During my visit to London last month (May 2018), I was able to attend the evening service at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, the church that Charles Spurgeon once pastored until his death in 1892. I have known of the whereabouts of Metropolitan since I first discovered it two years ago, but this time I actually was able to attend a service, and I was shocked. They were doing church all wrong, at least from a modern American perspective.
I arrived a little too early, so I walked about a block away to a Peruvian restaurant for dinner. I noticed as I passed by some well-dressed women talking to people at the bus stop with some colorful pamphlets, who I naturally assumed to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. I didn’t think much more about it than that.
After dinner, I went into the Tabernacle excited to see the pulpit from which Spurgeon preached. There were only a few people in the old wooden pews, and I took a seat near the back and snapped a couple pictures with my cellphone.
As the time for the service to begin drew near, the sanctuary began to fill with people. I was surprised to see the diversity. Two-thirds of the congregation were Africans, Asians, and South Americans. What a diverse group that was quite reflective of the people I saw outside the Tabernacle.
As the service began, an organ began to play. It was only then that I noticed there was no “praise band.” A wooden marquee listed songs by number so I grabbed the small black Psalms and Hymns book in the pew-back. Shock; there were only words to the music in the hymn books. However, people were singing teach hymn by memory and in harmony as if in a choir. I wondered how they knew the music so well.
As the Associate Pastor Ibrahim Ag Mohamed (originally from Iran) began to preach, I realized that the King James version was the Bible of choice in this church. Several times as he was quoting a Scripture verse, I could see other people mouthing the words along with him – in 17th century prose!
The sermon was from Acts 20:21 and focused on the need for repentance and faith. There was no mention of how this would give the hearer a better marriage, self-esteem or outlook on life. It simply focused on how each of us need to both repent from sin and have faith in Jesus Christ,
After the service, I was able to meet Mark, a 27-year-old man who had been a Christian for three years and was deeply involved in the Tabernacle. It was then that I learned he, in a sportscoat and tie and several other young people were witnessing to people at the bus stops around the church and inviting people into the evening service. Ah ha! Those weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses, they were members of the Tabernacle witnessing on the street!
I give you this snapshot of the Metropolitan Tabernacle to show that most of what they are actively doing in their worship services and practices run against the conventional wisdom of the modern American church. Organ music instead of a praise band. Hymns by John Owens and Charles Wesley instead of the latest songs from the local radio station. An archaic King James Bible instead of a modern thought-for-thought paraphrase. Cold-turkey street evangelism at the bus stop, and most of all, Millennials wearing dresses and jackets and ties instead of shorts and t-shirts.
Yet this 800-seat church could host approximately 700 people at a Sunday evening service. I’ve never seen anything like it in America. I don’t believe it can be replicated, but I praise God that a church that has been known for a strong commitment to the gospel continues that strong commitment with young people continuing to respond to that gospel.
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