Monday 25 January 2016

The Doctrine of the Trinity: Order and Unity among the Three Persons

There are seven tents of the doctrine of the Trinity which need to be all held with equal ultimacy if we are to uphold an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity? What are they? They are:

1. One Being-Three Persons
2. One Essence (homoousios)
3. The Three Persons are Distinct (hypostases)
4. The Mutual Indwelling of the Persons (perichōresis)
5. There is an order among the Persons (monarchia, autotheos, taxis)
6. Three Personal Communion (koinōnia)
7. Knowable and yet unknowable

It is point 5 that is the object of this blog post.

The notion of an order (taxis) requires some clarification because within this trinitarian context it does not imply an idea of rank or hierarchy within the Triune God, but rather an ordered constitution. The clear pattern of order is: from the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit; and this order pervades everything. Cyril understood that the Father is said to be greater than the Son only economically, and therefore he allowed no foothold for subordination in the Holy Trinity. Likewise John Calvin again comes to our aid in his description of this trinitarian orderliness: ‘To the Father is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity.’

If you want further reading on this you can refer to Calvin's Institutes 1:13:18, p 142-3 or my books on the Trinity which are thus far "The Church as the Image of the Trinity" or a Chapter on the Trinity in the book "Engaging with Keller".

There are many theologians who want to accept orthodoxy on many points of the doctrine of the Trinity and yet they reject that there is an eternal order among the Three Persons of the Trinity. This notion is used to support egalitarianism and the ordination of women bishops and women ministers in the church. This is something plainly rejected by Scripture.

These theologians include:

Kevin Giles
Jürgen Voltmann
Miroslav Volf
Catherine Mowry LaCugna
Rowan Williams (and many of the Western Episcopal/Anglican leaders)
Judith Gundry-Volf
(To name a few.)

Though Tim Keller may not explicitly state a concurrence with a rejection of ordered relations in the Trinity, he effectually supports this with his flawed "dance metaphor" for the Trinity.

The invasion of feminist ideas has washed over the bows of certain constituencies of the evangelical world. What are some of the lessons? Kevin Giles firmly upholds the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and we support him in this, however, his understanding of an eternal order among the Three Persons of the Trinity is wrongly labelled by him as "subordinationism". He uses this in a pejorative and a wrong sense. It is most dangerous to be right in most parts of the doctrine of the Trinity and yet wrong in others. We must all ensure that we work hard in understanding the doctrine of the Trinity so that we worship our God rightly. To go wrong on this doctrine, can lead to serious implications on our ecclesiology and our Christian faith.

Monday 18 January 2016

Whatever happened to two church services on Sunday?

I use the word Sunday rather than the biblical term which is the "Lord's Day" or the theological and pastoral term "the Christian Sabbath" for good reason. Why? Well, once ignorance sets in regarding the idea of Sunday being the Lord's Day, this then opens the door to a multiplicity of changes. One of these is to never teach that the Lord of the church has a claim upon his people to worship him on this Day. It is most usually churches that refer to Sunday who do this and I want to appeal to that audience in this blog post.

It is so easy for pragmatism to set in and to begin to ask the wrong questions regarding the doctrine of the church. Questions such as "what do people want?"; "How should we grow our church?"; and other such things get asked, instead of a thorough consultation of Scripture. I wanted to call this blog post after a chapter in a book by R. Scott Clark on "Recovering the Reformed Confession"; the chapter is called "Whatever Happened to the Second Service". However, in the UK today, many evangelical church's have moved their Sunday programme to a single service and often it is at a time in the mid-late afternoon, commonly it seems at the moment at 4.00PM. Therefore the question here in the UK is: "whatever happened to two church services".

Quite frankly, it is not a biblical imperative to have two church services on the Lord's Day, but neither is it discouraged to have two, but it is prohibited to have none on that Day. But, why would a church want to starve the sheep and only have one service? Psalm 92 has long been sung and preached for around 3000 years because it is a Psalm for the Sabbath. Let us hear what it says.

"It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night" (Psalm 92:1-2).

Psalm titles, though they are often in italics, form part of the inspired text of holy Scripture and they should be read. Here we learn that the people of God sing praises to the Most High God morning and at night. Should not the church do the same and desire to do the same in our day?

I think that what is connected to this downgrade in the doctrine of the church, is that a man-centred pragmatism creeps in, and before you know it the convenience of people is placed above the Command of God. In congregations that move to a single service on the Lord's Day, there is commonly a down-playing of the moral law, an influx of an emphasis on musical instruments for singing and the rest of the church calendar in the week begins to get loaded with activities. Instead, the Christian Sabbath is intended to be a Day of entering into God's rest, being fed spiritually, worshipping God as he expects us to do, and not least in honouring his Day.

I would not go to a church with my family which only has one service; this is not primarily or only based on my commitment to the Lord's Day. But, because of my spiritual hunger. I got converted in a church that was committed to two services on Sunday and it was also committed to preaching. From day one as a Christian, if the church had three services, I would have gone to them all, such was and is my spiritual hunger. How about you? Are you spiritually hungry? If you go to one service on the Lord's Day, is that really enough to equip you to live righteously and godly in this present age (Titus 2:11-14)?

"If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honourable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken (Is 58:13–14)".

Monday 4 January 2016

How do you view tradition in terms of rightly interpreting Scripture?

2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word".

How do we rightly interpret Scripture? It is by the Scripture being compared with Scripture, tradition and also reason. We do not conduct our search for the understanding of the Bible text in a vacuum and yet that is how many Christians view things. We bring ourselves under the authority of the written Word of God, but a sound interpretation is also needed. Sadly, many Christians view all tradition with suspicion and this is an error. The upholding and teaching of historic creeds, such as the Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed (381), Athanasian Creed, Creed of Chalcedon and Confessions such as the Westminster Standards are essential to sound doctrinal principles for the church. It is never me and my Bible alone.

There has arisen a minority, but vocal group who have begun to challenge the church's doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son as outlined in The Nicene Creed. This Creed is upheld by the whole church and it is a non-negotiable in terms of orthodoxy. Some men come along to deny this doctrine. Sometimes younger men training for the ministry may have two very different attitudes; One says "I will accept the Nicene Creed (church tradition), only when I am personally convinced"; another says "I receive the church's teaching on this agreed statement and I desire to understand how the church reached this position". Can you see the radical difference in these two approaches? The former is flawed the latter is healthy.

The Nicene Creed on the Eternal Generation of the Son

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made:

Despite this clear doctrinal standard, there are some men, and theologians, who have arisen to suggest that we delete this doctrine from our church's Creeds and Confessions. This list of men includes, according to Kevin Giles who has written an excellent book "The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Tradition":

Wayne Grudem
Bruce Ware
Robert Reymond
Mark Driscoll
Paul Helm
Wiliam Lane Craig
John S Feinberg
Millard Erickson
Lorraine Boettner
John Frame is skeptical of this doctrine

What do we make of the teaching of such people on this matter? Well we uphold the church's orthodox position, we uphold the biblical tradition of the church on the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, instead of the assertions of biblicists who seek to introduce a novel hermeneutic; this is one which mainly seeks to interpret the Bible though a lens that either minimises or dismisses historic confessions and creeds on key points.

We must remember Paul's healthy exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 "But test everything; hold fast what is good".