Churches are the public face of Christianity which we see all around us, whether they are old village chapels, modern buildings with perhaps a cross on the roof, or grand cathedrals.
Their very variety can be confusing, as can what appears to go inside them! This would not have been the case in the past when attending church on Sunday was normal practice for the majority of the population, but today it is very different with many people only going to a church service for perhaps a wedding or funeral.
As with other aspects of religious practice or belief many people’s idea of “church” will therefore be largely formed by how this is portrayed in the national media, which is generally not impartial or particularly sympathetic regarding such things. Churches today are therefore increasingly mysterious places which seem an anachronism in the modern world, fulfilling no useful purpose and populated only by those who perhaps need an emotional crutch to get through life.
To add to the confusion there also seem to be so many different kinds of Christian church (Methodist, Baptist, Charismatic, Church of England - the list goes on and on) which all seem to have their own particular “style.” Some have church services that appear somewhat formal and gloomy, in others the emphasis is on informality populated perhaps by rather over-excited crowds of young people, while in others the services may be conducted by people dressed in gaudy robes following seemingly incomprehensible and pointless rituals.
In light of this we may therefore quite reasonably ask why there are so many differences between churches. After all, if they are all made up of Christians (people who by definition say that they believe the Bible and what it teaches about God and how we should worship) shouldn’t all Christian churches therefore be very similar?
There are many answers that could be given.
- The Bible was written for people in all ages, cultures and societies, and these will produce inevitable differences. Christians meeting under a tree in Africa for example will probably have a slightly different “style” of worship than a church in say central London, even though the actual content might be very similar.
- Because of this the Bible only gives us general guidelines and principles to follow in what we call a church “service”. As a result there have always been slightly different interpretations about what it should contain and its format – as well as other things such as how a church should be organised and governed.
- Christians are also not perfect! The historical records of the New Testament tell us that even in the early days of the Christian Church there were many problems, with people behaving in churches or teaching things that God viewed as being sinful and which then had to be corrected. Church history since then repeatedly records occasions when people therefore felt the need to sometimes start a new church because of disagreements over what was being done or taught in their existing church.
The word “evangel” is from the Greek word specifically used to describe the Bibles teachings about Jesus Christ, in particular those historical records of his life known as the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). “Evangelical” then came to have a slightly wider meaning, referring to a belief that the Bible as a whole is written by God (using human authors), and that as a result it contains all that sinful human beings need to know in order to be forgiven, to live in a way that pleases God, and be assured of one day going to Heaven. “Evangelism” is simply the process of declaring that message, wherever that is done.
However, just like the word “Christian” the term “evangelical” is often used in a very different sense today. Such is the fundamental seriousness and importance of the Christian message preachers especially have often proclaimed it quite passionately, certainly in comparison to the somewhat dry and formal preaching that may be found in some churches, and as a result the word “evangelical” is now often used to simply describe anyone who seeks to zealously propagate some idea with great passion.
In one sense “evangelical” is just a name – we could just as easily be called Horsley Christian Fellowship or Ockham Road Chapel. We are also not a perfect church, composed as we are of very imperfect people! However we (and the group of churches to which we belong) use the name to make it clear that we don’t just believe in some of what the Bible teaches but that it is true and useful in its entirety.
We believe the Bible alone should therefore govern what we believe, how we should live, and how we should worship God – not historical traditions or the latest trend or idea.
What this means in practice is that the preaching and teaching of the Bible is an important and central part of our church life, whether it’s in a Sunday service or during more informal meetings during the week. We also believe that it’s vital that all Christians make time to read it for themselves each day.
Through the uninformed opinions and ideas posted on the internet or broadcast in the media today, many people now dismiss the Bible’s message because they think it is a work of fiction, perhaps designed to give ecclesiastical authorities power and influence in the past. This sadly means that, although the Bible is one of the most widely published books in the world and many people will own a copy even in the UK, most have never read it or know what it really says. However millions of people down through the ages have found in its pages a message and a power that has transformed their lives, and we would encourage you to do the same.
- The New Testament is the very best book that ever was or ever will be known in the world (Charles Dickens)
- It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible (George Washington)
- I am profitably engaged in reading the Bible. Take all of this Book that you can by reason and the balance by faith, and you will live and die a better man. It is the best Book which God has given to man (Abraham Lincoln)
- There are more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history (Sir Isaac Newton)
- The Bible is not merely a book, it is a Living Being with an action, a power, which invades everything that opposes its extension. Behold, it is upon this table! this Book, surpassing all others. I never omit to read it every day with some pleasure (Napoleon)
- For more than a thousand years the Bible, collectively taken, has gone hand in hand with civilization, science, law - in short, with the moral and intellectual cultivation of the species, always supporting and often leading the way" (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
- I have known ninety-five of the world's greatest men in my time, and of these eighty-seven were followers of the Bible (W.E. Gladstone)
- England has two books; The Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England (Victor Hugo)
- "We the undersigned, students of the Natural Sciences, desire to express our sincere regret that researchers into scientific truth are perverted by some in our own times into occasion for casting doubt upon the truth and authenticity of the Holy Scriptures. We conceive that it is impossible for the Word of God written in the book of nature, and God's Word written in Holy Scripture, to contradict one another ... physical science is not complete, but is only in a condition of progress" ( signed by 800 scientists of Great Britain, recorded in Bodelian Library, Oxford)