Order and the Trinity

One recent teaching explains that God has designed the Trinity into all spheres of life. When I first heard it, I thought that it was a brilliant teaching. Now I’m not so sure. A few examples of the trinities that were discussed include:

the Godhead – Father, Son, Holy Spirit
the Family – Husband, Wife, Children
the Church – Christ, Leaders, Flock

The Trinity is co-equal, co-eternal, the same being of one substance. All other trinities cannot boast of such circumstances – yet the expectation of fulfilling one’s role by submitting to authority or being in authority to maintain unity is yet another system that is humanly impossible to maintain. Power corrupts, even biblical, holy, righteous power corrupts because it’s the kind that we least suspect would cause us to do terrible things. Surely, we say to ourselves, only the bad kind of power can corrupt people – like a politician or a banker; people who are entrusted with too much power and responsibility. This is true of Christianity, people can be entrusted with too much power and responsibility – even the good kind – and give into temptation anyway, to steal, to destroy, to control. Sometimes good intentions pave the way for terrible consequences.

Try as we might, we are not infallible co-equal, co-eternal beings of the same substance as each other. We’re human beings, and with that comes our tendency to mess up. Everybody does – most of the time they’re small mistakes that don’t get a second notice. Every now and then it’s a bigger mistake with far reaching consequences not necessarily to ourselves alone, but affecting those around us.

This ‘we’re all part of built-in trinities idea’ is problematic because of that. What about men and women incapable of bearing children and unable to afford adoption? What about single men and women who are not called to marriage? What about single mothers? What about families that are recognized by the state but not the church? Are we to just say, “Oh well, we broke the trinity that God designed into this relationship and the two of us just have to the best we can without our counterpart.” or “We are incomplete, but surely God can work with our brokenness to restore the trinity.” Isn’t there the slightest possibility that this trinity in everything teaching is not true?

I know, it’s a little out there – but you have to remember that when the family existed (in the traditional Biblical sense) a household consisted of one man and his wife and their grown-up sons and their wives and their sons and their under-age daughters until it was time to marry them off, and any number of servants to help everything keep on running – that doesn’t fit the Husband, Wife, Children trinity when it’s a multi-generational family plus servants usually numbering somewhere around seventy or eighty people or so in all.

And it’s difficult to say that particular trinity exists in the church – after all, ‘leaders’ is pretty generalized, are all leaders co-equal? A quick reading about Overseers, Elders, Deacons tends to make that unclear. Anyway, in most churches Pastors are seen as having most authority and the rest of the leadership team not so much. We have seen what happens in recent years when shepherds (in keeping with the metaphor) wield absolute control without checks and balances. In these cases, the flock’s role of submitting to authority doesn’t give them much choice or protection. Some denominations rule by committees. Some denominations rest the authority squarely on elders or deacons. Some denominations have the pastor in charge. Very rarely is there an inherent equality in the authority of the leaders and the flock. (Isn’t it a mixed metaphor anyway? It’s Leaders – Followers or Leaders – Subjects and Shepherd – Flock. I wonder why they did that.)

Both are very much unlike the trinity – in persons, in roles, in abilities, in unity, and in so many ways. Yet the teaching endures that Christians are to pattern their lives in a fashion after the trinity, submitting to authority be they bosses, leaders, heads, presidents, kings, and wielding authority over employees, followers, the rest, citizens, and subjects. It’s just asking for trouble to give people too much power without checks and balances. Our founding father’s realized that – perhaps from any number of times that the Kings of ancient Israel and Judah abused their god-given authority, lead the people astray, and out-did previous generations in terms being evil. If they could not exist in this divine imprint – then we must recognize the possibility that neither can we. How are we to live then? I would think that finding whatever works for each family or church and sticking with it, and trial and error until we find it, are two good approaches. We should not just assume that what works for one will work for everyone. That’s not a failure in terms of not being able to do the same thing the same way all over the world, it’s honoring God through diversity of approach and thought, and that’s they way it should have been all along.

Order of the Trinity

Why is the order of the Trinity always discussed in terms of Father, Son, and then the Holy Spirit? Why not the other way around: Holy Spirit, Son, and Father? or Son, Father, and Holy Spirit or Son, Holy Spirit, and father? or even Father, Holy Spirit, and Son? or Holy Spirit, Father, and Son? Is there some significance to the usual order being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Does any other possible order diminish the Trinity in some way, shape, or form?

What we now know as Trinitarian teachings were developed at the Council of Nicaea and proposed by Athanasius of Alexandria. There is even the Athanasius Creed that fairly well defines the result. The truth is – it wasn’t an easy teaching to develop.

The Homoiousians held that God the Son was of a similar, but not identical, substance or essence to God the Father.

The Homoousians believed that they are of the same essence and are equally God.

The Homoeans declared that the Son was similar to God the Father, without reference to substance or essence.

Other Homoians declared that God the father was so incomparable and ineffably transcendent that even the ideas of likeness, similarity or identity in substance or essence with the subordinate Son and the Holy Spirit were heretical and not justified by the Gospels. They held that the Son was like the Father in some sense but that even to speak of “ousia” was impertinent speculation.

Heteroousians said that the substance or being of God the Father and the substance or being of the Son of God (Jesus) are different. This was also known as Arianism and was the chief heresy that Athanasius fought against.

These represent the main schools of throught, however there were countess variations of them over the centuries. And yet here we are roughly 1500 years later, we hold to the homoousian (from “same” and “being”) without giving a second thought to every other teaching. In this way the ‘victor’ has re-written history so that all other teachings are heresy.

Does that make every other interpretation wrong? Does that make all of our default teachings automatically right? After centuries of debate – we still don’t have a firm understanding as to the nature of the Trinity. The first few hundred years the disciples were confused and that didn’t make them love God any less. After all, being a mysterious being is part of what makes God worthy of worship.

I wonder if there is an implied greatness in the order of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Generally, first is foremost. Best. Greatest. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the order of appearance – though the other two persons of the Trinity are hinted at, God The Father is the primary agent of the Old Testament. The Son and the Holy Spirit share the New Testament and are featured in that order. In terms of Power, The Father displays it throughout … from the plagues of Egypt, to judgement against entire peoples, to prophets who bring a powerful miracle-backed message. Jesus does no shortage of miracles, and the Holy Spirit enables similar miracles but they are not on the same scale. Were all three members of the Trinity co-equal, then there really should be no reason that The Holy Spirit or the Son be referred to first, or Father or the Holy Spirit referred to second, or the Father or the Son be referred to last.

We have to remember that the passages that we use to explain who and what the Trinity are were written a few hundred years before the concept of the Trinity was defined and agreed upon by the representatives of the Council of Nicaea. It might not have been what Paul or the other New Testament authors had in mind when referring to persons of the Trinity to make a point about other teachings. We have to be careful to search for all possible meanings that exist outside of “obviously this refers to the Trinity” teaching that is more or less a default. We should ask ourselves: “What might have the early believers (before the council of Nicaea) have thought that this passage meant?”