Friday, May 10, 2024

Post #45 The Doctrine of God - How the Trinity Anchored Practices And Preaching In The Book of Acts


    As we continue our Biblical survey of the doctrine of God and the doctrine of the Trinity, we come to the Book of Acts. A pattern we find common in the Bible pertaining to God's revelation of Himself is the cycle of God's works, followed by the revelation of His ways. 

    In Genesis, we see God create - His work. Then we see the exposition or revelation of the way in which He did the work (hence Genesis 1-2). This cycle of God's work, then "ways of revelation", is repeated progressively throughout the Bible. God acted in history, followed by a codifying all He did in creation, providence, and redemption, though means of the Divine inspiration of Scripture. Scripture does not merely witness to what God did, it is the revelation of all He achieved. The entire Old Testament is a testimony of God's work of creation, providence, and redemption, followed up by the ways of His revelation put into writing via the prophets.

    The time between the Old and New Testaments, known in the technical literature as "the second temple era" or the "intertestamental period" witnesses a temporary cessation of this cycle of "God acting, followed by revelation" for four hundred years. We could say that the Jews spent four centuries reflecting upon the revelation they had received through the 39 books of Genesis to Malachi. 

    It is then that the Son of God is incarnated in history as the man Jesus Christ. Once Christ arrives in history through His incarnation, the cycle resumes. Jesus came as the decisive revelation of God in the flesh. He came to work the final work of redemption here on earth, and then to ascend after His resurrection to do His work as Mediator in the Heavens (see Hebrews 10:19-25). The Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and John's Apocalypse serve as the final body of revelatory literature, disclosing God's ways through the incarnate Son of God and the ongoing work of the Spirit. The New Testament, along with the Hebrew Bible or "Old Testament", completes God's written revelation of His acts in creation, providence, and redemption, as well as predicting what will be Christ's return and consummation of the ages. 

The Triune God in the practices and preaching of the Christians in the Book of Acts

    The reader may notice in my introductory comments above how embedded the doctrine of the Trinity is in the fabric of Scripture. We've witnessed the Old Testament's setting the stage for this doctrine. No doubt Jesus spoke time and again about His own relationship with the Father. He further elaborated on His promise of the Holy Spirit. These two-sets of truths show how all three Persons of the Trinity worked together as One God in the drama of redemption accomplished in the four Gospel accounts. But what about the Book of Acts, and the remainder of the New Testament for that matter? 

    The 19th century theologian B.B. Warfield wrote a wonderful article on the Doctrine of the Trinity in His volume "Biblical and Theological Studies", an essay that readers can access in the online "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia" here Trinity, 1 - International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.. What Warfield has to say is relevant to our posting today,

    "The relation of the two Testaments to this revelation is in the one case that of preparation for it, and in the other that of product of it. The revelation itself is embodied just in Christ and the Holy Spirit. This is as much as to say that the revelation of the Trinity was incidental to, and the inevitable effect of, the accomplishment of redemption. It was in the coming of the Son of God in the likeness of sinful flesh to offer Himself a sacrifice for sin; and in the coming of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, that the Trinity of Persons in the Unity of the Godhead was once for all revealed to men." 

    When you consider the practices of the early church as demonstrating their consciousness of the Triune character of the God of the Bible, one can begin with the practice of Baptism. Jesus gave the church the practice of Baptism as one of two ordinances or commands. In Matthew 28:19-20 we find Him commanding the disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations, teaching them, and then "baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit". 

    When we come to Acts 2:41, 8:12, and other places in Acts of the Apostles, we see Christian converts being baptized in the name of Jesus. This isn't a denial of the Trinity in the Baptismal formula. If anything, to be baptized in the name of Jesus was still affirming the plurality of persons in the Godhead, since public identification with all that was entailed in public confession of Jesus was resident in His name (The true deity, co-equality of the Son with the Father, plus He and the Father's promised sending of the Holy Spirit). 

    No doubt the practice of worship, prayer, and preaching in the Book of Acts showed how central the Trinity was in the Christians' minds. For instance, Peter's inaugural sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 explains the event of Pentecost by reference to all three Persons of the Trinity. In Acts 2:17, reference is made to the Father's sending of the Spirit, wherein Peter quotes the prophet Joel "God says 'I will pour forth my Spirit'". Peter later in the sermon mentions all three Persons of the Trinity in Acts 2:33

"Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear."

    Throughout the Book of Acts you'll encounter roughly twenty sermons, half of which center upon the Resurrection of Jesus. In one of the Apostle Peter's sermons, we find him mentioning the Trinity in Acts 10:38

"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him." 

    The Apostle Paul's preaching is also recorded in the Book of Acts, referencing language that points us to the Trinity. One example is found in Acts 13:33, where Paul quotes Psalm 2:7, a passage that depicts the eternal Son of God and the Father in an inter-Trinitarian dialogue,

"that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You.’"

    Like I said, there are roughly twenty sermons in the Book of Acts, most of which have woven within them a Trinitarian understanding of God's acts and revelation of Himself. 

    I only need to mention a couple other examples of practices of the early Christians to round out our study today.

1. The Lord's Supper.

    In addition to Baptism, Jesus had given one other command or ordinance to His church, the Lord's Table. In Acts 2:46 we read of how the early Christians were "breaking bread" from house-to-house. It is most likely this was reference to eating of meals together, however we could also include that they observed the Lord's Supper as a church gathered together. 

    The text states they continued in the Apostle's teaching. What was it that the Apostles had taught? In context, Peter had expounded to those gathered on the Day of Pentecost of the promised Holy Spirit, and how He came as a consequence of the ascension of Christ, as promised by the Father (see Acts 2:1-37 for the whole sermon preached by Peter). 

    The Lord's Supper, initiated by Jesus on the Eve of His crucifixion, represented not only His accomplished work of redemption, but also the body of believers. The three-thousand people saved that day were summarily baptized and had occasion to celebrate the Lord's Supper and other acts of fellowship with one another (Acts 2:42-47). No doubt the Trinity informed these practices of the early Christians.

2. Church Discipline.

    Jesus first taught about church discipline in Matthew 18. He expounded what I call "The Great Concern", namely the concern over the holiness of believers in what would be the forthcoming Church birthed on the Day of Pentecost. Accountability is so important in the Christian-life. The local church is designed by God to be a community in which Christians urge one another onto love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:23-25). 

    In Acts 5:3-5 we see the harrowing episode of the deceit of Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple who pretended to sell property to give to the church, while lying about how they secretly held back some of the proceeds for themselves. The Apostle Peter  publicly confronted them. In the passage, we find one of the strongest passages concerning the Personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit,

"But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it." 

    We see in verse three above that this couple had lied to the Holy Spirit. Then in the next verse, Peter tells them they have lied to God. The Lord disciplined these two by way of physically taking their life! This was what the Apostle John would later refer to as "the sin unto death" (1 John 5:16-17). 

    The deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit follows from the doctrine of the Trinity, since the one divine nature is equally and wholly in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. What is remarkable here is that the early Christians, Jews by background, would have had no problem affirming the deity of the Spirit of God, since He is mentioned as God in the Hebrew Bible (as early as Genesis 1:2, and most robustly Psalm 104:30, Isaiah 63:10, plus several other places). To mention one of the of the Divine Persons is to automatically include the other two. Even in this traumatic scene, the Triune God was deeply embedded in the spiritual life of the early Christians - Peter most notably.

Closing thoughts

    Today we looked at how we see the doctrine of the Trinity shaping the preaching and practices of the early church in the Book of Acts. Although I've given only a sampling of the full scope of references for sake of space, the reader ought to perceive how much the doctrine of the Trinity factored into the Church's understanding of itself. This ought to also demonstrate that the doctrine of the Trinity is not just a speculative doctrine, but highly practical in helping the Christ-follower and the Bible believing church to remain faithful to the Biblical revelation of the Triune God.