What happens when we forgetting the Trinity at Church? Sam Allberry who like me is releasing a book on the Resurrection soon takes todays guest blogging slot by talking about the consequences of neglecting the doctrine of the trinity:
When Jesus called his first followers to make disciples of all nations, he instructed them to baptise new followers in the ‘name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. In doing so Jesus reminds us that the God whose name we now bear, and whose nature is to define and shape us, is Trinity: one God in three persons.
As Christians we affirm this, and yet so often the Trinitarian nature of God is something we tend to park to one side. It is possible to be confessionally Trinitarian, but functionally Unitarian: to say we believe in the doctrine of the trinity, but not really to be shaped by it.
If this is the case it will play itself out in all sorts of ways, not least in where we want to see our Christian communities going. Our view of God determines our vision for humanity. So if we take the doctrine of the trinity, put a big tick next to it, and then just stick it in a drawer somewhere and ignore it, where will we end up?
At least two things will follow.
1. Our view of church will become functional and not relational.
We will only meet to “do” things, and will not really see the point of meeting for merely social reasons. Our gatherings will become a matter of utility and not family. Such a tendency, when combined with the more reserved sections of English culture, can produce a relational desert.
In churches like this there will not be much life-sharing. The minister will see his congregation as ‘clients’; his ministry as one of shunting people through the right programs. He will see himself as a professional ‘Bible teacher’. His people will feel handled rather than loved. The church will be the place to grow for a while in understanding, or at least in Bible knowledge, but will not be the place to find authentic Christian community.
The Trinity shows us a God who is unity in diversity rather than unity in sameness. The Father, Son and Spirit are not interchangeable. They share an ontological unity, but function differently within the purposes of God. This lies behind Paul’s teaching on the variety of gifts found in the church in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6:
4There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
‘Spirit’, ‘Lord’ and ‘God’ describe the persons of the Trinity; ‘gifts’, ‘kinds of service’ and ‘kinds of working’ describe the functional diversity of the local church. Our unity-in-diversity reflects God’s unity-in-diversity.
A Unitarian view of God will therefore lead to a monochrome view of the church. Maturity will be understood in terms of trying to make everyone a certain kind of Christian. Christians will look the same and sound the same. They’ll be encouraged into the same kind of ministry. A particular gifting will be the hallmark of the spiritually advanced. In Corinth (reading between the lines) it was evidently the gift of tongues. Today, in many reformed churches, it is the gift of teaching. Those who are really committed to the gospel will become ‘Bible-teachers’ (there they are again). There will be cultural and vocational flatness.
Christianity it may well be, but a form of Christianity unwittingly more akin to Islamic, not evangelical, theology.