Scripture commands Christians to SING! Not only in our heart, or when alone, or as a family, but corporately as the gathered Church. Many Psalms begin with “Sing unto the Lord” and Eph 5:19 tells us likewise of the command and joy of singing. There is nothing like the people of God praising Him through song. It is part of who we are.
Yet, because of Covid we are being asked by the authorities to not sing congregationally. Now if we were being singled out this wouldn’t be a question of obedience but of persecution, however, karaoke pubs, concert venues, other faiths, etc, are all likewise being asked not to have group singing. Which still leaves the Christian with the gut wrenching dilemma between the command to sing and obey the authorities (Ro 13; 1 Pet 2:13). As hard as it may be, I believe obeying the authorities for the public good takes precedence. Why? Because there are other ways we can obey the command to sing, whilst cheerfully obeying the Government. Singing is really, really important, and if it was for any other reason than public health I’d happily transgress Government orders in obedience of the Law of God.
A lesson from Church history may help us. There were times in the early Roman Christian Church, for there were Christians outside of the Empire who did do this, when music didn’t really develop because Christians didn’t sing because they were persecuted and singing would alert the authorities. So they met to fellowship, pray, hear the word, celebrate the ordinances, all in relative quiet, singing in their hearts.
So let us pray for a time when we can sing congregationally again. Let us long for it. In the meantime let us rejoice we can gather and Live-Stream and rejoice in as many ways as we may lawfully do so.
In this wider series we’ve been exploring the nature of the Church and membership in it. This post seeks to answer the following question: if church membership visibly expresses my invisible membership in the universal church, should my membership be of a geographically local church?
*Note: I am writing this post in response to someone who lives in a community without an evangelical church about my views on being a part of a local church. This post comes from my heart. It in no way seeks to drive away our own members who travel nor compel members of other churches who are closer to our church than their own to switch their membership. It is, rather, an expression of an ideal which I believe has Biblical support and which I wish Christians near and far would seriously consider as their approach to membership for the bolstering of the local church’s witness.
Nowhere in the Bible is there a “thus saith the Lord” verse to command us to be members of a faithful Gospel church within our own local community. There are, however, many principles and practical considerations, which if taken collectively provide a compelling case to this end.
Historically, until modern modes of transport made this possible, worshippers were constrained by geography to worship locally. Whether that was in ancient times or the 19th Century, one could only go as far as their feet or horse would take them (though in exceptional circumstances the faithful would travel great distances to be with fellow believers and worship). If you lived between churches then you had to make an informed decision. This, and sometimes demographics or denominational affiliations, is why historically there were many more centres of Christian worship.
But was this or is this question purely practical? I believe the closest Bible verse to a command on this subject suggest, “no.” Acts 1:8 says, “And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem [local], Judea and Samaria [regional and national] and to the ends of the earth [international].” Yes, this is a key structure in Acts regarding the outward spread of the Gospel. Yes, it is likewise a direct commission to the 11 disciples. However, indirectly it is still a command for missions which directs us to be involved in local missions, the chief vehicle of which is the local church.
Enter the automobile, which revolutionized so much in our culture, including the Church. Now if you were of this faith and order you didn’t need to worry about relying on another church or starting one in your community, you could just drive to the next. If you got in a fight with someone you didn’t need to be reconciled, you could just drive to the next town. If something didn’t suit you or you got bored at this church you could simply drive along to that church. Transportation enabled us to defy geography but with it we also succumbed to many temptations to put self ahead of the interests of the local church.
The American President JFK said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” That quote may be changed to say, “Ask not what your church can do for you but what you can do for your church.” Churches are fundamentally not service providers but equipping centres for discipleship (and mission). I’ve even know some Christians to be so selfless they’ve collectively moved into a community with no church in order to reach it for the Gospel. We ought not to see the church as simply a service provider to meet our needs but to contribute to its spiritual vitality so it might bring a Gospel blessing to our community. Christians are inherently other focused just as Christ Himself was selfless. We honour the head of the body by doing what it best for the local manifestation of it.
Now, there are legitimate reasons to be part of a church outside of your local community: maybe there is no Gospel church; no church of your faith and order; maybe the local church is orthodox but dead (perhaps you could be the Lord is calling to fan its flame?); maybe your temporarily seeking to bolster another church; maybe language or ethnicity is an issue (perhaps you could learn the local language?). However, I know far too many Christians who travel past several Gospel churches to arrive at their church of choice, thus wasting time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere (it also means you cannot be as involved in your church in areas like fellowship, events, outreach, etc).
What might drive this? Well, rather than a principled commitment to the ideal of the local church what about the great ways of thinking that shape our society and which have sadly infiltrated the church: individualism, consumerism and materialism. The individualistic church seeker does what they want rather than what Christ is calling them to (Is there self-will, die to self; Is there conflict, seek to resolve it even if it may be difficult or uncomfortable). This feeds over into consumerism. The consumeristic seeker is driven by personal preference: that church doesn’t have good music (Is music all a church is about? Might you be called to use your gift of music to help that church?); they don’t have any children’s programming (Might your family be called to be the seed to help initiate a children’s ministry there?); It’s tradition, it’s my family church (While that’s wonderful, there are other ways to meaningfully support a church you have strong ties to); I’d have to leave my family or friends and make news ones (yes, what a joy—to meet new brothers and sisters in Christ that is!). The materialistic seeker likes to boast in how big or wealthy or physically beautiful or gifted their church is (Is this not pride knocking? May the Lord be calling you to devote your gifts and giftings to the support of some needy cause?).
