The Trinity

 

The doctrine of the Trinity is regarded as being of being of supreme importance within the system of Christian theology. 

 

What is the doctrine of the Trinity?

The doctrine of the Trinity is that there is one God (not multiple gods) who exists eternally in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

trinity

In the early centuries of the Church, a great deal of effort was expended on defining this doctrine precisely.  This is reflected in the Nicene Creed (finalised at the Council of Constantinople 381AD), which is universally accepted by the mainstream church:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all that is, seen and unseen.
 
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
one in Being with the Father.
 

[Note: The Son of God is distinct from the Father, but is one in Being with the Father]

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the
Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.

 

[Note: Worship is only appropriate if it is directed towards God. The Holy Spirit, is worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son]

 

How did the doctrine of the Trinity arise?

The word ‘trinity’ does not occur in the New Testament and the doctrine is not formally defined there.  Nevertheless, the doctrine arose out of the experience and beliefs of the first Christians.

(1) They encountered God in the Father of Jesus Christ:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)

(2) They encountered God in person of Jesus himself:

Thomas said to him (Jesus), “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

(3) They encountered God in the person of the Holy Spirit:

 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)

(4) In the early church, baptism was administered in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… (Matthew 28:19)

[Note ‘name’ singular not ‘names’ plural, suggesting the unity of God]

(5) The first Christians never abandoned the belief inherited from Judaism that there is one God not many gods:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

 

Why is the doctrine of the Trinity so important?

Some people regard the doctrine of the Trinity as an obscure and incomprehensible article of faith, which is of little relevance to the heart of the Christian message.  However, mainstream Christians throughout history have contended for the central importance of this doctrine.

Firstly, the doctrine of the Trinity guards against polytheism – the belief in many gods.  The universe has not been created and upheld by several different deities. The universe is not a balance of competing forces. There is one God, the Creator of all things.

Secondly, the doctrine of the Trinity upholds the earliest Christian belief that Jesus was the human embodiment of God.

Thirdly, the doctrine of the Trinity upholds the earliest Christian belief that the Holy Spirit is God.

To deny the doctrine of the Trinity is to diminish Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and to detract from the full revelation of God found in the New Testament.

 

What relevance does the doctrine of the Trinity have for ordinary Christians?

Our belief in God’s love for us and for the world is greatly deepened and enhanced by believing that God came ‘in person’, that God ‘died for our sins’ and that we can encounter God personally in the Holy Spirit.

The doctrine of the Trinity also deepens and enhances our understanding that God is love. Love exists between persons. Before the universe or any other beings were created, love existed in the Being of God between the persons of the Trinity.  The Trinity is an eternal circle of love out of which the world was created, and into which we are invited to participate.

 

Trinity with Cross, Crown, and Dove Email Image