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Saturday, 29 August 2015

An Explosive Breakthrough.

Bank Holiday Weekend is upon us once again. Or at least that's what we call it here in the UK. Maybe where you live it's Statuary Holiday, or something similar. It simply means a day off work sanctioned across the nation by the Government. But unlike the other State holidays throughout the year, there will be no meeting at my particular church this Sunday. This is because seventy of its regular attendees are camping at a big Bible convention, or more precisely - a festival near the city of Exeter in Devon, within the West Country region. Hence, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to work out why this three thousand-strong gathering of Christians from across the South of the UK is referred to as West Point.

It is a far cry from what I have believed to be church during boyhood. I recall a massive building, open daily to the public, and a service held every Sunday and Holy day attended by the faithful. A congregation where nobody knew each other stood, sat, and knelt along the ordered rows of pews. Then the monotone chanting of the priest, with his back to the congregation, lifting a white disc, known as a monstrance, high above the altar in front of him. Candles burn all around, and the atmosphere within the vast cavern remains gripped with the feeling of melancholic solemnity. To add to this, talking loudly was discouraged, but from time to time a squeal from an infant pierced the air and echoed from the high and gloomy mausoleum-like ceiling.

Westminster Cathedral

The venue referred above is Westminster Cathedral, not far from where we lived during childhood. Except that far from any provincial Catholic church, this was the home of the Bishop of London, a Cardinal second only to the Pope in Rome. And so, as he carried out his duty while dressed appropriately in a gown and flowing robe, I couldn't help pointing, and asking Mum rather excitedly:
Mum, is that God?

Her negative answer somewhat surprised me, but ever since, I grew up with what church was meant to be, with the feeling that God, along with Jesus Christ and his saints, were all aloof, way above me, and not at all pleased with my shortcomings. Perhaps it was that sense of melancholic solemnity which made me feel that I'm in danger of defiling the air, and the need to dress formal and immaculately, as were all others around me, helping to offset this feeling of inadequacy. But one thing I do remember, that the cathedral was always open every day of the week, so anyone can enter to pray if needed.

So the massive change of church perception could not be more profound until after conversion in the early 1970's. It wasn't long before I began to accumulate and enjoy listening to spiritual songs on the now obsolete cassette tape. Artists such as Jimmy and Carol Owens, with their classic, Come Together, was the talk of the town among churches during those early days, along with their other two; Tell the World, and If My People, the latter which starred the 1950's and 60's singer Pat Boone. Another cassette I had was Scripture in Song, by David and Gale Garratt. This became such a favourite that in time I wore the tape out and I couldn't use it anymore. But what made it very striking was that the tune allowed me to memorise Scripture from the more obscure parts of the Bible. One good example, which helped throughout some of the tougher moments in life, was Habakkuk 3:17-19. Put this into a song and it wouldn't be so easy to forget. These were the songs which, when combined, gave me the inspiration to visit the Holy Land for the first time as a sole backpacker in 1976.

But to put it all together, these cassette tapes were a stark contrast to what I had thought to be "religious music" which were traditional hymns which were always sung with the deep, solemn sound of the church pipe organ. As this tend to bring out the awesomeness of God in public worship, I did feel at first that these "modern" cassettes, with drums beating and the casual rock feel to the music and lyrics, had a watering down effect on religion to the level of pop. It was by reading the Bible itself that I became aware that the church pipe organ never existed during King David's reign, instead he used a psaltery - a stringed instrument similar to a harp, or even guitar of our day.

During the 1970's, the Dales Bible week was our fellowship's annual Summer event, which took place up North, on the Yorkshire Dales. This involved camping, something I had never done during boyhood, and therefore had no appeal for me to attend. I was able to imagine how vulnerable the tent would have looked perched on a windswept field with lashings of heavy rain, particularly at night, and the heavy clatter of raindrop impact would have kept me awake, cold, damp and shivering, partly with anxiety that the gale-force wind would have been strong enough to unearth the tent structure and guy ropes. Such are the joy of British Summers. It was in 1978, while my Christian friends were traveling to Yorkshire, instead on that day I was more than 35,000 feet in the air, on a flight to New York.

The Dales Bible Week was soon replaced by the Downs, that is the South Downs in Sussex. Although the Summer climate was somewhat more amenable, the location being close to the South coast, this too also involved camping, and therefore I stayed away. But also taking place was Spring Harvest, held at a holiday camp in Minehead, Somerset. Since this area had chalets instead of tents, I was more keen to go, and to see for myself what these festivals involved. Being who I have always been, a cycling fanatic, therefore instead of traveling by car driven by a church friend, I cycled the 150 miles from my home town to Minehead in two days, spending the night at Bath City Y.H.A. It was a testing but satisfying experience. When at last I arrived at the holiday camp, and was given the key to the chalet, I found myself sharing the accommodation with three other believers from two different churches. The explosive climax of the long cycle ride was the welcoming meeting at the Big Top, which accommodated as many as two thousand people. Singing praises to God with so many people within this massive tent was one of the most exciting moments of my life!

