Note from Sarah* This morning the pastor at my church challenged us to think about, "where do we as a church go from here?" Meaning, where are we headed in this world that has been severely challenged by government-enforced separations and political, moral, and cultural discord worldwide? To get us thinking, Pastor Ed shared an excerpt from a master's thesis he wrote in 2012. A conclusion was drawn that in this time (in which God knew WE would be living) we should turn our focus to discipleship and fellowship. In other words, we need each other and we need to reach out to a hurting world. We do that through the Holy Trinity. So, I hope you enjoy the full thesis written by Pastor Ed Torres of North Rome Wesleyan Church in Rome, Pennsylvania.
The Holy Trinity
Indiana Wesleyan University
MDIV500 – Dr. Mark Swank
Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service
Executive Summary/Reflection Paper
May 14, 2012
1. Trinitarian Ministry: Why It Matters
contends that if we understand the inner workings behind the doctrine of the
Trinity, it will reveal not only who God is, His nature, but also how He
relates to us and shapes our ministry (p. 15).
All parts of our life and ministry should be reflective of the
characteristics of the Trinity (p. 19).
These characteristics speak more to our relationship and communion with
God then what we do for God, which is a byproduct of who we are (p. 20). Thus
our connection and understanding of who God is and how we are created in His
image, is more important than our service.
Our ministry is described as “the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son, to
the Father, through the Holy Spirit,
for the sake of the church and world” (pp. 9-10). It entails participating in
Jesus’ mission to save the world and proclaim the Kingdom of God,
in total obedience to the Father because of their relationship and
partnership. Jesus’ participation with
the Father is “radically dependant” on the work of the Holy Spirit who is in
partnership with the Father and the Son (p. 27). As we are invited into the fellowship of
the Trinity, we must evaluate our ministry based on the image of the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit.
2. Relational Personhood: The Nature of
the Triune God relates with each other will help us to examine how we are to
live life in relationship to others as a person created in the image of
God. The relationship of the trinity is
described as being fully equal, with a glad submission, joyful intimacy and
mutual deference (p. 35). If we are
created in the image of God, these traits should be evident in our
relationships. It will invoke a health
respect for the other person(s). There
is also a willingness to put the needs of others first and understand the value
and joy we get from our intimate fellowship which promotes the other
person. An emphasis on wholeness in our
interactions with others, living life with others in a small group and being
committed to a health family are essential to our spiritual growth and ministry
(p. 40). Relational wholeness starts
with being open to connect with others in love while setting healthy boundaries
were necessary (pp. 41-43). It sets the relationship as the priority (p.
41). That means we “do life” in
community with every part of our lives deeply connected and visible to the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and each other.
In addition to wholeness and small group community life, the characteristics
of the Trinity should be found in our family lives where respect for each other
and self-sacrifice is essential (pp. 48-49).
3. Joyful Intimacy: The Foundation of
Just as each
person of the trinity is distinct yet inseparable (p. 34), we, who are hidden
in Christ, are invited to participate in that intimate fellowship. There is the deep seated joy and sense of
confidence that you get when you understand that you are loved and find your
identity in and through your intimacy with God (pp. 59, 72). It is no longer a chore but a joy to
participate in a discipline in order to connect with God. It is our
relationship with God that defines who we are.
Because we are accepted by God, we do not have to earn God’s love (p.
62). We find our value in our
relationship that is fully dependent on God who provides for us (p. 63).
Knowing God and loving Him comes before serving and doing (p. 65). It’s not
about trying harder or accomplishing various tasks because we are already loved
and valued by God. Since love was poured out to us through God’s acceptance and
sustenance, we are able to accomplish the mission He has called us to do (p.
4. Glad Surrender: The Heart of Trinitarian
a characteristic of the trinity and should be part of our lives and
ministry. God’s love was evident in the
sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. It
exemplifies the divine love that each person in the trinity has for each other
and for creation that God would empty himself of the divine privilege and come
to earth in the likeness of a man to redeem humankind (p. 78). Since we are
naturally self-preserving and self-centered, acts of self-sacrifice become
attainable through our relationship in Christ (p. 85). As we daily surrender control and access the
fellowship of the trinity, the example of God’s love shown in the Trinity helps
us to conform to His image. As we
conform to the image of God, God accomplishes a deeper work of grace in us and
a loving and natural outflow of our ministry to the world will prevail (p. 89).
5. Complex Simplicity: The Mystery of
uses a contradiction in words to explain the mystery of the Trinity. How can
something be complex and simple at the same time? How can God the Father, Son
and Holy Spirit be one God? We can see God working as three persons yet there
is one God (pp. 99 -100). “God’s unity is not a unity of separable parts but of
distinguishable persons (p. 100)."
