Trinitarianism

Scriptures: 1 Peter 1:1-5; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22

Today is not just the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Today is also Trinity Sunday. And it’s one of those days when you can actually predict what I’m going to preach on.

The Trinity is such an important concept in our theology, in our understanding of God. Yet it is one of the most misunderstood and debated concepts that we have out there, short of the actual existence of God.

We believe in one God, three persons. That’s what Trinity means: tri-unity. That sounds like it’s a paradox, on the surface. And it is a mystery, without a doubt.

When I was at the presbytery meeting, a person talked about the “facets of God” that make up the one triune God. And I was struck by the use of the phrase “facets of God, ” because it shows an assumption that is not trinitarian in understanding.

The two most common heresies, if you will, mistakes in understanding the Trinity are what’s called modalism, and then partialism. Modalism is that view where I can say I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a brother, I’m a preacher, it just depends on what I’m doing at the moment. I never stop being those, but what you perceive me as depends on the moment.

That says that God is one but God just acts in three different roles. One is the father, one is the Son, and then one is the Holy Spirit. But that denies the personhood of each member of the Trinity.

In the same manner, there’s a story about St Patrick and a shamrock. That’s what he used to help the inhabitants of Ireland to understand the Trinity: three lobes, one clover (or shamrock). That is what’s called partialism.

Once again, that says there is a discrete piece, but it’s only part of the greater whole. And that’s a nice concept, but again, it leads to essentially a pragmatic and Unitarian view of God, when God is a mystery.

What we believe is that you have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father. And yet they are all God, with one Godhead, one essence.

And all three Persons of the Trinity are involved in every act that God makes, whether it be creation, redemption, provision, salvation, the end of the world, eventually. All three are going to be involved in everything.

And I was interested in my reading this week, that a scientist named Dr Henry Morris notes that the entire universe is Trinitarian by design. The universe consists of three things: matter, space, and time. Take away any one of those three, and the universe would cease to exist. But each one of these three parts of the universe is also a trinity, made up of three distinct parts.

This is another attempt to analogize the Trinity. Because actually, God would exist, regardless. In the course of salvation, Christ became sin for us, and was separated from the other two persons of the Trinity for the first time in all eternity.

But. I found it fascinating. Matter: mass plus energy plus motion. All three of those are distinct things. All three exist elsewhere. But together, they make up matter.

Space: we have length and height and breadth. And again, each one is distinct, and yet we need all three to understand space. And for time, he put past, present, and future. That’s a rather linear view. There’s a lot of math out there these days that says it’s a lot more complicated than that.

By the way, I think that points to the fact of the existence of God and creation. Did you ever notice how the more that we learn, the more complicated things become? There’s always something beyond what we know and what we think we know.

Augustine found that out. He’s one of our most famous Christian theologians. While puzzling over the doctrine of the Trinity, he was walking along the beach one day when he observed a young man with a bucket, running back and forth pouring water into a little hole.

He asked the boy what he was doing, and the boy said, “I’m trying to put the ocean into the hole, to fill it up.” And Augustine realized that he’d been trying to put an infinite God into his finite mind. There’s no way he could grasp it all, and take it all in.

And that’s a good thing. I’d rather serve a God who’s bigger than I am. I don’t want to limit God by my understanding or my expectations. We don’t want to create our own god, although that’s very popular these days.

I like to say that some people take the salad bar approach to Christianity and the Bible. You know the salad bar – you have a whole bunch of things laid out, and you take a little bit of this lettuce, and maybe some broccoli, maybe some carrots, a lot of cottage cheese, whatever it is you happen to like. Leave the beets, leave the cucumbers.

A lot of people treat the Christian faith and the Bible that way. I’ll take this part that I like, and I’ll take this part I like, and I’ll take this part I like, and that’s God. All this other stuff about Him that I’m not comfortable with, that’s not God. The Trinity is one of those things that a lot of people are uncomfortable with, because they can’t understand it.

I said earlier that every member of the Trinity is involved in every action that the Godhead takes. And again, I found another concept that I thought was pretty nice. This person says (and it will hopefully help you understand how it all fits together) the father initiates whatever action it is. The son activates whatever action is. The Holy Spirit culminates or completes whatever that action is.

In Creation, the Father spoke. Christ was the logos, the word, the defining principle. And the Spirit brought into being that which was described and spoken by God, and then brooded over the waters.

In salvation before time began, God the Father had a plan. It was the Son who set the plan into motion and followed through on it. But it wasn’t complete until the resurrection and the Pentecost event that we just celebrated last week.

Salvation was complete in the resurrection of Christ; the sanctification of God’s people and the understanding of God’s people began with the coming of the Holy Spirit in power and might and wisdom.

In the scripture of 1 Peter today, it notes that. In verse 2, “Those who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit” – it’s the Spirit that regenerates us. Why are we saved? “For obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by His blood” – which let us know that it’s only through Christ’s blood that salvation occurs.

So we have in this description from Peter, all three members of the Trinity, all three members acting for our salvation. And each member is fully God.

We want to understand that as best we can. I know that it sounds a little theological, a little boring perhaps, a little lecture-ish and whatnot. But there have been wars fought over these concepts. That doesn’t make the wars right, by the way, but it shows you how important it was to the historical church and believer.

This is an aside, but there was a man named Arius who also didn’t believe in the Trinity, because he didn’t believe that Christ was God. He believed that Chris was the firstborn of creation. And he therefore believed that, while Christ might have been something special and beyond us, he wasn’t God.

And it notes in some of the histories that there were people that got into arguments and brawls in the streets. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. I mean literally, they would get into fights about this, because your salvation rested on it.

Do you believe that Jesus was God? Do you believe that Jesus was a person of the Trinity? Now I wouldn’t want us to get into brawls on the street. But we should have that much passion for Christ, our God, who we serve, and for people to understand who our God is.

So I’m afraid that every year that I’m here, you’re going to have to put up with me preaching on the Trinity on Trinity Sunday. And every year I hope to come up with some slightly different analogies that might help your understanding a little better, some stories that may help your understanding grow.

And every year, I hope and pray, that as you come into a fuller understanding of God, your awe of God grows ever greater, your love for him grows ever stronger and deeper, and your passion for sharing the good news that we have grows ever more powerful in your life, till your cup overflows and you just can’t help but tell people about our God.

And when we do, we give Him praise and glory with all of our lives.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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