I just returned from a week in the UK representing Asbury in various venues. The remarkable thing about the week was that, despite the diversity, all three of my experiences were moments of promise and hope for the church in Europe as well as encouragement for all of us.
This week marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Salvation Army by William and Catherine Booth. I am not sure of the exact number, but it looked like over 10,000 men and women in uniform from around the world joyfully committed to serving the poor and proclaiming Christ. The Salvation Army is truly the holiness movement at its finest. It is global, it is fully evangelical and it is engaged in reaching the poor and disenfranchised. The “march of the nations” was like watching the opening night of the Olympics, except that it was all so clearly centered on the global worship of Jesus Christ and their common heart to serve the poor. General Andre Cox (The Zimbabwe born General of The Salvation Army) was gracious enough to invite Sandra Gray (President of Asbury University) and myself to a quiet dinner with his chief staff members. I was singularly impressed by their earnest zeal for Christ and their hope for the next 150 years.
I also had the privilege of preaching at Southwark Cathedral in London. This is one of the oldest Cathedrals in the UK, having worship on this site since 606 A.D. This magnificent cathedral seems like a distant planet from the street ministry of the Salvation Army. Indeed, this was “high church” at its highest. I needed at least five ribbons in my prayer book to follow the worship. The organ was spectacular. I felt like a small ant in the lofty grandeur of the cathedral. My biggest challenge in preaching was adjusting to the incense, which was burning below me to remind me of the blessed prayers of the saints. The cathedral was packed with people and there was a genuine sense of worship. In all my interaction with the members, they seemed genuinely committed to reaching their parish for Jesus Christ. Steven Hance, a member of Asbury’s alumni council, is based at the Cathedral, though his position is overseeing the re-missionizing of hundreds of churches in his diocese. The whole experience left me breathless and thankful to God for his work through the Church of England.
Finally, I spent Sunday night at Holy Trinity Brompton in London, led by Nicky Gumbel. This church, known as HTB, is about as far from Southwark Cathedral as one can imagine in terms of worship style and general feel. HTB has a worship band and huge overhead screen which seems to exemplify the “ancient modern” mix which you sometimes get in the UK when contemporary choruses and Anglicanism meet. This is the church which gave the world the Alpha course, which is now in 169 countries and is widely regarded as one of the most successful evangelistic tools in the 20th century. Nicky was kind enough to meet with me and with Winfield Bevins (Asbury’s Church Planting coordinator), to talk about Asbury and our church planting initiative for nearly an hour.
This is Christianity at its best: Salvation Army, Southwark Cathedral and HTB, all—in their own way—making Christ known faithfully in the world. This is the kind of deep orchestration the Holy Spirit is doing, which goes far beyond anything any of us can engineer on our own. I left the UK reminded of the privilege it is to be a part of God’s great mission in the world. He is unfolding His glorious mission in the world. It is truly wonderful that we get to be a part of it!