The easiest way to describe Sunday was “church.”
We had the incredible opportunity to worship with two distinctly different churches while we were in New York.
The first was Brooklyn Tabernacle.
If you have not heard of Brooklyn Tab, then I encourage you to do two things. One, go search “Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir” on YouTube. There thousands of videos that showcase their music. They have to be one of the most diverse groups I’ve ever heard sing. I actually heard about them before New York since my Mom is a big fan of their music. Two, go buy, read, borrow, check out from the library, or skim in Borders or Barnes & Nobles the book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala. This book chronicles the journey of Jim Cymbala, the pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle, and how he began Brooklyn Tab. It is a short book, but an adrenaline shot for your faith. It gives good background for the heart and mission of the Church and a little bit of a sense of atmosphere of who they are.
So Brooklyn Tab was our first stop in the morning. Most people did not know what to expect. I knew they were a more charismatic church that allowed the Holy Spirit to move in whatever ways He chose, so I was not surprised.
Not to say it was a bad experience at all. It was just different than what most “Bible-belt” Christians are used to… but in a good way.
The choir was beautiful, diverse, and joyous. When 300 people are singing, swaying, and rejoicing, you cannot help but join in. But, what blew me away was not how good the choir was (although they were great); it was the congregation.
They were just as loud, just as passionate, and just as joyful as those on stage. It was not a passive worship experience like so many churches in the South. It was as if the congregation was an extension of the choir, they just did not have room on stage for everyone.
I remember thinking during the service, “This has to be the most accurate picture of Heaven I have ever seen.”
It did not matter whether you were white, black, or otherwise, there was a sense of family that was inescapable. People shook your hands and gave you hugs just because you were a fellow brother or sister in Christ–even though we were from a completely different area of the country! It was one of the most welcoming environments I have ever been in. It really felt like the Body of Christ was working the way it was supposed to. There was an aura about the room that I have felt in few places. To say it was the Holy Spirit would be the “right answer,” but it was more than just Him. It was a freedom, joy, and peace that was accepting.
God showed up. Plain and simple.
A unique experience we had while there was hearing someone prophesy in tongues. I understand that the majority of churches today turn a skeptical eye to such a thing, but it is completely biblical, in the correct context. And this was in the correct context. It was for the edification of the Body AND someone was there who was able to interpret. It was a little bit uncomfortable at first because it is not something I am used to, but as the interpretation was spoken there was a sense of agreement in the room. It was beautiful.
After the Brooklyn Tab service, we split up into small groups to get familiar with the city and the subway.
Most of our group had never been to New York before. If you have never been, the subway is vital to survival in the city. Therefore, being comfortable with reading a subway map and switching trains in the city was imperative.
We were given a map with “touristy” spots circled on them and our goal was to visit as many of them before we met back up as a big group for the evening.
In reality, we did not visit more than 2 places on the map. It takes longer than you think to go from one side of Manhattan to the other–even taking the subway.
After we regrouped, we went to Redeemer Church.
Redeemer is pastored by Tim Keller, author of The Reason for God. I sympathize with Tim Keller and Redeemer for two reasons. One, they are a portable church. This means they do not have a facility of their own but either rent or lease the space of another church or organization to hold their services. The church that I work with in Athens, Athens Church, has been a portable church and will be moving into their first permanent facility in June. Visit AthensILoveYou.org to find out more.
The second reason that I sympathize with them is because of what their church stands for and is accomplishing. Redeemer targets the 20somethings, young intellectuals, and single businessmen. As you looked around the sanctuary–this service was held at a baptist church off Central Park–everyone seemed to be around the same age as we were. It was definitely an environment that mimicked what most of us were used to back home.
The service we attended on Sunday night was their jazz service which was a really neat experience. While I had never heard jazz incorporated into worship service before, it was done extremely well. The actual liturgy reminded very much of a traditional Presbyterian church (Redeemer is Presbyterian affiliated). Hymns, scripture reading, congregational responses, very Reformed, which sat really well with my soul. While it may have seemed a little antiquated, it was definitely refreshing to hear solid, Bible-based preaching in such a dark place like New York City.
Walking away from Redeemer on Sunday night I realized I had seen the Body of Christ in two completely different ways.
One was charismatic, diverse, and joyful.
One was intellectual, reverent, and dense.
But the beauty of it was, they were not mutually exclusive. I realized that each part of the Body was expressing themselves in the way God had intended. No one was better than the other. Each was bringing something entirely unique to the table. One brought incredible praise that rivaled the sounds Heaven must make. The other brought teaching that was solid meat where the Word of God was rare.
It was beautiful. It is an incredible reminder that although we may be from different families, races, parts of the country, or even theological backgrounds, we are all united by Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection transcend any boundaries made by man. That is the beauty of the gospel.
I think that is what heaven is going to be like. God created us different and celebrates our diversity. I think there are going to be rooms in heaven. There will be rooms for those who want to sing loud. There will be rooms for those that want to sit before the Lord and worship in their hearts. There will be rooms where those can pray prostrate before the Father. There will be rooms of voracious preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There will be rooms where people are speaking truth in the language of heaven. There will be rooms full of laughter as people share the stories of what God did in their lives.
And you know what the beautiful thing will be?
There will be no doors. You will not be confined to one room or the other. You will be free to move here and there. Walk across the hall to hear Tim Keller proclaim the gospel, then walk next door to worship with the Brooklyn Tabernacle choir proclaiming the name of Jesus. There will be no hindrances, chains, or divisions. The name of Jesus will be lifted from every room in every tongue.
I think I glimpsed heaven on that Sunday… I know I did.