- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - The discussion over the Trinity is one of the oldest in the faith, equally steeped in theology and church history. In many ways it is a question of Christ’s personhood, his humanity, and in others, an idea of God’s true nature, as well as the way Christians are meant to live in the world.

“The thing about it is the word ‘trinity’ is never used in the Bible,” said the Rev. Tom Groome, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo. “The doctrine of the Trinity is not the language of the Bible, but it is the language of the church. It is the interpretation of scripture.”

Attempts to dissect the Godhead don’t take long to become messy and technical.

“The biggest thing to understand is that it’s a mystery,” said the Rev. Matt Scopel, pastor of Parkway Baptist Church in Tupelo. “We can’t totally comprehend three unique entities that function individually, but at the same time are fully one.”

Scriptures pointing to the trinitarian nature of God first pop up in Genesis, though it can be easy to miss them. In Genesis 1:26, God famously says “Let us make man in our image.” The “us” and the “our” prove to be quite important.

“There are two ways to read this. One is that God is speaking to the angels,” Scopel said. “But that can’t be true because the next verse says God created man in ‘his’ - singular - image.”

Fast forward to the first chapter of Colossians, Scopel said, and scripture reveals that Christ was with God at the creation, saying, in reference to Jesus, “For by him all things were created.”

Groome said the first words of John’s gospel say the same, that before Jesus came in the flesh, he existed as the word - “the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”

“And of course in Genesis, we have the spirit of God hovering over the waters,” Groome said. “Another place where all three show up at the same time is at the baptism of Jesus, where the spirit descends like a dove, and God says that he is well-pleased.”

Then, of course, Jesus himself says, “The Father and I are one,” as well as, “The Father is greater than I,” both in the book of John.

“If Christ is also God, does that mean he prays to himself in the garden of Gethsemane? If Jesus is God, why pray at all? It’s kind of twisty when you think about it like a math equation,” said the Rev. Chris McAlilly, pastor of Oxford University United Methodist Church in Oxford. “But not if you’re thinking about it like a family. Another example is like lighting one candle with another. The second flame is of the first, but there’s no less light coming from the first.”

“Jesus is the only one that could make the atoning sacrifice,” Scopel said. “If he was fully God, he wouldn’t have been killable. If he was fully man, it wouldn’t be an adequate price.”

The Rev. David Mac Kain, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Tupelo, said the issue of the Trinity was mostly worked out with Constantine’s endorsement of the Nicene Creed in 381, but the resolution came after much turmoil.

“We hail Constantine as one of the good guys, and by the time of his death, I firmly believe he accepted Christianity,” Mac Kain said. “But when he embraced Christianity, he did so because he thought Christianity’s monotheism would help hold the empire together among the civil war taking place at the time.”

With the Edict of Milan in 312, Constantine allowed Christianity to be merely tolerated. However, when Constantine established a new capital, Constantinople, in the east, he found Christianity to be fragmented as well. Opposing schools of thought in Alexandria and Antioch were embroiled over the divinity and humanity of Christ. To solve the problem, he enlisted the Christian clergy, who drafted the Nicene Creed in 325.

“It’s a precarious situation for them. You have the Roman emperor who was putting you to death 13 years ago, getting all of you in one place to figure out something he doesn’t understand,” Mac Kain said. “And many of them probably didn’t, either, to tell you the truth.”

The Nicene Creed affirmed Christ as wholly divine and wholly human, but wasn’t ratified as the official position of the church until 385, with the Council of Constantinople.

Centuries later, all this has plenty of bearing on how we are to understand the nature of God and the nature of how he calls Christians to live, McAlilly said.

“I think it says that at the heart of the universe, there is communion among difference,” he said. “Equally in unison, but equally independent, like three musical notes composing a harmonic chord.”

Scopel pointed to the Great Commission in Matthew, in which the resurrected Christ bids the disciples to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, son, and holy spirit.

“As Christians, we’re supposed to live in this kind of harmony, and act as one,” Scopel said. “The father initiates, the son complies, and the spirit executes. We have to pay attention to each of them.”

Groome agreed, and said that people usually have an easier time grasping the father - son roles of God and Christ, perhaps because they are more easy to personify. However, the Holy Spirit still moves among the world today.

“The spirit is a comfort, an advocate,” Groome said. “We see a huge change in the disciples from bumbling idiots to martyrs, and that’s because of the holy spirit. It’s what enables us to have faith and spread the word even when we don’t measure up.”

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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