Trinitarian. Admittedly, this is a word we do not hear or use often.
We can trace the origin of the term “trinity” to the years 160-220AD and geographically to the region of North Africa. Its architect was an early church father, Tertullian. Tertullian was a caught up in a debate with a man names Praxeas, who asserted that God the Father and God the Son had no independent existence. Praxeas taught that God the Father descended into the Virgin Mary, became the Son, and then suffered and died for our sins. Praxeas’ rampant heresy inclined Tertullian to think and write, and it is from this debate that the doctrine of the Trinity began to to take shape.
From this squabble with Praxeas, Tertullian gave us clear expression of (1) The unity of God (biblically found in Dueteronomy 6:4), (2) The Father and the Son being distinct (derived from 1 Corinthians 15:24) and (3) The terminology which the church needed to express its beliefs clearly and precisely. The words he specifically gave to us are Trinity (three-in-one), essence or being (the Father, Son, and Spirit are one in essence), and person (used to express how God can be united in oneness yet independent in threeness simultaneously) (Shared Life, Macleod).
The doctrine of the Trinity is a complicated one to say the least. Already I have used the words “unity” and “independence” in the same breath, and a good head scratch may be in order. I think when many people come up against the Trinity, they tend to react in 2 ways: confusion or apathy. Apathy may sound a bit harsh here, but stick with me. Does it really matter if we grasp this doctrine as long we hold tightly to our Lord, Jesus Christ? We have somehow placed this idea in the periphery, and concluded that it doesn’t really matter.
I would conclude that it does. God has revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit. Matthew 28:19-20 reads, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Interestingly, the text does not read that we are to be baptized just in the name of the Father, or just that of the Son, or just that of the Spirit. We are to be baptized into each.
In his book, Shared Life, Donald Macleod shares that it is unlikely “that they were baptized into a name of which they were completely ignorant; implicit in the commission was the command to teach all nations about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
That thought strikes a cord with me, and perhaps it does so with you too.
I come out of an unabashedly Christocentric theological camp. This is not something that I would change for the world. Being centered on Christ is a necessity because the Gospel, Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, is where our hope is at once derived and to be placed.
Aside from this, I wish to observe Christ’s relation to the Father for a moment. There is a uniqueness to God revealed as Christ that is captivating. Christ is one of us. Christ is also God the Son. John begins his Gospel by referring to Jesus Christ as the “Word”: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is human. Jesus is God. Jesus, and he alone, can teach us how to uniquely, and humanly, pursue God as our God. He does this because he is human. He does this because he is divine. He also does this because within the trinity there is community.
If Jesus is God and yet we see him searching God the Father out in prayer time and time again, this shows that within the Trinity there is love and community shared between the three. We can take heart in the fact that community and intimacy is not just something that we practice toward God or toward others, but community and intimacy are practiced within the persons of the Trinity toward one another. This should have far reaching impact on our understanding, experience, and practice of Biblical Community within the church.
How does our understanding of the Trinity shape our practice of Biblical community within the church? This is a difficult question to answer. I am unsure if I have ever really given any thought to this. But I can honestly say that my understanding of the Trinity is a bit thin. I already said that I am Christocentric. Identifying with that seems to already move me away from being Fathercentric or Spiritcentric. I am eager to delve into this deeper because I want to have an ever expanding understanding of the character of God. It seems that expanding my love, appreciation, adoration, and devotion to God, as he has completely revealed himself, will only serve to increase my joy and my ability to communicate these dear truths to my church and others.