Different horses – different courses

Or different churches for different people.

There are a number of traditional models in doing church, and anything new and innovative soon becomes yet another tradition, especially in those churches which claim they are not traditional.

Take the self styled Bible Believing churches.

It’s not as if other churches do not believe the Bible, a high Anglo Catholic church, for example, will have a Psalm sung, and readings from the Old Testament, an Epistle from the New Testament and a reading from the Gospels every Sunday. On top of that they use a liturgy which is absolutely full of quotes from scripture. That’s a whole lotta Bible, Yet they’d never dream of styling themselves as Bible believing.

Image from the Book of Kells, a 1200 year old ...
Image from the Book of Kells, a 1200 year old book. Category:Illuminated manuscript images (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These traditional churches will also follow a reading plan, the lectionary, which over a two or three years will cover most of the Bible.

Then there’s the independent evangelical churches. These will often refer to themselves a Bible Believing, yet they will often only have one reading from the Bible in each of their Hymn sandwich services. If you hear the words Bible Believing you can be sure that will not be as much of the Bible as there will be in a high Anglican service. I’m not knocking them, I like both approaches, and here’s why:

It’s all a question of breadth versus depth.

There’s a wonderful breadth to the Anglo Catholic approach. They get to hear all the major themes of the Bible in the course of to or three years. But at the expense of depth, they don’t get to go into the meaning of the words in any more than one which can be covered in a 15 minute sermon.

On the other hand, one reading per week and a longer sermon time has the chance to go into more depth. Some can take months in expository sermons going through one of the shorter books of the Bible. Yet for all the benefits of depth there are dangers that it becomes possible to concentrate on some aspects of Christianity and the Bible and to ignore others.

The idea that some people are preaching a Social Gospel which is somehow not part of the REAL Gospel of salvation is one example of how it can go wrong. A reading of all the Bible, or even only of the Gospels, shows that the message of Jesus is social. It is impossible to separate the social and salvational (is that a word?) aspects of Christianity.

But some get it very right. For example Westminster Chapel in London has has a number of notable preachers over the years, whilst continuing to reach out into the society where they live. Similarly, going back to the earlier example of Anglo Catholicism, high Anglicanism has its strength in the slum parishes which were set up to minister to the poor who lived there. Wakefield diocese, where I live, has it’s own Biretta Belt of parishes in former mining towns. Christianity has to be lived as well as taught.

But what I’m talking about is the different ways that the Bible is taught.

Because as I see it it is very hard to get the depth and width of teaching in one place. A gifted preacher can only go so far. There will always be new people coming into a church who don’t know what the Bible teaches, so they can never go too far from the basics. And may stay on their favourite subjects. Even within churches that stick to the lectionary, the people in the pews will not always grasp how the different readings fit together to make up a single book, never mind the wholeness of the Bible. Something else is needed.

Home groups held, but are usually, in my experience, led by people who have not had any theological training. In short while they are successful as fellowship groups, as can groups that meet for a drink in the pub, they don’t really do in depth teaching, it takes, in most instances, a trained teacher to do that.

So I want a good overview of what the Bible teaches, I want teaching in depth and I want a practical outliving  of the teaching. But it seems to me that the church that excels in all three is very rare indeed.

Yet the church, in it’s various forms does all of them, perhaps we ned to co-operate rather than criticise each other for being different. The variety of different churches can be either a blessing or a curse.

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