Why It Matters – The Trinity
Twenty years ago, as a teenage boy, I sat in a school gym and listened to a passionate West Texas preacher expound on various Christian beliefs. I was a Christian, but I was also a teenage boy, so while I was comfortable sitting and listening to his strong raspy voice explain the things of God, my mind also wandered to and fro. Today I can’t recall much of what he said, but I can tell you this: at one point in his sermon, he made an analogy that has stuck with me ever since, and has even been profound in shaping the way I think about the nuanced beliefs of different Christians. In his deep Texas drawl, he said,
“Boys, Christian beliefs are like two kinds of trees. Oak trees and willow trees. Willow tree beliefs are things like styles of worship, kinds of baptism, or even predestination and free-will. Just like a willow tree, we can flex and bend in the wind, and good, God-fearin’ people can disagree about ‘em. But some beliefs are oak trees. Where they are planted by God, they must stay, never movin’ no matter how hard the wind blows. Oak tree beliefs are ones like the authority of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, salvation by grace alone, and the Holy Trinity. Them are oak trees – and always will be.”
I’ll never forget that preacher, and I’ll never forget his words.
In this blog series entitled “Why It Matters”, we will be taking a look at some oak trees of Christianity. The goal is not to offer an exhaustive theological explanation of each oak tree tenet. There are many volumes by much more qualified authors that do that already. Rather, the primary goal is to explore just one reason – among many – why these theological beliefs matter. After all, being able to name our theological beliefs is one thing; being able to think about them and understand why they matter is another.
The Trinity: What it Is
Did you know the word “trinity” is not found in the Bible? How is it then that we believe something that isn’t even mentioned in Scripture? While the word Trinity is missing in Scripture, the doctrine is not. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not solely a book of doctrines about God. The Bible is a story. It’s a narrative that through story-like histories tells us who God is, who we are, and what we are to do about it. In that narrative we find truths, revealed and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, that become what the Church knows and teaches about God. The Trinity is one of the most important of those beliefs.
To believe in the Trinity is to say that you believe in one God that exists, and has always existed, in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. While each is different and has varying roles, they are equal parts of the whole. God the Father does not act independently of the Son. Jesus, the Son, does not act independently of the Spirit, and the Spirit does not act independently of either Father or Son. So, when Adam and Eve encountered God the Father – when the disciples encountered Jesus – and when you have encountered the Holy Spirit – each was an encounter with the Trinity; the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in one.
The Trinitarian nature of God is seen regularly throughout Scripture. Multiple times in the Old Testament, God is plural. He is the epitome of the “royal we.” When creating men and women God says, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.” (Genesis 1:26 NLT, emphasis added) God continues to speak of himself as a plural being in response to the Tower of Babel (“Come, let us go down…” – Gen 11:7) and through the words of his prophet Isaiah (“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” – Isaiah 6:8).
The three persons of our one God are revealed more clearly in the New Testament. In Mark 1:9-11, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make an appearance at Jesus’ baptism. In John 1:1-5 we are taught that Jesus is the “word made flesh” and was present with the God the Father and the Spirit as he laid the foundations of the world (Gen 1:1-2). Jesus commands his disciples to make new disciples and baptize them “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28:19-20) This pattern of unified relationship continues as Jesus promises the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-20) and prays (John 17:20-23), as the apostle Paul gives Trinitarian salutations (2 Corinthians 13:14) and writes of Jesus’ divinity (Colossians 1:15-20), and Jesus’ dear friend John begins the Revelation with a greeting in the name of the Trinity (Revelation 1:4-5).
So the Trinity is God in three persons. But so what? The Trinity may be fundamental to Christian belief, but why does it matter?
The Trinity: Why it Matters
My church is currently on a “Life Group” kick. Your church may call them Cell Groups, or Small Groups, or Home Bible Studies, but whatever the name, the concept is the same. A group of people meeting regularly in someone’s home or at church to study Scripture, talk, and pray together. The goal of these small groups is the same as many of the church’s other programs: to build small communities of people in loving relationships. In fact, that’s one of the goals of local churches: worship, Bible studies, outreach teams, groups for youth, young adults, married people and seniors. Each group is designed to facilitate community and any church should stress the need for community and provide ways to build it.
Being involved in loving and serving relationships isn’t an invention of the Church. It’s at the very core of the identity of the God who created the Church.
That is why believing in the Holy Trinity matters. Our belief that God is one God in three persons is a belief that the God of the Bible exists in perfect, loving relationship. He always has, and he always will. So lovingly investing ourselves in others, and allowing them to invest in us, is not just living as God wants us to live, it’s living as God actually lives! Remember in Genesis 1:26, God tells us that we were made in his image, and in Genesis 2:18, he tells us that it’s not good for us to be alone? Put these two truths together and you get a picture of God reflected in his creation – his people bearing his likeness as they live in loving community. Scripture echoes the design for community throughout (Ecclesiastes 4:12, Proverbs 15:22, 18:22, 27:17, John 17:22-23, Acts 2:42).
You’ve heard the phrase, “do what I say, not what I do”, right? The opposite is true with God. God never asks of us that which he hasn’t already done or is not already doing. He loved us, and tells us to love others. He forgives us, and asks us to follow suit. He exists in community – the Trinity – so he teaches us to live that way too.
God calls us into community, into relationship, not because he thinks it’s good for us, but because he has personally existed in relationship as the Holy Trinity for all eternity past, so he knows it’s good for us.
Believing in the Trinity is a belief about church, about small groups, about marriage and about family. It’s a belief that to live as God lives is the very best way to live. It’s the belief that our happiness is found by entering into a relationship with God and with others.
Why does the doctrine of the Trinity matter? Because in it we see that living in relationship – even though it is difficult and counter-cultural – is the very best way to live. God does it, so why not you?
Trinity: More to Think About
I’ve offered just one reason why the Holy Trinity matters, but there are definitely others. What do you think some of them are? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.
Trinity: Read About It
Book titles for reading about the Trinity….
King’s Cross – Timothy Keller (Chpt 1)
Theology for the Community of God – Stanley J. Grenz – (Chpts 2, 3)
Holy Trinity, Perfect Community – Leonardo Boff
The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three – Cynthia Bourgeault
God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life – Catherine M. LaCugna
The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God – Jurgen Moltmann
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