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New Horizons

College Chapel

"Uncle Glen"

Dear James,

I was talking to your Mom after church last Sunday, and she mentioned that my last letter to you was somewhat beside the point. She says you are convinced that going to church for Sunday evening worship is a good way to keep the entire Sabbath holy, even if studies and socializing sometimes prove to be distracting. The real trouble you face on the worship front is college chapel. She did not elaborate, but I can well imagine your objections.

When your Dad and I were in college, we knew various schemes (and sometimes used them) to avoid being counted absent from chapel, even though we were in fact absent. I am not proud of those tricks, but cutting chapel free from consequences is one of those temptations that come to most students at Christian colleges.

I realize that the services often function more as pep rallies than as means for corporate expression of devotion and praise. I cannot imagine what your services are like now with the dominance of contemporary Christian music. Back in your Dad's and my day, the chaplain, Dr. Ryder, was reluctant even to let guitars into the chapel. I hear that when he retired, so did many of his arguments for retaining a measure of formality in chapel.

Another problem with chapel that might have occurred to you is that it can take up as much as an entire hour of the day, a time that could well be devoted to study, writing, and other parts of your academic work. I must say that I am partial to this concern, since most students, when they leave college, will never have the opportunity for chapel again in the course of their work—either in the home as spouses and parents, or in the business world, unless of course they end up teaching at a Christian school. We Orthodox Presbyterians are not troubled if our members are not attending chapel services during the week. We do expect families to conduct worship in the home. But we also know that the work believers do, either in their secular vocations or in their familial responsibilities, is the way Christians are called to honor and serve God during the common or work days. Reformed Christianity knows no distinction between worldly activities and religious devotion in the sense that believers are called to give glory to God (read: worship) in all that they do.

Mind you, this is not an excuse for doing homework on the Sabbath. The Shorter Catechism helpfully explains that to engage in work on Sunday that is normally lawful during week is a way to violate the Sabbath. So, clever student that you are, you may be wondering if engaging in religious devotion on weekdays that is normally lawful on Sunday is in fact a way to violate the goodness of our secular callings. In other words, isn't it a betrayal of the doctrine of vocation to make students go to chapel? If studying is a way to honor and glorify God, why not spend that hour in the library or at the desk in the dormitory?

This is a good question, but I can only advise you to go along to get along. Rutherford College has been having chapel since its founding, and is not likely to change during my lifetime. Still, beyond submitting to the circumstances in which God has placed you, I would also suggest that the intentions of chapel are generally wholesome, even if the execution is not always the case. The faculty and administrators are in effect your parents away from home. They have charge of your spiritual, physical, and intellectual well-being. Chapel is one way that they try to carry out those duties. Look at it as a continuation of family worship when you were still at home.

But you should not rely on chapel for your spiritual nourishment the way you could lean on your parents' oversight back at home. You have now established some independence, and it is time for you to start to put into place those habits that will encourage and prepare you to lead family worship some day. Yes, we are talking about personal devotion and the time you devote to prayer, Bible reading, and meditation as part of your daily walk with the Lord. As good and God-honoring as your studies are, you still need to be attentive to God's will for your life and his faithfulness. You also need to be praying continually for his care and blessing both for yourself and others. Both trusting in God's mercy and knowing how to pray are things that come from reading, knowing, and meditating on his Word.

I understand that you are in an awkward stage in life. Your schedule and routine are somewhat at the mercy of the registrar and the irregular demands of your work-study job. You also do not have privacy to engage in personal devotion without being interrupted. I can think of certain ways to alleviate these problems, and will spell them out in more detail in future letters. For now, though, I'd encourage you to begin to think of ways to read the Bible and pray regularly. Even better, simply read the Bible and pray as regularly as possible. God's word is the lifeblood of the believer. It even makes up for a lousy chapel service.


"Uncle" Glen

Editor's note: "Uncle Glen" is a pseudonym. Reprinted from New Horizons, March 2008.

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