Editors note- this is from I sermon I preached on 10/10/04 at the Knoxville VCF. Hope you enjoy…
“There is no one God, and Allah is His name and Mohammed is His prophet…” These are the words that every member of Islam repeats on a daily basis. With these words, he or she re-iterates the central teaching of their faith.
“Hear O’ Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. And you shall worship Him with all your might, and all your strength, and all your heart.” These are the words of the Shema, the most holy and important declaration of Judaism. These words found in Deuteronomy 6, are repeated by Jews all over the word. These were also the words uttered by the most famous Jew Jesus Christ when asked what the most important commandment was.
And what you may ask is the main statement of faith among Christianity. Well, for 2000 years, we have debated amongst ourselves over the importance and place of creeds, and doctrinal statements. Some see the Westminster Catechism as important. Some see the formation of the Apostle’s Creed as formative. Others have argued that as Christians we are beheld to the Bible alone and no other outside sources of doctrine. Many say that it does not really matter as long as you love God and get along with each other. Others have not been as sanguine. Martin Luther is said to have stated a mantra that he desired “Peace if possible,” but felt he must seek “truth at any cost.” But what is truth? What doctrines, what ideas, what Biblical mandates should the Christian uphold at any cost? This is a question that has haunted many a Christian. Here is one such answer. This creed, a confession of Truth that was created by some of our forefathers in the faith.
I believe in One God,
The Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
Of all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in One Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
Eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
True God from the true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through Him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation,
He came down from heaven;
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
He became incarnate from Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again
In accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His Kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
The Lord, the giver of Life,
who proceeds from the Father.
With the Father and the Son, he is to be worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
And the life of the world to come. Amen.
I believe that it is these words that we find life and we find truths worth any cost. I believe that it is in these words that you find the differences between us as Christians and the other two of the world’s major religions. We also find what would become the definitive formation of the greatest doctrine in Christianity. We are finding the definitive formation of the doctrine of the Trinity, the three in one God. To those that say Muslims, Jews and Christians worship the same God, I would like to send a copy of these words. We as Christians serve not the one God Allah or Jehovah but the three-in-One God. I would argue that perhaps the greatest turning point in all of history is found when formally devote Jews who served the one God Jehovah and formally pagan Gentiles who served a pantheon of gods came together and committed their lives to the three-in one God of Christianity. It is this one true God in three persons that you and I continue to serve today. If you are like me, maybe you wonder how this miraculous and amazing event occurred and maybe are even a little wary of my descriptions to this point.
Over the years, many outside and inside the Church have dealt with these same fears and discomfort at this “mystery” of our faith. In the 5th century, the evangelist Patrick was having trouble explaining this doctrine to his converts among the Celtic tribes in Ireland, so he reached down into the ground and picked up a shamrock. Showing it to his listening audience, he then described how each leaf of the clover represented a member of the triune God. As a boy struggling with the complexities of the faith, my parents gave me a book that described the Triune God as being like an apple. Others have pointed to the water molecule as an example. Others have pointed to the make-up of the human – mind, soul, and body- as an example of the Trinity. Others have pointed the family unit as an example of this doctrine. All of these are good and wholesome if not incomplete explanations for this great God of ours known as the Trinity. However, I believe like all others in the Protestant Church that greatest examples and evidences for this belief are found no where else but Scripture. Today, I would like to take you into court, into the court of Scripture and examine the evidence. I would like to shift through the witness of the Bible and demonstrate the place and importance of our belief in the three-in-one God. Last I would like to answer the question that many are probably asking, What’s the big deal?
Just for fun we are going to pretend that_______________ has been accused of committing murder. Now we are know that _____________ would never could do such a horrible thing, this is just for pretend. However, if by some strange coincidence ______________ has done something so horrible and gets convicted by the Spirit and confesses, I vote we forgo the rest of sermon for a time of prayer and then promptly visit the police station. So… first order of evidence… and for that I need another volunteer.
1) Eyewitness Testimony.
This would be along the line of ______________ standing in court and saying something along the lines of….
“I was just standing there in the room with a friend of mine, when this person come into the room and stabbed him three times then dropped the knife and left.”
Now eyewitness testimony is good but we do not often get it. The major reason is that most killers are at least smart enough to do their deed when no one else is around. And also because most people standing around people getting killed usually end up getting killed as well. So most eyewitness testimony is usually more like…
“I walked into the room and this person was standing over that person’s dead body with a knife.”
“I saw this person running out of the room and I walked into the room and there was a dead body with a knife sticking out in it.”
Now I imagine most of us have grown up watching enough Perry Mason and Columbo and Matlock to know that these other forms of eyewitness testimony are not as strong as the first. So we need other evidence.
2) Direct Evidence.
