The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Maidenbower Baptist Church

The restoration of public worship (again)

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Having heard nothing yet from the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, about the prospects of Christian churches meeting for worship as soon as possible, and given recent developments, I have written again. And, again, I put it here not as the last word, but in the hopes that others might also be able to make representations along these lines for a recognition of our duty and our right to gather responsibly for the worship of the true and living God.

Further to my previous letter of Wednesday 27 May, I would like to raise once more the issue of the worship of Christian churches of the kind to which I belong.

As previously stated, in the matter of Christian worship, the focus in the Bible is on the people who worship rather than the place of worship. While I am sure that many are glad that places of worship are now open for private prayer, for Christians who value the gathering of the church for corporate worship (that is, our worship as a gathered body of believers) it offers little help. We can and do pray at all times and in all places. As made clear in my previous letter, for the Christians for whom I speak, nothing can replicate or replace the distinct spiritual privileges of meeting together for worship as a church, according to the direction of the Bible and therefore our religious principles. Such gatherings encourage and express our deepest convictions and hopes as believers in Jesus Christ.

Recently, the Prime Minister tweeted this: “People have a right to protest peacefully & while observing social distancing but they have no right to attack the police. These demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery – and they are a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve. Those responsible will be held to account” (@BorisJohnson, 9:13pm, 07 Jun 2020). Would the Prime Minister, and you, also be willing to assure us that people have a right to worship God peacefully while observing social distancing and not attacking the police? We believe we can and should be able to gather for worship outside of our church buildings, and to do so at least as responsibly, carefully and safely as any comparable activities.

In that connection, we are aware of moves toward the reopening of cafés, pubs and restaurants, perhaps allowing responsible service outside while maintaining social distancing. If this is the case, whether in June or July, then it should be possible for Christians to meet for worship outside their existing church buildings. My previous letter outlined some ways in which we might be able to do this responsibly, carefully and safely. Given the nature of our regular gatherings, especially with social distancing measures observed, the impact on the R number of meeting in this way for worship would, at worst, be minimal.

I appreciate that there are countless calls on your time and energy at present, and we do pray for God’s favour toward our country and those whom he has put in government over the nation. I look forward to hearing from you, and to positive suggestions as to how the church which I serve, and others like us, can honour God in our obedience to him, while also honouring the civil authorities which God has established.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 June 2020 at 14:16

The restoration of public worship

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Encouraged by efforts in other places, I have written to the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, about the prospects of Christian churches meeting again as soon as possible. The letter has been copied to Baron Greenhalgh, Faith Minister, and my local Member of Parliament. I put it here not because I think it is the last word, but in the hopes that others might themselves be encouraged to do more, better.

I hope that this communication finds you, and yours, safe and well during these still difficult days. My name is Jeremy Walker, and I am a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church in Crawley, West Sussex. I am writing about the government’s plans for the restoration of public worship in Christian churches.

As the government attempts to lead us out of lockdown, I am conscious of the difficult decisions and fine judgments that government and Parliament make and carry out, and the wisdom required. The church of Christ makes this a matter of particular prayer. We pray not as an issue of party political allegiance (1 Timothy 2:1–2) but because the church is a spiritual body rather than a political or even a social agency.

In this regard, I and others like me have been disappointed and even distressed to see the government’s plans for the restoration of public worship. At present, church buildings are in Step Three of the government’s plan (OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy), in which the ambition “is to open at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close, including personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons), hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation), public places (such as places of worship) and leisure facilities (like cinemas)” (page 31).

When it comes to the matter of religious worship, the focus in the Bible is on the people who worship. The focus in government policy appears to be on the place of worship. When the focus is on the latter, the physical space and social dynamics of a church building lead to it being classified among other enclosed social spaces like cinemas, theatres and restaurants. When the focus is on the former, the question becomes one of facilitating our corporate gathering as what the Bible calls “the body of Christ”—the people who are joined to him by our faith in him, and who thus become the spiritual family of God.

I note that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has established a taskforce developing a plan to reopen places of worship. However, it seems that Christians who share my convictions about our faith and life (Protestant and Dissenting) are substantially absent from that taskforce. For the Christians of whom I am representative, both in Crawley and elsewhere, it is the act of worship more than the place of worship that is important. So, for example, the government suggests that places of worship may be open for private prayer before Saturday 4th July. While we commend any move toward the safe opening of our church buildings, we can privately pray anywhere and at any time, and we do, together with other acts of private and family devotion.

