Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (2)

This is part two of sections from Chapter 1 of William Williams ‘The Experience Meeting.’ (Part 1 is here) (Part 3 here) I don’t intend to post anything, for now, on how the society meetings were organised during the flow of the revival, rather the condition of the church when the Spirit of God visited in revival blessing.

This next section is, I believe, one in which our churches can take great encouragement to not give up meeting. Revival comes not at the behest of man but by Gods gracious intervention – and that, when we are at our lowest ebb. Perhaps that is one of our problems. Our churches are so well organised that if God were absent from our meetings, or our evangelism, would any of us really notice?

‘And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.’ Judges 16:20

The Bold text is my highlighting. I have also divided the text into two paragraphs so it’s slightly easier to read.. Continuing then where we left off with Eusebius on page 8:

EUSEBIUS continues….: ‘This is the way the Lord worked in that part of the world. One time, there were just a few of us, professing believers, gathered together, cold and unbelievably dead, in a meeting which we called a special service, so discouraged as to doubt whether we should ever meet again, some who were usually absent from every meeting, some in a deadly apathy, with nothing to say of God nor their own souls, some given over to the world and its cares, some backslidden completely from all means of grace and the ordinances of the gospel, some given over to the flesh and its lusts, as in the days of Noah – seeking a wife, seeking a husband marrying and giving in marriage – and I myself well nigh disheartened and thinking often of coming to live in warmer spiritual climes, and moving my tent from Ur of the Chaldees nearer to the borders of the Promised Land.

But, even though all things were as i have described them – the world, the flesh and Satan victorious – these special services were yet conducted in an incredibly lifeless manner. There was no encouragement for anyone to carry on the work, save only the promise of God, that wherever there were two or three coming together in His name, if their purpose were right, however lifeless their present state, He would come to them and bless them. This alone had made us come together to pray; but our prayers were not much more than groans.’

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Page 8.

I like the way he says ‘This is the way the Lord worked in that part of the world.’ It may be the Lord will again work in that way – here in Wales and where you are too. But in this passage especially, we should note the condition they were in. ‘cold and unbelievably dead‘ and a ‘deadly apathy.’ How many of us have thought of moving our tents to where ‘things are happening?’ ‘To warmer spiritual climes‘ and ‘nearer to the borders of the Promised Land.‘ Is that us? Is that how we see ourselves? Or are we in need of nothing?

Also notice there were people in the meeting ‘who were usually absent from every meeting.’ I’m sure Pastors try to encourage their people to attend – but to no avail. The Lord can do in a moment what man can’t.

Despite this, we shouldn’t fail to recognise who we are. The world may despise the church of God, and we can be tempted to think that way sometimes too, but our hope is still in the living God.

‘Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!’

I’ve written more than I meant to but I do hope and pray these posts from the writing of William Williams will be an encouragement to the church.

 

Extracts from ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams (Pantycelyn) (1)

I read this book years ago, and one particular section especially was impressed indelibly upon my mind. And I always tend, somehow, to make reference to it when talking about revival. Which I did do just recently. It’s about time then, that I typed that section up. It’s fairly lengthy for one post so I’ll break it up into three or four shorter posts. (Part 2 here & Part 3 here) Any highlights in bold or italics will be mine.

I don’t know if the book is still in print. Whether it is or not doesn’t really matter. What the book, or this section anyway, tells me is that no matter how lifeless we think our prayer meetings are, and let’s face it, they mostly are, the Lord is well able to visit us and revive us. We don’t need to gee them up and try to inject life into them. We simply need the Lord to visit us. That’s the only life we need. His life. The Spirit of God. Our hope is in God. Williams writes the book as a conversation or dialogue between two people, Theophilus and Eusebius. Here’s the first of the quotes:

THEOPHILUS: And now, what progress is the Lord’s work making in your country? I have heard that the gospel of Jesus has reached you, and has begotten many sons. Will you please tell me how grace began to work there? By what means? And with what power? And to what extent apart from the usual means? And which graces appeared first? What wiles has Satan devised to hinder the work? And what troubles or trials have you suffered to test and strengthen you and to purify you?

