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Hello world!2018-05-29T02:23:43+00:00

Is Church Membership Biblical?

As Florida Coast Church begins to take steps to prepare and receive our first church members, we may have to explain and justify the idea of church membership, especially since some prominent churches have dispensed with it.  To do so, we need to review some church history and then look at the New Testament pattern.

Throughout most of church history, becoming a Christian and becoming a member of the church were the same thing. However, in the 18th Century, a movement called revivalism swept through Britain and the American Colonies, taking evangelism out of the church and into the streets. Becoming a Christian became an individual decision, and church membership became optional. Previously it was virtually impossible to become a Christian outside of the church. Now, to become a Christian and to join a church have become two separate decisions, with the first one treated as the only important one.

Some churches have done away with church membership, having only participants and even asserting that membership is not a concept found in the New Testament. Sometimes Western believers affirm that they are members of the universal church, but they do not associate with or formally commit to any local group of believers. This is similar to claiming that one is a member of Rotary International but not of any local Rotary chapter, or a high school student but not of any particular high school, or a member of the state bar association but not of any certain state, all of which are impossible situations.

In addition to this trend away from membership in the local church, the idea of commitment is waning in our culture, perhaps more markedly in casual South Florida. Therefore, Florida Coast Church may be going against the flow by having and emphasizing church membership as a valuable and necessary commitment that every Christian should make. In order to justify and describe church membership, let’s take a look at evidence in the New Testament for believers being grouped in local churches in mutual commitment to one another, with a clear recognition of who belonged to the church and who did not. In other words, evidence for what we are calling membership. Note that these verses do not refer merely to an invisible, universal church but to local, visible, identifiable, clearly delineated groups of believers.

In Act 2:41-47, we read:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Note that a certain number of new believers were baptized, added to the number, and once added, had access to all the benefits and responsibilities of being part of the church. They did not add themselves or declare themselves to be members but were added by the public act of baptism. We will talk more about baptism later, but for now, the important point is that baptism was not merely the sign of a personal decision but the way people were added to the number of the church.

However, not all who were added could remain as members. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus gave instructions about how to deal with an obstinate sinner who was part of the church:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Jesus assumed that there would be a clearly identified group called “the church,” with persons who were members of it, and others who were not. Furthermore, he taught that unrepentant sinners should be removed from the church and no longer considered Christians. In other words, there were clear boundaries that defined who was part of the church and who was not, and these were not left up to the individual to define. The church received new believers into its number and excluded those who refused to live as Christians.

In Hebrews 13:17, the author gave these instructions to the believers:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The leaders had responsibility for an identifiable group of believers for whom they would have to give an account before God.

In I Timothy 5:9-11, Paul gave instructions about enrolling widows on the list of those for whom the church would especially care:

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.

The widows eligible for care were an identifiable subgroup of an identifiable group, the church, which recognized a mutual commitment between the widows and the rest of the church. There was even an official roll of widows on the list.

In addition, the New Testament uses metaphors to describe the church, such as body (I Corinthians 12:12-14), flock (Acts 20:28-29), household (Galatians 6:10; I Timothy 3:15), temple (I Corinthians 3:16-17), all of which have identifiable constituent members. In fact, Paul referred to the members of the church body explicitly:

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (I Corinthians 12:27)

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:29-30)

From the preceding verses, we can conclude that membership is a biblical concept that was practiced from the first days of the church. Following the New Testament pattern, Florida Coast Church will have members, and membership is a meaningful commitment that has great privileges and solemn responsibilities.

 

 

 

Is Church Membership Biblical?2018-03-01T17:22:48+00:00

The good, the bad, and the ugly of my denomination’s birth

Out of interest and in preparation for a course I am to teach at Knox Theological Seminary in the fall, I read Sean Lucas’ For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America.  Although, as a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) minister, I knew the basic contours of our history, I learned many details about it from Lucas’ book.  I came into the Christian faith and the PCA at the same time in 1979, six years after it was formed.  At that time, it seemed to me that it had always existed, and indeed, it had become strong and stable very quickly.

Early on, I picked up on three of four distinctives that Lucas identified as reasons for the birth of the new denomination: the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, the truth of the Reformed faith as expressed in the documents of the Westminster Assembly, and the urgency of revitalizing the United States (perceived as a once but slipping Christian nation) through evangelization and conservative political action.  I was surprised to read that another formative factor was racial in nature, the idea that the races should maintain their essential “integrity” by not intermarrying.  Charitably viewed, this idea was meant to be respectful of both races in view, black and white.  However, the logical outworking was that the races should be kept separate in order to prevent tramadol.

One of the reasons that I didn’t detect any of this racial rationale for the new denomination was because the pastor of my first church, James Kennedy, had actively rejected it.  Lucas reported that Kennedy had told his mentor, Kennedy Smart, “I want to be sure that you are not creating a racist or sectional church.  If you are, count me out, but if you are not, and if you do not name it, ‘the Southern Presbyterian Church,’ then I will be with you.  Not immediately, but you have my word, Coral Ridge will come” (307).  Kennedy was also concerned about the viability of the denomination, especially in the light of the large mortgage the church was carrying on its shining new building.  As it turned out, in 1977, Coral Ridge joined the PCA.

In recent years, the PCA has recognized and tried to make amends for racism in its past, and it is slowly becoming less homogeneous.  Also, some younger ministers and members are less happy to have their denomination identified with conservative political movements.  The PCA still stands for the complete truthfulness and entire reliability of the Bible and continues to hold to historic Reformed theology as expressed in its confessional documents.  I’m not sure that we are as strong evangelistically as we once were, although the PCA continues to start new churches, even as some of its older churches have struggled.  It is heartening to see the PCA retain eternal truths and jettison passing and mistaken ideas.  May God keep us close to his eternal word and protect us from following ephemeral trends.  I’m all for a continuing church.

 

The good, the bad, and the ugly of my denomination’s birth2017-06-11T20:20:39+00:00

Manalive!

Poor Innocent Smith.  He was charged with murder, burglary, desertion, and polygamy.  My favorite is the murder charge.  You see, Smith was so troubled by Dr. Eames’ university lecture about the meaninglessness of life and the preferential option of death that he went to visit the professor at night to see if what he said was really true.  After hours of depressing discussion, the conversation reached this climax:

“A puppy with hydrophobia would probably struggle for life while we killed it; but if we are kind we would kill it.  So an omniscient god would put us out of our pain.  He would strike us dead.”

