The Metropolitan Tabernacle in London is a thriving evangelistic congregation. Anyone who thinks Calvinism is hostile to evangelistic zeal ought to come here and see firsthand what evangelistic Calvinism looks like.
In fact, this church goes against all the wisdom of modern church-growth experts. It's an inner-city church doing a fine job of reaching its own local community with the gospel. The neighborhood is about as diverse as you can imagine, comprising people from more than a half dozen culturesAfrican, Russian, Asian, Sri Lankan, Indian, Eastern European, English, and more. The congregation, including the diaconate, reflect that heterogeneity. Yet, as far as the style of worship is concerned, there's no accommodation to cultural diversity. The services are pretty much like they were in Spurgeon's day. Nothing is deliberately contemporary or entertainment-oriented. There are no choruses. There are no video screens. There are none of the accoutrements of "contemporary worship." Although all the church-growth experts continually insist such things are absolutely necessary, the conventional wisdom is belied by the reality of what is happening here. The centerpiece in every worship service is the preaching of the Word. It's straightforward and plain. And yet every service I have ever attended at the Tabernacle has been full to capacity.
This plaque was brought from Mentone, France, when the hotel where Spurgeon died was demolished. It's part of the Tabernacle's superb memorabilia collection.
Probably the most significant change in worship "style" since Spurgeon's time is the addition of an organ. But even that is kept carefully in check. It's there to keep tune and tempo on track; you won't hear any embellishments or creative harmonizing from the organist (who is a fine musician nonetheless). Dr. Masters once told me he likes the fact that English hymnbooks usually include the words only, because it encourages people to sing in unison. (That's very different from what I have heard in Wales, where people sing with great gusto in beautiful harmony; or in Scotland, where every man sings what is right in his own eyes.)
And yet, the music at the Tabernacle is hearty and robust and strangely moving. I've been here more than a dozen times, and I would estimate that only about 15 percent of their hymn-tunes are familiar to me. But the tunes are easy to learn, and the hymns are rich in theology and vivid language. Consider this first stanza from a hymn we sang tonight:
Extended on a cursed tree,
Besmeared with dust, and sweat, and blood,
See there, the King of glory see!
Sinks and expires the Son of God.
We also sang "Rock of Ages" to a stately tune that I presume is the original one Augustus Toplady's own congregation would have used. It was much more solemn and dignified than the trite tune most American congregations useor used in those days long ago when we still sang that great hymn.
Anyway, I love the hymns and the worship here. I realize that puts me in a small minority, but the vibrant congregation here at the Met Tab is a living and very definitive rebuttal to those who think contemporary "style," rather than the power of God's Word itself, is the essential key to church growth.
I spoke today in the morning service on "The Limits of Temptation" from 1 Corinthians 10:13. Tonight Dr. Peter Masters gave a wonderful evangelistic message on Luke 11:27-28. He made good use of his own testimony as an illustration of how unbelievers use various bogus means to defend and preserve their own unbelief in the face of every good reason to believe. I thoroughly enjoyed and was blessed by every aspect of the day.
She's got a tikka to ride
More on London food: My friend Duncan, who is a doctor here in London, informs me that recent surveys show the most popular food in England is not fish and chips, not bangers and mash, not bubble and squeakbut chicken tikka masala?!!
There's no accounting for British tastes. If they like spicy Indian food, why are their own traditional foods so devoid of taste? Or is London's love for ethnic fare merely a rebellion against the generations of blandness in their diet? Seriously, there are kebab shops, Mediterranean restaurants, and spicy ethnic foods of every imaginable kind on every street in London. Not much that is truly American, though. Even Burger King's burgers are assembled by Ethiopians, who seem to think more is better when it comes to condiments. Darlene had a Whopper with cheese that was so dripping with mayonnaise that it proved to be inedible.
And speaking of chicken tikka, one of my longtime favorite London fast foods is a chicken tikka sandwich on a baguette from The Upper Crust, a sandwich franchise you can find in every train station in town. The one I had tonight, however, was laden with about a half cup of mayonnaise and twice more chutney than chicken. It was awfulat least as bad as Darlene's burger. I can't wait till Starbucks opens for breakfast. Strong coffee and a muffin is just what I need.
Speaking of Starbucks, there seem to be almost as many Starbucks stores as drunken Canadians in London. Sometimes you'll see two Starbucks within a block of each other. I'm not sure what that's about, since Brits still prefer tea to coffee. I guess the ubiquitous coffee places cater mostly to tourists. But seeing all the Starbucks helps me understand why Europeans are so worried about American economic imperialism. I'd feel the same way if The Upper Crust moved into Santa Clarita on every corner.
But the Cornish Pasty shops are still welcome.
See you tomorrow. It's a study day for me.