The pilgrimage to Metropolitan Tabernacle in London has been over 20 years in the making. I have always been a HUGE fan of Charles Spurgeon. In my bible college days, my nickname was "Spurgeon" because I would quote his works (sermons, lectures, treasury of david)
He looks a lot like me [dont you think] although he has more padding.
I was standing next to this painting, holding my bible in my right hand and readying myself for a lookalike photo, when, just before i lifted up the camera and made a complete idiot of myself, Dr Peter Masters walks out of his office and invites me in.
Dr Masters is the current pastor of the Met Tab. Lovely guy. A legend in his own right yet also standing conspicuiously in the looming (and large) shadow of Uncle Charlie.
I introduce myself and my baptist heritage, as well as my current interest in the emerging church. "The emerging church", said Dr Masters, "from what I have heard, is so diverse that no one really knows what it is." Thats exactly right, I said. Good to see he was on the right track.
I told him of my unhealthy and unbiblical adulation (idolation?) of Spurgeon and he pointed our a few trinkets that I might be interested in . . .
like Charlies's pulpit!!!!
I jumped up and whipped out my camera like a giddy school-girl. I mean school-boy. No . . . lets stick with the first one . . .
Thats really it???? Wow!!!! Duuuuuuuuddddeeeeee!!!!!!
Look at the clock in his pulpit!!!
And Dr Peter Masters, rather than calling security, actually kept talking and letting me go goofy in his office. He told me that 40 minutes was the desired time for sermons, as Spurgeon taught his students, hence the built in clock on the pulpit.
I took a few more photos of letters and paraphenalia, and then decided I had embarrassed myself enough, and had probably shamed the whole emerging church movement. So I excused myself and said goodbye to his wife who was organising the list of visitors. She also, btw, leads the childrens sunday school which gets about 700 kids each week.
And as I left the office, I felt bad because I had forgotten to say something important.
In my overwhelmingly nostalgic outburst of emotion, in my release of a quarter century of pent-up yearning to visit this church, I had forgotten to acknowledge the present acheivements of the pastor sitting in front of me.
Peter and his wife have accomplished amazing things in their 35 years of residence. When they arrived, the congregation was about 30 elderly people. Now there are hundreds of people from all walks of life, a booming children's ministry, and missions work in 20 countries.
Add to that the challenges of a changing world that Charlie never had to face. Dr Masters has managed to walk that fine line between being a historic timeless church, and yet also speak with authority to today's world and using today's media. The sermon I heard yesterday, for example, is available as a podcast.
And at the same time, it is also very old fashioned, as one walking in the footsteps of Spurgeon would hope to find.
Sermons here are old skool. No visual media. Just Bible reading and preaching. King James prayer language also. Its refreshing to sit there and imagine what it was like in the days of Charlie - not too different, I suppose.
The ministry itself is a bit too separatist for me and far too attractional in its evangelistic approach - just as it was when Charlie pulled out of the Baptist Union last century. Its also a bit too AW Pink rather than John Stott. Dr Masters doesnt like the word "fundamentalist". He prefers "old evangelical" as opposed to "new evangelical'. I bought his little book on the subject called "Are We Fundamentalists?" which spells out his views quite clearly. Still, you have to respect their stance and their outworking of it.
So has the ministry changed to meet the times at all? And where have those contextual changes taken place?
Probably in the hymnology. Peter Masters has written an excellently worded apology in the preface to their hymn book
"Our Own Hymn Book has therefore served as a model for the present selection of hymns and their arrangement, but we have employed a degree of editorial intervention which Spurgeon would never have countenanced in his day."
"We feel that language has changed for more in the 125 years since Spurgeon's hymnbook than during the 150 years which seperated Spurgeon from Watts. We are now confronted with numerous quaint and jarring words or phrases which ought to be edited.
Editorial changes have aimed at achieving instant comprehension whenever possible, thus enabling worshippers to honour the apostolic principle - '"I will sing with the understanding also'
[Dr Peter Masters, Preface, Psalms and Hymns of Reformed Worship, 2003, Wakeman Trust]
Wow - If i had to explain the contextual approach to ministry for the emerging-missional church to Dr Masters, I would probably start with his own words here.
Anyway - a great visit to the famous Met Tab. I take off my hat to Dr Masters and his wife who have achieved great things. And I thank the kindly and informative ushers and elders (Chris Law) who answered all my questions, including the one that went . . . "what would Charlie think of the organ?"
Of course, he wouldnt approve. But sometimes you have to step out from nostalgia and into the real world with the timeless Christ.