However, for the Christians for whom I speak, nothing can replicate or replace the distinct privileges of meeting together as a church under the Word of God preached to us in person. Christians like me join believers in other nations in making clear that neither confessional Christian faith nor the church as a body can faithfully exist without a Lord’s day gathering. As others have said in other countries, the Bible and centuries of habit oblige Christians to gather weekly for worship and witness around the Word of God and sacraments—we need one another to flourish in our service to Christ (Exodus 20:9-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Hebrews 10:24-25; Acts 2:42, 20:7). This divine obligation and hard-won historic freedom supersedes all human legislation and regulation. The church is not comparable to any other social venue and cannot be dismissed as non-essential by an expert in any field. We say with respect that the church does not exist and is not regulated by permission of the state, for its establishment and rule is found in Jesus Christ himself.

The biblical rhythm of worship is weekly, gathering on the first day of the week to honour God and to receive spiritual blessings from him as his Word is preached. It is why the Bible commands us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). The language of weekly corporate gathering is used repeatedly in the New Testament, and to it are attached any number of divine encouragements to pursue it, divine promises regarding it, and divine warnings against neglecting it. It is essential for us, and we are beginning to see among us and around us the effects of the churches failing to meet, both in the impact on us and on those whom we serve in various ways.

We understand that love to God and to our neighbour, with respect for and cooperation with the civil authorities whom God has placed over us, has necessitated not forsaking but suspending our regular assemblies. As Christians who know the hope of resurrection through Jesus Christ we do not fear death but we do wish to preserve health and life. However, we are convinced that more needs to be done to facilitate a restoration of our regular practice.

At present, we are permitted to spend time outdoors subject to government guidelines. Step Two of the government’s plan begins on Monday 1st June. It includes such measures as phased returns for schools, opening non-essential retail, permitting cultural and sporting events behind closed doors, and re-opening some public transport. There is some scope for increased social and family contact (pages 30-31 of the plan to rebuild).

I respectfully suggest that during this second phase it should be possible for Christians to meet for worship outside their existing church buildings. While we recognise that this involves more than physical families gathering, we believe that we can meet and conduct our worship safely. For example, the church which I serve, and others like us, might:

  1. Use our own church grounds, where we have them, or sufficiently wide open spaces, where we do not, to prevent potentially obstructing or endangering others going about their own business. We would be willing to meet early or late, as common sense dictates, to enable us to meet at all.
  2. Communicate and enforce health protocols in our gatherings based on government guidance.
  3. Prevent access to our buildings to minimise any actual or potential risks from proximity.
  4. Ensure that individuals or family units attending outdoor services are and remain at least two metres apart from one another for the duration of our services, including arrival and departure.
  5. Encourage attendees to use appropriate personal hygiene measures including but not limited to regular handwashing, the appropriate use of hand sanitiser, and the wearing of masks.
  6. Continue online provision of religious services as we are able, so that those who are not comfortable with gathering or who cannot meet in person due to age or health challenges can engage in some degree.
  7. Require attendees to affirm explicitly that they have no symptoms, have not travelled out of the country within the last fourteen days and have not been in contact with anyone with the virus.

I would also suggest that the third phase should explicitly provide for the safe restoration of public worship, whether within or without church buildings. For this to be done well, it might include the following:

  1. Communicating and enforcing health protocols in our churches based on government guidance.
  2. The initial limitation of access to our services and ministries to approximately 40% of our building capacities to permit physical distancing, expanding that number as circumstances permit. This will allow for plenty of room between persons well beyond two metres in most facilities and acknowledges that not all church facilities have equal capacity. If necessary, we could hold multiple or staggered services to allow as many as possible to attend.
  3. Providing a clean facility including hand sanitisers and wiping down of common surfaces between services.
  4. Encouraging attendees to use appropriate personal hygiene measures including but not limited to regular handwashing, the appropriate use of hand sanitiser, and the wearing of masks.
  5. Continuing online provision of religious services as we are able, so that those who are not comfortable with gathering or who cannot meet in person due to age or health challenges can engage in some degree.
  6. Requiring attendees to explicitly affirm that they have no symptoms, have not travelled out of the country within the last fourteen days and have not been in contact with anyone with the virus in order to attend.

