GCI Update

Addressing two anti-Trinity arguments

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

Those who seek to disprove the doctrine of the Trinity use various arguments in making their case—we’ll address two frequently used arguments in this letter. The first goes like this: the Trinity doctrine is not biblical because the Bible does not teach that the Holy Spirit is divine. As evidence, they point to passages in the New Testament (like Rom. 1:7) that mention God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ), but omit mention of the Holy Spirit. They then note that if the Holy Spirit is God, this omission is a terrible insult to the Spirit. Is this argument convincing? No, it has several flaws, including these:

  • The argument falsely assumes that all three Persons of the Trinity would always be mentioned together if they were equally divine. But this assumption has no scriptural merit. Several passages mention the Son without mentioning the Father, and vice versa. Additionally, the book of Acts often mentions the Spirit without also mentioning the Father and/or the Son.
  • The argument fails to take into account the many passages (about 65 in all) where the Father, Son and Spirit are mentioned together. Among those passages are Matt. 28:19; Luke 1:35; various places in John 14 through 16; Rom. 15:16; Gal. 5:6; Eph. 4:4-6; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5-7; and Jude 1:19-21. Note also that any one of the divine Persons can be mentioned first when all three are being named—God the Father is mentioned first in the Matt. 28:19 baptismal formula, God the Son is mentioned first in the benediction in 2 Cor. 13:14, and God the Holy Spirit is mentioned first in the discussion of the Spirit’s work in the church in 1 Cor. 12:4-6.
  • The argument falsely contends that offense occurs when the Father is mentioned without the Son, the Son without the Father, the Spirit without the Father or the Son, etc. However, the three Persons of the Trinity are one God, which means they exist eternally in perfect union and communion. To attribute to them an immature human reaction like taking offense would be to place them on our level. This part of their argument is not only unwarranted, it is foolish.
  • The claim that the Spirit is not divine is usually followed by the equally false claim that the Spirit is merely a power God uses. This claim is highly problematic because it implies that God is not omnipotent in that he needs a power outside himself to accomplish his work and will.

A second, and related argument used in trying to disprove the doctrine of the Trinity is that the New Testament does not give a personal “face” to the Holy Spirit in the way it does to the Father and the Son—therefore, the Bible does not teach that the Spirit is divine. Is this argument convincing? No, it requires that one turn a blind eye to the many passages in the Bible that speak of the Holy Spirit’s personal ministry. That work is principally to point people to Jesus who, as God incarnate, is the only Person of the Trinity with a literal face. Concerning the Spirit and his ministry, note this comment from T. F. Torrance:

The Holy Spirit is God himself speaking although he is not himself the Word of God. It was not of course the Spirit but the Word who became incarnate, and so the Spirit does not bring us any revelation other than or independent of the Word who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has no “Face”, but it is through the Spirit that we see the Face of Christ and in the Face of Christ we see the Face of the Father. The Holy Spirit does not manifest himself or focus attention upon himself, for it is his mission from the Father to declare the Son and focus attention upon him. It is through the speaking of the Spirit that the Word of God incarnate in Christ is communicated to us in words that are Spirit and Life and not flesh. (The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Personsp. 63)

Note also these two passages in John’s Gospel where Jesus tells his disciples about the Holy Spirit and his personal ministry:

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)

When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears…. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. (John 16:13-14)

Thomas F. Torrance

Though we find throughout Scripture personal references to the Father and the Son, an absence of such references to the Holy Spirit does not negate his divinity. In that regard, note this from Thomas F. Torrance:

While God the Father and God the Son are revealed to us in their distinctive personal subsistences [existence as persons]… God the Holy Spirit is not directly known in his own Person… for he remains hidden behind the very revelation of the Father and the Son which he mediates through himself. He is the invisible Spirit of Truth who is sent from the Father in the name of the Son, but not in his personal name as the Holy Spirit, and thus does not speak of himself, but declares of the Father and the Son what he receives from them, while effacing himself before them…. He is the invisible Light in whose shining we see the uncreated Light of God manifest in Jesus Christ, but he is known himself only in that he lights up for us the Face of God in the Face of Jesus Christ. (The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Personsp. 51)