“Why doesn’t he strike us dead?” asked the undergraduate dejectedly, plunging his hands in his pockets.

“He is dead himself,” said the philosopher; “that is where he is really enviable.”

It was then that Smith decided to extend the ultimate kindness to his professor and help him out of his troubles by drawing his revolver and pointing it at Dr. Eames’ head.

“I’ll help you out of your hole, old man,” said Smith, with rough tenderness.  “I’ll put the puppy out of his pain.”

Emerson Eames retreated towards the window.  “Do you mean to kill me?” he cried.

“It’s not a thing I’d do for everyone,” said Smith, with emotion.  “But you and I seem to have got so intimate to-night somehow.  I know all your troubles now, and the the only cure, old chap.”

At the risk of spoiling the ending for you, I will reveal that Smith did not end up blowing Eames’ brains out, but he did fire a few shots around his head, which so enlightened the professor that he decided to give Smith an A+ in the philosophy course.  When the incident was over, Smith was badly shaken, telling Dr. Eames, “I must ask you to realize that I have just had an escape from death.”  [. . .].  “I had to do it, Eames.  I had to prove you wrong or die.”  [. . .].  “Don’t you see that I had to prove you didn’t really mean it?  Or else drown myself in the canal?”

Then there was the question of what to do with the rest of the bullets.  Dr. Eames calmly asked Smith not to fire any more around his head but to “keep them [. . .] for the next man you meet who talks as we were talking.”  Smith took his professor’s advice and concluded, “I am going to hold a pistol to the head of the Modern Man.  But I shall not use it to kill him.  Only to bring him to life.”

G. K. Chesteron’s Manalive. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 2000, pp. 68-74, (originally published in 1912)

(This account is fictional and allegorical, so please don’t try this at home.)

Manalive!2017-03-25T06:52:54+00:00

Singing Together

It is always hard to know when to launch a first public worship service, and we went ahead without having some important pieces in place beforehand, such as a settled group of musicians to lead our congregational singing. We also have people of different backgrounds who know different church music, and some who know very little. For the first few weeks, we bumped along, happy to be together but struggling to sing together. That is, until last Sunday. God provided three musicians who come from different musical backgrounds, who came together with our diverse little congregation, and we sang together, not for the first time, but better than during our first weeks.

Yes, the quality was improved, but I’m mainly referring to the spirit of the singing. We felt the difference, no longer thinking about how well or poorly we were singing, but simply singing to the Lord together and moved by the content of our sung prayers (for that’s what congregational singing is). We also read Scripture more in unison and had a meaningful prayer time. I think I also preached better, because the time of congregational singing, praying, and reading prepared both the congregation and the preacher to hear God’s word. The time of greeting was more exuberant, and people stayed around a long time afterwards to enjoy each other, commenting about how wonderful it was to worship together.

In a timely way, a friend sent me this helpful article, which outlines some of the obstacles to robust congregational singing, ones that we are working to avoid from the beginning.  The article is written in the negative, but it would be easy to turn each obstacle into its opposite and write a positive article called “Nine Reasons People Are Singing In Worship.”

Singing Together2017-03-22T08:10:12+00:00

Putting It All Together

At least since the time of Ezra the scribe about 2450 years ago, a standard way to preach has been to read a section of the Bible, explain it, read the next section, explain it, and so on. Nehemiah 8:8 reports, “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” This is how they did it in the synagogues, in the early church, and in the churches of the Reformation. This way of preaching has different names but is often called sequential expository preaching or just expository preaching. It’s what I did for 20 years in Guadalajara. Guess what happened? The people there learned the Bible well, some of them so well, in fact, that I decided to leave and start over.

It’s how I am now preaching in Florida Coast Church. We are currently in I Thessalonians, planning to cover 4:1-12 this coming Sunday. All well and good, but there is a major challenge that expository preachers face – some people are absent each Sunday. This means that they get part of chapter 1, all of chapter 2, none of chapter 3, half of chapter 4, etc. This is not the way to read a book if you want to understand its message. (I still have not seen the second of the six Star Wars movies, so I’m missing some essential pieces.)

One solution is to do “one off” sermons every week, which are self-contained and do not build on previous sermons. While this approach helps hearers in the moment, it teaches them to treat the Bible atomistically, that is, as a bunch of unconnected parts. The hearers end up with knowledge of pieces of the Bible, but struggle to put them together.

If church members follow the planned texts in their private or family Bible reading, they can better follow the series. Also, technology offers another solution for churches that do expository preaching, since most record their sermons and publish them online. It’s not the same as being there and takes some extra effort to listen to them later, but really not much. (Ours are here.) For those who attend any church, I recommend that you listen to all the sermons you miss, not because they are the best sermons you can find on the Internet, but so that you can derive maximum benefit from all the ones you do hear live.

Putting It All Together2017-03-09T12:55:41+00:00

You want a great pastor?

In last Sunday’s sermon text, I Thessalonians 2:1-12, Paul and his companions gave us five marks of a faithful minister of the gospel:

The faithful minister preaches the gospel boldly even if he has to suffer for doing so (verses 1-2).

The faithful minister preaches with the goal of pleasing God (verses 3-6).

The faithful minister preaches the gospel with tenderness (verses 7-9).

The faithful minister preaches the gospel with hard work (verse 10).

The faithful minister preached the gospel with personal integrity (verses 11-12).

You want a great pastor?  Then pray for these things for yours!  (Full sermon here.)

You want a great pastor?2017-02-23T19:08:20+00:00

Get Real

As we have moved back to the US, I have tried to apply the same cross-cultural skills I developed in Mexico in order to understanding my new culture and preach the gospel effectively here.  John Leonard’s 2013 book, Get Real, published by New Growth Press, is full of helpful insights and tips about, as the subtitle says, “sharing your everyday faith every day.”

For example,

On Western Evangelicalism:

“Western individualism has turned the church into an event that I may or may not participate in, depending on what I get out of it.”

“We need to change our vocabulary when we describe a Christian.  Jesus didn’t command us to go out and make believers, he commissioned us to go and make disciples.  We need to move away from a ‘big decision’ definition because all the emphasis is on making the decision, praying the prayer, or walking down the aisle.  is that all Christ asks of us?  Once we’ve made the ‘big decision’ and gotten it over with, we can go on with our lives.  Western evangelicalism has infected the world with this heresy–that if you have made the ‘big decision’ you’re OK; everything between you and God is fine.”

