Trinity Sunday

Well tommorow (6/11) is the first Sunday after the Pentecost which is traditionally known as "Trinity Sunday," which one bitter minister once remarked is the only major church holiday dedicated to a doctrine rather than a biblical event.

In an age when theology is often allowed to be fuzzy, perhaps because it isn't always obvious to us how it relates to our experiences (the really important part of the faith...right?) the Trinity is a doctrine that is often ignored and sometimes attacked.

Some argue that the Early Church was not Trinitarian until the Council of Nicea at which they formulated the Nicene Creed (which, by the way does not mention the word "trinity"). This is simply false. The earliest Christians (like Paul or Peter) assigned divinity to Christ and to the Holy Spirit with the Father while maintaining that there was but one God. Though the word "Trinity" and some of the nuances of the doctrine developed later, the basic belief it describes was already in place. This is why the Nicene Creed was and still is accepted by virtually all Christians.

Of course this doctrine is crucially important because it identifies the God that we worship, the God that we put our trust in. All other Christian teachings flow naturally from it. The Trinity is what distinguishes Christians from all other religious folks: we worship the One and only God who has one divine being, a being that is shared by three co-equal divine Persons existing eternally ("from everlasting to everlasting") in a relationship of self-giving ("agape") love. God's nature is relational. God is a "community" of persons existing in perfect unity of love. Our God did not create the universe because he was "lonely," but rather because this was consistent with his nature as self-giving-love-relational Being. The decision to redeem us is rooted in this same reality, in God's very self-giving-love-relational nature.

My belief in the Trinity is also my reason for being adamant about traditional/natural marriage. I belief the marital act is designed by God to be a reflection, or icon, of the Trinity. In fact I think marriage (sex) has almost all of the elements of a sacrament (Scott Hahn's books are very good at this point). It is (or can be) a physical and spiritual union of persons, living within a covenant relationship, in self-giving love that brings both joy and the potential of new life out of the union. Surely God has given us a picture of the Trinity in nature just as he has done in so many ways with the resurrection. This is why I am critical of extra-marital sex, homosexual practice, and most especially of divorce.

The reality of the Trinity should give form to our prayer life, our worship, and even our acts of service. This was one reason I was initially attracted to liturgical Churches that used form/prescribed prayers instead of only made-up-on-spot prayers. The prayers I found in say The Book of Common Prayer and The United Methodist Hymnal were often much more Trinitarian in form and content than "free" prayers turned out to be. They certainly didn't use phrases like "Father God" (the Name of God Almighty) as repititious "filler" while the prayer leader thought of what to say next (that is a little pet peeve of mine).

Anyways, I did not set out to write a commentary on marriage or on prayer but as I said all of Christian teachings will be seen to be naturally rooted in or connected to the Trinity once we get a handle on what that word means. Christianity.com ran some articles this week on the subject: the first one by a Baptist asserts that the doctrine of the Trinity is essential to Christianity; another short one simply lays out some of the Scriptural reasons that the Council of Nicea came to authoritatively and definitively decree (by the grace of the Holy Spirit) that the Church worships the Trinity as God; and finally a longer article (that ends with a polemical flourish against all the heretics) called Loving the Trinity.

I have been told that even among liberal "mainline" Christians there is a current revival of interest (and belief) in the Trinity (and I believe it too based upon my seminary experience), and I hope this trend will continue in all quarters of the Church, especially since so many Christians I know (including myself in times past) believe in a heresy called Modalism.

While it is true that every Sunday is a celebration of the Trinity (just as every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection), I am glad that the Church in her wisdom set aside one to focus on this most important teaching, and I hope many of us will.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
One God, now and forever. Amen.



Blogger Stephen said...

I have also noticed a decline in the acknowlegement of the Trinity among Non-Denominational/Pentecostal churches where God is reduced to as you say Father, Father, Father or Jesus, help me Jesus.

2:47 PM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I think you are right Stephen, that many Pentecostal (and other) Christians have de-emphasized the Trinity for a number of reasons, not least of which is a misunderstanding about its potential emotional power. I think this is a terrible development if we have become less able to properly name the God we worship and understand the nature of the God in whom we are called to participate and in whose image we are supposedly being renewed.

10:40 PM, July 02, 2006  

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