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In previous posts I have discussed the priesthood of all believers and how this doctrine interacts with the doctrine of the trinity.  In my last post on this I examined the connection from Trinity => church.  In this post we'll go in the other direction: church => trinity (a much more perilous route!!).  My question is:

          Can 'different giftings united in one priesthood' be thought of as an analogy for the trinity?

If it can, then it would be ok to see different Persons of the Godhead differently gifted.  This different gifting would imply no difference in divinity (just as differences in charismatic gifting implies no difference in priestliness).  Instead we could affirm the differences we see in the economy as real and not apparent and yet in no way infer any ontological subordination.

To set this up, let me quote from Athanasius' Deposition of Arius

And if the Son is the “Word” and “Wisdom” of God, how was there “a time when He was not?” It is the same as if they should say that God was once without Word and without Wisdom.

Here we have, of course, a thought-experiment.  But it is interesting to note exactly what thoughts are being had by Athanasius.  The argument is basically this: 

1. The Son is the Wisdom of the Father.

2. It is inconceivable to have the Father without wisdom.

3. The Father must have always had the Son. 

Now it doesn't take much thought to imagine the Arian come-back to this.  Surely you could just say that the Father has always had wisdom in Himself, i.e. considered apart from the Son.  This was a move which Athanasius was unwilling to make.  The logic of Athanasius' position (without which his argument fails) is that the Father must have the Son to have wisdom - He does not have it in Himself. 

All this accords with verses like 1 Cor 2:10-11, where the wisdom of God is seen as an irreducibly inter-Personal knowledge.  The Father is wise in the wisdom of the Son, known in the Spirit.  Athanasius reveals in this argument that he did not conceive of the Persons as having divine attributes (like wisdom) complete in themselves.  The attributes are not, on this conception, identical CV's repeated for each Person.  Rather, each Person shares in the common divine life because they so belong to one another and inter-penetrate one another that Each has a complete share in the giftings of the Others.  Yet those gifting (attributes) are properly unique to the Persons in their distinctive existences as Begettor, Begotten and Proceeding.  The Son is the Wisdom of the Father.  The Father is not wise in Himself but only in the Son and by the Spirit. 

As we discussed the priesthood of all believers we were led to just these kinds of conclusions.  I am priestly not by myself but only in and with you and your gifts.  And because of you and your gifts - you and they belong to me (Rom 12:5).  Is it not the same with God?  The Son so belongs to the Father that He who is Wisdom eternally makes wise the Father in the Spirit, etc, etc.

Isn't it very suggestive that 1 Corinthians 11 tells us that Father and Son are Head and Body (v3) just before we read a whole chapter on the church also being like a body??  And isn't it interesting that the following chapter (13) discusses how the many are one - love!?

Can we not say by analogy with 1 Cor 12:15: "If the Father should say 'Because I am not Wisdom, I do not belong to the Godhead,' He would not for that reason cease to be part of the Godhead... "  You see where I'm going with this.  Just as the priesthood of all believers is the corporate priestliness of differently gifted believers so the equal divinity of the Three is the corporate divinity of differently gifted Persons.  Yet these Persons so belong to each other that they are never without the gifts of the Other.

Now some think that Athanasius' famous affirmation opposes such a position:

'The Son is everything the Father is except Father...'  

But I'm saying, if Athanasius is being true to his Deposition of Arius he must mean this in terms of ontological equality.  That is the sense in which we must uphold these words.  But it's very clear, viewed from another perspective, that the Son is many things the Father is not - Begotten, Mediator, Prophet, Priest, Prince, Sent One, etc, etc.  So whatever the above affirmation means it does not mean that the Son's CV is the same as the Father's.  Instead, just as my gifts are different to yours, so the particular attributes of the Persons are different.  And just as your gifts belong to me in the unity of the church so the Person's attributes belong to one another in the unity of the Godhead.

We'll see why this is important shortly.



When discussing the priesthood of all believers I tried to highlight the corporate nature of our priestliness.  I only find my priestliness in union with Christ and in union with others.  Both are essential.

The priesthood of all believers is not a priestliness that is the private possession of each believer.  If we argue like this then the very basis for the doctrine is undermined.  If I claim priestliness in myself then I can be priestly without you.  And if this is admitted then my different gifted-ness and the distinct exercise of my priestly gifts will easily appear as a different order of priestliness to yours.  And once we say that we're a hop, skip and a jump from a priesthood of the few.

No - the priesthood of all believers upholds that, while having different gifts to you and while exercising them in different ways, I cannot be priestly without you.  Yet with you I am both priestly and I have your gifts - for you in your giftedness belong to me, and I to you (Rom 12:5ff).

In thinking this through the connections with trinitarian theology suggest themselves pretty readily.  In John 17, Christ prays for a priestly church unity.  That is, He prays that the church be united as witness to the world. (see v18, 21, 23).  In v21 and 23, Christ makes clear the proto-type for such priestly unity: the Father-Son union.  So in thinking about Church and gifts, there seem to be some fruitful lines of enquiry into Trinity and attributes. 

In this post I'll consider things from Trinity => church.  In my next post I'll think of church =>Trinity.

As we consider things from Trinity => church. It seems like the major trinitarian heresies are easily seen in our understandings of church.

tritheism: a 'trinity' of separable Persons becomes, in church practice, separable priests - lone-ranger, hit and run  evangelists divorced from the corporate life of the church.

modalism: a one-ness in which the Persons lose their distinctiveness becomes, in church practice, a forcing of church members into the same mould.  Everyone must exercise every gift.  Training in mission = making everyone do street-evangelism.  That kind of thing.

subordinationism (Arianism): The ontological subordination of Son and Spirit becomes, in church practice, the suborination of the non-full-time Christian workers.  It's the old two-tier way of life first espoused by Eusebius but replicated today.  The 'perfect' are the priests (nowadays the 'full-time Christian workers'), the 'permitted' are the regular folk (nowadays those whose tithes support the 'full-time Christian workers'). 

The antidote must be to go back to the trinity and understand again how the many are one.  Not competitively, not identically, not merely apparently.  Rather the one-ness (of God and of church) is a unity of distinct Persons whose belongingness to one another makes them who they are.  

I am - in all my differentness to you, in all my distinct gifting and role - one with you in the mission that constitutes both me and the church.  Without you I have no mission, in fact I have no ecclesial being - that is, I am not a Christian.  I have my life and being and we have our mission to the world only because we belong together at the very deepest level.

20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  (John 17:20-23)


Rest of series:

Part two

Part three - Let Jesus be Jesus

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