On How to Treat People:

“Instead of trying to lead people to Christ, let Christ lead people to you.”

“Most of the people Jesus taught found him.  How do people find you?  Ask your heavenly Father to send them, and keep your eyes out for everyone who comes along as the possible answer to your prayers.”

“What makes an absolute stranger a confidant?  It happens when you’re desperate for someone to speak to, and no one else is available.  These are not rare occurrences, if we’re willing to listen more than we speak.”

“We listen more than we speak not only to communicate real care and concern, but because listening will help us know what the Lord wants us to say to the person that he has brought across our path.  In traditional evangelism you already know what you’re going to say.”

“As they speak about the immediate problems they’re facing or questions they have, we should be listening and praying, asking our Lord to help us gather together everything we have heard, read, or understood from the Scriptures in order to respond to their problems or questions.”

“It isn’t about putting more people into your life; it’s about genuinely seeing more of the people that are part of your everyday routine–who are, for most of us, no more than scenery and sometimes intrusions into our daily lives.”

“Instead of being ‘efficient,’ do exactly the opposite.  Go out of your way to interact with people.”

To flesh out his advice, John included many examples from his own colorfully evangelistic life.  I especially liked the way he engages servers in restaurants by saying, “We are about to thank God for the food.  Is there anything we can pray for you?”  As I have offered to pray for servers, we have entered into some great conversations, like when the young lady immediately answered, “Yes, pray that I can stay sober,” and another asked for prayer for her brothers, whom she described as lost.  A third wanted prayer for her daughter who just got married, and she proceeded to show us many pictures of the wedding and the honeymoon.  We are finding (surprise, surprise) that people do indeed want to talk if someone is willing to listen.  They are often also willing to hear good news.

Get Real2017-02-15T14:43:55+00:00

Sermons

Sermons Listed From Newest to Oldest

What We Are Meant To Be – Revelation 1-3

August 26, 2018 – “Rich but Poor” In the final of the seven letters in Revelation 3:14-22, Jesus addressed the church in Laodicea, which had no redeeming qualities. He described the church as lukewarm. It is remarkable that Jesus explicitly expressed his love, humbled himself to show his love, and promised the most exalted privileges to this, the worst of the seven churches. In other words, this letter shines with God’s grace and love toward sinners.

August 18, 2018 – “Weak but Strong” In the letter to the church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-13, we read the second of two letters that contains only praise and encouragement from Jesus for the church.  Although the church in Philadelphia looked weak, it was actually strong, because it had done the one simple thing that all churches and all Christians must do: keep Christ’s word.  Jesus’ instruction to them (and to us) was correspondingly simple: hold on to what you have.

August 12, 2018 – “Respectable but Dead” In the letter to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6, Jesus had a surprise announcement for the church and promised a surprise visit if things did not change for the better.  The announcement was that, in spite of appearances of vitality, the church was really quite dead, which would have fallen as a huge surprise to the church itself and to everyone who knew the church’s great reputation.  Jesus had called the church in Ephesus to remember its earlier works, but Jesus called the church in Sardis to remember something even more foundational: how they received and heard the gospel.  His call to them forces us to ask ourselves how we are hearing it today.

August 5, 2018 – “Growing but Tolerant”  In Revelation 2:18-29, Jesus sent the longest letter to the church in the least important city, Thyatira, perhaps because its situation was complicated.  In general, it was a great church, growing in faith and love.  However, they tolerated false teaching that led to bad living.  Jesus himself would deal with the false teacher and her followers, and he called the rest simply to hold on and keep going until the end.  This letter summarizes the message of the whole book of Revelation: Jesus has conquered and will conquer, so we need to keep living in faith and love in order to conquer and reign with him.

July 29, 2018 – “Faithful but Lax” In Revelation 2:12-17, we meet the Church in Pergamum, a group of Christians that one has to admire for holding fast to the name of Jesus in a city that Jesus called “Satan’s throne,” and even after one of their number had been killed for his faith.  Although they were steadfast in resisting outside attacks, they were less vigilant about the beliefs and practices of their own members, so Jesus urged them to repent by practicing church discipline, or else he would have to come and practice it himself.  As with all the churches, he promised rich blessings for those who would hear his words and conquer by their faith.

July 22, 2018 – “Persecuted and Faithful” Although the church in Smyrna may not have looked like much on the surface, Jesus’ evaluation of it was wholly positive.  He did not tone down his description of what the believers were about to suffer, but he pointed to the way to face all the challenges of life and death without fear and full of faith.  Although we may never have to face what those early Christians faced, we all have to live, and we all have to die, so Jesus’ words to the church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11 are words for us today as well.

July 15, 2018 – “Truth Minus Love” In Revelation 2:1-7, we read the letter to the church in Ephesus, a cosmopolitan port city where intellectual and religious currents were always trying to divert the faith of the Christians.  Jesus commended the Ephesian Christians for standing firm for the faith in such a difficult environment but called them back to something essential they had forgotten – love.  Although truth and love are equally important, they are often difficult to keep together in practice.  Like the Ephesians, we need to make sure we maintain faith in the truth and practice love for God, for each other, and for our neighbor.

July 8, 2018 – “Behind the Scenes” In our summer sermon series, we are going to study the first three chapters of the last book of the Bible, beginning with Revelation 1 and then taking the letters to the seven churches of chapters 2 and 3 one at a time.  In this first chapter, we have an introduction that teaches us how and why to read the book and then see a stunning portrayal of Jesus, which serves as the base of the following letters.  This first scene and all the scenes in the book invite us to look behind the events of our lives and our world to see what is really happening so that we can live above our circumstances instead of dominated by them.

Building Blocks for Life – The History of the Whole Bible

July 1, 2018 – “Acts – Onward” With the book of Acts, we finish our review of Bible history. Unlike Old Testament history, New Testament history ends on a very positive note. In Acts, Luke recorded the advance of the gospel from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria and all the way to Rome. The first Christians and many others after them did such a good job that the gospel has reached all the way to us, and now it is up to us to take it to still others.

June 24, 2018 – “The Gospels – Good News” It is good to have more than one person ready to verify facts, especially when they are well-informed and honest.  In the case of the remarkable life of Jesus, we have four accounts written by people close to the source, which we traditionally call the Gospels, because they record the gospel, or good news, about Jesus.  After considering their authorship, we look at their overall structure and the curious methods that Jesus used to reveal himself little by little to his followers and to others.  These culminated in the crowning acts of his work: his death and resurrection.

