What is the Trinity and why is it important?
As a former youth minister I was always talking about rules. Things the youth group could and couldn’t do, where they could and couldn’t go in the church, and any time we did an overnighter at the church or with the Diocese we would have the students sign a covenant. In this covenant there is a list of rules that the youth must agree to in order to be able to participate. In a sense as members of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church we have a list of covenants that we agree to in order to be part of this particular body of believers.
We are reminded of this covenant every Sunday when we say the Creed and we renew this covenant several times a year when a new member is baptized. We renew this covenant by saying the creed, and despite all of this happening in every almost every church across the country I have found an increasing number of members of certain Christian Denominations that are flat out denying some of the most basic fundamentals of Christianity, and what’s even more alarming is some of these people are our priests and bishops.
This week I was on the Episcopalians on Facebook page on Facebook where I saw a member say that she has to cross her fingers every time she says the creed, in the same group several days later many of the members were promoting reincarnation as an idea that is completely compatible with Christianity. When I questioned them and offered scripture to counter their ideas I was accused of being a fundamentalist.
Last year when I wrote my Trinity Sunday sermon it was in response to my post on the fact that I was preaching on Trinity Sunday. It was a reply with a link to an article. This article was written by a Christian, but a Christian who did not believe in the trinity, and at the end of the article, the author posed the question: why in the modern day church should we believe in a doctrine that does not make sense and has no bearing on how we live our lives as Christians, and most importantly, how we take the words of Jesus out into the world? Well that’s a good question; why do we need to believe in the trinity? Does it really matter?
More and more in the Church I am finding that I have to defend the doctrine of the Trinity and answer the question of is the doctrine of the trinity essential to what we believe as Christians?
In the book Episcopal Questions, Episcopal Answers: Exploring Christian Faith, Ian Markham the Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary and C.K Robertson, Canon to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church answers this very question. They Ask Why Do Episcopalians (and all Christians really) believe in the Trinity? The answer: Belief in the Trinity is a defining characteristic of all Christians. There might be moments when an individual Christian struggles with the doctrine, but the faith of the church remains resolutely Trinitarian.
Today we mark the celebration of the Holy Trinity. The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. But what is the Trinity? Is it a symbolic reference? Is it an outdated or unnecessary doctrine that we hang onto because we are a people who love our tradition, and that’s what our parents believed so that that’s what we are going to believe? The answer to all those questions is NO.
From the beginning of the New Testament Church, and the celebration of Pentecost, there has been much misunderstanding surrounding the Trinity. This is in part because of the fact that the word Trinity does not appear anywhere in scripture. However, that does not mean that the early church did not believe or teach that the trinity was real. All throughout the scriptures we see the Trinity being spoken of, from the very beginning of the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation we see the Trinity, the three persons who make up the Trinity, their specific functions and their personalities, all of these are given to us in scripture. Because of this, it is safe to assume that when the church was born on Pentecost, and they started to live out their call as Christians, the doctrine of the Trinity was being taught.
However very early on there was a group of people who did not understand the Trinity for what it was and tried to explain it away in terms of what they could understand and comprehend, these people were known as Arians, and this became known as the Arian Heresy.
Arianism is a nontrinitarian Christian belief that asserts that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is entirely distinct from and subordinate to the God the Father. Arianism is defined as those teachings attributed to Arius, which are in opposition to current mainstream Christian teachings on the nature of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. It was first attributed to Arius (c. AD 250–336), a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt. The Arian concept of Christ is that the Son of God did not always exist, but was created by—and is therefore distinct from—God the Father. This belief is grounded in the Gospel of John (14:28) passage: “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”
The Arians hold to that one scripture to define what they believe, completely ignoring the rest of the scriptures that affirm the Trinity. To address this, there were two ecumenical councils that were held to clear up any questions that the early church had in regards to the trinity. The first ecumenical council that was held in 321 at Nicaea and the second was subsequently held in Constantinople. From these two councils we have the creed that we say today affirming our belief in the Trinity.
So what is the Trinity?
