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We believe in human worth.

WE BELIEVE IN ONE GOD WHO EXISTS AS FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT.

Few issues have been more controversial in the history of the Church than those regarding the nature of God. The controversies have had two root causes. The first is simply that we are finite creatures. We lack the capacity to understand the nature of God. The second is the tension between the straightforward monotheism (belief in one God) of the Old Testament and the more nuanced monotheism of the New Testament.

The Church had to deal with this tension early in its history. Early Christians were Jews. They had known from childhood that there was only one God. Everyday they prayed an ancient prayer, the Shema, that says “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). All Jews, including those who were believers in Christ, steadfastly contended for this fundamental truth about God, even at the cost of their lives.

However, early Christians were beginning to treat those writings we would later call the New Testament as part of Holy Scripture and added them to their lectionary readings for public worship. These writings required another look at the nature of God. For example, Jesus prayed to be glorified with the glory that He had shared with the Father “before the world was” (John 17:5). The Apostle John says that “the Word was God and was with God” (John 1:1, emphasis added). A number of benedictions used to conclude public worship, which quoted from the apostles’ writings, invoked the blessings of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The more nuanced monotheism that emerged as a result of the New Testament was not really new. It had emerged in the very first Christian meeting, as Peter’s sermon at Pentecost makes clear, “This Jesus, being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, has shed forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33). Old Testament monotheism had already been evolving to accommodate what believers had learned about God from Christ, Who had resurrected and ascended into Heaven, and from the Holy Spirit, Who had come to them at Pentecost.

Nonetheless, a fundamental question posed by Christianity’s conflict with Judaism had to be answered: how could Christians affirm both the oneness and the triunity of God?

The leaders of the church called a number of councils to resolve these and other issues because they wanted Christianity to speak with a single voice about the core doctrines of our faith, especially when it came to the nature of God.

Among the important results of these councils were the two creeds that most Christians use today. However, the councils also produced other doctrinal statements, many of which contain the word persona, Latin for “mask” or “role.” Christians gradually began to use this word in worship and teaching to confess their belief in one God who exists in three personae: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This theological language developed as a way for Christians to remain faithful to the biblical monotheism of the Old Testament while acknowledging the differences and distinctions within the Godhead that the New Testament revealed. However, as the centuries passed, the common usage of these theological terms tended to make the original message unclear. As believers translated the creeds into their various languages, for example, the different ways the various communities understood the words and terms often led to anger, suspicion, and division. Some of the divisions that resulted remain to this day.

Through the centuries, many theologians and church leaders have tried to find clearer language to express the Christian view of God and His incarnation in Jesus Christ. Karl Barth suggested “modes of being” instead of “persons.” John Calvin also searched for an alternative but did not seem to find anything better than the traditional term. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians have argued for a thousand years now about a single Latin word Western Christians added to the Nicene Creed. Copts, Nestorians, and Armenians have argued with both Roman and Greek Christians for even longer than that.

Perhaps it is not a surprise that early Pentecostals also differed about how we should speak about the nature of God. Some believed that using the English word person created misunderstanding among modern people and urged the Church to return to what they viewed as simple New Testament language. Believing that the word person might lead to forms of polytheism (the belief in many gods), they abandoned the use of person altogether in reference to God. Christ Church was birthed out of a group concerned about this, which may become apparent when one reads our early literature.

The challenge is to affirm monotheism without promoting modalism. Modalism implies that God deceives us about His nature. However, as the Bible makes clear, God not only appears to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As time has passed, Christ Church has tried to deal with the issue by simply affirming the Church’s ancient creeds without further embellishment.

In the end, the nature of God is far beyond human comprehension. We are not likely to ever learn how to fully describe God. Theology breaks down from the sheer inadequacy of human language and human thought to fully less express what even the Apostle Paul once called “the mystery of Godliness” (1 Timothy 3:16).

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