EUSEBIUS: You have asked me many questions, and I will do my best to answer them all, for I find nothing sweeter to recount, and nothing to quicken my soul more, than to remember the days of the Lord’s visitation to me and to others in the day of my betrothal to Him, the joyful day of my heart; to remember that time, to me, is ever as sweet as honey (This is the first paragraph of a long section).

The Experience Meeting: An Introduction to the Welsh Societies of the Evangelical Awakening, William Williams, Evangelical Press, 1973. Pages 7 & 8.

I can’t recall where I read it, but in one of Jonathan Edwards books he talked about how through remembering and talking about past visitations of God those same feelings can come back. I don’t think Edwards was speaking negatively here, but speaking experientially. Hence we read above: ‘to remember that time, to me, is ever as sweet as honey.’

 

Who is the LORD that I should obey his voice….?

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’”
But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1&2)

When reading verses like these it would be easy to make an application that our (various) governments should open the churches in order for normal services, or just services, to resume and to ‘let my people go.’ End the lockdown and get back to normal is what a lot of people are calling for. I think there’s a more important issue, or stage before that. Or to put it another way, there’s a much deeper issue with our government, and politicians in general, than ‘simply’ getting them to ‘open up the churches.’

The deeper issue is that our leaders, be they Prime Ministers or Presidents, ‘do not know the LORD.’ Pharaoh in the verse above actually confesses to the fact that he ‘does not know the Lord.’ And because of the truth of that confession says in direct response to the command of God – ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice….?’  And ‘I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.’ Who is this LORD? I will not obey his voice. We don’t have to be living in ancient Egypt to see this played out. You could almost admire the honesty of Pharaoh if it wasn’t so foolish.

Church life is quite different now. And like you, I hope, I want to see our churches back open. I don’t say back to normal simply because we may have to use this opportunity to re-evaluate what ‘normal’ church life (and evangelism) is going to mean. But what if our governments suddenly said ‘OK, you can open up.’ We will still be under a government, that, by and large, says ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?’

There are many regimes round the world that act like Pharaoh. In the West it is cloaked with a superficiality of Christianity but underneath beats a heart that is as opposed to the will of God as any other godless regime. I don’t, nor should we, treat the mercies of God with contempt. Any gains or progress, or where policies are merely put on hold – we should thank God for. Here in the west things could be far far worse.

God, the same LORD Pharaoh refused to obey, brought upon Egypt the plagues, judgement upon Pharaoh and the destruction of his army. The people of God were’t allowed just to leave, they were driven out and ‘plundered the Egyptians’ of their goods in the process.

The point I am making is this: Jesus will build His church. He will continue to build it until He returns to judge the world. We, His people, must persevere for ‘deliverance is at hand.’ In the meantime we continue to ‘preach’ the Gospel of the grace of God as He gives opportunity. The Word of God cannot ultimately be silenced. It is impossible.

What is our message? ‘…. that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His (Jesus) name to all nations (Luke 24:47).’

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,
and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Cor 15: 1-4)

Not only that but we should pray:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,
for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim 2: 1&2)

You’ve read this far. Great. But your heart is rebellious just like the heart of Pharaoh. It will do no good, as some do, to whine on about how bad the government is (Christians do this as well). Unless you repent you’ll be swallowed up in the judgment to come just like them. The only safe haven is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

JUDE: Content Yet Contending by Daniel R. Hyde – Recommendation

This an excellent little commentary on this one chapter New Testament letter by Jude. His letter is perhaps best known for the exhortation in v4 to ‘contend for the faith’ and the Doxology of vs 24-25. This was one of those ‘I must read this sometime’ books on my shelf. I finished a book on the Old Testament so wanted to read a NT commentary. What better than this little book.