This mystery should evoke “exhilaration and wonder” and “not confusion
and frustration” (p. 99). Just as we do
not have to understand everything about something to believe in it, we embrace
the mystery of the trinity based on faith in a God who loves and cares for us. Ministry, in the image of the Trinity, is complex
yet joyful and simple yet challenging (p. 115).
6. Gracious Self-Acceptance: The Particularity
of Trinitarian Ministry
revealed distinct personality, roles and character traits of each person in the
Trinity which is reflected in those created in the image of the Trinity (p.
120). The communion of the Trinity would not be complete without each person
accomplishing their role and their relationship to each other. As we enter into the triune relationship, God
is asking us to throw down our fig leaf and participate with Him (p.128). God accepts us, imperfections and all, and
uses our uniqueness for His glory and by His grace. As God imparts His grace and accepts us it
is then “our part is to receive the gift, to accept ourselves on the basis of
God’s acceptance.” (p. 133). Stephen
Seamands explains the process towards self-acceptance as renouncing the false
self, removing the seeds of self-rejection, receiving our acceptance from
Christ and embracing our weaknesses (pp. 127-134).
7. Mutual Indwelling: The Reciprocity of
As each person in
the Trinity abides in each other, each with their own identity, God promised
that He would abide in us (John 17). We
can get a sense of peace knowing that the God of the universe abides in us.
Stephen Seamands describes this fellowship as a dance where “there are neither
leaders nor follows in the divine dance, only an eternal movement of reciprocal
giving and receiving...” (p. 144) and we are invited into this dance. In
ministry, we are to abide in God, who promises us that if we abide in Him we
will bear fruit that will last (p.149).
As we have fellowship with God, we also have fellowship with others, who
are invited to the dance. In this regard, we are united with other Christians
and “experience spiritual unity with other believers beyond our general human
capacity for oneness” (p 150). We can
then enter into the lives of others and allow others access to our life and “do
8. Passionate Mission: The Impulse of Trinitarian Ministry
The mission of
God is derived from the nature of God (p. 160).
God the Father sent the Son, The Father and the Son sent the Holy
Spirit, and the Trinity sends the church into the world (p. 161). As we enter into the unity of the Trinity, we
participate with them in the mission of God (p. 168). It is obvious that the
Triune God has already initiated the mission from the beginning of time and
established our inclusion through the work of Jesus on the cross and in the
resurrection from the dead.
Seamands' book, he describes our ministry as the ministry of the one who
created us in His image. As we are created in the image of the Trinity, our
ministry should take shape in relation to and as a direct result of the Triune
characteristics. Our ministry is
described as “the ministry of Jesus
Christ, the Son, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, for the sake of
the church and world” (pp. 9-10). We
participate with Christ in His mission, in total obedience and love for the
Father, solely dependant on the Holy Spirit to make God known to a dying
world. We join a triune fellowship that
is fully equal, joyfully submitting to one another, deferring to each other out
of love and fully transparent and intimate with each other (P. 35). Our
ministry and relationships are formed by who we are in God. Because God loves
and accepts us, He liberates us to live a life of joyful service without the
fear of making mistakes or not measuring up because of our own merit. The
example of God’s self-sacrifice reminds us to surrender control to a God of
immeasurable grace (p. 89). It gives us
the ability to look at ourselves through God’s eyes as our acceptance is based
on what Jesus accomplished (pp. 127-134).
our fellowship with the Trinity and other Christians as a dance, which we
participate with one another and implies a unity (pp. 144-150). The dancers act
as one, inseparable from each other (p. 143).
As we enter this dance, we are invited into and included in the mission
of God. The mission is derived by God’s nature, where the church is an
instrument of God’s mission and sustained by God’s mission (pp. 160-161).
Thesis: “The ministry we have
entered is the ministry of Jesus
Christ, the Son, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, for the sake of
the church and the world. (p. 9-10)
are invited to commune with the Triune God of the universe, who is in perfect
community with each other. The idea
that we are created in the image of a Triune God, that God can dwell in us and
that the fellowship is offered to us by grace is sometimes hard to imagine yet
it shapes our ministry (p.1 2). It shows
us how relationships can exist in community.
participate in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
We join with Christ in His ongoing ministry understanding that it is not
our ministry (p.21). When we believe it
is our ministry we claim ownership over it and can become prideful.
requests for time and work did not take precedence over Jesus’ commitment to
serve His Father and accomplish the mission (p. 24). He knew His priorities for ministry and this
showed His love for the Father above all things. Jesus did this through the ministry of the
Mark Shaw defines the Triune relationship as “full
equality, glad submission, joyfully intimacy and mutual deference” (p. 35). In
this regard, we can measure our relationship and community, in the light of the
virtues found in the trinity.
As we are created in the image of the Trinity, a small
group, our involvement with other Christians for accountability is important to
our spiritual growth (p. 44). Ultimately it will strengthen the effectiveness
of our witness as the world sees our unity and will know that the Father sent
Jesus (John 17:23).
