A House Divided: Protestants and The Lord’s Supper

By Obbie Todd

Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists. –John Calvin (Institutes, IV.1.9)

I’m a Baptist. But the first church I ever pastored wasn’t a Baptist church. It was a ‘Restorationist’ church. You’ll understand the irony in a moment. The ‘Restoration Movement’ was born from the mind of Alexander Campbell, a former Baptist who reacted against organized denominations following the Second Great Awakening. (Restorationist Christianity had its roots even further back in the small Glasite/Sandemanian movement of 18th century Scotland.) After the American Revolution, Restorationists believed in returning the church back to the people, to a simpler religion free of creeds and academics. And that included returning the Lord’s Supper to the center of the church service. This Sunday if you walk into a Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, or Church of Christ congregation, you’ll be offered the Lord’s Supper. It’s a weekly practice that Restorationists support with texts like Acts 2:42, 46 and 20:7, 11. It represents a renewed desire among modern churches to return to the early church. The primitive church. The ‘true’ church. And for many that includes more bread and more juice.

After a year it was clear that a Baptist didn’t belong in a Restorationist church. However, I’m thankful for the time I spent with the good people of Chaplin Christian. And during my time there I was posed an important question, one I believe every church should consider: how often should we partake of the Lord’s Supper? And more importantly, why? For many Protestant churches, the primacy of the pulpit coupled with a strong anti-Catholic spirit begins to dissolve the significance of the bread and the juice. And it can appear in our infrequent observance of the Lord’s Supper. Christ calls us to declare His Gospel with our mouths: both with our voices and our taste buds. And any attempt to separate the two can prove spiritually deadly, especially when we neglect an institution that Christ delivered personally to His church. So, for just a moment, let’s examine how the Lord’s Supper defines what it means to be Protestant.

Oddly enough, the origin of the Protestant church began with a strong view on the Lord’s Supper, also known as the Eucharist. (ευχαριστω – ‘to give thanks’) In the sixteenth century, the most significant doctrine in the eyes of the laity was that of the Eucharist. More was written about the Eucharist at that time than the doctrine of justification! All of the 1st-generation Reformers (‘Magisterial Reformers’) soundly rejected the Catholic Eucharistic method of ex opere operato. This is the practice still held by Roman Catholics today – that grace is conferred to the sinner merely by the taking of the sacrament, faith or not. This was of course repulsive to Protestants who championed the sola fide principle in all facets of the church. Equally disturbing was the Catholic sense of Eucharistic sacrifice, offered to God each time the bread and wine were taken. To Protestants this violated Christ’s objective, once-for-all work on the cross accomplished for sinners, not by them. (Heb. 10:10) Most of all, Protestants rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, a Thomistic doctrine established at the 4th Lateran Council in 1215. This is the Roman Catholic belief that, upon the words of institution (hoc est corpus meum, ‘this is my body’) the bread and wine undergo a metamorphosis into the material, tangible body and blood of Jesus. While Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin wholly rejected this ‘hocus pocus’, it’s precisely here that they also differed. In fact, it could be said that the Eucharistic controversy is what birthed the Protestant Reformation…and what fractured it.

Today, when Protestant churches disagree over the Lord’s Supper, they’re merely perpetuating a seminal conflict that began with the Reformation itself. Speaking of the famous debate between Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli regarding the Lord’s Supper, Carl Trueman observes, “The breach at Marburg was the point at which Protestantism divided into Lutheran and Reformed, a breach that continues to this day.” The disagreement between Luther and Zwingli was so strong that Luther himself believed that Zwingli wasn’t even saved! Convinced the Zurich Reformer was “of a different spirit,” the former Wittenberg monk believed that Zwingli’s memorialism effectively removed Christ from the Eucharist. Thus when Zwingli evacuated Christ from the Lord’s Supper, he removed the Gospel and hence his own salvation! (Admittedly, it’s often hard to reconcile Luther’s doctrine of the Eucharist with his doctrine of justification) While Luther rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, his belief in the omnipresence/ubiquity of God demanded that he see the Lord’s Supper as a real divine presence. (this doctrine has been called consubstantiation, although this term is an invention of the Lutheran Church, not Luther himself) For Luther, the Eucharist was a gift, the conclusion of God’s promises to the church. The Supper is not our work. It’s God’s work for us in Christ. For Luther, it also delivered an overwhelming sense of assurance to the Christian who doubted in his fight against sin, something Luther knew well. And while we as Protestants may not agree with Luther’s doctrine of the Eucharist, we can certainly benefit from Luther’s view of faith. This assurance is a benefit of the Lord’s Supper many churches remove from their liturgy when they fail to explain the meaning of the Supper or even deliver the Gospel while doing it! The sermon and the bread are two expressions of the same Gospel and should never be divorced. For Luther, solus christus meant the Word eaten and the Word spoken, received in sola fide. Thus the Gospel must be delivered with the bread and juice or else we’ve emptied it of its spiritual blessing.

