Drinking Deeply

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 at 6:38 PM

Trinity Question 2

jefe writes:
(2)"What kind of God is He? We declare Trinity."

remember, the issue under discussion is not "is trinitarianism true about God?" lots of things are true about god that certainly aren't "essential doctrine". for instance, does god immanently occupy space, or is he "outside of space" (i.e. non-spatial)? you'd have a hard time arguing that having the wrong belief on that count is damnable.
This is true. There are a lot of things that are true but not essential. (Though, from the first post, I would argue that all things, once demonstrated from Scripture as true, are then essential as denying them would be denying Scripture, which is denying an essential).

However, the doctrine of the Trinity is different in a key consideration, namely that the understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity enables us to not only understand a fact of knowledge about God (which is important in itself), but it makes a difference in also (among other things): How we relate to one another (understanding submission does not imply inferiority), how we understand God doing His Work (creation, redemption, consummation), a distinguishing factor of Christianity, how we understand salvation (Father judges, Son pays, Spirit empowers), how we are to worship, how we are to pray, how we are to understand our sanctification, how we are to be unified as seperate members of a whole. There is a great deal more that the Trinity directly or indirectly impacts.

What makes it essential in the second sense? Here's two guesses:

1) The doctrine of the Trinity describes and orders the very God that we are to pray to, to place our faith upon, to worship, and so on. To deny the Trinity entails a misunderstanding (in a great sense) of the very God we claim to worship. We cannot put our faith in God if we think God is a table, or not omnipotent, or so on.

2) The doctrine of the Trinity is necessary for hypostatic union: the doctrine that states that Jesus is both fully man and fully God, two distinct natures. Without hypostatic union we cannot understand Christ to have paid the full price for the sins of many (since if he were only man, he could not pay for more than himself), or we cannot understand Christ to be a representative (Christ must be a man to pay for man's sins).

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Anonymous theocentric522 said...

Right on! That was what I was trying to say on my original comment. I was also thinking about how this word, "essential" is being thrown around. But I'll comment more later. =)  

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Blogger Eric said...

Mickey, can you comment on the Ephesian disciples in Acts 19? Luke calls them disciples, and Paul acknowledges that they believed. But at the time they believed they had no knowledge of the Holy Spirit (which I would argue is not the same as saying the Holy Spirit had not been given to them, even if they didn't have the visible sign of tongues), which surely is a very serious deficiency in their understanding of the God in whom they believed and to whom they repented.

To me, it seems like Luke is saying both a). these Ephesian disciples were members of the Body of Christ, and b). the deficiencies in their knowledge of the Holy Spirit (i.e., the Trinity) ought to be corrected. But if I'm reading your post correctly, it seems to me that if you found someone who had no knowledge of the Holy Spirit you would declare them not a member of the Body of Christ. Can you comment?  

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Blogger mxu said...

I think we could go a number of ways:

1) The disciples were in name at the time, associated, but not a phyiscal part of the body of Christ. (akin to the "disciples" that left Jesus after the John 6 sermon)

2) We could also appeal to progressive revelation, not in the sense that God revealed more of Scripture over the course of time, but in the sense that God used the various heresies and councils to bring forth a further revelation (from Scripture) of His character. I don't think I can argue that a knowledge of "justification by faith alone" was essential to fellowship prior to the 16th century, but I think it is now, as justification by faith alone is a defining characteristic of Christianity (as it always has been, but the understanding of it had not been hammered down as well as it is now)

I would put the Trinity (prior to the council that ratified it) in the same category. It may be entirely possible for a person to not understand the Trinity and still be fellowshipping with the body prior to the 3rd (or was it 4th?) century council, but afterwards (when a denial of the Trinity was formally declared a heresy) it seems like it has become an explicit essential.

I would also point out that we can (and should) excercise charity in who we declare to be "a member of the Body of Christ." If someone has never heard of it, it certainly behooves us to tell them about the Trinity prior to excommunicating them (or whatever we do), but when they do explicitly reject it after we tell them (and demonstrate it from Scripture), then I think our path is clear. Does that help?  

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Blogger Eric said...

It does, but whence are you getting the concept that we can add doctrines to the list of "essential" ones? Do you think that concept is itself Biblical?  

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Blogger mxu said...

I don't see it as "adding" doctrines per se, simply clarifying doctrines in order to distinguish Christianity from non-Christian religions.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the same, but was unnecessary to be specific about it until people started denying the divinity of Christ and so on.  

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