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TEXT: II Corinthians 13:14
SUBJECT: Midland Confession #3: Trinity
Today, with the Lord's blessing, we'll move on in our study of the Midland Confession of Faith. The document was drawn up in 1655 to summarize the faith of some English Christians who very much believed in the Doctrines of Grace and the teaching of the New Testament on the Sacraments and church life.
Unlike the Bible, the Confession doesn't cover everything we need to know and nothing it covers is covered infallibly. Only the Bible is God's Word without error or omission. Still, the old confession is a good one, and, back in the mid 1980's, we adopted it as a fair expression of our faith.
The first article deals with God, and in particular, with what He is. The second article is on the Trinity, answering the question who He is. In the interest of full disclosure, I re-worded the article a bit for the sake of clarity, borrowing a line from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It says--
We believe that there are three Persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.
Like the Bible, the Confession does not use the word, Trinity, but that's the commonly accepted word for it, and I can think of no good reason to dispense with it.
What it says about God is not the easiest thing in the world to understand, but it's very much what the Bible teaches and what we need to believe with all our hearts, and as much of our heads as possible. It is also what the Church has always believed everywhere and at all times. In other words, this is not a sectarian point of view, a distinctly modern, Protestant, Evangelical, or American doctrine.
The Confession, like the Bible, plainly says there is one God only. The most important verse in the Old Testament is Deuteronomy 6:4. It's what separates the faith of Israel from the religions of Egypt, Canaan, and other countries. It's called the shema, which means 'hear'--
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one!
However much pious Jews differed--then and now--they all came together on this one point: The God of Israel is the One True God.
Psalm 115, for example, contrasts the God of Israel who sees and hears and acts with the idols who don't. In other words, He possesses consciousness, and they don't, because He is real and they're not.
When we move to the New Testament, the oneness of God is still assumed, even by Jews who don't believe in Jesus. In Mark 12, a Jewish theologian came to Jesus asking about the first and greatest commandment. Jesus, knowing the Law like no other man, quoted the shema. Although the theologian had better academic credentials than the Lord, he did not correct Him or supply a more refined or nuanced answer, saying in v.32--
Well said, Teacher! You have spoken the truth, for there is one God and there is no other but He.
Look carefully at what the scribe--and Jesus--were saying: The Lord is God and there are no other gods. This was the assumption of Judaism, and it was well-informed by the Law and Prophets.
What Jesus believed about God and the gods was clearly communicated to the Apostles, and so, they believed and taught the very same thing.
Paul, for example, summed up his whole ministry as a attempt to get people to stop worshiping false gods and start worshiping the One True God, I Thessalonians 1:9--
For they themselves declare what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned from your idols to serve the living and true God.
The Bible plainly teaches there is one God only, and the Lord is that One God
If this were all the Bible taught about God, it would be hard to justify Christianity over against Judaism, and impossible to worship Jesus as God without denying or offending His--and--
Our Father who art in Heaven.
How can we say that God is both One and More than One without making a mockery of reason? Let's be fair to our Jewish friends and admit, the Old Testament does not clearly teach this. I don't believe anyone working with the Old Testament alone, could formulate and defend what Christians call, 'the doctrine of the Trinity'.
But, even though it's not plainly revealed in the Old Testament, there are verses that hint at it, and have got to be awfully hard for the rabbis to explain. 'Explain away'? Yes, they can do that, and have. But explain? I don't think so. There are two sets or kinds of verses that suggest Trinity or something like it.
First, we have the verses in which God speaks of Himself in the plural. The most common name for God in the Old Testament is Elohim, and that is a plural name in Hebrew. (And yes, there is a singular form of the word, and you can find it in the Old Testament, but it is used far less often than the plural). The verses that stand out to me are Genesis 1:26-27 and 11:7--
And God said, 'Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth'. So God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.
Two things need to be pointed out here; In speaking of Himself, God uses the 'royal we', but Hebrew scholars tell us that there is no such usage in Hebrew. It wasn't the way kings spoke of themselves at the time!
There seems to be something going on, something subtle, as though God is laying the groundwork for some later revelation of Himself.
The other things to notice about the verse is how it speaks of man. The Hebrew word 'man' is both a he and a them, male and female. In other words, there's a thing called 'Man' (or humanity), and, at the same time, one thing can be separated into, well...different persons.
The other verse is very much like it, Genesis 11:7, where God, seeing the folly of mankind at the Tower of Babel, decides to go down and have a closer look--
Come, let us go down and confuse their languages.
The Lord refers to Himself as an us; and it looks like He's talking to Himself.
Do the verses prove the Trinity? No. But they make it plausible that devout Jews, like Peter, James, John, and Paul would worship Jesus with a clear conscience.
A second set of verses seem to indicate an 'I-thou' relationship in God. The best known is Psalm 110:1--
The Lord said to my Lord,
'Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool'
The author of this Psalm is David who is then the king of Israel. As king of Israel, of course, he does not see himself as the Final Authority, but rules only under the authority of God, the True King of Israel. But, if the Lord is the King of Israel in Heaven and David is the King of Israel on earth, who's this other King?
