The Holy Trinity

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19, NRSV)

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What is your image of God? If you are like most people, when I used the word “God” in my question, an image of an older man probably came to mind. If my question were for you to describe Jesus, you would probably describe an olive-skinned man in his 30’s in a robe with long flowing hair. (Thanks to the popularity of Warner Sallman’s painting that has indelibly etched the image in our minds!) If I asked you to paint a picture of the Holy Spirit, you would probably paint a metaphor—something like branches blowing in the wind or maybe a dove descending. All three of these images are images of God—three images of the One True God. We refer to these three images of God as the Trinity.

The word “trinity” is not in the Bible. Tertullian (c. 155- c. 240 AD) coined this phrase so that the church had a verbal way of wrestling with the three-in-one nature of God hinted at in scriptural passages such as the one listed above. Although some scholars dispute whether the phrase was part of the original rendering of the gospel, the Trinitarian reference from Matthew’s gospel describes God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. After Tertullian’s attempt at framing the doctrine, the church became divided over how best to understand the Trinity. For instance, did Jesus come before the Holy Spirit or did the Holy Spirit come first? It became a huge mess.

So the leaders of Christianity decided to hold a council in 325 AD in Nicaea (out of which came the Nicene Creed that we sometimes use at Canterbury). More confusion ensued, so another council was held at Constantinople about 50 years later. Then another council was convened in Ephesus in 431 AD followed by yet another council in 451 at Chalcedon, all in hopes of reaching full agreement on the doctrine of the Trinity. The church (and I) continues to struggle with the three-fold nature of God.

What we can’t argue with is that we are instructed by Jesus to go into the world and to teach about God to all we encounter. We may not have all the right words or even get the theological doctrine exactly right, but if we share what God has done for us, that will be good enough. Your experience of God may be more as the Father. If so, then share the Father with others. If your experience is more with Jesus, share Jesus with those you meet. If you’ve had an experience with the Holy Spirit, share the Holy Spirit with others. Don’t worry about getting it right—worry about getting it out into the lives of others! Then you will have fulfilled the Great Commission. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—three-in-one. Amen!

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Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church

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