Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Holy Trinity (Matthew 28:19) – Can We Explain This Mystery?

This week I was told that it is the “Newbie” who always gets allocated the task of preaching on Holy Trinity Sunday. As I am the only one preaching at Carlsbad-By-The-Sea (CBTS) I allocated the task to myself.

As I prayed on the Gospel passage and the theology of the Holy Trinity this week the idea of improving prayer in our lives loomed large. In my pastoral care visits and in the Bible Study class later in the week this idea became clearer.

In my visits when I asked residents what the Holy Trinity meant to them most had an understanding of “One God as three distinct Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)” but when asked if they could tell me more, I found there was no deeper understanding and they did not know why they should care.


This week I came to realize that an understanding of the Holy Trinity is vital for us to know what God is like, how he relates to us, and how we should relate to him.

In my studies I found that the actual word “Trinity” is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, but there are a few passages in the Bible that refer to the concept of the Holy Trinity.

One is in Mark 3:16, when Jesus is baptized “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Another is in Matthew 28:19, our Gospel passage that week “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit


Other Bible passages make it clear that all three Persons are 100% God and are equal in power, love, mercy, justice, holiness, knowledge, and all other qualities.

Next I had fun looking at how the early Church tried to explain the Holy Trinity by stating their beliefs in the Apostles Creed and how attempts to further define the Holy Trinity failed miserably and became Christian heresies.

There are quite a few but here are some of the most popular heresies about the Trinity:

  • God was one God who just appeared in three different roles ( Modalism),
  • God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father in nature and being (Arianism aka Subordinationism),
  • Jesus was a purely divine being who only had the “appearance” of being human and that he only appeared to suffer on the cross (Docetism),
  • Jesus was a purely human figure but had charismatic gifts which distinguished him from other humans (Ebionitism),
  • Jesus was born totally human and only later was “adopted” by God either at his baptism or at his resurrection (Adoptionism),
  • Father, Son and Holy Spirit together are components of the one God, only becoming fully God when they come together (Partialism).
These heresies resulted in different sects within the church following different theologians, all claiming that their beliefs were the only true ones. This caused the church to splinter, so in response the Church developed the Nicene Creed. This Creed may be unpopular with some denominations but it does expand on the theology and make it clearer.

Someone once told me that if you spend more than 5 minutes trying to explain “How” the Holy Trinity works you are very likely to commit a heresy. In my own theological reflections I concluded that “How” the Holy Trinity works is still a mystery which I will never try to explain but we are able to understand this theology better if we identify “What” the Holy Trinity does.

So, if we look closely the individual but equal persons of the Holy Trinity have different tasks:
·    God the Father is the ultimate creator of the universe, who initiates divine revelation, salvation and Jesus' human works.
·     God the Son, Jesus, is the Word made flesh, sent by the Father and made the ultimate sacrifice for us. In this selfless act Jesus becomes our Savior and we became His brothers and sisters. Therefore, like Jesus, we became Sons and Daughters of God the Father
·     God the Holy Spirit is the means by whom the Father created and maintains the universe. The Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit provides divine revelation, salvation, and Jesus' works.
But why should we care?


When we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we become adopted children of God (sons and daughters), united with Jesus (brothers and sisters), and we receive Holy Spirit. Without this balanced view of all three persons of the Trinity, we can misinterpret the work of God in this world.

For instance, if we emphasize the God in the Old Testament, and subordinate Jesus and the Spirit, then we come away with a picture of a God of wrath and judgment, who has little compassion.

If we emphasize the person of Jesus to the exclusion of God the Father and the Holy Spirit, we miss out on the fact that Jesus was sent to redeem the world and restore our right relationship with God.

If we emphasize the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, it is easy to lose sight of God as Creator, Son as Redeemer, and the role that the Holy Spirit played and is playing in both of those aspects of God’s work.


This balanced view allows us to celebrate God in our lives and in our community by:
·    Recognizing we are all are created in God's image and destined for a relationship with the Father,
·     Acknowledging Jesus as our Savior and Brother, making us all Sons and Daughters of the Father, so that we can live a welcoming and inclusive life with others who may be different from us,
·     Accepting the Holy Spirit to help us proclaim the gospel, perform good works and do the will of God.
So, in my studies, talking to CBTS residents and theological reflection this week I learned that understanding the persons of the Holy Trinity will deepen my worship and help me to be specific in directing my prayers, especially as I pray to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.

I has given me the impetus to set up daily “Praying with others”  sessions in the CBTS chapel so I can provide the residents with guidance, a space and and regular opportunity for them to pray with me, with others, or alone .


The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen

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