Sunday, November 28, 2010

Learning from the Fathers of the Past

There is so much that can be learnt from the men and women that have gone before us. One of the things that concerns me most in organised religion these days is to see great heroes of the faith changing their vocabulary and methods to simply become "contemporary" in the way they see it. I've been reading through some of my collections of Restoration magazines and found an amazing interview that Wesley Richards did with eight of the key leaders of the charismatic movement of the 1970's. It was from the May/June 1987 edition and I've typed it out.

Richards begins by commenting on why the name "Restoration" was chosen;

"The name was chosen to 'emphasise our conviction that the Spirit of God 'is moving within the church today, not merely to renew what exists but to restore so much that has been lost or neglected".

Here's the interview;

Question: Why has this emphasis on the restoration of the church come about? Why wasn't the
most recent 'renewal' movement of the Spirit — which most of these men were part of — adequate?

Gerald Coates: 'The renewal movement did spill out into a very broad constituency. Through Michael Harper and others, folk such as myself were exposed to a quality of teaching, a perspective of church life and a ministry of the Spirit which revolutionised us. 'I'm not sure that Michael Harper is as aware of that as we are, but he actually had a lot to do with the beginning of the house-church movement. But we couldn't follow God and be obedient to him within the existing church structures. Many folk felt that allowing the Holy Spirit to come into Anglicanism, Methodism, 'Baptistism' or whatever would simply brighten up the worship and liven up the pulpit.

And, of course, it may do so, but that's very superficial and cosmetic. God wants to go much deeper. The baptism in the Spirit doesn't make you a better Anglican or a better Methodist. It makes you a worse Anglican, a worse Methodist, because Jesus isn't an Anglican or a Methodist and he won't fit into either. If the purpose of the renewal movement was to renew denominational Christianity, it has failed hopelessly. 'That's not to say that God hasn't done — and isn't still doing — wonderful things through it. But when you consider that it has been going now for over 20 years, it's a remarkable indictment of the renewal movement that there are so few thoroughly renewed churches today, in terms of both heart and structure.'

Arthur Wallis: Perhaps the foremost reason for the manifest decline in the renewal movement was the unwillingness in many quarters to face up to the implications of reformation. What was
needed was a fresh kind of obedience to what God was causing to break forth from his Word. It would be wrong of me to judge brethren, because I don't know how much light they had —how much they saw. Nor do I know how much instinctive recoiling there was from a path that was going to mean, "I haven't got to be clobbered again, have I, by some of my friends and colleagues?" But the fact that people began to withdraw indicates there was not an embracing of what God was saying and doing. The Spirit of God was in some measure quenched and grieved. There wasn't that quickening of faith for the next phase because people were a bit afraid of what the next phase would mean. I think some retracted on what they had experienced and sank back
into the old ecclesiastical rut. 'Others were busy maintaining what they had and thought, "This is it. Let's see it spread, but we mustn't go too far. We mustn't start challenging the historic structures."

Roger Forster: 'Renewal is not an end in itself. Unless you are prepared to improve cosmetically what is corroding. And whatever great moves there have been in renewal — which I rejoice over for the sake of those who have been blessed — have really been personal renewals, whereas God is seeking a corporate renewal which is not possible within those structures. He may choose, in his mercy and grace, to bless individuals there, but I don't see any hope that those great, creaking institutions will be turned around.

Barney Coombes: 'As I look around, there are very, very few churches which ever changed the wineskin — particularly Anglican churches. You could probably count on one hand those that made any significant changes. Then the ones that actually did make ultimate changes left the Anglican church as they sought to walk in obedience. Believers' baptism was, and still is, a big issue. People such as David Pawson, who preach it very clearly, are increasingly seen to be persona non grata in that sort of circle, where at one time he was quite popular.

Question: So, if renewal has fallen short, in what ways have the restorationists helped the church of Christ to move forward?

