Q: “Should we explain that there is a difference in the names God, Jesus, Lord, Christ, Father, Holy Spirit, etc. to our children, or should we just say they are all the same, or what?
A: Already at a very young age, long before Kindergarten or the first Sunday School class, a child can and should be taught what the Scripture says about the fact that God is one (Deut. 6:4) and yet is also Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Too many Christian parents, I fear, shy away from thoroughly teaching the Trinity to their little children, with the hope that the Sunday School teachers and the pastor in confirmation class will expound on this in their children’s later years. In his discussion on the Apostles’ Creed in his Large Catechism, Martin Luther says: “If you were to ask a young child, ‘My boy, what kind of God have you? What do you know about him?’ he could say, ‘First, my God is the Father, who made heaven and earth. Apart from him alone I have no other God, for there is no one else who could create heaven and earth.’ For the somewhat more advanced and the educated, however, all three articles can be treated more fully and divided into as many parts as there are words.”
When, the Athanasian Creed says, “He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity,” we know this does not mean that either our children or ourselves can fully understand the mystery of God being One in Three Persons. “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great. . .” (I Timothy 3:16). The little three-year-old that says simply, “Jesus is God,” and does not yet know the word “Trinity,” nor verbally recognizes the Father and the Holy Spirit as being that same God, nevertheless possesses the full Trinity by faith and certainly is not in opposition to what is stated in the Athanasian Creed. But, as that child grows and needs more and more the milk bottle of the Word (1 Peter 2:2), it is vital to bring out and emphasize the Trinitarian formula (“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”), so that the child will not be confused and eventually end up “confounding the Persons” or “dividing the Substance.” Many Christian parents sadly have had to watch in shame their children later in life joining a non-Trinitarian religious organization (cult), simply because the “Trinity” somewhere along the line became a stumbling block to them. One wonders if that block often could have been removed, if Christian parents had taken more time and effort to “stumble” through the deep mysteries of Scripture with their children. Is there not very good reason for why Moses in Deuteronomy 6 ties the Trinitarian statement, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” with the command three verses later, “Impress them (God’s commands) on your children”?
With regard to the names used to designate either the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit, these also can and should be explained to our children, so that they learn to distinguish certain attributes and qualities about each of the Persons in the Trinity. For example, we can explain: “Christ” = “Anointed One,” referring to the Son as our appointed Savior; “Jesus” = “Savior”; “God” emphasizes him as our sovereign creator; “Lord” (Jehovah) brings out the loving covenant of salvation he has established with us; “Comforter” (Counselor) is the name used of the Holy Spirit as the One who graciously leads us into the Word.
One more thing: When we take the time to instill the teaching of the Trinity in our children at a very young age, then it will be all the more helpful for our pastors and teachers in fostering that knowledge in the years to come. May our Triune God help us with the introductions as we use his Word and Sacrament!