Major Problem in Christianity
I recently had to confess and repent to the Lord that “I am a tritheist.”There is a strong emphasis in Christianity today concerning the “threeness” of God, and the unfortunate result of such a tendency is tritheism.
The picture shown above is the modern conception that most Christians have when considering the Trinity. They think of three separate “persons” who dwell in different places, have distinct characteristics, and each is offended if you don’t give them a specific mention in your prayers. Hopefully I can shed some light on the fallacy of such a conception and we can all come to know our dear Lord and God a little bit more.
History of the Trinity
Some people think that the nature of God and the doctrine of the Trinity is something that some armchair theologians came up with back in the day when there was nothing better to do than ponder the divine. Those who hold to this belief either have no understanding of church history, or their only source of education is The Da Vinci Code. The story of how this doctrine came about is quite contrary to the modern conception.
The common man used to be incredibly interested and actually concerned with the nature of God and ensuring an orthodox understanding of the One they loved. One of the church fathers who played a major role in the establishment of the formal doctrine of the Trinity in Nicaea, Gregory of Nyssa, put it this way:
If you ask for change, someone philosophizes to you on the Begotten and the Unbegotten. If you ask the price of bread, you are told, ‘The Father is Greater, and the Son inferior.’ If you ask ‘Is the bath ready?’ someone answers ‘The Son was created from nothing.’ ¹
The nature of God was a hot-topic among everyone in this time, and had important implications to their lives. It’s sad how far we have strayed from such care.
The church fathers who formulated the Nicene Creed were no armchair theologians who philosophized all day either. They were ofter in the heat of persecution from the Roman Empire and were deeply concerned like the Apostle Paul (2 Cor. 11:28) for all the churches. They were defending the faith again gnostics and other heretics were were bringing in a false gospel among God’s children. This was very crucial to all in this time.
Proper view of the Oneness and Threeness of God
The common faith held by all believers confesses that God is Triune. The phrase commonly used to express the nature of God is “One in three persons.” This isn’t wrong, and it was the same phrase used by those during the time of the formulation of the Nicene Creed. The error lies in the meaning of the word “persons.”
In the Cappadocian Fathers’ understanding and explanations of the nature of God and of the proper, orthodox confession of the church, the word used to describe God’s threeness was hypostases. The word was commonly rendered “persons,” but the meaning of “persons” was different in 385 AD. Here is what Roger E. Olson, Professor of Theology at Baylor University, had to say about this:
Modern-day people must understand that neither Basil nor the two Gregories thought of the latter (persons) individualistically…the tritheistic implications cannot be avoided…When Basil referred to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as ‘three persons’ (three hypostases), he meant that they are relations within the one Godhead that is an infinite, transcendent and perfectly simple (unified) being…The main difference is the source. The Father has no source. The Son and the Spirit find their sources in the Father in different ways. ²
God is 100% One in His nature and there are no divisions, separations, or different individuals within Him (Isa. 45:5, Ps. 86:10). Yet, within the Godhead are three relations, hypostases, or, under the proper understanding, persons. These persons are in no way three individuals who are separate, as the modern conception and the picture at the top portray, but they are three in relation. Michael Reeves puts it this way:
-To be the Father, then, means to love, to give out life, to beget the Son -It is the very nature the Son to be the one who shines out from his Father -The Spirit is the one through whom the Father loves, blesses, and empowers his Son³
Why Does Any of This Matter?
God is not separate. The One whom we love, find our identity in, and are seeking to know and gain (Phil. 3:8) is not some strange council of two men and a dove whom just kind of share the identity of “God.” They are intrinsically One and in their eternal existence, economical/salvific work in time, and relation to us, they coinhere. This means that all the persons of the divine Trinity mutually indwell one another (Jn. 14:10-11).
What I’ve found to be the most life-giving part of this revelation is that it is not simply the Holy Spirit who dwells inside of me. While each person in the divine Trinity are distinguished in their direct role in the economy of God (i.e. the Father chooses, the Son redeems, and the Spirit seals (Eph. 1:3-14)), they never act separately or without the other two.
Jesus Christ, the One who lived the perfect human life, going through every suffering and hardship (Heb. 4:15), and gave Himself up for me dwells within me:
But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is life because of righteousness. Romans 8:10
Or do you not realize about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you, unless you are disapproved? 2 Corinthians 13:5
It is Christ who lives in me Galatians 2:20
That Christ may make His home in you hearts through faith Ephesians 3:17
Christ in you, the hope of glory Colossians 1:27
The Father who foreknew me, predestinated me, loves me, called me, and sonized (Many Sons) me also dwells within me (Jn. 14:23). The entire Triune God abides in my spirit! He is three in relation and the three are eternally distinct, but I don’t have to be confused about which One deserves what honor or section of my prayer. I also don’t have to be concerned that the Lord Jesus I love is in heaven and He left me some funky spirit to help me speak in tongues. The Lord is not separate from the Spirit:
The Lord is the Spirit 2 Corinthians 3:17
We all have human minds that cannot wrap around the mystery of the Triune God. This is simply a fact, and to try and conceptualized God and place Him in a box that can be easily explained is heretical. We must repent for any prior concepts contrary to the Lord’s being and ask the Lord to give us a proper understanding of Himself. So praise the Lord that God is One and that He dwells within us!
¹ Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, pp. 173-174 ² Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, pp. 185-186 ³ Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity, pp. 26-30
Love this line: “The One whom we love, find our identity in, and are seeking to know and gain is not some strange council of two men and a dove whom just kind of share the identity of ‘God'”.
Also, I like how you’re making the connection between the Trinity and salvation. Like you said, that’s why it’s such an important truth. I always say that the Trinity is not a doctrinal rubik’s cube to be solved as fast as possible. If what God IS is Trinity and what God DOES is salvation, there must be an intrinsic connection between the two for them both to be intrinsically meaningful. And there is. Hence we are saved in His life much more than reconciliation, through the dispensing of God’s life, for the goal of our incorporation into God. That’s a pretty powerful connection between Trinity and salvation.