Still, to Zwingli, Luther’s doctrine sounded like mysticism. How could the Eucharist be Christ’s real body when Christ had ascended to the right hand of the father? The Council of Chalcedon had affirmed that Christ would remain there forever. Zwingli mocked Luther, asking him if Christ was hiding underneath the bread! For the Swiss Reformer, the Catholic and Lutheran doctrines smelled of idolatry. The Lord’s Supper wasn’t an object to be worshipped. It was a memorial, a re-commitment to Christ. The words of institution, contrary to Luther, weren’t to be taken literally but figuratively. Therefore the Supper was more of a symbolic, public profession than an actual feast. And it’s precisely this view that serves as the foundation for the ‘Zwinglian shift’ we are currently witnessing in American Protestant churches: an emphasis upon the symbol of the Supper rather than the sign. (the marker distinguishing the baptized from the unbelieving) For this reason, in many churches today, the Lord’s Supper has become an act of remembrance devoid of any ecclesiological significance. For this same reason Carl Trueman postulates, “Luther, the great Protestant hero, would probably not recognize most Protestants today as Christian.”

Unlike the Glas/Sandemanian/Campbell movements, the expectation in both Reformation Europe and post-Reformation England was that each believer would participate in the Lord’s Supper between four and twelve times per year. (e.g. John Knox and the Genevan service book) In his Dissertation on Frequent Communicating, Scottish Presbyterian John Erskine (1721-1803) investigates why the frequency of the Lord’s Supper as seen in the patristic church had disappeared. And his conclusion has as much to do with persecution as it does with church policy:

The most probable cause I can assign for this, is, that till then the religion of Christ being persecuted, few professed it who had not felt the power of it on their hearts. But soon after, Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire, a greater number of hypocrites, from views of worldly interest, intermingled themselves with the true disciples of Christ. And in a century or two more, this little leaven leavened the whole lump…Such nominal Christians could have no just sense of the use and benefits of the Lord’s Supper and the obligation to frequent it…Their example would soon be followed by lukewarm Christians who had fallen from their first love. (267)

In summary, when the purity of the church suffers, so does the Lord’s Supper. As persecution decreased, so did the need for assurance in Christ. When unbelievers partake of an institution that has no personal meaning, it deteriorates the corporate meaning for the entire church. It was actually Erskine’s estimation that Calvin had personally preferred the early church practice of weekly communion but had settled for a monthly administration along with the pastor of the English congregation at Geneva, John Knox. (Calvin’s theology of the Eucharist sits somewhere between Zwingli and Luther, although his exact position between them is debatable) In Scotland, Erskine located the origin of the quarterly Supper in the First Book of Discipline. (1560) In his research, Erskine presents an important truth to modern Protestants today. While the Scottish theologian fought for weekly observance of the Eucharist, he was also a Presbyterian – so his ecclesiological commitments prevented him from supporting the sheer memorialism of Huldrych Zwingli. And it’s important to remember why.

