In this short piece, Hall talks about how our confession of the Trinity is the very foundation for the community that we share together. God is not alone, but has always enjoyed community within himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit even before the creation of the world. Next week also happens to be Trinity Sunday as well, which makes this essay all the more timely. To spare you the link, here is the full text of the article:
The Holy Trinity and Life Together by Christopher Hall
The Athanasian Creed confesses the Church’s belief in the Trinity. What is the relationship between the three Persons of the Trinity, and what does that mean for our Life Together?
At many LCMS churches on the Sunday after Pentecost, the congregation will sit for the creed instead of standing. Instead of turning to the Nicene Creed or loosely holding their bulletin, they will turn to a page in the hymnal used only once a year. As they speak of their faith in the Holy Trinity, pastors and people alike will not close their eyes or look at the altar; everyone will be reading the words. They will be reading the words because the creed they are speaking is used so infrequently and is so lengthy that few (if any) have it memorized. It’s the Athanasian Creed.
And it is a doozy—repetitive, long, intricate and so confusing that often words of explanation are offered in the bulletins or before the creed is recited. But it’s thorough, detailing who the Holy Trinity is and what He isn’t, and that is why it’s used.
But using it may give the impression that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is an intellectual puzzle, an academic exercise in logic and definitions. It can give the impression that the Holy Trinity can only be understood by intellectual giants, that most of us are so bewildered by Him that we don’t even want to think about it.
Yet God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) and does not reveal Himself in ways that only geniuses can understand. While there are specific ways we can refer to our triune God, while there are facts to know and memorize, God is more than something mentally to be grasped and understood. There is another way of understanding the Holy Trinity who speaks to us and relates to us in a fundamental way.
Created to be together
God made human beings to have relationships with one another. When Adam had no mate, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). He created the woman so that man would have a relationship with another, so that he would have someone to love and serve. He created that couple, and every couple since, to have a relationship with others as well.
In fact, our existence is established with others. God created the womb to be the perfect environment for growing a new life. But life beginning inside the mother also reveals something profound: We are created to be together, to live together, to have life together, so much so that God forms us and gives us life inside of another human being. The couple—the husband and wife—were not created to be alone but to bear children when God allows it. Once the child is born, he or she remains in a community, broadened to parents and siblings and extended family.
Relationships with others continue in every way throughout our lives, and it is within those relationships that our faith expresses itself, where it is put to the test. It is only with others that our love can be expressed and used, that we can be forgiven and strengthened. Love demands another to love.
God creates a community because He is a community. He creates us with others because He is with others. He is not alone. He is One but also Three: the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
The relationship of the Trinity
In all three creeds we recite—the Apostles’, the Nicene and the Athanasian—we confess that the Son of God is begotten of the Father. This does not mean that the Father reproduced Himself to form the Son in a biological way, like a father begets a son in our lives, but the First Person of the Trinity’s relationship with the Second is like that of Father and Son. And it always has been that way, because the Son is eternally present.
The Nicene Creed confesses it this way: that the Son of God was “begotten before all worlds.” In other words, the Son has existed with the Father since eternity. That is hard to imagine—impossible, really—but the fact remains that before the beginning of time there was Father and Son, together one God, yet in a relationship to one another like that of Father and Son.
The creeds also express the relationship between the Father and Son together and the Holy Spirit. But in this relationship, the Nicene Creed confesses that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Again, it is impossible for us to imagine what this means or looks like. But it does affirm that there is a relationship between each of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
God is love
Scripture testifies to this “inner relationship” of the Trinity. We can see this relationship that is at the heart of the Godhead when St. John writes, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This is more than a warm and wooly feeling, more than a vague and emotional statement. It is at the heart of who God is. In order to love, there must be someone to love. St. Paul refers to this in the famous passage from 1 Corinthians, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor. 13:4–5).
In other words, love is always directed at another person. It is always a denial of oneself in favor of the other, their interests and their life and being. In this sense, self-love is an oxymoron, like saying “married bachelor.” We cannot love ourselves if we truly understand what love is. Love is always about the other.