Our first concern is for the glory of God and the good of all those for whom the church of Jesus Christ brings God’s good news. We should be grateful for a response from you as soon as possible, and willing to consider any further advice you have to offer us. I look forward to your positive response, and to a continued good and respectful relationship with civil authorities as we seek to honour our Creator and Saviour in the country of which he has made us grateful and prayerful citizens.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 27 May 2020 at 13:51

Quizzing the candidates

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If you have been following the blog recently, you will know that the pastors of Maidenbower Baptist Church wrote to the Parliamentary candidates of the three main parties with a series of questions, hoping to clarify some of the issues for Crawley’s Christian voters.  All three candidates were kind enough to respond, and their answers are now posted, as follows (alphabetically, by surname):

I am very grateful to all three gentlemen for taking the time to answer.

I should also point out that another Crawley congregation, Three Bridges Free Church, are hosting a hustings on Thursday 29th April from 8-9.30pm to which all the Parliamentary candidates for Crawley have been invited (though I am not sure how many have confirmed their attendance).  If you would like to know more, or would like an opportunity to follow up the answers provided here, that is the place to go.  In addition, the Christian Institute has made an election briefing available.

Helped and humbled

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Child-and-infant-related lack of sleep is still slowing me down a little, but things have improved slightly over the last couple of days.

On Friday and Saturday nights I managed to get out into Maidenbower to see if any of my young friends were hanging around.  It was late and cold when I went out on Friday – about 10pm – and there was no-one around.  I walked for thirty minutes or so and there was no sign of anyone.  Saturday we had an early start as I took my mother-in-law to Heathrow airport at the end of her visit to us over the last week or so.  The rest of the day was spent preparing for the Lord’s day and working on various tasks related to our witness to Christ in Crawley, before I went out to the park again with Alan, a friend from the church, at 9pm, to see who we could see.  It was colder still, and we were hoping to arrange with the mob to come over to the church building for some shelter, if not immediately, then perhaps at some future date.  Again, there was no-one around.  We walked around once more, and found no sign of anyone, and then we drove around the neighbourhood, including stopping in at one or two known points of congregation, but we could find none of our contacts.  Where are they?  Has the cold finally driven them inside?  We hope and pray that we have not lost contact with them, and I hope to go out after school a couple of times to see if we can pick things up.  We’re also hoping to go into Crawley town centre before Christmas to take advantage of increased traffic to speak to people and to invite them to church services.

Sunday morning I was up early again.  Fortified by some eggs and bacon, I was in the car shortly after 7am, heading up to Holywell Free Church in Loughborough to preach the gospel.  Travelling north, I hit the bad weather sweeping down the UK, driving through three bands of snow and sleet on the way.  Apart from that, the Lord God gave me a straightforward and safe journey.  With a drive of about three hours to negotiate, I had an opportunity to listen to several sermons there and back from a recent conference that I was not able to attend.  I heard sermons from George McDearmon, Ted Donnelly, and Randy Pizzino, and hope to finish off the set at a later date.

Arriving in good time, I preached in the morning on Zechariah 13.1 once more, introducing some slightly different illustrations and expanding some parts and contracting others as I sought to point to Jesus Christ and the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness.  The church has a large contingent of Chinese people in attendance, some members and others visiting (many associated with the university).  Most of them follow along in Mandarin Bibles, and I was encouraged to hear later in the day that even those still coming to grips with all the complexities of English (not to mention Scriptural and theological language) were able to follow well.  I think that the Spirit helped me to preach plainly and warmly.

The afternoon was spent with one of the elders and his wife, Richard and Jo Hall.  Walking to their home, we discovered friends in common – they were members of the church in Cumnock pastored by Bill Hughes a good number of years ago.  That set us off on a very good footing, and I had a delightful afternoon discussing various aspects of life in Christ’s kingdom.

In the evening I preached on seeking God from Psalm 119.10: “With my whole heart I have sought you; oh, let me not wander from your commandments.”  For some reason, my throat started seizing up (a heating system or temperature to which I was unaccustomed, perhaps?) while I was leading the service and I had a coughing fit just before preaching, with a real coarseness in my throat.  In this verse are displayed a total engagement with God, a singleminded pursuit of God, and a humble request to God.  We considered these, and the relationships between them, but I felt as if I were struggling badly.  The sermon was not holding together as I thought it would, and I was wrestling to keep it focused and coherent.  I ended up loading myself into the cannon and firing the preacher with the sermon toward the congregation.  People were gracious afterward, but I was disappointed.  On reflection, I think I can identify some particular reasons why I was struggling, and I need to look at and learn from those.

I arrived home shortly before midnight, catching up a little on the day at Maidenbower on the way home, and headed swiftly to bed.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 24 November 2008 at 13:08

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