If you had three sermons to preach on the Trinity, what would you say? This was very typical of the sort of exam question that Mike Ovey used to set us at the end of the Doctrine course at Oak Hill Theological Course. I must confess that I ducked that question on the exam paper. At the time I really wasn’t sure how I’d move from knowing the doctrine to preaching on it without it turning into a lecture. However, over the past few weeks at Bearwood Chapel, we’ve done just that, we’ve had a teaching series called “The Good God” (title borrowed from Mike Reeves’ book) and we’ve looked at what how what we believe about the Trinity affects how we live together as a church family.
Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to post the three sermons here before returning to some of the scenarios set out a couple of weeks ago and then going on to look at other aspects of the Doctrine of God.
The three topics we covered were
- God is Love
- The Father and the Son
- Another Helper
You will realise that the first two titles are identical with the titles of two of our articles ere, so it might be interesting to compare and contrast a sermon on a topic with a blog article.
It’s worth saying that preaching on this has helped crystallise in my mind one of the big challenges I think we face in church life and that is the tendency of Evangelical Christians to fall into three specific errors.
- Licence: We, quite rightly teach that we are saved by grace alone and that we cannot earn our salvation. However, the risk is that we end up thinking that this means we do what we please. It also tends to involve a consumerist approach to church life. My relationship with God is individualistic and whilst church is a good thing, it isn’t necessary. I can opt in and out as I please and I go to the place that seems to meet my needs. When I am not satisfied, I complain and if that doesn’t work, I move on.
- Legalism: Now we are good Evangelicals so we would never suggest that we are saved by works. However, we can end up with a sense that we now need to go on in Christian faith on the basis of what we do. So sometimes, it’s that we think in terms of god giving us a second chance but after that it’s up to us and sometimes it’s that we see our salvation as something Jesus has paid for but out of gratitude, we need to pay back as much as possible. Alternatively, the implicit message in church life is that we are saved by grace but we belong to the church and find our status and identity there in what we do.
- Magic: Sorry, I couldn’t find a third “l” and I know that no Evangelical really believes in magic but I think this best captures the third error. This is where we look to experience and ritual to transport us onto a higher plane of Christian experience. We feel that there’s something lacking in our lives and so we hope that something in the gathering, often but not always the sung worship, will bring us closer to God.
I guess that in some cases, we will find churches that major on one extreme to the exclusion of others. However, most churches try to keep balance and avoid falling into one extreme or the other. So what happens? Well, if the preacher one week seems to lean too far towards licence, then the following week we get something that seems to emphasise legalism a bit more. Not of course that we would overtly and intentionally seek to preach either of these but looking back we recognise that those words best sum up either the tone or content or both.
Another way that this happens is that we aim to preach the Gospel to newcomers and end up preaching licence. They feel welcome and included. They are amazed at this wonderful message. Then they settle into the habit of coming along to church each week. So what happens next? Well, church leaders and longer term members start to get frustrated. Why are we not seeing people get involved in doing things? Why do the same people carry the burden of doing all the work? Why do people not seem to be moving forward and growing in their faith? And that’s when we resort to licence or magic.
The problem is that three errors don’t make a truth. To be sure, there’s a kernel of truth somewhere in each of them but it has been so badly shattered, distorted and corrupted that it can no longer be called truth. We can’t put the three things back together again and end up with the sum total of truth. Rather we end up with a confused, muddled church.
That’s where I believe that the Doctrine of the Trinity comes in. It corrects our errors and replaces licence, legalism and magic with the truth of the Gospel. Have a look over the next few weeks and see what you think.