Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Neglected Doctrine of the Trinity

Recently there has been quite a bit of discussion about whether or not T.D. Jakes is a Trinitarian. Jakes claims to be one but says he prefers the word "manifestation" instead of "person" which makes Jakes a modalist. If I told people I held to an orthodox Christology but simply preferred to speak of Jesus as "a god" rather than "God" people would catch on right away. It's pretty obvious that Jakes is a modalist.

But do most people who go by the name "Christian" even care anymore? Is the spirit of Protestantism as it exists today perhaps even antitrinitarian by nature? I heard a pastor a few years ago who had a Bible questiona and answer program on the radio. Someone asked him to explain the Trinity. He said it's like you can be a father but also a son at the same time. That's not Trinitarianism. That's modalism. Trinitarianism teaches that God is one in being and three in person, not one person as the illustration teaches. In fact, every illustration tends to end in modalism.

Much of Christianity has come to believe that the task of the pastor is to teach you life principles from the Scriptures and worship is mostly about what we are going to do for God. In that context, the doctrine of the Trinity doesn't carry much importance. It might be written down somewhere as a statement of belief but is usually ignored.

Even in more doctrinally rigorous churches that find their roots in Calvinism, the doctrine of the Trinity seems to have little place in the teaching or life of the church. Some theologians like Cornelius Van Til even contradict traditional Trinitarian language but remain highly influential. Robert Letham has written an excellent book on the Trinity but most Calvinist theologians seem far more concerned with other matters. The Trinity is usually only brought up when other doctrines of greater concern are spoken of. The Calvinist will argue that the atonement must be limited because the Son would not die for people who the Father did not elect.

But this was not the case in the early church. The early Christian creeds were all Trinitarian and centered upon Christ just like the Scriptures themselves. Early Christian worship was Trinitarian and centered upon Christ. It wasn't until the Reformation that some Christian groups abandoned this Trinitarian form of worship.

The doctrine of the Trinity is central to the Christian. Nobody can claim to be a Christian who denies the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is also paradoxical. The Trinity is far outside of the realm of our experience that no human can explain the doctrine of the Trinity. By ignoring that the central doctrine of the Christian faith is paradoxical, Christians have fallen into the error of Thomas Aquinas who stated that revelation can never contradict reason. Protestants reject the true presence of the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament because it contradicts their human reason. Calvinists reject the universal atonement because it does not conform to their own standards of justice. But God is so different from us that His true nature can only be revealed to us, it cannot be reasoned out. Left to its own devices, human reason would never conclude that God is Trinity. Left to its own devices, human reason would never conclude that God should suffer and die for sinners.

There is only one God. But God is three persons or subsistences. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each have real existence, individuality, and self-awareness. There are not three entities or three beings. The Athanasian Creed summarizes what the Scriptures say about God as Trinity without delving into speculation.

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal. As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three Persons are coeternal together, and coequal: so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.

This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.

1 comment:

Mark Olson said...

This post was a very thorough and needed reminder that a biblical and historical understanding of the Trinity is needed today.