Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost Sunday in the Western Church. Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday.
I love the way the cyclical and seasonal Church calendar requires the people of God to remember the great historical facts and doctrinal truths of the Christian religion. I grew up in a conservative church and yet I do not ever remember a serious discussion of the Trinity, much less a Sunday given to the celebration of the doctrine of the Triune God.
Following the lectionary I will preach this morning at First Reformed Church in South Holland, Illinois, from Matthew 28:16-20. This is one of those rare texts where you have all three persons in the Godhead referenced in one sentence. And the words are attributed to Jesus by the Gospel writer Matthew. We are to baptize those who embrace the Christian faith in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Notice, Matthew does not say "names."
Jewish hearers would not have been shocked at hearing the Father’s name here. And most would not have been troubled by the reference to God as the divine Spirit. But to link the Son, namely the one who "has been given all authority in heaven and on earth," to the Father and the Spirit is a stunning confession. It is the very kind of text that required the Church to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity against all kinds of errors.
I am calling my sermon today: "Mission: The DNA of the Church." I am impressed that mission is as much a mark of a church as anything else. If you have the gospel, for example, but do not have Christ’s mission, you are a gospel club or association but not a living church. More than anything else I think this is the DNA marks the life that we share together as a congregation gathered to worship the Triune God. We gather to be sent.
It is heartening to see that many evangelical Christians are beginning to recover the doctrine of the Trinity. It has not been a major truth in our movement in so many ways thus our involvement with other Christians, like Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, underscores how much we miss by relegating this truth to a small corner of our liturgy and life.
I can still recall an evangelical leader telling me that he had met with about a third of the Roman Catholic cardinals around the world at some point. The one question they asked him first, as an evangelical, was almost always the same: "Do you affirm the confessional and historical Christian doctrine of the Trinity?" Apparently, evangelicals had not sufficiently impressed these cardinals so that they really believed evangelicals shared this truth or they would not have been asking this question. I pondered this discussion for some years. Recently I have come to realize more clearly why they asked such a question. I encourage you to ask it and to make sure that you do not answer it too flippantly and quickly. To say that you believe the Trinity is not the same as to say this truth is powerfully important to your faith and Christian practice.
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Catholics ask this question because Protestants have a dubious track record of Trinitarian subordinationism. An excellent discussion of this problem is the work by Anglican scholar Kevin Giles, “Jesus and the Father; Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity” published by Zondervan. I have a review of this book on my blog.
The other tendency among Evangelicals is to confess faith in God as a Trinity “on paper”, but in the practical reality of their preaching and worship they often seem like either Modalists or “Binitarians”. I’ve come to believe that both a healthy appreciation for the Doctrine of the Trinity coupled with the experience of God as Trinity is absolutely essential to a more vibrant and full Christian faith and walk with our Lord. God bless!
Right On Nick,
This is why much of evangelicalism is so anemic today.
Our God is ONE God, his name is Jesus and he lives in us by His Holy Spirit.
That’s not oneness, that’s true trinitarian confession.
Bring back the Trinity.
I think the weakness is in the understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work in us:
Holy Spirit: We believe the Holy Spirit is active among us today bringing conviction when a person has done wrong and creates the desire for ones forgiveness in Jesus Christ. He regenerates their heart and lives within them. His ongoing work is to guide, instruct and empower the believer to Godly living, Godly Service, Empowering us to be a Living Witness to others and guided by his presence in our daily lives.