Each month here on The SCC Standard we are going to be looking at the individual statements found in the Shuswap Community Church Statement of Faith. This statement as a whole can be found on our website at aplacetobelong.ca and either downloaded, read or printed from there. Each month an assortment of pastors, elders, staff and lay people will share their answer to the simple question, “Why does this matter to me?”. We hope that this will be a helpful and learning experience as we all look a little closer and dig a little deeper into our commonly held theological belief standards.
This month we are looking at the second statement which reads as follows:
II. OF THE TRINITY
We believe that there is one, and only one, living, eternal and true God; an infinite, intelligent Spirit, the Creator and the Supreme ruler of Heaven and earth inexpressibly glorious in holiness and worthy of all possible honour, faith and love; that in the unity of the Godhead there are three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, equal in every divine perfection, executing distinct and harmonious offices in the work of redemption.
Some things are hard to explain. Imagine this: You are traveling up the Amazon River in a canoe. As you round the bend, before you lays a small village. This village has lived in seclusion from the rest of the world. As your canoe hits the bank you are met by a quizzical and suspicious people. As you begin to attempt to communicate with them you realize very quickly that you both are speaking very different languages.
Immediately you start to translate words: Hi, peace, fork, bowl, canoe ect. You follow a pattern. Point, speak, listen. Easy enough. But then you come to a word like beauty or words like love or hate. How would you describe these things? It’s a bit more difficult, isn’t it? You cannot just point and speak anymore. You have to explain it, describe it, give examples of what it is and what it is not. Even then, trying to describe it only makes sense to these people if they have experienced it themselves.
Beauty and love are not things you hold like a fork, but rather are things to behold. They need to be experienced in order to truly understand them. If you have never felt love I can try my best to explain it to you but my explanation will always far short of reality. With this in mind lets move our discussion on. What if I asked you who is God, and what is He like? How would you answer me? Can you describe Him? Maybe. But only if you have seen Him or encountered Him, experienced Him, right? You can’t really know love unless you have experienced love. You can’t really know God unless you have experienced God? Now not many people would say they have met God, seen God, or experienced the physical manifestation of God in their lives. So what then? Where does that leave us? How can we know who God is and what He is like? Is this a loosing battle? A cosmic mystery never to be solved? Wouldn’t it be so much easier to understand God if we could just point at something and speak, like a fork or cup? What if I told you we can? Well at least to a point. We are not left hopeless in our struggle to know God. There is a special book that can help us and it’s called the Bible.
In our last blog posts we discussed this book, what it is and why it is so important. The Bible answers our questions for us. It tells us who God is and what He is like. It is God describing, explaining and revealing Himself to us and the words He uses are pretty amazing. Check out some of these verses to see for yourself: Exodus 34:6-7, Jeremiah 10:10, Psalm 5:4, 86:15, 90:2, 147:5, Matthew 5:48, John 4:24, Romans 1:20, and 1 John 1:5, 4:8, 4:16. The Bible paints a pretty amazing picture of who God really is. Reading verses like those helps to paint us a picture, but that picture will never truly be complete. And it won’t truly be complete because the Bible also says this, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,” (Isaiah 46:9) and, “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.” (Psalm 86:8). The Bible can be held. We can use it to point to God and speak about His revealed nature, character, power, glory and majesty. Much can be known about God but the Bible also reveals something about the nature of God that are mysterious. The idea of the Trinity being one. God is revealed in the Bible as being three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All God, all equal, but all unique. The Bible also describes God as being “one.” Thus, there is only one God who exists in three persons: the Trinity.
Maybe it doesn’t make sense, or maybe it only doesn’t make sense to us. Remember there is, “none like God.” How can you describe something that is unlike anything else in all creation? When we talk about the nature of God we are often left with more questions than answers. That is because, just like how you can’t understand true love without experiencing it, we cannot and will not fully understand God unless we behold Him. I don’t know about you, but the glimpse we have so far gets me excited. It gets me excited for what is yet to come. God has only begun to show us Himself and I like what I see.
Thankfully, through the Gospel God has made a way for us to behold Him forever. We get a glimpse now but, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, one day when we behold Him in person we will know Him fully. “We see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known."(1 Corinthians 13:12) I look forward to that day, but until then we may have to make due with a few unanswered questions and a handful of faith.
- Spenser Coers
Just as the Bible is important and foundational for us as Christians, the doctrine of the Trinity is of great significance as well. The Bible is essential for us in that it is God’s Word. The Trinity is essential for us in that it describes the God who is revealed to us in His Word.
Throughout Church History, Christians have held to the doctrine of the Trinity as the orthodox view of God as one in being and three in persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the same time there have been opponents of this view at various times believing that triunity actually misrepresents the God we see in the Scriptures. However, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is coherent, logical, and is demanded by Scripture.
We can fall into many different errors when discussing the Trinity. One must only look up “St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies” on YouTube to see the problem in many of the analogies that can be bandied about at the local youth group or Sunday school class which at best come up short in explaining the Triune God and at worst espouse a heretical position. It is one thing to use a bad analogy at one point or another trying to explain the Trinity but is entirely another to subscribe to a heretical view of God – “a belief or teaching that contradicts Scripture and Christian theology.” Possibly some of the most common of these heresies would be Modalism, Tritheism, and Arianism. There are other heresies related to the Trinity, but those mentioned are the ones that we will look at here in particular.
Modalism can be defined as, “The view that the three members of the Trinity are different modes of God’s activity rather than distinct persons.” Modalists would affirm monotheism in that there is in fact one God, but they would view God as shifting into different roles at different times as opposed to the Trinitarian understanding of God as eternally one in being and three distinct persons. So, essentially in this view the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not distinct persons but different manifestations of the one God in different times and places. In some instances we would see God revealing Himself as the Father and in others as Jesus or the Holy Spirit.