June 17, 2018 – “Ezra and Nehemiah – New Beginnings”  With the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, we arrive at the end of Old Testament history with the Jews back in their land after having been taken away by Babylonia and sent back by Persia.  They returned in at least three phases, under the leadership of three men – Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah – in order to rebuild the Temple, the people, and the city, respectively.  All was set for a glorious ending to the history, but things took a bad turn right at the end, leaving us hanging and wondering what would become of God’s people.  In fact, the ending of Ezra-Nehemiah points us forward some 400 years to the real end of the story, since God’s final plan for his kingdom was not merely to have one nation gathered in one city walled off from everyone else but to embrace all the people of the earth.

June 10, 2018 – “Kings and Chronicles – Now What?” Although the books of Kings and Chronicles cover much of the same history, they have different and complimentary perspectives, focusing mostly on the time of the united Kingdom of Israel under Solomon and then the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Kings answers the question: What went wrong? Chronicles answers the question: Is there any hope for us? It turns out that there was more hope than the people could have conceived, but it wasn’t realized until the coming of Christ in whom the apparently failed promises of the Old Testament find their fulfillment.

June 3, 2018 – “The Gospel for People Who Don’t Know the Bible” Thanks to Pastor Rick Hunter of CityChurch for his sermon on Acts 17:16-34, where Paul had a unique opportunity to preach to a group of well-educated men who did not know the Bible.  This sermon sounds very different from those he preached in the Jewish synagogues but contains the same Gospel message.  As Christians present this good news to people of all backgrounds, we can learn much from Paul’s ability to deliver an unchanging message in a form that was accessible to his audience and even persuasive to some of them, who went away wanting to hear more.

May 27, 2018 – “Samuel – Reject and Replace” Ringing in our ears from the book of Judges is the cry for a king, so we are not surprised to find that the book that is now divided into 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel answers the need for a king.  However, the process was not very neat, since there was a first failed attempt to have a king and then a second more successful one, which was not without its own problems.  As we see in all the books of the Old Testament, God fulfills his promises, but the promise of an anointed king to save God’s people was not finally and completely fulfilled until Christ came.

May 20, 2018 – “Judges – Down We Go” When people read the Bible, they may be surprised to find shocking stories of wickedness mixed with stories of great faith, sometimes in the very same people.  In other words, it contains stories of people like us.  Judges reports on the chaotic situation in Israel after the death of Joshua during which a series of deliverers rescued God’s people time and time again from self-inflicted problems.  At the end of the book, things spiraled out of control, but this failure reveals the main point of the book.  In the end, the judges could not have lasting success but were signposts pointing forward to the answer to their failures and ours.

May 13, 2018 – “Joshua – Promise Fulfilled” In Exodus, the focus was on coming out of Egypt.  Numbers recorded the wandering in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land.  Deuteronomy was preparation for entering the Promised Land.  In Joshua, we read of the fulfillment of God’s long-standing promise to give the land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The corresponding call of the book is for God’s people to be faithful to keep his commandments.  Although the book ends on a pessimistic note about their ability to obey, it also points forward to another Joshua who would finish the work.

May 6, 2018 – “Deuteronomy – Famous Last Words” In Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of what is called the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses, we have three sermons that Moses gave to the people before his death and before the people were finally to enter the Promised Land: one focused on the past, one on the future, and one on the present. A summary of his message is: God loves you, so trust and obey him. Along the way, Moses touched on important themes that run through the whole Bible and find their fulfillment in Christ.

April 29, 2018 – “Numbers – Keep Going!” Who would have thought that a book called Numbers would contain interesting stories that are applicable to our lives today?  Actually, the Jews call the book In the Desert, which is not only a more engaging title but also more descriptive of the history the book records about the wanderings of the people of God in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land.  The New Testament refers several times Numbers in order to point us to Christ and to call us to persevere in faith until we reach our Promised Land.  If you need some encouragement for the journey, it’s Numbers to the rescue!

April 22, 2018 – “Leviticus – The Way to Approach God”  While Leviticus makes for difficult reading for people today, it contains a simple message that everyone needs to learn: God is holy, so we may approach him only in the manner he determines. In the context of Leviticus, God determined that his people approach him through a holy priest offering a perfect sacrifice.  However, the fact that the people had to offer many sacrifices through many priests over many centuries indicated that none of the sacrifices finally took away their sins.  It turns out that the whole system was pointing forward to Jesus, the only truly holy priest who offered himself as the only perfect sacrifice.

April 15, 2018 – “Exodus – Mighty to Rescue”  We left off the story at the end of Genesis with Joseph’s coffin in Egypt and his words about God visiting his people in the future to bring them up from Egypt.  In Exodus, we pick up the story some generations later when the Hebrews found themselves enslaved and calling out to God for rescue.  God heard them and did indeed rescue them through the agency of a man named Moses.  However, things did not go smoothly in the aftermath, which points to the fact that this visitation was not the ultimate one.  Exodus points us forward to a greater visitation and a greater rescue.

April 8, 2018 – “Genesis – The Beginning of Almost Everything”  In our new series, “Building Blocks for Life,” we began at the beginning, with Genesis, the book of beginnings.  This first book of the Bible records the beginnings of the universe, humanity, marriage, the family, the 7-day week, work, rest, sin, and redemption.  It also introduces the patriarchs whose lives shaped ancient biblical history.  In its story form, Genesis answers the big questions of life: “Who is God?  Who am I?  What is my purpose?  What’s wrong with the world?  What’s wrong with me?  Why do we all have to die?  Is there any hope for me?

April 1, 2018 – “Good Advice or Good News?”  For Easter Sunday, we reviewed Acts 2:22-36, part of the first Christian sermon ever preached, in order to discover what are the essential points of the Christian message.  We found that it is the announcement of events that happened, not instruction about commandments to keep.  In other words, it is good news, not good advice.

March 25, 2018 – “The Triumphal Provocation”  In Matthew 21:1-10, we read about what is traditionally called the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, which set the stage for the events that rapidly developed over the final week of Jesus’ life on earth, because this event holds a key to understanding the events that unfolded after it.  In fact, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was the event that set the other ones in motion.