If God is love itself, then God must have another to love. It is not enough to say that He loves His creation. He does, but if that is the only “other” that He loved, then before creation, God would not have been love. No, if God is love in its perfect and biblical definition, then love also describes His relationship with Himself. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit. The Son loves the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit loves the Father and the Son. In other words, God is One, but since God is love, He loves within Himself, in the way of the Holy Trinity.
When we confess the Athanasian Creed, we also see that God is never alone. God Himself is a community, a relationship. He is One but also Three and always One in Three and Three in One. This love of God passes to us who have been created in His own image, who were also created in a community with Him and given a community with one another. We, too, are created to express our love not by ourselves, not by looking in a mirror, but in community with spouse and children, friends and neighbors.
Uncreated, infinite, eternal
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is more than an academic principle, more than just a set of facts to be memorized and recited. It is more than something strane and odd and hard to understand. God is the foundation and source of life and being and creation. And God is relationship—one God, three persons, each relating to and loving one another . . . and loving us.
Even when the Son of God became a man, He reflects and teaches this inner life of God—this community of God, the relationship He has with the Father—and relates it to us. He says that He is One with the Father, that we may be One with Him (John 17:22). He says the Word He speaks is not His own but was given by His Father (John 14:10). Jesus’ ministry was centered on glorifying His Father in allowing Himself to do what the Father sent Him for. But it is double-sided: All that Jesus said and did was for us and our salvation.
Jesus does the Father’s will and speaks the Father’s Word completely and faithfully and obediently and lovingly. And what He speaks is life-giving and eternal. What the Father has, the Son gives, and it is eternal life. You could even say He gives Himself. He is life and love, and He gives Himself to those who hear, to those He calls, to those who listen to His Word.
This week we focus on "The Gospel." The Gospel is that element that makes our Christian community unique. Every community offers something. Kelly and I have been going to some yoga classes this past week. It's interesting to hear the instructor talk about the sense of "community" they share through the practice. I think that word "community" gets thrown around a lot because people are longing to be connected. Every "community" gathers around a shared interest that offers something. That "something" that we share and offer in the church is the Gospel. Do you remember a few weeks ago at Bible study when worked on a definition of the gospel based on a number of Scripture passages? We came up with a pretty complex definition, because the Gospel is a small word for something very big. The Gospel is centered in the life of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection for our salvation. This is what defines our community. In our reading for today, we saw that the Gospel is BIG and covers every area of our human existence. But there's one part of the Gospel I want you to focus on especially that relates to our community. And that is the presence of God. The presence of God is the best news there is. The forgiveness of sin, justification, eternal life... these are all good news because they give us the gift of God's presence - forever. This is what we enjoy in our community, and will enjoy forever. And this presence of God is what we offer to people around us. The picture above is a Greek Orthodox icon representing representing to hospitality of Abraham to the visiting strangers in Genesis 18. As far as I can tell, this icon has also been interpretted as the Trinity. But notice that there is an open seat at the table. It's almost as if the three persons sharing fellowship at a table are inviting in a missing guest. And so it is with the Gospel. Our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, invites us into his presence. And this is the posture that we take as a community. There's always an open seat at the table. We take a posture of invitation into the presence of God given in the Gospel.
Have you ever heard the word "postmodern?" That word brings forth a variety of emotions - some positive, some negative, and if unfamiliar with the definition, perhaps apathy. Although many Christians often react negatively to the broad term "postmodernism" (usually its tendency to downplay absolute truth in favor of subjective experience), we need to recognize that this is our social context. Postmoderns focus on emotion over reason, are comfortable holding onto paradoxes and opposing truths, and are often critical of authority. Whether we know it or not, this mindset has effected all of us in one way or another. Now stick with me for a minute (I know this is getting kind of philisophical...). The movement postmodernism replaced was called "modernism." This way of thinking viewed the world in terms of what can be proved by scientific study and research, reason, etc. How does this relate to the church and culture? Well, how many times have you heard people try to prove the Bible, argue people into accepting Jesus, etc? This has its place, for Christianity is a thinking faith and is rooted in historical events. But can you see how this approach would not work very well with people our age? This is why standing on the corner with a sign or passing out pamphlets on how to get your "ticket to heaven" are innefective, and in my opinion, hurtful. These methods lack relationship, and at their worst are confrontational (My belief system can own your belief system in an argument!") Just as John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us," our Christian witness takes on flesh and dwells among people of all types, inviting them to actually see the life we have in Jesus. It is from here that the truth is offered. My question for you is this: "What might be some challenges that we face as the young adult community at Bethlehem? What attitudes or habits might have to be examined and reconsidered in light of our context?"