To exclusively ‘memorialize’ the Lord’s Supper in a ‘Zwinglian’ commemoration gradually diminishes the meaning of the event because it ignores the inseparable bond between theology and ecclesiology. Even Baptists like John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon who practiced ‘open communion’ still upheld ecclesial purity by reserving the Supper for believers only. Their belief was that the bread and the juice should be rightly reserved for those who not only understand its meaning, but treasure the assurance of the eternal meal in which we set our hope. This is the true church. It’s the reason men like Jonathan Edwards fought so hard for a credible profession of faith. (And lost his pastorate at Northampton fighting for it!) The Lord’s Supper should be protected so that its blessings can be unadulterated and meaningful for those who desperately need it as the promise it should be. When church membership becomes so porous that baptized unbelievers partake of the same Supper intended only for those who can appreciate its promises, then the ordinance is drained of its value. This is why baptism and the Lord’s Supper are so inextricably connected. As baptism loses its integrity, so does the Lord’s Supper. And that appears to be the case in many of our churches today.

As John Erskine warned, when the baptized church becomes a large conglomerate of believers and unbelievers, church purity is extinguished and a cheapened Lord’s Supper loses its nature as a valuable gift. The Lord’s Supper is not only a symbol of the flesh and blood of Christ given for our eternal life; it’s also a sign to distinguish those who believe in what it represents. It’s both theological and ecclesiological. When unbelievers are baptized en masse, then the sign becomes diluted and ambiguous. And when the sign loses its meaning, so does the significance of the symbol. Over time, baptism can become a V.I.P. card to live like the world instead of a declaration that the old man has died and the new man walks in newness of life. The Lord’s Supper signifies a life sustained by the flesh and blood of Christ, and unregenerate sinners have no basis to understand such a thing. Thus pastors have an obligation to protect it for believers and unbelievers alike, keeping in mind that the individual value of the Lord’s Table is inextricable from its corporate value. For many churches today, the Lord’s Supper is a quarterly or monthly event precisely because they wish to uphold its value in the church. For others, the mandate for weekly observance is clear and Scriptural. However, whether celebrated weekly or quarterly, the Lord’s Supper is to be treasured as a gift to the church. An honor. A privilege. Not just another thing we do at church. And that begins with the way we protect it as a genuine marker for sincere believers. The saving Word that we hear proclaimed each Sunday should never be severed from the bread and juice that symbolizes that same salvation. One Gospel. One mouth. Two ways to express the same glorious hope in the heavenly banquet to come.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. –Matthew 26:26-29

A Lifetime of Thanksgiving

By David Brown

We give thanks to God Father of our Lord Jesus Christ praying for you always (Col. 1: 3)

Have you ever done something special for someone and that good work was not even acknowledged by that particular individual? What if there was not even a thank you, no pat on the back, nothing. None of us go through life looking for constant gratification by our friends and loved ones, but what if the work you had done was so monumental that not only was every human being called to recognize it, but they were encouraged to stop what they were doing each day and give a heartfelt thanks for that good work? What if that monumental work wasn’t even acknowledge by the vast majority of people?

These questions need to be considered when we study the book of Colossians because Paul repeatedly reminds us to give thanks to God.(1) Giving thanks to God calls us to remember His mighty works. So, what is the significance of this repetition and what exactly does Paul mean when he emphasized giving thanks to God? Thanksgiving is far more than just personal gratitude for receiving God’s blessings. For Paul, thanksgiving was tied to the mighty works of God as recorded in both Old and New Testaments.(2)

The premiere event in the Old Testament that reflected God’s mighty work took place through the exodus. In this glorious event God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage and this event was so significant that He called Israel repeatedly to remember and celebrate this event annually through the Passover. This was a way for Israel to never forget the greatness of what God had done for them.

In the New Testament the premiere event is found in Jesus’ pilgrimage to Jerusalem and His crucifixion and so it is not a coincidence that in the Greek text Luke describes His departure on the Mount of Transfiguration as an exodus (Luke 9:31). Following in the typological pattern begun by Moses, Jesus delivers humanity (not just Israel) from an even greater bondage than Egyptian slavery. He delivers all who believe in Him from the bondage of sin. In addition, just as the Old Testament called Israel to never forget Luke reminds believers in the same way to never forget the greatness of what God has done for us through the cross. In Luke 22:19 he wrote: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” One final note we should recognize is the Greek verb for “do” is a present tense verb that denotes an on-going type of action. We, like Israel, are called to never forget the greatness of what God has done for us through Jesus.

