Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
General Commentary on the meaning of the “Trinity” and the implications for evangelism.
Often times trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity can be as challenging as trying to explain why sometimes the wind blows and sometimes it does not. For most Christians we probably accept the concept of the Trinity like the blowing of the wind, it is one of God’s mysteries. The truth of the matter is we accept it as truth because we can feel that truth even thought we cannot see it or fully rap our minds around the concept.
Christopher Bryant tells a story about C. G. Jung that ought to inform the way preachers deal with the subject of the Trinity. Jung tells us of an incident causing him acute disappointment when his father was preparing him for confirmation. His father’s instructions were based on a catechism. The young Carl looking ahead at the syllabus waited impatiently for the time when they would reach the section dealing with doctrine of the Trinity, which fascinated him. When at last the point was reached his father said, “We will pass over this section, it is not important, and I can make nothing of it myself,” With that remark the boy’s hopes were dashed to the ground and he lost all further interest in the course of instruction.
Unlike Carl’s father, regardless of personal perspectives on the doctrine of the Trinity we have the obligation to help our congregants understand why this doctrine has remained an important part of most Christian traditions. We get no help from the texts for today or for that matter from the text in Scriptures. The term Trinity does not occur in the Bible and the traditional formulas say nothing approaching that which the church has attempted to convey with the term Trinity.
I would offer three suggestions as it relates to helping congregants grasp the Trinity. First, share in the sermon that the term Trinity does not occur in Scripture but give credit to the early church thinkers who wished to preserved monotheism in light of potential tri-theism. Pastors need to help congregants respond to those persons from other community of faiths who might suggest that in fact we are polytheistic. The sermon for Trinity Sunday must insist that we are monotheistic and that the doctrine of the Trinity was created in order to preserve monotheism. We believe in one true God, manifest himself through his son, Christ Jesus and who operates in our individual lives in today world in the presences of the Holy Spirit.
Second, state openly that church thinks have made several attempts at interpreting the doctrine of the Trinity and that not all efforts have been understandable or convincing. For example the idea that “Father” is God for us, “Son is God with us and the Holy Spirit is God within us, does not take care of how it is that all three are active when God is creating or redeeming. Have you ever tried to explain the “wind”? This was eventually declared heretical and condemned. The main defendant of this theory (called modalism) was Sabellius. His ideas were picked up by Schleiemacher in the XIX Century but failed to gain traction.
Finally the theologian Tertullian offers pastors the oldest and most convincing “explanation,” but unfortunately is not often used or, because of poor translations, obfuscates rather than clarifies. Tertullian used language that came from the performing arts, not from philosophy. Tertullian referred to the mask of the actor prosopon in Greek, as that which God “donned” when acting as Creator, Redeemer or Paraclete. When he was reminded that all the persons needed to be present whenever any of the persons acted he used another Greek term, perichoresis, to indicate that the actors, also danced around and acted in unison. When this was translated to Latin and from Latin to modern languages the confusion was created since prosopon, the actor’s mask was rendered as persona, which also means a more or less self contained being. Perichoresis was rendered by the tortured expression “the interpenetration of the three persons.” One can easily understand why Jung’s father and so many others have just given up on trying talking intelligently about the Trinity.
Now the question is what does the concept of the Trinity have to do with the activity called evangelism? I will offer two responses to that question. I believe that the most important thing to convey about the idea of the Trinity is that our ancestors in the faith wanted to preserve the fact that God is a community. Three in the community is what the tradition has taught, but there is no reason to limit God’s internal, loving community to “three.” Second, here comes the “evangelism,” just as the concept of the “Trinity” may be tough to explain at times, the ideal and activity of doing evangelism can be just as daunting as the Trinity is to grasp. If we are going to take God’s invitation to join him in community, we must exercise the daunting task of doing evangelism.
I do my best to serve you.
I strive to follow your commandments,
Serve those in need,
And love your people.
Yet so frequently I fall short of my hopes.
My plans fall apart,
My intentions dissolve,
And my efforts show little results.
Help me, then, to remember that you are God
And I am merely your servant.
Let remember the advice of St. Ignatius of Loyola:
What you expect from me is not success
But faithfulness. Amen.