It is a little book (A5 size) at only 137 pages, of which there are 126 pages of actual text including the preface. It’s easy to read in that it isn’t complicated and the type is clear with each chapter neatly laid with sub-headings for each chapter. It’s probably too short for an index but it would, I think, have been helpful. There are very helpful footnotes, which I personally much prefer to endnotes. For those wanting to delve a little deeper, there’s also a very good Bibliography. There are eight chapters in all. I paid £8.99 for the book. Although that sounds a bit pricey for such a short book, it’s actually good value because of how much is packed into such a short space. No verbiage here.

I bought it initially because I was struck by the ESV translation of v5. In v5 of Jude the ESV explicitly names Jesus as the destroyer. I wanted an explanation, which is briefly but adequately given and applied on pages 48-51. Jesus is both Saviour to some and Destroyer to others. As Psalm 2:12 ‘Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’

As a slight aside, there’s a crucial point to be made here. We hear how the God of the Old Testament is an angry wrathful God but the God of the New Testament (Jesus) is friendly and loving. He’s nice. But we don’t like the God of the OT – he’s horrible. It says the same in any translation but it is made clearer in the ESV, and it’s this, it was Jesus in the OT that destroyed those that sinned. This gives the lie to those that try and make separate Gods for OT and NT. It’s complete nonsense. Jesus is the Destroyer and the Saviour. Make sure He is your Saviour and not your Destroyer!

This book by Daniel Hyde, like Jude’s letter, is a challenging read. There’s a lament in Chapter 1 how Jude has been neglected and in the same chapter he sets out the divisions of Jude thus:

‘Jude writes about this heavenly grace in this short yet highly organised and structured letter. Using the categories of classical Graeco-Roman rhetoric, we can see the following outline develop:

The introduction (exordium) seeks to gain the audience’s attention (vv. 1-2);
The narration (narratio) seeks to inform the audience of the main argument (vv. 3-4);
The proofs (probatio) seeks to develop the argument with evidence (vv. 5-16);
The conclusion (peroratio) seeks the reader’s emotional response (vv. 17-23);
The doxology (doxologia) is an added element in Christian literature that gives glory to God (vv. 23-25).’ p.17.

There’s so much packed into this short book. I could’ve given more but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. I heartily recommend it.

 

 

‘You could have it all’ by Geoff Thomas – A Recommendation

‘You could have it all’ by Geoff Thomas, Reformation Heritage Books, 2020. I paid £4.50 for my copy. Sadly not available from 10 of Those. Try your local Christian Bookshop or failing that, £6.50 at Amazon.

The book is described as an ‘Evangelistic Booklet.’ I had a couple of people in mind to give a copy. I try not to give books and stuff that I’ve not read so set about reading it. Not quite in one sitting but very nearly. It’s an easy to read book. By easy I mean it isn’t complicated. You don’t need a degree to read it. The 10 chapters are not long with the whole book just 96 pages with stories and illustrations throughout. I loved it.

I can hear Geoff as I read and can see the evangelistic motivation behind it, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Yes, give it to your non-Christian friends. Do that. What I like about it is the sheer honesty of it. I love to hear Geoff pray and it’s in that vein. A phrase popular a while ago (by some) was that Christians need the Gospel too. And they do. I do. I need to hear the Gospel. Yes, I was thinking on the person I was reading it for, but I was drawn into the book as well. I needed to hear these things. It’s been a blessing to read it. Christians will be encouraged.

Let’s pray that when we read Geoff’s emails we’ll read of sinners brought to the Saviour by the Saviour as He uses this book for His Glory. Wouldn’t that be great!

Just go and buy a copy, read it, and then give it to someone.

A Happy New Year to All

I change, He changes not,
The Christ can never die;
His love, not mine, the resting place,
His truth, not mine, the tie.

Last year we saw in 2020 with all the usual celebrations and the usual wish of a Happy & Prosperous New Year. Things didn’t work out that way. Nobody saw or predicted what was to come. What a year it was. And then celebrations (though very different) and wishes for a Happy New Year have again been expressed. Everyone (mostly everyone) is saying this year, 2021, will be a better year. We have the Vaccine. All will be well. Not necessarily.

