GCI Update

The one, tri-Personal God

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

A common misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity is to think that it teaches three gods (tritheism). But that is not the case. The historic, orthodox doctrine of the Trinity upholds one God (monotheism) while teaching that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can God be one and three? The answer is important to understand, not merely as a point of doctrine, but as a way for us to understand and thus relate to the one, tri-Personal God.

Three Persons, one being

To be faithful to the biblical revelation, early church teachers declared that God is one in being and three in Persons. In indicating what each of the three are, they utilized the Greek New Testament word hypostasis (ὑπόστασις), which in ancient Greek has a range of meanings: nature, substance, image, essence. This range is reflected in the various translations of Hebrews 1:3 where the Son of God is declared to be “the express image of [God’s] person [hypostasis] (KJV translation). The NASB and ESV translate hypostasis as “nature,” the ASV as “substance,” and the NRSV and NIV as “being.” Down through the ages (including in the ancient creeds of the church), when referring to the Trinity, hypostasis was most often translated into the Latin word persona (and thus person in English—I have more to say below about the limitations of this word).

Having chosen hypostasis to refer to the three personal distinctions of God, these same teachers chose the Greek word ousia (meaning being) to refer to God’s oneness. Put together, hypostasis and ousia convey the reality revealed in Scripture that God is one in being (ousia) and three in Persons (hypostases). Thus the early church theological consensus used hypostasis (person) to refer to the three personal and eternal realities that stand forth in distinction and in relationship to each other in God’s one ousia (being).

The personal names of the three Persons that constitute the one God (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) were, of course, given to us by revelation. And with that revelation came the fact that there are three Persons, not two or four or an infinite number. Note that these teachers did not say that God is one being and also three beings, or one person and also three persons. How God is one is different from how God is three. Therefore, speaking precisely, we would say that there are “three real and eternal distinct Persons in the one God.”

The Shield of the Trinity
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Limitations of language

Theologians realize that the word “person” in English is not perfectly adequate to use in speaking of God’s three personal distinctions (hypostases) in relationship. This is because the way we understand persons in our creaturely experience carries with it the idea of separate individuals or different beings—an idea that does not apply in reference to God. As Athanasius noted, we must think of God theologically, not mythologically whereby we would project human, creaturely concepts onto God, as if God were a created thing.

It’s important to understand that theological language about God is necessarily analogical wherein there can only be partial overlap of meaning of the two things being compared—a prime example being the use of the word “persons” in speaking of the hypostases (the three distinct Persons) of the one God. There are points of overlapping meaning between the Persons of the Godhead and human persons that we can affirm, but there are then points that do not overlap—things that apply only to creatures and not to God and vice versa. When it comes to humans, persons remain distinct in being—they remain individuals, no matter how close (“one”) they might be relationally. But when it comes to God, the distinctions of the divine Persons (hypostases) occur within the one being (ousia) of God.

Because God is not a creature (a created being), we do not use the word Persons when speaking of God in the exact same way we use persons when speaking of human relationships, including relationships within the human family. While there are real relationships within God’s one being, those relationships are not between separate beings. The three Persons of the Trinity, through their absolutely unique relationships with one another, constitute the one being (ousia) of God in a way that is quite unlike the oneness within a human family. The relations between the Persons of God are very different from the relations that we creatures experience. In God, the relationships constitute them one in being. That is not the case for human beings. Recognizing that we are thinking analogically, we must keep in mind that the uncreated God cannot be explained in terms of the relationships within a created human family. Trying to do so would lead us into mythology and even idolatry. Recall that some pagans taught and believed that the gods are family. They also believed that the gods were sexual beings!

God is tri-personal

The relationships that occur between the three Persons within the one eternal being (ousia) of God are neither external to the Persons or to the being of God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit can and do communicate with one another. Within the one being of God there is communion (fellowship) from all eternity, even before creation (John 17:1-26; Hebrews 1:8-9). The tri-personal God was never lonely.

When the Bible speaks of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each are called God, each speak and, as Jesus tells us, each act and exhibit attributes of personhood such as knowing, loving and glorifying one another. Capitalizing the word Person is one way we indicate that the word is being used in a special way in referring to the personal distinctions within the Godhead. The word Person, understood rightly, gives us a word that emphasizes God’s personal-ness in his own being (nature), and in relationship to us as human creatures.

Grounded in the biblical revelation, early church teachers found various ways to speak of God as one in being and three in Person. Following Jesus’ teaching concerning his being “in” the Father and the Father being “in” him (John 10:38; 14:10), they spoke of the Persons “in-existing” one another (enousios in Greek)They also coined the theological term perichoresis to signify that the divine Persons “mutually indwell” or “envelope” one another, making room or space for one another. Other ways perichoresis has been translated is that the divine Persons “co-inhere” or “interpenetrate” or are “convoluted” or “involuted” with one another. The idea being conveyed is that the whole of God is present in each of the divine Persons and that all the works of the Triune God are indivisible—the three Persons always work jointly, each contributing uniquely to that work. Such a perichoretic relationship only pertains to God and to no creature or creaturely reality. God is God alone; there is none other like him.