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you said that I am the light of the world and the salt of the earth. May our community give light in dark places and flavor to the dullness of existence without you. Amen.
"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone, you are rejecting Christ's call to you, and you have no part in the community of those who are called. "The challenge of death comes to us all, and no one can die for another. Everyone must fight his own battles with death by himself, alone... I will not be with you then, nor you with me" (Luther).
But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear the cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ, and this your solitude can only be hurtful to you. "If I die, then I am not alone in death; if I suffer they [the fellowship] suffer with me" (Luther).
Today's reading talks about the adjustments we make in our lives when we realize that we are sent. One of those adjustments consists in making time spent with those on the outside a priority. This priority, which consists in being present, cultivating a relationship of trust, and responding to needs, may even take priority over the time we spend at church (I'm not talking about worship, of course, but church activities). The reason is that being with those who don't know Christ is better than waiting for them to come to us. Back in St. Louis, one of the tax preparation companies advertises by dressing up their poor employees in statue of liberty costumes. During tax season it's common to see them out on the street, waving everyone in. Here in Jacksonville we have the equivalent with the "Cash for Gold!" guy that stands out on Beach Blvd. A friend of mine in St. Louis commented once that the church's evangelism techniques often follow this model. We develop a program or an event and try to wave people in off the streets. This is helpful sometimes, but will never reach a large part of our local community. Like the guys on the side of the road waving signs, nonbelievers sense that we too are trying to "sell something." There is no substitute for going. That one word "go" makes all the difference. And like we talked about last night, we are all sent (our families, jobs, neighbors, etc.). One of the questions that stands out to me in our reflection section is "What activities or hobbies do you love that you could invite them to share with you?" In other words, instead of creating a "Christian biking group" with people that think and act like you, why not go out and join a normal biking group in your community?
Prayer: Holy Spirit, thank you that where ever I go, you go. I am never alone. Open my eyes to see those opportunities that you have given me. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Today's reading presents a challenge. Crossing a boundary to get to know someone on your street, in your neighborhood, or where you get coffee. The idea here is that we become intentional about being present to others around us. We pause from our busy lives to be open to opportunities right in front of us. This may happen for you at work. Perhaps when you take your kids to the park. Or maybe even taking the extra time to tell your waiter or waitress that you're thankful for their service. Let me be honest - this can be kind of awkard. It's not really what we're used to. Here's what I'm planning this week. First, instead of writing my sermon in my office, I'm going to try to prepare for Sunday at Dunkin' Donuts. The place is small enough that sometimes conversations start. Second, I'm going to attend a yoga class on Tuesday morning. Yes, I know that's really wierd. But this is completley out of my context and makes me feel uncomfortable. I'm looking forward to seeing you all Sunday to discuss how things have been going.
Cultural Immersion - We really can't avoid culture. As our reading says about Abraham and the first Christians, "They didn't have much control over these cultures might impact their lives." Culture is at the same time both positive and negative. In the positive sense, whatever culture we are sent to has its own way of expressing and interpretting reality in art, music, food, language, dress, etc. Most of us adapt to these things fairly easily. We're not Amish. But there will always be a point at which we as Christians do not adapt culture, for it goes against our calling to be faithful to God. Can you think of a few examples?One of the interesting things about Christianity is its ability to both shape culture and adapt to culture. On the one hand, much of the Western world is the way it is because of the Christian faith. Concepts like the sanctity of human life, values like family and marriage, just laws, and even major advances in literature and music (Bach, for example.). On the other hand, the message of Jesus has always adapted to its environment. As Christianity left Jerusalem and entered Gentile territory, practice was adjusted (see Acts 15). Unlike the Koran, which must be preserved in Arabic to be truly read and understood, the Christian Scriptures were translated into the languages of the surrounding areas as a living Word. And even now we see our faith expressed in a variety of cultural mediums, such as music, art, etc.
