By Spencer D Gear
When my wife and I moved to Brisbane from Hervey Bay, Qld., Australia, we left Fraser Coast Baptist Church where the senior pastor, Steve Sauvageot, was a solid biblical expositor of the Scriptures and the church sang only hymns during the services. And have a guess what? There were plenty of youth who came to the church who were part of a vibrant youth group.
When we moved to Brisbane in mid 2011 and settled in a Brisbane suburb, we set about finding a church with solid preaching and sound theology in the songs they sang. We were seeking out an evangelical church that believed the Bible, the Gospel, and preached from the Scriptures.
What did we find?
We went to seven local evangelical churches and for all of those, Baptist and Churches of Christ, the old hymns were out and contemporary, rock music was in. Loud rock music tended to dominate the music. At one church, the music introduction in one of the songs was led by the drummer. In fact, the musical interlude in this song was given by the drummer as the only means of music. Now that’s a hard way for me, a very average singer, to get a note to try to sing.
The lyrics of these songs were biblical-lite. There was nothing like, ‘A mighty fortress is our God!’, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemers praise’, or ‘How great Thou art’. Since it was 12-months ago, I cannot remember one contemporary song that we sang in those churches.
In one church, there was not a Bible reading in the entire service. Most of the sermons were topical with no expository emphasis. The one exception was the ‘drummer’ church where an elder did give a very good expository sermon. However, we were hardly going to settle at that church as the music was superficially light and the people were not very friendly. Not a person spoke to us after the service.
We settled on a Presbyterian church
While I am not Calvinistic in my primary theological orientation, my wife and I found a Presbyterian church where there was solid expository preaching along with the singing of hymns, most of which we know. Singing is from words flashed onto a projector screen from a computer and digital camera.
But here there is another challenge. The people are friendly, the sermons are expository as the pastor preaches through the Bible, but the services, to use my language, are as dry as dust. It is traditional church order of: introduction from the psalms (generally), hymn, prayer (by pastor), children’s talk, announcements, hymn, Bible reading, pastoral prayer (by pastor), hymn, sermon, hymn, and benediction. It is dominated by one-way communication. It is quite a contrast from some of the other Pentecostal and evangelical churches with which I have been associated down through the years.
I have been to some mid-week, evening Bible studies in the church and they are a fairly sterile environment with a Bible study gained from the Internet on 1 Corinthians, but there is no prayer and care for one another in the group. It’s a dry, academic study where interaction is allowed.
There was content that came in a sermon on 19 August 2012 on the raising of Lazarus (John 11:11-27) that caused me to think further about the nature of what is happening in this evangelical Presbyterian church. I take notes from all of the sermons I hear and this is one area of emphasis from this sermon (the pastor has been at this church for 9 years) – this is based on the notes that I took during the service:
- (Australian) Presbyterians are a fearful people; we fear to give and we are an impotent bunch.
- Pentecostals are more optimistic.
- Baptists and Pentecostals are more evangelistic.
I have observed this kind of thinking among the Presbyterians in this church also.
How should I respond?
I took the time to send the pastor an email that included this content:
I’ve been contemplating some of the content of your sermon and the contrasts between Presbyterians and Pentecostals. Then there was a chain of people that the elder asked to be formed at the end of the service when we held hands and prayed. The elder had a personal issue that he shared.
Would you and the elders be prepared to engage with me in two areas of ministry that I believe will make a major difference at this Presbyterian Church? I’m convinced that this needs to happen at the local church level. There are two areas that I’d like to discuss with you and the elders, based on your sermon contents and the joining of hands of the people at the conclusion of the service.
What are those two areas?
Firstly, this has to do with the pastor’s comment about the differences between Pentecostals and Presbyterians. One of the reasons many of the Pentecostals I know are so active in evangelism and vibrant in their understanding of Christian ministry is because of this emphasis: They have a biblical understanding of the need for all Christians to care for one another, weep with one another, hurt with one another, pray for one another and minister to one another. This is the biblical emphasis:
- James 5:16: ‘Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working’ (ESV).
- Ephesians 6:18: ‘Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints’ (ESV).
- 1 Corinthians 12:26: ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together’ (ESV).
What happens when my wife and I go to the church’s Bible study? There is no confessing of sins one to another, praying for one another. It becomes an academic exercise without the involvement of the community of believers and the Community of the King (the language of Howard Snyder). We are the body of Christ and we need to be caring for one another when we meet. I asked for opportunity for me to discuss this with the pastor and/or elders. I believe it is an important aspect of ministry among the body of believers that seems to be neglected at this church (I await a reply from the pastor).
If the elder had not shared his personal struggles from the pulpit at the end of service, I would not have known of his personal struggles with a certain issue. This should not be so with a functioning body of believers. When we meet for Bible study, it should not be just a Bible study. It ought to be a gathering of the body of believers where all believers are able to minister to one another. If anyone is hurting, this is the opportunity to pray for one another and be healed by the power of God. I asked to be able to share further with pastor and elders.
Secondly, there is another area where Pentecostals could teach Presbyterians a great deal about biblical functioning. I’m somewhat reticent to broach this subject with the pastor as I know that he opposes this view. However, I asked him to consider allowing me to present some teaching at some elders’ meetings on the biblical understanding of the continuing ministry of the gifts of the Spirit. I was raised in a cessationist Baptist Church but when I exegeted the relevant Scriptures, I could no longer support that view.
What I observe happening at this Presbyterian Church is that it is very hierarchical and one-way communication is dominant when the church gathers. That is not what happened at Corinth and it should not be what happens with any church that believes the Bible in the twenty-first century. I’m speaking of the giftedness of the whole body of believers. We have this teaching stated clearly and overtly in Paul’s correction of the Corinthian Church. He did not condemn them for this practice but told them that this is what ought to happen when the church gathers. Here it is:
- 1 Corinthians 14:26, ‘What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up’ (NIV).
This is what should be happening in each church gathering, but especially in small groups. I asked for permission to come to elders’ meetings and present teaching on the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit in the body of believers. I am convinced this would address some of the issues raised by the pastor in his sermon about the vibrancy of Pentecostalism when compared with Presbyterianism. I am not suggesting that we adopt a philosophy of pragmatism – doing what works. But I see a biblical need to get back to the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit among us when the church gathers. This is not happening in this Presbyterian Church. Why? It is because cessationism is being promoted. I asked for permission to engage with the pastor and elders on these teachings.
I said that it may sound brazen of me to raise these topics as I’ve only been in the church 12-months, but I consider they are two vital factors in a healthy church.
For some of the articles I’ve written on these topics, I refer you to:
- 1 Corinthians 14:29: Weigh carefully;
- Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?
- Can cessationism be supported by Scripture and church history?
- Cessationism through church history;
- The rhema barb and its poison;
- The gift of prophecy as non-binding revelation;
- Are miracles valuable?
- Are there apostles in the twenty-first century?
- Tongues and the baptism with the Holy Spirit;
- Baptism of the Holy Spirit: When does it happen?
- The youth God squad and healing;
- St. Augustine: The man who dared to change his mind about divine healing;
- Should God heal all Christians who pray for healing?
- When Christianity becomes chaos – the Toronto ‘blessing’;
Appendix A: An expose on what is happening to music in the church
I only recently have become aware of this book. My wife, a pianist and vocalist, has just finished reading it. I’m impressed by what I’ve heard so far, but my wife has passed it on to another musician in the church to read. Here is the book by T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal ( 2010. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing).
For reviews, see:
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 June 2016.