If your business survived and you are able to pick it up again – great! But in many respects 2021 will be much the same as the previous year. Because we live in what is described as a fallen world people are still going to be ill. People are still going to die. All the hardships that are endured will in that sense continue. Things continue much the same in our ever changing fallen world. Our bodies continue to grow old. So so many awful things happen in our unstable sinful world. Things don’t stay the same in the sense of stability, rather, things continue in a sinful unstable state where nothing stays constant. The only constant for us is our sinfulness.

The only reliable constant is the Lord God. He stays the same. I don’t want to be a wet blanket. Instead, let me point you to the only wise God. We’ve just celebrated how God has intervened in our world by sending His Son – The Lord Jesus Christ. Isn’t it time you considered Him?

The verse above came into my mind this morning. Below is the full text of the hymn. Worth pondering. Christian, rejoice that His love and grace remains the same. Enjoy. Happy New Year!

I hear the words of love,
I gaze upon the blood,
I see the mighty sacrifice,
and I have peace with God.

‘Tis everlasting peace,
sure as Jehovah’s Name;
’tis stable as His steadfast throne,
for evermore the same.

The clouds may come and go,
and storms may sweep my sky –
this blood-sealed friendship changes not:
the cross is ever nigh.

My love is oft-times low,
my joy still ebbs and flows;
but peace with Him remains the same –
no change Jehovah knows.

I change, He changes not,
The Christ can never die;
His love, not mine, the resting place,
His truth, not mine, the tie.

Horatius Bonar, 1808-89

Boris points to Christ – sort of

The Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) gave his  Christmas Message (see below) on Christmas Eve after securing a last minute Brexit deal.

It was obvious that he was on a Brexit high and took the opportunity to give us a happy Brexit Christmas. I’m sure just as many will have been pleased to hear it as those that were displeased or simply horrified at the whole process. The Brexit deal is definitely not the feast.

Like Prime Ministers before him Boris was able to demonstrate that he’s actually clueless as to what the real Christmas message is about. Of course he knows some of the details which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it shows Christianity is still, for now, embedded in our culture. One might even say Boris had totally lost the plot if he really knew it in the first place. Like many of us probably. Embedded as it may be, the real message is easily obscured where there is no real knowledge of God or the Saviour who has entered our world to save people from their sins. There are so many things that Christmas is not about and Boris’s message for many is about as close as they want to get. I mean, contact with Christ, who is Lord of all, can be life changing. Boris is a good example, perhaps, of people that want ‘something’ to do with Christmas but really don’t want to get too close. Like Herod, he didn’t want to get close at all and set about making sure he didn’t. That didn’t work out so well for Herod. Let’s face it, the PM (any PM) has to say something Christmassy even it’s mostly nonsense.

What is Christmas about then?

In a nutshell, we all have a problem. The problem we face is that we are born with a sinful rebellious nature that wants nothing to do with God. That puts us at odds with God and makes us by nature ‘children of wrath.’ This rebellion will be dealt with and put down once and for all when The Lord Jesus comes again to Judge the world – that’s all of us. You and Boris included.

But such is the love of God that he sends a Saviour. A rescuer from the Judgment of God has come.

What do I want for Boris? The same as I want for you. Salvation from sin. A Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. ‘You shall call his name Jesus’, Mary was told. Why? Because he (Jesus) will save his people from their sins.

How does Jesus do this?

The Christmas message, and in fact the whole Christian Gospel, is all about what God has done. In the first place, He is born into this world. He lives a life of perfect obedience and is offered as a sacrifice to turn aside the wrath of God. This he does on the Cross. Wonderfully He rises from the dead and ascends to the right hand of God where he waits till the day of judgment. In the meantime, right now, Jesus is building his Church. And he is right now calling people through The Gospel (good news) to ‘repent and believe.’