Clive Calver: I think the whole emphasis on worship, both physical and verbal, has been very important. I have heard a number of denominational leaders endorse that. The house churches have also taught us that we mustn't just sit in pews —we've got to learn how to relate. It's fair and valid to say that the emphasis on teamwork has come from the house-church movement. I think also that a strong affirmation of evangelical orthodoxy has come from within the movement. In the midst of the turmoil in certain of the established denominations, house churches have looked like a bastion, standing for the truth, and that has been fundamentally important — it has helped to strengthen the church's backbone a bit more.

Bryn Jones: 'One essential emphasis has been that, whereas we all believe in body life, what we are saying inside the context of restoration is that body life doesn't mean a free-for-all —it means freedom under government. It means you are totally free to express what is in keeping with the will of God and the ways of God. And the way God expresses his will and keeps us in his ways is by a government that he has established within his body. If we don't heed that government, we will either substitute some other form of control or we will have a charismatic free-for-all, which will eventually lead to a disintegration of the group.

Terry Virgo: 'The prophetic vision and refurbishing of the hope of the church through prophetic preaching has been complementary to what God has done spontaneously. When we gather in our thousands in Bible Weeks and sing songs full of prophetic truth, people are not just focusing on their own individual walk with God; they are responding to the sense of being a people of destiny, caught up in the great purpose of God. Again, the emphasis on the need for local churches to be built on apostolic foundations has been crucial. This plumb line has been applied to the previous foundation of church life, which has normally been the tradition in which that company has grown up. I believe that what has come to be known as the house-church movement has a voice for the whole church. It is tremendously important that we fight against the attempt being made to corner us and put us outside. We have to bring a leaven to the whole lump.

Arthur Wallis: 'We have emphasized that God wants a structure through which to work and move, one that is capable of containing the full release of the Holy Spirit without the nets breaking or the structure giving way — without the thing splintering and disintegrating. Then there has been a strong relationship emphasis — that the body of Christ consists of members who are in relationship. Where commitment, love, loyalty and trust break down, the
church breaks down. God designed it that way. He doesn't want it to work without that sense of relationship and commitment.

Gerald Coates: God has given his heart back to the church. Prior to what we know as the charismatic movement, worship, teaching, church life and theology were very cerebral. Now we've got some heart back in our worship, teaching, theology and eschatology, and that's making us laugh and cry.

Question: What about allegations that the house churches have been arrogant, authoritarian, elitist and factious and 'already a denomination' — to mention a few? How do the leaders of the various streams/teams react to the charges levelled against them?

Terry Virgo: 'We have not been elitist. If people look at the facts rather than the rumours, they will see that we have sought to hear from men of faith and gift who have not necessarily been
within our own framework. But we've not sought, under some strange pressure, to have any speaker in just to demonstrate that we are open to anybody, nor have we necessarily joined in every inter-church endeavour in order to demonstrate that we are broad-based. We haven't been authoritarian either. The BBC radio programme, "Front Room Gospel, interviewed people
at random among us and found no trace of that kind of thing at all.

Bryn Jones: 'Right from the start, when those in denominations perceived — rightly — that relationship based on spiritual authority called into question leadership structures that were merely constitutional or ecclesiastical, stories began to circulate that were quite apocryphal. Even where there were elements of truth, they were exaggerated out of proportion. There has been an effort to discredit the exercise of spiritual authority as being something oppressive. You had wild stories of excess, where people's door-keys had to be handed over and
bank books were demanded from them. As far as I'm aware, all those stories in this country were fictional. I never personally found any credible support for any of them. I don't believe we're exclusive. I do believe that in large measure we are the ones who have been excluded. One
thing we do admit to is being clear, and I think our clarity is often taken for exclusivism. What we're saying is that what we believe we will practice.