Tritheism is simply the belief in three separate gods or divine beings. “The result is to say God is three persons and each person is fully God. Therefore, there are three Gods.” This view is certainly not predominant in Church History or in the contemporary church but it can creep in just as easily as other heresies simply through ignorance and/or apathy.
Arianism is a known heresy that really portrays Jesus as a lesser god. Arius was a presbyter in Alexandria whose views were in essence the reason for the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. Arius and his followers “made the Son by nature less than God, and the Spirit less than the Son.” The Arian position held that Jesus was not equal, was created by the Father, and thus did not have the same nature as the Father. This heresy can show up today when we fall into the same error as Arius and fail to see the coequality found in the Trinity.
As stated earlier, The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is coherent, logical, and is demanded by Scripture. James White gives a basic, biblical definition of the Trinity, “Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Even more “briefly stated, the doctrine claims that God is one as to essence and three as to persons.” Although we will never have an exhaustive, all encompassing, and comprehensive understanding of God, we can make a lot of sense about who He is in His Word where He has revealed Himself to us. Our faith is rooted on solid ground that we find in the Scriptures. Some might say that the doctrine of the Trinity is too confusing or that it does not really matter all that much. Some might say the Trinity is straight up incoherent and does not make any sense at all. But it is vital that we as believers do our best to plumb the depths of our Trinitarian God because, “To know the Trinity is to know God, an eternal personal God of infinite beauty, interest and fascination. The Trinity is a God we can know, and forever grow to know better.” The doctrine of the Trinity can and does make sense and when it does not, it is most likely because of miscommunication.
It is immensely important for us as we worship and follow God, to see Him as He has revealed Himself to us throughout Scripture. Even as there have been opponents of the view that the God of the Bible is a Trinity, the burden of proof remains on them to substantiate their claims. Not only is this doctrine demanded by Scripture, but is a glorious reality to think on and actually causes us to worship all the more. “Neither a problem nor a technicality, the triune being of God is the vital oxygen of Christian life and joy.”
- Kevin Hardy
As we look at the statements of faith, one that sets many others into the correct context is the statement from this month. It is only through understanding the Father correctly in context of the Trinity, that we are able to understand the work of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, adoption, redemption, atonement and so many other great works of theology. As the saying goes, it is our theology that needs to drive us to doxology, that is to worship. And worshiping the Father should be the heartbeat of every believer.
Starting with the act of creation, we find one of the fundamental reasons that people from all times have worshiped. Once we understand that God is the only Creator, we begin to understand how fundamentally He is Father. He is the originator of everything that we can tangible see, feel, hear, taste, and smell. Without the creator God we experience nothing. At the very root God is the Father of all creation and that includes us. We understand that as the creator of all things it is natural to understand that God would desire to redeem us that He created. Redemption for the believer is rooted in the basic understanding of God as Father.
Jesus when he walked with the disciples continually taught that God was his Father and he called the disciples to call him Father too. Now the doctrine of the trinity teaches us that the Father is the Son and the Son is the Father. Both are the Holy Spirit and the Spirit is both as well. But the functions and roles of each are distinct. We understand God as Father, therefore, through Jesus the Son, sharing in his sonship through the adoption we receive through Christ’s redeeming work for us.
One of the traditional ways that this understanding of the Father has been eroded and perverted is found in the teachings of the Gnostics. Their understanding and teaching was that Jesus Christ was the Son of the hidden Father. Jesus to them was sent to redeem the world from the work of the (inferior) Creator. No Christian could or should accept that idea, however, because the Biblical revelation makes it clear that the Creator and the Redeemer are the same God. God is the Creator of all human beings, but the Father only of those He intends to redeem. Jesus is the fulfillment of this redemption and salvation.
As we said earlier the first Christians call God Father because that is what Jesus taught his disciples to do. Jesus' relationship was unique with the Father and one that Jesus spent time making sure his disciples understood. Statements like “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9) and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) really drove home, and drive home, the idea that we see the Father when we see Jesus, we know the Father when we know Jesus. Yet in submission there is another layer to understanding the father as Jesus was clearly not talking to himself when he said; “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
The Son pleads for us in the presence of the Father and the Father forgives us because of the Son’s intercession on our behalf. We are encouraged to pray to the Father and enabled to do so because the Son has united us to him in his death and resurrection (Gal. 2:20). Jesus is the divine and sinless Son of the Father by nature, whereas we are sinners who have been adopted by him.
In the Son, we have become heirs of the Father’s kingdom, co-rulers with him and even judges of the angels (1 Cor. 6:3). This high calling comes with a price tag, for just as the Son glorified his Father while on earth, so we too are called to glorify Him (John 17:1–26). We cannot do this in our own strength, but only in and through the relationship that the Father has entered into with us, through the Son and the Holy Spirit. Just as everything they do is done in relation to the Father, so everything that we are called to do must also be done in the context of obedience to his will. It is to the Father that we pray, through the Son and in the Spirit, because that is the pattern of our relationship to God that he has revealed to us. We pray to the Father because our Creator is also our Redeemer, and it is in that redeeming love that we know him.
The complexity of connection between the Father and the Son set so much of the foundations of theology that we need to contend for in the life of our church, the teaching of our gatherings and the personal discipleship that we undergo on a regular basis. It is so very easy to slowly drift from a clear understanding of how all of these theological dominoes fit together, but when we start with a correct understanding of God the Father, all the rest seem to fit in place just a little easier and generally much more clearly in our minds too.
- Steve McLean