Pilgrimage to Spurgeon’s Met. Tabernacle

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The pilgrimage to Metropolitan Tabernacle in London has been over 20 years in the making. I have always been a HUGE fan of Charles Spurgeon. In my bible college days, my nickname was "Spurgeon" because I would quote his works (sermons, lectures, treasury of david)

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He looks a lot like me [dont you think] although he has more padding.

I was standing next to this painting, holding my bible in my right hand and readying myself for a lookalike photo, when, just before i lifted up the camera and made a complete idiot of myself, Dr Peter Masters walks out of his office and invites me in.

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Dr Masters is the current pastor of the Met Tab. Lovely guy. A legend in his own right yet also standing conspicuiously in the looming (and large) shadow of Uncle Charlie.

I introduce myself and my baptist heritage, as well as my current interest in the emerging church. "The emerging church", said Dr Masters, "from what I have heard, is so diverse that no one really knows what it is."  Thats exactly right, I said. Good to see he was on the right track.

I told him of my unhealthy and unbiblical adulation (idolation?) of Spurgeon and he pointed our a few trinkets that I might be interested in . . .

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like Charlies’s pulpit!!!!

I jumped up and whipped out my camera like a giddy school-girl. I mean school-boy. No  . . . lets stick with the first one . . .

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Thats really it???? Wow!!!! Duuuuuuuuddddeeeeee!!!!!!

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Look at the clock in his pulpit!!!

And Dr Peter Masters, rather than calling security, actually kept talking and letting me go goofy in his office. He told me that 40 minutes was the desired time for sermons, as Spurgeon taught his students, hence the built in clock on the pulpit.

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I took a few more photos of letters and paraphenalia, and then decided I had embarrassed myself enough, and had probably shamed the whole emerging church movement. So I excused myself and said goodbye to his wife who was organising the list of visitors. She also, btw, leads the childrens sunday school which gets about 700 kids each week.

And as I left the office, I felt bad because I had forgotten to say something important.

In my overwhelmingly nostalgic outburst of emotion, in my release of a quarter century of pent-up yearning to visit this church, I had forgotten to acknowledge the present acheivements of the pastor sitting in front of me.

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Peter and his wife have accomplished amazing things in their 35 years of residence. When they arrived, the congregation was about 30 elderly people. Now there are hundreds of people from all walks of life, a booming children’s ministry, and  missions work in 20 countries.

Add to that the challenges of a changing world that Charlie never had to face. Dr Masters has managed to walk that fine line between being a historic timeless church, and yet also speak with authority to today’s world and using today’s media. The sermon I heard yesterday, for example, is available as a podcast.

And at the same time, it is also very old fashioned, as one walking in the footsteps of Spurgeon would hope to find.

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Sermons here are old skool. No visual media. Just Bible reading and preaching. King James prayer language also. Its refreshing to sit there and imagine what it was like in the days of Charlie – not too different, I suppose.

The ministry itself is a bit too separatist for me and far too attractional in its evangelistic approach – just as it was when Charlie pulled out of the Baptist Union last century. Its also a bit too AW Pink rather than John Stott. Dr Masters doesnt like the word "fundamentalist". He prefers "old evangelical" as opposed to "new evangelical’. I bought his little book on the subject called "Are We Fundamentalists?" which spells out his views quite clearly. Still, you have to respect their stance and their outworking of it.

So has the ministry changed to meet the times at all? And where have those contextual changes taken place?

Probably in the hymnology. Peter Masters has written an excellently worded apology in the preface to their hymn book

"Our Own Hymn Book has therefore served as a model for the present selection of hymns and their arrangement, but we have employed a degree of editorial intervention which Spurgeon would never have countenanced in his day."

WHAT INTERVENTION?

"We feel that language has changed for more in the 125 years since Spurgeon’s hymnbook than during the 150 years which seperated Spurgeon from Watts. We are now confronted with numerous quaint and jarring words or phrases which ought to be edited.
Editorial changes have aimed at achieving instant comprehension whenever possible, thus enabling worshippers to honour the apostolic principle – ‘"I will sing with the understanding also’
[Dr Peter Masters, Preface, Psalms and Hymns of Reformed Worship, 2003, Wakeman Trust]

Wow – If i had to explain the contextual approach to ministry for the emerging-missional church to Dr Masters, I would probably start with his own words here.