Upholding God’s oneness, distinction and equality

The framers of the Trinity doctrine understood it to be vital to uphold simultaneously three things about God: the eternal oneness or unity of being, the eternal distinction or differentiation of the three divine Persons, and the eternal equality of divinity of the three Persons. Thus, the historic, orthodox doctrine of the Trinity preserves for us both the biblical revelation that there is but one God and no other, as well as the biblical testimony that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are equally divine and true God of true God. It should also be noted that the doctrine of the Trinity was never meant to explain all of what God was or how exactly God exists in a triune way. It was meant to protect the mystery of God while affirming the most faithful way to understand, as far as we can, the revelation of God in Christ and according to Scripture. It was meant to lead us to faithful worship!

Those who claim that the doctrine of the Trinity teaches three gods demonstrate a lack of understanding of the doctrine, which as I’ve already noted is monotheistic, not tritheistic. There is only one being that is God, and this one being is tri-personal, with each of the three divine Persons having full possession of the divine nature. All three Persons of the one triune God possess all the attributes of deity. British theologian Colin Gunton explained it this way:

The Father, Son and Spirit are persons because they enable each other to be truly what the other is: they neither assert at the expense of nor lose themselves in the being of the others. Being in communion is being that realizes the reality of the particular person within a structure of being together. There are not three gods, but one, because in the divine being a person is one whose being is so bound up with the being of the other two that together they make up the one God. (The Forgotten Trinity, page 56)

The three-in-one God at work

As we approach Holy Week followed by Ascension Sunday and Pentecost, keeping in mind what these days remind us of, let’s be inspired and comforted knowing that the one God who is three in Person brought about our salvation. Our Redemption was accomplished by the whole God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our Triune God is actively at work in our world—in our lives! In that regard, note this from Colin Gunton:

If you were to ask him how God works in the world, what are the means by which he creates and redeems it? Irenaeus would answer: “God the Father achieves his creating and redeeming work through his two hands, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Now this is an apparently crude image, but is actually extremely subtle. Our hands are ourselves in action; so that when we paint a picture or extend the hand of friendship to another, it is we who are doing it. According to this image, the Son and the Spirit are God in action, his personal way of being and acting in his world—God, we might say, extending the hand of salvation, of his love to his lost and perishing creation, to the extent of his only Son’s dying on the cross. Notice how close this is to the way in which we noticed John speaking in his Gospel. The Son of God, who is one with God the Father, becomes flesh and lives among us. This movement of God into the world he loves but that has made itself his enemy is the way by which we may return to him. The result of Jesus’ lifting up—his movement to cross, resurrection and ascension—is the sending of the Holy Spirit—another paraclete, or second hand of God the Father. The Spirit is the one sent by the Father at Jesus’ request to relate us to the Father through him. (The Triune God of Christian Confession, p. 10)

The next time you hear someone object to the doctrine of the Trinity, claiming it teaches three gods, I hope you’ll be able to explain to them the difference between tritheism and the actual doctrine of the Trinity. Perhaps you’ll also be able to share with them the wonderful truth of the mystery and glory of the tri-personal God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

I wish you all a blessed Holy Week,
Joseph Tkach

PS: To learn more about the doctrine of the Trinity, I recommend that you read Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves (IVP). Note also that we have a wonderful course at Grace Communion Seminary titled “The Doctrine of the Trinity.”

Meet our new pastors

Several of GCI-USA’s newest pastors and pastors-in-training (pastoral residents) were interviewed at the New Pastors Orientation Conference in February at GCI’s Home Office in Glendora. Here are videos of interviews with Pastors David Allen and Ernest Owens.

On YouTube at https://youtu.be/YLlN2agl544.

On YouTube at https://youtu.be/6E_N4W1tDDM.

Tee-ball outreach

This report is from Dustin Lampe, lead pastor at Christ Fellowship Church, GCI’s congregation on the West side of Cincinnati, OH. Dustin tells about his congregation’s program to reach out to the families in the community surrounding their church building, using the popular youth sport of tee-ball.

The tee-ball league that is coming together at Christ Fellowship Church is quite exciting. We’re calling it West Side T Ball. We’ve set up a schedule of four practices and four games, for kids ages 4-7.

