Monday, October 10, 2016

Meditating on the Person of the Father through creeds and confessions

Image result for stained glass window
1 Corinthians 8:6-7 "yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. 7. However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled."

We have been exploring the Person of the Father within the Trinity for the last few posts. In exploring the Old and New Testaments, as well as Jesus' statements about the Father, we have aimed to get to know the Father better. Today we want to consider briefly what ancient Christians had to say about the first Person of the Trinity. The terms used for God the Father in the creeds of the early church aimed to expound His nature and His relationship to the Son and the Spirit. We will note briefly a few of the ways in which the main Christian creeds, both ancient and modern, articulate the Father.

1. I believe in One God the Father the Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth
This first statement about the Father derives from the Apostle's Creed. The term "creed" arises from the first word in the Latin of this statement, "creedo", meaning "I believe".  Although the final form of this creed likely did not become finalize until the first few centuries of church history, its summation of Christian doctrine represents older creeds (like the Old Roman creed), which served to summarize the Apostle's teachings by the latter part of the second to early third centuries. 

Much like the Apostle Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 8:6-7, God as Father is understood as possessing the ability to create something out of nothing. Further reflection (especially from 1 Corinthians 8:6-7) reveals how even though one can infer the Creator God from general revelation in creation, the specific identity of this God as "The Father" is a truth derived from revealed scripture or "special revelation". 

2. I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
This statement derives from the Nicene Creed, a major doctrinal statement from the 4th century. The description of the Father in this creed is similar to the Apostle's creed, with the further qualification of the realms of heaven earth being "all things visible and invisible". The "visible" realm includes our physical space/time universe that stretches some 40 billion light years, contains over 100 billion galaxies, countless stars, numerous planets and creatures such as dogs, cats and humans. The "invisible" realm is perhaps even more vast, with angels numbering in the trillions and immateriality expanding for who knows how far. Included in the invisible realm are the good angels, departed souls of Christian loved ones, the bad angels or demons and departed souls of those who rejected Christ and of course Satan. The invisible realm is portrayed in scripture as somehow interacting with the visible realm. We as human beings are the only beings that are both physical and non-physical, material in our body and immaterial in our soul/spirit. All this to say that this One God, Who is Father, Who is Son and Who is Holy Spirit, exercise His causal influence over every point and moment of time in the visible and invisible realms. This creed and the last emphasize the omnipotence of the Father in creating all things out of nothing. 

3. That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son and another of the Holy Spirit.

This description of the Father is found within the creed called "The Athanasian creed. Although attributed to the fourth century church father Athanasius (who defended the Deity of Christ), the creed is likely a later development. As the Christian church continued to develop and refine its understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, it came to express the Person of the Father not only with respect to His power, but moreso in terms of His nature and relationship to the Son and Spirit. Of interest in this creed is expressing how God can be One in being and Three in Person. 

Within this particular creed we find the Father described in terms of being uncreated, incomprehensible and eternal. Additionally, He is also described as God, Lord and Almighty. The other two Persons are also described in these terms, with the emphasis being that all three Persons share these qualities due to their unity in essence. We then find the interesting term "unbegotten and not made" used of the Father in distinction from the Son, Who is deemed "begotten, not made" and the Spirit Who "is not begotten, nor created, but proceeding" and of course not made. These terms serve to remind us that there is God, the Creator, and then there is everything else - the creation.  

Some theologians don't like this language, since it seems to imply that in some manner, the Father may have preeminence over the Son and the Spirit within the Trinity. Whenever we consider more closely the use of these terms, they serve only to distinguish the Three Persons in their relationships to one another. Moreover, whenever we consider the New Testament's description of the Son as "begotten" in passages such as John 3:16, the emphasis is about the unique relationship between the Father and the Son, as well as the fact they both are equal, share in the same nature and possess the same qualities of true and full Deity. 

It would seem to this writer at least that the Father, Son and Spirit are co-equal, co-eternal and share in the One Divine essence, with the Father providing the reference point for all the relationships with the Son and Spirit, whilst the Son and Spirit in their relationship with the Father perpetuate the fullness of Deity shared between all three Persons. All three provide an equality of framework with reference to one another, while being distinct Persons possessing the One, united, Divine essence that makes them each truly God.

Closing thoughts
The aim of these current posts is to get us to think high and feel deeper love for the God of the Bible as He is revealed as Father, Son and Spirit. The Father in particular is where scripture and the creeds of Christianity encourage us to begin such meditations. We cannot go long though without contemplating the other two Person, realizing that God is in and of Himself a perpetual movement of relating and sharing in self-giving love. Such activity overflows and in-effect, God extends to His creatures the invitation to participate and relate to Him. This, after all, was His original intent in creating all things and is His intended end for all who by grace through faith respond to His overtures of grace in the saving work of Jesus.