This past Sunday, October 8, 2017, I had the privilege of going to four church services in the city of London: Catholic Mass at St. George Cathedral, morning worship at Metropolitan Tabernacle (the Baptist church of the famous 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon), Anglican Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and an evening worship service at Hillsong London.
Each of the services had elements that appealed to me — that spoke to my soul, and each of them had elements that I wished would have been done differently. Most of these differences were simply a matter of preferences, but some of the rub I felt came from deep theological differences.
As a Baptist one would expect that this rub would have been felt most in the Catholic or at least the Anglican service, but it was not. As a proponent of traditional hymns along side contemporary worship music and multigenerational ministry, one might think the “rub” was felt most in the LOUD “epilepsy inducing” light show service at Hillsong, but it was not.
The most severe rub was at the Baptist service, and it wasn’t the music, or the prayers, or the liturgy, or whether or not I was welcomed. The rub was the heart of the Baptist service — the sermon, and it chaffed me to the point of wanting to stand up and yell, “STOP IT!”
Now, I have to be honest. I’ve been chaffed by other sermons. Most of the time it’s a good thing. It’s the Holy Spirit convicting me of my sin, making me uncomfortable in the tepid Christianity in which I have taken comfort. At these times, as well, I want to yell, “STOP IT!” like the man having the lizard torn from his back in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. I am familiar with this rub; I do not like how it feels; but I know it gives life, abundant life. The sermon at Metropolitan Tabernacle was NOT that rub. It was a rub, a chaffing, that comes from knowing that something is not quite right.
The message was from 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. It was going well enough I guess until point two taken from verse 10, “…to wait for His Son from heaven.” His point was that the Christian objective is to “wait” — to wait for Jesus. Now I’m all for a good sermon on being ready for the return of Christ, of living lives of holiness, on focusing on telling others about Christ, but in order that we wouldn’t miss his point the preacher went on:
Note, dear friends, that our aim is not to reform the world. Now Christian people are a people of compassion, and if people are suffering, we should have hearts that want to help. And God will raise up from time to time people with special opportunities (here examples of Christians fighting child exploitation during the Victorian period are offered as an example)…. But they knew that no sooner would they repair one problem that another one would turn up because of the fall of man, and because of the sinfulness of man, and the wretchedness of the human hearts. They knew that you can’t really reform this world; you can only do some good as you go along; you can only give relief as you can. But today there are some Christian people, even some evangelical and reformed people, who have fallen into the old trap that our chief business is to reform the world. And there are quite a number of books and well known names like Tim Keller, and, not such a well known name, but, Paul Trip, and others, who are telling you that your purpose of being here is to reform the world to repair the broken down house of this world. It isn’t, friends. It is a doomed world. It is a world under the judgement of God…. That old heresy of social restoration is being promoted once again.
This is the rub. Can we really separate the preaching of the Gospel with the living of the Gospel? And so I wonder…
- I wonder if we are no longer under the obligation of being stewards of this earth (Genesis 2:15)?
- I wonder if God no longer requires us to do justice and to love mercy (Micah 6:8)?
- I wonder what the prayer taught us by Jesus himself, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” means (Matthew 6:10)?
- I wonder what it means for the first and second commandment — our love of God and our love of our neighbor — to be of the same substance (Matthew 22:37-40)?
- I wonder what it means to have pure religion if not to care for the orphan and the widow (James 1:27)?
- I wonder why those extended an invitation to eternity with the Father is dependent upon food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothes for the naked, care for the sick, visits to the imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46)?
I suppose the argument would be that these (and the numerous other texts that could have been listed) are simply secondary concerns to “waiting,” to “preaching the gospel,” to “winning souls” — to welcoming people into the Kingdom of God.
But it just seems to me that if we are going to roll out the welcome mat of the Kingdom, we better make sure that we actually are living in the Kingdom.
And living the Kingdom means restoring the brokenness of a world that God loves — that God sent his son not to stand in judgment of but to love and to save (John 3:17)! Living the Kingdom is fighting against injustice, it’s about binding up wounds, it’s about caring for the least of these! That is the Gospel. That is the Good News! We cannot separate the preaching and the living of the Gospel!
That is a Kingdom worth living in!
That is a Kingdom worth inviting others into!
That is a Kingdom for which it is worth rolling out the welcome mat!
If you’re looking for that kind of Kingdom, I’ll tell you there isn’t a better choice you could ever make, and I would love to have the privilege to welcome you into that Kingdom.
But if your kingdom, if your “gospel,” is anything less than that, then I’m afraid it’s not the Gospel of Jesus, or Paul, or Spurgeon for that matter, and it may be a good idea to make sure your kingdom even has a welcome mat at all.