Video for 1st June 2023, Trinity Sunday.
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
Thomas Jefferson expressed the frustration of many Christians with the doctrine of the Trinity, “When we shall have done away with the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus ; when in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since his day, and get back to the pure and simple doctrines he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples.”
His advice to focus on the pure and simple and away from philosophical constructs is I admit quite appealing. He is right in that we always need to focus on Jesus more. He is wrong in that going back to the simple Jesus, we always find ourselves at the feet of the trinitarian God! Or as Darrell Johnson said, “it is precisely when we do focus on the simple facts of Jesus that we find ourselves drawn into theological grappling which keeps ending up at the doctrine of the Trinity.”
Earlier today I led a communion service on the Catsback where we read from the great commission in Matthew 28, Jesus tells his disciples that he has been given all authority, and that he will be with us always. These are words that echo those of God to the Israelites as they left Egypt. The response of the disciples, those who knew him best, to the risen Jesus was to worship him. They didn’t live in an ivory tower, they were simple people who in the resurrected Jesus experienced the power of God. Every other spiritual leader from Mohammed to the Buddha would have rebuked their disciples for such an action. Jesus didn’t; in fact, he rebuked Thomas for being slow to get the point. His commission to them is to baptise in the (note singular) name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We could quote Jesus at length, “I and the Father are one”, “He who has seen me has seen the Father”; “I will ask the Father and he will send you another helper, that may be with you for ever, that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold him or know him , but you know him since he abides with you and will abide in you” . These are just a few lines from John’s Gospel.
The so called ‘simple’ teaching of Jesus raises many complicated questions. And when we talk about him we can’t help but slip into trinitarian language and ideas. The great missionary Bishop, Leslie Newbiggen, reflecting on his preaching in India said, “The truth is one cannot preach Jesus even in the simplest terms without preaching him as the Son, …and you cannot preach him without speaking of the Father and the Son.”
CS Lewis recognised that Trinitarian language and ideas were an attempt to make sense of the facts. In his book Mere Christianity, he said, “If Christianity were something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete in simplicity with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with fact. Of course, anyone can be simple if they don’t have any facts to bother about.”
It was the great lay theologian Tertullian who coined the word Trinity in the third century. Others working in very different cultures came to similar conclusions. Ultimately the word Trinity may not appear in the scriptures, but the reality the early church tried to express by the word trinity certainly does.
These ideas simply give a shape to the way we experience God’s reality in our own lives. We encounter him as the creator of the world, of whom the heavens declare his glory. We see his character expressed most fully in the person of Jesus and receive his gift of forgiveness through Jesus death on the cross. We experience the spiritual reality of our faith through the gift of the Holy Spirit. He helps the intellectual truths of faith make the twelve inch journey from head to heart. It is in his power that find we can do things we didn’t think we could, conquer debilitating character traits we thought were intractable, and develop faith to trust in his action even in situations that seem incomprehensible and cruel.
We not only believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we need him to be that God if he is to be experienced at all. That’s why we celebrate this on Trinity Sunday. I pray that this Sunday you may find a deeper experience of God reality in your life.