Now some people are frightened when they see clear practice. They don't mind talking to us privately. Often, the people who in public are very vocal about our being exclusive are in full agreement with us in private. But they say, "You shouldn't really expect us to practise that and do that. We might hold it privately but we've got to wait for some magic moment for God to make the time right for it to be done." But, let's be clear, at no point are we calling people to leave their denominations. We've said it again and again, put it in writing, recorded it on tapes and repeated it at Bible Weeks: it is only where your denomination compromises your conscience in terms of the Word of God that you have a choice to make. We shouldn't impose on people what is the level of our faith and conscience. We should respect the other man's judgment, as Paul teaches in Romans 14.

Barney Coombes: 'One mistake we've made — and John Wimber is having to face the same problem — is that when there's a move of God, because of the thirst and hunger in the hearts of God's people, the followers become more extreme than the leaders. Jesus had the same problem. I mean, his disciples wanted to bring down fire to destroy people! 'People have suddenly heard this message of restoration and started running with it. But revelation didn't
suddenly fall out of the sky to Bryn Jones, Arthur Wallis or myself. It's something we've grown into. A lot of people have been hurt byincessant singing, pride about our own sacrifice and the decisions we'd made and so on, all of which runs completely counter to the gospel's message about being poor in spirit.'

Tony Morton: 'Our mistake has been that, in blazing a trail and seeking to be obedient to God, we have sometimes alienated ourselves from brethren we need, men who have held the truths of the gospel with integrity to the best of their knowledge. We've created a gap — a gap which
needs to be bridged again for the sake of everybody. The body of Christ is not going to be further separated through the ministry of apostles and prophets but, as Ephesians 4 promises, actually brought together. I believe that in the great drive that has been born of the Spirit within many men to establish new churches, to create a new status quo which is New Testament oriented though not perfect, something has happened which has become almost the opposite of God's intent.

We have alienated ourselves from men of God in charismatic and Pentecostal situations who could have blessed us, and whom we could have blessed. It has almost become a competitive issue as to whom God will own. I don't think anyone has intended that. But through our insecurities and our need to prove something, probably plus the pressures of having to get on with the work, we have failed actually to declare the glory of our common kingdom-oriented, church-oriented intents. That's a major blemish about which God is addressing us now. God is changing things!

Gerald Coates: 'I often wish I could write books and give talks that were acceptable. That would make me more likeable and lovable! But every time I put pen to paper, every time I open my mouth, I feel this great anger and anguish on God's heart about the state of the church in general in Britain and the fact that there are so few voices crying out on God's behalf about it. And so I find myself having to do it. Obviously there are things I've said which should have been dosed with more compassion. But equally, there are things I've said which have been compassionate and kind, where I might have done God a far greater service by being really honest.

Bryn Jones: We are men who go for what we believe, but we have often been deeply hurt by what has been thought of us collectively, and some of us have been deeply hurt by what has
been said to us individually. At times, some of the people questioning our motives are those we
least expect. I think in all we've done we've sought to keep our motives pure. I've heard some say we're so cold that we don't let anything hurt us, that we just plough on and aren't sensitive
enough. And then I've heard others say we're so sensitive that we take too much heed of what is said and don't pursue things aggressively enough. Sometimes I've faltered in my pursuit of what I was convinced of because of the hurt I felt or the questioning of our motives by others. I can truthfully say that we could have planted churches in a lot more towns and cities of this country if we hadn't been sensitive to what others felt. We have deliberately curtailed our advance in many areas, and in some places actually withdrawn after giving in, because of the feelings others had about us being there.

Question: The future, not the past, is clearly dominating the leaders of the new churches?

Barney Coombes: Contrary to accusations of just being little 'blessing' groups, my opinion is that those who have embraced the kingdom are the most outgoing, innovative, creative, sacrificial people around today. My own observations are that the restoration pioneers are far from changing down a gear, content with their impact on the church to date. Instead, they are moving into overdrive, with their sights set on affecting the destiny of the nation. In private conversation, as well as public interviews, I found leaders who, far from being intoxicated by so called 'success', were full of a sober realism concerning the immense challenges ahead if the church is going to make a significant breakthrough back into the mainstream of national life in Britain.

