Sunday, 30 March 2014

Should Northern Ireland welcome the Pope?

It has recently been reported in the Northern Ireland media that Belfast City Council is to discuss the matter of inviting Pope Francis to Belfast. SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy has tabled a motion stating that 'A papal visit to Belfast, endorsed by everyone, would send out a strong message to the rest of the world about how we are progressing, especially after the failure of the Haass talks.'This motion is to be debated by the council on (appropriately) the 1st of April.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The cure for church hopping

In our last post we considered the issue of Church hopping. Four observations were made on this matter. Firstly that it is a sign of theological shallowness; we have surely little depth to our faith if we are able and content to regularly move from church to church. Secondly, it does not produce useful Christians; those who cannot settle in a church are rarely of much use in the churches they frequent. Thirdly, it is discouraging to other believers; the constant to-ing and fro-ing benefits no-one. Finally it is detrimental to the children of believing parents who need stability in spiritual matters as much as anything else. Having considered these things it would be wrong not to consider what can be done to cure the problem of church hopping. For those who are guilty of it, what can they do to stop themselves continuing in this course, and for those who have never done it how can they prevent themselves from falling into this fault.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Church hopping

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was the greatest and most popular preacher of his generation. Many would argue that he was the greatest preacher of any generation since the time of the apostles. People came from all over London and further afield to hear him preach, with over 5,000 people regularly hearing him preach at the Metropolitan Tabernacle every Sunday. Yet on one occasion, having seen those from other congregations in his church, he made the following statement:
By the way, looking round here, I think I know some of the persons present who belong to neighbouring chapels. What business have you here? Why did you leave your own minister? If I see one come into my place from the congregation of another brother in the ministry, I would like to give him just a flea in his ear such as he may never forget. What business have you to leave your minister? If everyone were to do so, how discouraged the poor man would be. Just because somebody happens to come into this neighbourhood, you will be leaving your seats. A compliment to me, you say. I thank you for it; but now, in return, let me give you this advice: those who are going from place to place are of no use to anybody.
The fault which Spurgeon had identified in many believers in his day is one which is still prevalent today; that of church hopping. Church hopping essentially exists in two forms. Firstly there are those who associate themselves with a particular congregation, have done so for years, and who faithfully attend the Sunday morning services there every week. Yet on Sunday evenings they might be found anywhere, depending on what has taken their fancy that week. Then there are those believers who will attend a particular church for several years, get involved in the work to some extent, then become disillusioned with that church and go elsewhere, only for the cycle to repeat itself again at another church in three or four years time. Occasionally they may return to a church they had previously attended, but over their lifetime they never settle in one place, but are continually moving from church to church.

Church hopping is not something that is to be approved of, or considered as acceptable behaviour for a Christian. There are of course occasions where it is right to leave a church, for example where that church has compromised on the truth of God's word and departed from the truth of the gospel. It is also natural to change churches if you move house, as it may no longer be practical to attend your current place of worship. This however is the exception; changing church should not be a regular occurrence, nor should it be a habit to be absent from your own Sunday evening services simply for the purpose of going somewhere else. There are four observations that we would make on church hopping.

1. It is a sign of theological shallowness
What church do you currently attend? Let us say that it is of some Presbyterian persuasion. You have chosen to attend that church because you believe in what it teaches about the word of God. The reason you do not attend a Methodist or Anglican church is because you do not agree with their teaching to the same extent. Yet with church hopping denominational distinctives are often meaningless. People can go from Presbyterian to Baptist to Brethren to Elim to Methodist and back again without any thought or concern for what theological differences may exist between them. From reformed to charismatic to dispensational, church hopping often involves a very big hop! We are not implying that there are not believers in all of these groups, for clearly there are, yet the differences between them are still significant. If you can jump from one to the other, attend one place in the morning and another in the evening, then the question does need to be ask; what do you believe? The theology of a church seems to be of so little importance today when choosing where to go, yet in truth this is the most important factor to be considered when choosing a church. If we move from church to church based on the activities that the church provides, or because of it's current popularity, without any thought for what it actually teaches, then it is difficult to say that we are not shallow in our theology. We must know what we believe and be convicted of it.

2. It does not produce useful Christians
In the words of Spurgeon which we quoted earlier he finishes with this line; 'those who are going from place to place are of no use to anybody'. He also made the following statement in relation to church hopping; 'To be driven from church to church, as some are, is a wretched business. To be like others, changing their views as often as the moon; happy nowhere, miserable everywhere, agreeing with nobody, not even with themselves, is a poor business'. If we are no sooner settled in a place than we are going somewhere else then we will never be of any use in the work. To only be in attendance on Sunday mornings, and always traveling the country going to other meetings on a Sunday evening is not a sign of usefulness, but of unreliability. Such an attitude will not encourage the leadership of the church to give that person any responsibility for if we cannot commit ourselves to being at two Sunday services in our church, how can anyone believe we would be any different if we were to lead some aspect of the work. To be moving from church to church belies an attitude that the church exists to give us what we want, and when we do not feel that it is doing that then we will go elsewhere. Yet the responsibility lies of the shoulders of every Christian to contribute to the work of the church themselves. If we cannot settle in a church then it is unlikely we will ever be of any great use to the Lord. 

3. It is discouraging to other believers
The desire of every church pastor, elder, leader and member is that the work in which they are engaged would be built up. It is a great encouragement to them when new people start to attend the church and get involved in the work. It is however a great discouragement when those same people leave within a couple of years. It may be of brief encouragement to that new church where they started to attend, however if they continue in this cycle (as is so often the case) they achieve little more than discouraging people in every church they attend, rather than just one. God's kingdom is not advanced constant uprooting, Christians are merely recycled. The same is true of those who attend their home church in the mornings yet always find somewhere else to go at night. For those who are faithful in their attendance at church it is discouraging when they see that others are not so, and for the leaders of the work such people provide little more than a temporary hope. Hebrews 10:25 states calls us to not forsake 'the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another'. To move from church to church, here in the morning, elsewhere in the evening does not do this, but is rather detrimental to all concerned.

4. Its is detrimental to the children of believing parents
How many parents believe that it would be beneficial for their children to change schools every couple of years? It is unlikely that any would see this as being a good thing, for it would be disruptive, and have the risk of a negative impact on their education. Can we then believe that it is any different spiritually? Certainly it is likely to result in the children following that same pattern as their parents when they are older. If their learning in school is important how much more so is their spiritual education. The difficulties which face young people in today's world are immense, and are not made any easier by a regular movement from one church to another. They will know little of what they believe and even less of why they believe it. If a child, at the age when it is most impressionable, is exposed to such a lax approach to choosing a church, then it is likely that they will worship anywhere, everywhere, or nowhere! Just as a fountain cannot rise above its source, so it is unlikely that the next generation will fare any better than the previous where people are in the habit of church hopping.

Are you guilty of church hopping? Has your Christian life been one of constant movement from this church to that, or of regularly being elsewhere on a Sunday evening? Consider these thoughts and pray that you would have done it for the last time. Commit yourself to the work where you are and know why you are there.