Boris rightly talked about ‘rebirth and renewal’ but the rebirth and renewal the Bible talks about comes through repentance and faith in the one God sent. That is the Lord Jesus Christ. The question for you then, and for all of us (Boris included) is will you repent and believe, calling upon God for forgiveness?

Jesus – The Rescuer has come!

My friend Ken Samples has recently posted an article on his page about Original Sin. Basically saying how this doctrine has great explanatory power. Why? Because we see it at work in ourselves and in the world every day. I remember a Tozer sermon where he said how it is sin that has filled all the prisons, how it is sin that causes all the brutality and cruelty, the lying and deceitfulness, and the pride and arrogance we see in the world – and in ourselves.

How sad our state by nature is!
our sin how deep it stains!
and Satan binds our captive minds
fast in his slavish chains.

(Isaac Watts, 1674 – 1748)

His article made me realise afresh what it is that will be great (one of the things anyway) about heaven. There will be no sin. None at all! That is good news. Although if you love your sin that is not good news. There’s a double edge to that. It’s not good news because you love your sin and the rescuer has come. But you don’t want rescuing! Or you don’t see the need for a rescuer. And it’s not good because there will be a price to pay – eventually. You may hang on to your sin, and you may love it: But it’s only for a season. It will be short-lived.

To some extent we all love our sin – including Christians. But Christians can look forward, and do look forward, with joyful anticipation to that time when we shall be unencumbered by our sin. The glory of being without sin will be to worship God. To worship face-to-face without sin. Robert Murray M’Cheyne puts it so well in verse two of ‘When this passing world is done.’

When I stand before the throne,
dressed in beauty not my own,
when I see Thee as Thou art,
love Thee with unsinning heart,
then, Lord, shall I fully know,
not till then, how much I owe.

(Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 1813 – 1843)

This is our desire as Christians is it not – to Love Thee with unsinning heart!

But not yet. But the Rescuer has come! Christ The Saviour has been born. He has lived. He has died. He has risen. He has ascended. And He will return!

Perhaps this Christmas with all the disruption and confusion, and even great sadness for some, we have lost sight of what it is we are supposed to be celebrating?

Yes, the Rescuer has come! Jesus, the Saviour for sinners!

The doctrine of original sin has great explanatory power. It explains the state of our world. But the Christian Gospel offers much more than an explanation. It provides an answer. In fact the only answer.

Again, there is only one answer. Jesus, The Rescuer has come.

You will hear it, you may even sing it, but pray with the hymn-writer:

O holy Child of Bethlehem
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in;
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel.

(Philip Brooks, 1835 – 1893)

Call upon Jesus The Lord. Call upon Him to be your Rescuer! To be your Lord Emmanuel.

‘Beyond the Big C: Hope in the face of death’ by Jeremy Marshall

Beyond the Big C by Jeremy Marshall, 10 Publishing, 2019. £3.99 at 10 of Those (£1.75 each if you buy 10 copies).

Of course unbeknown to Jeremy there would be a new Big C in town, no longer is it Cancer but Coronavirus. Cancer has been (temporarily) usurped. I’ve always known Cancer as the Big C. (My Mum died of cancer, my sister-in-law died of cancer, and my wife died of cancer) Even with massive leaps forward in treatment and diagnosis I think most people would still see it like that. A cancer diagnosis is a solemn thing.

As for the book, I started reading it in bed one evening and finished it the next morning. It’s a very short book – 70 pages. No chapters but lots of helpful headings throughout. His honesty at the shock diagnosis and the fears he had, are, I think, really helpful. I thought his honesty was, and is refreshing. Non believers out there aren’t stupid and can detect insincerity at ten paces so it’s much better to be honest.

A strong and vibrant faith is not incompatible with being afraid. I’ve seen it. We don’t want to be afraid but it’s a powerful emotion. Here’s a successful man, a very capable man whose world is changed completely. What he finds is that Christ is right there with him in his suffering. I know what cancer treatment involves, having seen what my wife went through, and it isn’t pleasant!

