Not only does the Trinity have a ministry to each other in the ontological or social Trinity, but to us. The relationship of the Trinity with God’s creation is called opera as extra or the outer works or the economic Trinity. Once again there is a difference in roles in the Trinity.
These are not hard and fast ministries because all three persons are one God. There is a generic oneness in all humans. We all share a common humanity, but this humanity is very different among each of us. Some have blue eyes and others brown. Some have an I.Q. of 150 and others 95. But in the Trinity there is a numerical oneness. Each person is equally Deity with no differences in that essence or nature. Each person is equally holy, omnipotent, etc. So there is shared cooperation among the persons in these ministries. Shedd explains: “The operation, consequently, while peculiar to a person, is at the same time, essential; that is, is wrought by that one Divine essence which is also alike in the other persons. An official personal act cannot, therefore, be the exclusive act of the person in the since that the others have no participation in it.”
God the Father sanctifies (John 17:17) even though this is the official ministry of the Holy Spirit.
God the Son preserves (Colossians 1:17) even though this is the official ministry of the Father.
God the Spirit creates (Genesis 1:2) even though this is the official ministry of the Father. The three persons of the Trinity are not unionized so that they can never do a service that is not their official task. They do not have three separate, incontrovertible Job Descriptions. Still the three persons of the Trinity have different official roles.
The problem today is that radical feminists reinterpret subordinationism to include the subordinationism of the essence of Jesus as well as His role to the Father. The radical feminists therefore reject subordinationism in roles in the Trinity so they can claim that women are not subordinate to men in leadership roles at home and the church. Consequently women can be ordained as pastors and deacons.
An example of this logic is the following: Subordinationism is “a doctrine which assigns an inferiority of being, status, or role to the Son or the Holy Spirit within the Trinity. Condemned by numerous church councils, this doctrine has continued in one form or another throughout the history of the church” (Richard and Catherine Kroeger, EDT, p. 1058). My response to this statement: Church councils have condemned subordinationism of being not functions in the Trinity.
Clearly the three persons have different roles in the Godhead. Subordinationism is the doctrine that teaches that there are different roles in the Trinity. A. H. Strong states, “Priority is not necessarily superiority….We frankly recognize an eternal subordination of Christ to the Father, but we maintain at the same time that this subordination is a subordination of order, office, and operation, not a subordination of essence” (page 342 in Strong’s Systematic Theology).
This issue was debated on October 9th, 2008 at the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The debate topic was “Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?” The Complimentarians or advocates of hierarchy or subordination of roles in the Trinity and among men and women were Wayne Grudem (Phoenix Seminary) and Bruce Ware (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). The egalitarian proponents or equality of roles in the Trinity and among men and women in the home and church were Tom McCall (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) and Keith Yandell (University of Wisconsin-Madison).
Grudem in the debate stated that the very names of “Father” and “Son” suggest authority and submission. Grudem in his book Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth argues, “If the Father also submitted to the authority of the Son, it would destroy the Trinity, because there would be no Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but only Person A, Person A, and Person A.” The view would equal Sabellianism or Modalism which teaches that there is only one person who manifests himself as a different person at a time.
The following is Grudem’s opening comment in the debate. This statement is worth reading as well as each Scripture reference to the submission of the Son to the Father which spans eternity past and future.
I. Scripture indicates the authority of the Father and the submission of the Son to the Father’s authority from before the foundation of the world until the eternal state.
A. Authority and submission prior to creation (Eph 1:3-5; Rom 8:29; 2 Tim 1:9; Eph 1:9-11; 3:9-11)
B. Authority and submission indicated by the eternal names “Father” and “Son” (John 1:14; 17:24; Heb 9:14)
C. Authority and submission in the process of creation (John 1:1; Heb 1:1-2; 1 Cor 8:6)
D. Authority and submission prior to Christ’s earthly ministry (John 3:16-17; Gal 4:4; 1 John 4:9-10)
E. Authority and submission in Christ’s earthly ministry (John 6:38; 8:28-29; 15:9-10)
F. Authority and submission after Christ’s ascension into heaven
1. In Christ’s ministry as Great High Priest (Heb 7:23-25; Rom 8:34)
2. In his pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:32-33)
3. In his receiving revelation from the Father and giving it to the church (Rev 1:1)
4. In his sitting at God’s right hand—a position of authority second to that of the Father himself (Acts 2:32-33; Eph 1:20-22; Heb 1:3; Pss 110:1; 45:9; Rev 2:26; et al)
G. Authority and submission after the final judgment (1 Cor 15:26-28)
H. Conclusion: The consistent, uniform testimony of Scripture is that the Father, by virtue of being Father, eternally has authority to plan, initiate, command, and send, authority that the Son and Holy Spirit do not have. The Son, by virtue of being Son, eternally submits joyfully and with great delight to the authority of his Father. It is only in a sinful world deeply marred by hostility toward authority, and overly focused on status and power, that cannot see that submission to the authority of the Father is the great glory of the Son. Authority, and submission to authority, are a wonderful part of the great glory of the Father and the Son, and this will be their glory for all eternity. “Do Relations of Authority and Submission Exist Eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?” Absolutely, undeniably, gloriously, yes.
The impact of Jesus’ submission to His Father as presented by Grudem should overwhelm us with humility and submission in our differing roles. We should submit to our governmental officials (1 Peter 2:13), to our employers (1 Peter 2:18), to our leaders in the home (1 Peter 3:1-6), to our parents (Ephesians 6:1) and to one another (1 Peter 5:5a). It is our fallenness, pride, and rebellion that make submission so difficult. Peter identified the problem and solution in 1 Peter 5:5b: “be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.”