THE EXTREMIST CAN ALWAYS BE SURE of a gratifying accompaniment of cheers or, if he is a Christian, a chorus of pointed ‘amens’. For we are creatures of extremes, and the natural mind delights in the sensational. The Word of God is characterized by perfect balance. In this new series of articles we hope to deal frankly with a number of issues on which violent extremes exist. We shall attempt to present these issues in a balanced scriptural way, believing that no extreme can be justified when the whole of Scripture is taken into account. We commence with the quesntion of worship.
There are believers who reveal an impatience of worship and maintain that the church’s real business is the salvation of souls. They camp on the outskirts of the assembly, ready to dash off in any direction at a moment’s notice, so that they often have little fellowship with their brethren. Activity is their keynote, and as they have little sympathy with worship they may sometimes disturb it.
At the other extreme are believers whose sole spiritual interest and activity seems to be breaking bread. They never reveal any concern for the lost. They go to and from the meetings, but seem to be quite out of touch with the poor unconverted who live nearby. They are quite content to let preachers come and talk to the saints in what purports to be a Gospel meeting. In the prayer meeting they are coldly general in their petitions. In fact they seem to have little to pray for unless some emergency occurs in the mission field. The emergency at home -the fact that souls are going to hell every day – seems to leave them unmoved.
We hope that this picture of extremism is in fact a caricature. We should be sorry to think that all these evils existed full-blown in any assembly. But a caricature can serve a useful purpose. It can open our eyes to tendencies. It can lead each believer to ask ‘Is there a tendency to extremism in me?’.
It was the black night of the betrayal when our Lord said ‘This do in remembrance of me’. Consequently, it was no light request, and we dare not treat the breaking of bread as a secondary affair – a service to be pushed into a corner so that the Gospel can be preached. Undoubtedly Christ sought sinners, but He declared that His Father sought worshippers. In His testimony to the woman of Samaria we have evangelism leading to worship. Where does our Gospel witness lead men if not to the appreciation of Christ, and how can they better express their appreciation of Christ than in the breaking of bread? In our Gospel work we are primarily giving to men – giving them our time, our talent and our love. But in worship (whether at the Lord’s Supper or on other occasions) we are giving to God, and surely if our Gospel message means anything it means that He is worthy of our adoration. Yet it is sadly possible to be so occupied with service that we neglect the One whom we profess to serve. The flesh can organize and it loves the thrill of activity, but it cannot worship. ‘They that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.’ The more time we give to sincere worship, the more effective we shall prove in service.
But worship is not the only concern of the believer. We need a vision of the lost, a passion for souls. Nor can a cold, doctrinal view of the Gospel take the place of the warm love for sinners which should throb in the heart of every believer. It is possible to talk and pray about the facts of salvation in strictly scriptural language without any sense of the stern realities with which we are dealing. It is possible to express concern for ‘the unsaved in this district’ and yet go on regarding the ones we actually meet as an odd ‘untouchable’ class. Have we today a deep sense of the reality of hell? Who could picture its eternal misery and remain indifferent to the need around us?
True worship and true evangelism are parts of one whole. Both are found in the Acts of the Apostles. Both may be deduced from the epistles. New Testament evangelism resulted in men being brought by the Lord into the fellowship of a worshipping company - ‘the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers’. It is impossible to conceive that the evangelists in the Acts would have accepted any restriction on their preaching which would have prevented them from leading the converts into a sphere where scriptural liberty of worship was maintained.
An Irish Example
An interesting historical instance of evangelism leading to worship is recorded in the Quarterly Review, Volume 27 (October 1866-January 1867). The writer of the following was strongly opposed to the work he described, as will appear. ‘The state of things in Ireland at present’, he declared, ‘is summarily as follows: a number of gentlemen, say fifty or more, lawyers, engineers, agents, and military men, are itinerating, principally through the south and west; preaching what they call ‘the Gospel’. They are for the most part young, from twenty-five to forty, unmarried, with a fashionable moustache, and a gentlemanly appearance and bearing … They profess no connection with any of the sections of the church, but wish merely to preach ‘the Gospel’. If asked for their peculiar creed they have no creed but the Bible, and immediately cite passage after passage with marvellous fluency and readiness.
Victorian Publicity ‘Hundreds of handbills are sent out, and the walls duly placarded to the following effect: “The Gospel will be preached at 7 o'c. in M-------- School-house, by A. B. Esq., and C. D., Esq. ‘He that believeth on the Son hath life.’ Come!. Come!! Come!!! All are invited.” Of course such a sensational bill produces the effect, and the place is crowded. The meeting is opened with a hymn from the Merrion Hall (or Plymouth) collection, to which one of the preachers sets a lively tune. Many ladies join, and the singing is admirable. We are not surprised to read in the British Herald of twelve hundred converts to this new system in the west of Ireland within a few months …
It Led to Worship
‘In addition to these public meetings for preaching the gospel to sinners, the believers of the church meet on Sabbath mornings in a more select way, “in an upper room" where practicable, for the breaking of bread, in imitation, as they think, of the apostolic church.'
All this from the pen of an enemy. Yet we can see, behind the sarcasm, a balanced work, alive to the need of sinners, and alive to the importance of worship. Today we are inclined either to sit in our Gospel Halls and wait for the blessing to come, or to expend our energies on testimony given in circumstances where we necessarily stop short of clear instruction regarding worship. Yet there are districts all around us where religiously-inclined unsaved persons would come into a reverently-conducted service at which the Gospel was preached with power, whilst there are numbers of hungry believers yearning for definite Bible teaching and Gospel preaching. Here is our opportunity to lead men from darkness into light, from indifference into worship. Extremism could close our eyes to such valuable possibilities.
To be followed by ‘Correctness of Doctrine’.