Sacrifice and self-giving are at the heart of Christian
Ministry (p. 83). Seeking the will of God requires these qualities as we are
naturally self-preserving and self-seeking.
Like the trinity, people in our community have a SHAPE
(spiritual gifts, heart, ability, personality and experiences), which validates
each persons worth in the community (p. 125).
“God’s love for you and his choice of you constitutes your worth (p.
God’s nature is
one of sending and is therefore by essence a missionary God (pp. 160-161). The
church is sent by God to the world to share God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.
“The ministry we have entered is the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the church and the world.”
“The Trinitarian circle of Father, Son and Holy
Spirit is therefore an open, not a closed, circle. Through faith in Christ,
through baptism into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19), we enter into the life of the Trinity and are
graciously included as partners.” (p. 12)
“…Karl Barth placed the Trinity at the very
beginning of his Church Dogmatics (1932).
“The doctrine of the Trinity,” he insisted, “is what basically distinguishes
the Christian doctrine of God as Christian, and therefore what already
distinguishes the Christian concept of revelation as Christian, in contrast to
all other possible doctrines of God or concepts of revelation.” (p. 16)
“Unless the Holy Spirit fills, the human spirit fails.”
– E. Stanley Jones (P. 29)
“Our greatest need is not for more Christian therapists
and moralist but for authentic Christian communities, communities where “the
heart of God is home, where the humble and wise learn to shepherd those on a
path behind them, where trusting strugglers lock arms with others as together
they journey on.” – Larry Crabb (p. 32)
“Because of our
bent towards sin, (Cor curvum in se),
we don’t chart our course to do God’s will.” (p.85)
“The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is
service for him.” - Oswald Chambers (p. 94)
“Instead of “what do we have to do to stir up our
passion and increase our engagement in mission?” it becomes “what’s hindering
us from joining the mission in which the Father, Son and Holy spirit are
already engaged?” (pp 168-169)
Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life
(New York: Harper Collins, 1991).
Thomas Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials for Ministry
(San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983).
Keener, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit
for Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001).
Colin Gunton, The Promise of the Trinity (Edinburgh: T
& T Clark, 1991).
These Three Are one, The Practice of
Trinitarian Theology (Oxford; Blackwell, 1998).
Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New york:
deeply challenged me to look at my ministry and look for the handprints of the
nature and attributes of a triune God.
It’s a journey that is still evolving.
I have preached from 1 John 1:3 which states “And our fellowship is with
the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ”.
John is proclaiming that the words of life are spoken so that hearers
could have fellowship with him and other Christians. He also defines the fellowship as with the
Father and the Son. I have always thought of that fellowship, including the
Holy Spirit, of being on a personal level and how it affected my spiritual
growth and personal relationship with other Christians and God. I never associated that fellowship as shaping
my ministry and maybe it is due to the fact that I always thought of ministry
as something I did instead of an extension of who I am. While I am deeply dependent on God, I looked
at the outcome as the evaluation of ministry.
Seamands prays that I should use his seven characteristics of
Trinitarian life to evaluate my ministry (p. 19). His description of ministry in the image of
God as being full equal, glad submission, joyful intimacy, and mutual deference
(p. 35) makes sense for a great working ministry relationship. I have worked with some pastors who have
exhibited these qualities, and sadly, many who have exhibited self promotion,
that is absent in the characteristics of the Trinity.
One of my favorite
scripture verses is Ephesians 1:17 where Paul prays that God would give us
the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know him better. Many times I let my agenda dictate my
actions. I know my heart breaks for the things that break God’s heart however
many times I forget, no I ignore, my personal relationship for the tasks at
hand. Could that be why Jesus said “the
poor you will always have with you…” (Matt 26:11). The author clearly states the obvious that it
is our relationship with God that defines us (p. 62) yet living in the tension
of being and doing can be a struggle. I
have to be intentional about this part of my life and thankfully I have a spouse
and accountability partners that wants me to be a godly father, husband, friend
I have a joy in
Christ and am comfortable with myself. I know God loves me and He has expressed
that love in tangible and miraculous ways. I have heard gentle whispers and
miracles that proclaim a God, who would move heaven and earth for me. I don’t
have issues with surrender, self-acceptance, indwelling and mission however I
now understand how they relate to the characteristics of the Trinity and my
ministry. I also understand how having a
proper Trinitarian theology makes sense in evaluating ministry. It makes you look to relationships with God
and others as the litmus test to success.
It speaks to community and each person fulfilling their role in God’s
plan thus taking a lot of the burden off my shoulders and placing them on God’s
shoulders, or rightly, on the shoulders of the fellowship. The Trinitarian
theology will helps me to focus on the mission with the right heart.