Basil of Caesarea

Basil of Caesarea, a prominent theologian of the early church (4th century), makes a similar comment: “Our mind, enlightened by the Spirit, looks towards the Son, and in him as in an image, sees the Father” (Letters of Basil, quoted in Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, p. 212). The phrase, “enlightened by the Spirit,” brings joy to my soul! The Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth, lights up the truth—he shows us Jesus, who then shows us the Father. Here we have God shining upon God, revealing to us a God we can relate to in Jesus. We cannot know Jesus without this illumination from the Holy Spirit.

Praise the Father, praise the Son, praise the Holy Spirit!

I conclude with one of Paul’s Trinitarian benedictions: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).

Rejoicing in the reality of relationship with our Triune God,
Joseph Tkach

Meet our new pastors

Several of GCI-USA’s newest pastors and pastors-in-training (pastoral residents) were interviewed at the recent New Pastors Orientation Conference held at GCI’s Home Office in Glendora, CA. Here are videos of interviews with Pastoral Resident Jillian Caranto and Pastor Craig Kuhlman.

On YouTube at http://youtu.be/cbeq6QI7Er4.

On YouTube at http://youtu.be/ZKzJjOHgwM4.

Baptisms in West Africa

We are celebrating good news from West Africa—34 members from GCI congregations in Kpodzi, Ghana, and nearby Lomé, Togo, were baptized at a recent combined church service. Below is a picture of the group gathered for the service. We rejoice with these GCI brothers and sisters!

Seminar in South America

GCI’s congregation in Barranquilla, Colombia, recently met at a hotel in Santa Marta for its Annual Seminar. The group, which included 47 adults and 7 children, was led by Pastor Sonia Orozco, with GCI Mission Developer Hector Barrero serving as featured speaker. The theme of the four-day seminar was “Transforming Lives” with presentations addressing the congregation’s mission, vision, values, ministries, motivations and objectives. Here are pictures:


The church and its ministry (part 7)

Gary Deddo

Here is part 7 of an essay from Gary Deddo on the nature of the church and its ministry. For other parts of the essay, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, 1011, 12. We encourage you to add your thoughts and questions in the “comments” box at the end of each post to get a discussion going. To read the full essay in booklet form, click here. To read the related essay, “Clarifying Our Theological Vision,” click here.

Gary delivered two lectures related to this essay at the recent New Pastors Orientation Conference in Glendora, CA. Videos of the lectures have been posted on YouTube:

  • Click here to watch Reading and Interpreting Scripture with Trinitarian Eyes.
  • Click here to watch GCI Doctrines and How to Teach Them.

A Brief Theology of the Church
(with a view to equipping the saints for the work of ministry)

by Dr. Gary Deddo

Part 7: On Being the Body of Christ

Last time we looked at how the church’s proclamation, in addition to preaching, occurs through its worship and witness. This time we’ll note that though the New Testament does not give a lot of detail concerning how the church is to function, it does specify certain patterns and practices that build off of and are arranged according to the theological insights we already have looked at in this essay.

How is the church to operate?

As the body of Christ, the church is called to live out its life according to whose church it is and how it is related to the one to whom it belongs and from whom it derives its life and vocation. The church is thus to operate in accordance with its God-given nature, whether that operation is specified in general principles or in particular New Testament descriptions of the church’s form and structure. Another way to say this is that the church is to be built up with Christ as its living cornerstone, with its foundation being the written Word of God (Scripture) interpreted in line with the Living Word of God (Jesus Christ).

Come Follow Me by Liz Lemon Swindle
(used with permission)

What, if anything, does the New Testament teach us as being normative for the life of a local church (congregation) in our day? Answering that question requires discernment, taking into account the whole counsel of God regarding how the parts fit into the whole. The greatest potential pitfall in this discernment process is taking a particular event or practice in the church recorded in the New Testament, then assuming it is a principle or norm that should be applied to the whole church in all times and places, including ours.

