The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

4. One, Three and Many

The One, the Three and the many sums up all that is in this universe. The One God who reveals himself as three is the basis for all the variety and the diversity in life and the world.

We have seen the implications of knowing God as One. While giving our unswerving allegiance to Him, how to think of Him as three and what implications does it hold for life?

A right understanding of God, especially his tri-personality, is crucial to understanding about the nature of being, the world, the human life, the individual, marriage, family, society, church, missions, tolerance, organisation, governance, economics, global peace, reconciliation and host of other issues pertinent to life and existence.

If there has been one anomaly in the Christian or even evangelical understanding of God, it is in the understanding of the doctrine of Trinity. I must state it here and state it with all the strength that I can muster, that the present state of affairs in the church as individuals as well as, as a community is because of the lack of right understanding of the God, who is revealed in His word as Three. It is because of this lack, the church has gone behind the world and has learnt practically all of its ways from the world – the way we think of ourselves as individuals, our relationships and fellowship, the organisation models and the kind of economics we practise among us.

As individuals we cherish and guard our private, individualistic, self-centered and self-seeking lifestyles. We derive our confidence from our education, position, and money. We have forgotten that we are made for relationships – with God and with others, that to love them is to seek their pleasure.

We have reduced fellowship in the church to a meeting or a programme. We have forgotten that true fellowship is about sharing the life of God in us with others in such a way that we experience His fullness among us corporately.

I believe that the three major organisational models followed by the different churches globally, namely the Episcopalian, Presbyterian and the Congregational models are an offshoot of eisegesis and not exegesis at all. Besides most of the newer churches and para church ministries have just adopted an organisational style which is purely entrepreneurial. Whatever their origins these are all political structures deriving their power from worldly knowledge, money, position or from the personal charisma and confidence of the leader(s). And all of these are political, monolithic, hierarchical, bureaucratic and nowhere near to anything that you learn from either the God of the Bible or his incarnation in his Son, Jesus Christ.

What can one say of our economics? Everyone of us with few exceptions have adopted lifestyles arising from capitalism. Even our churches and ministries are being run on the same model. Alongwith the entrepreneurship learnt from the world, we do not see the irony with using our gifts to earn profits in the name of ministry. Earning profits from ministry in order to build our own careers is unworthy of anything that is taught in scripture. Patenting our knowledge from the misuse of it is one thing but making it inaccessible to others is another matter. Truth is nobody’s monopoly. It is God’s and must be let loose in the world.

Do you still wonder that our witness is lost and authority weakened? Therefore Jeremiah’s lamentation rings true, “How the gold has lost its luster, the fine gold become dull! The sacred gems are scattered at every street corner. How the precious children of Zion, once worth their weight in gold, are now considered as pots of clay, the work of a potter’s hands!”

The only teaching that can remedy this situation if the church is willing to learn and change, is a persistent and continuous meditation on the Trinity and the incarnation of God in the person of Christ. I do not see any other way. Despite all their claims to personal and corporate success and riches, I personally think that the people of God have been earthbound and rendered spiritually destitute for several decades now. In the words of Jeremiah, the prophet, “Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as a stick. Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack of food from the field.” For far too long they have been fed upon earthly fare and not the manna from heaven.

“A right understanding of God is the panacea for millions of evils in the world” wrote A W Tozer in his ‘The knowledge of the Holy’. Mortimer J Adler, the General Editor in the 1980s of the Encyclopaedia Britannica wrote in his article on God, “More consequences follow from that one issue than from any other.”

The ontology of being
First, it must be noted that Trinity is not the same as trimurti in Hinduism. Trimurti is a triad of three gods, collapsing into a single form with three faces. Trinity is one God revealed as three persons or subsistence.

While we confess that the God of the Bible is triune, there has been a general tendency to think of him as purely ‘monotheistic’, so strongly and probably in reaction to Greek polytheism or even the eastern dualism, that we often tend to be ‘unitarian’ in our thinking. This needs to be remedied.