Terry Virgo: 'God has spoken to us strongly about reaching the nation through large churches. We were praying about how we could influence the media and speak to the nation. God told us through a prophetic word that we weren't ready to speak to the media, but that God would build large churches, as a result of which the media would come to us and ask us what was happening. Through that we would begin to get a voice. I believe we will see a revived, restored church emerging across the nation. I've been in full-time ministry since 1963 and I have never
known such a time of continual conversions. It's only a steady trickle, but the tide is coming in.
'But when we begin to see large numbers being saved and vested interests being touched — and as we grow in strength and begin to speak out more on moral issues such as abortion — I believe there will be a backlash. In England there will probably be an attack on leaders to undermine their integrity. I think also there will be an attempt to undermine what they would call fundamentalism, attacking Christians for not being free thinkers and caricaturing them as Bible-reading obscurantists.

Barney Coombes: 'I am very encouraged about future prospects! It excites me to see young men and women coming forth with commitment, abandonment and recklessness to serve God. If that continues, I can see some amazing things happening.'

Bryn Jones: 'I believe that the whole body of Christ is going to experience a huge spiritual awakening. That doesn't mean we'll be without persecution, though. We're on the very threshold of a tremendously positive future. I see the rains of God over our land. I see the flame of the Holy Spirit burning in all our cities. I see a largescale spiritual revival.

4 comments:

David Rolles said...

Dan, that photo of the West St Elders with Ern Baxter took us back about 27 years - thanks for posting it!

And interesting interviews with Arthur Wallis & former colleagues...

Dan Bowen said...

Glad you liked David!

I am determined that church history will not be forgotten no matter how much some individuals would like that to happen. Ern Baxter was an essential and key part of church history in the United Kingdom as were Arthur Wallis et all and they will not be forgotten!

Although I am listening to Rob Rufus currently speaking about being open to the new and dynamic rainbow colours of God's surprises!

Michael Gormley said...

The Amputated Member...

Attention all non-Catholics who "claim" to follow the teaching of Holy Scripture!

Have you ever read 1Corinthians 12:1-31 before?

Have you understood the message written therein?

1. There is but one Body of Christ (vs 12).

2. The Body of Christ is the Church which He founded, Ephesians 1:22-23

3. Therefore the Church which Jesus Christ founded IS Christ.

4. Therefore those who reject His Church, reject Him. Matthew 12:30

5. Since there is but one Christ with one Body, so there must be but one Church. Psalms 127:1, Matthew 16:18

6. The Body (Church) consists of not one member, but many (vs 14).

7. The many members of the one (Church) Body are all part of the same Body but each with his own function (vs's 15-20).

8. The Body of Christ cannot be separated from His Head.

9. Since the Body consists of members, individual members of the Body can be separated from the Head.

10. GOD has said that there must be no discord within the Body (vs 25).

11. However, there was great discord within the one Body, and it was a clear violation of verse 25.

12. It is called the Protestant Revolt .

13. Leaders and members of the Protest ant Revolt Amputated themselves from the one Body(Church) (vs 21).

14. Each member of the Body has his own function, by analogy, an eye, ear, hand, foot (vs's 15-18).

15. Can a hand live by itself, disconnected (Amputated) from the Body, or can an eye, an ear, or a foot?

16. What happens to a member which is Amputated from the Body?

17. The soul does not go with the Amputated member, and thus the member dies.

Dan Bowen said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your comment - I read it carefully along with the interesting links you provided.

I have great and profound respect for the Catholic church as well as a great interest in it and there's much that we could discuss. I would take issue with just a couple of your points.

However I take it from your tone that you are not interested in discussion - rather condemning my "Protestant" viewpoint.

So just wish you every blessing in Christ and just to say I respect you for having the views you do.