Anyway – a great visit to the famous Met Tab. I take off my hat to Dr Masters and his wife who have achieved great things. And I thank the kindly and informative ushers and elders (Chris Law) who answered all my questions, including the one that went . . . "what would Charlie think of the organ?"

Of course, he wouldnt approve. But sometimes you have to step out from nostalgia and into the real world with the timeless Christ.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

22 Comments

  • I used to live a few blocks from the Tabernacle there in the 1980’s and would visit it from time to time. I had no idea who Spurgeon was at the time and thought it was a cult when I first when in because of all the paintings they had of him around the place. I also learned after you visit there and fill out a little visitor’s card, that a week later they come knocking at your door to chat with you (at least back then they did that).

  • You’ll have to forgive my ignorance but I’m curious; what’s the contrast with Pink and Stott? I’m guessing sovereignty (one of Pink’s calling cards) but I didn’t think they disagreed here.

  • great post. Before I did an exchange in Cambridge back in 2002, my family came with me to visit London. Out of all the attractions, sites, etc., my dad’s primary desire was to visit the Tabernacle.
    Gracious hosts for sure…It is hard to quantify the power of Spurgeon’s legacy.
    mark

  • Andrew, I share your admiration of CHS. Not the least is that both he and DL Moody were not the “pretty boys” of their day, yet they were in some parallel ways the emerging church leaders of their generation. And if I am not mistaken, both rejected ordination on grounds that it (ordination) was not biblical.
    I have often heard and even read that in the original Tabernacle, there were three levels – floor, first and second balconies. In this structure, he preached from the first balcony, and under the pulpit was a prayer room which was filled with people praying for him as he preached. Can you confirm or discount this with fact?

  • Ted
    there were indeed 3 levels – 2 balconies above the floor.
    and i have heard about the basement fulled of prayer people and assume its true.
    nate:
    Pink = old evangelical
    Stott = new evangelical

  • Visited there myself a few years ago, and then headed for the Sunday service. It was communion and I found that a bit exclusive, they invited everyone to join in the offering but only non charismatic bible believing evangelicals to join the communion?
    The archaic language in the pastors prayer surprised me, not sure this is how he speaks in normal life, so why speak that way to Jesus? It does makes a nice museum and spurgeon visitor centre, maybe I just went on a unusual day!

  • great post —
    thanks for remembering those
    veterans that have gone before(CHS &Dr.Masters) and not being afraid to to benefit from them and at the same time caring for the emerging culture of this generation. You are a blessing to the Emerging church TSK.
    I hope that the Emerging Churches of this generation have as many come to love our Savior under their ministry as did Spurgeon.

  • On the first picture of the pulpit I couldn’t make out that the object on the right hand side was a clock. As it looked hollow and metalic I thought, “is it?… Could it be?… an ashtray???”. Alas not, but I think the cigar-loving Mr. Spurgeon might have liked the idea!

  • Thanks Andrew. I made a similar pilgrimage 12 years ago on my first trip to England. I included the MET TAB and Westminster Chapel to pay my respects to Martyn Lloyd-Jones. You saw a lot more than me, so I very much appreciate the photographs…
    Cheers
    Paul

  • Wow. An emerging type visiting – and enjoying – Metropolitan Tabernacle. Talk about staunchly Calvinistic and – dare I say it? – fundamentalist!
    Having said that, I’ve no doubt Peter Masters is a nice chap in person. Ironically, despite the fact I am a liberal, he is the only guy on “Christian” TV in Britain that I’ll actually listen to for more than 5 seconds without switching off. He has a very peaceful, gracious demeanour that makes him and his message very endearing. (I have to admit, though, he comes across as far less gracious in print!)

  • March 22, 2006

    I’m studying Thessalonians which tells me that I am supposed to make it my ambition to not be ambitious. Be diligent about being laid back. Be zealous about staying calm. Que sera sera with a vengeance! (1Thess 4:11). So I’m…

