Question a - Lordship of Christ and the Trinity

Site: Equip PC(USA) Training
Course: Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons based on the Constitutional Questions
Book: Question a - Lordship of Christ and the Trinity
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Sunday, December 10, 2023, 2:28 AM


W.4.0404 a.  Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?


W.4.0404 a.  Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

This constitutional question for ordination may have a familiar ring. Perhaps you recognize it as an echo of the affirmation of faith found in the Nicene Creed, one of the oldest creeds of the universal church and a foundational confession of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):


·       “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty ...” (Book of Confessions, 1.1)

·       “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God ...” (Ibid., 1.2)

·       “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life ...” (Ibid., 1.3)


Or perhaps you recognize it from the Apostles’ Creed, the affirmation of faith declared during baptism. These words are spoken by adults or youth baptized upon profession of their faith, or by the parents or guardians of those who are baptized as infants or children. In fact, when we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism, the whole congregation is invited to reaffirm their faith through these ancient words. The act of baptism with water “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is yet another echo of our faith in the Triune God—a way of signing and sealing the new believer with the name of the Trinity.


While baptism and ordination may seem as though they are individual rites of passage, they are better understood as acts of the church, a communal experience of the whole people of God. They are meant to be witnessed and affirmed by the congregation in order that membership and service is entered into with humility. Christ’s call to leadership in the church is a summons to service in and for Christ’s body. Ordination is a public recognition of our commitment to this service and a celebration of the particular gifts of the Spirit who equips us for this ministry. We undertake these things in the spirit of prayer “so that [our] faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5).


Like the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds and the liturgy for baptism, this ordination question points us toward the doctrine of the Trinity, our belief in one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A colleague from Korea remembers hearing this story from his mother when he was a child. It has been used to explain the Trinity in a children sermon:

Analogies such as this cannot fully demonstrate the three expressions of the Divine or exhaust the mystery of the Trinity. We can, however, benefit from exploring the ways in which we relate to the God as Three-in-One.

Image of the trinity knotChrist gifted the church with the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Advocate. As servant leaders of the church, we are called to be in relationship with the Triune God through this same Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us to guide our church through our Constitution and our Confessions, with all their ramifications and growing edges. The Holy Spirit is the one who lifts our Constitution and Confessions off the paper to reveal their very real and living nature. It is the Holy Spirit who acts as the voice of God in our deliberations and discernments. As such, we are guided in our leadership by the Holy Spirit acting on behalf of the Triune God here in our midst.

In this way, the Holy Spirit is Advocate and Revelator, revealing God’s plans for our work, while revealing the intentions of our work to God. In the words of the old spirituals, the Holy Spirit is the conductor on “the highway to heaven”[1] where “there ain’t but one train on that track, it goes to heaven and then right back.”[2] It is quite the image that the Holy Spirit gives us this very real spiritual access to the counterparts of God and Christ in the Trinity. It reminds us that the work we do is of God and not simply a human endeavor.

This claim is affirmed in our Book of Order:

The Holy Spirit manifests God’s gracious action and empowers our grateful response. The Spirit gathers us for worship, enlightens and equips us through the Word, claims and nourishes us through the Sacraments, and sends us out for service. To each member of Christ’s body, the Spirit gives gifts for ministry in the Church and in mission in the world. (W-1.0105, italics added for emphasis)

For Reflection and Discussion:

How you have experienced the ways in which “the Spirit gives gifts for ministry in the Church” in your calling to serve as a leader?

How have you identified and related to the Trinity within your faith journey? How have the aspects of the Three-in-One been present in your ministry?

*For more information about what Presbyterians believe about the Trinity, read the article “The Triune God—the doctrine of the Trinity is not irrational.”

[1] “There’s A Highway to Heaven,” Spiritual.

[2] “Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit,” Spiritual.

