Monday, December 23, 2013

Another Take on "Making Every Contact Count"

To those non-NHS types, forgive me for another "care-orientated" post.  Much of the last two years have been massively dominated by my nursing role and my proud membership of the National Health Service - and hence my blog does tend to represent my current passions.  I do still maintain my theological/spiritual interests and have a few subjects brewing - but this one is a post that could not wait!

"Making Every Contact Count" is a very important initiative in the NHS at the moment - we are realising that as health professionals we have a unique position of serious responsibility and privilidge with the patients under our care and their families.  Mistakes in the NHS have been made in the past where care has been delivered but not in the right way.  One of my NHS heroes - Chief Executive Officer Sarah-Jane Marsh said (in a CEO briefing at her Children's Hospital in Birmingham);

"It is not just what we do that matters, but the WAY we do it".

Consider nervous parents accompanying their young child to have their tonsils removed - a relatively minor procedure in context.  Imagine if the surgeon did his job and removed the necessary tonsils, but their entire hospital experience was negative.  Say the surgeon was brisk, rude and dismissive and the nursing staff pre-and post operatively did their job and monitored the child but gave the parents and child no compassionate care and support.  The objective may be achieved - removal of tonsils - but the family and child could and would be scared by such a negative experience.

THIS is why it is not enough to simply have competent NHS staff treating the patient.  We MUST have compassionate and caring (AND competent!) staff who support and defend the patient and family from admission to discharge ensuring the whole point of contact with the NHS is positive.  "Making Every Contact Count" is a vital initiative used in the Birmingham Children's Hospital at present;

But I did find myself wondering if many nurses, student nurses and allied health professionals like myself struggle to come to terms with what actually; "every contact" means?  Does it mean if we are simply taking our parents a cup of tea we should sit down and commence a sermon on smoking cessation?  Surely not!  So it was while thinking these matters through that a common motto came to my mind;

"When a butterfly flaps it's wings in Texas, it causes a tornado in China".

This is in other words known as "Chaos Theory".  It is technically defined as; "a minor change in circumstances can cause a large change in outcome".

I am not entirely sure if healthcare professionals are entirely aware of the enormous potential of their actions (and contact) with patients and their families - whether positive or negative.  The Mid-Staffs scandal demonstrated the hideous enormity of negative contact - and it is a nightmare the NHS should NEVER forget.  But something the Chief Nurse of NHS England - Jane Cummings - is vitally reminding the negatively-biased media is that POSITIVE experiences also have a crucial impact.  

Many nurses (and I have been guilty of this in the past) have come to work at times bringing "home life" with us.  Aches, pains, heartaches or simple headaches - have meant that we as healthcare professionals have not been "properly" operating in the "6Cs" framework we should to truly impact our patients and families for the good.  It may seem little to us - a more formal sober greeting of our families after handover and perhaps a distinct lack of smiles and easy small-talk during the shift than perhaps we may do.  This may seem like just an "off-day" to us.  But what of the impact on our patients and their families?  That "off-day" may be their ONLY contact with the NHS during their lives - and the impact they take away is our lack of smiles, care and - presumed - lack of motivation to give them the patient experience they need.

When a butterfly flaps it's wings ... a tornado happens.

When a nurse smiles at a patient and family (even though his/her heart may be breaking due to a recent family dispute) a positive tornado of change and impact happens and that family may leave the hospital or care setting with a positive experience of trust and confidence in the NHS.

When a butterfly flaps it's wings ... a tornado happens.

When a nurse sits with a devastated, bereaved family and is seen to visibly shed tears, that family may leave the hospital knowing that they were cared for (even though the outcome was not what they hoped) by a human being who was impacted by their loved one.  The loss - still and always devasting in the extreme - will be tempered by the fact that they did not suffer it alone as though on a factory production line ("when's the bed available?") but as an event that impacted the healthcare professional with them at the time.

When a butterfly flaps it's wings ... a tornado happens.