  • Yet another blogger who visited the Tab. Glad you enjoyed it.
    You are right in that Dr Masters is aware of the ’emerging’ church. He lectured on it at seminary two months ago.
    Just to correct one error in the comments section – communion at the Met Tab is OPEN to all who are born again, and has been for a very long time. The exact phrase used in the notices is ‘we invite visitors who are members of other evangelical churches to remain with us’. It says nothing about being charismatic or not!
    I speak with authority having been in membership until 2002 and having most of my family still there (including my Dad who actually GIVES those notices!).
    Oh, and on the matter of people praying for SPurgeon as he preached, yes that happened a lot, folks would gather in a hall downstairs and support the ministry with prayer. I suppose it freed up seats for visitors. You needed a ticket to get in a lot of the time.
    And one other thing – the church certainly follows up on visitors who are willing to leave details, sometimes by letter and sometimes by visit if it is felt appropriate. This is one of those things that people will alternately criticise or praise – it is a hard thing in a large church to follow up on people and make them feel welcome and give them personal time, etc.
    And one more thing – one comment above about Dr Masters being ‘of the past’. Don’t lose sight of the fact that he and the Tabernacle are being used of God to impact many many lives. It would be convenient for many to ignore this, but the Tabernacle is a growing, vibrant church that is reaching out into the melting pot of cultures and nations all around it, and the message of the gospel is absolutely timeless.

  • I like Peter Masters. I first visited the Tab in September 1982. At that time I held quite strong charismatic views and I was a bit surprised how critical he was of the charismatic position.
    I suppose he would have very clearly defined views on a lot of issues and if I went to the Tab regularly, I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable if I didn’t hold the same views. Yet, I have been impressed with his teaching over the years and I am pleased that he has been both faithful and successful. You’d wonder what would have happened to the Tab if he had not been there. I am pleased that the wider evangelical scene seems to becoming more aware of him in recent times. He might not be right about everything but he’s worth listening to. I haven’t seem him for about ten years but judging from the picture, he’s ageing better than me! 🙂

  • Dr Masters does have very clear views on many issues. He has to, as the Pastor of a church and one whose gift of teaching and expounding the scriptures is looked to by many many people in the UK and around the world. He has years of pastoral experience on which to draw on. BUT- he will always back up his teaching from the scriptures. He has a huge responsibility to proclaim the truth and he does so in a very gracious manner. No man made gimmicks or philosophies would be preached from that pulpit. We will never all agree in this life on many issues it is true, but God has blessed the work of His faithful servant and the firm stand he has taken.
    By the way…..no one is obligated to give to the offering. I believe the words are ‘the stewards will now take up our offering for the Lord’s work in this place’….an explanation of what is happening.
    I came to Christ at the Tabernacle and am blessed to have been in a church with such teaching and example of how a church should be. It is 9 years since I left but I love to go back.

  • I spent 5 years at the met tab between 1975 and 1980 and found that Dr Masters’ effect on his congregation was to inspire an uncritical and consequently unhealthy confidence in his particular interpretations of the scriptures. His people were convinced that they stood in a direct line of orthodoxy with the Apostles and reformers, quite distinct from the rest of the church universal. Dr Masters’ intellect and articulate rhetoric rendered it very difficult for most people to find any issues with what he said and those who did (like myself) inevitably left the church.
    Dr Masters is himself gifted with a warm personality, but is not known to be very gracious to anyone whose view of church or scripture is at variance with his own. It is sad to hear that after so many years have passed, this latter trait remains unchanged.

  • What a load of bunkum. You last attended in 1980 and reading this article entitles you to slander both Dr Masters and all the folk at the Tabernacle as if they were idiots with no free will or understanding.
    I don’t think it is unhealthy to have confidence in an interpretation of the scripture which aligns with the vast majority of our baptist heritage.
    I wouldn’t agree with every last thing he says or does, but the bare facts about his interaction wiht those outside his tradition and views on many issues give the lie to your ridiculous and uncharitable attack.
    Sour grapes.

  • I love Charles Spurgeon,
    He is so cut and dry, and so full of real passion! His book Lectures to my students is a great book that I have enjoyed. Good practical advice. I love that he was virtually a Holy-Spirit taught man. I heard that he never went to cemetary. Ooops I mean Seminary!
    I am a musician and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All my music is free for download. Anyway, I don’t mean to be a pest, just thought I’d share.
    Thanks,
    -Sean
    ______________________
    http://www.SeanDietrich.com
    “All my muisc is free.”

  • I’m a Spurgeon fan and discovered your website on the Met Tab website-that linked to yours which I want to explore! Best to you, Don

  • I went to the tabernacle sept 2007. I went in the bookstore and asked to see anything associated with spurgeon. They showed me the church. I wish I has known there was a visitor center etc.

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