Looking to the future
The reality we face as Bible-believing churches We live in at a time which has some very
1. During the last 40 years, church attendance in the United Kingdom has halved.
2. People are totally ignorant about the Christian faith they reject.
3. People are ignorant of the Bible and don’t understand it’s truth or its main story and stories. This means we have much to teach before the gospel can be intelligible.
4. In the past Biblical morality, was approved of if not followed. Now it is seen as
immoral and oppressive.
I don’t want to be pessimistic because there are many areas of the world where church
growth, often through conversions, is far more rapid than population growth. In the UK
there is real encouragement with churches being planted and then planting other churches.
Trying to find a way forward I think that there has been a good response in terms of people
trying to understand the people around them, and developing understanding as to how to
respond to those beliefs people have, which make them feel themselves as immune to the
gospel. However in terms of church life and worship, I fear we have often missed the way
and may be profoundly misunderstanding our times and responding to them incorrectly. I
want to address that in a few areas and hope this may be helpful to us.
Love in church life is crucially important Patricia St John wrote as a missionary in a culture
(Islam) which is strongly opposed to the gospel. Stories from such backgrounds are now vital
to us in a (secular) culture which is strongly opposed to the gospel. She tells a story:
A simple country woman who had been the first to believe in her village and had
learned from her New Testament and from one isolated missionary for three years,
came down to town eager to meet other Christians. But within the first few weeks she
was conscious of contention and strain. She walked into the room where her friend
was sitting and laid her New Testament down on the table. ‘For three years you
taught me that Christians loved each other and I believed you,’ she said bitterly. ‘Now
I know you were deceiving me all the time.’
A failure on our part to show authentic forgiving, non-grudge bearing, Christian love will be
seen to mean that the gospel itself is not authentic.
Some of the things we see as vitally important are basically no big deal One thing which is
often highlighted as hugely important for reaching outsiders is worship style. It is not
irrelevant but we need to develop some balanced thinking on this:
1. Worship style is very important in that Christians who move to an area, or who are
moving between churches, will have a clear(ish) idea of what they look for in a church
and worship style will probably be important here. Non-Christians generally don’t
have anything they are looking for because this is a new world to them.
2. Even if we are looking at Christians considering a church there is a certain flexibility
that they will need to have. If a Christian is seeking a church in London, or even
Exeter, there will be a wide range of church styles and emphases. In Honiton and the
area around there a several good Bible-believing churches but Christians seeking a
gospel church would have to accept the choice of style and approach is limited.
However if we are seeking to reach out to secular non-Christians they really haven’t any idea
what to expect – indeed for people converted out the world what their church does is, as far
as they are concerned, what all real and authentic churches must be doing.
Worship style and Outreach
Here are some suggestions:
1. Intelligibility Spiritual understanding comes from God’s Holy Spirit but we must make
sure our worship is intelligible and understandable. So Bible versions need to be
understandable and so do our hymns and preaching. The ability of someone to pick up
Christian in-language is not the same of conversion – Dr Lloyd-Jones (I have been told)
said it would be possible of a parrot to learn ‘the language of Zion.’
2. Orderliness Conversion is a supernatural work but takes place by the use of means. A
key verse is Romans 6: 17, ‘thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin
have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were
committed.’ In terms of what happens to us there are three stages:
a) God addresses our minds We are committed to ‘the standard of teaching’ –
the revelation of the gospel. God causes us to hear and enables us to
understand the gospel.
b) We become obedient to the heart Our minds are persuaded but at the level
of the heart, the deepest motives and feelings, we are changed – we
respond to God’s love revealed in the gospel.
c) The result is obedience The effect is a changed life. We now love because he
first loved us.
Intentionally, our order of service helpfully reflects the logic and pattern of the gospel.
3. Timelessness This may sound odd but there is a point of in having older hymns which I may well develop further in next week’s letter. Much of today’s thinking is very short-
term. The wisdom of the past isn’t appreciated or listened to. We don’t want to
identify with the passing age but with the people of God and their living faith down
the centuries. I rejoice that hymns like, ‘There is a fountain filled with blood,’ ‘What
can wash away my sins? (Nothing but the blood of Jesus), ‘Jesus paid it all,’ ‘Immortal
honours rest on Jesu’s head’ and ‘He will hold me fast’ seem to be enjoying a revival
of interest and use recently.
Yours in the Lord,
7th August 2020