It is fairly safe to say that Britons abroad do not
attend Church relatively as well as Britons at home. But he would be
wrong, who would argue that therefore the religion of Britons abroad is
less real. To those abroad who do attend Church, public worship is (as I
am able to see it) less of a form and more of a definite religious act.
Britons abroad come to Church expecting more, and so they get more. Just
because it is so often more difficult to attend Church abroad, so is the
act more downright, and therefore the Service itself often more vital.
He would be wrong too who would argue that the modern
neglect of Public Worship by so many signifies religious indifference. One
must be blind and deaf who thought that. The Press and the platform in
Buenos Aires both testify to a deep interest in religion and a genuine
desire to probe its secrets. When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
God becomes more real, and the spiritual values of life more attractive in
their appeal. The go-to-church-because-father-goes custom is well nigh
dead. We are none the worse. If it was merely a custom it was worth
little. The Moderator of the Church of Scotlland said the other day that
no man ought to enter the Christian Ministry to-day unless he couldn’t
help it. Our public worship will be a vital and electric thing when we
come because we can’t help it.
So the frequent question —
why should I go to Church? — is not to be
deplored but to be faced. Going to Church has surely something to do with
my ultimate end and aim. If I regard myself merely as good for three score
years and ten on this planet, and accept that as the finish of all that is
"me", then I am hardly likely even to ask the question. I’m a bead of
froth on the ocean, to be burst and lost on the next roll of the wave.
Sunset and evening star, and after that — the
dark. If I am content to stop there, then my logical philosophy will be
—eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow I die.
To answer "why do I go to church" I must answer another
question — Why am I, —what
is my purpose — wherefore am I here? One of the
smallest books in the world makes this its first question
— the Shorter Catechism. It launches right into
the deep with no preliminaries — "What is man’s
chief end ?" The argument is lifted forthwith to
the plane of Eternity. What is man’s chief end? Is it self-expression
— is it self-sacrifice —
is it merely self-satisfaction? Nothing so meagre and
ill-conditioned as self occurred to those who answered that question.
"Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever." Self has to
sneak away before that avalanche of an answer. God —
enjoy — for ever. Immortality and
spiritual enjoyment are the big concepts. Your heavily moral slogan
—"Doing good" — has
not been raised yet. Man was meant for more than morals.
So I come to Public Worship to help me to realise my
chief end. The fact that others do the same thing and worship alongside me
is helpful. It encourages me to courage in my high endeavour.
If that be my answer to the "Why" of Public Worship,
what will it mean for the "How" — How am I to
worship? Nothing that concerns my chief end can be slip-shod —it must
leave me with a sense of reality —it must nerve me for the struggle and
make me fitter for the fight. I can pursue my chief end in the secret of
my closet, in the office and in the market place. But my corporate worship
is a crowning act of my faith, and it ought not only to give expression to
my deepest aspirations in the pursuit of my end, but to discover new
aspirations, and to furnish fresh enthusiasm for their attainment. If I
come to church meaning something, if I have sensed reality and radiated
reality in what I have heard and what I have done, then I will want to
leave church meaning something too. This, I think, is what a friend
implied once when she said to me that when she had been present at such a
Service, she wanted to leave Church without talking to anyone.
To conduct public worship is a terrible responsibility,
and those who do it require a full measure of your prayers and sympathy.
Your private devotions on entering church ought always be to mindful of
this. It will be a help, and is a requisite to reality
—reality in the atmosphere. And it is in the power of a
congregation to create this atmosphere at the very beginning of a Service.
How then about the separate acts of worship in the
Service—our Hymns, our prayers, the reading, the preaching of the Word.
Let us remember above all that they are a unity, each combining with all
to form an offering of a sweet smelling savour. Yes —
an offering — for we go to church to give
as well as to get. In the early days of Christianity it was when the
people were together in one place and with one accord that the gift of the
Spirit descended. The centuries have not changed the condition under which
the promise will still be fulfilled — in one
place and with one accord, to glorify God, to bring the spirit of man into
communion with the Spirit of God.
Here may I interpose a suggestion to that greater and
unseen congregation who listen in to these Services, in the city and
suburbs, and in far and often lonely places of the camp. If you have
friends without a radio, who would appreciate joining sincerely in a
Service, extend to them an occasional invitation. Arrange your chairs
facing the radio, and not facing each other. Follow the Hymns in your Hymn
books. If you are not bedridden, kneel during the prayers. If you don’t
hear well, follow the Lessons in your Bible. Pass round the plate during
the offering—that certainly will add to the atmosphere of reality. Any
Church that thus gives something to you deserves, as also it needs,
something from you.
All this will help to create the true atmosphere, and
you will be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.
God is Spirit, and they who would worship acceptably
and profitably must worship in spirit. Such questions as long or short
sermons — large or small choirs
—speech or silence—free or liturgical prayer—
are at best secondary. Where the atmosphere of reality is absent, they are
irrelevant. The British "bright, brief and brotherly" business can be just
as much out of place as the North American "finest prayer ever addressed
to a Boston congregation."
We do well always to improve the externals of our
worship. In the Argentine, Protestants with the missionary spirit will
have to advance far in this respect. But our first concern is to convey to
outsiders the sense of reality and urgency, that we are about a very
serious and a very happy business, and that they who neglect public
worship are omitting something vital from their lives.
For we can never consent to look upon Christianity as
one Religion amongst many. We may be told that pagan religions were
characterised by reverence, by discipline and by elevating aspiration.
Possibly so. For my own part I am prepared to explain that as the
operation of the Holy Spirit. God did not leave Himself without a witness
in the world. Christianity claims the elevating features of other
religions as broken parts of its own integrity. Other religions are
sentiments, speculations, expedients, philosophies. But Christianity is a
Cross, a redemption, an atonement, a great specific offer of the loving
heart of God to pardon the sin of the world. The religion of Jesus Christ
is no local affair. The field is the world, and it hands the whole world
over to the charge of its believers, binding them to make the Cross known
in every tongue and under every sky. In our worship we adore the true, the
living God. Let our worship be as alive as Him we worship.
"Lord, Thou art life, though I be dead;
Love’s fire Thou art, however cold I be;
Nor Heaven have I, nor place to lay my head,
Nor home, but Thee."
Two travellers once met at Mecca —
a Mohammedan and a Christian. As they approached the tomb of the
Prophet, the Mohammedan said "Well, at least we have got one thing in our
Religion that you Christians haven’t got — we
have a tomb to visit." "Hallelujah" said the Christian, "we have no tomb,
for of course we have no corpse."
True worship is full of the spirit of triumphant
Hallelujahs. Follow, in thought, the round of the Christian year. Every
Christmas morning the Christian may gratefully exclaim: Hallelujah
— glory to God. Christmas brings the Babe that
saves the world. Every human heart is to be His Bethlehem. Has He been
born in ours? Every Easter morning the Christian may gratefully exclaim
Hallelujah. We have seen the tomb despoiled and discredited; we have
witnessed the incoming of a glorious Immortality. The true history is not
an accident or the thing of a moment; its spirit runs on through the ages.
Every Ascension Day the Christian may exclaim Hallelujah. The Lord is upon
his mediatorial throne. "If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things
which are above" — this is the true ascension
— not a point in time, but a spirit and
principle for every day. Every Whitsunday the Christian may exclaim
Hallelujah. The Holy Spirit is ever present and ever active, and will lead
into all truth. Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire.