Friday, July 11, 2014

Early Christian Experiences of the Trinity

        We know how profoundly mysterious the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is. The wisdom behind God’s triune nature is so sublime that it defies our common patterns of thinking. Our knowledge of the Trinity must be beyond intellectual and must go above any verbalization. The early Christians, though not possessing of the most eloquent philosophers, were nonetheless recipients of that revelation.

        So, the doctrine of the Trinity is based on revelation and experience. I will set forth the main three: experiences of the Father, that of the Son and that of the Holy Spirit: 
           1) Father: when Jesus took Peter, James and John up on the mountain by themselves to pray, and after Jesus was transfigured, the disciples were enveloped in the white cloud; the disciples had experienced God’s presence there in the “pillar of cloud” as in Exodus, within which they heard His voice: “This is My beloved Son. Hear ye Him” (Luke 9:35). As the children of Israel became fearful of God’s presence on Mount Sinai, so the disciples “were fearful as they entered the cloud” (Luke 9:34). 

         2) Son: As Paul was on his way to Damascus with letters from the chief priests to arrest Christians there. As he neared the city, “suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And He said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting…” (Acts 9:4-5). Paul had seen the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus as had the earlier disciples: “and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once…” (1st Corinthians 15:5-6). Jesus’s presence was very real indeed and that was the early Christian experience of the second person of the Trinity. 

3)  Holy Spirit: When the disciples were in the small house church in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, they suddenly experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting…And they were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:2-4).

So, we see from these three main events how the Trinity was fully manifest in the lives of the early Christians. It was a reality that was seen, heard, felt, and handled (cf. 1st John 1:1). This is how the apostles were energized and strengthened. They did not have to believe in it as some theological proposition – they have seen God in His Triune presence themselves by their own experience.

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