The Trinity




This is the first in a series of posts on the Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene. In each post, I will take an article, and provide commentary and clarifying remarks on it. The subject of this post is the Trinity. To many, the Trinity is a difficult concept to comprehend. Indeed, it is probable that, in this life, we will not have all of the answers that we would like in regards to the Trinity. However, this does not make the doctrine of the Trinity unintelligible or illogical. Rather, it is the only way to understand the fullness of the biblical testimony concerning God. It is an interesting fact that cults almost always reject the Trinity, and those statements of faith that are most in line with the heritage of our Christian faith and the biblical testimony concerning God embrace the Trinity.

The Church of the Nazarene openly embraces the biblical truth regarding the Triune nature of God. Our first Article of Faith states that,
We believe in one eternally existent, infinite God, Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe; that He only is God, holy in nature, attributes, and purpose. The God who is holy love and light is triune in essential being, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The doctrine of the Trinity, simply stated, is that there is only one God who is three in Person but one in Essence, and that the three persons are eternally co-equal. To fail to recognize that there is only one God is to commit the heresy of Tritheism. To fail to recognize that the Trinity is three in person is to open the door for the heresy of modalism. To fail to recognize that all three persons of the Trinity are eternally co-equal is to fall into the heresy of subordinationism. While it is beyond the scope of this post to describe each of these heresies, it should suffice to say that each of these have historically been rejected by the church. So, if we are to avoid these problematic ways of thinking, how should we understand the Trinity?

One God

Our first Article of faith states that "We believe in one eternally existent, infinite God.....that He only is God" This is in line with what is taught in Scripture. The Bible is clear that there is only one God. The prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, writes,
"I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God" (Isaiah 45:5a).
Elsewhere, Isaiah also writes,
"I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols" (Isaiah 42:8).
Indeed, it is hard to find stronger statements of monotheism than those found in Isaiah. Perhaps the most famous statement of monotheism found in the Old Testament, however, is found in Deuteronomy 6:4, where Moses reminds the Israelites,
"Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!"
There are several other passages that could be examined, but I think that the point has been made. The Old Testament clearly denies anything except monotheism. But what about the New Testament? A good place to start would be with the teachings of Jesus Himself. It is interesting that Jesus, when asked about the greatest commandment, included part of the Shema in His response (see Mark 12:29), thus affirming that there is only one God.

In addition to the teachings of Jesus, the teaching of the apostles always assumes that there is only one God. The authors of the New Testament make this claim explicitly (see, for example, Romans 16:27; 1 Timothy 1:17; and Jude 25). In short, the Bible clearly and consistently teaches that there is only one God, and that there is no other.

The Divinity of the Father, Son, and Spirit

In addition to affirming that there is only one God, Scripture also affirms that there are three persons who are God. That is, there are three persons who share the same essence. Let us look at each person in turn.

First, Scripture clearly affirms that God the Father is God. This, I think, is a point that is beyond dispute. It is affirmed throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, and was very clearly proclaimed by Jesus. I think that the deity of God the Father is, at this point, beyond dispute. The issue that comes up is whether He is distinct from God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We will address this latter issue in just a minute, but first let us turn our attention to the divinity of the Son and of the Spirit.

Second, Scripture makes a two-fold claim regarding the person of Christ. First, it affirms that He is truly human. This may be treated in another post at a later time. The important claim here is that claim of Christ's divinity that is found throughout the New Testament. It is explicitly stated in passages such as Philippians 2:5-11. There, Paul writes,
"Who, being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
In this passage, we have an affirmation of the deity of Christ ("being in very nature God") and the humanity of Christ ("taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness"). In fact, Paul appears to have been quoting an early Christian hymn or creed which may contain an allusion to Isaiah 45:22-23, thus applying an Old Testament passage about God the Father to Jesus Christ, affirming that the two are equal in their divine nature. This is not the only passage where this is the case, but I believe it suffices to make the point.

In addition to the explicit statements of Christ's deity, the deity of Christ is everywhere assumed by the authors of the New Testament. This includes not only the Gospel writers, but all of the Pauline and Catholic letters, as well. A person who wants to deny Christ's divinity must not only deny the explicit statements of His divinity, but also deal with what is, in my view, the primary assumption of all of the authors of the New Testament books.

The divinity of the Holy Spirit is also clearly presented throughout the New Testament. As an example, the Holy Spirit is put on par with God the Father and Jesus Christ in the giving of the Great Commission. The Holy Spirit was not left out of the baptismal formula presented in Matthew 28:19. In addition, just as with Christ, the divinity of the Holy Spirit is assumed throughout the New Testament.

Three Persons

There is one more point that I want to make in this post, and that is that the persons of the Trinity are distinct Persons, not just one Person who appears in three different ways (which is the heresy of modalism). One important point to remember in this regard is that, while the divinity of all three Persons is assumed throughout the New Testament, a modalistic view of the Godhead is never assumed in the New Testament. It just isn't there. Rather, we see several instances where the three Persons of the Godhead are recognized as separate individuals. One of the more obvious is in the Great Commission, mentioned above. In Matthew 28:19, it must be assumed that we are speaking about three Persons in order for this statement to make sense. In addition, at the baptism of Jesus, all three Persons of the Trinity are present: God the Father speaks from Heaven, Jesus is baptized, and the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove (see Matthew 3:13-17). There is, therefore, every reason to understand the three Persons of the Trinity as being distinct Persons who share the same divine essence.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we have conducted a brief survey on the biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. The first Article of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene is squarely within the teaching of Scripture.

Recommended Resource: Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith

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