I've had to face this while visiting the USA recently, and previously
when I was living in England & Scotland, plus time spent afloat on
Naval service. There will be different views and my own views have
changed over time and with my circumstances. I'm a slow typist and I
don't have a lot of spare time, so I'll outine my views, but won't
take the time to defend or justify them in any detail here.
15 years ago, I spent 9 months at sea. It was quite an experience and
there was little if any christian fellowship, though most seaports in
Europe and North America have a port missionary of some sort. We also
had a fleet chaplain whom I didn't rate highly, though he was a nice
man. We had compulsory "church services" every Sunday morning
organized by the "Church Officer" - a young midshipman who happened to
be a Christian and officiated by the Captain who wasn't. Sometimes I
attended and sometimes I found an excuse to be absent. I didn't sing,
which they probably thought strange, but no-one asked the reason.
Getting into harbour, I could go nowhere, attend the usual tourist
churches, find a christian bookshop & ask about churches, look in the
telephone directory or use my own resources to find somewhere better.
Coming back from sea, I was desperate for fellowship with like-minded
people, I'd had no teaching for the best part of a year and I didn't
feel able to take on major arguments and disagreements. I settled in
the north of Scotland for 5 years. My first criterion was
unaccompanied Psalmody, which narrowed the choice to 5 congregations
belonging to three denominations, all within reasonable travelling
distance (3 miles). Several of the congregations had recently been
involved in various disruptions and I wanted to steer clear of that
(although I normallly enjoy a bit of controversy. The fourth
congregation was cold, and somewhat unfriendly and there were some
other issues, so I settled in the 5th. This was a young growing church
extension work where the people were friendly and took their faith
seriously. People were being saved regularly through the preaching
which was simple, but pointed. There was little strong meat for older
christians because the focus was on teaching new converts. However,
the fellowship was warm and there was a clear love for the Lord and
those of us who needed more read and debated together. I even accepted
that they used the "Nearly Inspired Version" because they provided
everything else I needed at the time, but always brought my own AV to
After I moved along, there was a disruption in that denomination &
that congregation unfortunately took the wrong side in the split. I
probably wouldn't attend there now, but I do maintain friends there.
When we lived in Lancashire (northern England), the nearest
psalm-singing church was 45 miles away. We tried every alternative
before going there because of the excessive travelling. But there
were other problems with that congregation and we found it harder to
motivate ouselves to attend. There was little preaching, only some
lectures and read sermons that were poorly presented. There was little
fellowship on the Lord's Day and none at all during the week.
Throughout that time we existed on taped sermons from our church at
home in Ulster.
I have grossly oversimlified the above situations, but this lets you
see that the SITUATIONS are not always as clear cut as the books would
imply. On the other hand, the ISSUES are very clear. I am no advocate
of relativism, but we must recognize differences in situations and not
condemn those who perhaps are struggling with issues that we cannot
even conceive of. Why have I said all this?
I currently live in Northern Ireland. There are half a dozen meeting
houses within walking distance. I can choose whatever flavour I like,
but I also remember the time that I didn't have a choice. There were
NO Reformed Presbyterians within 2000 miles - in any direction. I
could have fellowship with a small group of sincere believers who did
not agree with me on many issues, or I could separate myself from
them. But no man is an island. God made us to be social creatures and
if we don't have dealings with the godly, we will have dealings with
the ungodly. At home now, I rarely darken the door of another
denomination, indeed there are some of our own denomination that I
would not rush to attend.
To wrap up,
- Scripture warns us against listening to teaching that will turn us
aside from the truth
- Scripture forbids us to neglect the assembly of God's people
- Those who are misled, having never been taught should not be placed
in the same category as those who refuse to repent after appropriate
- The aim is holiness, without which no man shall see God. Are the
people godly or worldly? Do they try to obey the Word of God, even if
their interpretation of it is different from ours?
How did we apply these principles recently while in southern
1st Sabbath, we elected to simply have extended family worship. We had
no transport and weren't prepared to use taxis or public transport on
the Lord's Day. Had we been better organized, we might have booked a
vehicle on the Saturday or made prior arrangements with the nearest
acceptable church (20 miles across town) to pick us up.
2nd Sabbath, we were in another location and had a vehicle. We checked
local & internet listings and drove around on Saturday. On Sabbath we
went to an ostensibly Bible Baptist church - one of their slogans was
"we won't tolerate anything that opposes the Scriptures". Alas, we
were treated to lots of singing with accompaniment and a rousing sales
talk on fund raising finished off by a schoolboy sermon on prayer and
a personal testimony of an apparently miraculous healing from the
Where would we absolutely refuse to go?
A masshouse (RC).
A madhouse (charismatic)
A mushhouse (warm fuzzy relativism)
Places that are clearly liberal or following a false ecumenism (sorry,
couldn't think of another 'm')
The teaching on occasional hearing was fine, but we're now in an era
where almost no-one has the slightest respect for the Scriptures. We
can't cut ourselves of from the remnant of other struggling believers.
If we understand things they don't, we have a duty to build them up in
our most holy faith and to admonish one another from the scriptural
hymn book. We also need to be meek. We haven't "arrived" and others
can teach us about our blind spots. Regrettably some of our people
think they can imitate the pope. When they speak from their armchairs
or keyboards to bind our consciences, they are infallible. May we
remain free from such tyrrany.
cyc> Message: 6
cyc> Date: Sun, 21 Nov 2004 16:37:59 EST
cyc> From: ukpuritan40@...
cyc> Subject: Re: Digest Number 909
cyc> Dear Fellow list members,
cyc> I'm sorry if this topic has been dealt with on this list before or if
cyc> it is a divisive one, but I would just like to hear from others on this matter.
cyc> My personal alliance doctrinally is with the Free Church of Scotland
cyc> Continuing and also much of what is taught by the RPCI and the FPCOS though in
cyc> the USA I worship where my husband preaches for the most part, so the preaching
cyc> is good. (-:
cyc> I would like to know what others do, and how others deal with the
cyc> experience of being in a situation where one has no "decent" church to attend on the
cyc> Lord's day.
cyc> 1. What is your criteria for deciding if a church is better attended on
cyc> an individual Lord's day (say when in travel etc or when circumstances prevent
cyc> one from being in one's own local fellowship)than the alternative of having a
cyc> family worship at home/abroad.
cyc> 2. Have you had the experience of attending a church and finding
cyc> yourself heartbroken, in distress, in tears etc over the blatant will worship, or
cyc> lack of comprehension of true worship vs false etc. If so how have you dealt with
cyc> this distress?
cyc> 3. Have you a church, which if it were your only choice, (apart from say
cyc> Roman Catholic or a cult church/false religion) you would not attend, in any
cyc> 4. Is one allowed as a matter of conscience to absent oneself from such
cyc> assemblies and if so on what basis?
cyc> I am aware of SWRB teaching on the sin of occasionaly hearing.
cyc> Basically, is this a topic which has been addressed over the history of the orthodox
cyc> reformed presbyterian church writings/fathers etc? and if so under what topic
cyc> or title.
cyc> Thankfully, where to worship is often settled for us by as I said, dh's
cyc> preaching, but it is not always so. This is a topic close to my heart and one
cyc> which I am trying to come to some understanding on. My dear husband is a great
cyc> help to me in these matters but I just wanted to ask you all what your
cyc> experiences have been.
cyc> In Christ, Susan Nye Ferrell