As we interact with culture, we as Christians live in a certain amount of tension. On the one hand, we engage culture and appreciate it as a part of the goodness of God's creation. I think we sell ourselves short when we isolate ourselves by listening to only Christian music, only reading Christian books, only going to Christian events, etc. We even express our isolation with bumper stickers, T-Shirts, and even extend the "Christian" label to our clubs, such as "Christian Art Festival" or "Christian Biking Club." I know the intentions are good here, but perhaps we do this because we're scared of the tension that exists when we engage culture.
The other side of the spectrum is that we do, at times, need to resist culture. For example, I'm not going to endorse a movie like "The Hangover Two" and say, "Hey, we should all go see this because we're engaging culture." And when I read the New York Times in the morning or listen to NPR while driving the car, I do have times when I definitely don't agree with what I read or hear.
I think we're on the right track here. This year we've been immersed in community. We've also been immersed in God. What are some ways that we, as a community at Bethlehem, can creatively engage community, while at the same time exist within the tension?
Prayer: Father, thank you for all you have created. Help me to see your goodness expressed in created things. Remind me today that by the power of your Holy Spirit, you are with me, and you are with us. Go with us into the world, and use us as you will. Through Jesus, the expression of your goodness,Amen.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for being sent for me. Open my eyes to see where you are sending me. You know what holds me back. Remind me again that you are all the strength I could ever need. Amen.
participate in a variety of ways, including music, Scripture readings, the children's message, and operating the screens.
If you have a moment, be sure to check out the placement service video at http://callday.csl.edu/watch/vicarage/
The video takes a long time to load up, but once it does, you can jump ahead to 41:30, which has Vicar Tim's placement announced.
Please keep this couple in your prayers as you anticipate their arrival! You are very blessed by our Lord to have them next year!
As a group, we decided to participate in a local 5K race on the beach. We used the race as an opportunity to raise money for Lutheran World Relief Gifts, which allows people to purchase animals as an economic resource for impoverished people in foreign countries. We ran with the goal of raising money to purchase ducks for rice farmers in the Philippines. The Sunday school got involved by seeing who could raise the most money toward our cause. The members at Bethlehem responded graciously, giving over $2000 toward our cause! It felt great to send a check that big toward a good cause! Praise God! Feel free to check out Lutheran World Relief at www.lwr.org.
Getting ready for the race...
It was a perfect day on the beach for a 5K
Our entire group. This picture made the Lutheran World Relief Blog a few weeks ago
Exhausted after the race...
Headed toward the finish line
Tara and Jackie posing for a picture. Tara put us all to shame and was one of the first to finish out of all the runners.
For many of us, this was our first 5K. We all had a great time!
The Habitat crew placed the girls on their own house, which was almost done and needed some finish work
They trusted David and John enough to let them use some power tools to stabilize the framing
No fingers were lost
The Kahlua in the picture on the top became the hot item of the night, causing the game to get a little intense
I've been wanting to have a site for our group for a long time, but since I'm kind of technologically challenged and lack the patience to put together a blog, it's taken a long time. However, thanks to Kendra, we've got our new blog up and running. Our blog will serve as a source for information, events, pictures of events, as well as thoughts about our shared faith in our Lord Jesus. This week I will be catching everything up to speed by posting pictures from our past events. Starting this Wednesday, May 18th, I will be offering some daily reflections on our new study titled "The Tangible Kingdom," which focuses on our community together as the people of God, gathered together around the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42). I invite you all to follow along and contribute your thoughts, experiences, and insights as we take this 8 week journey together!