Trinitarianism: H.C. Lord's Day 8

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 8

Q 24. How are these articles divided?
A 24. Into three parts: God the Father and our creation; God the Son and our deliverance; and God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.

Q 25. Since there is only one divine being, why do you speak of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
A 25. Because that is how God has revealed himself in his Word: these three distinct persons are one, true, eternal God.

In today’s world, discussions about ‘doctrine’ can often be an instant turn-off to anyone who wants to talk about matters of faith.  However, it is the doctrine of the Trinity that makes Christianity distinctly Christian.  Trinitarian theology is a foundational part of our beliefs; it is also probably one of the most confusing.  And, while certainly does not need to have a perfect understanding of the nature of the Trinity to be saved, it still is an important aspect of who we are and even how we get here.

Given it’s confusing and somewhat complicated nature, the doctrine of the Trinity has been subject to a number of false understandings and heresies over the 2,000-year existence of the Christian religion.  While that may seem to be of little consequence to you and me, the work that has been done to clarify this doctrine has a direct and very real impact on what we believe about God.

Because of this, it is important that we try to clarify what it is that we believe about the Trinity.  The doctrine of the Trinity can be summarized in seven statements:

  1. There is only one God
  2. The Father is God
  3. The Son is God
  4. The Holy Spirit is God
  5. The Father is not the Son
  6. The Son is not the Holy Spirit
  7. The Holy Spirit is not the Father

All of the creeds that we have read over the past week, all the theological jargon and other religious writings of Christianity have to do with safeguarding each one of these statements.  More than that, though, they must safeguard the statement without denying any one of the other six.  Some would say that this sounds like a relatively easy task, however, over the years, a number of people and groups have fallen into heresies that inadvertently or purposefully do just that.

The Athanasian Creed, which we have been a part of our reading this last week, states the Trinitarian belief structure like this:

Now this is the [universal] faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.  For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another.  But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.

The original translation of this Creed uses the word “essence” rather than “divine being,” indicating and affirming the single ‘Godness’ of God while also acknowledging the personhood of each member of the Trinity.  When we hear the word ‘person,’ we should think of an individual that is distinct from the others.  Again, while somewhat confusing, this is important because we worship One God (not three Gods) in three persons (one being).  Each is equally and uniquely God.

So, how has this gotten confused over the years?  Here are a number of ways and at least a few reasons why they are important.

Monarchianism – Emphasizes God as being one person.  It suggests that the Son and the Spirit subsist in the divine essence as impersonal attributes, not distinct or divine persons.  This is an attempt to better understanding the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.  However, it creates other problems in faith and understanding, specifically around the cross and the atonement.  If God is one person, and God died for our sins, then God is all of the sudden not eternal, having died and been dead for three days.  In addition, if it was not God that died, but rather an attribute of God, then the divinity of Christ comes into question and the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross is either lessened or completely lost.

Modalism – Suggests that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as simply different names for the same God acting in different roles.  This is where we get the idea of the analogy of “water, vapor, and ice” as a description.  Though well intentioned, it denies the distinct persons of the Trinity and kind of labels God as a divine being that suffers from multiple personalities.  Again this is a denial of the three unique persons existing in one divine being.  If God is just one person/being and He died, it denies the eternal and infinite nature of God.  He cannot die.  This means that either God did die, making Him vulnerable, or He did not die as Christ on the cross, meaning that the atonement and salvation purchased by the blood of Christ is invalid as He was not God and therefore a human, tainted by sin like the rest of us.

Arianism – Denies the full deity of Christ.  It states that, though Jesus is the Son of God, He was created by the Father at a certain point in time, thus making Him less than the Father and subordinate to Him.  Thus Jesus is not truly God and therefore not a person of the Trinity.  This is an obvious error whose effects echo that of those above.  We believe that Jesus is both fully God (a person of the Trinity) and fully human.  He has to be both in order for His life and death to accomplish salvation.  He must be fully human to live the human life, to keep the law of God, and for His death to be in the place of humans, taking the punishment we deserve.  He must be fully God in order to live a sinless life and in order to be able to take on the punishment and wrath of God.  If Christ is not God, all of this falls apart.  Arianism also borders on the assertion that there is more than one God.

Tritheism – This is exactly like it sounds: tri (meaning three) – theism (belief in God.  This asserts that Christians actually believe in three Gods.  This is a direct contradiction of Scripture which speaks specifically to the fact that God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4) and the notion of monotheism, a foundational principle in all three major Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam).

One other thing that may be of some consequence to this discussion is the common argument that this doesn’t matter because you will never find the word “trinity” or specific mention of this doctrine in the Bible.  While this is technically true, Scripture is repute with references to both the unity of God as well as the diversity of the persons within the divine being.  The number of references to Jesus as being God as well as those referencing God the Father as God should be enough to convince us that there is more than one person in the divine being.  The Holy Spirit is also mentioned and used interchangeably with the word “God” many times.  Many are the suggestions of the plurality of persons within the divine being as well.

