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WESTMINSTER ABBEY

I recently had the opportunity to visit London for a few days, as part of a celebration and launch for three resources related to Charles Spurgeon (the publication of his earliest sermons, a historical novel about his relationship to a former Virginian slave, and the forthcoming release of The Spurgeon Study Bible).

In between our visits to various sites connected to Spurgeon, I reserved some time for Westminster Abbey, a 1,000-year-old church so richly imbued with history that weeks would be necessary for someone to view all of its historical splendors.

My first impression of Westminster was not a tour but a worship service. I arrived a few minutes late and took a seat in the nave, where I could see from a distance the choir singers and other attendees.

It is impossible to describe the breathtaking beauty of the music that flowed into that space and found its resonance in all the nooks and crannies of this Gothic cathedral. "Beauty" does not do the experience justice.

The splendor of the pipe organ, whose tones reverberated so loudly through the sanctuary that you could feel the slight tremble of the floor beneath you . . . 

The harmonies of the singers, lifting and uniting their voices for the psalms until you forget whether you are in heaven or on earth . . . 

The stunning architecture that communicates a sense of majesty, while reminding you of the past through the many people who sleep within the walls and caverns . . . 

The worship service at Westminster was a rare occasion in which the experience of sheer beauty moved me to tears.

What followed was a homily--a ten-minute sermonette that extolled the values of neighbor-love and world peace, yet without any mention of Jesus. The speaker encouraged us to look inside ourselves and for courage, so that we can engage the world in a way that contributes to peace and wholeness, not division and despair. A lovely sentiment, to be sure, but unfortunately lacking any connection to the gospel. Thankfully, the liturgy filled in what the homily left out--gratitude to our Savior for his sacrificial love that brought our salvation.

As I sat amid the glory of Westminster Abbey, my mind flew to the village churches I'd attended in Romania.

The concrete buildings with their creaking wood, heated only by a stove in the middle of those four walls--that sacred space we filled with song and prayer, warming our hearts with fire and fervor.

The house churches where the Table for the Lord's Supper became the table for a feast, after the preaching of God's Word had concluded.

The American church plant I knew as a child, and the excitement of erecting our building and devoting a space to worship--a simple, elegant stained glass window behind the pulpit where the pastor showed me Jesus in the Word every Sunday.

And so, I left the service at Westminster Abbey in awe of that building's grandeur, yet more grateful than ever for the humble place of worship where I am privileged to open God's Word to saints every week. God forbid that I ever open that Book and fail to sing the praises of Christ.

Without the good news, what is the use of a great building? Without the thundering of grace in our preaching, what is the point of an organ's melodious reverberation?

If forced to choose between the power of Westminster's ambience or the power of a simple preacher who shows me Christ, I say: Give me Jesus every time.

As wonderful as all the outward symbols and signs of faith may be, the greatest and most life-changing power and beauty is found in the declaration of the crucified and risen Lord. That's why he must be the One who always resounds in our singing and our preaching and our sharing and our mission.


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8 thoughts on “Give Me Jesus Over Westminster Abbey”

  1. Kelly King says:

    And as Spurgeon said, “I take my text and make a beeline for the cross.”

  2. Aaron says:

    During my one and only visit there, I had a similar experience. The assembled congregation listened to an empty sermon amidst that grand house of worship. I was on my way to Africa as a missionary where I’d worship in simple, tin shacks and crude, cinder block buildings that contained infinitely more divine fervor. The contrast couldn’t be louder.

  3. Devbby Martin says:

    Just came down from the Andes Mountains in Peru and your words ring true for the people of the South American continent too! “The greatest and most life changing power and beauty is found in the declaration of the crucified and risen Lord!”

  4. James R Needham says:

    Trevin I’m afraid your comments show a denominational bias that is common but alarming. I don’t disagree with “give me Jesus.” He is above all. I agree entirely that he should be preeminent in Christian Worship.

