Monday, February 5, 2018

Complicated Church Life?

Let’s face it.  

Life in the Father’s  house, the local  church on earth can be exhausting... sometimes. I am not even talking about  the complexities associated with  interacting  with  individual personalities  and  the challenges  that  come with imperfect  communication. 
I am talking about the exhaustion  that comes from  a church life  associated with too  many activities.

At Eastside Baptist Church we are currently doing a series of sermons entitled, “Life in the Father’s House”.  The purpose of  this series is to help  our growing  community to focus on the essentials  of church life.  To that end our Associate Pastor, Frans Brits, preached a message last Sunday on Acts  2:42, 
"And they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”   

The church born at Pentecost  spontaneously exhibited 4 marks (with apologies to 9 Marks Ministries). The  early church  was founded on four  pillars :

(i)                The people all met  to  hear  the apostle’s teaching , the inspired Word of God
(ii)              The people  met to have  fellowship – to connect  with one another
(iii)          The people met to celebrate ‘the breaking of bread’ or the Lord’s supper, by which the     life and death of Jesus  was remembered regularly  with thanksgiving.
(iv)            The people  all  met to pray.  

That’s it!  The simplicity  just resonates in the heart of a tired pastor, and  I think  also  a tired church member. Tired, not because  we are tired of church life and the gospel. NO! Tired because of  endless  activities, which  actually rob us of our joy in the name of  discipleship.  Life needs time for reflection and  business  easily puts a grinding halt to that. The unexamined life  can  become a pain! 

And so, as  I  was  sitting with this text preached by our dear pastor  in my heart and on my mind in the course of the week, I happened to lay  my hand on a book  by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell, entitled “Saving Eutychus: How to preach God’s word  and keep people awake”
This  is actually a book about preaching, but in this book  one of the  authors,  Gary Millar makes  reference (pp.  23,24) to  a church  that impacted him deeply. 

Here is the record, and I leave you to figure out  why I am drawn to the idea of a  wholehearted, devoted  simplicity  in  the   life of the church based on the model of Acts 2:42.  

“From 1988-1991 (when I was a theological student), I was part of a remarkable church family. Gilcomston South Church of Scotland in Aberdeen wasn’t a huge church. Nor was it a particularly ‘happening’ church. We met twice on a Sunday, had a midweek central Bible study and a Saturday night prayer meeting—and that was it. There was an organ, and we sang five hymns or psalms (often to Germanic minor tunes). The pastor, William Still, preached steadily through the Bible (this was still relatively novel at the time, even though he had been doing it for 40 years). But what set that church family apart was its very simple commitment to ‘the ministry of the word nourished by prayer’ (as Mr. Still would repeatedly say). I have never been part of a church family that had a greater sense of expectancy when we gathered to hear the Bible explained. And I have never been part of a church family where prayer was so obviously the heartbeat of everything that went on. And I have never been part of a church family where God was so obviously present week by week as he spoke through his word. And, it seems to me, there might just be a connection.
Of course ‘Gilc’ was, and is, just like any church family—full of flawed, messed-up people like you and me. But those of us who had the privilege of ‘passing through’ went on from there with an indelible sense that preaching and praying go together. It was just part of the DNA of the church family. The precious group of 50 or 60 people who met week by week at the Saturday night prayer meeting spend most of the two hours praying for the proclamation of the gospel elsewhere—in other churches in our city, in Scotland, and on every continent around the world, one by one. Eventually, someone would pray, ‘And Lord, spare a though for us in our own place tomorrow . . .’ and the others, who had been praying faithfully on their own all through the week for the preaching at Gilc, would murmur a heartfelt ‘Amen.’

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