How weird and unnatural we can be in church. You see it for example when a congregation looks like rabbits caught in the headlights as they panic about whether or not they should clap for people who have done something well. Should they, should they not. Is it OK, or is it sinful and worldly? Will it make folk proud? It is quite funny to watch, in a depressing sort of way!
Was thinking about that today as I remembered back to Lewis. TommyMacNeil, the minister, got folk to clap for me before I had ever spoken a word. He repeated that practice for others too. I could see some in the congregation who were uncomfortable with that happening. I can’t speak for others who were on the receiving end of such applause, but I can honestly say it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life and proved that Tommy is the God honouring and God glorying leader he is, free from religious nonsense and fake spirituality, one who seeks to honour God and God’s ways. Far from playing into the hands of sinful human pride, I was, as I say, humbled, I mean devastatingly humbled by the whole experience. It was used by God to produce a spiritual grace in me, not sin. The same happened when a huge crowd of several thousand clapped for me at the end of a week’s teaching at New Wine in England – in fact, they have done that several times over the years. Each time it has reduced me to tears at an unbearable sense of my own wretchedness coupled to an almost inexpressible sense of thanksgiving for the mercy and grace of God, that He has poured out on me, and each of His children, in abundance. It has never once made me proud or given me an inflated opinion of myself or my ministry, such as it is. All my ministry is, is sharing the freshest bread that God has most recently given to me in His Word. That is all. It is nothing special in my own estimation. It feels like sparse fare as I am offering it, but if it brought life to me hopefully it will bring life to others too, by the grace of God. When it is tested by fire, as it will be, will there be any gold, silver, or precious stones left? I honestly, gnuinely, don’t know. Judge nothing before the appointed time.
Let me say this, there are times when to applaud a person would be entirely wrong, even when God has used them in a magnificent way. Let me also say this: believe me, I have known other treatment too because of my preaching of the gospel including physical violence on more than one occasion, attacks upon our property, threats against my wife and the severe physical and psychological abusing of my children. I have been spat upon in the street, been ridiculed in the press and on radio, been spoken against by fellow believers, ostracised by a so-called ministerial fraternal. That is part of faithfulness to a call from Christ. I do not believe we can be faithful to Christ without experiencing opposition from the world and from within the church. My preaching was even a cause of concern to a well know MP, who went on to become a “Lord”, who wrote to a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland to express concern that in his constituency there was a minister encouraging people to give their lives to Jesus Christ. Worse still, the person to whom he wrote, wrote back to say that he was concerned to hear this too. “It is a funny old world” and an even funnier old church at times.
Does your church have a culture of honour? How have you expressed honour to those who serve well, especially to those who teach well? Scripture tells us they are to receive double honour. That probably literally means double pay! However, in the unlikely event of us being willing or allowed to obey Scripture to that extent, how are you showing honour where honour is due? Not to express honour, is false piety, false holiness. It may be Scottish spirituality, but even Scottish spirituality has its faults, errors, and at times unswerving obedience to its own practices and dominant theologies even when they depart from Scripture. Holiness is true humanness, not oddity with a frowning face.