Communion with the Trinity (part 1)
Christians often talk and write about communion with God or spending time in God’s presence. Books on the topic are a prominent feature of “Christian Living” sections in countless bookstores. Church history is filled with reflections on this theme penned by theologians and pastors. However, it is far less common to encounter teaching on the value of communion with individual members of the Trinity. Though others may have alluded to this concept or taught it explicitly, no one has brought this practice into clearer focus for me more than the Puritan pastor and theologian John Owen in his treatise (not just a book mind you, but a treatise) Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost written in 1657. In the book’s preface Owen wrote,
“spiritual savor and relish… it will yield to them whose hearts are not so filled with other things as to render the sweet things of the gospel bitter to them.”
That is a bold claim, but anyone who has seriously engaged Owen’s thought in these pages will find that he has not overestimated the impact of applying his words. That said, I would like to spend four (it may end up being more) blog posts exploring this idea and the potential impact this discipline holds for the spiritual life of any believer who chooses to embrace it.
Scripture teaches and Christians believe that God eternally exists in three persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is one God in three persons. Some have observed that in order to have the historic orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity you must have three features in place: unity—there is one God, not three gods; equality—the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, they are all equally God; and you also have to have distinction—the members of the Trinity have unique roles.
You encounter this reality throughout scripture and part of the way it plays itself out is in the way that you and I, as believers, are invited to commune with God in order to cultivate our relationship with him.
1 John 1:1–3 (ESV) — 1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Owen comments that the conjunction “and” in verse three indicates to two things for us: it is uniting—we have fellowship with the Father and the Son—John is highlighting the togetherness of the Father and the Son. But, “and” also distinguishes the Father and the Son—we are offered fellowship with both the Father and the Son.
We are invited to commune with God, the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—but there is also incredible value to fellowship with the individual persons of the Trinity.
There is unity and distinction.
Catch what Paul writes along these same lines…
1 Corinthians 12:4–6 (ESV) — Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
In other words, Paul says that the Christian is able to enjoy unique fellowship, or you might say relational connection, with each individual member of the Trinity according to the unique communication of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Owen points to this reality present within 1 Corinthians 12 and other passages to illuminate the truth that each member of the godhead distinctively communicates and fellowships according to their work in carrying out the plan of redemption: the Father communicates by original authority, the Son communicates from a purchased treasury and the Spirit communicates in immediately efficacy (these are Owen’s basic categories… If you find them a bit confusing, not to worry; we will explore them in future posts).
This is again seen in 2 Corinthians 13…
2 Corinthians 13:14 (ESV) — The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Here Paul says that there is a sense in which we relate to and fellowship with each individual person of the Trinity in a unique way and in doing so we experience a greater depth and sweeter intimacy in our relationships with the Triune God. This is not an idea that we are accustom to hearing articulated, but it seems to be one that was very much apart of early Christian practice both in worship and teaching.
Next: How do we distinctly commune with God the Father?