Church of the Guttering Flame

The first formal chapter of Dual Citizens is really quite good. He begins where all thoughtful discussions of the church’s role in the world should begin, and that is with the question of corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. He has a true Reformed focus on the importance of Word and sacrament (p. 8). He has all the right suspicions about America’s entertainment culture, and notes how the seepage into the church has become a flood. He understands and promotes Calvin’s view of preaching — “In fact, Paul insists that when the saints hear Christ preached, they are actually hearing Christ Himself preaching” (p. 13).

Most surprisingly to me, Stellman outlines the elements of what a worship service ought to be (it is far more than “singing about God” (p. 8), and argues that it ought to contain the five elements of a covenant renewal worship service — call to worship, confession and cleansing, consecration, communion, and comission. On this point, he footnotes Jeff Myers’ book The Lord Service, All in all, this was a fine chapter.

There was one point of difference, which, as far as this chapter went, wasn’t that big a deal. But I suspect it is one of those watershed issues, one that will drive much of hte discussion through the rest of the book, and so I should mention it here. Stellman and I would agree that worship equips the saints of God for their pilgrimage on this earth. We differ on the nature of the pilgrims’ responsibilities along the way.

“My aim in this chapter, therefore, is to call into question the American church’s desire to avoid the obscurity and lack of popular appeal with which Jesus Himself was seemingly plagued” (p. 4).

But Jesus was not executed by the authorities for being a nobody. The rulers of Jerusalem executed Him because they were envious, and they were envious of His enormous appeal to the crowds. And I should mention here that we cannot appeal to the old preachers’ chesnut on the fickleness of crowds, re Palm Sunday and the “crucify Him” crowd. Those were plainly different mobs, the first gathered by the Holy Spirit and the second by certain first century community organizers.

“In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another” (Luke 12:1).

“And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus” (Luke 5:19).

“And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judaea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases” (Luke 6:17).

“For he knew that for envy they had delivered him” (Matt 27:18).

Jesus was certainly unpopular . . . with the ecclesiastical authorities. He was unpopular with the guys who controlled the denominational headquarters, those who always have their hands on the levers of power, but was a huge hit with the crowds. There is a certain kind of piety that tends to reverse this — in with the church and out with the people. So Jesus was a pilgrim and an exile, sure. But He was not a lonely one. Our ideas of faithfulness being represented by the First Memorial Church of the Guttering Flame may be as unbiblical (and as worldly) as Sandlefooot Community’s recent ad campaign — “come visit us, and tell us we’re okay!”

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