Just a brief quote from page 45:

I long for my suffering friends to know that God has entered this sad, fallen, sinful world and he meets us right in the midst of our grief and sorrow.’

‘What we can offer – as well as compassion to those suffering from cancer or other terminal diseases – is the one thing that the world craves above all things: hope in the face of death. I love to tell people how the Lord has, by his death, defeated death.’

That does not mean having cancer for a Christian is a barrel of laughs – it isn’t. It’s tough. Really tough.

I like the way he challenges non-believers but without being aggressive or condescending. This is a great little book to give away or maybe leave (COVID regulations permitting) in a dentist or doctors waiting room. You probably wouldn’t be allowed to do that, but it’s a thought.

Church Services and Boiling Frogs

On 3rd November a friend posted this on Facebook:
‘If we are going to press for the continuation of public worship in Christian churches, can we get beyond the somewhat tepid assertion that it is good for our mental health?’

This post, in part, is an attempt to answer that very important question.

[Apologies, if the formatting is not working correctly]

It sounds dramatic, but the Apostle John warned us about the Anti-Christ. (1 John 2:18; 2:22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7) And Jesus told us to look out for false Christs that will seek to deceive us. (Matt 24:5) Kim Riddlebarger, if I’m channeling him correctly, said the sign of the Anti-Christ is when the machinery of the State is mobilised to persecute the church. The question is, is this what we are seeing now? Are we seeing movement towards that? When does it cross the line from a painful inconvenience, that we are told benefits our neighbour, to outright persecution? Are the powers that be acting with more subtlety than we see in China? In China we definitely see the State mobilised against the church – and against religion in general. It would be insulting and quite ridiculous to compare our situation with Christians that are losing their lives simply for being Christians. Or are we in the West seeing the proverb ‘Softly softly catchee monkey’ being played out. Would a full on assault be too obvious? You’ve heard of boiling frogs. Is that us?

My recent reading about Cyprian of Carthage (200-258), The Scottish Covenanters, and Martin Luther has raised all sorts of questions. Christians then were asking similar questions. I have a couple of quotes from the book on Cyprian that, I think, puts where we are at, or where some think we are at, here in the UK and the US. It’s a debate that is happening right now. Is the fact that church doors are closed and gathered Worship is restricted, some might say forbidden, demonstrating State persecution? Is the State boiling a few frogs?

The following quotes ‘might’ help the discussion.

‘Persecution and prosecution were the same thing in these cases. Being prosecuted for disobeying laws that violate religious conviction is germane to persecution. We empty persecution of its meaning if we do not include prosecution for refusal to do something that would violate a person’s faith. [The writer] Moss does not see it this way. She writes, ‘There is something different about being persecuted under a law – however unjust – that is not designed to target or rout out any particular group. It may be unfortunate, it may be unfair, but it is not persecution.’ p. 70 & 71.

Some feel that way now. Perhaps saying ‘The lockdown doesn’t seem fair, but it isn’t persecution. Christians aren’t being singled out.’ Brian Arnold gives a footnote to the comment above from Moss, saying;

”I understand Moss’s point and I believe the point is well-taken in certain instances. Take for instance Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was killed, not for his faith, but for his attempt to assassinate Hitler. Should he be considered a martyr? Perhaps not. But early Christians do not fit this category. They were killed because they were asked to do things that would have severed their souls from Christ for eternity.”This is footnote 21 on p. 71: Moss, The Myth of Persecution, 14-15.

This is at the heart of it. Are we Christians being asked to do, or not do something that is a serious violation of our faith?

Some say yes, or at least, we are close to it. Others say no. Did I say Cyprian experienced persecution and plague? He also had some interesting things to say, I thought, on the Lord’s Supper. He was eventually beheaded in the year 258.

Shifting or sifting?

