Emerge and Restore

Exploring faith, God, and church in the 21st century...

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Community and the Trinity

While I am breaking absolutely no new ground with this post, I think I did get several funny looks this Sunday when I taught that in order to get a better foundational grasp of relationship and community, we must familiarize ourselves with the doctrine of the Trinity (many in my particular heritage have been subtly taught that right thinking in and of itself leads to righteousness and salvation; community is a secondary goal to be worked toward after we've figured everything else out - or worse, that right doctrinal answers lead to community). It didn't really make sense to me either when I stumbled on to it for the first time a few years ago, but it goes something like this:

Our One God mysteriously exists in three separate personalities: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This isn't a stretch biblically - read the whole book and look for separate references to each, or for simplicity's sake just read the account of Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3, Mark 1, or Luke 3). Each "person" in the godhead share immutable qualities such as holiness, embodiment of perfect truth, perfect love, etc. But each also have differing roles (for instance, see Jesus' discourse in John 5:16-47). So in the Trinity we've got three separate identities that exist as one God. These identities live in relationship, a perfect relationship that is so close-knit, so ideal, that they are the same being. There is mutual submission (thus our imperatives to submit in Ephesians 5 & 6 flow not from being inferior to God, though we certainly are, but from emulating him) and love that flows between them...in fact such perfect love that He created the universe as we know it out of an overflowing of that love. We exist because of relationship, and we exist to be in relationship. Our mission is to emulate that same love and submission and caring to those around us. It's to involve the world in that relationship. Law-keeping and being right were never the point...relationship is.

In my own terribly amateur perception of basic Eastern Orthodox beliefs, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist as One through sort of a cosmic dance, acting and living and existing together, but in perfect harmony with one another. Their relationship is a beautiful dance, and God has invited His creation to join it. Sin is the spiritual equivalent of stepping on toes, and inhibits everyone's ability to continue in the relationship; because of us, the dance falters, although of course God continues on perfectly. I've said that learning from the Celts would enrich our theology...learning from the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity would be a valuable asset as well. Partly because it makes faith about relationship.

And one reason that I won't resort to charts and graphs and illustrations to describe the Trinity (water/ice/steam, apples, trees, families, triangles etc.) is because those concrete quantifications can't fully define or contain God, and because you don't describe relationships with charts and graphs and illustrations (although I do like Tony Jones' describing the Trinity to his daughter by pointing to her 3-bladed ceiling fan, then turning it on high and saying, "There."). You know what a relationship is by participating in it. And we must understand theology and ecclesiology from a relational standpoint. If we make our faith legal or transactional, we've missed the boat. Our theology must flow from a relationship with Jesus (as I believe scripture does). And the point of being "the Body" is also to be in relationship, or community with Him.

"Because God is the social Trinity, a plurality in unity, the ideal for humankind does not focus on solitary persons, but on persons-in-community. God intends that we relfect his nature in our lives. This is only possible, however, as we move out of our isolation and into relationships with others. The ethical life, therefore, is the life-in-relationship, or the life-in-community."

- Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God