In closing, a common question comes up in this discussion, “why does this matter?”  It matters for creation because, unlike the many gods of other creation mythologies, God did not need to go outside Himself to create the universe.  A single person, creating the world “out of love” doesn’t make much sense as we know and understand love within relationships.  God would have had to create the world to understand love or to receive love making Him fairly similar to the ancient gods of other cultures.  Because God exists eternally in the Trinitarian relationship, God was able to create the universe out of the overflow of love found there, not needing something from the created order for Himself (God is self-sufficient).



The Trinity: H.C. Question 25

Since there is only one divine being, why do you speak of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Deuteronomy 6:4 – Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

1 Corinthians 8:4-6So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Matthew 3:16-17 – As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28:18-19 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,

Isaiah 61:1 – The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,

John 14:26 – But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 15:26 – “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.

2 Corinthians 13:14 – May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Galatians 4:6 – Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

Titus 3:5-6 – he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,

The Athanasian Creed:

Whoever wants to be saved should above all cling to the catholic faith.

Whoever does not guard it whole and inviolable will doubtless perish eternally.

Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.

For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another.

But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.

What the Father is, the Son is, and so is the Holy Spirit.

Uncreated is the Father; uncreated is the Son; uncreated is the Spirit.

The Father is infinite; the Son is infinite; the Holy Spirit is infinite.

Eternal is the Father; eternal is the Son; eternal is the Spirit: And yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal; as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.

Almighty is the Father; almighty is the Son; almighty is the Spirit: And yet there are not three almighty beings, but one who is almighty.

Thus the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God: And yet there are not three gods, but one God.

Thus the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord: And yet there are not three lords, but one Lord.

As Christian truth compels us to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord, so catholic religion forbids us to say that there are three gods or lords.

The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten; the Son was neither made nor created, but was alone begotten of the Father; the Spirit was neither made nor created, but is proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Thus there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.

And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons.

Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.

It is necessary for eternal salvation that one also faithfully believe that our Lord Jesus Christ became flesh.

For this is the true faith that we believe and confess: That our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is both God and man.

He is God, begotten before all worlds from the being of the Father, and he is man, born in the world from the being of his mother — existing fully as God, and fully as man with a rational soul and a human body; equal to the Father in divinity, subordinate to the Father in humanity.

Although he is God and man, he is not divided, but is one Christ.

He is united because God has taken humanity into himself; he does not transform deity into humanity.

He is completely one in the unity of his person, without confusing his natures.

For as the rational soul and body are one person, so the one Christ is God and man.

He suffered death for our salvation. He descended into hell and rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

At his coming all people shall rise bodily to give an account of their own deeds.

Those who have done good will enter eternal life, those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.

This is the catholic faith.

One cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully.



Content of the Creed: H.C. Question 24

How are these articles divided?

Into three parts:

God the Father;

God the Son and our deliverance;

God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.

For more reading and comparison, I would encourage you to return to the post on question 23 and see how other creeds are divided up as well.



Day 314: John 16-17; The Holy Spirit & Jesus' High Priestly Prayer

Today we continue to the conclusion of Jesus’ farewell discourse as it is recorded in John.  After the main thrust of Jesus’ message is made known, He begins to walk down off the other side of the stage, returning once again to talk of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus has taught them so much, and yet He says that He has so much more to tell them, things that they couldn’t even bear at that time.  However, Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

He doesn’t just stop here, leaving the disciples to wonder about what it is that they can’t handle though… and yet I guess what Jesus says isn’t really giving them more than they can handle either.  Jesus has told them that He would be handed over to the authorities and that He would die, at least that has been recorded in the other Gospels.  Here Jesus says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”  Obviously the disciples are a little confused.  So Jesus clarifies in a brilliant way, while still being a little cloudy on the details: “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’?  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.  When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.  So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

I love the metaphor of what Jesus is about to go through, the ultimate glorification that John sets up, as being like giving birth.  There is momentary (or perhaps extended) pain, suffering, and a lot of work that is to be done to bring life into the world, but when it is all over, there is abundant joy and happiness.  This is exactly like what is about to take place.  Jesus would suffer and die.  This would be traumatic not just for Him physically, but for all who follow Him.  Yet this is not the end.  He will be raised to life again to the Glory of the Father, and with that there will be much rejoicing and happiness… not to mention new life!

Finally, the last part of Jesus’ farewell discourse comes about in the form of a prayer.  There is so much that can be said about this prayer.  There are elements of Trinitarian theology, union with Christ, Atonement theology, Sanctification, and a simply a good demonstration of how to pray.  This prayer links Jesus to the prologue of John and creation, and even gives us a glimpse of the fact that God has been working toward this since the beginning.  Also in here you will see some of Jesus’ praying for the “abiding” of the disciples as we talked about yesterday.  I think, today, I am just going to post this prayer here and encourage you to read it again.  Pick out some of the elements that have been mentioned here and perhaps others that you notice as well!

The High Priestly Prayer

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”