Tag Archives: triune god

God is Love (Grounds for the Trinity)

Tertullian (c. 160-220 AD) is officially given credit for coining the term “Trinity” to refer to the triune nature of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

The Biblical text, specifically the NT, references the Father, Son, and Spirit in about 120 different passages (e.g. Matt 28:18-20; Jn 14-17; Acts 2:32-33, etc.), though not all references use the three together.

While “Trinity” is not actually used in the Scripture, all orthodox Christian traditions have accepted the term as a sufficient way of describing the three-in-one relationship of God, including my own denomination, the MCUSA.

Those that don’t embrace Trinitarian theology are Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, Mormons, Christian Scientists, etc. According to orthodoxy, these so-called “Christian” groups are heretical (or cultic) for being anti-Trinitarian, and for other reasons related to Christology.

The Trinity Revealed by Jesus & the Apostles

I’ve heard skeptics and YouTube atheists claim that Constantine is responsible for belief in the Trinity, and for it becoming the orthodox position. Is this true?

It’s true that the Trinity was further articulated and defended by folks like Athanasius at the Council of Nicaea in the 4th century, but it was by no means an “invented” doctrine of the church. Constantine’s concern was merely for the bishops to settle the theological dispute brought on by Arianism. Yes, he did want unity in his new empire, but the imperial decision was for Christendom’s growing hold on the world, it was nothing new for Christian theology.

On the contrary, Polycarp (69-155 AD), bishop of Smyrna and disciple of the apostle John, expressed Trinitarian belief when he wrote the following:

“O Lord God almighty… I bless you and glorify you through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with Him and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever” (n. 14, ed. Funk; PG 5.1040).

The ante-Nicene church fathers used Trinitarian language unambiguously in their writings. This includes Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus, and Origen. And as previously stated, it was Tertullian in the late second century that identified the communal concept of God as “Trinity” to capture his essence.

Therefore, the Nicene Creed reflects the earliest Christian confession about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dating back to Jesus and the apostles themselves.

The Trinity as Christian Dogma

Despite the mysterious complexity of the Trinity, orthodox Christianity has considered it dogma since the very beginning. The one true God is triune. In other words, there is no room for “variance” or disagreement.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) once quipped, “If you try to understand the Trinity, you will lose your mind. If you deny the Trinity you will lose your soul.”

While I personally believe that folks can trip up on this doctrine and still know the salvation God offers in Jesus, I understand Augustine’s primary point to be this: The Trinity is a non-negotiable biblical truth.

In Theology for the Community of God (p.53), Stanley Grenz wrote:

“Of the various aspects of our Christian understanding of God perhaps none is as difficult to grasp as the concept of God as triune. At the same time, no dimension of the Christian confession is closer to the heart of the mystery of the God we have come to know. In fact, what sets Christianity apart from the other religious traditions is the confession that the one God is Father, Son, and Spirit. As a consequence, no teaching lies at the center of Christian theology, if not of Christian faith itself, as does the doctrine of the Trinity.”

So, Augustine is right about the Trinity being a non-negotiable element of our faith. However, I’m certain that much about the triune God can be understood, and should be understood for faith and practice. And many trusted theologians throughout church history have offered helpful insights.

The Foundation for Belief in a Triune God

One of the most logical and practical insights into the triune God begins with the universally celebrated Christian confession: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). OK, how can we know that? More specifically, why does John believe it?

Listen to his answer: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world…” (1 Jn 4:9a NIV). John is saying that “God is love” and we can know it because Jesus has revealed God in all of his fullness!

Robert Barron, Catholic thinker and practitioner, says, “Love isn’t just something God does, it’s who God is.”  Think about that.

I believe after serious reflection, our confession that “God is love” can be recognized as the very foundation by which the apostles believed in the triune God. And from this God comes our understanding of the church in his image.

Listen to Barron explain how confessing “God is love” makes a triune God necessary and coherent for a truly liberating and practical theology.

What do you think of Barron’s explanation of God as lover (Father), the beloved (Son), and the love (Spirit) shared between them? How else does the Trinity matter for Christian belief and practice?

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

For further study, see my article: Trinity & Incarnation: Finding a Biblical Christology Within a Trinitarian Monotheism (2011).

