Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Trinity vs. Heresy

The need for good teaching about the Trinity is sorely lacking in many churches. I am grateful that, by God's grace, this is not the case in my home church. What a delight it was to sit under sound teaching from one of our elders about the Trinity this past Lord's Day. In Sunday School, we are going through the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, and covered the third paragraph of the section "Of God and the Holy Trinity":

In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father the Word (or Son) and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and Eternity, each having the whole Divine Essence, yet the Essence undivided, the Father is of none neither begotten nor proceeding, the Son is Eternally begotten of the Father, the holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and Being; but distinguished by several peculiar, relative properties, and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our Communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him.

Most of the time was spent thoroughly establishing the Scriptural basis of the Trinity – one God in three persons. Scripture is clear that there is one God, but it is also clear in identifying the Father as God, the Son as God, and the Holy Spirit as God. Yet, these three are one and distinct. Jesus was not talking to Himself when He prayed to the Father. As one brother observed, Jesus was not a ventriloquist at His baptism, when the Father's voice was heard from Heaven.

Time was also made for application. One helpful application is the answer the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity gives to feminism. There is equality in the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are fully and equally God. Yet there is subordination, authority, and submission in the Trinity – the Father sends the Son, the Son obeys the Father, and the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and Son. Feminists argue that any difference of roles is an attack on an individual's equality. But the Trinity proves otherwise. While the Son obeys the Father, He is equal to Him – not lesser, and not greater. When the Bible tells husbands to love their wives and wives to submit to their husbands, it would never justify a claim that she is less valuable than he. They are equally valuable, but have different roles. We were also reminded that the Trinity is a mystery. We know something about it, namely, what has been revealed. But we do not fully comprehend it. But just because we cannot comprehend the number of beings differing from the number of persons (as it is with us – I am one being and one person, whereas God is one Being in three Persons, simultaneously, equally, and fully God), does not mean that it cannot be true. We must confess our finitude in this matter and bow the knee before the Holy Trinity. Since the Trinity is a mystery, one of the most subtle dangers to the purity of the doctrine is the attempt to explain it by way of analogy. Analogies reduce the Trinity to a human understanding and often limit the doctrine to a modalistic or tritheistic understanding. Either God is unintentionally explained as being composed of three parts that add up to one (like an egg: shell, white, yolk) or He is presented as wearing different masks, like a play-actor assuming three roles at various times (like water's three states: gas, liquid, solid). We must be very careful and avoid teaching heresy while we are trying to explain an orthodox doctrine! Speaking of Trinitarian heresies, one brother made a statement about the irony of T. D. Jakes' program appearing on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, similar to this quote from James R. White: "The fact that the Trinity Broadcasting Network can have this word in its name and yet allow men like T.D. Jakes, whose teaching compromises the Trinity, to promote his theology in their network shows how little functional concern there is for the divine truth." This brother also alerted me to the modalistic views of popular Christian recording artists, Phillips, Craig, and Dean (see this link for more information).

Our teacher noted that the 1689 Baptist Confession's two final sentences on this doctrine renders its expression superior to that of the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith's sister section, particularly the words that the doctrine of the Trinity "is the foundation of all our Communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him." (Although they are teaching the same doctrine, it is just that the 1689 is mor e.) Good teaching on the Trinity will help us better understand how we may have communion with God and how we may better trust Him. The Father sent the Son, who willingly came and died in the place of sinners. The Holy Spirit was sent to convict of sin and save and seal those for whom Christ died. May we endeavor to understand all we can concerning what God has taught us about Himself, and may our lives reflect these truths. What a blessing to know that He does not wear masks and that He does not change. Praise be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Some Resources for Further Study

There are some recent books that may be of help. I have only read the first one, but know that the others come with high recommendations as well.

  1. Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance. This is an excellent book that devotes much time to applying the doctrine of the Trinity, a desperate need. This is one of the most helpful books I have ever read.

  1. Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship

  1. James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity

There are also some helpful .mp3 files of Dr. Ware:

· Equal in Essence, Distinct in Function

· "Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead" (Faculty address at Southern Seminary)

· Worshiping the Triune God

Also, see Jonathan Edwards' "An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity."

No comments: