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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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.