Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Trinity, the Lordship of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ


I am a Trinitarian by confession.  I am a pastor within a non-creedal church that has from its earliest days struggled with the doctrine of the Trinity.  Being non-creedal we don't attend to the witness of Nicea or even Chalcedon.  We confess Jesus as Christ and Lord and Savior, and make assumptions about how Jesus represents God, but you will find a range of beliefs about the divnity of Christ and the Trinity.  But if we don't affirm a Trinitarian vision of God, are we missing something?

One leading Disciple theologian who has embraced the Trinitiarian message as a radical form of orthodoxy that is key to our orthopraxis -- that is right belief relates to right action -- is Joe Jones, now retired from his posts as dean and professor of theology at Christian Theological Seminary.  I have personally found myself more closely aligned with Joe's theology than many others in my tradition, and so I'm enjoying reading his newly published collection of essays entitled A Lover's Quarrel: A Theologian and His Beloved Church, (Cascade, 2014).

In an essay that addresses the message that John Howard Yoder might have for the broader Stone-Campbell Movement, an essay that is also published in a book edited by John Nugent entiled Radical Ecumenicity: Pursuing Unity and Continuity after John Howard Yoder, Jones writes:

The orthodox creeds of Nicea (325 CE) and Chalcedon (451 CE) intended to clarify the reality of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection and the reality of the God of Israel, the Creator of the world.  If Jesus is where God's sovereignty, will, and purpose are truly and decisively manifest -- having become incarnate -- then this is the understanding of divinity that critiques all other appeals to divine sanction.  Trinitarian belief is not about how three-in-one are magically important; it is about clarifying the divinity of Jesus, how he might be understood as the Lord of all things, and how that Lord is at work in the world.  The ruling belief of a genuinely radical orthodoxy is that God is incarnate in Jesus the Jew from Nazareth at a particiular time and georaphy,that this Jesus' life and teaching, his death and resurrection convey an identifiable pattern of beliefs and practices.  People who confess this and who thereby follow Jesus are a peculiar people who live differently and serve a Lord different from the various lords and powers found in human societies. (Lover's Quarrel, p. 61)
The question I want to pose to my friends from across the Stone-Campbell Movement and especially my friends in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) -- who is Jesus in relationship to God?  If he is merely a prophet of God or a worker of good deeds -- then are we not left with a truncated gospel, one that is more in line with Thomas Jefferson's abridgment than the one we find between the covers of our bibles?

I have lived comfortably within the confines of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  It's non-creedal form has perhaps given me certain freedoms.  But, in our embrace of this ethos, have we not opened ourselves up to a Pandora's box of conflicting systems that prevent us from hearing the voice of God in the person of Jesus, who is present to us by the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit?


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