Part 2 Ordinary by Michael Horton
“How was church this morning?” It’s such a normal question for us to ask. But what do we mean when we ask it? How was the sermon? Was the music up to scratch? Did you have any good conversations?
What is the measure by which we answer that question? For past generations, it may have been a baffling and unlikely question, as Michael Horton points out in Chapter Three of Ordinary: their understanding of church, and their expectations of what they would ‘get out of it’, were most likely substantially different. I wonder how many of us 21st century Christians have struggled with dissatisfaction with church? I’d hazard a guess it would be a fair percentage of us. I’ve known a number of people who have moved on from gospel-centred, loving churches because of an indefinable dissatisfaction – “there’s nothing wrong with the church per se, I’m just not growing here, so I should try somewhere else”. It wasn’t that these people were superficial Christians with a consumer attitude to church – far from it. At the time I hardly blamed them. I wonder now, though, if a mindset of waiting for ‘the next big thing’ was underlying their frustration. It’s a mindset I can recognise not just in others but in myself - an impatience with the ordinary means of grace that God has provided through the ordinary local church.
It has been fascinating to read Horton’s thesis that the culture of revivalism, which was so significant in the development of the evangelical church in the US, has contributed to an expectation that something thrilling should always be happening, whenever we meet together. The point could be made that this is peculiar to American churches; obviously the evangelical church in Australia has had a different set of stories. But I think for Sydney evangelicals at least, perhaps that expectation centres on the idea of remarkable Bible teaching. Brought up on a diet of big conference events with gifted Bible teachers expounding God’s Word in an engaging and powerful way, might we start to believe that those less talented servants who teach the Bible to us week in, week out at our Sunday services are seriously lacking? We see their lack of giftedness as their problem and critique their sermons after church, bemoaning why they can’t use better illustrations or hold our attention with their ‘wise and persuasive words’. Horton argues, however, that the age of apostleship is over. What our leaders should now be doing is simply passing on the baton, keeping the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ at the centre, sticking to the truth of his Word and faithfully seeking to shepherd the people under their care in their walk with Him. In doing this, they may not be glorifying themselves, but they are certainly glorifying Him.
It reminds me of the passage (1 Kings 19) where Elijah runs away from Jezebel and falls into complete despair, and God speaks to Him, not through the earthquake or the fire, but in a still, small voice. He reminds Him that although things look dire, He Himself is still at work in ways that Elijah doesn’t even know about (vs18). We just get so caught up in what we have to do – we imagine that we have to be extraordinary for God to be able to work. No, He is extraordinary, and He is doing extraordinary work, but we just need to do what we’re told! I found Horton’s standpoint on the benefits of traditional church structures very biblically grounded and wise in view of the dangers of charismatic individuals setting themselves up as leaders who provide an ongoing ‘mountaintop’ experience in the Christian journey. Even putting aside the issue of false teaching, I wonder what happens to the faith of those under their care when that leader is no longer around, or when times of testing or just plain boredom come. Will their faith in Christ (as opposed to their faith in their pastor) be mature enough to enable them to stand firm? It is making me very thankful for my ordinary, faithful community of believers, with our elders and pastors serving in unspectacular ways to enable the everyday ministry of the gospel to continue, as God does His amazing work.
About this month's contributor, Kristen Butchatsky
I am a wife to Pete, a mum of three girls, and a music teacher. I am a long-time member of the wonderful church family St Aidan’s Anglican in Hurstville Grove, having come to Christ through a youth group ministry at age 14. I love singing, reading (obviously!!), walking my dog, Ned and going to see plays, movies and musical theatre.