Even though the Bible stands opposed to such “isms” in our culture, these alone are not the primary principle to illuminate this reflection. The foundational principle is Act 1:8 and how we can be part of Christ’s local mission if we’re not a part of His local body? I believe once a church has a sizable contingent coming from one community, we shouldn’t make our building bigger, but instead partner with other area Gospel churches to do a church plant (I dream of planting an evangelical church in Durham, Chatsworth, Flesherton (?) and Dundalk). If you don’t have a local church, ask your church about considering a church plant.
This is a vast subject and as such I cannot cover every consideration. It’s an area which may raise many questions and I hope will fuel further reflection.
If you feel led to relocate what should you do? First, tell both your Elders and the Elders of the prospective church about your considerations. Ask them to pray with you. It can be difficult to the present church in terms of tithes and offerings, rotas, responsibilities and friendships to simply up and move, so if a move is decided lay out a timeline that best serves your present church and enables you to transition to your local church. Slowly get involved in the local church; seek to maintain meaningful ties with the old. Let people know why you are doing what you are doing. Godly ideals are always laudable to follow so let’s love Christ by loving the local church.
Twice now recently I’ve been confronted with this question: should we jettison the good with the bad when a Christian leader or ministry abandons the faith, swerves in their beliefs or whose morals are compromised?
One such case was a pastor of a church who had an affair with the church secretary. Neither was willing to repent. The church was devastated.
The other was a music ministry which wrote some good songs. They drifted more and more into the extreme of the charismatic movement and became closely associated with “grave soaking.” (The practice where their prophet has died and you lie on the grave to absorb the holiness or spirit which had indwelt them—not dissimilar to Roman Catholics rubbing some holy location, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem).
Many former evangelical leaders have also been known to have drifted into neo-liberalism and secular humanism. What shall we make of their writings?
These are all troubling situations, and many others like them. However, while one may feel the need to disassociate with their music or writings, etc, for reasons of conscience or witness, there is no inherent reason to stop using their material, if what they wrote at the time accorded with Truth. If someone spoke truth, whether as an unbeliever or a believer who strayed, what they said or wrote still has lasting value (even if we may be discrete in how we commend or use their works publically).
The old Anglican confession of faith, The 39 Articles, recognized as much. It said:
XXVI. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.
One needs to remember that even amongst faithful ministers and ministries no one is perfect. That never excuses sin or apostasy, however, it does help our perspective when we are personally shattered by the realization of some fall.
For Biblical warrant, consider the life of Samson and Judas:
· Samson: While many esteem Samson as a great hero he was in fact a lawless scoundrel. He womanized and broke all three of his Nazarite vows, not to mention countless other commands. He only twice is recorded as crying out to God, and then only when he was desperate. Yet, he is recorded in Heb 11 as among those of faith. His actions cannot be excused, but was there some value in some of the things he did, and did God ultimately use everything for His glory and purposes, yes.
· Judas: Did his betrayal of Jesus invalidate the Gospel he proclaimed to those who truly believed it and were saved? Did it invalidate the example of good done when he gave money to the poor even though he stole from the money purse? No. The truth displayed remains valid despite the person ultimately being discredited as an unbeliever.
So the next time you are deeply troubled, pray for the person or ministry—that God would save or restore them, pray that God would have mercy on you to keep your foot from stumbling and take consolation that it is the Truth spoken and done that ultimately matters and not the faithfulness of the person, however important that may also be.
Birds are a great wonder in Creation. Maybe you’d heartily agree with me, or maybe you’ve never paused to consider. Consider the way they fly, their plumage or song or even their habits. Did you know that the sparrow is not native to Ontario but was introduced by the pioneers? Or did you know farmers used to wait to plant their corn until the swallows had returned? These two birds wonderfully came up in this week’s Life Group Study on that wonderful Psalm about delighting in God’s presence, the 84th Psalm:
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! (Ps 84:3–4)
Why are birds mentioned here? One would think they would be shooed away but no they were welcomed in the Temple, a lesson that all may freely access the presence of God through faith in Jesus Christ. And what is produced by a life who’s encountered Jesus? It is a life of praise. Commenting on our Lord’s reference to sparrows in the Sermon on the Mount, Martin Luther considered, “the birds, our teachers.” Indeed, their consistent, heartfelt and beautiful praise of their maker is a great inspiration for the Redeemed to go and do likewise.
If you like birds and are interested in meditating upon their frequent reference in the Bible you might enjoy, The Birds, Our Teachers, by John Stott, who was himself an influential preacher and bird watcher.
In the midst of many other current matters of concern, we’ve witnessed the complex eruption of civil unrest across the USA this week. While one may value particulars within a culture that may be linked to ethnicity, the Bible condemns racism as all humans are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and as Christians, many tribes, tongues and nations of believers form the body of Christ and will spend eternity together (Rev 7:9). But what shall we make of civil unrest? Closer to home I have even heard of some churches planning a prayer protest to the Ontario Governments continued emergency order that does not allow meetings of faith groups to take place (when many businesses have been allowed this freedom). What should we make of all of these responses? In the 18th Century violence erupted in the French Revolution and in the following decades of the 19th Century there were revolutions across Europe; yet Britain was spared. Why? There were at least two reasons for this: a general, albeit minimal, care for the poor that did not exist in many country; but also the Evangelical Revival. Wesley, Whitefield and others, transformed nominal Britain into a much altered Christian nation. A Biblical belief lies at the heart of why Britain did not see violent upheavals for central to the Bible is the call for Christians to obey and to submit to the authorities (Ro 13; 1 Pe 2:13) in matters where they have not transgressed God’s laws (Mt 22:21). Submission to God appointed authority is a good thing, for God wills it. As we submit to Governments we submit to God. Like any other matter of faith, we cheerfully obey in faith. If we have questions or concerns, no matter how deep seated, we bring these forward peacefully and civilly. Why, for Peter goes on to say, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles [un-believers] honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.
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