Entering into our third practice, we had 67 players being served by our team of four gifted leaders who all are members in our congregation. They administer the league, a concession stand manned with volunteers, over $2000 in community business sponsorships (including help from a hospital and funeral home). We have three announcers and five photographers ready to rotate on Sundays. And we have a good head coach and two assistant coaches for each of the six teams that were given nice uniforms.

Our league has particular perks that make it stand out. It meets inside our church building where my wife Rachel is putting together slides with the kid’s pictures on them. These slides appear on the big screen, along with a short clip of their favorite song. These personal slides are shown and the name announced when each kid is up to bat. By doing things like this, the kids are built up in our league from beginning to end. At the end of the season, we’ll have an awards banquet at which each kid will be honored with a small trophy with a label for something unique that they brought to the team.

I have the privilege of speaking to all these kids, their parents, guardians, brothers and sisters each week (that’s me addressing the group in the picture above). I speak to them about sportsmanship, about being a team, and I also elaborate on an element of the Lord’s Prayer.

I suppose a question many will have is this: How many of these kids attend our congregation? We’ll see over the long haul. I do expect to see many of them plug into the day camp we hold each year. Church members have gathered camp invitations and started to work on sign-ups without me even asking! Two of our newest members are younger men who are our best tee-ball coaches. I can see they are finding it exciting to be part of this ministry!

Here is a final thought: sports as a means of ministry and connection to the community has been on my mind since I began pastoring at Christ Fellowship Church a few years ago. This tee-ball program has opened a door for us. My hope is that my volunteers will be able to do most of the work for the league next year. Right now, I’m walking three of them through all that I’m doing each week. Running the league is separate from promotions, advertising, fundraising and sponsorships. I already have three people who are taking ownership of that end. We are offering the league to the kids for free with the help of community business sponsorships ranging from Bronze ($100), to Platinum ($750). Most go for Silver ($200). The local hospital did a gold sponsorship ($500). The larger the donation, the larger the sign they get with their logo displayed at the games.

Cyprus getaway

Shirley Henderson, wife of James Henderson, GCI’s National Director in Great Britain, submitted this report of a recent church “getaway” made with 29 people to the Mediterranean island-nation of Cyprus.

Meze meal

One could hardly ask for a lovelier and more relaxing setting than on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Paphos, Cyprus for a winter getaway! The weather was very kind—warm enough for sunbathing if desired, as well as for strolls along the seafront into the harbor area.

A worship service with the theme of “Be encouraged” was held every day, usually in the late afternoon before dinner. The connection was that Barnabas, who was called the Son of Encouragement, came from Cyprus, and he accompanied Paul, Luke and John Mark on Paul’s first missionary journey, where the Roman governor of Paphos became a Christian.

A visit to archaeological sites of Biblical relevance helped to bring it all to life more vividly. In addition, there were excursions to other sites of historic interest as well as a fabulous wine tasting meze meal at the highest vineyard in Cyprus which boasted spectacular views and a visit to the highest point on the island, the Olympus peaks, where we were amazed to encounter a considerable amount of snow.

A “meze” consists typically of anything from 15 to 30 sharing plates, featuring such specialties as the famous Cypriot halloumi cheese and delicious local olives. We also had the opportunity to experience another meze meal at a traditional tavern, with much fun and laughter.

One of the highlights was “praise under the stars” on the beach, and it was very special when we sang the line “I see the stars” from How Great Thou Art. I think everyone who came, went home refreshed and rejuvenated.

April Equipper: theological renewal

Linked below are the articles and sermons in the April issue of “GCI Equipper.” The articles, which address the theme of theological renewal, include the introduction and part 1 of a new series titled “Clarifying Our Theological Vision.”

From Greg: Renewed in Christ
Greg Williams shares a personal devotion in which he rejoices in the gospel truth that God, in Christ, has reconciled all humanity to himself.

The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road by Tissot
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Clarifying Our Theological Vision, introduction
Joseph Tkach introduces a series of articles that will clarify key concepts and terms related to GCI’s incarnational Trinitarian theology.

Clarifying Our Theological Vision, part 1
The first article in the series, written by Gary Deddo, clarifies what we mean by two key phrases: all are included and union with Christ.

Resources for theological renewal
Here are resources that will assist in understanding GCI’s incarnational Trinitarian theology.

Kid’s Korner: object lessons for Easter
We provide a link to a Children’s Ministry article with seven practical object lessons to use with kids this Easter.

RCL sermons: April 23—May 21
Here are sermons for the five Sundays following Easter, synced with the readings (lections) specified in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL):
Sermon for April 23
Sermon for April 30
Sermon for May 7
Sermon for May 14
Sermon for May 21

Here are the sermons leading up to Easter (published in the March Equipper):
Sermon for March 19
Sermon for March 26
Sermon for April 2
Sermon for April 9 (Palm Sunday)
Sermon for April 13 (Maundy Thursday)
Sermon for April 16 (Easter)

If you would like to receive Equipper automatically each month by email, click here to go to the Equipper blog, then click on “subscribe” in the upper right corner.