To answer that, I would like to use a quote from the Didache. The Didache is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars to the late first or early 2nd century. It was the very first ever catechism, and in it the early church was given the following instructions:
“After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. . . . If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”
Simply put the Trinity is the The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, week after week we are also reminded of what the trinity is when we recite the Nicene Creed.
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Trinity three distinct beings yet one in essence. This past week I was speaking to an Anglican Dominican of the very subject of the Trinity, and he reminded me of Saint Augustine’s defense of the Trinity, which is that:
All persons that we know of are, or are at least describable in terms of, fundamentally relational in a Trinitarian way. As human beings we have a primordial seat of awareness which is in some sense immediate and pre-conceptual, a conceptual awareness of and picture of ourselves as situated in the world (what you might call a logos) and a sense of relation between the two. Critically, all of these elements of our being share in a single consciousness, although they might be considered to be, at least conceptually speaking, separate modules or modes thereof.
Or to put it in my terms, we are all trinities. We all have a body, soul and spirit. Each of those three parts serve a different purpose, yet they are all one in the same. I like to use this example when people say that the trinity cannot exist because three beings cannot occupy the same place simultaneously, while they are correct in the physical sense, they are incorrect in the spiritual, and the human trinity is a great example of that.
Why is the Trinity important?
Some could and do argue that the belief in the Trinity is not necessary… that is more important to reveal the teachings of Jesus, and to make sure we don’t force our doctrinal beliefs on others, because it might offend them, and while they may be correct that it might offend people that we have that belief, especially in the Muslim community, as they believe that we are polytheistic because we believe in the Trinity, I would argue that to deny the Trinity is to deny the very essence of God. If it were not important, we would not see the Trinity all throughout scripture, we would not see Jesus teaching and Paul reaffirming it. The doctrine of the Trinity is the very fundamental basics of what we believe as Christians. But with that being said, if one does not grasp the trinity that does not mean that they are any less of a Christian than you or I, it just means that they have not yet received the grace yet to understand it.
Biblical Proof for the Trinity.
In Bible school we were always taught that in order to make a strong case for our argument, that we need to give scriptural proof, as a matter of fact in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he instructs us that it is in the testimony of two or three witnesses that truth is established. Earlier I spoke of how scripture is filled with references to the Trinity, so I am going to share some of those with you.
Genesis 1:26 26 Then God said, o“Let us make man8 in our image, pafter our likeness. And qlet them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Genesis 3:22 22 Then the Lord God said, q“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand rand take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”
Genesis 11:7 7 Come, dlet us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
Isaiah 46:18 16 yDraw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret,
from the time it came to be I have been there.” And now zthe Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.
Matthew 3:16-17 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, othe heavens were opened to him,2 and he psaw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, qa voice from heaven said, r“This is my beloved Son,3 with whom I am well pleased.”
I was reading a text for my course work last week, Christianity: An Introduction and the author was talking about the Trinity and he said, “ At one level, the doctrine emphasizes the sheer immensity of God. There is no way that the fallen and finite human mind is going to be able to comprehend the fullness of God. At another, it provides a framework both for making sense of, and deepening the quality of Christian worship. Christians pray to the father through the son in the Holy Spirit.” I believe this gives us the best understanding of how and why the Trinity is important.
For those of you who have never struggled with this doctrine, I hope that this sermon has been a great reflection for you. I hope that it has been a way for you to renew your faith. For those of you who have struggled or are struggling with this doctrine, rest assured you are loved and cherished by God just as much as anyone. We as the church are here to walk with you in your moments of doubt. We have all been there at some point in our lives on some issue. To me these struggles are the very foundation of who we are as Christians. The Trinity is a great mystery, no one really knows the ins and outs, we can do our best as ministers to provide a road map of how we think the Trinity functions. Much like many things in the church, the belief in the Trinity takes faith. We must place our faith in the teachings of the early church fathers, we must place our faith in the words of the scriptures that try and shed light on the subject, and sometimes we lack the faith necessary to believe. We have doubts on the hows and whys. But I have found that when we have the doubts, and with an open heart, and an open mind, we approach something that we don’t understand, that once we understand it, once we grasp that concept that we struggled with, we come out on the other end firmly believing it.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal
Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in
Trinity of Persons: Give us grace to continue steadfast in the
confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.