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Cadet Michelle Cale | Paper | TSA Doctrine # 3

By salvation Category

Michelle CaleThe following paper has been written by Cadet Michelle Cale, Heralds of Grace Session.  It was written as a requirement for the Salvation Army Theology course.

 

The third doctrine of The Salvation Army speaks to the Trinitarian nature of our God – at once wholly One yet distinct in the personhoods of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  In a world where social norm is wide embracing of pluralism, in light of the significance of this doctrinal truth to the Christian Church and in our role as future leaders within The Salvation Army engaging in healthy defense of our beliefs is essential to mission.   With footholds in the early Christian church, this paper will present that sound biblical referencing has influenced the Christological development of this doctrine through theological discourse, development of the creeds and dates of import.  Defense will be made for its continued inclusion within Salvation Army doctrine; likewise it will be shown that deep understanding of this doctrine will contribute to my own future ministry.  That the universal Christian Church continues to hold to this doctrine speaks to its significance in our very understanding of the character of our God who calls the world to relationship now and in the Kingdom to come.

Our Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine presents the Doctrine of the Trinity as “love expressed in community” which is to say this communal expression is the “very essence of God’s nature.”[1]  Simply stated, our this doctrine reads as “We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory.”[2]  Perhaps the most effective at reaching a broad audience, both our handbook and secondly our smaller volume ‘Salvation Story,’ teach soundly the three yet joint aspects of God in the Trinity.  Each resource challenges the reader to consider the biblical and theological framework that support the doctrine yet also the broader implications for the personal life of the Salvationist believer and influence on the mission of The Salvation Army.  Throughout the use of inclusive language, ‘we believe’ and ‘our God’, so too reflect the positive, inclusive nature of God to a world that may have both negative associations to both God and the Church.[3]

So too, with the importance of addressing in the Trinity God as an inclusive God, our Handbook teaches of the critical positioning we must take on our understanding of true community.  In the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we see expression of our God who “[enjoys] perfect and full fellowship within [him];”[4] our response then, “that we reach our fulfillment only when we are in community with him and with one another” suggests community is a clear teaching of our doctrine.  Certainly we are called individually to have a response to God in our hearts and in our living; similarly we are called to respond in mission to each other for “we can not love on our own true love is about relationship and sharing.”  [5]  We do so by engaging in defense, not just dialogue of this doctrinal truth and can be said to assert its significance corporately in our worship “honouring God’s greatness as all three”[6] of the Trinity.  One needs look no further than to our Songbook of The Salvation Army first four sections[7] to encounter songs with deep theological speak such as found in  ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!’ (SASB220) and the chorus of ‘I believe’ (SASB222).

That the Doctrine of the Trinity is supported scripturally (both within the Old and New Testaments) is not contested by the Church but some opposing interpretations of the scriptures application to this doctrine do exist.  It is the position of The Salvation Army that scripture lends support to ‘God the Father,’ ‘Jesus Christ Our Lord,’ ‘The Holy Spirit [as] Lord,’ and ultimately our Triune God.’[8]

God, “[our] Father, [our] Creator, who made…and formed,” (Deuteronomy 32:6) “our Father, our Redeemer from of old,” (Isaiah 63:16) the “one Father” (Malachi 2:10) is the same Father we cry to in the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,” (Matthew 6:9) as too the intimate “Abba, Father,” (Mark 14:6) the “Father in heaven [who] gives…to those who ask of him,” (Luke 11:13) who are we, “the children of God.” (Romans 8:14)

In the personhood of Jesus Christ as our Lord, we too see that salvation comes to “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD,” (Joel 2:32) in Jesus transfigured, (Matthew 17:1-8) not just teacher (Matthew 22:24) but ‘the bread of life,’ (Mark14: 22-23) announced by Simon Peter as Lord (Luke 5:8), Thomas in “my Lord and my God!;” (John 20:28) in the name of Jesus that “every knee should bow,” “that every tongue acknowledge” is Lord. (Philippians 2:10-11)