Suggested Reading:

  • Theology for the Community of God by Stanley Grenz (pgs. 53-95)
  • The Trinity & the Kingdom by Jürgen Moltmann
  • After Our Likeness: The Church as Image of the Trinity by Miroslav Volf
  • God in New Testament Theology by Larry Hurtado (pgs. 27-47)
  • A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology by Thomas Finger (pgs. 423-464)

The Community Life of God (Book Review)

The God Who Is Relationship

A Book Review of “The Community Life of God: Seeing the Godhead As the Model for All Relationships” by Milt Rodriguez

“God is not an individual” says Milt Rodriguez.  “He is a fellowship of three Persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (p.14).

In The Community Life of God, Milt Rodriguez weaves together the story of God’s desire to plant himself in His people.  God’s image is a “communal” image.  The Lord created man in His image of community.  And taking from the Tree of Life (i.e. Christ) is to take from the relational God.

It was in the Garden of Eden that the serpent sought to keep God’s image from becoming a reality in the hearts of men.  The enemy of God presented man with individual living out of his own soul-life (i.e. will, emotions, intellect).  Instead of man pursuing spiritual living after taking from the communal life of God, he experiences separation from God and other men.

Rodriguez proposes that much of Christian activity today is spent furthering the individualistic mindset that is so popular in our culture.  Even when believers come together corporately there is not an understanding of God’s image among us.  Church life ought to be more than socializing and individual Christian ministries.

Milt writes, “Personhood and identity can only be defined by relating to others. You will never truly “find yourself” until you are living in the community life of God” (p.62)

What is the sort of fellowship the Lord desires among his ekklesia?

“This fellowship is the place where there is nothing to hide. Complete truthfulness and complete honesty rule here.  The Father, Son, and Spirit do not hold back anything from one another… there is no fear of loss” (p. 116).

As Christian Smith has written, “Community means more than having lots of meetings. It means jointly building a way of life, a group memory, and a common anticipated future.” (Going to the Root: Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal, p.2)

In order for us to experience the community life of God, we must embrace the cross.  Rodriguez says there “will be one brother or sister who rubs you the wrong way.”  It is there we embrace the cross and learn “they are part of the same body as you. You belong to them and they belong to you” (p.152).

Finally, this community life of God cannot work in meeting once a week.  We all know this to be true, but still we place other things before God’s heart.  We sacrifice the church on the altar of family, jobs, and personal ministries.

Milt says, “He (God) wants you and me and every other believer to be actively involved on a daily basis. This is why we were born.  This is why we live on this planet” (p.170).

Brothers and sisters, if we are going to participate in God’s eternal purpose, we must be intentional about our relationships within the local ekklesia of Christ.  We must give and receive sacrificially in order that we might know the God who is within Himself, relationship.

There have been many books written on the church being rooted in the Triune image of God, but this one delivers in a simple and easy-to-read presentation.  I recommend this book to all of those who are longing to discover that the church is born out of the very heart of the relational God.

What others are saying?

“This little book provides a clear window into the ultimate source of authentic body life. Delve into its pages and meet the God who is beyond what most of us have imagined, the God in whose collective voice all genuine churches echo.” –Frank Viola, author of Pagan Christianity, From Eternity to Here, and Finding Organic Church, www.frankviola.com

“I was deeply blessed, refreshed and challenged by this book. The author casts the spotlight on the reality and wonder that “God” is really the community life of three persons – a fact virtually untouched in traditional theology. Milt shows from various angles how the community life of God is the foundation of our organic ekklesia life together in Christ.”–Jon Zens, Editor, Searching Together; author of A Church Building Every ½ Mile and “What’s With Paul & Women? www.searchingtogether.org

Milt Rodriguez

Milt Rodriguez has been living in and planting organic expressions of church since 1990. He has also authored several books including The Butterfly in You and The Temple Within.  He currently lives with his wife Mary in Gainesville, Flordia.  He is a dear brother in the Lord and I am happy to call him my friend.

Organic Church Life: Sunday Gathering

Organic church life is expressed in many different ways, in different seasons, at different times of the week. It  is life born out Christ, moves forward in freedom, and is mutually dependent upon each other in Trinitarian love.

Hence the term “organic.”

From our experience, the Sunday gathering is a unique time of worship that is unlike any other communal event we practice (except for the Lord’s Meal of course). This time is set aside for the most divine expression of Christ among the saints.

