We Worship One God in Trinity

  One of the beauties of Reformed liturgy is that it reminds Christians week after week that we worship the Triune God.  In fact, as the pastor of a small Reformed church in rural Washington State, I begin many services with these words: “We are gathered here in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  In case you were wondering, we (confessional Reformed pastors) don’t say things like that in the liturgy just to be traditional, vintage, or old school.  We say those words to remind everyone that we are part of the historic Christian, Apostolic church and we gather to worship one God in three persons, blessed Trinity.  Jaroslav Pelikan talks about the Trinity and Christian worship in volume one of his excellent series.  Here’s an excerpt.

“…This christology was, the Alexandrians argued, conformable also to the liturgical practice of the church, and they insisted that the christology of their opponents was not.  The admonition of Second Clement to think of Jesus as of God also implied that Jesus Christ was deserving of that worship which was properly paid to God alone.  In the controversy with Arianism, Nicene orthodoxy had made much of the inconsistency between the Arians’ practice of worshiping Jesus Christ and their refusal to acknowledge that he was God in the fullest and most unambiguous sense of the word; the same argument had been used, on the basis of the doxologies, in support of the deity of the Holy Spirit.”

“At this point more than at any other, the application to the christological controversy of an argument invented during the trinitarian controversy proved to be effective.  For the defenders of Nicea refused to distinguish between the worship appropriate to the Father and that appropriate to the Son.  The Detailed Confession of Apollinaris, which summarized Nicene orthodoxy without getting into the speculations about the human soul of Christ for which the author was later condemned, was speaking for the main body of the tradition when it attacked an interpretation of the Trinity that would lead to ‘three dissimilar and diverse systems of worship, [contrary to the institution of] a single legal way of religious observance.’”

“There was, he wrote elsewhere, ‘nothing that is to be worshiped and nothing that saves outside the divine Trinity.’  The Christian worship of God was properly addressed to the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, without any distinction at all as to degree or kind.  Such was the orthodox interpretation of the Nicene decree and the clear outcome of the post-Nicene development, as eventually stated in the formula that the Holy Spirit was ‘the one who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified’” (p. 238-239).

Or, as the Athanasian Creed says so well, “And the catholic [universal] faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.”  This isn’t theological nitpicking; it has everything to do with our God who has saved us from sin, death, and hell.  The Father chose us in Christ the Son who died on the cross for us, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and now gives us his Holy Spirit to sanctify us in his truth and lead us to glory.  “Glory be to the Father! And to the Son and to the Holy Ghost…!”

shane lems

sunnyside wa

4 comments on “We Worship One God in Trinity

  1. Alan Beagley says:

    In the “Reformed” church of which I am a member, many Lord’s Days go by without explicit mention of “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” as a single phrase — and we often have “confessions of faith” other than the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed in which the three Persons are mentioned explicitly. The words “Trinity” and “Triune” are used even less frequently..

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    • Alan: I have no clue what church you attend, so I can’t comment specifically, but part of what it means to be a confessional Reformed (or Presbyterian) church is to have a liturgy that clearly reflects the confessions (which are summaries of Scripture). Of course the confessions are robustly Trinitarian. I used the term “confessional” on purpose, because there are churches that have “Reformed” in their name but never mention the confessions.

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  2. William says:

    Does Pelikan give any thoughts regarding sub-Nicene thoughts on the Trinity?

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