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 World Cup you’ve never heard of, where the teams have no state

At the Conifa world cup – this year hosted by the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia – ethnic groups, diaspora communities and disputed territories will battle for footballing glory.

Football's European Championship and the Olympics are set to dominate the back pages over the next few months. How will Team GB fare in Rio? Will the zika virus stop the tournament even going ahead? Will the WAGS prove to be a distraction for the Three Lions? And can Roy Hodgson guide England to a long-awaited trophy?

But before the sprinters are in their blocks or a ball has been kicked, there's a world cup taking place.

Only this world cup is, well, a bit different. There's no Brazil, no damaged metatarsals to speak of, and no Germany to break hearts in a penalty shootout.  There’s been no sign of football’s rotten underbelly rearing its head at this world cup either. No murmurs of the ugly corruption which has plagued Fifa in recent years. Nor any suggestion that handbags have been exchanged for hosting rights.

This biennial, unsung world cup is not being overseen by Fifa however, but rather by Conifa (Confederation of Independent Football Associations), the governing body for those nations discredited by Fifa. Among its member nations are ethnic groups, diaspora communities or disputed territories with varying degrees of autonomy. Due to their contested status, many of the nations are unable to gain recognition from Fifa. As a consequence they cannot compete in tournaments sanctioned by the best-known footballing governing body, and that’s where Conifa provides a raison d’être.

“We give a voice to the unheard”, says Conifa’s General Secretary, Sascha Düerkop, whose world cup kicks off in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia at the end of this week.

“We are proud to give our members a forum where they can put themselves on the map.

“From that we hope to give back in the long run and invest in the football infrastructure in our member nations to help them grow.”

The two week footballing celebration starts with an opening ceremony before Kurdistan and Székely Land kick off the tournament. It follows on from 2014’s maiden competition which saw The County of Nice avenging a group stage defeat to Ellan Vannin from the Isle of Man, to take the spoils in the final via a penalty shoot-out.  There were some blowout scores of note however, with South Ossetia smashing Darfur 20-0 and Kurdistan beating the Tamils 9-0 at the event which took place in Östersund, Sweden. Neither of the finalists will be returning to the tournament – throwing down the gauntlet to another twelve teams. 

This, the second Conifa world cup, is testament to the ever-expanding global footprint of the tournament. Abkhazia will welcome sides from four continents – including Western Armenia, the Chagos Islands, United Koreans in Japan and Somaliland.

Despite the “minor” status of the countries taking part, a smattering of professional talent lends credibility to the event. Panjab can call on the experience of ex-Accrington Stanley man Rikki Bains at the heart of their defence, and the coaching savoir-faire of former Tranmere star Reuben Hazell from the dugout. Morten Gamst Pedersen, who turned out for Blackburn Rovers over 300 times and was once a Norwegian international, will lead the Sapmi people. The hosts complete the list of teams to aiming to get their hands on silverware along with Padania, Northern Cyprus, and Raetia.

A quick glance down said list, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the nations competing have strong political associations – be that through war, genocide, displacement or discrimination. The Chagos Islands is one such example. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Chagos’ indigenous population was uprooted by the British government in the 1960s to make way for one of the United States' most strategically important military bases – Diego Garcia.

Ever since, they've been campaigning for the right to return. Their side, based in Crawley, has crowdfunded the trip to the tournament. Yet most of its members have never stepped foot on the islands they call home, and which they will now represent. Kurdistan’s efforts to establish an independent state have been well-highlighted, even more so given the last few years of conflict in the Middle East. The hosts too, broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and depend on the financial clout of Russia to prop up their government.

Despite that, Düerkop insists that the event is one which focuses on action on the pitch rather than off it. 

“Many of the nations are politically interested, but we are non-political,” he says. 

“Some of our members are less well-known in the modern world. They have been forgotten, excluded from the global community or simply are ‘unpopular’ for their political positions.

“We are humanitarians and the sides play football to show their existence – nothing more, nothing less.”

The unknown and almost novel status of the tournament flatters to deceive as Conifa’s world cup boasts a broadcast deal, two large stadiums and a plush opening ceremony. Its aim in the long run, however, is to develop into a global competition, and one which is content to sit below Fifa.

“We are happy to be the second biggest football organisation,” admits Düerkop.

“In the future we hope to have women’s and youth tournaments as well as futsal and beach soccer.”

“Our aim is to advertise the beauty and uniqueness of each nation.”

“But the most important purpose is to give those nations that are not members of the global football community a home.”

George Weah, the first African winner of Fifa World Player of the Year award remarked how “football gives a suffering people joy”.

And after speaking to Düerkop there’s certainly a feeling that for those on the game’s periphery, Conifa’s world cup has an allure which offers a shared sense of belonging.

It certainly seems light years away from the glitz and glamour of WAGs and corruption scandals. And that's because it is.

But maybe in a small way, this little-known tournament might restore some of beauty lost by the once “beautiful game”.