I first began attending church when I was 15 at a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in Montgomery Alabama. One of the staples of the weekly service was the recitation of the creeds. This always took place right before the sermon. I now understand that this took place so that the listener could compare the beliefs of historic Christianity with the message being presented. It kept everything Kosher, so to speak. As a new believer, I found this comforting. I liked hearing the totality of the beliefs of the church summarized succinctly. In addition, I read the creeds and looked up the ideas in the scriptures. The product of this was: I knew what the Christian faith was about and I knew why I believed it. Over time the repetition from week to week began to wear out the joy of hearing the creeds. Eventually, we moved to a new town and the family settled into a Reformed Church, which has less repetition. When I went to college, the creeds disappeared from my worship experience entirely, though I can still recite them from memory.

The last few Sundays, I have listened to a series of sermons on the basic ideas of the Christian faith. These messages have reminded me of how powerful and comforting those creeds are. Last week, Denver preached on the Trinity. I will admit that it has been over a decade since I have heard a sermon on the Trinity. I have read about it in classes for seminary and as a part of various books. It was terrific. In a day and age of movie themed and self-help sermons, the appearance of a message on the foundations of the faith was a welcome change of pace. What made it particularly powerful was that the topic of the Trinity parlayed into a call for repentance in Christ. An altar call in a sermon on the Trinity… awesome! Having mulled over the whole thing at length, I think I figured out why it struck me as being so terrific.

Standard therapy/entertainment sermons found in churches across the country aren’t about God. They are all about the listener. More time is spent dealing with the listeners thoughts, feelings, needs and wants than is spent talking about Jesus. Relevance has turned the weekly service into a sad variation of the worship song: “it’s all about me, it’s all about me… the listener.” This relevance is a necessity because there is no real focus on God. People come in and have little or no relationship or connection as the Body of Christ and very little connection to God and only stay as long as they feel comfortable. They need to be entertained, because they are not growing members of the Body of Christ, instead they are merely spectators or infants who need something shiny to look at. There is no need to mature in the Body because maturing would require they not indulge in the lowest common denominator of spirituality, which seems to be self-indulgence. They need milk… or Kool-Aid, lest they accidently nourish themselves spiritually and treat anything other than themselves and their own comfort as God. The easy listening sermon is a powerful tool in building large churches, and by large churches I mean gatherings thousands of attendees wide and very very shallow. I am being a bit harsh and am painting with a broad brush. I do not wish to convey a total condemnation of all efforts toward relevance in preaching. However, when relevance crosses from speaking the language of the congregation to making the service completely about the listener, there is a problem. That is not accessibility, it is consumerism disguised as Christianity.

This is highlighted in the Trinity in particular. Augustine points out that the Trinity is essentially the note of doctrine that describes God’s relationship with Himself. It isn’t about us. Certain elements of our lives may reflect the Trinitarian relationship, but merely because they are designed to do so. The important part of the Trinity sermon is God. The important part of worship ought to be God. This is perhaps why the call to repent and follow Christ stood out to me as being particularly powerful in this sermon. It was about committing to follow Christ, not buying a bill of goods. In our day and age, following Christ is packaged as a way to have secure finances or better self-esteem or a more fulfilling sex life. The problem is that the real call to follow Christ is about receiving forgiveness and becoming a follower of the way. The way may have side effects, but they are side effects. The primary effect is salvation. The Trinity puts on display the various aspects of God and highlights how awesome He is. Creator, comforter, redeemer, etc. are all parts of the picture of God provided in the Trinity. These are the things that ought to attract us when we commit to following Christ. Further, they are the meat and potatoes that every growing believer needs.

Interestingly, for all the time, effort and energy spent by evangelicals and conservatives speaking out against questionable cultural trends and liberalism in the church and books about whether or not hell exists, all in the name of protecting the flock from being mislead from the Biblical message of Christianity, simply teaching the flock to recognize basic truths about God would do wonders to ensure that such things do not occur.

By the way, it was a great sermon.

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