A couple of years ago I accepted a call from a church in another state to become their pastor. I have been serving as a pastor for fifteen years but I have never seen a church embroiled in such strife and turmoil. After only eighteen months the deacon body demanded my resignation and so last December I resigned unceremoniously. All of my hard work had come to an abrupt end with no thank you; nobody saying we are sorry to see you go; nothing. In fact, the following weekend the church celebrated their annual Christmas banquet. Hurt does not adequately describe the immeasurable pain of how I felt. I wanted to die.

In the months that followed my wife and I repeatedly asked God two questions. First, where do we go from here? This was a plea for His direction. Second, we asked what are You trying to teach us? During this time God patiently answered our prayers in two profound ways.

First, He reminded us that He had delivered us from a truly dysfunctional church. Through this dreadful experience God showed us how dysfunctional church life can be. More importantly this type of dysfunction was not just going to be identified simply on an intellectual basis. This type of dysfunction had to be experienced first hand so that we completely understood this was NOT how a church should operate.

Second, God revealed His desire for us to plant a church. Since this time we have been doing the groundwork and our church plant has begun meeting at a weekly a Bible study. As a result, I have come to be deeply grateful to our Lord and, like Paul, I find myself repeatedly thanking Him in my daily prayers.

So what are we to make of this thanksgiving to God? In the book of Colossians thanksgiving means recalling the mighty works of God and thanking Him each day for these truly miraculous acts of deliverance that were recorded in Scripture. But as we make our own pilgrimage through life God allows us to experience some of life’s most difficult sorrows. Like my last church God allowed me to recognize and experience human dysfunction in an up close and personal way so that I might never forget the mighty acts of how He has once again delivered me.

In Him we give our all.


1 In Colossians, a book of only four chapters, Paul mentions giving thanks to God in 1:3, 1:12, 2:7, 3:17, and 4:2.

2 David W. Pao, Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme, (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2002), 39-58.

The Shock of Sin and Grace in the Life of a Leader

By Mathew Gilbert

It’s always difficult to see someone you really respect fall deep into sin. Even the slightest accusation of moral failure in someone you respect changes the way you look at them forever. When we see crucial authority figures in our lives fall into sin, we struggle to trust not only that person, but that position in the future. If you catch one of your parents having an affair, you will struggle to ever trust them again. And you will also have a negative view of marriage, which likely means it will affect your own marriage if unchecked. If you hear about your pastor, teacher, or coach indulging in sin, your trust in them and their position will be shaken. It is so hard to think about people you respect sinning so deeply. It’s one thing to know we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), but it’s quite another to see sin creep out of the hearts of those we most respect.

I think about popular pastors who have recently been relieved of pastoral duties due to moral or leadership failures. There was a literal shockwave that ran through my social media feeds when Darrin Patrick and Perry Noble were outed for deep, latent sin in their lives and ministries. In our celebrity pastor culture, it is easy to forget that even the most charismatic leader is not immune to sin. I have lamented the number of times I’ve seen “This doesn’t surprise me” or, “I told you so” in response to the meteoric fall of evangelical leaders like Driscoll, Tchividjian, Patrick, Noble, and others. There is no place in the church for this kind of proud posturing. The shock of sin has drastic immediate and long-term effects on a church when one of her leaders falls.

I believe the life of David is a testament to the shock of sin and grace in the life of a leader. There are many lessons to be learned from David’s fall into sin, but two that help us when leaders in our lives sin revolve around the shock and awe of sin and grace.

David was a man after God’s heart and handpicked by the Lord to lead Israel as king. God even promised that David’s kingly line would culminate in a kingdom that would never end. One day, a Davidic King would sit on his throne and never give it up. David was righteous and desired to obey the Lord. But, David surprised his own people and even us by falling into a deep spiral of sin. He fell for a woman who was not his wife, and was in fact someone else’s wife! Then, in an attempt to cover his sin, David had the woman’s (Bathsheba) husband (Uriah) killed. David gave in to temptation and brought everyone around him down with him. Failing to kill his sin led him to continue in his sin. Instead of confessing his sin and trusting God to cover it with his grace, David tried to cover his sin by killing another man.
Despite David’s shocking downward spiral into dark sin, God’s shows him tremendous mercy. When David was confronted with his sin by Nathan the prophet, he confessed his sin to God and received his compassion. David shares what this experience was like in Psalm 51. There are a couple things that do surprise us about David’s sin and God’s grace that really shouldn’t.