The One God is the basis for the Three and the Three the basis for many. If God were One, an unitarian being, then there could be no place or room for any other. He would fill all space, all time, all eternity leaving no room for any other to exist. But God as revealed in the Bible is not unitarian but trinitarian. He is three.

There is room (if such a figure of speech is permitted) within the Godhead for three co-equal and self-expressing beings with free-will to co-exist eternally. Therefore He makes room for not just the universe but for other self-conscious, self-expressing, and rational beings with a free will to exist.

God is ONE yet THREE. It can be said from our knowledge of scripture, the three are in such mutual communion and inter-mingling in their giving and receiving that all differences cease to exist, while still retaining their distinctives and particularity. God is ONE because of the communion. God is THREE because of the room, the space they give each other to exist, to express and to BE. This is another fact of God’s inherent being and gives us the basis for our understanding the nature of being.

The communion of sharing leads to oneness and unity. The giving of room (accommodation) to each other gives each the distinctness and particularity. The oneness does not subsume the distinctness of each nor the distinctness affirmed at the expense of oneness. The individuals do not collapse into each other so as to lose their distinctness or identity nor the distinctness and identity emphasised in such a way as to make communion and oneness impossible.

But for such dynamic relationships of distinctness and particularity yet maintaining unity and oneness there is need for willingness to share, to give and to receive. This in turn calls for submission and vulnerability. This is the ontology of being.

The implications of believing in the Triune God is to live in relationships. To live together in relationships in such a way as to be One is the ontology of the divine being. There is no room here for private, individualistic, and self-centeredness lives. The dynamic by which they live in relationships is the dynamic of love not power. This means there is no exercise of power to dominate or to control in order to bring oneness. Domination and control are the lot of fallen humanity but alien to the divine being. There is voluntary giving of oneself to the other because of love. Love does not seek its own. Love seeks the pleasure of the other. The Son pleases the Father and the Spirit glorifies the Son and the Father. The Father gives all authority to the Son. There is no fear of being taken advantage of in the Trinity. Because there is no fear in love(1John 4: 18).

This is the way families and churches need to be constituted – with self-giving love. It is because of love we share and it is because of love we make room for others to be and do. This not by the exercise of power, especially power that is derived from knowledge or money or physical strength but through love. So the basis for our relationships is the self-giving love which enables us to voluntarily submit to one another. Such relations are based on voluntary love and submission therefore these are not structures of power. Structures of power are political structures and are a result of our fallenness. Such structures promise to provide security and identity but in the process are enslaving. But since the people of God are not self-seeking but self-giving they do not form political structures instead they live as a family or as the household of God based on the dynamic of self-giving love and voluntary submission to one another.

It can be said of such people, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” (Psalm 133)

Furthermore, the fellowship and relationships even among Christians have become purely utilitarian. We do not want to give ourselves fully to people nor do others want us as we are wholly. We pick and choose who we want, what we want and when we want of others. In the name of professionalism we have become mechanical and distant. And in the name of specialisation we have become choosy, calculating and compartmentalised.

In the Godhead however, they give of themselves to each other, fully, totally, unhesitatingly and without holding back. It’s a free flow of love and life. Relationships in families and the church must be the same.

Such a life is counter-cultural, antithetical to anything and everything that we know in the world. There is no greed nor insecurity nor domination and control in this way of living. But love, health, mutuality and divine fullness.

The dynamic of love also dictates our dealings with one another. Therefore we give ourselves in the service of others as Christ gave himself for us. There is no room here for greed or even the motive of profit-making. One does not serve with the aim of gaining by serving. One serves because one has the ability or the resources that the other is in need of. True love serves freely seeking the welfare of the object of love. Just as God gave away his Son for us and as Christ offered himself up for us. In this is a model for economics. An economics based on the self-giving love of Christ which is different from anything that one can think of in the world.

This is captured for us in these words of apostle Paul, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” And “…the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The different models of economics in the world are not derived from Trinitarian understanding of God but from human fallenness. Therefore all such models in the final analysis lead to extortion and exploitation. The church cannot have anything to do with such structures.