Therefore the contrast between childhood religion and adult faith could not have been any more different. The contrast is magnitude, and I happen to live long enough to experience both sides of the coin - probably unlike many younger believers who grew up in the modern version of the faith without any first-hand experience of tradition. But maybe with the likes of television, not all of tradition is lost. Every Sunday evening the BBC broadcasts the thirty minute programme, Songs of Praise. This is something I don't mind watching from time to time, but I remain distant from being addictive. Although some efforts were made to show a modern charismatic church in full swing, with hardly a shirt and tie to be seen, however, most Songs of Praise editions involved the traditional church worship, with men and even boys donned with immaculate suits and ties. It makes me wonder about the message getting through to the masses of unbelievers who comes across it, even during the process of channel switching.

I am very aware of the deep resentment felt towards the church, with myself falling into this trap as a teenager. Many may perceive Christians to be incredibly backwards academically and mentally addled. That gives the unbeliever a good excuse to stay away from the church. Aware of his own sins, the last thing he wants to hear, or be aware of, is divine judgement. And even subconsciously, the idea of Divine Creation is intrinsically tied with Judgement. Such a person, in helping to cover up his own guilt, may associate Christians with the Flat-Earth Society, along with the foolishness of Divine Creation, and the Young Earth theory that goes with it. At present, they enjoy laughing and making mockery as believers are looked upon as nutters rejecting "the mass of evidence for Evolution presented as reality by sensible modern day scientists." For me to call myself an advocate of Young-Earth Creationism would carry a degree of embarrassment in the street. Even the Pope, along with the Vatican hierarchy, now denies the historicity of pre-Abrahamic Scripture in an effort to save face among the academic world and keeping the average Catholic within its fold.

As a result of all this, the average unbeliever is not drawn to the church, at least not here in the UK. This is a tragedy! Because God's will is that all men everywhere should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). In this sense, repentance means a change of mind concerning Jesus Christ, with a heart-acceptance of his Death, Burial, and Resurrection (Romans 10:9-14, 1 Corinthians 15:1-5) to atone for the sins of all mankind. With such a promise of the Gospel offered, the church should be the most popular place to go to, with thousands arriving by the week to hear the Good News and be cleansed from all guilt.

I think Bible festivals such as West Point, New Day, and Spring Harvest, are great to attend, with plenty of time for fun and fellowship between meetings of worship and preaching. To my mind, there is something electrifying about a huge crowd of believers singing out their hearts in praises to God, for his awesomeness, majesty, and mercy. But the one setback to all that is that such festivals are very in-house. It looks to me that not many outsiders are aware of them, and even if some were, still fail to draw them in.

So it is in my mind that these festivals should be broadcast through secular media. Even in Newscasts, where a section is often devoted to the arts and sport, time slots could and should be devoted to such Bible festivals, along with documentaries such as the BBC's Panorama and Horizon not only showing worship, but intervals given of individuals, one at least, from every social class, academic level, vocations, age groups, and gender. Let some of the top doctors, barristers, and lawyers, along with window cleaners, refuge collectors, builders, even the unemployed, all share what Jesus Christ really means to them, which takes in their admission that they are not embarrassed to believe in Divine Creation as historical.

If  paying a large fee just to spend a week in a flimsy tent under gale-force winds, lashing rain, feeling cold and damp, and foregoing sleep, to testify the truthfulness of the Bible and to sing praises to God, and to enjoy fellowship, then there must be something about the reality of the faith.


  1. Dear Frank,
    I grew up in a traditional Presbyterian church and enjoyed the traditional hymns, organ, and stained glass windows. But I got nothing from the sermons and never heard a clear presentation of the Gospel.

    Decades later, when I was saved, I found the physical environment for worship to be far less important than the presence of the Holy Spirit within the congregation. And I believe that there is room for good music of all genres, provided the intent is to worship and honor God and deliver His Word through song.

    Thanks as always for sharing your experience and insights and for the enlightening post.

    God bless,

  2. Hi Frank,
    I agree with what Laurie says regarding the physical environment for worship being far less important than the presence of the Holy Spirit within the congregation. We can each play our part in doing what the Lord calls us to do, but it is only God who can add to the church.
    Once we come to the Lord, then we truly worship in Spirit and in truth.
    However, I can understand how you feel because of your childhood experience where God was portrayed as being 'at a distance' and not to being a part of your life.
    God bless you and Alex