‘We should be doing more for the Lord in this great city’ – How CH Spurgeon changed the face of London
What happens to churches that really understands the radical message of the gospel of God’s grace? They make it an urgent priority to proclaim the message of the gospel to their communities & cities and at the same time they make it a necessary priority to love and serve their neighbours in deed as well as word.
I’ve written before on Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice and his summary of the biblical evidence that your attitude to the poor is a measure of your grasp of the gospel. Having read DeYoung & Gilbert’s book on exactly how evangelism and social concern relate to the mission of the Church and the mission of individual Christian I look forward to making some comments soon. Both books are important reminders that whilst the preaching of the gospel is central to our work, where the gospel is at work in our lives, Christians are concerned for the practical needs of the most needy in our cities.
In my reading this morning I was reminded of just how the greatest preacher and evangelist of the British church in the 19th century, CH Spurgeon, was also hugely committed to mercy ministry. Larry J. Michael summarises Spurgeon’s impact on London in his Spurgeon on Leadership writing;
Spurgeon blended evangelism and social concern perfectly. In fact, most philanthropic movements in the nineteenth century originated with evangelicals. Spurgeon saw society as an organic whole.
He built almshouses for the poor (only one was in existence when he came to London). He built seventeen houses for the aged and a school for four hundred children. He erected the Stockwell Orphanage for homeless children. He began the Colportage Ministry to provide books for poor rural pastors. He instituted the Pastor’s Aid Society to help the poor. He also founded the Old Ladies Homes, the Book Fund Ministry, the Rock Loan Tract Society, the Ladies Maternal Society, the Metropolitan Tabernacle Poor Minister’s Clothing Society, the Flower Mission, the Baptist Country Mission, Mrs. Thomas’s Mothers Mission, Mrs. Evan’s Home and Foreign Missionary Working Society, the Gospel Temperance Society, the Tract Society, the ragged schools, the Pioneer Mission, and other ministries.
They all fit his approach to bringing the whole gospel to affect the whole person in every area of life.
Fullerton’s biography of Spurgeon records the birth of Stockwell Orphanage (sometimes called the greatest sermon Spurgeon ever preached);
at one of the Monday evening prayer meetings, which in his day were phenomenal, he said, “We are a large church, and should be doing more for the Lord in this great city. I want us to ask Him to send us some new work; and if we need money to carry it on, let us pray that the means may also be sent.” So the Stockwell Orphanage was really born in a prayer meeting.
In our own times the State has taken on much of this work but the church continues to witness to the gospel in a multitude of ways not least through City Missions up and down the country as well as releasing many volunteers to work with organisations such as Christians against Poverty.
May we continue to find in the gospel reason to join Spurgeon in proclaiming ‘we should be doing more for the Lord in this great city‘.
Tony Watkins points us to this TED talk by Michael Norton on how to buy happiness.
As the Apostle Paul says in Acts 20:35 ‘In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
His Grace takes issue with David Cameron’s easter message.
(HT: David Robertson)
Just when I thought it was impossible to be shocked any more…
(HT: Christine Happ)
Today’s Telegraph contains a report on a speech given by the Chief Rabbi. Speaking at an interfaith reception, Lord Sacks argued that Steve Jobs has helped create a culture of unhappiness.
‘If you haven’t got a fourth generation iPhone, the consumer society is in fact the most efficient mechanism ever devised for the creation and distribution of unhappiness.’
Since joining the world of twitter and blogging I have to say I have been a little surprised at just how many posts and tweets by church pastors and planters have obsessed with the latest iGadget. Maybe the Chief Rabbi has something to teach us all.
The City to City Europe conference is getting off to a great start here in Berlin.
500 delegates from 26 countries representing over 100 nations all concerned to see churches planted across Europe has to be reason to rejoice and a reason for hope.
We’ve heard of God richly blessing planting initiatives and we’ve heard of God richly blessing faithful church-planters who’s work is hard because there is little fruit.
One planter of a church in Paris described ‘the privilege of ploughing where the ground is hard’, another in Frankfurt described the challenge of being a bi-vocational Pastor with a weekly congregation of 15 of so. Both stories are reminders of why we need to pray for our countries in Europe.