March 18, 2018 – “Thinking Pastorally About Your Pastor”  From Colossians 1:24-2:7, Dr. Jim Garretson explained the nature of the gospel ministry, applying lessons from Paul’s ministry to our situation at Florida Coast Church, reminding us to give thanks for faithful pastors, and calling us all to remain true to God’s purpose for the church in taking the gospel to others and building each other up in our faith.

Living Together as Christ’s Church – I Peter

March 11, 2018 – “A Cared-for People”  We conclude our series with I Peter 5:1-14, in which Peter described the three ways in which God cares for his people: through the elders of the church, through the other members of the church, and directly.  The letter also ends where is began, with concepts that sum up the Christian faith and life: grace, love, peace.

March 4, 2018 – “A Loving People”  In I Peter 4:1-19, Peter continued the call for us to follow Christ by living exemplary lives according to God’s will.  Above all, we are to love each other earnestly, knowing that love functions in the church to cover a multitude of sins.

February 25, 2018 – “A Long-suffering People”  Although the original readers of Peter’s letter were experiencing relatively mild opposition from their neighbors, in I Peter 3:8-22, he wanted to prepare them for worse persecution to come and the unfair suffering they would have to endure.  As in all the letter, God calls on us both to preach and to practice what we preach, no matter how others might be treating us.  In fact, when we endure unfair suffering as Christians, we receive special blessings and opportunities to demonstrate our faith.

February 18, 2018 – “A Free People – Part 2”  Continuing the call to live outstanding lives among unbelievers, Peter focused his attention on wives and husbands in I Peter 3:1-7.  Although the specific instructions to wives and husbands sounded at first glance to be similar to traditional cultural norms, they were in fact radically Christian in their placing both wives and husbands under God’s authority and motivating both by the love of Christ.

February 11, 2018 – “A Free People – Part 1”  Because the early Christians were accused falsely of all sorts of outrageous behavior, Peter urged his readers in I Peter 2:11-25 to be especially careful to live such honorable lives that even their enemies would end up glorifying God. This calling was especially difficult, because they often found themselves in unfair situations that they were powerless to change, in which they suffered unjustly.  Amazingly, God called them and calls us to endure unjust suffering and gave us the highest motivation for doing so: Christ already endured unjust suffering for us.

February 4, 2018 – First Anniversary!  “Why We Are Here and Where We Are Going”  In Romans 15:14-26, Paul explained his ministry as a presentation of the nations to God though presenting the Gospel of God to the nations. He also expressed his pioneering desire always to push out into new territory. Although our church is not in completely new territory, we share something of the pioneering spirit of Paul as we go out to take the gospel to those who have not heard. Today we celebrated God’s work among us during our first year and reminded ourselves of the great mission he has for us.

Living Together as Christ’s Church – I Peter

January 28; 2018 – “A Chosen People”  Human beings love using metaphors, comparisons between two things that are unlike to bring out some special way in which they are alike.  In I Peter 2:4-12, the author piled on a series of metaphors and quotations from the Old Testament to explain, first, who Christ is and, second, who Christians are.  The first metaphor he used was that Christ is a living stone, the cornerstone in fact.  Christians in turn are built upon him as living stones and are also a chosen race, a holy and royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, and God’s people.  All of these privileges are the result of God’s mercy not of Christian’s merit.

January 21, 2018 – “A Holy People”  Although we may not long to be holy as much as we long to be hopeful (see last week’s sermon), the way Peter describes holiness in I Peter 1:13-2:3 shows how very beautiful and attractive it is, not only for us but also for everyone around us.

January 14, 2018 – “A Hopeful People”  Recognizing the key role that hope plays in our lives, we encourage each other by saying, “Keep your hopes up!”  We also realize that a situation is lost if someone gives up hope.  With so many difficulties in our lives, we need hope to keep going.  In I Peter 1:3-12, God calls his people to be a hopeful people, but not based on wishful thinking but on his own work for us.

January 7, 2018 – “An Exiled People”  To start the year, we are studying Peter’s first letter by beginning with I Peter 1:1-2.  In each section, we will see how he describes the people of God.  In his greeting, Peter calls Christians “elect exiles,” which is a curious expression that mixes something positive (elect, chosen, selected) with something negative (exiles, driven out, rejected).  As it turns out, God’s election makes his people exiles in this world, and Peter reminds us that it is our call to live our lives as those who are in the world but not of the world.

New Year

December 31, 2017 – “Are you listening?”  In order to prepare for the happiest 2018 possible, we ended 2017 focusing on God’s word and how we hear it, looking at Jesus’ Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:1-20.  Nothing will be more beneficial to our lives, our family, and our happiness than careful attention to God’s word.  As a church, we are joining together to read the New Testament during 2018 following this plan.

Christmas

December 24, 2017 – “His Two Names”  At first glance, it looked like Matthew made a big mistake in his genealogy of Jesus by placing him in the line of David, since he admitted that Jesus was born of Mary, not of Joseph.  In Matthew 1:18-25, he went on to explain how Jesus was conceived and what role Joseph played in his life, which in turn explains how Jesus entered the line of David.  He also revealed the meanings of the two names of Jesus, which tell us who he is and why he came.

December 17, 2017 – “The Son Of”  If genealogies are not the most engaging reading, why would Matthew begin his history of Jesus with one in Matthew 1:1-17?  Actually, genealogies can be very engaging if we find in them connections with our story.  Because Matthew wanted to connect Jesus with Jewish people, he emphasized Jesus’ descent from the patriarch Abraham and from King David.  At the same time, he included some fascinating details that connect Jesus not only with Jewish people but with all of us.

Man Overboard! – Jonah

December 10, 2017 – “A Question of Compassion”  In Jonah 4, we find the most successful preacher of his day angry enough to die after his greatest triumph, because God had done in Nineveh exactly what Jonah had suspected he would do.  In this final chapter, God presented two arguments to teach Jonah about compassion, the same two arguments that still hold for us who have received God’s compassion in Christ.

December 3, 2017 – “Second Chance”  In Jonah 3, we find that God did not give up on Jonah or on the people of Nineveh, which encourages us to believe that he has not given up on us either.  Upon hearing Jonah’s preaching of impending destruction, the Ninevites surprised everyone by believing God and turning from their sins to him.  According to Jesus, they became an example for later generations of what it means to repent.  God’s response to them is also an example of how he treats all who turn from sin to him with faith.

