Reflections to improve our public worship as biblical and catholic Christians
In The Book of Common Prayer (from the first edition of 1549 to the latest American edition of 1928 and latest Canadian edition of 1962) the Christian Year is effectively divided into two parts, from Advent to Trinity Sunday and from the First Sunday after Trinity Sunday to the last Sunday before Advent Sunday. Not without good reason is Trinity Sunday the mid-point of the Year, the climax of the first half and the beginning of the second half. It is the Festival which celebrates the living LORD God, who is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (Three Persons, One God: A Unity in Trinity and a Trinity in Unity).
In the Christmas Festival, the Church celebrates the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, who was sent by the First Person (the Father) and in his humanity conceived by the Third Person (the Holy Ghost). In the Easter Festival, the Church celebrates the bodily Resurrection from the dead of the Incarnate Second Person (Jesus Christ) – raised by the Father through the presence and power of the Holy Ghost. And in the Whitsuntide Festival, the Church celebrates the descent of the Holy Ghost, as the Paraclete (Advocate & Counselor) of the Son, upon the assembled disciples – here the Father and the Son send to the Church the Holy Ghost, who bears the name, virtues and gifts of the ascended Incarnate Son.
In the Ministry of Jesus Christ there is revealed and there is active in revelation and salvation the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and thus it is most fitting that the Church celebrates God as the LORD [YHWH, I AM THAT I AM] who is God as the Holy Trinity, after the celebration of these festivals and before it begins the second half of the Year.
Regrettably and tragically many Christians give the impression of thinking that “the Trinity” is a bit of doctrinal speculation which the Church has previously engaged in and which is now merely window-dressing and thus not part of the basics of Christianity. Thus they think that IT can be modified or changed to suit cultural sensitivities on earth – thus, for example, “Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier” and “Parent, Child and Spirit” are found in progressive circles.
In truth and in fact, “The Trinity,” is nothing less than the Christian Name of the LORD our God, the Name that the Early Church gave to the God whom they worshipped and served. There is a doctrine of “the Trinity” (for example as clearly stated in The Athanasian Creed) ; but the Trinity as a Name, is the Christian Name for God. Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize converts “in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” The Early Church baptized converts in the Name of the Trinity when they baptized them “in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” The Bishop blesses in the Name of the Trinity when he says: “The Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost be amongst you and remain with you always.”
So Trinity Sunday is the Sunday when the Church celebrates “the Trinity”; that is, the Church names the one God as the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and worships the Father, through the Son and with/by the Holy Ghost. That is, the Church knows and adores the One LORD who is the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity.
The late Professor Eric Mascall, a distinguished British theologian, and my tutor for three years, put it this way:
If Christianity is true, the Trinity is not a doctrine; the Trinity is God. And the fact that God is Trinity – that in some deep mysterious sense thee are three divine Persons eternally united in one Life of complete perfection and beatitude – is not a piece of mystification thrust by dictatorial theologians down the throats of an unwilling but helpless laity; and therefore to be accepted, if at all, only with reluctance and discontent. It is the secret of God’s intimate life, into which, in his infinite love and generosity, he has admitted us; and it is therefore to be accepted with amazed and exultant thankfulness.
And he added:
The fact of the Trinity means that the world and human beings depend for their existence from moment to moment upon the unfailing creative activity of a personal Being of unimaginable splendor, bliss and love. I have said “a personal Being” and not “a Person”, only for this reason: that, if Christianity is true, God is not one Person but three Persons, united in one life of perfect mutual giving and receiving, a giving and receiving that is so complete that there is nothing to distinguish One from Another except the ways in which Each gives and receives from the Others; a life of sharing so perfect that the most intimate of human unions bears only the remotest comparison to it. (The Christian Universe, pp.51-52)
The TRINITY is the Christian Name for the God of Abraham, the God of Elijah, the God of David, and the God who is revealed in the Person and Ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians adore, worship and serve the One, Holy, Blessed and Undivided Trinity, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Of course, the Name of The Trinity could only have come into use after the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Father’s right hand, the descent of the Holy Ghost at the Feast of Pentecost, and time for the mind of the Church to be illumined by the same Holy Ghost so that clarity was achieved and error rejected. What was clear to the first apostles and disciples from the first was that there was a divine descent (as we may call it) from the Father through the Son and by the Holy Ghost, and that by and in this descent there occurred what we call creation, revelation, Incarnation, salvation, reconciliation and redemption. At the same time there was an ascent (as we may call it) to the Father by the resurrected Incarnate Son, and by the Holy Ghost in the worship, prayer, service and eventual bodily resurrection of the people of God. The apostolic and catholic Church knew the Father to be God; the Incarnate Son to be God; the Holy Ghost as the Paraclete to be God; and yet they knew that there is only One true and living God – The Lord our God is one LORD! Therefore they knew God as The Trinity.
So let us adore, worship and serve the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, One God.
Blessed be the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be for ever, even unto ages of ages. Amen.
(See further for a full study of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Our Triune God, by Peter Toon, Regent College Publishing, Vancouver, Canada; and for help in praying as a Trinitarian Christian visit www.anglicansatprayer.org )
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)