Trinity (2)

TRINITY AND STATUS

I would contend that one of the most significant truths about the Trinity is that there is fullness of relationship without status. Jesus himself never sought status or human applause, and yet church is filled with status. People who seek to elevate themselves above other people, and why and how they do is irrelevant. This merely indicates how far removed church is from being Trinitarian.

In God-community terms, status kills relationship. The pushing down of others in order to raise ourselves up is not an attitude nor a practice that is found in God. Foster says that ‘the authority of which Jesus spoke is not the authority of a pecking order, for Jesus was not just reversing the pecking order, he was abolishing it’.

I would therefore suggest that status is, in itself, ungodly and un-Trinitarian by nature, and yet it is an often-unseen cancer that is eating away at the Church’s very life. We acknowledge the Trinity with our intellect, but deny the Trinity by the status that infects our churches.

TRINITY AND WORSHIP

Since ‘showing up at church is such a burden that soon people will be faxing in their worship’, says Cymbala, we must ask how the reality of the Trinity affects worship. Since Cymabala wrote that, fax has been superseded by email, of course – making it ever easier to worship without presence. If there is no presence, is there such a thing as worship?

If, as Morris says, worship is ‘not an entertainment, something performed by minister and choir while others watch’, and if ‘true worship is and always must be God-centred’; then a truly Trinitarian approach to worship has massive implications for our understanding of how our communion with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is outworked alongside others.

Church often places a heavy importance upon its members being involved in service of one kind or another in church life, since we are often told that serving the church is part of our worship; but if, as Tozer declares, ‘the only acceptable workers are those who have learned the lost art of worship’, how does the reality of the Trinity relate to those who have lost the learned art?

The deadly disease that has infected today’s church is that worship is something we do. We attend church in much the same way as spectators attend a football match: We applaud, sing, sit, stand, clap and complain; then we go home to analyse our last visit through grumbling and criticising and so prepare for our next visit when we will tell it like it is.

The answer is surely not in any human activity at all; ‘the answer is in the power of the Holy Spirit’ as Cymbala wrote because, as Morris declared, ‘true worship and life are linked in the closest possible fashion’. That life is community life.

While any member of God’s love-community can (and should) individually praise and worship, it is nevertheless the community as a whole that expresses the fullness of praise and worship for God. ‘I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”’

TRINITY AND IDENTITY

If, as Todd says, ‘the vital doctrines of the atonement and the new birth rest upon the foundation of the Holy Trinity’, how does the reality of the doctrine of the Trinity impact the church’s ministry? If it is true that, ‘the Trinity, as a self-giving community, is an essential model for mission’, then the reality of the doctrine needs to firmly rooted in church life and theology. Indeed, Gunton argues that the ‘manifest inadequacy of the theology of the church derives from the fact that it has never seriously and consistently been rooted in a conception of the being of God as triune.’

If he is correct in this, then the discovery (or rediscovery) of the true conception of a Trinity-God would have radical and far-reaching implications for the institution that we call church. The Church must surely cease to be seen only as an institution and be realised as a way of being, for Zizoulas says that ‘the Church is primarily communion, i.e. a set of relationships making up a mode of being, exactly as is the case in the Trinitarian God.’

The entire Christian life has to be understood in terms of Sonship according to Packer, and ‘Sonship must be the controlling thought at every point’. Sonship is the sharing of relationship that Jesus has with his Father through the Spirit. Since the church is the bride of the Lamb, we are to become in some wonderful way related to the Trinity itself. As Moltmann expressed it: ‘Through the brotherhood of the Son God’s children enter into the trinitarian relations of the Son, the Father and the Spirit’.

The realities of Sonship and Trinity must deeply affect the church’s ministry, and make it a drawing together of people from all nations, and not an alienating or a rejecting of those who do not fit in to the institution of church. Therefore, as Goodridge declares, ‘all notions of ethnic and racial superiority and all practices of ethnic cleansing and racial discrimination are diametrically opposed to our understanding and practice of the Trinitarian life.’

If ‘God does not deal directly with the nations today, but through the Church which is his body’ as Nee says, then Bosch is correct when he states that ‘the church is called to be a community of those who glorify God by showing forth his nature and works and by making manifest the reconciliation and redemption God has wrought through the death, resurrection, and reign of Christ’.

Billheimer put it like this: ‘In spite of all of her lamentable weaknesses, appalling failures, and indefensible shortcomings, the church is the mightiest force for civilization and enlightened social consciousness in the world today.’ No wonder Lloyd-Jones decalred that ‘We must re-grasp the idea of church membership as being the membership of the body of Christ, and we must re-emphasise the truth that God gives the Holy Spirit only to those who obey him.’

But, asks Warner, ‘will the 21st-century church dare to recover the Christ-centred radicalism of the first Christian generation?’  Will the 21st-century church dare to discover the reality of Trinity? As Wallis has declared, ‘Jesus calls those who would follow him to a life that completely undermines the values and structures of this world’.

I hope that I have shown that the Trinity is no mere doctrine about which we may or may not agree, but rather that the reality of the Trinity has profound implications for our understanding of the nature, worship and ministry of the church. According to the Baptist Union of Scotland, the doctrine of the Trinity ‘has amazingly re-emerged as a central, if not the central doctrine, of Christianity.’

The church needs to face the challenge of being a God-love-community in which its members participate in perichoresis and so value the individual within the community, but not at the expense of the community. The church needs to be in perichoresis, where there is no status to be found, and where love finds its fullest expression in the total integration of the people of God.

Christians need to be a people whose whole life is worship to the Trinity; the Trinity whose ‘worthship’ is made manifest in the church’s ministry. Then will God deal with the nations through his body; then will the world know that there is a God in heaven who is alive and well and living on planet Earth.