The link between theology and mission
The Trinity: Loving Communion
According to Scripture, there is one God who reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; three distinct yet unified Persons sharing the same essence, nature, and will. Father, Son, and Spirit live in a perfect, mutually dependent relationship of love. An ancient theological term used to describe this loving communion is perichoresis. Perichoresis attempts to express the interpenetration and co-inherence of the three persons of the Trinity. Perichoresis refers to the eternal “movement of love between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” which is expressed in the outworking of God’s purpose to reconcile and renew the world.
The perichoretic life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is dynamic, highly personal, vibrant, and relational. God in his perichoretic being is also creative. Out of his dynamic love, God created people, in his image, to live in communion with him. Jesus expressed God’s desire to live in perichoresis with mankind (John 17:3, 21-23). This passage states that the Father desires to share with all humanity the very same relationship he has with the Son. This desire is ongoing and includes all of humankind, despite the fact that humans have lost knowledge of our intended relationship with God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:1-4).
To remedy the loss, the Eternal Son entered into our humanity and assumed it into the eternal perichoresis of the Trinity (2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:4-7; Philippians 2:6-8). He redeemed mankind from sin and opened the pathway for all people to know God and to relate to him as his adopted children. Jesus affirms the fundamental purpose for mankind’s existence – to live in personal communion with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to glorify God for eternity.
However, knowledge of humankind’s intended relationship with God has diminished over time resulting in the concept of a remote God. In addition, many Christians hold an exclusivist view regarding mankind. Rather than viewing all people as connected to the Father through Christ and invited to join in the life of the Trinity, many Christians have developed a dualistic, forensic theology toward non-Christians in which only a select few are beneficiaries of God’s love and grace. In this view, God remains aloof and uninvolved with most people. Many non-Christians are viewed as not being objects of God’s love and grace as revealed in Jesus. Many Christians believe that the majority of non-Christians are predetermined to eternal alienation from God. Trinitarian theology rectifies these misperceptions.
In apprehending the Trinity we not only learn about the perfect, loving perichoretic relationship shared by the Father, Son, and Spirit; we also learn about the love God has for all humanity. Through Jesus, and by the Spirit, all mankind has access to the Father. By sharing in the perichoretic life of the Trinity it is possible for imperfect people to experience the “give and take” elements of relationship with God. In Christ, broken human relationships are healed and people are able to live within God’s
Implications of Trinitarian Theology for Church Planting
The Father’s MissionThe doctrine of the Trinity is an inescapable foundation for mission. Mission flows from God’s nature and purposes. The roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit in the salvific work on behalf of mankind are clearly expressed in scripture.
In John 3:16, Jesus declared that he, the eternal Son, was sent by the Father to save the world and reestablish the avenue that was laid out before creation for people to share eternal Trinitarian life. Jesus is the incarnation of the Father’s mission and the Holy Spirit is the agent through which the Father accomplishes the mission in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son (John 14:26; 15:26; Acts 2:33), who calls and “fills” people for missional work. It is the Spirit who transforms minds and hearts, gives gifts, commissions, guides and empowers people to accomplish the Father’s mission in Christ. (Romans 1:6, 7; Acts 4:31; Acts 13:4; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11).
The Triune God, therefore, is in his very essence a missionary God. That which is typically understood as the church’s mission is the Father’s mission (Missio Dei). Church planting, therefore, is not centered on the church. It is theocentric. It is defined, directed, energized and accomplished by the Triune God.
Jesus’ incarnation set the pattern for the church as it fulfills the Father’s mission on earth. As Jesus was sent by the Father, Jesus sends his church (John 20:21). As the Father revealed himself in his Son who was made flesh, he continues to reveal himself to the world through flesh – his people. The church is called to be with people where they are and as they are, within their cultural contexts. This requires a form of sacrificial social engagement on the order of Jesus himself (Philippians 2:5-8).
Incarnational mission requires setting aside cultural preferences and abandoning nonessential traditions, without compromising core values and doctrines. It requires living within culture regardless of the cost – a willingness to die to self in order to bring forth new life (1 Corinthians 15:35–38).
The Church’s Role
Jesus commissioned his church to continue the mission he began (Matthew 28:18-20). He delineated the primary principles for living: love for God and love for people (Matthew 22:37:38). God’s perichoretic love, as revealed through the doctrine of the Trinity and incarnation of Jesus, is the motivation for the church’s work – not fear, not church growth, and certainly not the perpetuation of tradition or organizational structures.
In 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, the apostle Paul describes Jesus as the foundation for all ministries. The church is Jesus’ “building”; it does not belong to the domain of men. Church planters are co-workers with Christ and they are exhorted to build with care and grace. As the incarnated Son of God did not become human to serve self-interests, Jesus Christ has called the church not to live for itself alone. It is to be in the world and for the world as Jesus was and is in the world and for it. God sends his church into the world as he sent and sends his Son and his Spirit into the world.
The root of the church’s mission is, therefore, the very being of God. It is a matter of God’s being in action through his people in the world. As Christians are included in the Triune life and participate in the divine nature of God, they are included in, and actively participate in, his divine mission. This participation leads to church planting that is focused on revealing and sharing God’s love – sharing the opportunity to enter into Trinitarian communion – within every possible cultural context. This aim glorifies God and expands his kingdom on earth.
Ministry built on this theological framework helps ensure quality results. This foundation leads to healthy, Christ-centered congregations that effectively engage their cultures, make disciples, and reproduce new churches.