It came as a pleasant surprise, when I walked into the little room with 25 chairs arranged facing a pulpit, to see a wall full of shelves full of books that looked like the entire catalog of the Banner of Truth Press on display. Katrina had confused Limerick City Baptist Church with Limerick Baptist Church, you see, and we had the plan to see what was on the stage and maybe fall back on the 11AM service of another denomination. The former Baptist church’s website is not yet up and the latter Baptist church’s website identifies it as purpose driven and is otherwise aglow with the dismaying buzzwords of relevant & decadent religion. Not so here. We were handed a small hymnal—no music, alas!—which had the word Reformed on the front and began with metrical Psalms, contained Jerusalem the Golden, and with Amazing Grace they use another tune (which I find a great relief).
The preaching, teaching, and serving of communion is carried out by a couple of English businessmen who have married Limerickean sisters. The singing is not prolonged—I don’t think they usually sing more than two songs; they do not take up a collection; after they sing one prays, then reads Scripture, and then preaches. At least that is how it went the first Sunday. On the second Sunday they observed communion and only sang one song before the preaching, then one before and one after the observance.
The preaching that I heard was a verse by verse exhortation. There was a bit of exposition of the text but mostly he was looking for a spiritual significance which he then sought to impress on the congregation. He was fond of using other parts of Scripture to illustrate the point he was making and tying the parts together by way of the spiritual truth. In short, he was constantly spiritualizing the text; I found it interesting and also instructive. He had all his sermon typed out but I don’t think he had an outline with a main propositional generalization. When I do whatever it is I do I don’t structure what I do with a propositional generalization and an outline. It probably makes a bad speaker out of me, but I just work my way through the passage trying to get people to understand what it is saying and then what it means (explanation is dominant and application languishes). This preacher, from hearing him only twice, I would say was doing what I do (no real structure other than following the passage) only he was more concerned with what it meant whereas I would be more concerned with making sure the congregation got the flow of thought of the passage and understood how all the parts fit together, granting more time to that than to illustrating and bringing home the meaning by way of application.
The Republic of Ireland, they assured me that evening at the Bible study, has very little in the way of Protestant churches or missionary activity. Northern Ireland has a great deal, as most of us know, but apparently they do not, as a general rule, send missionaries into the Republic. And, they also told me, England does not either.
We stayed for a Sunday School where they sang songs and learned verses and gave a pretty heavy-duty lesson for the children. We stayed because we didn’t know the Sunday School was mainly for the children and the parents stayed with the children. It gave us an opportunity to see what they do and to talk to them some more.
In the evening they have a Bible study. It consists of reading a doctrine and several subdivisions or corresponding and related doctrines along with several passages from Scripture supporting the doctrine. This takes twenty minutes (we did the three offices of our Lord one week, his person and natures the next) to read through the lesson, then they pray, then they have a discussion. I did not find it the most congenial way of teaching, but people have a chance to ask questions in the discussion. On the first occasion, it was just us and the two men along with one of their daughters so when they asked me what I thought I told them the only difference I would have would be to think the offices of our Lord to be chronological because I was a dispensationalist. So we talked about something familiar to one who had been in Brethren circles in England (but forsaken dispensationalism upon the explanation of Hendrickson who seems to be rather persuasive to more than one of my acquaintance), and repugnant and alien to the other who had attended the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.
All this conversation notwithstanding they are praying that I’ll get transferred to Ireland so we can help them with the work there. I doubt we would find another church in Limerick with which we would be in better agreement, should we actually be sent there.
All my training has been toward helping train up native pastors in foreign countries. However, since I have no desire to work with fundamentalist institutions and I would be embarrassed to join up with evangelicals I have had to fall back on the plan of becoming a Science Fiction writer. I certainly do not want a career as a businessman, but I would jump at the opportunity to live in Ireland should my company for unaccountable reasons decide I ought to go. There is no reason my company should send me, but then, they really should not have sent somebody with what is basically an entry level position in the company on international travel; I just happen to be in the area nobody else is interested in and everybody loves to ignore: refunds. Certainly, if we went, we would have opportunities to serve without the objections of our conscience to being a part of something which dishonors the Lord. Going there would solve a few things for us.
Which is not to say we would not have our disagreements over there as well. We would have to have long conversations about Dispensationalism and the nature of the church. I also find I am not Reformed, there being a certain inflexibility about it that appeals to me much less than a broad and catholic spirit does (not to mention my love of mysticism, pietism, quietism and such romantical stragenessess which the Reformed, with the rationalism and delusions of objectivity, generally find repugnant—although these boys emphasized the warmth of affections more frequently than Reformed persons do). And they are not free from the influences that are in the air of the world we live in, of those influences that come across the waters, for in their hymnbook there was doggerel and organ grinder music, and the children’s songs were all of American origin. Still, they are laymen and not hardened politicians, and they are independent of any association or affiliation altogether (and actually wary of denominations and associations). And they are small, wonderfully small, and Limerick is a dark town, with many churches but little of religion.
So pray for the Reformed Baptists in Limerick. They are zealous for the work although they labor under circumstances many of us would consider disadvantageous. It is hard for two laymen to do all the work of the ministry, taking turns with preaching and teaching every week, having families, having work, on top of that trying to nurture a small work in a dark part of the world with new believers and immature believers who require discipleship, and without much in the way of musical ability (at least, it doesn’t seem they have because they hook up this contraption to the electric piano and it plays the hymns for them at the push of a button—although as long as people are singing with Irish accents the music can never be as indecent as ours can be here).