The last few weeks, the messages at my church have centered around the basics of the Christian faith. Last week introduced the Trinity, this week talked about God the Father, and over the next two weeks we'll hit the Son and Holy Spirit.
This is all very interesting to me since I was part of a Oneness Pentecostal church, and I spent a lot of time when I first left trying to sort out what I believed about God.
In Oneness teaching, God is one person: Jesus. The Father, Son, and Spirit are "roles" rather than "persons." Just as one person can be a father, a son, and a husband at the same time, so God could be all three at the same time while still being one person. God is the Father in creation, the Son in the incarnation, and the Spirit who dwells in us. Jesus is the Father, Son, and Spirit.
In Trinitarian teaching, God is one God in three persons. The Father is a person, the Son is a different person, and the Spirit is another different person. All three have always existed and even talk to eachother. They have different roles, but they are not just different aspects of the same person. Jesus is not the Father or the Spirit, Jesus is the Son.
To complicate issues, and because Trinitarians don't tend to talk about the Godhead so much, there are preachers with Oneness beliefs who teach in Trinitarian circles. For the most part, the language of Oneness is not offensive to Trinitarians. After all, they believe that there is one God and they believe that Jesus is God... so as long as they're not talking about baptism in Jesus' name, the average Trinitarian wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
After all, you won't find the word "Trinity" in the Bible. There was a time when I really struggled with it... but then I realized something. When a child is very very young, they might not have a very developed understanding of who their father is. They know him as Daddy, they know that he loves them, and they know that they're safe with him. There have been times in my life when that's really just about all I could say about God with any kind of certainty. It's also all that I needed...