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.
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
2. Relational Personhood: The Nature of Trinitarian Ministry
Understanding how 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 Trinitarian Ministry
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. 64).
4. Glad Surrender: The Heart of Trinitarian Ministry
Self-sacrifice is 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 Trinitarian Ministry
Stephen Seamands 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
Scripture has 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 Trinitarian Ministry
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 life” together.
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.
In Stephen 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).
Seamands describes 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)
1. We 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.
2. We 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.
3. The 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 Holy Spirit.
4. 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.
5. 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).
6. 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.
7. 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. 136),”
8. 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.
1. “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)
2. “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)
3. “…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)
4. “Unless the Holy Spirit fills, the human spirit fails.” – E. Stanley Jones (P. 29)
5. “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)
6. “Because of our bent towards sin, (Cor curvum in se), we don’t chart our course to do God’s will.” (p.85)
7. “The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for him.” - Oswald Chambers (p. 94)
8. “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)
1. Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (New York: Harper Collins, 1991).
2. Thomas Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials for Ministry (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983).
3. Craig Keener, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001).
4. Colin Gunton, The Promise of the Trinity (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991).
5. David Cunningham, These Three Are one, The Practice of Trinitarian Theology (Oxford; Blackwell, 1998).
6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New york: Guilford, 1995).
Seamands 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 and pastor.
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.