God is One, yet Three is the basis for communication, fellowship and relationships. To communicate is not just passing on of information as it is understood in the world today. Communication within the Godhead is the communication of love. Communication of love is not the expressing of emotion or sentiment as we tend to think but it is the communication of their being or the communication of life between them. Which is what is fellowship or communion. God does not communicate in mere words. His words have the force of his being behind them. When he speaks he gives of himself unreservedly, unselfishly, totally, without holding back anything. This is the reason why, God speaking is not information dumping but giving of himself. Hence what God speaks comes to pass. Life is communicated and therefore created. Relationships are born leading to communion of life. Jesus said, “…the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”(Jn 6:63)

Unfortunately much of the preaching in the church today has become information dumping rather than communication of life. This is one of the consequences of fallenness. Where are the signs of redemption then? Information dissemination and acquiring of knowledge is the way of teaching and learning in the world. But when even churches and Christian seminaries adopt the same model, is it not worldliness? No wonder we have so many people with BIG heads! ‘Knowledge puffs up’ wrote the Apostle. Many in the church today are left hungry, unfed, unchanged and gasping for life.

Until we rediscover the Triune God, understand Him and live by the implications of such an understanding, we shall be groping for answers and flounder from one ‘broken pot’ to another and just take whatever is on offer from the world. Is this not the reason why, we have borrowed the organisational models from the world and not from the Triune God. Therefore we have the sad spectacle of so-called ‘management-gurus’ of the world, who are now considered experts on Christian leadership conduct seminars on how to manage our churches. With such gross compromise and worldliness, how can we be witnesses before the world and have the authority to speak for God. I lament!

N.B.: Please read ‘Trinitarian Economics’ and ‘Small is Beautiful’ below in the blog, for more on trinitarian understanding of economics and organisation.

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The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

2. God is number one, He won’t be number two

Let us first take up the issue of our discipleship to Christ and how it has been compromised. This has happened precisely because we have not understood the implications of knowing God as One!

The Bible is united in its affirmation of God as One. The Jewish Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 declares, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

What does it mean in practise and what are its implications for life?

We do know that intolerance is born of a monotheistic understanding of God. If God is One and there is no other, then no other god or faith or religion can exist. Generally all who believe in God as monotheistic, express it in the form of intolerance towards all who do not believe in Him. But intolerance is a negative form of expressing the belief and it has no place in Christian faith. The Bible does talk about God as One, but it also teaches that the One God reveals Himself as Three. If three personal beings with free wills of their own co-exist and be so united that they are One then intolerance of the kind that is prevalent in the world today has no room in Christian faith. But what is the right and positive way of expressing our belief in God as One? It is ‘single-hearted devotion’ or as stated in the second part of Jewish Shema and affirmed by Jesus Christ in the words of the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

The first of the ten commandments is, “I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me.” A popular chorus for children restates it as “God is number one. He won’t be number two”. Jesus stated the same in his call to discipleship, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Os Guinness and John Seel write, “To say that there is one God and no god but God is not the conclusion of a syllogism nor simply an article in a creed. It is an overpowering, brain-hammering, heart-stopping truth that is a command to love the only one worthy of our entire and unswerving allegiance.” (Emphasis mine)

Is this not what is missing among Christians today? The right way of expressing our belief in God as One, is unswerving allegiance to him or in the words of Apostle Paul, ‘single-heartednes’ towards Christ. Instead we have begun to live dual lives – a life of faith in God, of following Christ and of pursuing self and the world!

The words of Paul ‘…simplicity that is in Christ’ can also be translated as ‘sincere devotion to Christ’ or ‘single-heartedness towards Christ’. As I said in my first article on this subject of ‘Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority – Riding Two Horses’, rather than singleness of heart we have begun to ‘ride two horses’. Or as Paul says about Timothy in Philippians 2: 19-20 ‘…all seek their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus’. The modern world has made it both easy and very attractive to ‘follow Christ’ and to pursue self-interest, self-preservation, and personal material affluence. This kind of duality among Christians today is so universal, pervasive and entrenched that we hardly notice it and even if noticed we think it is normal and nothing to worry about nor worthy of paying any attention to. It is appalling to see that many well-meaning Christians are living such dual lives and do not see anything wrong with it!

