Public Worship – Lord’s Day, Sunday 8th September 2013, 11am
Pastor: Peter Loughridge
Remember the diagram showing all the Presbyterian churches and their schisms? This one had slipped my notice before now, but there it is, running right along the top, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, having avoided almost all of the knotwork in the middle since 1712. The North Edinburgh church, which meets in Craigroyston Community High School, is a recent plant, about to celebrate its second birthday, but when Edinburgh last had an RPC church is something I don’t know and didn’t ask, because the post-service conversation led in other directions.
We were a small company, only 18 of us in all, among which the number of visitors was described as “many”. This makes the RPC joint second in the contest for smallest congregation of the year so far, level pegging with the Free Church (Continuing), but still two more than St Columba’s Free Gaelic service. But numbers aren’t everything; Central: Jesus at the Heart was packed to the gunwales and it was a terrible experience … for me, at least.
While we’re talking numbers, Peter Loughridge is also in the lead if we’re counting most bible verses cited in a sermon. Quite apart from the scripture reading (Genesis 50), he quoted Job 23, Isaiah 46, Daniel 1 & 2, Matthew 10, Jeremiah 25, Lamentations 3, Romans 8 & 9, Acts 2, plus at least another two that I didn’t manage to note down. But unlike the floundering preacher who might have been attempting something similar over at Destiny Church, Peter made them all build towards the argument of one of the best-crafted sermons I’ve heard this year. It’s an art form, and whether you agree with the conclusions or not you have to admire the artisan’s craft.
The theme was “God is in Control”, part of a series of sermons on the question, “What is God like?”. So far, they’ve established that he’s good, wise, powerful and holy, and today’s teaching was to show that he is sovereign in all things – in nature, in history, and in the cross. It would have been “too easy” for God to make us all like obedient robots; instead he gave us choice, and we are therefore responsible for our actions. God is never the author of evil, which is the result of sin and rebellion against God, but he can use wickedness to bring good.
Of course, the problem of evil is a big, thorny one, and the trouble with any sermon on it, however cogently argued or thoroughly supported by scripture verses, is that it is likely to bring comfort and confirmation to the believer while still failing to convince the unbeliever. This is probably why Peter offered two suggestions for how to respond, one for the Christian and one for the non-Christian. The non-Christian was asked to consider the fact that God had brought him/her to church today, and that pain, suffering, crimes and disasters are reminders that the world is broken and damaged by sin – in CS Lewis’s words, God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world” – and that we can turn to Jesus for a solution. And the Christian was reassured that bad things can call him/her to deeper faith, and to trust in God as he accomplishes his plan.
The singing was simple but lusty, three psalms (135:1-4 (Walton), 103:16-21 (Lloyd), and 138:1, 4-6 (Warrington)) without instrumental accompaniment, no need for amps or overhead projectors. The psalm book was The Psalms for Singing, 21st Century Edition, a split-page book a bit like the old 1929 Scottish Psalter but with about a hundred extra tunes in it and modernised language. I love a psalm, as I’ve said before. Nothing beats a metrical psalm.
Would I go back to the RPC? They’re very friendly and welcoming, that’s for sure, and I talked to Peter and his wife for ages afterwards, rather monopolising their post-service chat time, for which I must owe the other worshippers an apology. They have the simple worship style that I enjoy, and there’s a part of me that says I could happily sit through such a service every week … if I actually believed what they teach, which is the crux of the problem and the whole reason for my mission. But of course, I know little else about them - nothing about their politics or social attitudes, for instance, which I kind of suspect might veer towards the conservative, but maybe I’m wrong about that. That’s one of the limitations of Soul Searcher’s snapshot approach; further investigation would definitely be required.