What’s the standard?

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

Dark mornings, gloomy days and dark nights. Wintertime in the UK can be a depressing experience. One of the things I appreciated in Madagascar was the constancy of the days – the sun would rise and set at around the same time every day, regardless of the time of year. It was a real shock coming home in summertime and finding the sun shining at 9pm. It was even more of a shock to live through a British winter again. Where had the sun gone?

Here we are in February and apparently the days are getting longer. It doesn’t feel like it especially when the days are getting colder. When will it change? The situation of the Christian church in this country may feel like a British winter at times. With many churches closing and all denominations showing a decline in numbers it can be very depressing. It seems like the darkness has surrounded us and there’s no end in sight. As a result we’re seeing different ways of trying to re-invigorate the church.

Being a minister means I have to stay abreast of current developments in the church scene. One of the “in” things at the moment is something called Fresh Expressions, or looking for a new way of “doing church”. The thinking goes something like this: No-one’s coming to church so we need to change church to be closer to the world out there.

In this movement everything’s up for grabs – service times, meeting places, the need of preaching, the role of ministers, even Christian truth as it has been understood for millennia.

I agree that we always need to be assessing what we do as a church but what do we assess it by? The world? The person who doesn’t believe? Our own personal preferences?

These questions cropped up many times in the Reformation. The Reformers were being accused of innovation and usurping the authority of the church. The Reformers replied that they were not the innovators at all. It was the Roman church who were exceeding their authority by introducing prayers to Mary and to saints, holy days, fancy clothes for priests and the mass.

John Calvin, who was born 500 years ago this year, was a great attacker of these innovations. In treatise after treatise and sermon after sermon he showed the folly of these additions to the Christian faith. Why did he do this? Why couldn’t he just accept the world had moved on and he was out of place? The reason was because he realised that there was a standard, there was an authority that could not be messed with.

And that was God’s Word revealed in the Bible.

As the psalmist says: ‘your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path’. It is when the light of the Bible becomes the authority, rather than the whims of society or the word of a powerful person that God gives life to his church. He has provided all we need for his Church and we should listen to him.

The more we know the Bible, the more we know God and what he is like and what he requires from us. It may be hard, we may be shaken in our assumptions but it will be worth it. For as we grow in knowledge and love of him, so the darkness will fade and his glorious light will shine here in his church for the whole world to see.

May God grant that it be so and to him be all the glory.


2 thoughts on “What’s the standard?

  1. Your observations are so accurate. On this side of the lake (I am writing from Seattle, WA, USA) we have had the “Church Growth Movement” – with parallels to your “Fresh Expressions.” Some have even done surveys, we live by those over here, of people on the street to see what they want in a church. So some churches pattern their services after what the world is looking for to attract more people.

    Your assessment of this style is accurate, the word and its message is what will touch hearts. People avoid the church not because it is different, they want that. One of your own said that the problem was that the church was no longer relevant. (Stott)

    Keep up the good work, we do have the message of God and it will change lives,

  2. Terry,
    Thanks for the comment.
    “Fresh Expressions” is similar in many ways to the Emergent Village stuff in the US. It saddens me to see all this groping around for stuff that “works” when even a cursory look at the Bible and church history shows us: The preaching of God’s Word with authority.

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