Who is the Lord talking to when He speaks to David's Lord?
A possible answer would be Israel's Guardian Angel, Michael the Archangel. This seems to be a forced answer even in terms of the Old Testament, but when we come to Hebrews 1, we find it is impossible, for God never once told an angel to--
Sit at [His] right hand.
Zechariah 2:10-11 makes the same point, where God is both the Sender and the Sent--
Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion. For, lo I come, and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the Lord. Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people, and I will dwell in the midst of you, and you shall know that the Lord of Hosts has sent me unto you.
Does the Old Testament teach the Trinity? No. But it is also not against the Trinity. Against three gods? Absolutely. But not--
God in three persons,
THE DEITY OF CHRIST
The Trinity comes into focus with the coming of Christ in the New Testament. He deity is assumed from the beginning of His life--and a little before then.
The angel comes to Joseph announcing Mary's miraculous pregnancy, and orders him to name her Son Jesus, which Matthew sees as a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23--
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and you shall call Him Immanuel, which is, by interpretation, 'God with us'.
Jesus is 'God with us'--not a representative of God, but God Himself. The first ones to greet His coming did not treat Him as a merely human dignitary. The angels, the shepherds, and the Magi all worshiped Him.
At twelve years old, Jesus corrected His mother by asking her a pointed question--
Did you not know I must be about My Father's business?
Observe, He did not say, our Father as a devout Jew from a devout family might, but My Father, as though the ties that bound Him to God were different than what bound Mary, Joseph, and others to Him.
At His baptism, God affirmed Jesus as--
My Beloved Son.
In the wilderness (and later) the devil assumed He was the Son of God.
After His resurrection, all the disciples worshiped Him, including the one we understand best--Doubting Thomas!
No one in the New Testament spoke more often or fulsomely of the Divinity of Christ than Paul did. And this is astonishing because he was the most knowledgeable, committed, even fanatical Jew in the world! No one was less predisposed to worship other gods, especially a human god, than he, but that's just what He did: He worshiped Jesus as the One True God, calling Him, in Romans 9:5--
Christ, who is over all, the eternally blessed God.
Another thing he says is worth noticing. In I Timothy 1:13, he calls himself a former, blasphemer. This means 'one who speaks ill of God'. Had Paul ever done that? He said he hadn't, having lived as a Pharisee of Pharisees. But now he says he has done it, and more than 'he slipped up once or twice', he lived as a blasphemer.
Why? Because he had spoken ill of Jesus, which means, he had spoken ill of...God.
With the coming of Christ, we learned something, something we could not have figured out on our own, but was revealed to us: the One True God has a Son, and this Son shares fully in His nature.
He is worshiped as God--because He is God.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
The third member of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit, and let's be clear: He is, by far, the least conspicuous of the Three Persons, with much less in the Bible about Him than about the Father and the Son. Still, the Bible teaches there is a Holy Spirit--not separate, but seperable--from the Father and Son.
When Jesus told the disciples He would soon be leaving them for Heaven, they were heartbroken. How could they get along without Him? He didn't tell them they'd have to man up; He didn't tell them to just remember Him. He told them they would not be without Him, that God would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit to make up for His loss, cf. John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7.
Now, if Jesus is Divine (which He is), how could a less than Divine Person make up for His loss? No angel or man could take the place of Jesus. But the Holy Spirit could--because, like Jesus, He is God.
Peter makes this same point in Acts 5:3-4 where he equates lying to the Holy Spirit (v.4) to lying to God (v.5). Why because the Holy Spirit is God, that's why!
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Search the Bible as you will, and you'll find no one else rightly worshiped and honored. Because only Father, Son, and Spirit, are Divine, and no one else, including Michael the Archangel or our Lord's mother Mary. Wonderful creatures? Yes. Used mightily of God? Yes. But not God. They did not create the world; they do not sustain the world; and they will not save the world. Only God does this, and by God, I mean the Trinity.
AGAINST THE SABBELIANIS
In the history of the Church, no doctrine has been attacked more often and from more angles than the Trinity. Affirming the oneness of God, some denied the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit Affirming His 'threeness' others made Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into separate gods. By God's great mercy, through the work and prayers of the Church, most have escaped these grave errors.
But there's one that is still with us, just under our Orthodox Confessions of Faith. It's called Sabbelianism. Sabellius was a Third Century heretic, who--like all heretics--couldn't live with mystery.
If the Trinity is anything at all, it is a mystery, how God can be one and three at the same time. He felt called to simplify; to iron out the wrinkles in the doctrine, Of course, he failed, and made a mysterious doctrine into a false doctrine.
He said, There is One God only, and that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all fully divine. So far, so good.
But then he took a wrong turn. He saw the Divine Persons as nothing more than the roles of an actor. How many Charleston Hestons are there? Only one. But this one man played Moses in the Ten Commandments, Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur and Mike Vargas in Touch of Evil.
In the same way, God played Father in the Old Testament, Son in the Gospels, and since then, He has played The Holy Spirit.
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