When the worried and anxious family sitting in the Accident and Emergency Department, so concerned about their loved relative suffering beside them, are brought a cup of tea by the nurse and an apology for the wait and an explanation - suddenly the nightmare fear that "they just don't care" evaporates and the slight reassurance (though the concern for their relative remains) that humans are in charge and that they are not just another number in the queue potentially breaching their "targets".  But the experience they take away is that they are told and explained that the department is horrendously busy and prioritisation of care is taking place, but their relative is not forgotten and is under observation (even though it does not seem it) - ANY deterioration in health will be responded to swiftly.

When a butterfly flaps it's wings ... a tornado happens.

The devastated parent sitting with their terminally ill child on Christmas Day looks up as yet another nurse comes in to deliver the required chemotherapy (even though the parent knows it will make the child sick) the difference cannot be expressed if the chemo nurse comes in smiling and compassionately open to what the child needs and does his/her utmost to deliver the necessary medication but with the right approach.  That effect will last with them forever, just as a rushed, brutally efficient but distracted nurse who charges in, injects the medication and rushes out without comment.

When a butterfly flaps it's wings ... a tornado happens.

A family sits in a busy Outpatients department worried sick about the appointment with the consultant.  The results are in and in a few words they will be told whether they have a positive, rosy future full of hope and promise - or further worry, dread, more appointments, "maybes", "I hope" and other subject phrases spoken by healthcare professionals.  The Outpatients department is running drastically behind schedule and the worried family know they are now 30 minutes behind their appointment time.
To be approached by an Outpatients nurse who sincerely apologises for the delay, explains the reason and asks if they need anything (an English cup of tea never goes amiss!) will create a tornado of effect, even if the news from the consultant is negative - as compared to a stressed, harressed nurse who is charging around (to the family's view - and they DO see everything) accomplishing little - who then snaps that; "Dr So-and-so will now see you.  Quickly!".

There are many, many more examples and scenarios that could be cited and may ring true with healthcare professionals across the NHS.  But I hope the few examples that have come to my mind will prove my point.  I believe fervently as current HCP in the NHS - we must, must, MUST never forget that we are in a position of ultimate privilidge, trust and opportunity.  

Every action (whether it be a smile, a story read, a hug, or a cup of tea) can have a far greater wave of impact upon our precious patients and their families than maybe we will ever know.

It is our responsibility, duty and joy to ensure that we do not just deliver "competent" care (although that is vital) but we deliver such care in a compassionate manner that thinks ahead of the actual care delivered - and anticipates and expects that our patient and their family will leave the NHS and the care with an overwhelmingly positive experience that they can remember for a long time.  Even if, tragically, the care delivered sees that precious and beloved relative not coming home - let our precious families go home knowing that their relatives were treated with the highest dignity, compassion and care possible and that they did indeed die in the "best hands possible" with their families by their side.

When a butterfly flaps it's wings ... a tornado happens.

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Human Beings Behind the Trust Boards

I am writing this short blog post inspired by a tremendous friend I have yet to have the privilidge to meet (awesome Twitter effect again!).  Rev Dave is a chaplain in Worcester and he runs an outstanding blog celebrating the good news stories within the NHS.  This is something we both feel PASSIONATELY about and have spoken of much.  Much of the media focus on the NHS at the moment is negative - and perhaps rightly so.  There have been awful cases of unforgivable poor care and we must learn, take responsibility and make every effort to ensure it never happens again - and as NHS privilidged staff we REALLY make every contact count.

Rev Dave was published recently in local media writing an article about his local Trust Board that profoundly impacted me because of it's unique slant and his passionately, positive attitude shining through.  So I want to reflect somewhat similarly on my local Trust Board at Birmingham Children's Hospital FT.  I could write about many NHS Trust Boards that I have watched through the wonderful medium of Twitter and the new transparent accountability it brings (national heroes of mine include Chief Nurse of NHS England, Jane Cummings, NHS Employers CEO Dean Royles, Patient Experience Lead for NHS England, Kath Evans and of course - never forgetting Sir David Nicholson, CEO of NHS England himself - among many others such as the wonderful CEO of South Tees FT Professor Tricia Hart).

But many of us in the NHS work locally, and it is therefore obvious that most of our contact and observation is to our local Trust Board.  I have been MASSIVELY privilidged as a mere Band 5 staff nurse to perhaps have a little more contact and observation from afar of the BCH Trust Board than others (mainly through the wonderful participation I used to have on the BCH Flufighter Team).  So like Rev Dave - I want to write personally as a frontline nurse on what I have seen of the BCH Trust Board and the people who carry responsibility for the hospital.