The divinity of the Holy Spirit, expressed in the one we can not “go from,” we [cannot] flee from [the] presence” of, (Psalm 139:7) “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit,” (John 14:26) “the Spirit of Truth,” (John 15:26) so ‘breathed on’ us, (John 20:22-23) “if indeed the Spirit of God lives in” us (Romans 8:9-11) who themselves pronounces “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3) that we hold to as “Lord [the Spirit], and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

So fully, our Triune God as Father, revealed by Jesus the Son (Matthew 11:25-27) in commission “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19) proves more than “enough for [us] (unlike Philip in John 14:6) that the Son and Spirit testify to the Father, (John 15:26-27) all “the same Lord,” (1 Corinthians 12:4) the “fellowship” (2 Corinthians 13:14) beautifully revealed equally in each person (Jude 20-21).

That this doctrine, so seated in a scriptural foundation, likewise is deeply rooted historically within the development of the theology and creed of the Church is informative of its importance to Christian faith and practice.  What may seem as a simple albeit profound concept is also described as “baffling.”[9]  Indeed Thomas Jefferson is said to have scoffed at the “incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic” and “there are many who suspect that [the doctrine] is an attempt by theologians to make their subject (God) inaccessible to outsiders.”[10]  It may be true that the later has at times been the case, but it can also be said that theologians have been instrumental to the development of our modern understanding of this doctrinal truth, since the time of the early church.  McGrath purports that the development of this doctrine occurred across three stages, in which discourse centered on the following: ‘full divinity of Christ,’ ‘full divinity of the Spirit,’ and ultimately in full ‘formulation of the doctrine’ nearing the end of the fourth century.[11]  One can trace historically supporters of its development in the Didache, to Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Theophilus, Tertullian (Against Praxeas), Origen, Cyprian, Athanasius and Augustine.[12]  Like this greats one can also look to the great influence some have had on the development of creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian, the Apostles Creed.[13]  The Nicene Creed brought mention of the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the Athansian shifted focus to the baptismal formula (Matthew 28: 19) and the Apostles extending this formula but not fully expressing all three persons as co-equally God.[14]  Here truly begins the separation of the Universal church branches, on current doctrinal understanding of the Trinity.

The Church of England and Episcopalians support the Thirty-nine articles of 1562, in which it as said that within the “unity of [the] Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power and eternity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”[15]  For the Reformers, emphasis is placed on the Belgic Confession of 1561 “we believe in one only God, who is one single essence, in which are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct.”[16]  For Presbyterians, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 is significantly similar to the Church of England understandably, but also attending to “the deity of all three and the Spirit’s double procession…affirmed.”[17]  Here the doctrine is seen “not an abstract concept just for theologians but…[crucially important] for how all Christians live their faith everyday.”[18]  So too this branch would speak to perichoresis, the “mutual interaction and intimate sharing and self-giving, as the way the three persons together are one God.”[19]  Unitarians of course see the “Doctrine of Trinity [as] a misrepresentation of biblical and early church teachings about God,”[20] whereas Social Trinitarians believe that “if God is tripersonal, then god’s personal self-existence is maintained in the interrelationships between the divine persons.”[21]  The Eastern Orthodox view of the doctrine of the “Trinity [is] more restrained” with focus on “communion of persons.”[22]  Methodism puts forth that Wesley, founder of, did not provide it with “a rigorous Institutes or Summa” so therefore needs to “reappropriate, refine and extend insights” into this doctrine.[23]  Wesley has said, “God the Father reconciles is through the Incarnate Son and his life, death, and resurrection and realizes that reconciliation in our lives through the person and activity of the Holy Spirit.”[24]  Therefore we can recognize Wesleyan influence on pulling out communion and community from this doctrinal truth so that we too “may enjoy constant communion with the Father and the Son, which fills our hearts with humble love for God and neighbor.”[25]

Defense will be made for its continued inclusion within Salvation Army doctrine; likewise it will be shown that deep understanding of this doctrine will contribute to my own future ministry.

