Tomorrow, God willing, will be my fourth Sunday worshipping as a 'visitor' at the Free Church of Scotland in Portree.
Having become a Christian through the Brethren, worked for YMCA; trained in Youth Ministry at an interdenominational evangelical theological college; studied theology at a Baptist College; and have been associated with the charismatic movement for most of my Christian life: I am no stranger to diverse expressions of Christian worship.
Yet, despite this reasonably broad experience of Christianity, the Free Church is different.
One of the major differences is the singing of Psalms in the Sunday service (a Capella). The various churches that I have been involved with for the last 10 years have all followed the same worship model. The service will begin with approximately 30 minutes of mostly uninterrupted choruses (with perhaps the odd hymn) led by a praise band.
This approach to worship is so ingrained in the DNA of many modern christians, that to depart from this model is to move into strange territory indeed. Some (particularly in the charismatic camp) would question if it is even spiritual. Worship in 'Spirit and truth' seems to have become so identified with the contemporary praise band that its absence is equated with a departure of the divine.
So, how am I finding worship at the Free Church?
Incredibly refreshing. And here are some reasons why:
1) You can't get more spiritual than the psalms
The very best of hymns, choruses and contemporary songs can't really be compared to the Psalms because the Psalms are the very words of God, given by God, to his people, for the worship of God. To sing the psalms is to sing the very word of God: words that are 'God breathed' 2 Tim 3:16.
2) Singing the Psalms keeps us connected with the Church of the past (Old and New covenant)
God's people have always sung the psalms, it was only in the 1800s that hymns started to eclipse the Psalms, and it has only been since the 60s/70s that choruses have eclipsed hymns. In other words, the modern approach to worship is exactly that: modern. Don't misunderstand me, I love praise and worship. I love many contemporary praise and worship songs, I love the redemption hymns, I'm not knocking them. However, in recent years I have realised more and more that the evangelical church is drifting further and further from its historical roots. As secular culture increasingly defines our Church communities, our ministries and our worship, we are losing the sense of historicity that connects us to the church of the past. When this happens, it will not be long (and has already happened in some places) where 'evangelicals' will cease to be identified with the historic Christian faith.
I could add more reasons to this list, but I hope to blog some more on these issues in the near future.