Descriptions of the early church (with many of them found in the book of Acts) do not automatically serve as prescriptions for how the church universal ought to be. However, some of these descriptions may be expressions of more general patterns that can and should be emulated throughout the church universal. Discerning which is which, requires exploring whether or not there is more explicit teaching in the New Testament that presents such ways of operating as general principles or norms for the whole church.

As we engage in this discernment process, we first acknowledge that many practical details of how a church should function are not specified in the New Testament. That is so because in the New Testament, there is a three-fold assumption at work: 1) that Jesus will remain in living contact with his church through the active ministry of the Holy Spirit, 2) that the church will have the written Word of God to consult, and 3) that the church will have overseers (pastors) and other leaders who, following the Spirit and Scripture, will possess the wisdom, gifts and experience needed to lead the church in the way of Jesus. Thus we understand that not every aspect of the church’s operations needs to be specified in Scripture. God apparently decided that his gifts of the guiding Spirit, the inspired written Word, and anointed leadership are sufficient for Jesus to remain Lord of his body, the church.

What then can we learn from Scripture about the particular form and shape of a local church, built as it is in communion with Christ as its Lord and Savior by the Spirit? This question leads us back to passages in the New Testament that speak directly to the church being the body of Christ. In this section of the essay we’ll consider not so much the vital relationship of the body to its Head, but the dynamic relationship of the members with each other. This issue is addressed in several New Testament passages, particularly in Ephesians 4, Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 11. This time we’ll focus on Ephesians 4.

Many members, one body

The primary dynamic of the life in the body of Christ being highlighted in each of these passages is how there are many members yet one body. The problem being addressed is the fallen human tendency to want to go our own way and thus undo the unity of the church, or for that unity to be regarded in such a way that the distinction of the many is diminished. Though unity and diversity are often at odds with one another, in the body of Christ and by the Spirit they go together, though how they go together takes discernment—it’s not a mindless union, nor does it occur automatically, as Paul makes clear. True unity with diversity is a miracle of the Spirit of Jesus that must be purposefully received and thus shared in.

In Ephesians 4:1-16 Paul describes key elements of life in the body of Christ. He shows that our response to what our Lord has done (and is doing) in building his one church begins by recognizing the worth of Christ and all he has done for us and given to us. As we recognize that worth, we will live in a way that allows us to show forth that we belong to Christ, displaying “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,” being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Out of this center of our relationship with Christ arises our relationship with one another. Our oneness as the body of Christ is the oneness that results from us being bound together to Jesus Christ—the one we worship and the one to whom we are called to bear both direct and indirect witness. Only as these characteristics arise out of our relationship with Christ will the many members of his one body, the church, be able to maintain or act according to the unity given it by Christ himself, for as Paul says,

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Notice how the indicative of the grace (the gift of oneness we are given in Christ) is the ground (reason or basis) for our living out and thus manifesting that oneness. The gift of oneness thus precedes what we do to live it out in our corporate life. Indeed, each congregation of the body of Christ is called to manifest and so testify to the oneness of Christ. This is also the calling of each denomination (collections or associations of congregations). All members, congregations, and denominations should be concerned to bear witness to the oneness of Christ’s body, the church. Though there are a variety of congregations and denominations, in reality there is but one church. Each “part” of the church ought to recognize, bear witness to, and so maintain that unity as much as possible. To do so is to have what is commonly referred to as an ecumenical spirit (with ecumenical meaning “pertaining to the whole”). Where there are certain divisions that compromise this wholeness, efforts should be made to restore unity.