Having looked to sound scriptural referencing and the development of the theological backbone of the Doctrine of the Trinity we cannot deny its crucial positioning in our belief and practice as The Salvation Army.  In a pluralistic world it is crucial that we, as Salvationists and church leaders, be able to distinguish our doctrinal understanding from that of other branches within the Church.  We need to be able to look critically to other arguments, such as Jungen Moltmann’s social trinity and see clearly as Bauckham presents, that some ‘are “attractive” theories but…’[26] if not backed scripturally or connected to our other teaching hold no ground in our belief and practice.  A large part of what makes this understanding significant within our context is our practice, in particular our worship.

It has been said “if we are to begin to appreciate the profound implications of the Trinity for Christian faith, worship, and life, our praise must move beyond the perception that the significance of Trinitarian faith is exhausted with the confession of “God in 3 persons.”[27]  Within the Salvation Army and personally within my future ministry experience I firmly believe it is crucial to teach this doctrine not only in the framework of the sermon but also in all worship.  I believe that The Salvation Army does well to speak in the close of this doctrine to the Triune nature of God “undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory.”[28]  Confusion does not have to abound.  We can, by faith, accept what we have in the scriptures as truth, which point to both this great mystery of ‘three in one’ while also to the equality shared.

Understanding of the scriptural backing of, the historical development of and our Salvation Army understanding of the Doctrine of Trinity lend weight to my ability to provide a defense for our belief and practice as it relates to the Triune God.  Given our stance within a pluralistic society, it will inevitably be a matter of our faith that we will need to defend in light of a society that allows for belief seemingly in ‘anything that goes.’



[1] The General of The Salvation Army, The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, p.52.

[2] The General of The Salvation Army, The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, p.51.

[3] In speaking to God the Father, our Handbook of Doctrine expresses the necessity of an inclusive position when looking to God as Father, in the example of needing to show both the fathering and mothering aspects of God, found on page 53.

[4] The General of The Salvation Army, The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, p.51.

[5] Handbook, p.60.

[6] Handbook, p.75.

[7] Respectively named ‘God the Father,’ ‘The Lord Jesus Christ,’ ‘The Holy Spirit,’ and then ‘The Trinity.’ (The Song Book of The Salvation Army, xi.)

[8] Salvation Story, p.25, 29, 51, and 16.

[9] McGrath, Alister E.  Theology: The Basics, p. 87.

[10] McGrath, Alister E.  Theology: The Basics, p. 87.

[11] McGrath, Alister E.  Theology: The Basics, p. 88-89.

[12] Grider, J. Kenneth, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, p143.

[13] Grider, J. Kenneth, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, p143-145.

[14] Grider, J. Kenneth, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, p145.

[15] Grider, J. Kenneth, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, p147.

[16] Grider, J. Kenneth, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, p147.

[17] Grider, J. Kenneth, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, p147.

[18] Butin, Philip W.  The Trinity, cover.

[19] Butin, Philip W.  The Trinity, p42.

[20] Butin, Philip W.  The Trinity, p54.

[21] Butin, Philip W.  The Trinity, p62.

[22] Butin, Philip W.  The Trinity, p63.

[23] Abraham & Kirby, The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies, p.519.

[24] Abraham & Kirby, The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies, p.506.

[25] Abraham & Kirby, The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies, p.508.

[26] VanHoozer, Kevin J., ed.  The Trinity in a Pluralistic Age, p.160.

[27] Butin, Philip W.  The Trinity, p74.

[28] Handbook, p.51.

Bibliography:

Abraham, William J. & Kirby, James E., ed.  The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies.  New York, Oxford University Press, 2009.

Butin, Philip W.  The Trinity.  Louisville, Kentucky, Geneva Press, 2001.

Grider, J. Kenneth.  A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology.  Kansas City, Beacon Hill Press, 1994.

McGrath, Alister.  Theology: The Basics.  Malden, MA, Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

The Salvation Army International Headquarters.  The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine.  London, United Kingdom, Salvation Books, 2010 and 2013.

The Salvation Army International Headquarters.  Salvation Story.  London, England, MPG Books Ltd., 1998.

The Salvation Army National Headquarters.  The Song Book of The Salvation Army.  Verona, N.J., American Version, 1987.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J., ed.  The Trinity In A Pluralistic Age: Theological Essays on Culture and Religion.  Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.