Foundational Truths - The Trinity
In the eighth in our series studying Elim’s core beliefs, Simo Frestadius explains the Trinity.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430) remarked that ‘if you can comprehend it, it isn’t God’.
His point was that the infinite God will always transcend our finite human capacity for understanding.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a good example of Augustine’s observation; God is more than we can think or imagine.
Although the word Trinity is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, God reveals himself in the Scriptures as three persons, namely, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14).
Since this self-revelation can be seen to reflect the nature of God, the three distinct persons are not just three manifestations or modes of God, but they reveal something fundamental about God’s very being.
This is why in Elim we believe that the ‘Godhead exists co-equally and co-eternally in three persons’.
To put it differently, God has always existed in three persons (co-eternally) and there is an equality among these three persons in their very essence (they are co-equal).
Sometimes belief in the three persons of the Trinity has been conflated with belief in three gods.
For example, Muslims have accused Christians of tritheism (belief in three gods) but this is a misunderstanding of the Trinity.
As Trinitarian Christians we believe that ‘these three [persons] are one God’. That is, we maintain the oneness of God and confess that ‘the Lord our God the Lord is one’ (Deuteronomy 6:4 and Mark 12:29).
The three persons show us why and how the one ‘God is love’ (1 John. 4:8). God is not love because God loves the world, but God loves the world because God in his very being is love.
In other words, for eternity the three persons of the Trinity have loved one another. The love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit has no beginning and no end, and this triune love is also shared with the world (John 3:16).
If God were not three persons, God could not truly be love within Godself, because love is relational and a genuine relationship involves more than one person.
The Elim statement continues that this one God of love in three persons is ‘sovereign in creation, providence and redemption’.
Christians often allocate specific roles to the three persons of the Trinity. The Father is commonly linked with creation, the Son with redemption, and the Spirit with empowering believers.
While this is understandable, it is important to remember that God is still one, which means that each person of the Trinity is present and involved in all of these activities. Theologians refer to this as the principle of ‘inseparable operations’.
It is in light of this principle that Elim’s Trinitarian statement notes that ‘these three are one God, sovereign in’ creating the world (creation), sustaining and guiding it (providence), and reconciling the world (redemption).
When God acts, God does so in unison.
At the end of the day, we are not able to fully comprehend the mystery of God. Nevertheless, this should not discourage us from trying to appreciate and reflect on God’s nature.
When we do this, even our limited understanding should propel us into worshipping and following the one God in three persons.
The Trinity: what Elim believes
We believe that the Godhead exists co-equally and co-eternally in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and that these three are one God, sovereign in creation, providence and redemption.
Why the Trinity matters
• God is three persons and these three are one God
• God is love, but love is relational – the three persons of the Trinity have loved one another for eternity
• The loving triune God is sovereign in creation, providence and redemption
In our next article: The Commission
Simo Frestadius is Dean of Research and Executive Director of the Institute for Pentecostal Theology at Regents Theological College.
This article first appeared in the May 2022 edition of Direction Magazine. You can order copies here.
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