Yesterday I had a very good time teaching Sunday School. After an edifying service where I had the privelege to lead in worship, and an excellent sermon by Christian, I felt spiritually prepared to teach on that glorious mystery that is the foundation of our life: the Holy Trinity.
This lesson has been the most rewarding so far for me, personally. I have been team-teaching Sunday School with my good friend Harry, and I know that we are both deeply enjoying it and learning as we go along. Our study is based upon the Second London Confession of Faith (1689). I highly recommend that churches bring their people through their church standards, it is very important and helpful.
There is so much to teach about the Trinity. Our finite minds, even in the new heavens and new earth, will never plumb the depths of the Triune God. So teaching on this doctrine for an hour really only touched the tip of the iceberg. My prayer is that I honoured the Trinity as I taught on him and his profound character.
I began by reading through the pertinent section in the 1689 Confession on the Trinity, highlighting certain terms and briefly explaining things like the Father being unbegotten, the Son being eternally begotten and the Spirit proceeding from the Father and Son. These were issues that we didn’t get into, but I wanted to make sure that the students had at least some exposure to it.
I then gave a simple, but adequate definition of the Trinity that I have found helpful, though certainly not perfect. “The Trinity is one in essence and three in persons.” From there I attempted to work through that definition by explaining some key terms like essence, person, Trinity, ontological and economic. I was anxious to get into Scripture passages about the Trinity in the Old and New Testaments, so I didn’t belabour these key terms either.
I started the section on the Trinity in the Old Testament with a quote by B.B. Warfield that I blogged (see below), that I absolutely love. Then I explained the word ruach in the Old Testament – how it can be defined as wind or breath and also spirit. Following this we looked at some passages in the Old Testament that have Trinitarian underpinnings such as Genesis 1:26; Psalm 33:6; Isaiah 6:1-5 (with its correlates in John 12:41 and Acts 28:25) and Isaiah 61:1 (and its NT correlate in Luke 4:17ff). I think that everyone was impressed by seeing the relationship between Psalm 33:6 and John 1:1ff and John 20:22.
In the New Testament we examined Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3 and the Great Commission in Matthew 28. In the former I mentioned the heresy of modalism and how a passage like this does significant damage to their view. In the latter I emphasised the oneness of God in the fact that we are to baptise into the one name of the Trinity and that the conjunction “and” linked them all together in equality. I also emphasised their threeness by pointing to the fact that the name we baptise into is three and that they are differentiated by the definite article “the.”
I looked at the theological significance of the Trinity in only three ways, although much more could be said. I looked at the fact that God is eternally personal and relational and that the intratinitarian relationship is the foundation between all relations in creation. I pointed out that the gods of Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarians cannot account for personality because their gods are one only. How do their gods have relation with their creation when they are not inherently personal?
I also looked at the Covenant of Redemption (pactum salutis) and how significant it is for a proper understanding of our salvation. The Father requested the Son to become incarnate and
redeem his people out of Love. The Son willingly offered to become man and take the sins of his people upon himself, dying and raising again.
Sadly, because of time, I did not get into the famous problem of the one and the many that philosophers have debated over the years. I would have mentioned how the equal ultimacy of the members of the Trinity provide the foundation for understanding the relationships between universals and particulars. You can see the Rushdoony quote that I gave earlier for more on that.
Quickly, I went through certain historical understandings of the Trinity. In specific I looked at Irenaeus’ “two hands” and the Nicene Creed. Although I didn’t get to spend much time on either because I wanted to get to the final section. I wanted to make sure that the students knew that the doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t a Constantinian construction of the 4th century.
Finally I gave some practical application for the doctrine of the Trinity. Primarily I wanted to look at devotion to the Trinity, especially in prayer in meditation. I mentioned that there were two schools of thought on how to pray to God. The one school, the “Father only” school argues that the Bible only records prayers to the Father, through the Son in the power of the Spirit. They would say we should not go beyond what the Scripture says. I hold to the second school of thought, the “all Three” school that says that because the three Members are all God, they all deserve worship. Part of worship is prayer, therefore they all deserve prayer. I agree that there is a pattern in the NT that the “Father only” school recognises and I generally follow that pattern. But I don’t think that the descriptive nature of NT narrative prescribes a pattern of prayer to the Trinity.
I mentioned that in our meditation and prayer we should think on the great works of each member of the Trinity. The Father who created, the Son who redeemed and the Spirit who glorifies. I also mentioned that when we think of Father as Creator, we can also think this of the Son and Spirit and so one for each of their roles. I finished with the great quote by Gregory of Nazianzus who said something to the effect: “When I think upon the one, my mind is then brought to the three. When I think upon the three, my mind hearkens back to the one.”
I did want to mention the necessity for Trinitarian baptism but didn’t get the chance to talk about it because class was finished.
All in all, as I said, I really enjoyed the study both in terms of prep and delivery. The students appeared interested and asked questions and read aloud in their Bibles the relevant passages.
I close with a good article by the Scottish theologian Donald MacLeod hosted at the Reformation 21 site: The Doctrine of the Trinity: Some Preliminaries.