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How Does a Trinitiarian Understanding of God Shape Eccesiology (3)

November 15, 2007

My Understanding

In articulating my own position, I want to argue how a Trinitarian understanding of God shapes evangelical ecclesiology within the same elements of fellowship, worship, and communicating the gospel.

Within the realm of fellowship, is included the Church family, domestic family, and the structure of both. The understanding of a Trinitarian God drastically shapes how the Church loves, leads and submits to one another. A Church that is created and then born again as a new creation in the image of God is more specifically made in the image of a Triune God. Therefore, to promote and practice godly love, love must be fashioned in the manner in which our Triune God loves. Daniel Migliore writes, “In God’s own life there is an activity of mutual self-giving, a community of sharing, a society of love that is the basis of God’s history of love for the world narrated in Scripture.”[1]

This “history of love” that Migliore refers to is particularly displayed in John 17. In Jesus’ High Priestly prayer he prays right from the beginning, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). Within the purpose of the cross, in redeeming mankind, the Son initially prays that he will be glorified for the ultimate purpose of glorifying the Father. In the prayer of Jesus, he reveals the intra-Trinitarian concern of the other. As the rest of Scripture witness to the Spirit testifies to and glorifies Christ (John 16:14) and points the heart of the believer to believe in the Father as “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).

From the basis of eternal intra-Trinitarian love we experience the love of the Trinity in the economy of salvation.[2] Referring back to the High Priestly prayer of John 17, “Father I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). And also, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). From the source of intra-Trinitarian love and glorification, we now experience this same love and glorification through the saving work of the Godhead. The redemption work of the Trinity is more fully developed below in the effect of a Trinitarian understanding of God in communicating the gospel.

The example of the intra-Trinitarian and the economic Trinitarian love should shape the way in which the Church loves within its congregations and domestic families. Christian feminism, especially Susan Thistlethwaite, at least, rightly observes that abuse, racism, and domination that stems from fear portrays a monarchial – or in my opinion, an Arian subordinationist – rather than a Trinitarian conception of God.[3] Hatred towards one another, especially within the Church, is owing to “the lack of consideration given to the Trinity in modern theology.”[4] This Trinitarian consideration and adherence can only occur rightly within a redeemed, new creation community that has been given new eyes to see the community of the Church.

Within the element of worship, the Trinity causes all sorts of implications and questions. First of all, however, it must be considered that the Trinitarian understanding of God gives us boldness to even come before the Triune God and worship. Because of the redemptive work of the Trinity, specifically the incarnation of Christ, we have a reconciled relationship with God where there used to be “infinite disparity.”[5] The incarnate Son, our greater brother, acts as our mediator before the Father, interceding on our behalf and granting us the privilege of worship and communion. So, therefore, without a Trinitarian understanding of God in redemption, worship before a holy and righteous God would be perilous.

Secondly, a Trinitarian understanding of God creates a soberness to worship. For God to communicate to us his nature he talks us in order to accommodate our limited capacity for him. He speaks to us in “baby-talk” or as “a nurse commonly talks to infants.”[6] Therefore, our limited capacity for him and thwarted understanding should create an awe and increase of faith. There is should be no surprise that the being that is higher than all else is as unexplainable and ineffable as that which is higher than all else. This should prompt a sober effect to our worship that we worship one who is higher than all else and, though we not fully understand him, we trust his word and witness of himself.

Finally, the appropriate gender in which to refer to the God the Father, the Son, or Holy Spirit in worship is masculine. In Scripture, when God is referred to or when God refers to himself it always occurs in masculine form. Any appeal within Scripture to a feminine reference, such as a hen (Luke 13:34) or one who begets his new creation (John 3:5-6) is strictly metaphorical and should not be taken any further than that.

A Trinitarian understanding of God shapes the manner in which the gospel is communicated within an evangelical ecclesiology. The gospel, however, is more clearly communicated when the triune community is understood within a relationship of authority and submission. For Christ, all things have been placed under his feet, he is the Head over the Church, and all authority is his (Eph. 1:21-22). Yet, it is the Father who has given him all authority. A Trinitarian understanding of the gospel clearly divides the work of redemption, so that each member of the Godhead accomplishes a work peculiar to himself. The Father, who is the fountain of deity, the engineer of redemption, sends his Son as his agent to accomplish the work of the cross and resurrection. The eternal Son, abides and submits to the will of the Father and becomes incarnate in order to become a perfect and satisfactory sacrifice and mediation for man unto the Father. The Spirit, then, is sent from and is in submission to both the Father and Son in order to effectually accomplish the resurrection power of God in the hearts and lives of his elect and to witness to the saving work of Christ, the Son.

Therefore, we are then to understand the Church’s relationship with Christ and wives’ relationship with their husbands within this community of authority and submission. The proper understanding of submission within a marriage is significant because within the mystery of a wife submitting to the authority of the husband, is a powerful witness of the sanctifying work of Christ on the cross for his Church (Eph. 5:25-29).


[1] Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 70.[2] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 1/1 :384-387.

[3] Susan Thistlethwaite, Sex, Race, and God: Christian Feminism in Black and White (New York: Crossroad, 1989): 122.

[4] Ibid. 122.

[5] John Owen, Communion with God (Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2001), 8.

[6] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 121.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    November 21, 2007 12:06 pm

    This, it seems to me, is where a robust Trinitarianism begins to pay itself off. A thick Trinitarianism provides the foundation for a rich theology of worship and the church. Great stuff, John!

  2. jbstarke permalink*
    November 21, 2007 1:27 pm

    I appreciate it Mr. Beeson.

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