One word about salaries - it is, I supppose obvious, that in the popular critical culture of media coverage of the NHS, that some spotlight is put on the salaries of Trust Boards.  This is guaranteed to raise my blood pressure and incense me beyond words.  Here's why.  A quick Google search through the Financial Times reveals that CEOs or Directors in the private sector earn ridiculously more than NHS Trust Boards.  How can you compare a salary of $4.1million (salary of the CEO of Barclays) even with the current salary of the CEO of NHS England?!  One CEO of course takes responsibility for the money passes through an organisation.  But NHS CEOs and Trust Directors take responsibility for HUMAN LIVES.  And they are paid far less for that responsibility.  I have said before - and again - I never resent them a penny, who can imagine the pressure they are under for running our hospitals?

So - the Trust Board of Birmingham Children's Hospital Foundation Trust (in similar vein to Rev Dave - let me tell you some stories):

Chairman Jo Davies: (I must add BCH have been ably cared for by acting-Chairman Keith while Chairman Jo was away and I understand they are looking for/interviewing a new Chairman).  But my first real contact with the pinnacle of our Trust was breathtaking in real humanity!  Chairman Jo was eager for her #flufighter jab, and I was invited to her office a few years back to give it.  I was on full, "political correctedness" mode but she breezily popped her shoulder out for me and presented, without fear!  Further contacts amazed me with her absolute fierce passion for the BEST care for the children and families coming through the hospital.  I can only imagine the tight rule she had over Trust Board meetings and the questions she would have (somewhat like HM the Queen to encumbent Prime Ministers?) if she wasn't content the best was being done!

But this amazing, force of nature could sweep through the hospital wearing the most amazing coats of a variety of velvet, gold and all manner of materials!  Presence was the word!  But this Chairman could sit happily with the children (most important in her eyes) and talk and laugh with them.  I have no doubt her successor will have to live upto her high standard!

Chief Executive Sarah-Jane Marsh:  Ah where to start with this absolutely amazing lady.  Like the Chairman, my first contact was through promoting the Trust "Flufighter" campaign.  I was amazed at the strong support from the CEO that came through persistently and positively.  Sarah-Jane always was interested in uptake results, and still is to this current day - the amaze current campaign is here!  Through that initial contact I became progressively vastly impressed with her committment to the absolute and best patient experience (this was pre-Francis) for the patients and families who came through BCH.  I seized many, many quotes from various CEO briefings I was fortunate enough to hear that I have never forgot such as;

"It's not just what we do - it is the WAY we do it that really matters".

A couple of times I heard from parents under my care who hadn't had the best experience and were upset about it.  It was without fear, and complete trust that I recommended they contact the CEO Sarah-Jane.  I would tell them of my brief contacts with her and suggested I felt she would care, and would seek to make changes.  One father in particular excitedly told me he had written a 6-page letter to Sarah-Jane!  I did have a brief moment of complete fear and anxiety wondering if my P45 would be in the post!  I was floored to be updated now and then that Sarah-Jane and our Chief Nurse Michelle (more later) had met the father and implemented REAL change from what they had learned.

One final unforgettable encounter with this amazing woman - I had the amazing opportunity to meet Sarah-Jane just before Christmas (related again to flu I think) and she asked me genuinely how my substantive work (then as a PICU staff nurse was going).  I related to her a very tragic account of being so privilidged to care for a family who were going through the tragedy of facing the withdrawal of care on their poorly child and palliative care for them.  I was stunned to see visible tears in her eyes as she connected instantly with the pain and anguish a family was going through who she had not met.  I have never forgot that.

Chief Nurse Michelle Mcloughlin:  The CEO Sarah-Jane quite rightly refers to Chief Michelle as; "a force of nature".  Patient Experience Lead Kath Evans refers to her; "Can do - will do" attitude!  This so accurately represents a role model in the most excellent, highest standard of patient care and experience delivery - I have been privilidged to meet.