So most police look for what we call direct evidence. This is evidence that ties the defendant directly to the crime. For instance, the knife in the dead body is great evidence. Police would look for fingerprints on the weapon and might say this person is guilty because his or her fingerprints are on it. Another example of direct evidence might be clothes found at the defendant’s home. These clothes match what the eyewitness says the defendant was wearing on the night in question. The police might examine those clothes and find that there is blood on the clothing and the DNA from that blood matches the victim. Now the case is not looking good for _________________. But the defendant can argue with the findings, so Police might want to look for….
3) Circumstantial Evidence
Now circumstantial evidence cannot get someone convicted on its own. One piece is not good enough. One piece might just be a coincidence but when several pieces pf evidence are layered on top of each other, the coincidences become, well less like coincidences and look bad for the person in question. Many a piece of circumstantial evidence has acted as the kicker that takes all the case over the top and is able to convince a jury that this person is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. So what circumstantial evidence might we have in this case? What if we found out that ______________’s car was given a parking ticket on the day of the crime and the car was ticketed a block away from the scene of the crime at the time when the crime was being committed. That looks bad. Or how about finding out that _____________ purchased a knife just like the murder weapon the day before the crime.
OK, show of hands, who is willing to convict?
The level of evidence needed to convict varies. In a criminal case, the jury must find the evidence leads to a belief that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The idea is that we must be 95 to 100 percent sure that a criminal is guilty before convicting. In a civil case, the plaintiff must be able to prove that there is a preponderance of evidence for their case. This means that the plaintiff must be able to prove that there is a 51 percent chance that they are right. These two levels of evidence apply to our lives as Christians. John Wesley talked about there being essentials and non-essentials to the Christian faith. In the essential matters of the faith, he stated that we must be unified. That is we must be 95 to 100 percent sure of the doctrine. In the area of non-essentials, he asked that we show ……… That is we might be willing to allow ourselves to be 51 percent sure of a doctrine. Of course, Wesley added a third category, all things. In this he urged charity. Well I and John would argue that the matter of the Trinity is an essential to the faith, so I would like to provide evidence that I hope will convince you beyond a shadow of a doubt that our God is three in one. And rather than working from the noose to the tree as I did with ________________’s case. This time I would like to work from the tree to the noose.
1) The Circumstantial Evidence for the Three-in-One God: the combined teachings.
The word trinity is not found in scripture and in fact the idea of the three-in-one God is never specifically mentioned in the scriptures. Yet there is an interesting grouping of teachings in the scripture. First, that God is one. But in addition, there are three distinct persons described in language ascribed only to one that is God. This is not a New Testament concept. The first name given for God is in Genesis is elohim, a plural noun. That is why the writer of Genesis records the words of this one God over and over in this formation “Let us…” It seems that God is intent from the beginning to describe as a pluralized unity. Here is the evidence…
a) God is One.
1) It is the clear teaching of the Old Testament- Deuteronomy 6:5
2) It is the clear teaching of Jesus- Mark 12:29, John 17:3.
3) It is the clear teaching of the New Testament- 1 Cor. 8:6, Gal. 3:20, Eph. 4:6, 1 Tim 1:17.
b) God the Father is the Lord-
1) Old Testament- Exodus 4:22 and 20:2, Samuel 7:14, Jeremiah 31:20, Isaiah 63:16 and 64:8.
2) New Testament- Matthew 5:45, Romans 1:7, 9:5 and 15:6, 1 Cor. 1:3, 2 Cor. 1:3, Gal, 4:6, Titus 2:13,.
c) Jesus Christ is the Son of God-
1) Old Testament- Psalms 2:7, 45:6-7 and 110:1, Isaiah 61,
2) New Testament- John 1:1, John 20:28, Hebrews 1:5 and 11-12.
d) The Holy Spirit is God-
1) Old Testament- Genesis 1:2, Psalms 51:11, Isaiah 48:16 and 63:10
2) New Testament-Matt. 10:20, John 3:5, 14:26, and 15:26, Acts 1, 2, 5:3- 4 and 16:7, Romans 8:26-27, 1 Cor. 2:10-12, 2 Cor 3:17-18.
Taken individually these ideas are fairly simple and widely recognized as true. The Bible is clear God is one. The Bible is clear God the Father is the Lord. The Bible is clear Jesus Christ is 100 percent God and 100 percent man. Taken individually, nothing very exciting, but place them next to one another it paints a very interesting picture. How can this be? The answer is found in the direct evidence presented in the last verse of this group.
2) The Direct Evidence of the Three-in-One God: The three seen working together.
