misconceptions:

  1. Modalism — the three persons of the trinity have separate functions: creator (the Father), redeemer (Jesus) and comforter (the Spirit). In fact, all three persons are involved in every function.
  2. Subordinationism–the Spirit and Jesus are subordinate to the Father.
  3. Tritheism–the three persons are separate and are in effect three Gods

Many analogies have been used to try and explain the mystery of the Trinity. It has been likened to water, steam and ice, which all have the same chemical makeup; a triangle which has 3 sides but is one triangle; or the clover, three leaves but one plant.

To combat different false teachings in the early church, a number of ecumenical councils were convened. At the first Council of Nicaea (325) the doctrine of the Trinity was addressed and defined in the Nicaean Creed. If you’re a Lutheran, you probably recite this almost every week during the worship service. Don’t skip over this lightly! Repeating and understanding the creeds helps us to remember exactly what we believe.

False teaching is still out there, alive and well. Often it sounds good and makes sense to our limited understanding. So know what you believe and why, starting with the Trinity.

For more about the Trinity see:

John Donne on the Trinity

An Image of the Trinity

Lutherans Explain the Trinity

Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself

I’ve been doing a lectio divina study of the works of John and this week I read his second letter. This is what jumped out for me:

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God…” 2 John 9a

John is cautioning his readers (and us) about false teaching. I don’t know about you, but I’m easily attracted to something new — the latest style, a novel recipe, a unique way of looking at the world. There’s nothing wrong with curiosity, or with shaking up our usual routines now and then. However, when it comes to the faith, we must make sure we stick to the foundational truths.

In order to do this, we must first know the truth. That means studying the Bible, and also knowing something about theology. Yes, this can be difficult — I sometimes accuse my Pastor husband of giving me a headache when he tries to explain doctrinal concepts to me–but as someone once said, “if you don’t know where you stand, you’ll fall for anything.” We’ve recently been studying the trinity, and some of the ideas that sound right to my human understanding — for example, that the three members of the trinity each have a different function– is actually a heresy known as modalism. God is one, the trinity is a unity, and each member is involved in everything God does.

We can “run ahead” for other reasons as well. Sometimes a new idea is just what our itching ears want to hear — things like God wants to bless us by making us healthy and wealthy (the prosperity gospel–another heresy). Or we crave the new because it gives us a spiritual “high” at least for a while. We forget that our faith is tested and matured through trials. Maybe we bounce around from church to church seeking the most charismatic leader or preacher — when what we need to grow is to root ourselves in a Christian community and bloom where we are planted.

We need to remember that running ahead can lead to false teaching and false teaching leads to our word for the month: SIN. So don’t get ahead of yourself. Study the Word until you know the Word. Understand the theology behind what you believe. Test the spiritys. Be committed to your congregation and serve the community. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

For more lectio divina study see:

Deceiving Ourselves

Honor Everyone

James Chapter 2 — What Stands Out

Who is the Holy Spirit?

The first thing we learned in our church’s study of the Holy Spirit is that the Spirit is not something, but someone;  fully God, not an emanation or aura coming from God.  As part of the trinity, the Spirit participates in all the activities of the Godhead For example, when the world was created,

“… the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  Genesis 1:2

When Jesus was baptized:

“…the Holy Spirit descended on him, in bodily form like a dove.” Luke 23:22

Jesus promises that after his crucifixion:

“… the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything that I have said to you.”  John 14:26

It is common to think of the Father as the Creator, the Son as Redeemer and the Spirit as Comforter.  However, when we assign certain duties to each person of the trinity, we are actually engaging in a heresy know as modalism (big word for the day).  They are all involved in each of these important things.  One way to think about this is to say that the Father works through the Son by the work of the Holy Spirit.

In addition, within the trinity there is complete accord and unity.  The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Spirit, the Spirit loves the Father, and so on.  They are distinct, yet the same.  One example given is three separate drops of water, which when held in the hollow of the hand, can be merged together into one.  Another analogy is water, steam and ice, the same chemical makeup in different forms.  Of course, neither of these is completely accurate, because at the core, the trinity is a mystery that we humans cannot completely grasp or understand.

For more on the trinity, see these posts:

Lutherans Explain the Trinity

John Donne on the Trinity

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Trinity