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Speaking of the Trinity

trinty

The trinity is something unique to Christian thought. It is one of the great mysteries of God. In this doctrine alone, one can see how truly transcendent God is from our way of thinking. Roger E. Olson and Christopher A. Hall write in their book, The Trinity, “According to the Church Father Augustine anyone who denies the Trinity is in danger of losing their salvation, but anyone who tries to understand the Trinity is in danger of losing their mind (pg 1).”

The assertion that the doctrine of the Trinity is core to receiving Salvation seems hard to swallow. However, as one begins to look at the development of the Doctrine of the Trinity, it becomes clear why the Church placed such a strong emphasis on clarifying this divine mystery represented in Scripture.

The doctrine of the Trinity was developed as an polemic against the many forms of heresy arising in the Church. The basic problem the doctrine addresses was the tension between monotheistic worship of the Father (God), with the New Testament precedent that Jesus was worthy of worship as well. The doctrine of the Trinity really tried to answer how it was that Jesus was “one with the Father?” Was he one in essence or substance, or was Jesus some kind of divine “offspring” which leached a part of the Fathers being when he was created, or was he a separate deity?

The church Fathers concluded that Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were all of the same substance as the Father; that they were in fact all one, in will though and action. To affirm that Jesus was an offspring or offshoot of God, would not only contradict the monotheism of the Old Testament but it would also corrupt the nature of God because some of his divine would have been given to Jesus making the Father “less god.”

Tertullian was the first to formulate this “one substance three persons,” and use the Latin word trinitas when referring to God (O’Collins. The Tripersonal God. Pg 105.) From his influence the doctrine of the Trinity really moved forward. What was the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit? This had been one of the greater issues that the church sought to resolve since its conception, and here somewhere between 300-400 AD the answer was finally found in the doctrine of the Trinity. However, for as much as this doctrine explains it still leaves so many questions… and this is ok. However, to deny it is really to deny the Christian faith, because without you are left with a Christ-less Christianity.

Heresies Concerning the Trinity:

Arianism/Strict Monotheists: The affirmation of God the Father, but denial of the deity of Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit.

Modalism/Sabellians: The belief that God is one but revealed himself in three distinct ways throughout history; the Father in the Old Testament, The Son in the Gospels, and the Holy Spirit in the present age.

Multiple gods: The worship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but as separate individual gods, divided in will, mind, and authority.

Hierarchy within the Trinity
One other major concern when speaking of the Trinity is the apparent hierarchy within its three persons. Specifically from the Gospels Jesus is submitted to the Father. The question then becomes why? If Jesus is God, the same substance as the Father, why is he submitting to the Father?

“Although God’s being is characterized by the hypostatic distinctions of Father, Son, and Spirit, all three persons are one in their will and Activity. They are not autonomous persons in the modern nuance of “individual,” each with its own separate “ego” and “center” of consciousness. Rather, they have always and will always purpose and operate with one will and action. They are one God, not three.

…Jesus’ human will is distinct from his divine will in the economy of the incarnation. In Gethsemane Jesus in obedience submits his will to the Father, while his divine will remains one with the Father’s.
In the same manner, when Jesus speaks of the Father as being “grater than I,” the reference is to the economy of the incarnation. The Father is indeed grater than the Son with reference to the Son’s humanity. ‘Without this [key] distinction between theologia and oikonomia we would have to interpret the obedience of Christ to the Father as an indication that even in his divine being he was subordinate to the Father—and this would be the end of Nicene trinitarianism.’ Again, in the Trinity we have one God, not three. (Roger E. Olson and Christopher A. Hall. The Trinity. Pgs 36-37.”

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What is the highest form of spirituality?

In the search for truth and life, one inevitability is force to grow. But what does that growth look like? A child progresses from crawling to walking, yet, the stages of christian maturation are vague. What is the highest form of spirituality? What does a mature follower of Christ look like, act like, think like?

Christendom has taught for years that the highest form of spirituality has been a aesthetic lifestyle. From this thought monasticism was birthed, caves were tunneled out, monasteries were built and simple robes were sown. It was felt it one truly wanted to serve God to their fullest ability they were to shrink back from the world and dwell within themselves. These groups of people throughout the centuries sought out a mystical expression of their faith separate from the world.

In most other types of Christianity the mystic experience is rated as the highest form of sanctification.  In Catholicism the monastic life is the way of perfection, and mystic rapture is the highest attainment and reward of monastic contemplation and service.  In Protestantism, which has no monastic leisure for mystic exercises, mysticism is of a homelier type, but in almost every group of believers there are some individuals who profess to have attained a higher stage of sanctification through “a second blessing,” “the higher light,” “complete sanctification,” “perfect love,” Christian science, or Theosophy.  The literature and organizations ministering to this mystical life, go on the assumption that it far transcends the ordinary way in spiritual blessings and sanctifying power.
Mysticism is a steep short-cut to communion with God.  There is no doubt that under favorable conditions it has produced beautiful results of unselfishness, humility, and undauntable courage.  Its danger is that it isolates.  In energetic mysticism the soul concentrates on God, shuts out the world, and is conscious only of God and itself.  In its highest form, even the consciousness of self is swallowed up in the all-filling possession of God.  No wonder it is absorbing and wonderful.  But we have to turn our back on the world to attain this experience, and when we have attained it, it makes us indifferent to the world.  What does Time matter when we can live in Eternity? What gift can this world offer us after we have entered into luminous presence of God?
The mystic way to holiness is not though humanity but above it.  We can not set aside the fundamental law of God that way.   He made us for one another, and our highest perfection comes not by isolation but by love.  The way of holiness through human fellowship and service is slower and lowlier, but its results are more essentially Christian.  Paul dealt with the mystic phenomena of religion when he dealt with the charismata of primitive Christianity, especially with glossolalia (1 Cor. Xii-xiv).  It is a striking fact that he ranks the spiritual gifts not according to their mystic rapture, but according to their rational control and their power of serving others.  His great chapter on love dominates the whole discussion and is offered as a counter-poise and antidote to the dangers of mysticism.

…A religious experience is not Christian unless it binds us closer to men and commits us more deeply to the Kingdom of God.

-Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel, pg104-105

Often the isolated mystical expression of life does make us feel closer to God as get further away from the world. However, if we were to graph Christian maturation, this form of Christian expression could be compared to infancy; where instead of engageing this world one withdraws. It is like a child who is scarred of the darkness in a unlit room will just choose not to enter, instead of turning on the light and entering. And in like manner, the christian after salvation who now clearly sees the sin and depravity of the world comparred to hollyness of God chooses to retreat to a meeting place with God in the closet of his house instead of bringing the light of God into the world. God’s purposes for us is not to flee from this world but to redeem it. We are called to bring order to chaos, not abandon ship. Seeking the Isolation with God feels good because it feeds our selfish wants. And if we come back to the definiton that sin=selfishness then seeking isolation with God apart from the world is not only neglecting our duty to redeem it but it isa willful act of sin. The main expression of the Gospel is to love God and love others. We can do this seeking God in our closet. And just like the child who is scarred of the dark, it may be a scarry proposition for the Christain to enter into this world fearing that the mud of this worlds perversion might stain the white clothes Jesus just gave us. But we have to remember our righteouness does not come from ourselves but from God, and nothing we do can make him dirty.

Jesus prayed that we may become on just as he is one with the Father ( John 17:22). So it would seem that the higest form of Spirituality is not isolation with God, but unity with man, that we do not mature the better we relate to God, but the better we relate to others. Jesus in Matthew 25 says he will judge our relationship with him not on how we treated him, but how we loved the least of these.

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