    What I fear is that it wasn’t the primacy of Jesus you were missing, but the primacy of preaching – and evangelical preaching, at that. Please hear me out – You freely admit that the Eucharist contained the gospel message fully proclaimed (and I would add, probably more so than in some “evangelical” churches:. As a Baptist, you likely reject that he was present in the Eucharist, but surely you know that your understanding is in the minority among Christians. Most Christians throughout the world and throughout history have believed that Christ is, in fact, “really present” at the communion table. You also said that the music and beauty of the place moved you – am I stretching to say that this offering of great beauty also, like the heavens, “proclaimed the glory of God?” I would hope that hearing it you used it as it was intended – to turn your mind and heart toward worship and praise. These are things you mentioned but you did not mention things like the procession of the cross or the procession and reading of gospel text. There are other things that you may or may not have missed – all proclaiming Jesus,,,,, just not through preaching. You may believe that Jesus is better proclaimed through preaching (and I would likely agree with you) but to say “give me Jesus” as if he wasn’t lifted up is simply untrue and unfair.
    I grew up as a Baptist. I went to two SBC seminaries. In those times and for the almost 20 years I served in ministry as part of the SBC, I have heard countless sermons coming from “evangelicals” that, though they referenced Jesus and even the cross, had really no connection to the gospel. Even then, I didn’t assume that Jesus was not central or present in that church.
    In addition, though I love good preaching and preaching that exalts Jesus, there are times when the message (“sermonette” is condescending) has focused on other things because of a need in the congregation. I have no idea if this was the case, but then again, neither do you. I would never say, however, that Jesus was not present.
    Finally, while some want a salvation message that is so prevalent among evangelicals, I grow weary of hearing how to “be saved” and given the choice I would much rather be reminded of the need for courage and that God has placed in me .. . . in fact, “do not be afraid” is something that Jesus and the angles were fond of as subjects of their proclamations.
    In short, while you are certainly free to your likes and dislikes, and I appreciate the reminder that Jesus needs to be central to Christian worship, you seemed to have mistaken your preferences and your (wonderful) tradition of preaching being central and evangelical for a judgment that Westminster Cathedral lacked Jesus.

    1. Joel says:

      I’m Anglican too, but coming out of the evangelical Anglican wing I would disagree with you that teaching in the form of a sermon is much more important thing in Anglican service than you made it to be. The 39 Articles explains the sufficiency of theScriptures for salvation (article VI), and the authority of the church is where the pure Word of God is preached (article XIX). In other words, preaching the Word of God is the primary thing a physical church should be doing.

      I would say Westminster Abbey is not a good example of what a faithful Anglican church would be like, rather we should look at All Souls Langham (also in London), or St Andrews Cathedral (Sydney), and the likes of Matthias Media for examples to follow.

  5. Jay says:

    I agree with both Trevor AND James, though there may be a tension between the article and the comment.

    My SBC bona fides also include 2 SBC seminaries, years of ministry, 33 years as a member subsequent to 9 years attending as a child before my baptism.

    The SBC and the Anglican world have a lot to learn from each other. I am glad to see the interactions, when speakers at the Anglican Connections Conference (Dallas, 2017) recommend certain LifeWay resources and SBC seminaries invite Anglican luminaries such as Lee Gatiss and N T Wright to lecture and to defend the faith against unbelievers, or when the “Peace Committee” called on J I Packer in 1985 to help hammer out what orthodoxy is.

    There are faithful teachers and believers, as well as apostates, in both communions. There are strengths as well as weaknesses in both approaches. I have crossed from one to the other, but to those on both sides (and in all the other enclaves) — I hope you examine and adopt the good in the other, examine and eschew the shortcomings in your own, and love Jesus — proclaimed in Spirit-anointed expositions of the Word of God, proclaimed in the scripture saturated liturgy that has richly blessed God’s people for nearly a half-millenium, and proclaimed in the Eucharistic Lord’s Table, where Christ feeds his people. (And, BTW, when you examine the 1689 London Confession, and the 39 Articles of Religion, they are quite consonant on the nature of this event: God’s people are really truly fed and nourished by the body and blood of Christ, received spiritually — not corporeally — when eating in faith.)

    J

  6. James Richard Needham says:

    ” I hope you examine and adopt the good in the other, examine and eschew the shortcomings in your own, and love Jesus”

    So many conflicts would simply desolve if we took this advice. Thank you for saying it so well.

  7. Rachel says:

    I’ve never been inside Westminster Abbey. Unless you’re at a service, it’s absurdly expensive to get in. But I walk past it routinely – as I also walk past Methodist central hall which has its own history. What strikes me is that this is a place of history, of kings, queens and prime ministers, this is a place to be reminded of Gods purposes in and through the history of nations. It tells the English story. It has seen so much that has changed the course of human history. It is impossible not to be in awe of that.

    Yes it’s a physically grand building that may dwarf its spiritual impact. But it was built with the sweat of 1000s of labourers. And perhaps with more divine inspiration than our modern attempts at church architecture.

    In old churches, I never fail to be struck by the mere fact that I worship where people have worshipped for 1000 years. We got married standing in a place people had got married for 1000 years. Few things leave you more humbled by Gods hand over the centuries.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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