November 26 – “One Way Out”  In Jonah 2, we take a break from the narrative to read a poem of thanksgiving that Jonah prayed when he was detained for three days and three nights.  It turns out that the fish that swallowed Jonah was God’s appointed means not for Jonah’s destruction but for his rescue.  By surviving his brush with death, Jonah learned an important lesson that we all must learn.

November 19 – “I Won’t Go”  In Jonah 1, we meet the Israelite prophet who preferred to flee rather than obey the Lord’s call to do something new, surprising, and unpleasant, namely, go preach to the Ninevites, the mortal enemies of the Israelites.  However, God did not give up on Jonah, or, as we shall see, on the Ninevites, or on us.

 

Parents and Children

November 12 – “Priorities for Parents” from Ephesians 6:4 and Deuteronomy 6. All families develop customs that reflect their priorities. Today we look at three biblical priorities for parents to establish and maintain in their family customs so that it may go well for our children throughout their lives.

 

November 5, 2017 – “Three Stages of Parenting” from Ephesians 6:1-3, Proverbs 1:1-9, and Genesis 2:24, we put together an overall structure for parenting: the first stage of teaching first-time obedience, the second stage of teaching wisdom, and the third stage of independence. In every stage, both our children and we need to rely on God’s grace as the process exposes the bent of our hearts.

 

Reformation Anniversary – Essential Truths Rediscovered

October 29, 2017 – “Only God’s Glory” from Ephesians 2:1-14.  In the conclusion to our Reformation Anniversary series, we ask a practical question: What is the purpose of our existence?  It turns out that we must first understand the purpose of God’s existence to find our own, and when we do, it filters down into every aspect of our lives.

 

October 22, 2017 – “Only Christ” from I Timothy 2:1-7.  Last week we saw that we access God’s rescuing grace by faith alone, but faith in whom or what?  The fourth essential truth coming out of the Reformation is summarized in the motto, “Christ Alone.”

 

October 15, 2017 – “Only Faith” from Romans 4:1-8.  If God by his sheer grace intervened in history to rescue us from all that threatens us, how do we respond in order to receive his grace and enter into a right relationship with him?  The third essential truth that came out of the Reformation is “Sola Fide” or “Only Faith.”

 

October 8, 2017 – “Only Grace” from Ephesians 2:1-10. The second essential truth that came to the fore in the Reformation 500 years ago is “Sola Gracia” or “Only Grace.”  While “Only Scripture” answers the question of what is the infallible word of God for us, “Only Grace” answers the question of why God intervened on humanity’s behalf by sending his Son.  Ephesians 2.1-10 Family Sheet

 

October 1, 2017 – “God Has Spoken” from II Timothy 3:16-17 and II Peter 1:19-21.  In recognition of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, during October, we are doing a five-part series that covers the “solas” or the “onlys” that summarize five truths that came to the fore in the life of the church, thanks to the work of ministers who were studying the Bible anew.  We start with sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone to see what the Bible teaches about itself and how it functions in our lives.  Family Sheet – God Has Spoken

 

Relationships and Family
(Because of Hurricane Irma, this four-part series became a two-part series on Singleness and Marriage.  We’ll get back to the topic of family later.)

September 24, 2017 – “Getting and Staying Married” from Genesis 2:18-25 and Ephesians 5:22-22.  Together these texts teach us why to get married, how to get married, and how to stay married.  Family Sheet Genesis 2.18

 

September 3, 2017 – “Singleness and Single-mindedness” from I Corinthians 7:25-35.  With an increasing number of adults living alone and only about half of American adults being married, it is important to understand God’s purposes for singleness, which Paul said had distinct advantages over being married if we use it as God intended.  Family Sheet I Cor 7.25-35

 

The Greatest Songs of All Time – Studies in the Psalms

September 17, 2017 – “Making Our Lives Count” from Psalm 90.  Because of Hurricane Irma, we did not meet last Sunday.  Today we reflected on what is important in life and how to make our lives count.  Family Sheet Psalm 90

 

August 27, 2017 – “Good and Pleasant” from Psalm 133.  This short song describes the goodness and pleasantness of brothers and sisters living together.  Although modern life places obstacles in the path of spending time together, the development of Christian community is essential to our growth as Christians and our mission of making disciples by praising, learning, and loving.  The Jews probably sang this song as they went up to Jerusalem for the annual feasts, but the images of the psalm emphasize that the blessings of unity and eternal life flow down from God.  Family Sheet Psalm 133

 

August 20, 2017 – “Praising, Learning, Loving” from Psalm 95.  Our church’s motto is “Praising, Learning, Loving,” Psalm 95 focuses on the first two of these: praising and learning.  First we hear a threefold invitation to come before God in order to recognize his character and his works.  Although God does not need our praise, we need to praise him in order to have our lives in line with his purposes for us.  Then the psalm turns to the importance of hearing his voice and not hardening our hearts as the Israelites did in the desert.  The writer to the Hebrews picked up on this image, encouraging us to gather to hear God’s voice and encourage one another constantly in order to keep our hearts from growing hard.  Sermon Sheet Psalm 95

 

August 13, 2017 – “Let the Nations be Glad” from Psalm 67.  What is God’s purpose for the nations and for your life?  You might be surprised to find that it is that they and you be glad or joyful.  We all want to experience joy but find in elusive, often because we are looking for it in the wrong places.  This psalm points us to the source of our joy and tells us the purpose of all the good things that we experience in life.  Please have before you Psalm 67 as Chiasm as you listen to the sermon to appreciate its amazing structure.  Also, you may follow along with the Family Sheet Psalm 67.