Quite early in my own personal walk with Christ I came across the statement, “No man or woman amounts to anything in the kingdom, no soul ever touches even the edge of the zone of power, until this lesson is learned that Christ’s business is the supreme concern of life and that all personal considerations, however dear or important, are tributary thereto (Dr. Francis quoted in ‘Streams in the Desert’ – Devotion for December 14) Such thinking clearly indicates one’s theology. Stories of men and women who pursued God and made loving Him their primary pursuit in life testify to it.

If we are created by God and bought with the blood of His own Son then surely we do not belong to ourselves. Therefore “…those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” We just cannot live for anyone else or for anything else. To do so amounts to not only violation of the first commandment but also to violate the terms of discipleship to Christ.

In my first article I had written, “Nothing can be more plain than that. We cannot live for ourselves. Period. Not for our own desires, ambitions, pleasures, aspirations, comforts, security, identity, dignity, glory whatever. We cannot live a life of self-seeking. We live for Christ and His kingdom – his pleasures, his desires, his will, his glory and nothing else. The day you and I decided to follow Christ or the day His choice fell upon us, my friends, we have lost all rights to live for ourselves. If you do not like this then you do not understand the gospel or you are still holding on to your self. There is no choice here. Either we follow Christ and give him our total allegiance or we leave and go our own way.”

Os Guinness and John Seel explain that this kind of unconditional allegiance to Christ means unconditional refusal to give God’s place to anyone and anything else. Such people are uncompromising, unmalleable and therefore unconquerable too. Often they are viewed as intolerant because they are intransigent. Their intransigence is born because of their allegiance to God, the One and only, who has revealed himself in the incarnation of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not the rabid intolerance of the religious fanatic, who bays for the blood of those who disagree. But these uncompromising people do not engage in coercion nor in the extermination of those who disagree with them. But it is seen in their unswerving allegiance or sincere devotedness to Christ and His kingdom.

Such allegiance or devotedness is what constitutes true worship. Paul calls it ‘reasonable service’ or ‘right kind of worship’. Anything less is not worthy of him. Anything else is not worship but strange fire. Any worship without such unswerving love and devotedness is not worship. There is no religious ritual or custom or tradition that can compensate for this. There is no need for any religious place or sanctuary where this worship can be offered. It is given in the life of the individual in spirit and in truth.

Let me bring in a parallel from the book of Exodus. God sent Moses to Pharoah saying, “Let my people go that they may worship me”. But Pharoah would not let them go. He reasoned that they were not kept busy enough with work and therefore they wanted to go on a day’s journey into the desert to worship. First he said they could worship right where they were. Later he said that only men could go and leave the rest of the family behind. He increased their work so that they would not have time to think about worship. I believe we have a modern-day Pharoah in our work and employment. Our employers and employment keep us occupied with work so that we do not give single-hearted devotion to Christ. Or they would have us treat work as worship! Or even work as mission! Or work-place as fishing pond to fish men for Christ! There are a thousand and odd ways the world and its system would want us to be bound up with, so that we do not give unstinted love for Christ. Our God would have none of it. Either we love Him whole heartedly and follow Christ wholly or serve Mammon and the world!

Anyone who wishes to be faithful to his call to follow Christ can never be totally comfortable in the world. Nor can they be comfortable working in any of the organisations and corporations today including church and ministry related works. Any prayer seeking to be comfortable in the world is a wrong prayer.

Oswald Chambers writes, “Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ…The greastest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him…The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Hm.” Only when our discipleship to Christ is understood this way and we are willing to give such unswerving allegiance to him, can we recover our calling and our witness. Without this our own discipleship to Christ would be suspect.

Do you now see, why I say that our condition today is lamentable?