Whatever it is the Lord is doing (some of which may be a sifting), in a few months we have shifted (a lot have anyway) from worshipping in our church buildings (whatever the building) to worshipping as an online church community. We say, ‘What a blessing from God this technology is that we can meet. It isn’t ideal but we can meet. How wonderful.’ And it is, but we all know this is second best to meeting together as a church. Right? I’m seriously wondering if our online church experience is really just boiling frogs. It’s a bit weird for the minister speaking into a camera, or just one or two techie guys there but it’s what we are doing. Some are a little further on from that and are working towards more being able to attend. I’m not quite sure what happens when the church building reaches its social distancing capacity. For us, we simply aren’t going to all be able to attend with the current regulations in place. That’s my understanding anyway. I’m amazed at how quickly habits can form. There’s no rush to make the meeting. There’s no inconvenience. There’s little or no discipline. There’s no need for punctuality. You can amble into your living room, if you get up at all, watch the service at your own convenience while still wearing your pyjamas and eating your breakfast. And, you can pause the service while you boil the kettle and make your cup of tea.

Jesus came in the flesh. He had a body while on earth. He still has a body on earth – it’s called The Church. There’s something deeply Incarnational about gathering physically as the church. The Bible speaks of giving the right hand of fellowship (Gal 2:9), or greeting one another with a kiss (1 Peter 5:14) or simply sitting down with one another. Speaking to one another face to face. And if your church practices it – washing one another’s feet! Or the laying on of hands or anointing. I must admit to not seeing a lot of anointing with oil. Still, these all require physical contact.

The Lord’s Table

Then there’s the Lords Table – Communion. Breaking bread together. I know some churches are managing to do this online. We can’t ask Cyprian or Luther what they would have done today, but Luther did say this:

‘The Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh itself and not weaken in the struggle but continually grow stronger…. The devil is a furious enemy; when he sees that we resist him and attacks the old man, and when he cannot rout us by force, he sneaks and skulks about everywhere, trying all kinds of tricks, and does not stop until he has finally worn us out so that we either renounce our faith or yield hand and foot and become indifferent and impatient. For such times, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment.‘ Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Though’ by Stephen J. Nichols, p.129.

We are moving towards a year now. When was the last time we physically assembled for the Lord’s Table? And when will we be able to celebrate again? Many of us celebrated (past tense) the Lord’s Table each month. Churches do this differently, but whatever the frequency, we must surely celebrate this means of grace at the minimum annually. Is it a command from The Lord Christ, or a suggestion? The State, however we frame it, intentional or not, is causing us to neglect the physicality of the Lords Table. This is how I see it. And it’s a problem. Isn’t it? When will we be able to celebrate this again and strengthen and refresh our faith together and say ‘Until He comes.’

Then what shall we say of Baptism? Will we have ‘Socially Distanced’ baptism’s? But perhaps we’ll leave that for another time.

Overstepping Authority?

Has the State over-stepped its authority? Surely it has no authority over the church of The Lord Jesus Christ. Meeting online, however convenient, is at best a very poor substitute for the physical gathering of the body of Christ – His church.

Now, what to do? That’s the question. We pray. We need a great deal of Grace and Wisdom from God. Be patient – for now. I am not suggesting we storm Westminster, or that we start a riot. And I’m not advocating for Civil Disobedience. Maybe in time that will come. There is some legitimate push back from some quarters. Remember, frogs that are slowly boiled eventually die (or submit). We should resist thinking an online church is a true expression of the church at worship. It isn’t.

Whatever happens, even if we never physically meet together again, the Lord has promised to build his church (Matt 16:18) in the face of the severest opposition, as we see in other countries today. And He will. The Lord has done exactly that in times past when in Cyprian’s day ‘the blood of the martyrs was the truly the seed of the church (Tertullian).’ However He will do it, He (The Lord Christ) continues to build His church. and will build it. And ‘He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied….’ (Isaiah 53:11)

‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.’ (Romans 1:16)

The call is to be discerning and ‘Know the times.’