The word and Spirit formed Christian and church
It is worth noting that Augustine takes it for granted that to write on the Trinity was to interpret the scriptures. There was no question of dogmatic writers and biblical commentators belonging to different species.
Edmund Hill (endnote 15, p. 91 in The Trinity by Saint Augustine)
Q. What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
A. I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am an always be a living member.
Question 54, Heidelberg Catechism
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
I’m excited to incorporate Pentecost and Trinity Sundays into our Sunday gatherings this June. Pentecost is often a Christian celebration on missions and the establishment of the church, and the Sunday afterwards is traditionally a Sunday where the church reflects on the doctrine of the Trinity. In preparation for this, I’ve pulled my trinity books off the shelf, which you might have seen stacked high in my study this past week. Of them, I’ve decided to review Augustine’s book on the Trinity and another book that is more of a historical overview of the doctrine. In any case, I’d like to continue my short discussion from the previous weeks. If I’ve just spoken about pastors and then the church, the natural flow from discussion on the church is to consider the word of God which makes known to us our triune God.
Last Sunday we sang just a short snippet from Psalm 119. It really is quite the word. ‘I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.’ Now how is it that he can say he’s so smart? How can he say he’s got this crazy understanding? The whole rest of the stanza sounds like an overly proud boast? A person can say and sing these words (like we did) because God’s word is higher than any man’s wisdom. The testimony of the Lord is greater than anything a aged person can say.
Psalm 119 really sets the stage for us in any kind of theologizing. To be a theologian is to interpret the scriptures. I wouldn’t recommend any of you read Augustine’s the Trinity. It’s a little wordy, but I appreciate Edmund Hill’s endnote: Augustine takes it for granted that to write on the Trinity was to interpret scripture. This is one of the aims of pastoral teaching. All too often people get ideas that are more based in fiction than reality. They are more rationalizations from our own experience and not the fruit of our digging into the scriptures. I mentioned to a friend today that a church that is faithfully ministering is actually forming the church in the Christian worldview. The president of the seminary I went to is famous for discussing ‘worldview’. He talks about the news every day. But I’m not sure that Dr. Mohler’s worldview discussion on his program is constructive. It doesn’t build up scriptural truth into an edifice we could call worldview. Many things we term ‘worldview’ today are quite anemic. We actually get a much better worldview education through the regular exposition of scripture, instruction in basic theological truths (such as what we get at our catechism class), and through following the coattails of older saints.
So the ‘holy catholic church’ is gathered, protected, and preserved by the Spirit and Word. And a church that is faithfully being fed the word is being made alive, built up into a beautiful temple, that won’t be undermined by theological error. To me, faithful word-and-Spirit ministry equips the congregation to live with better discernment about theological topics that are new and novel. But one of the most important doctrines is something that we are tempted to think has to be constructed with philosophy. But it’s actually important that we see and realize that the doctrine of the Trinity is a doctrine the flows out of the word of God itself. It’s one of those quiet doctrines that you have actually heard a lot of through my preaching, but you may not have fully registered it. For instance, we just heard Peter in 2 Peter 1:16-21 overlay a trinitarian image into his teaching.
What’s the point? The point is that we ought to seek to minister by God’s Spirit and word. And through God’s word, we come to know many things including the doctrine of the Trinity, a basic Christian worldview, and so much more. The church is a place of God’s construction. He’s building a people more and more into his likeness. And one of the convictions that I think is important is that theological reasoning is best done within the context of the local church and not simply the academy. Augustine is one of many who were churchmen and whose writings are really things he wrote for the church. Even his book on the Trinity is really a writing where he’s trying to provide a biblically constructive argument about the Trinity, the central doctrine of the Christian faith. And one of the things we have to do is realize that these doctrines are not things in outer space we ought to believe in that have no bearing on our lives. Instead, the doctrine of the Trinity is the core teaching of Scripture. What most does the word of God point us to? The word of God makes known to us God and the salvation he has accomplished through his very triune self. The word of God is about God. If we forget this, we’ve forgotten most everything. So, I hope you are excited as we approach this sermon series this summer on the nature of our triune God.