The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not an explicit doctrine in Scripture, and it seems that it is more assumed than taught within its pages. It is, therefore, possible for ministers and Christian leaders to assume that their congregation know about the Trinity, and not teach on the subject. It is equally possible for the subject of the Trinity never to be taught. In the light of these, it is important to consider what the Trinity is, to examine its relevance to our understanding of the nature, worship and ministry of the church, and then draw conclusions from the implications discovered.
First, a question asked by Moltmann in his work on the Trinity: ‘Why are most Christians in the West really only ‘monotheists’ where the experience and practice of their faith is concerned?’ Christians tend to speak of ‘God’ and not be explicit about the persons and work of each member of the Trinity. We must examine ourselves here, for those who hold to a mere doctrine of the Trinity but know nothing of the reality of the Trinity in their lives are poor indeed, and, for them Tozer says that ‘God is no more real than He is to the non-Christian’. Strong words indeed.
As we consider our subject, we will begin with the Scriptural truth that God is love. We will see that love is only meaningful when it is outworked and finds its expression in relationships, and that means that love can only begin to be understood in terms of relationships. This also means that relationships are where love is experienced, and the experience of love is the beginning of true understanding. If love is to mean anything, it is in the experience of being loved and loving another.
Relationships are recognised as fundamental to people’s very existence by psychologists, one of whom, Lefrancois, has declared that ‘it appears axiomatic that much of our behaviour is governed by an apparent need or desire to establish and maintain certain relationships with others’. Therefore, we must recognise that this heart of community which is at the core of human existence is but a pale reflection of the community that is found at the heart of the Godhead.
God is love and so God the Father, Son and Spirit are, always have been, and always will be, in love relationship. As Fiddes has declared, God’s internal relationships are ‘not mere links between individuals, but are a love movement, an interweaving dance of participation in which we are invited to be participators’.
TRINITY IS OPEN
Pinnock speaks of this ‘open and dynamic structure, a loving community, the ultimate in community, mutuality and sharing’, and it must be an open structure if human beings are being invited to be like God and join their structure, their community. Moltmann, too, referred to the ‘open Trinity’, proclaiming the idea that the Trinity is open to accepting God’s own people into it, although they will be like God but they will not be God. Indeed, Moltmann further declares that ‘in the incarnation of the Son the Trinity throws itself open’.
Macleod writes of this ‘face-to-face relationship, rich in self-expression, rich in glorious out-goingness, rich in what we might almost call its external extrovertness, the outward-lookingness of the divine agape’. If God’s relational family is open to increase, then it is open because ‘from all eternity God purposed to have a family circle of his very own, not only created but also generated by his own life, incorporating his own seed’ says Billheimer, and Packer groans for the day when there will be a ‘grand family reunion in heaven’.
Bonnke explores the thought that the Trinity is not about us living for God, it is about God living in us and through us, it is about the fullness of deity indwelling humanity! That is the outworking of Christianity, and Tozer says that ‘no man has experienced rightly the power of Christian belief until he has known this for himself as a living reality’.
Fiddes develops the thought that the God who becomes communion for his people in the world is already communion in and of himself; the God who makes community in the world is already community in himself. Thus, our communion and our community should be of the same nature as those of God. So, Fiddes goes on to develop, ‘our experience of God is not one of three personal realities in isolation from each other, but of persons in relationship that are always interweaving and interpenetrating each other’.
Grudem says that our experience of the different functions that we see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit performing are ‘simply the outworkings of an eternal relationship between the three persons, one that has always existed and will exist for eternity’. According to Gunton, the word ‘experience’ is central to both statements, because the Trinity has all too often been presented as ‘a dogma to be believed rather than as the living focus of life and thought’.
If, as has been suggested, the Trinity is a vital foundation of God himself, the doctrine of the Trinity has far-reaching implications for our understanding of the nature, worship and ministry of the Church. Therefore, like Goodridge, I am concerned with the ‘practical significance which Father, Son and Holy Spirit have for the history and redemption of the world, and our personal moral living in it’.
TRINITY AND COMMUNITY
Since God is community, then community should the foundation of human life. But is it? The modern destruction of community life in our land is no accident, but is rather the direct consequence of the rampant spread of individualism. The land we live in has all but dispensed with the communion of community, and life today is all about the rights of the individual, while the rights of peoples and people groups have been drowned in the sea of individualism
We must observe that in this respect our land is ungodly, because there is no individualism at the heart of God. In Trinitarian terms, freedom is not about the individual – what Gunton calls ‘freedom from others’ – it is about relationship – freedom with others.
Therefore, we should not focus on solitary human persons, but on what Grenz calls ‘persons-in-community’, for, as we have seen, ‘community is not merely an aspect of human life, for it lies within the divine essence’. What Goodridge calls ‘being-in-communion’ is the very nature of the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity; there is mutual in-dwelling (perichoresis) of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The kind of communion that exists in the Godhead is surely the kind of communion that God wants here on earth. The kind of community that exists in the Godhead is the kind of community that God birthed here on earth. Just as God is God-love-community, Jesus made clear that the church is also God-love-community – it is Trinity on earth.
This truth is invisible to the practising monotheist who knows of the doctrine of the Trinity but yet who does not know the reality of life in the Trinity. Those who reject or ignore the Trinity-God inherit an eternal loneliness which is the inevitable result of separation from the God of community and the community of God. God is community, not a collection of individuals.
Yet, Christians all too easily catch the disease of individualism, and the individual churchgoer is easily caught up into consumer Christianity, which is all about pleasing the individual. Therefore, we must ask if this fullness of relationship really extends into and throughout the church, or has individualism infected it instead?
What of people of different race, different creed, different colour or different culture? What of people who are just different? What of women? For all these people and more, does church really show forth a loving and integrated community, or does individualism rule there, too?
We may well have turned Christianity into a faith of the individual, but God is the God of community relationships. Here is the crunch – relationships are not an optional extra, they are the very heart of God. The God of community created a humanity of community, and to de-community humanity is to destroy a major part of the image of God in humanity.
Therefore, in reading the New Testament we cannot help but be struck by the fact that, when an individual becomes a Christian, that individual immediately becomes a member of the community. The old (individual) has gone, the new (community) has come. That is the focus of the new covenant in Christ. It is nonsense to reduce church to the individual, because the individual who believed became a member of an organic body. As Grenz says, ‘The church is a people in covenant.’