Lordship of Christ

During the time of the Roman Empire the word “lord” shifted in understanding over many years. The word had a myriad of meanings—everything from sir, master/owner, husband, idol, etc. However, when Julius Caesar died, his adopted son, Octavian, declared himself “Son of God.” At first, then, “Lord” was a sign of entitlement; after it had been taken over by the house of Caesar, it became a title of deference to the Emperor. Why this short history lesson? The church’s affirmation of the Lordship of Christ, as evident in the writing of early New Testament texts, occurred within this historical context. Naming Christ “Lord” was a quite rebellious act—a direct contradiction to the claiming of that title by the house of Caesar. When we study the New Testament in light of the Empire, we can appreciate how treasonous and dangerous this language becomes to the Roman agenda.

God, however, confers Lordship upon Jesus Christ. In the Book of Confessions, the Westminster Confession of Faith explains:

The Lord Jesus in his human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified and anointed with the Holy Spirit above measure; having in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell: to the end that being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, he might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a Mediator and Surety. Which office he took not upon himself, but was thereunto called by his Father; who put all power and judgment into his hand, and gave him commandment to exercise the same. (6.045)

The confession then goes on to teach that the Lordship of Christ is the very title by which his adversaries recognize him and become subject to him. And while the sons of Caesar title themselves the “Sons of God,” hear how the demons address Jesus: “… What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? …” (Mark 5:7). In fact, in every encounter with those suffering with demons, even the evil spirits recognize Jesus as the Son of God, thereby affirming his Lordship. For the church, it is gracious and merciful that the power afforded by the title Lord ascribed to Jesus is Mediator and Guarantor (Heb. 7:22). As mediator, he acted on our behalf. As guarantor, he absorbs our debts and faults. This is indeed the good news and reward for our own recognition of the authority of Christ.

For Reflection and Discussion:

How does the benevolent Lordship of Christ influence ways we might lead?

Consider the ways that you might explain the Lordship of Christ to a new Christian.

Inclusive Language

The words of the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed—those historically used to represent the Trinity—are gender-specific in nature. However, if one were to ask an Internet search engine, “How many names are there for God in the Bible?” the answer would range from a bit more than 20 to 953, just at a quick glance. This demonstrates humankind’s desire to understand God in ways that are personal, familiar, powerful: one who provides anything humanity may ever need. This desire to name God is also a spiritually creative way in which God can be represented in diverse cultures around the world. Remembering the multitude of names for God gives us access to the insights and experiences of others, and increases our ability to claim the church as connectional.

In worship the church shall strive to use language about God that is intentionally as diverse and varied as the Bible and our theological traditions. Language that appropriately describes and addresses God is expansive, drawing from the full breadth and depth of terms and images for the triune God in the witness of Scripture. Language that authentically describes and addresses the people of God is inclusive, respecting the diversity of persons, cultures, backgrounds, and experiences that flow from God’s creative work. Such language allows for all members of the community of faith to recognize themselves as equally included, addressed, and cherished by God. (W-1.0302)

Inclusive language for humanity is often mistaken for political correctness. However, as seen above, the intent is not to give in to the politics of the day. The intent is to help leaders and churches to offer an invitation for others to have full relationship with the God whom each of us experience in a unique way. This is a very real example of servant leadership: when hospitality is offered, and the church can be a place in which an encounter with God is offered to all.

Word cloud of names for God Another important aspect of the statement above is its call is not to simply use inclusive language for humanity, but to use expansive language for God. Such language seeks to provide a multiplicity of ways in which to see and interact with the triune God. The joy of using expansive language for God is that it liberates us from the limits of our humanity—in which God is often trapped by our own inability to imagine the boundless ways in which God presents God’s self to us. Expansive language also helps us to recognize that God calls us to act in new ways.

As an example, this prayer of confession, based on Psalm 23, images God as a shepherd:

We are but sheep in your pasture, good Shepherd. You lead us to plush meadows and cool water. And yet, in our midst are the weak, the small, and those whose blemishes are there for all to see. Too often, they are left hungry, thirsty, and left to die as prey for the sly foxes, who are just waiting and watching. We confess, that instead of sheltering them in the midst of the flock, far too often we push them aside to the margins of our fold. Teach us to be like you, Jesus, so that we may tend to the least of these, as you care for us.[1]

For Reflection and Discussion:

What are some examples of how you might imagine God in new and expansive ways?