Once again, my first real contact with Chief Michelle was through the contact of the "Flufighter" campaign in 2009.  I was amazed to find that Chief Michelle had expressed her wish to become an "Immunisation Champion" and join in immunising staff.  This was highly unusual around the time - typical NHS practice was to run campaigns via Occupational Health services.  Chief Michelle was key in spreading the positive message of flu vaccination to top consultants who previously may have avoided frontline immunisation nurses.

My later contact with Chief Michelle before leaving the Trust was focused around patient experience and in particular the importance of play therapy and input for our patients.  I again was Patient Experience Application" which has won several awards - and also the "Dignity Giving Suit" - which I think is the most FANTASTIC innovation for giving dignity to young people ever!
amazed at her passionate focus on improving and exceeding everything in the Trust that could be affected and improved.  I caught that vision, loved it, and it remains with me to this day.  Like Sarah-Jane - the CEO - Chief Michelle has been one of the main hero impacts on my nursing career.  Since being away from the Trust, Chief Michelle has been influential and behind the "

Chief Medical Officer - Dr Vin Diwakar:  I have always have had something of a tremendous soft spot for expert clinicians.  This comes from, I think, my esteemed and expert uncle - Dr Andrew Long (Consultant Paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital FT and head of the London School of Paediatrics as well as being on the Board of the Clinical Ethics Team).  Dr Vin has more than earned my tremendous respect and admiration again - all through the accounts of his patient experiences.

As a Paediatrician, Dr Vin Diwakar has cared for and built up a tremendous rapport with many of his patients, and I have heard that many of them have his personal phone number so they can seek support and help if they need it.  He manages to balance his Executive and clinical duties somehow (who knows how!?) and is seen frequently on ward rounds, but also of course at Board meetings promoting patient interest - and the vital role of safety in the Trust.  Just as per Chief Nurse Michelle, Vin strongly supports the Trust "Flufighter" campaign and was pictured this season with Chief Michelle being jabbed!

Chief Finance Officer - David Melbourne: - Non-clinical Directors often receive a less-than-high-profile.  They have no obvious cause to circulate among patients and are often seen to be hiding in offices.  David is not guilty on all counts!  He acted up as Chief Executive while Chief Sarah-Jane was off on maternity leave, but now is frequently seen around the Trust.  I have heard many accounts of his sheer generosity and giving attitude (in an atmosphere of austerity when the NHS should be counting every penny) if it benefits true patient experience.  Quite rightly and deservedly he won the austure "Finance Director of the Year" from HFMA in 2011.

I have no doubt he manages the finances of the Trust sensibly, carefully and accurately - but love accounts where he eagerly invests money if and when it directly benefits the patient experience at BCH.

There are of course, many other BCH Trust Board Directors who I do not have the privilidge to have encountered, but have no doubt (from reading the Trust Board minutes as I do monthly) that they daily defend the importance of nothing less but excellent patient care.  But like Rev Dave - I wanted to highlight the PEOPLE I have had the honour and privilidge of meeting who step up and take responsibility for the care of the precious and vulnerable children a
nd families who are daily cared for by BCH.  I haven't even had the time to talk about the Non-Executive Directors of BCH like Professor Jon Glaseby - who again I am positive carry out a vital role in the care of the children and families in BCH.

They are nothing less than true NHS heroes and want nothing but the best and most excellent care for the patients.  For that they should be saluted!  Of course there will be some "human" Trust Boards who do sadly fail the patients they are entrusted with (such as Mid Staffs) and they should rightly face the accountability of the Secretary of State and the Department of Health and indeed the nation if appropriate.  But until such errors are revealed and proved, Trust Boards across NHS England need our support and thanks as they seek to lead the NHS to do better - and better.  A never-ending journey for the good of our patients.

To end with Rev Dave's words;

"And OK, since you’re asking, (I can’t resist it) here would be my words: expert, professional, passionate, caring, engaging and visionary. But then my Mom always used the quote from Disney’s Bambi and tell me: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!”

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Obamacare and Christians

This blog is a slight detour from my usual ponderings on the Holy Spirit, His Person, His work and His gifts.  It touches on another passion of mine - the National Health Service and the provision of free healthcare to those who need it.  Article 1 of our NHS Constitution reads;

"1. The NHS provides a comprehensive service, available to all irrespective of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion, belief, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity or marital or civil partnership status".