 

August 6, 2017 – “We Will Not Fear” from Psalm 46.  We couldn’t survive long in our dangerous world without some fear.  However, fear can take control of our lives and govern us.  The author of Psalm 46 takes us through three terrifying scenarios but declares that we will not fear!  Rather than denying the dangers, he affirms a truth that is greater than the dangers – that God is with us.  Family Sheet Psalm 46

 

July 30, 2017 – “Getting Our Heads Above the Water” from Psalms 42 & 43.  While sadness is the proper response to loss, when it take over our lives, it can grow into depression, hopelessness, despair.  The author of these psalms takes us along on his three attempts to lift his head above the waters, two unsuccessful and one successful.  Unfortunately, this sermon did not get recorded, but you can read the sermon notes and follow along with the Family Sermon Sheet Psalms 42&43

Also, you can listen to Larry preaching on this text in 2011 with a bad case of laryngitis:

 

July 23, 2017 – “What a Relief!” from Psalm 32.  Psalm 1 told us how to be happy by following God’s ways, but is there a possibility of happiness after we have strayed from his ways?  According to Psalm 32, YES!  There is a happiness not only for the perfectly obedient but also for the disobedient whom God forgives.  Sermon Sheet Psalm 32

July 16, 2017 – “Two Witnesses” from Psalm 19.  If God exists, you would expect him to let us know, wouldn’t you?  According to Psalm 19, he has done so and does so constantly.  In this Psalm, we meet the two witnesses that tell us about God.  If we listen to both of them, we can know what God is like.  Moreover, God did something even better than send these two witnesses to tell us about himself – he came in person.  Sermon Sheet Psalm 19

 

July 9, 2017 – “How Long?” from Psalm 13.  The most common type of psalm is the complaint or the lament, which says much about the human condition, full of lamentable things.  When those lamentable things keep going, we may ask the question that the psalmist asked four times: “How long?”  While he never received an answer to his question, he received something even better, which enabled him to rejoice and sing.  Family Sheet Psalm 13

 

July 2, 2017 – “What are we?” from Psalm 8.  If you have ever seen the sky on a cloudless night without any ambient light to interfere, you have had the experience that the psalmist had every night.  As he contemplated the greatness of God evidenced in creation, he wondered who in the world are we humans, and why would God care about us?  His answer leads us toward the amazing fact that God became one of us and shared in our lowly condition in order to salvage us from the wreckage we have made of our lives.  Family Sheet Psalm 8

 

June 25, 2017 – “Get Some Rest” from Psalm 4.  Have trouble sleeping?  Maybe the events of the day are troubling you, or maybe what you have to face tomorrow.  Perhaps you have a relationship that is not right, or maybe some people are making life difficult for you, while others set out to discourage you.  You are in good company, because the author of this psalm had plenty of problems in his life, but he figured out how to get some sleep even in the midst of them.  Family sheet Psalm 4

 

June 18, 2017 – “Our God Reigns” from Psalm 2.  When this Psalm was written, the nations were in turmoil, just like today.  People’s lives were in turmoil too, just like today.  Far from being alarmed at the turmoil of the world, God took definitive action to deal with it by establishing his king, who also turns out to be his son.  This psalm goes in one direction but has a surprise conclusion that reveals the true way to happiness for the nations and for us.  Family Sheet Psalm 2

 

June 11, 2017 – “Two Ways to Live” from Psalm 1.  Set at the beginning of the Psalms, the first one has elements from the Law, the Wisdom  Literature, and the Prophets, summarizing the message of the Old Testament and laying out two distinct ways to live and their happy or miserable outcome.  Although the New Testament reaffirms this message, Jesus also enacted a dramatic reversal of it by following one way of living and receiving the outcome of the other.  Family Sheet Psalm 1

 

The Well-Dressed Christian – Ephesians 4:17 to 5:2

June 4, 2017 – Ephesians 5:1-2.  Summing up the entire section, Paul gave us two parallel instructions and the reason for each of those instructions: imitate God, because you are beloved children; walk in love, because Christ loved you.  Family Sermon Sheet Ephesians 5.1

 

May 28, 2017 – Ephesians 4:31-32.  Cycling back through the process of thinking, speaking, feeling, and doing for a second time in this section of Ephesians, Paul instructed us to put off all nastiness and to put on characteristics of God in their place, culminating in one of the the most God-like things we can do – forgive.  Family Sermon Sheet Ephesians 4.31

Unfortunately, the sermon did not get recorded, but you may read Larry’s sermon notes: 04-31Eng

May 21, 2017 – Ephesians 4:29-30.  One study estimated that we speak about 16,000 words each day.  What do we do with those words, and what do those words do to others?  In verse 25, Paul told us to put off lying and put on telling the truth.  In today’s verses, he expanded his focus to cover our speech in general, which tends to do one of two things: tear down or build up.  As those who have received grace, now we can give grace to others, especially through our speech.  Family Sermon Sheet Ephesians 4.29

 

May 14, 2017 – Ephesians 4:28.  What is the opposite of stealing?  It it not merely not stealing, although that’s a good start.  It includes working to provide for our needs, but that is not all.  The real opposite of stealing is working in order to give away to others who cannot provide for themselves.  When we put on generosity, we are reflecting our God, who gave his own Son, and the Son, who gave his own life for us.  Family Sermon Sheet – Ephesians 4.28

 

May 7, 2017 2017 – Ephesians 4:26-27.  We all get angry, right?  Well, yes, but there are two kinds of anger, one that we do not experience enough and another that we express all too frequently, damaging ourselves and damaging others in the process.  Self-centered anger was a part of the old life, but as we live the new life in Christ, we can put it off and put on something more powerful in its place, self-control. Also, we have a way to keep anger from destroying us and others, by dealing with it today.  Family Sermon Sheet – Ephesians 4.26

 

April 30, 2017 – Ephesians 4:25.  Some studies have shown that virtually everyone lies, in conversation and especially on social media.  Even though lying is so common, it belongs to the old self, not to the new self that has been recreated in Christ.  Therefore, the first piece of old clothing we need to discard is lying, and the new article that befits our new identity in Christ is speaking the truth in love.  Family Sermon Sheet – Eph 4.25

 

April 23, 2017 – Ephesians 4:17-24.  Even in casual South Florida, we all want to be appropriately dressed for our age, our station in life, and the occasion.  In Ephesians 4:17-32, Paul presents a portrait of the well-dressed Christian.  This first section lays down the general principle that a change in identity requires a change in clothing.  Since Christians have put off the old self and put on the new self, we need to learn to dress in accordance with our new identity.  This first sermon is foundation for the rest of the sermons in this brief series, the rest of which will cover specific areas of the new life.  Family Sermon Sheet Ephesians 4.17

 

Easter and Palm Sunday

April 16, 2017 – I Corinthians 15.  What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make?  In order to answer this question, Paul explained what implications it would have if he didn’t rise from the dead.  Then he spelled out the benefits for us of his resurrection.  It turns out that his resurrection makes all this difference in the world for our lives now and forever.  Family Sermon Sheet I Cor 15

 