How has thinking about God in expansive ways assisted you in your own faith journey? How do you see this making a difference in the lives of others and in your leadership?

*A downloadable brochure on inclusive and expansive language is available at

[1] McQueen, Derrick, St. James Presbyterian Church in the Village of Harlem, N.Y., November 26, 2017.


Finally, what does it mean to claim Jesus Christ as Savior? A story from the book of Acts can help us understand this affirmation:

The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God. (Acts 16:29–34; italics added)

In this passage, we find a jailer afraid of the consequences of the supernatural release of those in his charge. It is so distressing that he is ready to fall upon his own sword for failing in his responsibility—in anticipation of the consequences that will come from his superiors when they learn of his failure. Finding Paul, Silas, and the other prisoners still in their cells allows the jailer to recognize a healing grace that cannot be given from the empire but can only be experienced from the life-saving actions of those who he would otherwise destroy. This passage is a model of how God’s grace is given, free and clear, to those who would just believe.

While being “saved” has many theological implications, it should be noted that the Greek root of the word for salvation theology, Soteriology, is Soter. Like “Lord,” this word was also used as a title for Caesar, the “Savior” of the world. When we embrace Jesus as Savior, we reject the oppressive powers, or “Caesars,” of the world. Claiming Jesus as Savior means that destruction, ill intent, and evil are not for us. We are choosing to separate ourselves from that suffering, instead reinforcing the hope that we can be saved by God. Salvation gives us a sense of hope that something different can and will happen. Our own salvation is intertwined with God’s acts of grace:

God acts with grace; we respond with gratitude. God claims us as beloved children; we proclaim God’s saving love. God redeems from sin and death; we rejoice in the gift of new life. This rhythm of divine action and human response—found throughout Scripture, human history, and everyday events—shapes all of Christian faith, life, and worship. (W-1.0102)

Systematic theologian Christopher Morse once taught students that “sin is simply humanity’s separation and hiding from God.” It started in the garden when the first humans withdrew from God to hide after eating from the Tree of Life. With grace, we strive to move back into that close relationship with God.

If what God eternally rejects throughout all creation, with the fire of a love that remains unquenchable, is every opposition to our being loved into freedom, including our own, then the hellfire and damnation of Judgment Day is precisely the one true hope of all the earth. The old question of whether or not grace is “irresistible” only becomes a problem when theology forgets Who it is whose judgment is confessed to be coming. What else is the Crucifixion if not the resistance to grace? What finally does a Resurrection faith refuse to believe, if not that the resistance to grace is ever its cessation?”[1]

For Reflection and Discussion:

What does it mean to think of grace as “being loved into freedom”?

In your leadership, how have you understood or experienced salvation as coming into better relationship with God?

[1] Christopher Morse, Not Every Spirit: A Dogmatics of Christian Disbelief (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press, 1994; 2nd ed., 2008), 340-41.


About the Writer

Derrick McQueen earned his B.A. in Theater Arts from Drew University, an M.Div. in Theology and the Arts, and his Ph.D. in Homiletics and New Testament, the latter both from Union Theological Seminary. Derrick is currently serving as the interim pastor of the historic St. James Presbyterian church in Harlem. He also serves as the associate director of community partnerships for a new center at Columbia University, the Center on African American Religion, Sexual Politics, and Social Justice (CARSS). CARSS is a project that advances research, education, and public engagement at the nexus of religion, race, and sexuality, in general, but with a particular focus on black communities, both in the United States and the wider African Diaspora. He has been with the project since its inception as it tries to navigate and promote conversations around sexuality with a focus on historic black churches. Derrick is also a spiritual multimedia artist and for over a decade has toured a one-man production on the life of Paul Robeson for the East Lynne Theater Company.

Copyright © 2020
by the Office of the General Assembly
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronically, mechanically, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (brief quotations used in magazines or newspaper reviews excepted), without the prior permission of the publisher.
The sessions, presbyteries, and synods of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) may use sections of this publication without receiving prior written permission from the publisher. 
All Rights Reserved.