I’ve mentioned that I grew up in an Evangelical Presbyterian church. I attended well into my teens before a church split over women in leadership, sent my family looking elsewhere to attend. But the Church of my youth was still liturgically based, meaning that it had a set order to the worship. Every week we sang 2 Hymns, Scripture reading, 1 more hymn, announcements, and then we all stood to sing the Doxology.
The Doxology was (and still is) my favorite hymn from any church liturgy, it’s words are a simple Praise song with a theological statement on the Trinity. The melody is simple, yet memorable….and as a young child, it signaled that all us youngsters were to scurry to children’s church while the adults stayed behind to listen to the sermon. As I got older, we stayed in the sermon, and I began to appreciate the intellect and knowledge of our minister. He wore the traditional Robe, which I found odd, but he was smart and had a wry sense of humor that I enjoyed. He was a genuinely interesting and intelligent speaker and I still remember many of his sermons from over 30 years ago. But I digress….back to the Doxology.
I remained fascinated by the Doxology, because the tune remained with me, and the fact that it still held musical power ,almost 500 years after being written and sung for the first time, impressed me. It’s origins were from the Reformation (1500’s) and is still a musical force within most Protestant churches….you’ll even catch many a praise band taking time off from their “power ballad” inspired praise songs to play that oldie but goodie in the church music catalog. I was a music major, so I was very aware of how much music has been composed, sung, and forgotten over the centuries. Not so for the Doxology….
Another major reason for it’s longstanding success is it’s lyrics, simple yet profoundly drenched in Orthodox Christian Theology….
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above ye Heavenly host.
Praise Father , Son , and Holy Ghost….Amen!”
The simple statement of belief in the Trinity, within a memorable musical framework, has served to indoctrinate millions ( myself included) in the doctrine of the Trinity. A doctrine that, as a Christian, I found mysterious. Today I just consider it illogical.
The idea that 3 people make up the 1 God is tough to swallow. On top of that, Orthodox versions of the Trinity teach that all 3 people are fully God and fully equal within the Godhead ( a strange term to my ears….when I was younger and would hear someone say Godhead, it summoned up a Medusa like image of some monstrous God like head being cut off and raised in victory….weird, I know, too many Saturdays watching Jason and The Argonauts). As an adult, I studied hard to try and make sense of the doctrine of the trinity, only to find out that most early Christian Fathers, would have been considered heretics for their thoughts (or lack of thoughts) on this strange and confusing doctrine. As I began to learn the ins and outs of what most creeds and traditions taught about the Trinity, I realized while most Christians believed in the Trinity as outlined in the Doxology, most Christians could not describe the belief without falling into a heretical category.
I once asked my Dad about the Trinity, and he used the example of himself…he was a Father, a Son, and a Husband, but only 1 person. Of course, if he had been a Church leader in the late Roman Era, he might have been banished or condemned as a heretical teacher of modalism. I didn’t know this at the time…but my later studies led me to conclude that almost every example of the Trinity I’d ever heard would have been considered heresy, according to the creeds of the Church.
Again, the claim is that the Trinity is a bedrock doctrine of the church and it’s orthodoxy. If this is true, then why isn’t clearly spelled out in Scripture and why is it that so many Christians themselves are unable to explain it without falling into or skirting close to heresy?
Despite the deceptively simple melody and lyric of the Doxology, it is fraught with almost 2,000 years of theological pitfalls…who knew, I certainly didn’t at the time.