The Trinity and Mission (preaching resource for 6/4/23, first Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday)
This post is adapted from a Surprising God post by Randy Bloom, Chairman of the Board of Directors for both Grace Communion International and Grace Communion Seminary.
|"Come and See" by Liz Lemon Swindle (used with artist's permission)|
At the end of the 28th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we are given an important statement from Jesus to his disciples often referred to as The Great Commission:
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they gworshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, h“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)
Notice here how Jesus connects the mission of the church to the Father, Son and Spirit (the Trinity). in doing so he provides a Trinitarian framework for mission. The basis of the mission of the church is the Trinty, for it is God's mission to which the church is called and sent. In that regard, it's vital to understand that what we believe shapes and motivates our actions. We are active in mission (our actions) because of what we believe about God. What the church is doing (loving people, preaching the gospel, making disciples, equipping people for ministry, etc.) is shaped and motivated by our understanding of who God is as Father, Son and Holy Spirit (a loving communion of three divine persons).
An inadequate theological framework risks misrepresenting who God is, it risks distoring the gospel, and it risks misdirecting the work of the church (its mission). On the other hand, an incarnational Trinitarian theological framework provides loving, grace-based, Christ-centered clarity, motivation and direction for everything the church does, helping guarantee the integrity of ministry activities and missional initiatives in all cultural contexts, across all generations. Such a framework provides a solid basis for developing, implementing, and evaluating missional strategies that enhance and advance the church’s participation in the ongoing mission of the triune God: from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, all for the sake of the world.
The doctrine of the Trinity, which finds its expression in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, is the basis of this sound theological framework which directs the church's participation in our Lord's mission and ministry in all cultural contexts. An incarnational and Trinitarian theology expresses the true identity and nature of the redeeming God whom Christians love, serve, and worship. It provides the necessary foundation and motivation for every aspect of church life. The motivation for ministry and mission is found in the very nature of the triune God, his eternal and inexpressible love for all mankind and his desire to include everyone in his Triune life.
The Trinity: loving communion
Scripture reveals that there is one God who is 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 loving interpenetration and co-inherence of the three persons of the Trinity. Perichoresis refers to the mutual and active love between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit which is expressed in the outworking of God’s purpose to save, 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 all that exists. He created humanity in his image to live in communion with him. Jesus expressed the Father’s desire for humankind to share in the love, unity, and joy of the Trinitarian life (John 17:3, 21-23). These passages, and others, express the Father’s desires to share with all humanity the very same love he has for the Son in the Spirit. This desire is ongoing and includes all of humankind, despite the fact that many have lost knowledge of or are unaware of their intended relationship with God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:1-4).
As determined from eternity, and to remedy the estrangement of humanity from the Father, the Son of God entered human existence and assumed it, in his person, 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 thereby to glorify God for eternity.
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 people. 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 redeemed community. This is the good news Jesus’s church has to share with countless people in disharmony with their Creator.
The Trinity's mission
The doctrine of the Trinity is the most comprehensive framework for understanding and participating in Jesus’s mission. Though mission often is viewed as the activity of the church, it is not the domain of the church. Mission originates with, flows from, and is empowered by God. Mission is the loving, saving, redeeming activity of the triune God in the world on behalf of all humanity. Mission is God’s and God’s alone.
What the Father, Son, and Spirit are doing on mission in our world is revealed in Scripture. John 3:16 affirms that God’s being as Father, Son and Spirit, and his relationship to all people, is love. From all eternity, we may say that love has been flowing out from the Father to the Son in the Spirit and from the Son to the Father in the Spirit.
God’s love first exists in the internal relationships between the Triune Persons. Creation is the “product” or “overflow” of that love. Out of love, the Triune God created the universe and all it holds. Out of love, God created humanity. Out of his love, the Father sent the Son of God, by the Spirit, to save people who had estranged themselves from him. The incarnate Eternal Son came, on mission, to redeem, renew and draw people to the Father through himself, by the Spirit. Jesus is the incarnation, the divine embodiment, of the Father’s love and the Father’s mission to a fallen world.
After the ascension of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and Son, as the agent through which the Father continues to accomplish his mission in Christ—transforming hearts and minds, giving gifts, and guiding and empowering people to participate in God’s ongoing mission to all people. The story of the Bible is the story of a loving God on mission. His loving and gracious activity in the world, evident throughout history, is rooted in his love. His doing (mission) is grounded in and inseparable from his being (love). God cannot be God and not be actively engaged in the world that he created and loves, drawing people into communion with himself.
The church’s missional identity
As Christians, we know that our life and identity is in Christ. Through the Incarnation, Jesus has drawn us into the life and love of the Trinity, sharing with us all that he is, as he shares in all that we are. Our identity—collectively and individually—is grounded in who Jesus is. Because God’s being (nature) cannot be separated from his doing (his missional activity), the being (nature) of the church cannot be separated from its doing (ministry and mission). Just as Jesus was sent by the Father to enter into humanity and share God’s life and love in practical, realistic ways, so Jesus sends his church to actively participate with him in what he continues to do by the Spirit (John 20:21). Thomas F. Torrance put it this way:
The being and nature of the church are equally inseparable from its mission, that is, its sending by Christ on the mission of the love of God, just as the sending of Christ by the Father is inseparable from his being and nature as the incarnate Son…. We can never speak of the being and nature of the church statically, but always in terms of the divine act, the divine movement of love from God to man, and from man to God and man to fellow man. (Atonement, p. 373)
Torrance also writes,
Because the church is filled with the universal Spirit of divine love, it is caught up in the universal movement of that love that ceaselessly flows from God through Jesus Christ out into all the world. Hence the church is also catholic in that it is incorporated in the universal mission of redemption that is essentially missionary. (Atonement, pp. 390-391)
The church’s identity, life, and activity is fully in Christ and it cannot fully live its identity in Christ apart from active participation his mission.
The church’s role
Jesus formed and commissioned his church to participate in the mission for which the Father sent him into the world (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus 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, nor 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’s “building”; it does not belong to the domain of men. Church members are co-workers with Christ and they are exhorted to build (with him) 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. The Father sends his church into the world as he sent and sends his Son and his Spirit into the world.
As noted above, the root of the church’s mission is 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, God's divine mission. This participation leads to church mission and ministry focused on revealing and sharing God’s love—sharing the opportunity to enter into Trinitarian communion—within every possible cultural context.
Conclusion: incarnational living
Jesus’ incarnation sets the context for the church as it fulfills the Father’s mission to the world. As Jesus was sent by the Father, Jesus sends his church (John 20:21) to be with people, where they are and as they are, within every cultural context. As the Father revealed himself in his Son who was made flesh, he continues to reveal himself to the world through flesh—his people.
This incarnational lifestyle involves a form of sacrificial social engagement on the order of Jesus himself (Philippians 2:5-8). Incarnational mission entails setting aside cultural preferences and abandoning non-essential traditions, without compromising the gospel, orthodox doctrine, or core values.
As Christians live individually and collectively on mission with God, they live out of their true identity, which is in Christ. As Jesus’s church participates with him, through the Spirit, in the Father’s mission, it becomes more fully what it truly is; it presents itself to the world as the redeemed body that it is, living an accurate and relevant reflection of Jesus.