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The Trinity for the church today

June 2016 | by Kevin Bidwell

There is so much religious confusion today in the Western world. For the first time in almost 1500 years, Christianity has new religious rivals ‘on the block’, each one claiming its own god.

Up until recent decades in the West, the religious question was generally one of choosing the Christian God, or nothing at all. Therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity has not played a prominent role in Christian discussion.

However, a fresh articulation of the Trinity for church members and ministers could help solve the riddle (as many see it) of ‘Who is God?’

Name

I want you to imagine a scenario. You are travelling on a train somewhere in the United Kingdom and sitting opposite someone of a different religion. They could be a practising Hindu, a Sikh, or a Muslim, for example.

They strike up a conversation with you, during which they discover you are a committed Christian, and then ask you a valid question.

After explaining the name of their god(s), they ask you, ‘What is the name of the Christian God?’ They ask genuinely, in hope of a better understanding of the Christian religion. How exactly do you answer?

When I have posed this scenario to Christians in recent years, I have received a range of answers to the question, including ‘Yahweh’, ‘Jehovah’, ‘I AM that I AM’, ‘Jesus’ and ‘Lord’.

Now, imagine this adherent of a different religion met two different Christians in the same day. Is it not highly likely they would receive two quite different and (to them) inconsistent answers to what should be a simple question?

The correct answer to such a question is, however, supplied by the Lord Jesus Christ. After his resurrection, he gave his disciples their new covenant commission. At its heart was the New Testament name of God, which the church is to spread to all nations: ‘the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19).

This is the one name of God that names the three persons of the Godhead in unity. It is a distinctive and unique revelation of God, placed at the very centre of the Great Commission.

Pinnacle

While it is true that Scripture reveals many different names for God, the one given here by Jesus is the pinnacle of biblical revelation as to who God is. It supplies information essential to the church’s mission, evangelism and worship.

The New Testament name of God is ‘the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’. This one, singular name, designates the three persons of the Trinity in their proper order, and the definite article ‘the’ before each of the persons identifies them with distinction, but without any division between them.

This name of the one God is confessed in the Nicene Creed (AD 381): ‘I believe in one God, the Father Almighty … and in one Lord Jesus Christ … [and] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life … who, with the Father and the Son together, is worshipped and glorified’.

There are five foundational biblical texts that were key to the early church’s articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. They are: ‘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); ‘now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone’ (1 Corinthians 12:4-6);

‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ (2 Corinthians 13:14); but when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father!’ (Galatians 4:4-6); ‘there is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Undergirding

When you begin to read Ephesians, you realise that this letter — and indeed all the New Testament writings — is undergirded with a trinitarian fabric and sub-structure.

Sometimes the three persons of the Trinity are in a different order in different passages. However, the overall sequence of scriptural revelation is that everything proceeds from the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit.

Now we have examined the New Testament foundation of the name of God — which is, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit — we need to go further and explain ‘the name that is above every name’ (Philippians 2:9) in relation to evangelism. This is the name of ‘Jesus’.

We will look at that in the next guest column article, which is on ‘The Trinity and evangelism’.

Kevin Bidwell is minister of Sheffield Presbyterian Church (other articles on http://kevinbidwell.blogspot.co.uk).

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