Thursday, October 13, 2011

Theology of Worship: The Trinity

“For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word,
and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.” – I John 5:7

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past twenty years, you understand there’s very limited denominational identity and loyalty in our culture.  For the average church member, the theological lines that distinguished Southern Baptists from other denominations are blurred, if not completely gone. This fact, coupled with the culture of consumerism that permeates contemporary Christianity, has produced Christians who are willing to “church hop” based on the flavor of the day.  In our city, students (and parents) will move from a Southern Baptist to a Methodist, Presbyterian or Pentecostal congregation with no regard to theological or doctrinal differences…their decision entirely based on factors like “who’s got the coolest ministry.” 

While this mentality is troublesome because of the potential loss of key denominational distinctives, it becomes disastrous when it involves religions that deny doctrinal and theological truth. The denominations I referenced above all share key common beliefs, but what about those who don’t?  For example, one of the fastest growing religions in the world is Mormonism, with most of that growth coming from “converts” from Christian groups.  In fact, in one city I served the local Mormon church primarily was comprised of former Southern Baptists. The problem lies in the fact that Mormonism denies critical Christian theology: they deny the existence of the Trinity, believe God was once a man who “progressed” to his exalted rank, believe you and I can become gods, and elevate the Book of Mormon and writings of Joseph Smith equally to the Bible.  That, my friends, is a problem…and that’s just Mormonism.  Other rapidly-growing religions like Islam explicitly deny that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God!  If there’s ever been a day when we need strong theological foundations, it’s now.

With this in mind, as Southern Baptists our worship, first and foremost, must be Trinitarian-based.  So what exactly does that mean?

Below are the foundational doctrinal beliefs related to the Trinity.  These are the "non-negotiables" when it comes to understanding this doctrine:
  • We believe in one God, infinite Spirit, Creator, and Sustainer of all things, who exists eternally in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  • These three are one in essence but distinct in person and function.
  • We believe that the Father is the first person of the Trinity and the source of all that God is and does. From Him the Son is eternally generated and from Them the Spirit eternally proceeds. He is the designer of creation, the speaker of revelation, the author of redemption, and the sovereign of history.
  • We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity. Eternally begotten from the Father, He is God. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary through a miracle of the Holy Spirit. He lives forever as perfect God and perfect man: two distinct natures inseparably united in one person.
  • We affirm that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, proceeding from the Father and the Son and equal in deity. He is the giver of all life, active in the creating and ordering of the universe; He is the agent of inspiration and the new birth; He restrains sin and Satan; and He indwells and sanctifies all believers.
If the doctrine of the Trinity is central to our theology, how can we teach this to our congregations?  The answer is that we must insure our worship services are theologically sound and that the music we select teaches appropriate doctrinal truth.  Hymns such as “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Doxology” and “Come, Thou Almighty King” all have strong references to the Trinity.  We don’t have to sing these every week, but over the course of time our congregations must be exposed to songs that teach a triune-God.  In addition, within our worship services we can use Scripture, as well as well-planned comments and prayers that underscore the Trinity.  Even when we baptize “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” we reinforce the understanding of this theological truth.  The most important thing, however, is to be intentional and diligent in our teaching.

My next post will address making our worship God-centered.  I look forward to your feedback as we continue this discussion.

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