The Opening of the IPC
I was at the opening of a new church building in London on Saturday November 17. Its opening is at a time when Britain is currently experiencing Ash Dieback, a disease of ash trees caused by a fungus. It was first identified in the UK in 2012 and is now widespread. Over the next few decades most ash trees will disappear in Kent where the disease has had a devastating impact. There, the ‘Ash Project’ has been set up to remember the tree that in the past has been used to make spears, wheels, oars, arrows,and many tools. There is a sculpture made from ash at White Horse Wood near Maidstone, Kent, reminding people of this beautiful tree. Attempts are being made to save ash trees that show immunity to the disease in the hope of finding a strain of ash resistant to the fungus.
Great Britain is full of another disease that empties places of worship so that they close down and become a memory. What is the future for the gospel of Jesus Christ in Great Britain? The statistics provided by Peter Brierly of the Evangelical Alliance make salutary reading. In the last decade the Church of England opened no new buildings and closed 324. The Methodists opened 4 and closed 813. The Baptists opened 1 and closed 76. The Presbyterians opened 9 and closed 183. The number of mosques built in the London area is 423.
But that is not the whole picture by far. The Pentecostals opened 640 churches and closed 2. The smaller conservative denominations opened 1937 and closed 38. So the overall picture is the growth of conservative and evangelical congregations. In 2005 there were 49,727 churches in the UK but the estimated number for 2020 is that there will be 51,275. The prediction is not at all that atheism is destroying gospel churches.
So the opening of the International Presbyterian Church’s new building in Ealing was not a unique event, though welcome and quite exciting for London Christians, especially the 150 members of the congregation who regularly worship there. They have moved out of their school and have their own building. The congregation’s origin can be dated to over forty years ago. It began in the work of Francis Schaeffer who went to Switzerland in 1948 as a missionary from a Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania. He began the famous ‘L’Abri’ in the Swiss Alps, an international study centre and community for which he became best known, but Schaeffer also encouraged the start of a denomination in order to meet the needs of the people who came to Christ through his ministry. It was given the name the ‘International Presbyterian Church’. The IPC came to England in the sixties alongside the work of L’Abri with this first congregation being planted in Ealing in 1969. Other congregations have joined the IPC in recent years.
A Welshman, Paul Levy, is the pastor and has been at IPC since 2003. He was raised in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Swansea and worked for four years in Cardiff. He came to London in 1999 to study at the Cornhill Training Course and then worked at Grove Chapel with Mark Johnston in South London, before being invited to come to IPC as the minister fifteen years ago. Paul was brought up in a Christian home and became a follower of Christ in his teens. In 2000 he married Claire from Northern Ireland and they have three children Noah, Ellie and Phoebe.
The congregation at the opening of the new building sang ‘All people that on earth do dwell’, ‘This life I live is not my own’, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise’, and ‘Thine be the glory risen, conquering Son.’ The preacher for the service was Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and his text was the words of Christ in Matthew 16, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ The effectual antidote to any thoughts of despair for the future of the gospel in the UK through the spread of the atheistic fungus was declared to us all in the triumphant authority of the Son of God, and happily and confidently this reality was accepted by us all. No fear whatsoever of the gospel church’s disappearance while the Lord Jesus has all authority over the UK and is determined to build his church.
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