For months I have been reading Tim Challies‘ frequent articles on how his church, Grace Fellowship Church, Toronto, Canada worships. I have worshipped along with them through Tim’s posts so many times in the past and have found myself wondering if I was ever going be part of a service like that. Having experienced nothing but traditional Pentecostal-Charismatic services my entire life, I really wondered how being in a Reformed church service was going to be different from what I was used to.
For the past four Sundays, I’ve been an active part of the worship services at Trinity Baptist Church, a church planted by Kabwata Baptist Church, Zambia in Abuja, Nigeria. Trinity Baptist Church is just a few months old and being pastored by Abutu Peter Joshua. There are no other elders for now. He is the sole elder.
I’ve often heard it said that any church is as good as its leadership. While I do not believe that everything lies at the feet of church leadership, I can’t deny that I’ve experienced firsthand what influence a sound leader can have in a church. Trinity Baptist Church is Reformed, but not all those who attend her meetings are. (The Christianity in Nigeria is largely non-Reformed. Nine in every ten believers you meet are likely to not be reformed, so it’s not surprising.)
For a Reformed pastor to lead non-Reformed or quasi-Reformed people–as Pastor Abutu would say–is no joke. You have people who are genuinely interested (and some who are not so sure if they really are) in the historical Reformed faith but who know too little about Reformed doctrine. What would you do? Would you start by shoving TULIP down their throats every Sunday? Would you quote Luther or Calvin in every sermon, perhaps to remind them that the fathers of the Reformation are very much alive today through their works? Or perhaps link every sermon to the Reformation? No. That would not do. I don’t think it would.
If Reformed Christianity is indeed found in the Bible, then I believe that faithfully preaching and expositing that very Word would open the eyes of the hearers to the elements of our faith that have long been forgotten or discarded. And I see Abutu Joshua do that Sunday after Sunday. He opens the Word of God, treats it as God’s living and unchanging Word, and exposits with such a passion that leaves me in awe of God. This was new to me in many ways. It’s one thing to listen to John Piper or John MacArthur expound a text online, and another to be part of a live meeting where Scripture is being expounded faithfully.
Another new experience for me was the structure of the worship service. The service structure at Trinity Baptist Church is unlike any that I have experienced before. I’m used to heavily cluttered services. A cluttered service is one that is basically full of nonessentials, and usually long and tiring. In a cluttered service all sorts of activities find their way into the church: dance, drama, comedy, film show, political debates, etc. The preaching of the Word is relegated to the bottom of the list because it’s not as interesting as the other activities.
I’ve been shown why a church service should contain only the essentials. We sing, we pray, we read the Bible, and we listen to the preaching of God’s Word. Those are the essentials, because they are clearly stated in Scripture as the activities that believers should participate in whenever they meet. Every single part of the service is important. Because every single part is clearly instructed by God.
Trinity Baptist Church is basically an answered prayer. Just two months ago I had no idea that it existed, and this morning I’ll be the one to play the keyboard in church. I looked in one direction only, expecting a Sovereign God to act according to the plans of this finite man. He didn’t. And I’m so grateful he didn’t.