Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Rules

Spurgeon's Church

After a horrible Friday night and Saturday morning worrying about our friends, upon their return on Saturday afternoon, we decided to stick with the schedule. We would go to Metropolitan Tabernacle, the church where the late Charles H. Spurgeon pastored.

What an opportunity!! I have read multitudes of Spurgeon's works and even in my early preaching days tried to use some of his illustrations. He was truly a great preacher of his day and God used him to reach London and still uses his works to reach the nations today. In fact, I was surprised to learn that his funeral went on for days and hundreds of thousands came by MT to pay their respects. What an influence!!

As we walked up the steps to the church I couldn't help but notice two signs. One read Metropolitan Taberncale Baptist Church (Spurgeon's). The other one stated that the 11am service was a Teaching Ministry and a 6:30 PM was an Evangelistic service. Funny. I thought the Church was God's not Spurgeon's. And why was there an Evangelistic service in the evening for visitors and a Teaching service for the non-visitors? Traditionally thinking is completely opposite. You try to preach to the heathen on Sunday mornings not Sunday nights. Sunday nights are reserved for teaching those who actually put forth an effort to return to church at night.

I didn't let those little signs detour me though. I was looking forward to a good church service and some good preaching. Somehow, I felt like the pastor would be Spurgeon himself reincarnated up there telling us how to live the Christian life. Exciting.

As we entered the church I knew I was in trouble though. Most of the men were in suits and ties. Now I'm all for someone dressing in a suit if they want. But usually when you see that many men dressed in suits you better hold on. My experience has shown me that the clothes people wear to church do indicate the level of formality one will find in the service.

An usher greeted us and saw we had three young kids under three among us two couples and stated forthright that they would HAVE to go to a separate room. He led us along a corridor beside the main sanctuary to a little room with a video monitor and nice neat chairs all lined up in rows. The audience would hear the songs but only when the sermon was given would they have video relay of the service.

My buddy and I found our way back to the sanctuary. We checked out the books for sell. You would think it would have be Spurgeon's works. And there were a few titles of his but most we from others. The latest was The Dark Side of Christian Counselling. And then, my favorite, a booklet entitled, "Are we Fundamentalists?" I started putting two and two together. I knew this was an Independent Baptist Church. I also was pretty certain of the answer to the question the booklet asked. What I had come to was a hard core true to type, Independent Baptist service. The kind you try to avoid.

We started to take our seats and was handed a KJV Bible and a Psalter. Other people began to file in, and I read the introduction to the Psalter. What the link above failed to reprint on the website but is clearly in the book itself was that the songs in the Psalter did not contain any non- trinitarian, sacramentist, modernistic, nor animistic hymns. I have an idea what a non-trinitarian hymn might be and maybe what a sacrementist hymn might be (anything that sounds Catholic), but what is a modern hymn or even better yet an animistic hymn? Weren't the hymns of Isaac Watts "modern" at some point in history?

The one man show begins. The pastor approaches the podium and prays long? I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said at least 10 minutes. My immediate thought was Jesus and his condemnation of lengthy public prayers. Then, I was ashamed of myself for "judging". I told myself to focus on getting the log from my eye before getting the sliver out of my brother's eye. We sang from the Psalter and the music didn't seem to match well the words. All we had were the words anyway. But I figured this is how they sang in the 1600's and 1700's in London. Go with the flow. Then came the sermon...

You can watch it or hear it, if you like. You'll have to scroll down to the sermon entitled "The New Nationality." But beware it goes on for a solid 45 minutes, or at least it felt it did. And in all fairness some points were not so bad. But I thought I was going to have to burst out loud with laughter when he actually starting pointing out "true" doctrine in the infamous TULIP. He actually brought that up. Honestly, I thought my Reformed/Calvinist friends were past that silly thing. Did he actually say that Jesus only suffered for the saved ones? If you decide to listen to it, let me know what he actually said. I myself can't be bothered to find out.

I didn't take Communion, not that I really wanted to or would have, because you had to see a deacon for a Communion Card to be allowed entrance. Now I believe in closed communion, but I don't think we need to be printing Communion Cards. If you want to practice closed communion and not have any non-Christians there, have a separate service. Guaranteed few non-believers will show up.

My buddy and I returned to retrieve our wives and children. When I heard their experience of the service I lost it. I stated this was in fact a legalistic, Pharisee like, separatist, fundamental, Independent group. I wonder if Jesus would have a few words with them if he'd been there.

The room was for those children and their parents who were not able to worship. They had been given a full page front and back of rules to follow while in the holding cell. Things like no food. Children must be quiet. Children must be in the lap at all times. No moving the sacred chairs. Blah blah blah blah blah. All this sanctimonious nonsense about teaching children how to worship. And what did Jesus say about the little children? If you want your child to learn to worship properly, why not bring him/her to where the action is? And if you do think you need to provide a separate room, why does it have to be like you think the "real" worship service is? If it is a separate room, let the children be. Why not have a room where your kid can cry or scream if s/he needs to but at the same time that allows the parents to not be so self conscious of their loud kid? We've put our kid in nursery before. But she was not expected to sit still with hands folded and be quiet! And why were the parents/children/inmates only aloud to see the pastor perform on stage? That whole one man routine tells me that Bible idolatry and/or personality worship is very close by at this church.

