My Seminar on ‘Trinity and Mission’ & the Cappadocians

Trinity KnotLast Thursday, I gave a seminar on ‘Trinity and Mission’ at the Greek Evangelical Church. It began with a run-through of the history of Christology — this is something I blog about often, so I’m not going to repeat everything here; just follow the links around my blog. I started with Irenaeus’ Rule of Faith and recapitulation, moved on to Athanasius, then the Kappadokians, before sliding into Cyril and Chalcedon. I closed with the Trinitarian exegesis of Matthew 28, as found in the blog post Trinity and Mission.

Not really discussed here before, however, is the following that flows from the Cappadocians — this is consciously following Zizioulas’ reading of them in Being As Communion, which I have heard has some problems; I’ll have to read all of what they say as well as the criticisms some day. Until then, here we go.

The result of this Trinitarian theology, whether expressed by Greek theologians such as the Kappadokians or Latin theologians such as Ambrosios and Augustinos, or even the Syriac theologians Aphrahat and Ephraim, has important implications. As expressed classically by the Kappadokians, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct prosopa or hypostaseis who are all homoousios — they share an ousia. And, following the logic of causation in classical philosophy, God is the principle at work behind all things and the Creator of all things, the unmoved mover — as in the magnificent image of Gregorios’, that Jesus is ‘the founder of the universe who steers its course’.

Therefore, this give-and-take of ousia in fullness of koinonia between the Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit lies at the heart of the created order. The universe is run by a koinonia. And here I mention our first ethical implication of classical Trinitarian doctrine — we are all made in the image of God (Gen 1:26). God is a Trinity of Persons in complete harmony, homonoia.

When we look at our fractured churches in Protestantism, churches that splinter every time you turn around, when we look at our families who sometimes never talk at all or are never willing to discuss things of substance, when we look at our broken relationships all around us, when we observe a fracturing world at our doorstep — Turks in the North, Israel vs. Palestine, internal unrest in Syria — we realise that we are not living as God, the Trinity who exists as self-giving love in perfect communion, intends us to.

If we are to live in accordance with the theology of ancient Christianity, we should be peacemakers, in our homes, our workplaces, our churches — even our nations if the possibility presents itself. All humans are made in God’s image, and all of us were meant to live in loving communion with one another. I imagine that this union of selfless love is what instilled God to inspire our Lord to pray for unity, St Paul to exhort the Corinthians to unity, and for the early Christian writers of the late first and early second centuries, such as Clement of Rome and Ignatios of Antioch, to strive for unity so forcefully in their letters.

Time and again, Ignatios, who was martyred by the Romans around 117, calls his readers to homonoia, to harmony, to a cessation of dissensions and loving accord. Koinonia is a divine attribute; let us live in it. As the Psalm says, ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.’ (Ps 133:1)

As far as mission goes, the koinonia of the Trinity should encourage us to work together; Christians of different sorts who work together provide a united face for the Gospel to an unbelieving world. I have seen this in Lefkosia in the Nicosia Community Church using your building, in the Nicosia International Church using the Anglican church — and I understand that Rick at NIC works together with the pastor at NCC in preparing their sermons.

When I worked for IFES here, we ran the Place at the Anglican church hall jointly with the Anglicans, NIC, and New Life International Church, reaching out to the Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims who come to study in this beautiful city. This sort of gospel partnership should be the lifeblood of mission in post-Christian Europe.

Ancient Christianity for (Greek) Evangelicals

Troodos MountainsThis January, I am joining the Greek Evangelical Church of Nicosia, Cyprus, to encourage the evangelicals of Cyprus to spend more time with ancient Christians. Seven years ago, after finishing my BA, I spent an academic year on the island of Cyprus working with students as part of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), and I have long desired to return to the island and share more of our Lord’s rich grace with the people who live there.

What exactly I’ll be doing

The main event in Cyprus will be a series of seminars on ancient Christianity at the Greek Evangelical Church. These will run the evenings of Wednesday and Thursday, 23 and 24 of January, and the day of Saturday, 26 January. The weekday topics will be ‘Ancient Christians of Cyprus’ and ‘Trinity and Mission: Ancient Thought on Jesus and His Mission in the World’, and the Saturday topics will be ‘Evangelicals and Tradition: Interacting with Ancient Christianity’ and ‘The Bible in the Ancient Church: Development and Authority.’

I will also be spending time visiting students and volunteers who work with the Cyprus Fellowship of Evangelical Students (CyFES). Seven years ago, CyFES did not exist. Now the Lord has blessed the island with a fledgling movement in both the Turkish North and Greek South, in which Greek Cypriot students are involved – a contrast to seven years ago when our ministry was almost entirely amongst international students. I want to see what our glorious God has been doing and tell the good news to those who supported me through prayer and finances when I first went to the island.

Why the Church Fathers? What is the missional purpose of this trip?

I believe that right now, as our cultures become less rooted, Christians need to maintain roots in the Gospel and remind ourselves of the blessings of God upon our spiritual forebears who helped us think clearly about what the Gospel is and what is integral to the Faith. The writings of ancient Christianity are the common foundation for all Christians, and a knowledge of their teachings and devotional practices and history can only serve to deepen our love of God and His incarnation as a man to save us and the revelation of his subsisting as the Most Holy Trinity. This deepened love, in turn, is fuel for mission in an increasingly lost and wayward world.

In Cyprus, the situation is a very particular one. At the forefront for my mission is the hostility between the evangelicals and Orthodox that runs back for over a century. Since the Orthodox claim the ancient heritage of ‘the Fathers’ as their own, evangelicals are often very wary to discover the wisdom of our ancient forebears of the faith. By helping nudge them towards these ancients — with the full support of their elders and minister — I hope to help them find ways of expressing the faith to the Orthodox that will make them seem less — well, frankly, less American; many Greek Evangelicals are called Americanos. The Greek Fathers can help evangelicals express the Gospel in a Greek idiom. This, whether it converts the Orthodox or not, will help the Orthodox view the evangelicals with less suspicion, hopefully helping bridge the divide of mistrust that gapes between them today.

Furthermore, the ancient Christians faced many challenges, especially in the area of Christology, that the Christians of Cyprus face day-to-day in their dealings with a very strong, very visible presence of both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons on the island, as well as certain fringe ‘evangelical’ and charismatic groups. The arguments and teachings of the ancient Church can help the modern Cypriot stand firm in the true evangelical way in the face of the allure of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Benny Hinn, or any other latter-day prophet.

Please pray for these seminars that the Lord will give me the right focus and words for each one and that the people of Nicosia’s Greek Evangelical Church will be edified and equipped for life in the topsy-turvy world of post-Christendom Cyprus, where their neighbours scorn them for not being Orthodox yet go to New Age seminars for ‘spirituallity’ themselves.