Wednesday, 4 February 2009

New Wineskins & a Hymn

Some time ago I read the biography of Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, who gave up a brilliant medical career to become one of the most influential evangelical leaders in U.K., being the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London. I was most interested in his reflections on the state of the church, which he wrote around 1970. He was unhappy about the ecumenical movement with all its compromises, and he perceived that right at the heart of all the confusion and division was the question of what the Church really is. He saw that something more unified and centred in Christ was needed, but he could not envisage something as radical as a dismantling of the old structures to make way for the new thing he so desired to see. Here is what he said:

“There is a movement which is opposed to all the church structures, the desire for something new and living—the Jesus movement, the charismatic movement…. There is little interest in what happens to the old structures and forms; there is a call for house churches and a dislike of church buildings, a preference for small units and a criticism of preaching. The very existence of the church is at stake.”

Well, forty years further down the track is it not true that that is exactly what is at stake, but that the things which the good doctor feared are the very things which will bring about the renewal of the church and restore something of that unity and Christ- centredness and the organic form it bore at the beginning. Those early yearnings expressed in the 70s have borne fruit in a current world-wide phenomenon, as more and more believers separate themselves from the old ways and structures to reach out for new wineskins for the church.

The current global financial crisis is going to bring down some of the mega-church empires which are dependent on flows of money and huge buildings. Just as God used persecution to drive out the Jerusalem believers into the world around with the message of Jesus, maybe financial stringency will be one of the ways He will use to oblige people to seek the new ways which are His ways

I have mentioned before how grateful I am that my mind has been stored with many of the rich old hymns written by saints of the past. A few mornings ago one penned by Robert Robinson who was converted under the preaching of George Whitfield in 1755 became part of my awakening worship and has been with me all week. Here it is:

“Come Thou fount of every blessing,

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy never ceasing

Call for songs of joyful praise. Teach me some melodious measure,

Sung by flaming tongues above.

O the vast, the boundless treasure,

Of my Lord’s unchanging love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer,

Hither by Thy help I’ve come,

And I hope by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,

Wandering from the fold of God;

He to rescue me from danger,

Interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor,

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let that grace, Lord, like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander,- Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love:

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,

Seal it from Thy courts above.”

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