Tim Keller gave the first keynote address on the gospel-centred church and here’s one gem of an answer to a thoughtful question that came out of his talk.
How can we know whether our church is either too accommodating to the culture of our city or not accommodating enough?
Keller’s answer: A church that is not accommodating, culturally, will be seeing no conversions because no-one will ever come through the door. A church that is too accommodating, culturally, will be seeing lots of new people attending but no changed lives because the church is only mirroring the culture rather than critiquing the culture.
So a gospel church in a city should be willing and able to flex on the negotiables making it’s meetings accessible to non-believers but not flexing on gospel-living as the church challenges the culture by being an attractive and distinctive gospel-community.
Deciding when and how to celebrate the culture of a city and when and how to critique the culture of a city is the art of being a church-planter.
A fascinating interview on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning led to this exchange:
James Naughty in conversation with Joan Bakewell, recently appointed a Government Champion of the elderly.
Naughty: What did you conclude about how are we beginning to look at people who perhaps need at lot of help, a lot of care, who perhaps can be difficult and require a different kind of approach from people who maybe 50 years younger than they are?
Bakewell: …On the whole our society is quite cruel. We care about money, we care about fame, success.
Naughty: Has it got more cruel?
Bakewell: I think the decline of religious commitment to charity, and kindness has declined.
Nobody learns that. They don’t learn it in their home, they don’t learn it in their school, it’s seen as soft, it’s not what you’re about. You’re meant to stand up for your own individual personality, make your way in the world and good luck to you.
Kindness, empathy, generousity are all in short supply and people used to learn it from the churches. I learnt it in Sunday school.
Where do you learn it now? I don’t know.
WIth thanks to eChurch blog for the link
Listening to this Tim Keller talk he quoted an extract from an essay by Miroslav Volf entitled Shopkeeper’s Gold. Volf speaks with prophetic power into our country’s situation after the events on our streets in recent weeks.
Could the hope for the inner cities lie in part in the retrieval of the doctrine of justification by grace? How could dead streets receive life from a dead doctrine? Imagine that you have no job, no money, you live cut off from the rest of society in a world ruled by poverty and violence, your skin is the “wrong” color – and you have no hope that any of this will change.
Around you is a society governed by the iron law of achievement. Its gilded goods are flaunted before your eyes on TV screens, and in a thousand ways society tells you every day that you are worthless because you have no achievements. You are a failure, and you know that you will continue to be a failure because there is no way for you to achieve tomorrow what you have not managed to achieve today. Your dignity is shattered and your soul is enveloped in the darkness of despair.
But the gospel tells you that you are not defined by outside forces. It tells you that you count – even more, that you are loved unconditionally and infinitely, irrespective of anything you have achieved or failed to achieve, even that you are loved a tad bit more than those whose efforts have been crowned with success.
Imagine now this gospel not simply proclaimed but embodied in a community that has emerged not as a “result of works” (Eph. 2.10). Justified by sheer grace, it seeks to “justify” by grace those who are made “unjust” by society’s implacable law of achievement. Imagine furthermore this community determined to infuse the wider culture, along with its political and economic institutions, with the message that it seeks to embody and proclaim. This is justification by grace, proclaimed and practiced. A dead doctrine? Hardly.
As I was reflecting on the social significance of justication by grace, I remembered a passage from Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra … “O my brothers, I direct and consecrate you to a new nobility: you shall become begetters and cultivators and sowers of the future – truly, not a nobility that you could buy like shopkeepers with shopkeepers gold: for all that has a price is of little value.”
Justification by grace, I thought, musing on Nietzsche’s profound observation, is so deeply at odds with our “shopkeeper’s culture”. It takes the price tags off human beings not so as to devalue them but so as to give them their proper dignity, a dignity not based on what they have achieved but rooted in the sheer fact that they are loved unconditionally by God. Divine love is that indispensable nourishment for the human soul of which the prophet speaks when he calls, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters: and you that have no money come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isa. 55:1)
The hope for our communities, for our cities, for the next generation is the life-transforming gospel of grace.
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