First, we are surprised that a man like David can sin the way he did. While we should expect to grow in Christlikeness throughout our Christian life, sin remains in our hearts until we die or Christ returns. Anyone is capable of dreadful sinful actions, because the dreaded enemy of sin has invaded the heart of every person. So, don’t be surprised when you or people you respect sin. Sin should always be unwanted, but it should never been unexpected.
It is a sign of either a healthy or deceived church when the people are shocked when a pastor falls into sin. It is healthy, in one sense, to be shocked at deep sin in the life of a pastor. Christians are on a path of righteousness. They are being conformed into the image of Christ. Day by day, sin is being rooted out of their hearts. However, sanctification isn’t an overnight process. It is a lifelong process. There are many battles–some won, others lost. But, we fight knowing the war has been won by Christ on the cross as he defeated the dominions of darkness and death. While we should expect sin to still be in the heart and life of ourselves and our leaders, our hearts should be broken and in one sense shocked by unrepentant sin in the life of leaders.

Second, we are surprised that God would show David such compassion in the midst of his deep and dark sin. But, we know the character of God. He is slow to anger and abounds in steadfast love (Ex. 34:6). We should never be surprised at God’s grace, but we should always be amazed by it. Learn from David’s sin and God’s grace that covering your own sin with more sin will never satisfy. However, trusting God’s grace in the cross of Christ to cover your sin will always satisfy.

As deep as sin goes in the human heart, the grace of God in the gospel goes even deeper. Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, Darrin Patrick, Perry Noble, and any other Christian leader who has fallen into deep sin has not exhausted the riches of God’s grace in Christ. The tank of God’s benevolence toward them isn’t on empty. It is as full as it has always been. And assuming these men are in Christ, there is a fountain of mercy and forgiveness for the mountain of sin they have allowed to grow.

The fall of leaders in our lives is devastating. It is detrimental to the influence of a local church and the Church as a whole. No one is helped when a pastor bullies his way to power, commits an affair, or launders money from the church fund. We should guard our hearts from the treacherous lure of sin, knowing that none of us are beyond a Davidic descent into a pit of sin. But we should always marvel at the grace of God, which he bestows on unworthy and fallen sinners like us. As devastating as the fall of broken leaders is, the restoration of repentant leaders by God’s grace is an incomparably sweet reality. Whenever you see a leader in your life fail morally and fall into sin, don’t point your fingers and shake your head in arrogant self-aggrandizement. Instead, bow your head in humble prayer that God would restore these men to himself and their people.

God pursues us in his grace like a relentless mother searching for her lost son at the mall. He will not rest until his children are found! And for those of us in Christ, he will bring to completion the work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

When Doctrine Dances: Why the Trinity Matters for Churches

By Obbie Todd

Church history is a dance between two partners: God’s people and God’s Word. It’s a beautiful, 2000-year-old display conducted for an audience of one. Unfortunately, that dance isn’t always a ballet; it can get messy. But that’s by design. God has a funny way of keeping the dance in sync. From time to time another dancer cuts in and threatens the bride’s performance. And in God’s sovereignty, the heretical intruder only serves to strengthen and sharpen the faith of God’s people. The delicate orthodoxy of the Chalcedonian Creed, for example, is a picture of beautiful choreography: “…one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably…”

If we look more closely at this theological gem, we can discern its contours refined in the fire of heresy: (1) Arius brought us to savor the only-begotten Son. (2) Apollinarius forced us to defend His two natures. (3) Eutyches brought us to affirm His unchanged and unmixed natures. (4) And Nestorius aided the church in recognizing the indivisibility and inseparability of those natures. Heresy isn’t just a roadblock to orthodoxy. Oddly enough, the road to orthodoxy is often paved with heresy. And that road doesn’t end with Christology. A heretical group known as the Montanists actually served to re-accentuate the role of the Spirit in the church. Time after time God strangely calls His church back to orthodoxy through heresy. And while our creeds serve as adequate safeguards for proper choreography, Jehovah’s Witnesses (Neo-Arians) and Pentecostals (Neo-Montanists) continue their attempt to cut into this divine dance.