As folks are coming into Christ and joining the organic expression of the church, we find that the saints must learn what it truly means to “gather around Christ.” It takes time, lots of time, to let go of many things (e.g. ill-feelings toward the organized church, old ideas of worship, an awareness of our thoughts about “doing” church, the uncomfortable silence, etc.).

Those of us who have been meeting outside the organized church for a little while now are by the Lord’s grace  beginning to learn how to know the Lord with the saints free of having to fight through the junk.

Even after a person begins to let these things go and throw off that dead weight into the deep chasm of death, there arise other challenges that face the saints as they seek the Lord’s heart in the gathering.

Whether it is a concern about the children in the church meetings, giving into the temptation to speak whatever is on your mind in worship, forcing something spiritual to happen when you meet, or following the occasional bunny trails leading to a lot of talk about the organized church, I believe the Lord has helped to discern these challenges with a question:

What is the purpose of the Sunday gathering?

The kind of gathering we seek to have around the Lord on Sunday is best described by Paul in 1 Cor. 14:26. (Note: This type of gathering could take place on any other day of the week, e.g. Saturday evening.) What is the purpose of “each one” sharing and giving their portion of Christ?

Generally, it is for the building up of the Body, of course. But to be more specific, it is a time where we are corporately, in spiritual unison and in open participation, seeking the Lord’s heart for his church.

We are reaching out to touch the Lord together. He is reclining with us and we want to hear from him.

This kind of meeting requires a sensitivity to the Spirit that has never been taught to us in the past and comes through purposely setting our hearts upon Christ. Sure, we have heard a lot of talk about it, but we have seldom experienced it in a context of real community.

We may have known him in private, but the Lord is longing for us to be a spiritual dwelling and experience him in community (1 Pet. 2:5).  For this reflects the Triune God.

Here is a brief description of the spiritual life and that Life we share as believers in this type of meeting:

  • Worship in spirit (Jn 4:24)
  • Waiting “be still and know” (Ps. 46:10)
  • Listening (Ps. 85:8; 1 Cor. 14:30)
  • Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19)
  • Teach and admonish (Col. 3:16)
  • Prayer (Lk. 19:46; Phil. 4:6)

As we enter into a time of worship on Sunday, we are meeting like the believers in the village of Bethany (Mk. 14:3). As friends of God, we are reclining at the feet of Jesus to hear what he might speak to us.

The Lord is spirit. To touch (worship, lit. “to kiss”) the Lord we must worship him in spirit. This does not come natural for us. Therefore, as we seek the Lord together and reach out to touch him through the things mentioned above, we can easily be distracted.

Any distraction, whatever that might be, can make it very difficult for us to know the Lord’s heart together. It will be a challenge to bind our spirits together in love when we are not sensitive to what Christ wants to speak to us, and in moments of stillness there are noise and chatter.

There are those table times of fellowship where we are very much sharing like any natural family event (e.g. kids running around, noise, multiple conversations, etc.). But, what I am referring to, what I believe the Lord is calling us to in this meeting, is a supernatural experience that can only be entered in through deep spirit-filled prayer and concentration.

There is order within this sort of meeting (1 Cor. 12).

The Sunday gathering is the only time where we meet this way around Christ as an entire church fellowship. Anything we can do to accommodate for this unique once-a-week meeting is well worth the effort.

I personally have conversed with Frank Viola for three years now. Frank is a wonderful gift to the church. As an outside worker, his calling is to stir up Christ in us and help us press on in the Lord.

I have read quite a bit on the organic expression of the church and have experienced a couple of years of church life centered on Christ. I have visited several other organic expressions on this journey.

In that short time, we have learned a great deal. We are so very blessed to have gleaned from Frank and others who have helped us along the way. I believe this equipping has helped us to see the uniqueness of the Sunday gathering that may elude many who seek to gather around Christ in the New Testament fashion.

“It’s all too common for Christians to know Christ’s lordship and yet know nothing of His headship.”  Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, p.67

Lord, keep us close to you.  As we seek your headship, remind us that we are all learners.

FOCGet Frank’s new book Finding Organic Church: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Sustaining Authentic Christian Communities today!  In this final book on radical church restoration, Viola addresses all the practical questions a person might have about organic church life.  Of course, if you really want to understand an organic church… join one!

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