Rules and schools

How do Evangelicals worship?

Evangelical Christianity is driven by faith not works, and by a relationship with God, not a set of rules - it is less a religion than an attitude of the heart. For this reason, worship can take many forms, from a dressy and formal church service to a gathering in a home with a bible and a song sheet. There are no holy buildings.

I have been to large London churches to sing God's praises with hundreds of others. I have also been to smaller, more private gatherings in one of the many countries where Christians are endangered. Both are gatherings in the name of Jesus and, as he explains in Matthew, "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them."

In fact, worship is a word used in the bible to cover all of life. "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship," writes the apostle Paul.

Worship of God is played out in all spheres of life therefore, through showing honesty in business, generosity in friendship, concern for justice, provision for the poor and support for godly moral teachings or laws, to name a few. The essence of Christian worship is that it is driven by joy and gratitude at the salvation Jesus achieved with his death and resurrection.

When evangelicals meet for communal worship, however, it is God's own words that drive the agenda. The Anglican prayer book, written more than three hundred years ago, is a good example of this. Verses, passages or teachings from scripture are spoken from the front of the gathering and the assembled believers respond in unison through the liturgy. The point of this is not to go through centuries-old motions for tradition's sake but to communicate with God as a family of believers.

Evangelical services will often begin with a verse before the congregation responds with a song of praise, then continue with more scripture to lead the congregation to repent in commune. A verse or passage may prompt or open a time of communal prayer and a sermon will seek to encourage an engaged and personal response to scripture (beyond the church doors) before the congregation responds with further praise.

Forms will vary according to preference and culture, but all forms will seek to respond to God's words in praise, repentance, prayer, the words of a creed or even in greeting one another with the peace of Christ.

The communion, Jesus' act of memorial for his disciples, illustrates the sustaining function of God's words in both picture and action by pointing to the final sacrifice made for sin.

Evangelicals use all sorts of church buildings but their focus is firstly on the word of God, rather than communion, music or ritual, and this affects the design of a church. Evangelical churches may have a table with the bread and wine, but they have no altar, as an altar is for sacrifice and there is no further need for sacrifice as Jesus was killed "once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God".
Instead, pulpit and lectern are more likely to feature as the congregation's attention is channelled towards scripture and the risen person of Jesus.

Alex studied French, then Chinese before pursuing a career in journalism. He now works for Trusted Sources, a political and economic risk consultancy, where he is a China analyst
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Peter Hitchens on Twitter seemed barely human – then he came round for tea

During his visit I realised I had an awkward duty facing me.

But what about Peter Hitchens?” everyone is asking after my last encounter with him. He came round to the Hovel, you see, the day before the column, in which I said all sorts of nasty things about him, appeared. The reason why he came round is complicated and boring, but suffice it to say that books were exchanged, in a spirit of mutual diplomatic tension.

I offered him a choice of red wine, whisky, or tea. It was five o’clock. (He was punctual, which unsurprised me. He chose tea; he is not a fan of intoxication. Aha! I thought, he’ll love this: as a foe of modernity in many of its aspects, such as duvets and central heating, he will appreciate the fact that I do not use tea bags. Loose Assam leaves, put into a scalded teapot. “Conservative in everything except politics” was a formulation – originally, I think, applied to George Orwell – that Peter’s late brother was fond of, and I thought my old-fashionedness would soothe him.

Not exactly: he noticed I was pouring semi-skimmed milk into the mug. Of course you put the milk in last when you are using tea bags. When pouring from a pot, you put the milk in first. Milk poured in afterwards does not emulsify satisfactorily. If you are one of those people who say “but how do you know if you’ve put in the right amount of milk?” then I exhort you to start trusting your pouring arm.

Semi-skimmed milk, I learned quickly, is a no-no in the world of P Hitchens.

“But Orwell himself,” I replied urbanely, “said that milk that was too creamy made the tea taste unpleasant. Not, of course, that I believe everything Orwell said, but on tea-making he is sound.”

Mr Hitchens demurred, saying that Orwell was referring to the equivalent of what we know today as Gold Top. This allowed me to go off on a little rant, a positive, life-enhancing rant, about how good Gold Top is, how my children love it, etc. We moved into the living room. I noticed my shoes were more old-fashioned than his. Come to think of it, they may have been older than him. They’re almost certainly older than me.

There was a mood of civility in the air. Slightly strained, perhaps, like his tea, but unmistakably present. Part of the reason was that I had mentioned our forthcoming meeting on a social medium, and two of my friends, one a well-known novelist, the other a well-known columnist, both women, both left wing, had asked me, extremely sincerely, to pass on their best wishes. They knew him of old, had worked with him, were fond of him. These are two women whose opinions I take very seriously indeed. The Peter Hitchens I knew, of column and Question Time panel, was clearly not the whole picture. If these women say he’s Basically All Right, or All Right enough to ask me to pass on their best wishes, then that is pretty much good enough for me.

During his visit I realised I had an awkward duty facing me. I was becoming increasingly conscious that, the next day, in newsagents throughout the land, the latest edition of this magazine would appear, and in it, on page 82, would be a column by me, which contained several jokes at the expense of P Hitchens, Esq. And I knew that this column would not escape his vigilance. I massaged the bridge of my nose and launched into a pre-emptive apology. “I think I had better tell you...”

He seemed to take it fairly well, though I’d not given him the full nature of my assault. When we were tossing insults back and forth on Twitter, he seemed barely human; now, in my living room, he all too clearly was. I suppose this is how we all see our enemies on Twitter: as botched versions of the Turing Test, spouting opinions that are quite clearly wrong in spite of all our well-reasoned arguments. The only variable is how quickly the arguments de-evolve into base invective. I have my own theory about this. It involves Lacan, so I’ll spare you.

A couple of days later I received an email from him, courteously asking after me and my latest troubles, the ones I can’t write about due to their immensity. It also contained the precise quote from Orwell regarding milk in tea. (“Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.” You have to love that “ninthly”.) “Tempus mutatur,” I replied... but noted, too, that there was no mention of That Column. I was rather impressed. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear