Formations 06.19.2022: Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

Matthew 28:16-20; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” As a pastor, I said those words every time I baptized a new member of the Body of Christ. Occasionally, I would recite the similar words from 2 Corinthians 13 as a benediction at the end of a worship service.

Today’s texts explicitly bring Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together. Matthew describes Jesus commanding his disciples to baptize new believers using this Trinitarian formula, and Paul offers a Trinitarian blessing to the church at Corinth. These are both liturgical texts that have found their way into the church’s worship traditions.

Have you ever noticed how many traditional hymns follow a similar pattern? The first verse describes God as Father or Creator. The second verse praises Jesus, the Savior, the Lord, or the Redeemer. The third verse is all about the Holy Spirit, and the fourth verse brings all three members of the Trinity together.

In the church’s traditional Eucharistic prayers, the celebrant expresses praise to the Father, remembers the saving work of the Son, and invokes the Holy Spirit to fall upon the bread and wine—and the gathered community of believers.

This language runs deep in Christian tradition. Speaking of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one of the few aspects of religious life that are uniquely Christian. Adherents of every religion pray, observe special holidays, and try to uphold their faith’s moral standards.

Only Christians describe God in this threefold manner. It’s second nature to us, but we ought to remember that the doctrine of the Trinity didn’t spring fully-formed from the mind of Paul in the first century. In passages like these, we find the raw materials from which the church will build its doctrine of the Trinity over the next three to four hundred years.

The history of this theological development is fascinating to me. Others might scratch their heads and wonder why any of it matters.

To me, the best answer to that question is that there is something about the Trinity that resonates with our shared Christian experience. How do we relate to God? God is the creator, the transcendent Lord of heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in it, the One who brought Israel out of Egypt and established them as a nation.

But we also experience God more intimately and tangibly through Jesus Christ, who reveals God’s will to us and demonstrates a side of God that is literally more down to earth. Finally, we experience God as the indwelling, empowering Spirit.

We confess that God is one, yet our experience of God is threefold. And even if no one who wrote the New Testament would have described this experience in full-blown Trinitarian language, they do describe a God who is known to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Discussion

• How does your church express faith in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
• Is this language meaningful to you, or does it seem like an irrelevant abstraction? Explain.
• What does Christianity gain from thinking of God in this way?
• What does the use of this language in liturgical settings say about the nature of Christian worship?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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