Perhaps you have used this joke to the effect that I often have… “Have you ever seen _____________ and _________________ in the same room together. I think that they are same person. Or perhaps if you are the devoted comic book guy that I am, you have laughed along with criminals attempting to expose Superman as Clark Kent. Perhaps we might be able to put these discrepancies to rest simply by stating that these are just three sides of the same God, shown to us at different times. This is a heresy or false teaching that the Church has labeled as such from the beginning. And I have hoped to combat that by showing the verses for each in both the Old and New Testament, showing that all 3 are involved together from Genesis to Revelation. The direct evidence for this is found in the Bible as well. There are almost 120 passages in the New Testament alone in which all 3 members of the Triune God are seen together. Let’s look at several of these examples:
1) The Creation of the World. Genesis 1 and John 1
There are three major accounts of the creation event in the Bible. Many have found this repetition interesting but the repetition is not as interesting as what the accounts tell us about God’s involvement in this event. As I have mentioned the Genesis 1 account uses the plural noun when talking about God and repeats the phrase, “Let us.” As biblical scholars have mentioned this is not sufficiently unusual a construction in the Hebrew to warrant much consideration. What are interesting though are the mentioned players in the drama. Genesis 1:2 states, “the spirit of the Lord was hovering over the water. Many have said that this is just a rhetorical flourish by a human author but I think this is a specific reference by there true author of the account, the Holy Spirit is letting us in on the fact that he was intimately involved in the act of creation. This would just be an anomaly if not for the repeated instances in scripture of the Spirit’s involvement in creation: the creation of the ark of covenant, involvement in the words of the prophets, involvement in the creation of scripture, and involvement in the creation of the new believer.
Furthermore, the account of Genesis tells us that God created by spoken word, this too has been remarked by many a theologian, but many miss the connection to the other great account of creation found in John 1. John starts his Gospel by stating the premise that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was intimately involved in the creation of the creation process. Who is this Word, John tells us that the Word became flesh as well. The Word mentioned here is none other Jesus. So in the creation of the world we have all three members of the triune God intimately involved. God the Father spoke and Jesus and the Spirit were somehow involved in carrying out the edicts of that word.
2) The Baptism of Christ. Mark 1:10-11
The three members of the triune God are seen not just in the creation of the world, but also in creation of the Kingdom of God. Through Jesus’ ministry he established the Kingdom of God on our planet and the three members of the three-in-one God were there. Jesus comes down to the Jordan to be baptized. John the baptizer does his part and then the heavens open. A dove descends upon Christ and a loud voice announces his pleasure in the obedience of His only begotten Son. Here once again are all three members of the triune God seen together.
In these two examples, we find the three members of the triune God working together in the creation of the world and the in the ministry of Christ. This is important because it tells us that the three-in-one God is not a sporadic undertaking but an undertaking of 3 persons working towards one goal and for one purpose. The purpose is found in the teaching of the Scriptures. God, a community in himself, is creating a community for himself. Yet, there is another final question we must ask as we weigh the evidence for this concept of the three-in-one God.
IV. The Eyewitness Testimony Concerning God:
OK, you might say, we have definitely proved that there are 3 members of the god-head but one might attempt to rationalize us out of the box of understanding the one-in-three God in several ways. Perhaps the three members are not co-equal. Perhaps there is a big G God and two little g gods. Imagine a God the Father and two important players on the scene who come from him but are not quite him. That has been another heresy that the Church has had to combat, and it is actually the problem that inspired the early church fathers to come together for two fateful conferences on the subject. The first conference was called by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 321 CE to attempt to force some peace upon a potentially dangerous situation in Alexandria. Rioting in the streets had broken out due to a theological skirmish between that city’s Bishop Alexander and one of the city’s lay leaders Arius. Arius was teaching this distortion, claiming that Christ could not be fully divine. Alexander had attempted to kick Arius out of his place in the church but Arius was a charismatic leader and had established quite a base of support. Constantine hoping that Christianity could be the calming influence to save the floundering empire was understandably mad at the actions of the church. Many have remarked about the obliviously un-Christian temper of this debate that would last the next 50 years. But that to me is not the most amazing thing about this riotous debate. The most amazing thing is that thousands of devout Jews had gone 321 years with no problems worshipping the three-in-one God. Not that those devout followers of Judaism had not presented major problems for the young movement. Read Paul’s letters to the Galatians and one sees what a major obstacle they were. But never is it recorded in scripture or the writing of the early church fathers that there was serious debate on this issue. Those that had walked with Christ and been there from Pentecost had no doubts about the divinity of either Jesus or Spirit and seemingly no problems with the idea of one God in three persons. In fact the church leaders in attendance at this important meeting would go back to phrasing of one of these early leaders to formulate their position and set it in stone.
We have said that eyewitness testimony is a crucial piece of evidence in our case and let’s look at that eyewitness testimony now.
1) Peter affirmed the three-in-one God in his address at Pentecost.