April 9, 2017 – John 12:12-24.  All of the sudden, Jesus changed course, from avoiding crowds to stirring up the Passover crowd that was hailing him as king.  This change provoked the religious leaders to take drastic action, which led to Jesus being glorified as king, but not in the way anyone expected.  Family Sermon Sheet – John 12.12

 

Portrait of a Healthy Church – I Thessalonians

April 2, 2017 – I Thessalonians 5:16-28.  “The Christian Heart and Mind”  This concluding section contains habits of the heart, disciplines of the mind, and hope for the future.  The first habit is perhaps the most striking – to rejoice always – and all the other commands contribute to our constant joy.  Family Sermon Sheet – I Thessalonians 5.16

 

March 26, 2017 – I Thessalonians 5:12-15.  “How to Treat Each Other”  In this exceedingly practical section, the authors lay out how to treat others in the church and outside the church.  They not only tell us to live in peace with everyone but also give the key to doing so, which in turn points us back to what Christ did for us.   Family Sermon Sheet – I Thessalonians 5.12pdf

 

March 19, 2017 – I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11. “Either Way It Will Be Ok”  To clear up some misconceptions, the missionaries explained to the Thessalonians what would happen to those who were already dead and to those who were still alive when Christ returned.  Rather than fueling speculation, they offered great comfort for us in life and in death.  Family Sermon Sheet – I Thessalonians 4.13

 

March 12, 2017 – I Thessalonians 4:1-12  “Living to Please God”  Have you ever wondered what God’s will for your life is?  Wonder no longer!  In this part of their letter, the authors tell us clearly what God’s will for us is.  Family Sermon Sheet – I Thessalonians 4.1

 

March 5, 2017 – I Thessalonians 3:1-13 “Stand Firm” After receiving good news from Timothy’s visit to Thessalonica, the missionaries revealed what they had feared and how they had been comforted. It turns out that their fear is everyone’s, and that their comfort can also be ours. Family Sermon Sheet – I Thessalonians 3.1

 

February 26, 2017 – I Thessalonians 2:13-20 “Thanksgiving and Longing” In all of Paul’s letters except Galatians, there is a thanksgiving for the church. In I Thessalonians, there are two thanksgivings. This second one helps us understand how we can know that our faith is real. Family Sermon Sheet – I Thessalonians 2.13

 

February 19, 2017 – I Thessalonians 2:1-12  “Marks of a Faithful Ministry”  Because they had to leave town so abruptly, Paul and his companions may have been concerned that their ministry would be maligned by some, so they wrote this section to explain what faithful ministers do and how they do it. Family Sermon Sheet – I Thessalonians 2.1

 

February 12, 2017 – I Thessalonians 1:2-10  “Marks of the Chosen Ones”  What does it mean to be chosen by God? Family Sermon Sheet – I Thessalonians 1.2

 

February 5, 2017 – I Thessalonians 1:1  “Toehold in Europe”  An Introduction to I Thessalonians Family Sermon Sheet – I Thessalonians 1.1

 

Sermons2018-09-02T13:36:03+00:00

Mere Christianity Reprise

Recently a young person asked me to recommend a book to give to a friend who has no church background but is concerned about mortality. Of course, the Bible is the best recommendation, especially one of the gospels like Mark or John. Having been working mostly in Spanish for the last three decades, I asked some friends for nominations in English, one of which was C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. As a fairly new Christian, I read this book in college and decided to read it again and offer a brief review.

Book I is the best of the four as it exposes humans as inevitably attached to the concepts of right and wrong and largely coinciding on a moral code. In the light of this attachment, Lewis introduced the idea of law and postulated a Lawgiver. Essentially his argument is the classical moral argument for the existence of God, developed with keen insights about humans and in a compelling manner. However, unlike in some presentations of the moral argument, he did not try to bootstrap himself up to the Christian doctrine of God. He went to the Bible and the creeds for that.

Book II presents Christian beliefs in a slightly quirky form. In post-war England, many people respected Jesus as a great moral teacher, whose teaching, if followed would help produce better societies and avoid future wars. Of course it would, but that’s not the main point of his ministry. Here Lewis presented his now famous trichotomy, trying to force people to label Jesus as a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. Striving to be non-partisan, he avoided siding with a particular view of the atonement, but he did emphasize some vicarious aspects of Jesus’ work, particularly his active obedience to God’s law in our place. By not being so clear on the nature of the atonement, he was fuzzy on the doctrine of justification and the role of faith as the “alone instrument of justification” (as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it in chapter XI).

Book III is about Christian ethics and is both dated and prescient. He assumed a general knowledge and acceptance of Christian morality, a consensus that is not so reliable today. However, his defense of biblical sexual norms is more necessary today than it was in his. Lewis organized around the seven virtues, dividing them into four cardinal and three theological virtues. Without soft-pedaling it, he presented Christian behavior as the most attractive and ultimately the happiest option available.

In Book IV, Lewis delved into theology, especially the doctrine of the Trinity. He began with a defense of theology as the tried and true road map to reality, which goes beyond personal religious experience. The Trinity is not only difficult conceptually but necessary for it to be true that God always is love. Also, the Trinity is what believers intuitively experience as we pray to God (the Father) and perceive that God (the Son) is with us in our humanity and that God (the Holy Spirit) is in us.

There are some blemishes in the book. In addition to the lack of clarity about justification by faith alone, another way in which Lewis muddied the water was by granting some level of Christianity to the noble pagans of ancient Greece and to sincere adherents other world religions. (Remember the Calormene warrior who found himself in the real Narnia in The Last Battle.) He also occasionally stooped to the level of abuse in his arguments, calling ideas “silly” and questioning opponent’s intelligence or maturity. Lewis also had a tendency to refer to the Bible too little and too much, too little by building his arguments more on the creeds than on biblical texts, and too much by referring to (without clearly identifying) biblical texts that he assumed everyone would already know. Occasionally his Briticisms are puzzling but can usually be understood in context.

On the positive side, Lewis was a master of the simile, taking abstruse ideas and showing how they are very much like concepts that we already have and readily affirm. He wove astute observations about history, psychology, society, and theology into a devastating critique of secularism and a compelling defense of the Christian faith. His forthright call to faith in Christ and commitment to following him is refreshing.

Therefore, in answer to the person who asked me for a recommended book for a friend, while I need to learn more about more recent offerings, Mere Christianity is still a very good option. You might want to read it for the first time or again. I’m glad I did.

Mere Christianity Reprise2017-01-12T14:54:13+00:00