Frankly, if I can help it, I will not be back at Spurgeon's shrine Church again. I hope to let Jesus judge them for their legalism. And it is obvious He will judge me for my lack of spirituality. Because even though I am of the opinion I was sitting in a modern day Christian Pharisee synagogue (Tabernacle as they call it), the place was packed out with hundreds of people in attendance. I simply can not get my head around that. And I have to admit, or so it seems, they must be doing something right, if I do not approve or feel welcome and at home there.

It did my soul good afterward to visit the Bunhill Cemetery, right across from the John Wesley House. What a breathe of fresh air!

When to worry

Oxford trip: The rest of the story.

We left our friends in Oxford and headed back. They were going to visit Stonehenge and Bath and return around 11pm.

At 1am they were not back nor had we heard from them. Even though it was only 2 hours off schedule I was still getting a little concerned. They had two young children, and it didn't seem like something they would do; stay out so late with children. My thoughts began to think the worse at 2am and still no word from them. Were they OK? Why hadn't they called or shown up? Had they been in a wreck? I mean driving in the UK is different. My friend had been a little stressed, and rightfully so, by having to enter the round-abouts from the left rather than right and simply by the difference in Continental driving and UK driving.

And still why had we not heard from them? Did their cell phone die? Most certainly. I had gotten their voice mail when I had tried to call it. But then why had they not simply shown up? Had they run out of gas along the route? Had they forgotten to yield in the round-about and been hit by another driver and were in the hospital? Or worse, had they flipped their car on the road or into a ditch? Were they OK?

I began to pray for their safety and their well-being. But admittedly I could hardly pray. I simply told God to accept my worry as a prayer for their safety. Lady R said we should get some rest and deal with the issue in the morning. My thought was that if they were in danger we needed to get some help to them sooner rather than later. But I laid down and closed my eyes and somehow did drift off to sleep. Until... 4:30am I woke up from a nightmare very upset and fearing the absolute worse. The scene was just outside the apartment and two tall people came around a corner. I recognized them in the dream (but they were obviously a creation of mind because the two were not real people) as my friends spokespeople. And somehow I knew they had just returned from the hospital. I just kept saying, "oh no, oh no." The guy asked me if my roll cage had been installed in my car. And I couldn't answer with a "yes," or "no," I could only say, "oh no, oh no," The man responded with a warm smile and said it was not what I was thinking. For what I was thinking was that my friends were in the hospital and had flipped their car. They were injured but at least not dead.

When I woke up, I got up out of bed, tried to calm down, and thought that we had to call someone. I woke up Lady R. and told her we should call a friend who would know what to do. She asked if I was sure I really wanted to do this and wake him up. I said I was very sure. As you can imagine at 4:30 am, he was not so coherent, but he heard our story and suggested we wait til 8:30am before we started calling hospitals and the police. He said there were a couple of logical reasons why we had not heard from our visitors. And if they were going to those places, it would be impossible for us to get out on the highway and start looking ourselves. He suggested some rest.

On the dot at 8:30am he called and asked if we had heard anything. Nothing. He came over as we put together a plan of action. We would wait until the afternoon then we would start calling hospitals and the police. My friend's logical reason was that their cell phone had died. They had gotten to far from "home base," and had simply found a hotel for the night and would make their way back sometime in the morning.

As we were passing the time, my friend's wife called and said she had just heard from our visitors. Everyone was fine!! Praise God.

What had happened? Indeed, our friends did leave Oxford a little later than they had expected. They went to Stonehenge, Bath, and even to Straford upon Avon, where they found a lovely hotel for the night. Their cell phone had almost died so they had turned it off. They had taken on too much to get back to our place by 11pm. But why hadn't they simply called? They had. They had the wrong phone number, and since it was so late they didn't want to bother calling our local friends and waited til 9am to call them to call us. They had emailed at 11:30pm, 30 minutes after we had last checked our email and turned in for the night.

When they showed up later that day, we hugged and shared stories. It was too much of a dramatic experience not to have learned some lessons.

1) Communicate clearly when separating from you party. Make sure everyone knows the contingency plan if things change or if someone gets into trouble.
2) You can't trust nightmares. Your mind can create stuff at night when your sleeping that is simply not connected to reality. It is just you living out your own fears in your heads.
3) Even though you can't trust your dreams, figure out the elements of the dream and where they come from. Do this when you have calmed down from the anxiety produced by the nightmares. And don't make rash decisions based on nightmares. Get other people involved to help you think clearly if you feel you need to act on a dream.
4) I do not have the spiritual gift of prophecy, and one can't always trust your intuition. This was already a known, but now I have a powerful reminder.
5) I should work on worry and trusting God more in situations in life. Tough stuff.