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Building the church in dark days – Alun McNabb

August 2006 | by Stephen Murphy

We report at length Alun McNabb’s ministry at the Crumlin Fraternal Conference, Co. Antrim, on 3 June because we believe it makes some important statements.

Alun McNabb’s theme was ‘Building the church in dark days’ and he addressed it in two sessions. In the first session he took as his text Psalm 100:4: ‘Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise. Be thankful to him and bless his name’.

The importance of biblical worship

Mr McNabb began by saying that there would be nothing new in what he had to say to us. It would be a reminder of basic things. In the first session he spoke on ‘biblical worship’. It was, he reminded us, the work of heaven – yet we are privileged to do it here on earth!

In these dark days many have drifted away from the worship of God. A lady speaking on Radio 5 hit the nail on the head. She had phoned in to talk about her church: ‘I don’t know what’s happened – we used to go to meet with God but now we go to meet with people’.

We have become more people conscious and less God conscious. Personalities have become primary and boredom is the biggest sin! Godliness is no longer a key issue in calling preachers. Yet we were reminded of A. W. Tozer’s statement: ‘If I can find a man who is worshipping God I will go with him’.

The church today is a church of extremes either mad or musty! In seeking to be truly reformed we must avoid both extremes. How to do so, of course, was the question.

On one hand, dark days call for light in our worship, not lightness! But equally, while we need discipline in worship it must be discipline without dullness. Above all we need to be satisfied with God. He must be our heart’s desire.

When I worship, am I looking for God? – that is the question each of us should ask. After all, they are his gates we enter with thanksgiving, and his courts we fill with praise. Jesus spoke of the church as ‘my church’. It is not ours to do with as we please.

Amazingly, God offers himself to be worshipped and in dark days we need reminding of what God has saved us from and to. Then we shall be taken up with what God has done.

Biblical examples

Mr McNabb then took us through a number of biblical examples of worship.What was it like? Chatty? Like the supermarket? Hardly! Moses was commanded, ‘take off your shoes you are on holy ground!’ It needs to be inculcated into people that we are on holy ground – specifically so in public worship. In Psalm 96:8 we are commanded to ‘Give to the Lord the glory due to his name’.

These days men and women are given glory by the world – pop stars, sports icons, TV personalities and so on. The world glories in man, but what about the church? Is it glorying (as it should) in God and in the cross of Christ?

We were reminded of the priests at the dedication of Solomon’s temple – they could not minister because the Lord’s glory filled the house. How different from our experience! Is there a sense of God when we meet in his house?

Next we were brought to Isaiah 6. How the seraphim worshipped God! Though sinless, they covered their faces. How different we are – how casual when we enter the presence of Christ enthroned.

Do we approach God with ‘holy awe’ when we come together to worship? In 1 Corinthians 14 we read that unbelievers can be convinced that ‘God is really here’ by the words and attitude of believers in worship.

Corporate worship is important

We were reminded that corporate worship needs to be appreciated. Psalm 87:2 states, ‘The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob’. God loves Christians worshipping together more than all our private worship combined.

Samuel Rutherford always stopped on the church steps to remember what he was about to do. Should we be trendy and make church ‘user-friendly’ like the theatre or the pub? Surely what people need is not sense of the familiar but a sense of God. Even John the beloved disciple ‘fell at [Christ’s] feet as dead’ (Revelation 1:17).

In seeking to worship we face both inward and outward distractions. The devil seeks to distract us inwardly, playing on the weakness of our old nature to do so. If he tempted even Jesus we cannot expect to be spared. We need to deliberately set our affection on things above when we gather to worship God.

Outward distractions may involveothers present. What they do wear or say? Perhaps the most basic remedy is one that Christians find hard to apply – sit at the front! What reason is there to sit at the back unless it is to see everything that is going on?

Children’s behaviour can be distracting and it is of course a parent’s responsibility to deal with it. Children need to be taught how to behave in church.

Leadership responsibility

Churches follow their leaders. Godly leaders shape a church’s attitude to worship. The dignity of worship needs to be recaptured today. We were challenged with Calvin’s statement: ‘What contempt is incurred if we do not preserve dignity in the church; if we do not behave correctly’. The need in dark days is to make our gatherings fitting for the worship of God.

The leadership need to teach the people to love to worship God, and to this end they must rightly divide the Word of God. Paul challenged Timothy, ‘Study to show yourself approved to God’ in handling the Word. Handling the Word is more than preaching and teaching it. Courage is needed to confront issues arising from it.

God’s Word given

In his second session Mr McNabb reminded us of the role of the Word of God in dark days. His text was 2 Timothy 3:10-17.

Verse 16 speaks of all Scripture being ‘given’ – but by whom and to whom? ‘By God and to me in my own language’, was the wonderful truth. So much of what was once British culture was built on the Christian ethic. God’s Word was given and it was good.

The Scriptures may no longer underpin society but they remain God’s great foundation for his church in dark days. Let us use them as the basis for all we do. The fact that they are written means that they are unchangeable. How much better than the ‘special revelation’ so many seek and rely upon today.

All Scripture was given by inspiration of God. Everything is here in the Word. ‘When I stand behind God’s Word I can face anybody’, said Spurgeon.

God’s Word preached

John the Baptist, we read, ‘came preaching’. Today many avoid preaching because of its ‘offence’ – yet therein lies its spiritual power. John Wesley sought out those who were offended because he knew that this was sign of God’s power at work.

Paul reminded his Corinthian readers that he was not sent to baptise but to preach. At Pentecost Peter stood up and preached, and God used it in a glorious way. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus described himself as a preacher: ‘He has anointed me to preach the good news’ (Luke 4:18).

The early believers ‘went everywhere preaching the gospel’ (Acts 8:4). Mr McNabb reminded us too of Erasmus’ statement: ‘Before the Reformation the church was full of error and music’. How like today.

God’s Word heard, believed and obeyed

Faith comes by hearing. That is why the devil comes to church to distract us in every way. Both saving and sanctifying faith come by hearing the Word. How important, then, that we prepare ourselves to be hearers.

But Scripture does not stop there – the word heard needs to become the word believed. In John 5:24 Jesus said, ‘he who hears my word and believes in him who sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgement, but has passed from death into life’. How awful to be an unbelieving hearer! John Trapp reminded the hearers of his day, ‘Judas heard all Christ’s sermons’.

But the Word also needs to be obeyed. In John 14:15 Jesus says, ‘If you love me, keep my commandments’. James 1:22 challenges us: ‘be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves’. Personal application of the truth is the proof of faith.

Again (we were told) this is a leadership task. Baxter warned ministers that many would ‘welcome you preaching what you like – so long as you don’t bring it out of the pulpit!’ Jesus said of the Pharisees ‘whatever they say do, but don’t do what they do’.

A note of caution was sounded here. We need to help one another to be doers but without a judgemental spirit. Churches being built in dark days need the Word heard, believed and obeyed!