Finding Your-Self in Communion, Part 2
“We live in an age of individualism. In our so-called civilization, everyone thinks only of himself; this attitude is not limited to the ‘secular’ world, but is also present among Christians. Individualism has crept in and each one of us tries to be reconciled to God by himself, on his own. He forgets his brother or looks at him as an object of his criticism and blame and forgets that the meaning of the spiritual life, the fulfillment of our salvation, exists in this very act of receiving our brother.” 1
I ended my last piece with this rather striking quote. I think Bishop Vasiljevic’s words provide a sufficient perspective for us to initiate this topic once again and to delve further into it. In my last piece I began to explore what it means for the human person to find himself or herself in communion and how a large part of who we are as persons is actually contrived through our relationships. For example, the relationships that I share with others around me helps to draw out my Me-ness and my selfhood, and the people in your own life help to draw out your You-ness. I also began to touch on the issue of individualism. Here is the link to Part 1:
Now, I want to make more of a theological turn, with the essence of Bishop Maxim’s quote leading us off. “Everyone thinks only of himself; this attitude is not limited to the ‘secular’ world, but is also present among Christians.” How have we gotten to this point and where do we go from here? What do we do whenever we realize that we have neglected the fact that “our brother is our life?”2 Andy Root once said that, “Individualism is idolatry because it denies that we are our relationships.”3 How has the Church gotten itself into such an idolatrous state? While many theologians and authors out there today offer several suggestions on this point, I believe that we have gotten into this predicament because we no longer know how to profess the Triune God in the Gospel and we no longer know how to dialogue with the Triune God in worship. The Trinity matters because it is in the Triune image that we are made. “It is not good for man to be alone”4 because, as an image bearer of the Triune God, a lone human being cannot reflect the Being who exists in eternal communion. The Trinity matters because the very existence of the Trinity calls all aspects of self-defined individualism into question. In my opinion, the absence of Trinitarian language in our understanding of the Gospel and in our worship services has actually dulled the modern Christian from thinking in communal and relational ways.
One of the things that I love most about the denomination that I belong to, the Christian Reformed Church, is how thoroughly saturated everything is in Trinitarian language. For us, worship and liturgy are not primarily about what we are receiving from God or giving to Him. Rather, worship is about participating in what Jesus is receiving from the Father in the Holy Spirit and what He is offering back to the Father in the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the Holy Trinity is invoked in every service on multiple occasions. It always troubles me whenever I attend other church services or worship gatherings and the Name of the Holy Trinity is never or rarely invoked. It seems that so many worship services today are completely and solely fixated on Jesus. I truly believe that worship is to be Christocentric as well, but not to the detriment of the other members of the Trinity. It baffles me how often the Father and the Holy Spirit are left out of our songs, hymns, litanies, and sermons. It is tragic that in many modern churches certain members of the Holy Trinity are nothing more than a mere afterthought.
While our denomination is far from perfect, I truly do appreciate that the Gospel is also thoroughly Trinitarian for us in the Christian Reformed Church. The Gospel is not simply about what Jesus has done and is doing for us, as important as this is. Rather, it is about what the entire Trinity is doing in and through God the Son. In the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7, we profess that the “Gospel is summarized for us in the articles of our Christian faith—a creed beyond doubt, and confessed throughout the world.”5 The Apostles’ Creed is this “creed beyond doubt” which it speaks of. It is the best summary of the Gospel which we can profess, and the Creed itself is framed around the Persons of the Trinity and their actions in our world. Thus, in professing this Trinitarian Creed we are professing a Trinitarian Gospel.
I am not at all saying that other traditions are not also liturgically and evangelically Trinitarian. The Apostles’ Creed, after all, is a creed that is “confessed throughout the world” and professed by most Christian traditions. I am just grateful to be a part of a tradition that is very self-aware of our Trinitarian rootedness.
Why does this matter? How does centralizing the Trinity in all that we do and profess combat the individualism that is so rampant in our churches?
“Trinity” is the word which seeks to convey the reality in which God has revealed Himself to us. The notion which it conveys is that God is one God, three persons. He is one God while He exists as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is both one and many simultaneously and one of these aspects does not take precedent over the other. God’s oneness is not more important than His threeness, nor is His threeness more important than His oneness. In His very being He exists as communion. God’s existence is relationship.
Understanding the Trinity is crucial because it not only affects how we think about God, but it also directly affects how we think about what it means for things to exist to begin with. In our day, it is very difficult for us to wrap our minds around how God can be both one and three at the same time. This is difficult for us because we have been brought up in a culture of stark individualism where we tend to think of ourselves as individuals first. Only after this do we see ourselves in relation to others. In other words, we don’t see our connection to other people as deeply as we should and we have deceived ourselves into thinking that we can think of ourselves apart from our relationships.
The Trinity challenges this notion to the core. For, we cannot truly conceive of God apart from the relationships of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We will not truly understand who Jesus is, for example, apart from His relationship with the Father. In fact, we know that He is called “Son” not because He is first and foremost the son of Mary or the son of human beings. Rather, He is the Son of the Father. Likewise, the Father is not called “Father” first and foremost because He is a Father to us. Rather, He is the Father because He is and always has been Father to the Son. It is through Jesus’ sonship that we become adopted “sons” of the Father, and it is through Him that we can call the Father, “Father,” as He does. The communion that exists between the members of the Trinity is intrinsic to the very being of God. We learn from God that being is communion and that persons only find themselves in communion.
We are not isolated individuals who make ourselves but we are shaped and formed by the people around us and in response to them. It is the people around us who truly contribute to who we are as persons. The Dutch Reformed theologian, Hendrikus Berkhof, says it quite well:
“There are no individuals if by that we mean isolated individuals, completely detached from each other. What does exist however, is persons, people who realize their humanity in the encounter with others. Humanness is always fellow-humanness.”6
Vasiljevic, Maxim. History, Truth, Holiness. Alhambra: Sebastian Press, 2011.
Archimandrite Sophrony. St. Silouan the Athonite. Crestwood:St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991. 47
Root, Andrew. The Relational Pastor. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013.
Genesis 2:18, TNIV
Psalter Hymnal. Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1988. 867
Berkhof, Hendrikus. Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979. 340.