Does the Anglican Church believe in the Trinity?


by Chaplain Atsushi Shibaoka Royal Australian Air Force

“Does the Anglican Church believe that God is a trio?”  The answer is “yes”, if you are asking if the Anglican Church holds to the historical Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

There is a thing called “The Articles of Religion” which is one of the expressions of how Anglicans understand our Christian faith. You will find these Articles at the end of any Anglican Prayer books.   “Of Faith in the Holy Trinity” is THE very first of the 39 Articles listed in that document.  So, you might say that Anglicans hold to the doctrine rather strongly, as do all other Christian churches, for that matter!

Now, your Jehovah’s Witness friend seemed to be able to pull the idea apart quite easily for you. So, it is fair enough to ask, if it is that obscure and seemingly defies both biblical evidence and normal logic, why do Anglicans hold to it?  After all, we live in the age, when most information come in 15 second grabs.  Our politicians seem to ditch even good policies if these cannot withstand the 15 second test!

Despite all this, Anglicans are not about to ditch this doctrine.  We believe it to be both true and foundational.  I would add too, that for me, seeing God as the Trinity is the only way I have of making sense of what I know of God of the Scriptures, and how I experience that same God in my daily life.

Yes, it is a mystery.  However, since we are talking about the very core of who God is, and how God is, I don’t expect to be able to explain everything away by mere human logic. God who can be contained in human logic would only be a god, and just an idol….

Well then, how did Christians come to perceive God as the Holy Trinity in the first place?  For me, the easiest way to understand this is to revisit the history of Christian thinking and experience.

Each of the four Gospels in the New Testament describes the experience of followers of Jesus. As they walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, ate and prayed with Jesus, they came to realise something rather startling.  They realised that Jesus was more than just a rabbi; just a prophet, or just a divine presence. They didn’t think he was an angel either.

They came to the conclusion that Jesus was actually God.

Even a sceptic like Thomas called out to Jesus “You are my Lord and my God”.  (John 20.28)  – see link 8 below.

This was both puzzling and seriously inconvenient.  Those early Christians came mostly from Jewish back ground.  In contrast to their neighbours in the ancient world that believed in many gods, they were very big on there being only ONE God.

Things got more complicated after the death and resurrection of Jesus, when the Holy Sprit ‘arrived’ on the scene.  They were soon faced with an even more difficult but again, an inescapable conclusion that this Holy Spirit too is God!  We read about their experience in the Acts of the Apostles and in various letters Paul and others contained in the New Testament.

I wish someone – Paul or one of the Gospel writers – had sat down and wrote down how this was so! But they didn’t!  Instead, what we have in the New Testament is a rich and God-inspired insights into the dynamic life of the community of God’s people seeking to live their new life in Jesus, often in very hostile environment. A choice between a boring list of things or exciting adventure of faith, maybe!?

In terms of history, they did not try to work out how to hold together different elements of what they knew to be true about God in systematic and intellectual way until a little later. It took them until 325 AD.

They did a lot of thinking, praying and passionate debating for decades before.  But, it was at this gathering which is known as the Council of Nicaea where the early Christians came to agree on how they made sense of this one God, who was known to them as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

It is incredibly important to note here, that doctrines do not create beliefs as such.  A doctrine would seek to express what Christian people already believe and understand to be true – revealed in the Scriptures.  They seek to do so systematically in ways that make both intellectual and experiential sense.  And more than that, this expression must cover all that needs to be said; and at the same time, it must also avoid saying or implying what is not true!

For example, if we deny God as the Holy Trinity, if we say that Jesus was not God, we then need to go on to ask the following questions.

“If Jesus was a mere human, or even some sort of an angel, could that Jesus be a Saviour?  If so, how and what sort of salvation is achieved by this demi-god?”

“How could an angel die on the cross?”

Answers to those questions must make logical sense; must be consistent with the biblical evidence; and must also ring true in our Christian experience.  For me, affirming God as the Trinity makes more sense, than denying it.

Well, enough of this theological talk!  Allow me to get practical!  (And practical always involves less words!)

For me, faith in the Holy Trinity makes most sense when I pray.

I pray to God the Father; through God the Son who died on the cross and rose again; in the power of God the Holy Spirit who dwells within me.

Left to my own devices, I cannot pray as I ought.  It is God the Holy Spirit who, from within, encourages, empowers and enables.

Without God the Son, the Father is a distant figure far too holy for me to approach; Jesus has broken down that barrier.

And the prayer in this context becomes more than just words.  When I pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit, I somehow come to participate in the inner dynamics, the community and the inner life of God!  In that interaction, I am lifted out of my limited knowledge and poverty of spirit.  I glimpse something of theKingdom of God, the life in the immediate presence of God.

The faith in the Holy Trinity is important in my daily life in Jesus.

Just to finish off, I am a little puzzled by the claim by your friend that Jewish people and Catholics (Roman Catholics) have taken the name of God out of the Bible.  The sacred name of God appears no less than 6,828 times in the Hebrew scriptures. The traditional Hebrew position is that they do not say the sacred name aloud – for they seek to avoid any sense of blasphemy. Vowels are not supplied to YHWH, which is like us spelling God as “G-d”.

As far as the Catholics go, they brought out the Jerusalem Bible in 1966.  This was the first modern Roman Catholic English translation of the Bible.  One of its features was that it used Yahweh instead of “Lord” to designate the sacred name of God.

I hope all this makes sense for you.

AS

 


For further exploration

You will find that people tend to argue from one or the other sides of the fence – passionately, and often selectively!  There are very few fence sitters on this issue!  But some of those general articles below seek to adopt a balanced approach.

1.  Wikipedia article on Trinity is a good starting point.

2.  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy seeks to provide a more philosophical angle into thinking about Trinity and its history.

3.  Everystudent.com tries to provide a simple explanation on the Trinity from traditional position.

4.  About.com lists Faith Groups that Reject the Trinity Doctrine.  Any search on one of those will provide you with a huge range of reasons why they don’t hold to the doctrine.

5.  The Orthodox Church in America will give you an insight into more Eastern Orthodox approach on The Holy Trinity.

6.  This the Theopedia page on Trinity.  Thoepedia seeks to emulate Wiki within a main line protestant starting point.

7.  This is a devotional article on The Journey with Jesus site.

8.  Jesus as Θεός (God): A Textual Examination on Bible.org.