Last month June and I did something she claims we have not done in 35 years; take a real vacation. On the trip she was waiting for me to preach somewhere, make a meeting or go to a convention session. It seems that as far back as we can remember our family outings and get-a-ways were always tied to some ministry activity. This time we traveled out of the country with no agenda other than sightseeing and personal enjoyment.
We traveled to England and France. There were the usual obligatory tourist stops to make. We saw Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Winston Churchill’s World War II bunker, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and scores of other interesting historic spots. While in Scotland we visited Edinburgh Castle, the William Wallace Monument and Sterling Bridge. We had two full days in France. There were many experiences we had in the 12-day vacation but those with spiritual significance strongly touched me.
Our first Sunday was at Metropolitan Tabernacle Baptist Church (Spurgeon’s church) in London. Only the faæade remains of the 19th-century building because the rest was destroyed during the Nazi bombings of WWII. However, the columned front was enough to bring to mind my reading of Spurgeon’s sermons and my Bible college textbook, “Lectures to My Students.”
Once inside I was not disappointed with the spiritual atmosphere. The greeters were gracious and friendly. Actually, some workers were on the street compelling people to come into the worship service. We were ushered to the third row from the front. The singing was out of a Psalter-Hymnal. No musical score was in the book. The congregation stood and sat without instruction between songs, prayers and the offering. There was no “special” music. The associate pastor preached this particular Sunday. He prayed for about 15 minutes and then preached for another 40. He was engaging. He used some illustrations but basically brought a strong exposition out of Isaiah 54. Although there was no public invitation, there was enough gospel dispensed to save everyone present. A time was allotted for private reflection before leaving the building. Both in the printed program and by announcement it was made known that the evangelistic service was held in the evening. The building was packed with almost a thousand in attendance. We were told that 700 children attend Sunday school in the afternoon. When the preaching concluded we were given the option to dismiss or remain for observance of the Lord’s Supper. Since I practice closed communion we excused ourselves.
The next worship experience was entirely different but surprisingly good. Westminster Abbey holds an Evensong service at 3 p.m. on the weekend. June and I wanted to participate. We had to convince the “gatekeepers” standing at the door that we were not just tourists wanting to see inside but genuine worshippers who wanted to participate. Finally we convinced them to let us in and we proceeded through the ancient building. About 150 were assembled for the afternoon worship. Another 100 were in the choir. Lengthy passages of Scripture were read from the Old and New Testaments. The “preacher” sort of sang his message and prayer; both were quite short. Prayers were recited as well as the Apostles’ Creed. The music was amazing.
Again there was no invitation but from the Scripture selection there was enough gospel that someone could have gotten saved. Actually there was a closing written prayer in the worship guide urging the worshipper to call upon God for mercy and forgiveness of sin, trusting in Jesus Christ. Now I am under no illusion that the Anglican Church is evangelical. I do believe that the power of God is in the Word of God and the Spirit of God. He can use anything to draw people unto himself.
Our brief time in France allowed us to go to Notre Dame Cathedral and Sacre Coeur Church at Montmartre. They were nothing more than another building to be seen on the tour schedule. Non-Catholic churches were small and out of the way. Their influence had been minimal in France’s history. They were not revered as Westminster Abbey or vibrant like Metropolitan Tabernacle. When the French Revolution took place the emphasis was on equality, justice, and fraternity. These three themes were based upon the supremacy of humankind. Almost anything of religion was wiped away during the Reign of Terror and the immediate years following. Today it is a tragedy to see the spiritual vacuum of France’s secular humanism being filled with Islam.