Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Monday, May 29, 2006

Where are you?

From the time I began attending Reformed churches, I realized the lengths that one often has to go to in order to worship with a solid congregation of believers. I was living in New Hampshire and attending a Plymouth Brethren congregation when I really began to wrestle with the key doctrines of the Reformed faith. The congregation where I was attending was lacking in a number of areas, such as depth of teaching and reverence in worship. Through an acquaintance I learned of and visited a Presbyterian congregation some forty minutes away, and soon I was attending on a regular basis. I have been in a number of different congregations and denominations since then. Every time I’ve changed churches it has been a struggle to determine where to attend next, and every time I’ve had to make some sort of sacrifice in order to find a place to worship. My current situation is no different. I am a Presbyterian by conviction, but have chosen to attend and join an Anglican congregation, believing it to be the best choice I can make at this point in my life.

Most of the time when I’ve had to find a new church, I haven’t been entirely sure once I’ve made my choice that it was in fact the best choice. Nonetheless, I have made my choices carefully and prayerfully, always desiring the guidance and the blessing of God. One thing I have often thought of doing but never have is to move close to a congregation that is more in line with what I believe the Scriptures teach regarding the ordering of a church. While I have never done this, I have found numerous people in similar situations to mine that have chosen to do just that. Some people have gone as far as to move from one coast of the U.S. to another just to find a church that conducts itself according to what they perceive as Biblical principles.

Many people, even in Reformed circles, will criticize this, saying that the normal practice of church growth is from within the community, not from people moving into a community from the outside. This may be true in some sense. But one has to ask what “normal” is in a sinful world. As I read the Scriptures, Presbyterian church government is normal. So is paedobaptism, paedocommunion, liturgical worship, weekly communion… well, you get the point. On the negative side, I don’t consider it normal for churches to bring the music of a sentimentalistic and commerce – centered culture into its worship, all along using the excuse that it will bring more people in. Sentimentalistic and commercial music create spineless and covetous people, unworthy of the cross of Christ, and that’s exactly what we are. The leaders of the churches that do this, and in so doing compromise their calls, are the ones who drive the sheep under their care to take such steps as to move or to drive long distances every Sunday.

Along with this, I see no injunction in Scripture against moving to a place where one can worship with one’s family in a community of like-minded believers. Not everyone is called to remain in his community and be a missionary there. A father’s first concern, for instance, is for the spiritual and physical well-being of his family – and in that order, I would say. I think the same can be said of an individual and his own spiritual needs. Sometimes it’s imperative for a person who is unattached to family to move for the well-being of his own soul. Such well-being doesn’t entail perfection, mind you. There are no perfect churches. But I can’t help but think that we far too often settle for far to little. I think we should regard the spiritual lethargy of our country as a testimony to that.

I have been reading J. C. Ryle’s book Holiness with a friend. We recently covered the chapters on Lot and his wife. Ryle talks of how even though Lot was a believer, he took steps of compromise that cost him his wife’s life and his daughters’ holiness. He documents Lot’s gradual movement towards and eventually into the city of Sodom. Ryle then gives some specific considerations to believers that relate Lot’s circumstances to our own. Here are a couple that are worth heeding that apply to our discussion:

(a) Remember this in choosing a dwelling-place, or residence. It is not enough that the house is comfortable, the situation good, the air fine, the neighbourhood pleasant, the rent or price small, the living cheap. There are other things yet to be considered. You must think of your immortal soul. Will the house you think of help you towards heaven or hell? Is the Gospel preached within an easy distance? Is Christ crucified within reach of your door? Is there a real man of God near, who will watch over your soul? I charge you, if you love life, not to overlook this. Beware of Lot’s choice.

(b) Remember this in choosing a calling, a place, or profession in life. It is not enough that the salary is high, the wages good, the work light, the advantages numerous, the prospects of getting on most favourable. Think of your soul, your immortal soul. Will it be fed or starved? Will it be prospered or drawn back? Will you have your Sundays free, and be able to have one day in the week for your spiritual business? I beseech you, by the mercies of God, to take heed what you do. Make no rash decision. Look at the place in every light, the light of God as well as the light of the world. Gold may be bought too dear. Beware of Lot’s choice.

Ryle died in 1900. It is very uncommon to find people who even think along these lines in our day, as it apparently was in his. Every man must decide for himself before God what he must do in making these sorts of decisions. But I think Ryle gives us wisdom, and we should heed it. I think it is also important for us to think carefully before we criticize those that take great steps to honor Christ in their Sunday worship as well as in their daily lives. If we all strove to holiness like this, imagine what great things could be accomplished for Christ and his kingdom in our families, our communities, and our country.


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