While the music plays on, however, we are in constant danger from those who would seek to usurp the rhythm of the dance. The modern church  is in danger of losing its dance partner or of getting out of step with his leading. This is the result whenever the pulpit has surrendered to the pew. Sadly, many Christians have heard more sermons about Mother’s Day than they have about the most foundational doctrine of our faith: The Trinity. In his book The Holy Trinity, Robert Letham asserts, “Today most Western Christians are practical modalists.” (5) In other words, most American Christians are completely unaware how to articulate the very identity of their God. Instead they’ve traded in the Trinity of Persons for a more comprehensible God in three forms. We see it when pastors offer the pitiful illustration of water, ice, and steam. The introduction of liberal thought into the church has virtually dissolved Trinitarian thought. Friedrich Schleiermacher, the so-called “father of modern liberalism,” placed the Trinity as a mere addendum at the end of his famous The Christian Faith (1821). The experiential German theologian Albert Ritschl, in his systematic theology, failed to even broach the subject! In his famous Christianity and Liberalism (1923), J. Gresham Machen describes liberalism as “pantheizing. It tends everywhere to break down the separateness between God and the world, and the sharp distinction between God and man.” (55) Therefore topical, man-centered sermons are a direct by-product of a church that has taken its eyes off of the Triune God and His holiness. As a result, countless pastors have abandoned ship instead of navigating their churches between the Scylla of modalism and the Charybdis of tritheism. Unless a church preaches the Trinity, it arrives at one or the other.

Understandably, the heavy philosophical language employed in Trinitarian doctrine makes it difficult for many untrained pastors to teach with confidence. For starters, the word Trinity isn’t found in the Bible. In fact, the Latin word “Trinitas” wasn’t even used by Tertullian to describe God until the early third century. (Against Praxeas, 2-3) Still, Theophilus of Antioch used the Greek term “trias.” (To Autolycus 2.15) It’s an example of why the entire history of interpreting the Trinity has centered around the problem of language. Tertullian first used “tres personae” after 213A.D. in reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Against Praxeas, 2) However, “persona” was often used to denote a “mask” for actors in Latin plays. And this suggested a kind of modalistic Sabbelianism. It wasn’t until the Cappadocians in the fourth century that the Greek word hypostasis became the standard equivalent to describe the personhood of the Trinity. It was at the Council of Nicaea that the “consubstantiality” of the Father and Son was articulated in the word homoousias (“of the same essence”). Such language is the best we can muster in describing the mystery of the Triune God. But does Joe Christian even know how to pronounce homoousias? Or consubstantiality? Church history doesn’t lack for some complicated language on the subject…

1. Eternal generation of the Son from the Father (Origen)2. Consubstantiality of the Son with the Father (Athanasius)
3. Consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and Son (Gregory of Nazianzus)
4. Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father through the Son (Cappadocians)
5. Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and from the Son (Augustine)
6. The coinherence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (John Chrysostom, John of Damascus)
7. The autotheos (of God in Himself) of Father, Son, and Spirit (Calvin, Athanasius, Augustine, Cyril)

Today most conservative scholars credit one man for re-introducing the Trinity into mainstream theological consciousness: Karl Barth. And the Swiss theologian’s understanding of the Trinity can aid us tremendously today as we seek to re-establish this essential doctrine in our pulpits: “It is the doctrine of the Trinity which fundamentally distinguishes the Christian doctrine of God as Christian – it is it, therefore, also, which marks off the Christian concept of revelation as Christian, in face of all other possible doctrines of God and concepts of revelation.” (The Trinity and Christian Devotion, 47) While John Calvin had included the Trinity significantly in his doctrine of God (Institutes) and John Owen had introduced the idea that the saints could enjoy communion with each divine Person of the Trinity (Of Communion with God), it was Barth who gave primacy to the doctrine and all but made Trinitarianism synonymous with biblical revelation. To him, the Three-in-Oneness of God was “essentially identical with the content of revelation.” (In This Name, 161) And barring Barth’s Neo-Orthodox view of revelation, our churches would do well to heed his advice.