Tim Maguire

Tim Maguire, GCI’s National Director for South Africa, was in an accident while traveling in Mozambique to drill water wells. The drilling rig trailer fell on his leg and broke his fibula (lower leg) and also injured his thigh. His group traveled three hours to the nearest town to try and find a hospital and were told that fortunately it is a clean break and the doctor says he won’t have to return home for surgery. Please keep him in your prayers.

Update (4/6) from David Botha who is traveling with Tim: After X-rays showed a broken bone, it was decided that Tim would fly back to South Africa for further treatment.

Tim Maguire

Bret Miller

Prayer is requested for Bret Miller, GCI’s IT Manager. As he reports below, Bret is facing new treatment for multiple myeloma. Thanks for joining us in prayer for Bret and his wife Julie.

Julie and Bret Miller

Recent tests show that the myeloma in my bone marrow has increased, so we’ve decided to start treatment to try to put the cancer into remission. The side effects are generally mild and I should be able to continue normal activity during the treatment, though “normal” will include twice weekly visits to the doctor. Assuming I’m responding well after two three-week cycles, I’ll be referred to City of Hope, where they’ll continue treatments until remission is achieved, followed by these three cycles of treatment (lasting a total of a couple of months):

  1. Stem cell collection (running my blood through a machine to harvest my good stem cells which will then be frozen).
  2. Admitted to the hospital for strong IV chemo that will essentially kill off my bone marrow. Following that, they will re-infuse my good stem cells. Then I stay in the hospital until significant recovery is observed—likely around three weeks.
  3. Maintenance. Once the above is done I’ll continue on drugs to keep me in remission.

Right now we’re awaiting approval for the tightly controlled drugs I need, and there are health insurance issues. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement during my ongoing battle with this. Julie and I both appreciate it.

Cards may be sent to:

Bret and Julie Miller
1328 Crofton Ct.
Upland, CA 91786

Pastors retire

Two long-time pastors, George Affeldt and Earl Jones, retired at the end of March from employment as GCI lead pastors.

George Affeldt

Pastor George Affeldt retired after 47 years of employment with GCI (plus several as a volunteer). After growing up in Lancaster, CA, George entered the Marine Corp in 1954 where he served four years, attaining the rank of Sergeant before being honorably discharged. Then in 1958, George married Jacqueline (Jackie) Zook. They have been married for 59 years and are blessed with three married children and four grandchildren.

Jackie and George at the retirement celebration.

Shortly after marrying, George and Jackie moved to George’s hometown, Lancaster, CA, where George was employed in water well drilling, carpentry and maintenance. During that time, George and his father would drive from Lancaster to Pasadena, CA, to attend the Radio Church of God. George was baptized in 1960 in the Lower Gardens of Ambassador College. On the recommendation of friends, and with hope of finding a job, George moved his young family (now including two children) to Pasadena. Unfortunately, full-time employment was not found, leading to 3½ years of working odd jobs. In 1964, George was hired by Ambassador College to work in the Cabinet Shop. He also volunteered to serve the church in festival site preparation, Boys Club, Spokesman Clubs and youth ministry (the latter being one of his favorites).

In 1971, George was ordained an elder in WCG and began working in the church’s counseling and guidance department. In 1972 he entered vocational pastoral ministry serving one of the Pasadena area congregations. This was followed by a series of transfers to pastor churches in Indiana, South Dakota and Pennsylvania, and in 1995 back to South Dakota. George retired from full-time GCI employment in 1999, but continued pastoring the Sioux Falls church, at first bivocationally, then as a part-time employee. As shown in the picture below, George’s oldest child, his daughter JoAnn Lagge, has replaced George as the lead pastor of the Sioux Falls congregation.

Our thanks to George and Jackie for their many years of service in the employ of WCG/GCI. We wish them all the best in the years ahead!

Regional Pastor Rick Shallenberger (center) officiates the “passing of the baton” of pastoral leadership from George to his daughter JoAnn Lagge.

Earl Jones

Pastor Earl Jones began serving as lead pastor in the Fayetteville, NC, congregation in 2006, replacing Greg Williams who now directs Church Administration and Development. Earl began part-time employment as a GCI pastor following a 25-year career with Ingersoll-Rand. Earl is a graduate of Sandhills Community College and also studied at North Carolina Central University. Before becoming a lead pastor, Earl served within GCI as a small group coordinator, youth ministry coordinator and class instructor. Earl said, “I have been part of GCI for over half my life, and I love being involved in the advancement of GCI and the gospel.” We thank Earl for his service and wish him many blessings in the years ahead.

Earl Jones