Second post in the series: Binitarian Worship
In the first post (posted on May 28) on this multi-post topic, Binitarian Worship, I related the fact that neither the Bible nor the early church provides an example of believers addressing (praying to, speaking to, singing to) the Holy Spirit. In this second post, I want to explore and emphasize the implications of Trinitarian monotheism. As we will see, the question of praying to the Spirit is intertwined with how we are thinking about the nature of God.
It is one God and only one God we gather to worship.
“Here, O Israel, the Lord our God: the Lord is One God.” (Dt 6:4)
“I am the Lord and there is no other. Besides me there is no God. (Is 45:5)
“For there is one God.” (1 Tm 2:5)
However we ultimately define what we mean by Father, Son, and Spirit we must begin with this essential and unchangeable affirmation: It is one God we worship. The one God who is God. It is to this God and no other that we direct our praise and prayer. Get this wrong, or even get is just partly wrong, and we have utterly lost our way.
In the ancient world, religion was all about worship. Religion was not a discussion of theological categories or creedal dogma. The question was always, “What is it that you worship?” As Larry Hurtado has demonstrated, worship was what ancient people meant when they talked about religion. The question of God was not asking for a paragraph of dogmatic propositions, it was asking how and what you worship.
The early church was not persecuted by the Romans for wrong theology (we have to wait for Christians to do that). They were martyred because of wrong worship. It was a disagreement over a little ceremonial issue. A little offering to Cæsar, if you please. No big deal. Everybody does it. It’s your patriotic duty. Yet, Christians (at least the faithful ones) refused even that small compromise in worship.
Forget the practical for a moment. For now, don’t worry about the order of songs for this coming Sunday. Think foundational things. And here’s the place we begin: Our songs must be composed by those who intend to direct our worship to the one God. Our worship must be led by those who thoroughly understand that we are the people who believe there is only one God. Our prayers, our gifts, our adorations: all directed to this one God who is God. We affirm the very thing the Lord Jesus said to Satan himself when, challenged in the little matter of bowing down, he refused and proclaimed, “You are to worship the Lord God and to serve Him only.” (Mt 4:10; Lk 4:8)
Many Christians assume we need to directly address (talk to, pray to, sing to, give thanks to) the Holy Spirit in our worship. Yet, as I hope you have researched to confirm, the ancient church did not do this. Since they were never prohibited from doing it, and yet never did it, they only explanation is that they never thought about doing it. How can something seem so obvious to many believers today and never seems to have crossed the minds of the first Christians?
The answers lie partly in their embracing the full truth of monotheism. There is only One God. When we worship God, no part of God is standing off on the side wondering why it was left out of that worship. The unity of God is reflected in the unity of worship. The Holy Spirit in us is to be understood within the Trinity. Rather than three slices of a God-shaped-pie, the New Testament writers can then speak of Him within us as the Spirit of God, or the Spirit of Christ, or Christ in us, or, of course, the Holy Spirit.
Our urge to clarify or distinguish this can lead to many questions we cannot answer. That is uncomfortable. Are all three beings inside us? This would bring our spirits-in-residence population count to four (our own spirit is somewhere in there, too). How can Christ speak of the Paracletos (Comforter, Counselor, Advocate) as entirely separate from Himself (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7, 13) and, in the same discourse, speak as though He Himself is the Paracletos (John 14:18, 20, 23; 15:4, 5)?
Let’s pull one paragraph out of John 14 and see where it takes us: It would really help if you opened your Bible software and brought up this passage. In John 14:15-23 Jesus says the He will ask the Father and the Father will send the disciples another Paracletos to be with them: the Spirit of Truth. Okay, here we have three: Son (speaking), Father (the one Jesus will ask), Spirit (the one the Father will send because the Son asked). Now, keep reading.
Jesus then tells the disciples they know this Paracletos because He, right then and there, is living with them and that He (in the future) will be living in them. Then He goes on to immediately tell them that He (Jesus) is not leaving them orphans because He (Jesus) will come to them. This equates Jesus with the Paracletos. Then, to complete the picture (or blur it even further), Jesus assures them that on that day (when the Father sends the Paracletos) they will know that He (Jesus) is in the Father and that the disciples (the “you” in the passage is plural) are in Him (Christ) and that He (Christ) is in the disciples.
Is that all crystal clear to you? No? Good. So, let’s admit it. We have lots of questions. And, then we have questions that sit inside other questions. We are floating in an ocean of question marks. That is an awkward place to be.
But, far worse, is when we think we have come up with answers. Our explanations about God all come out of our incredibly limited fragments of the picture. Yes, the Bible tells us all we need to know about God. But it does not come close to telling us all we want to know about God. We cannot fathom any reality outside our own space-time frame of reference. For example, someone might say God exists outside time. Fine, but nobody understands what such an existence would be like. And, on top of that, we do not know what we do not know.
The explanation of the ancient leaders and councils of the church summed up in the word Trinity was never intended to suggest the church needs to worship three deities named Father, Son, and Spirit. This would be tri-theism. It is what many Muslims think Christianity teaches. It is, far too often, what our sloppy language and theologically uneducated leaders actually sound like we believe. But, let’s get this one truth as the basis for all truth: There is only one God. Anything else isn’t just “not quite right.” It is, to use an out of fashion word, heresy.
Where does this leave us? Scripture affirms there is only One God. The explanation the early church arrives at by Chalcedon (451) is that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three persons (hypostaseis) and the same substance (homoousian). As long as we do not push this too far, the explanation is true and gives a framework into which all the relevant passages in the Bible can fit. Trinity is a way to affirm all that the Bible teaches about God. It is not a way to come to new information about God. And, remember, the basic framework out of which the doctrine of the Trinity was articulated was a commitment to preserve monotheism, not to undermine it.
So, where is the practical pithy heart-warming conclusion to the post? It is simply this: When you write music, plan, lead, or participate in the worship of the church, frame it out of one thought around which all of worship must evolve: there is only one God.