george hancock stefanIn July, I was invited to the International Conference of Baptist Studies (ICOBS) in Manchester, England. This conference is held every three years and it was an honor to participate with other international scholars from every continent. It is held on a different continent each time and the next one will be held at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

I was impressed by the scholarly work that is being produced internationally.  It was great to hear scholars from Bangladesh, Britain, Latvia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Scotland and the USA (to name a few).  Many decades ago Baptist scholarship was rare, but now it is plentiful and appreciated not only in Christian colleges and universities, but it has created a niche in secular universities.

I was impressed by the enthusiasm and the use of technology by the young scholars and the erudition of the older scholars. I was blessed by the innovation of the young scholars and the fact that they have so many opportunities before them. Then as I was listening to some octogenarian scholars, I wondered if this was the last time that I would hear their voices. Life has no guarantees, but there is also a chronological order among the mortals.

I loved listening to the fantastic singers during the conference. I was always aware that the Scottish men have beautiful tenor voices, but it was such a heavenly delight to be surrounded by so many beautiful voices as they were praising God every morning of the conference.

The conclusion of the conference was an opportunity to visit a place that I have wanted to visit for the past 40 years, but I have never been in London on a Sunday. I wanted to visit Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. In the time of Spurgeon, it was the largest inside arena in London and it could hold over 5,000 people. In the preaching pantheon, the first millennium is dominated by John Chrysostom (John the Golden Mouth) and the second millennium is dominated by the sermons of Haddon C. Spurgeon (1834-1893), who is also nicknamed the Prince of Preachers. The tabernacle had a fire in the 19th century and it was bombed by the Nazi in World War II, but the outside facade of the building is still intact.  The sanctuary in its reconstructed phase has been reduced to over 1,000 seats.

Before I went to visit the tabernacle, I read a number of commentaries about the worship services.  Many of them were pretty negative. The church advertisements say that the morning worship service is not for non-believers or for visitors. From the time of Spurgeon until now, it has continued to be a teaching church where the pastor is teaching believers for close to one hour.  This is rich, expository, doctrinalpreaching. In the evening they have an evangelistic service – for those who visit or who want to hear the gospel for the first time.

In between the morning and the evening service the church has an agape fellowship in which the members of the church and visitors are invited to share a meal. I was not aware of that and I went to ask one gentleman about a good restaurant in the neighborhood.  His reply was, “You are going to be a guest at our table today.” He took me to the fellowship hall, introduced me to a couple of people, and then I was a guest at his family’s table that had about 12 other people.  I left that morning feeling like I was in the apostolic time – the word was shared, and the love of the congregation was shared with me at their bountiful table.