When a church forsakes expository preaching, the doctrine of the Trinity immediately suffers. Nature teaches us that God is One. But only special revelation reveals that God is also Three. Scripture is the key to delivering a proper Trinitarian faith inside of our churches, precisely because it comes from no other source. A battle for the Trinity is a battle for the Bible. The very idea of a Three-in-One God is foolishness even inside of monotheistic communities like Judaism and Islam. And with the rise in world communication through innovations in technology and commerce, dialogue with Islam will only increase. An apologetic and evangelistic church begins with a catechetical church – teaching the Trinitarian faith. Are we teaching the Trinity? Intentionally? The very identity of God is at stake in the minds and hearts of our people. Do our churches know the Triune God they profess to believe in? Fortunately today the opportunities to teach the most foundational doctrine of our faith are present and real.

Despite the theological haze that fogs the modern American pulpit, there are small signs of Trinitarian thought emerging in the modern church. Hillsong’s This I Believe (The Creed) and The Newsboys’ We Believe are simplified versions of the Apostles’ Creed put to popular music. Millions of nominal Christians imbibe Trinitarian thought simply by turning on K-Love in their cars. But is that theology being processed by their church? In addition to music culture, moral culture has also seen the advance of Trinitarian thought. In God’s strange providence, the issue of same-sex marriages in churches has breathed new interest in the hierarchy of the Triune God. Copious amounts of conservative literature are now being written to defend the biblical concept of Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS). Scholars like Wayne Grudem, John Piper, D.A. Carson, Russell Moore, Bruce Ware, Jim Hamilton, and Scott Oliphint are rallying around the traditional idea that while co-equal in deity, power, attributes and personhood (“ontological Trinity”), the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have differing roles of authority (“economic Trinity”). For example, the Son submits to the Father, but the Father and Son are also one. (John 14:28, 10:30) And this “functional” hierarchy is eternal, evidenced by passages like 1 Corinthians 15 which feature the Son delivering the kingdom back to the Father at the end of the age. (vv.24-28) Why is this relevant? Scholars like Gilbert Bilezikian, Rebecca Groothuis, Stanley Grenz, and even Millard Erickson contend for an “egalitarian” (as opposed to “complementarian”) view of marriage based on an egalitarian view of the eternal Trinity. The orthodox dance between God’s people and God’s Word is being interrupted by an unwelcome intruder: a postmodern, liberal, egalitarian dance partner attempting to re-write the Trinity in order to promote a modern social agenda. The result is the church’s return to Scripture to define the Triune God. In His sovereignty, through a social and political issue, God is re-invigorating His church with a renewed interest in the most foundational doctrine of our faith: the Triune God.

In the midst of a sexual revolution God has managed to draw His true church back to Himself. And we see this most vividly in the fight for the Trinity. Are we meeting that call? Or are our teenagers humming lyrics they don’t understand? Are our families accepting societal norms without an understanding of principles grounded in the very identity of God? Churches who seek God in His Word will seek after the Triune God. And churches who desire to know the Triune God will seek Him in His Word. It’s a difficult doctrine and dance to learn. But then again, He’s God. If He were like us, there’d be no need for such precious revelation.


Obbie is married to Kelly. He attended the University of Kentucky (B.A.) and SBTS (M.Div and Th.M).  Obbie is Associate Pastor of Students at Zoar Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Obbie is currently a doctoral candidate in Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

 

Sermons from Sunday (March 27th, 2016)

Deep South Reformation would like these Sermons to benefit you and be an aid to help you understand the scripture for God’s glory. If you are a pastor and would like your sermons on DSR, let us know and if you have any other questions please contact us.

Jarrod Hawthorne on Mark 1:40-45 “Jesus and the Leper”

Paul Sanchez on Matthew 26-28 and Isaiah 53 “Like a Sheep led to Slaughter”

Greg Gilbert on Romans 8:28-30 “God’s Plan For Your Life”

Josh Landrum on 1 Corinthians 15 “Jesus’ Resurrection Changes Everything”