2) The early church talked about salvation in terms of the “blood of Christ who through the eternal spirit offered himself without blemish to God.”
3) The church also talked of a salvation through Christ that was sealed by the power of the spirit.
4) The church baptized its converts in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit
5) A commonly heard prayer was addressed to God for a Spirit of Wisdom to enable faithfulness to Christ.
6) The most common way of closing a meeting was with this benediction- “The Grace of Lord Jesus Christ, the grace of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Where did the early church learn to be “Trinitarian” in their faith and life. I would argue that they were carrying on the teaching that they had received from Christ and which had been strengthened by the work of the Spirit in their lives. All of this is seen in the words of the apostle John who wrote to the church in Ephesus-
“1Jo 5:4-13 Every God-begotten person conquers the world’s ways. The conquering power that brings the world to its knees is our faith. The person who wins out over the world’s ways is simply the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus–the Divine Christ! He experienced a life-giving birth and a death-killing death. Not only birth from the womb, but baptismal birth of his ministry and sacrificial death. And all the while the Spirit is confirming the truth, the reality of God’s presence at Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion, bringing those occasions alive for us. A triple testimony: the Spirit, the Baptism, the Crucifixion. And the three in perfect agreement. If we take human testimony at face value, how much more should we be reassured when God gives testimony as he does here, testifying concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God inwardly confirms God’s testimony. Whoever refuses to believe in effect calls God a liar, refusing to believe God’s own testimony regarding his Son. This is the testimony in essence: God gave us eternal life; the life is in his Son. So, whoever has the Son, has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life. My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion.”
The greatest witness to the triune nature of God is God himself. If you want to know something about me, you would ask me. You would not ask someone else. If you really want to know who I am… you ask me. It is the same with God. If we really want to know something about him, we must ask him. In fact that was His purpose in giving us His word, that we may know Him as He really is. He has not lied or deceived us about himself. He, himself, has revealed himself to us as the triune God. So why was Bishop Alexander of Alexandria so fired up. Thank about how you feel when you hear a close friend, a lover, or a family member slandered in public by another supposed friend. Alexander could not stand to hear the name of His Savior slandered and the eyewitness account for which many fellow Christians had given their lives rather than even appear to be smudge raked their the coals. Yet even more frustrating was the fact that Arius was adept at taking bits and pieces of the scripture to prove his gross points. So the Church acted and was willing to pay the price. They established new words (taken from Tertullian- a French Christian in the second century) and restated what they felt was oblivious that God was three persons unified in perfect agreement and being of one substance. Three persons, one substance. This is not an unfamiliar idea as it seems. Take the popular movie Drumline- “one Band , one sound.” Take the plot of every sports movie ever and it is about a certain number of individuals learning to act and think as one team. Or take the famous Musketeers of countless books and movies- one for all and all for one. These are just poor examples of what our God is.
So why is this important. I could talk about the richness the idea of the triune God can bring to our worship. I could talk about the importance that a true understanding of the place of each member of the Trinity in the Gospel story that we hold dear. I could talk about how an understanding of the triune God formulates and encompasses our theology. I could talk about how our day-to-day lives would be different without one member of this triune God. Yet what I want to focus on is the importance of the model that the Triune God presents for our formulation of this thing called the Church. The Church is called to be the representation of God on earth. We are called to be the image of God in our neighborhoods, our schools, our offices and our communities. And just as God is one God in three members, we are called to be one body in many members. I don’t know about you but in my workplace they talk a lot about diversity and the importance of unity in diversity. Yet in my workplace they will never get it right. Why, because they have the wrong idea of what this means. There goal is some utopian community that exists only in the imaginations of each employee and I don’t have to tell you how different people’s understanding of this can be. The image of diversity in unity is found no where else but in the interactions of the Triune God found in Scripture. That is our model and that is why the idea of the triune God is so important. It is our model for life and for ministry as a Church and as a people. We are to be one body with many members as He is one God in three members.
I started this talk trying to explain the idea of the Trinity and right now I would like to give each and every one of us a picture of this.
I have been around athletics most of my life. There is a saying that has been popularized by commercials recently. “we must protect this house.” I think this is popular in both sports and pop culture because in all of us is an innate desire for community. Just as each of us was created in the image of God, we are created to be in community with one’s self, with others and with God. Yet we do not find that community in the world. Despite giving my all to this world, Whirlpool is not my community. UT sports are not my identity. And the US is not my country. The Church is my community. My identity is in Christ. And my allegiance is to the Kingdom of God Then we do this. When we see this in our churches. When lives are are filled with the love of God and a desire for unity with all. When we value peace if possible but seek truth at any cost. We are honoring God and we are truly His people. So as we leave this place let us desire to be witnesses of God’s great truth and greatness to the rest of the world. May the grace of Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Spirit be with you all…”