This does not mean that there cannot be certain kinds of differences between congregations and denominations. Some differences do not betray the essential unity of the body of Christ. Examples would be speaking different languages or meeting in different locations. We must not define the unity of the church in accordance with some idea or ideal of our own invention. Certain notions of unity—namely absolute uniformity in all things at all levels, of every kind—rule out Christ’s kind of unity, a unity that makes room for (and even encourages) certain kinds of diversity.

The church’s identifying “marks”

What then defines the church’s unity? As stated in the Nicene Creed, the one church is identified by four particular “marks” (signs): 1) the church is one, 2) it is holy, 3) it is catholic (meaning universal) and, 4) it is apostolic. During the Reformation these marks were qualified by noting that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, being built on and sustained by Christ, is regulated by the preaching of the Word of God, the right offering of the sacraments (the Lord’s Supper and baptism), and the maintenance of holy discipline. Thus all four marks of the church, so qualified, direct our focus onto Christ, the one living cornerstone and foundation of his church.

The church’s oneness comes from being joined to Christ, for he is what the members of his body have in common. The church’s holiness is not originally its own—the church shares in Christ’s holiness as a continuing gift of grace. The church’s universality (its catholic nature, its wholeness), is also a gift that has to do with receiving its whole life from Christ through the Holy Spirit. The church’s apostolicity comes from its living under the authoritative word of Christ’s original apostles preserved for us in their authorized writings. Apostolicity also means that the church participates in Christ’s mission—it is sent out as those first apostles were, with the same message to witness in surrounding communities and the world as a whole.

While there are many practical questions that could be explored, we have in these marks a good foundation to fill out a bit the nature of Christ’s church and its unity in him so that we can begin to differentiate between the kinds of “diversity” that cause division or schism, and the kinds that are vital for church health—a diversity that demonstrates the multifaceted flourishing of Christ’s church, his one body. We’ll look at that issue more next time.

Pre-conference classes available

We are pleased to announce that three special classes will be offered prior to GCI’s Denominational Conference in Orlando, Florida.

For more information about these three classes and to register, click on these links:

  • For the ACCM Spiritual Formation intensive, click here.
  • For the ACCM Pastoral Care intensive, click here.
  • For the Prepare & Enrich training and certification, click here.

For main conference information and registration, click here (registration closes on May 31).

Pastor’s wife is teacher of the year

Congratulations to Jan Flynn, wife of GCI-USA Pastor Ross Flynn. Jan was recently named teacher of the year at Oxford Middle School in Oxford, MI (near Detroit). Here are excerpts from an announcement from the school’s principal.

Jan and Ross Flynn

While her title says “Choir Teacher,” Mrs. Flynn provides students with a multitude of “vehicles” for them to be able to experience the joys of music whether that be through particular genres of drumming and utilization of other musical instruments. Every student is afforded the opportunity to be successful under Mrs. Flynn’s tutelage. She always provides time before, during and after school for students on an individual and group basis to develop their skills and confidence in choir.

Mrs. Flynn shows a lot of compassion and dedication to her community outside of Oxford Middle School. Over the past several years, Mrs. Flynn has created and expanded a choir performance that’s celebrates our nations veterans and active military personnel. This concert is called “The Americana Concert” which is held in the fall every year. This single musical event is the biggest draw of any musical performance in the district. She has been recognized by the local and states veterans associations for her deep patriotism and love for her country not only through this particular performance, but through linking Oxford Middle School to the veterans of our community. As one staff member stated “I have had the privilege to watch and learn from Jan’s patriotic, respectful admiration for the men and women that have protected the United State of America.”

Mrs. Flynn’s key character attribute that is so easy to see is her genuine kindness that she exhibits day in and day out with her students. This characteristic is so important as it creates a safe and happy learning environment in which her students thrive. Several students stated that they think Mrs. Flynn is the nicest teacher ever and that she is so easy to talk to and is a such a great listener.

Thank you Mrs. Flynn for your continued dedication to our staff and students, and for sharing your love and compassion of music with all of us. You are more than deserving of this recognition. We are very lucky to have you as a member of our Oxford Middle School family. Congratulations!