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.’

JESUS – Who is He?

JESUS – Who is He?

One Christmas hymn asks:

‘Who is He in yonder stall,
At whose feet the shepherds fall?’

Who is this person? Jesus has profoundly affected the lives of millions and even altered the direction and history of whole nations. Yet there’s an astonishing ignorance of who He really is.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is the Son of God. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day fully understood what Jesus was claiming by saying He was the Son of God. Jesus was claiming equality with God the Father. The religious leaders were incensed by this claim. They were seeking to kill Him because He was ‘making himself equal with God (John 5:18).’ Jesus was claiming to be God and under Jewish religious law was blasphemy and punishable by death.

The Christian Church makes exactly the same claim today. Jesus, the Son of God, is God. Many today are incensed by that truth claim.

Jesus at one time asked His disciples ‘Whom do people say that I am’. Just like our own day, they replied by saying, the people have many ideas about His identity. But then Jesus made it more personal by asking ‘Whom do YOU say that I am?.

There’s a vague notion about the identity of Jesus, but few find out for themselves, preferring to simply parrot what others say.

When Jesus asked ‘Whom do you say that I am?’ Peter, one of the disciples, replied by saying that Jesus is ‘The Son of the living God.’ In saying this, Peter acknowledges that Jesus is God (See Matthew 16:13-17).

You too may have a vague notion that Jesus is not like everyone else and might even concede that Jesus said some good things. You might even see that it makes sense to see Him as God, but you just don’t believe it. You might say ‘I’m fine, it’s not for me.’ But this has no bearing on its truthfulness. As an illustration: think about gravity. You can’t see it. But it affects our lives every moment. And if you were to jump out of a window you would very quickly be confronted with its reality. Apparently, survivors of suicide regretted jumping the split second gravity took over as they hurtled to their death.

The split second you leave this life and your spirit leaves your cold dead body you will immediately believe that Jesus is God. Tragically, it will be too late. The Bible says ‘now is the accepted time, now is the day of Salvation (2 Cor 6:2).’

The chorus of the hymn I started with answers the ‘Who is He’ question by saying this:

‘Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
‘Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! Crown Him, Lord of all!

What must you do in the light of who Jesus is? It’s what we all must do. You need to bow before Him. Acknowledge your rebellion towards your God and plead for mercy on the basis that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners 1 Timothy 1:15).


To hear more about The Lord Jesus Christ, join us for a Sunday service.

Service times at Alfred Place Baptist Church

Sunday morning at 11:00 & Sunday evening at 5:00.

Or drop into our regular Coffee morning: Wednesdays 11:00 – 1:00.

 


This is my first attempt at an Evangelistic Leaflet. The errors are all mine but If you can use it, please go ahead.

Sweetening the action

I’ve heard it said or prayed over the years something like ‘O Lord if you do not meet with us we are wasting our time’. Roughly translated that means we want to feel and know the presence of God in our meetings. And what Christian wouldn’t want that! I get the sentiment, I do. I do want to experience the presence of God.

But as I’ve thought about it, why would it be a waste of time to do something that Christ has directly commanded us in His Word to do? And, on top of that, we have promises that tell us God is with us. We aren’t told ‘when you meet together you’ll have a gooey warm feeling’. But we are told He will be with us.

As I read through ‘The Bruised Reed’ by Richard Sibbes, this paragraph recently stood out.

Obedience is most direct when there a nothing else to sweeten the action. Although the sacrifice is imperfect, yet the obedience with which it is offered is accepted.

We could apply these words of Sibbes in many ways, but let’s apply them to when the Church in obedience gathers for worship. When we meet together we want it to be sweet. We want something to ‘sweeten the action’ as Sibbes calls it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if we engineer our services to make sure it’s sweet, I do have a problem with that. Whatever it is that’s added, or taken away (e.g. pews), let’s make as sure as we possibly can that it isn’t to ‘sweeten the action’. Often I think it’s because we aren’t feeling something – whatever that something is – that we make adjustments to our services to sweeten them. Whereas Sibbes is telling us that because there’s nothing in it for us except the obedience, God accepts that. God accepts our obedience even if it isn’t sweet to us. Are we really adding it because we think the action is Biblical or because it makes us (or others) feel good, or sweet as Sibbes call it.

Our obedience is already tainted, it is an imperfect sacrifice, let’s not make it any worse. Especially when God accepts it for Christ’s sake. Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice and is the only ‘sweet smelling aroma’ that’s required. Praise God it is so.

MOS – Worshipping with Calvin

It’s a while since I listened to the Mortification of Spin but this podcast (Worshipping with Calvin MOS podcast) is definitely worth a listen.

Podcast Notes (Follow podcast Link below)

‘Terry Johnson shows up at the Spin’s “totally awesome” worship band practice. Terry is the pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah and has written Worshipping with Calvin: Recovering the Reformed Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism.

The crew turns down the instruments, shuts off the spotlights and smoke machine, and listens intently as Terry makes the connection between theology and worship, tracing back to the Reformation period and the solas. He talks about the proper balance of freedom and form, and what the church is supposed to do when gathered on Sundays.

Why should you worship with Calvin? Find out, as you join the conversation.’

http://www.alliancenet.org/mos/podcast/worshipping-with-calvin