The key principle for NHS healthcare is Article 2;

"2. Access to NHS services is based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay".

Article 2 is a principle which our Chief Executive of the NHS - Sir David Nicholson (a personal hero of mine) has defended vigorously.  He said;

"The NHS was set up to provide high quality care for patients, free at the point of need".

So it is with that in mind (as my personal context) that I have followed with interest the introduction of "Obamacare" in the USA (a country very dear to my heart).  It seems incredibly similar to our NHS and is something I applaud.  The fact that individuals below the poverty line can access healthcare for themselves and their loved ones is great!  Or is it?  I have observed at times that for a reason I cannot understand - that Christians in the USA do not seem as delighted.

Here's why I wrote this blog today.  President Obama was speaking about "Obamacare" and made some points that again, from my context, I would very much agree with.  He said;

"Nobody should have to choose between putting food on their kids table or taking them to see a doctor".

It was Christian tweeter and renowned cessationist blogger Frank Turk who responded quite quickly and got my brain whirring.  Turk said;

"But they better buy their health insurance before the groceries and from the government, right?".

Other bloggers responding to President Obama made various mentions to their pro-life beliefs as well - which also confused me as to it's relevance to healthcare for those who need it.

So here is my question to American friends and in particular American Christians;

What is the deal?  What's the problem with free healthcare to those who need it?  Can healthcare be so incompatible with Christian beliefs?  After all didn't Jesus Christ heal the blind, beggars, needy - not the rich Pharisees?  So is it so incompatible that Christianity should applaud a civil healthcare system that ensures that those who cannot afford expensive care, can still receive the treatment they need?

I'm just interested - teach me!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Dr R T Kendall on "Why I endorse the Toronto Blessing"

I am grateful that Dr R T Kendall chose this moment around "Strange Fire" controversies - to share this video via his ministry link.

A bit of context: as I was growing up into life of the Spirit and the charismatic movement, I always tended to see R T Kendall as the "negative/reverse" to our then senior pastor Dr Stanley Jebb.  Both were amazing and outstanding teachers of the Word of God.  And both had the potential to hold the wonderful tension between "Word and Spirit" or reformed doctrine and charismatic experience well.  Dr Jebb sadly was put off by excess he saw and was revolted by.  R T Kendall on the other hand was at the same time opening up to the Holy Spirit and the variety of His work.  It was wonderful to travel down quite regularly to Westminster Chapel to hear R T Kendall's ministry during the dark days of cessationism in Dunstable.

So I am glad to hear again a message I am familiar with (having read it in Dr Kendall's books);

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The "Dangers" of Charismatic Worship!

I've still been thinking and lurking-reading the continuing "Strange Fire" and John Macarthur controversy.  I do look forward to reading the book when it becomes available in this country at some point.  But the issue Macarthur has with "charismatic" worship does deserve careful thought.  Do the songs we sing and love potentially deceive and lead us astray?  Or in fact do they bring us close to the Throne of Grace and a living encounter with the Risen Son of God?

There are two scenarios I can think of in my church experience.  The more reformed/functional cessationist settings were my home church in Dunstable when Stanley Jebb had taken it out of the charismatic movement and essentially banned all choruses.  We sang hymns and raising of hands was not approved (and tongues were most certainly forbidden!).  The other reformed/functional cessationist situation was when I lived in Bristol and attended the SGM church for 2 years - and most of their SGM songs were "cross-centered".

The other scenario of course has been the charismatic churches I have attended, and the glorious conferences that seek to teach the whole gospel - Cross through to ascension and glorification and outpoured Holy Spirit.  Now cessationists would shudder I am sure at the examples I present - but if you can ignore the raised arms and upturned faces to heaven - hear the words!

I love particularly;

"You have overcome the grave, Your glory fills the highest place - what can seperate me now?  You tore the veil, You made a way when You said that it is done!!".

And this amazing one; "Worthy is the Lamb! Seated on the Throne!  I crown You now with many crowns - You reign victorious!  High and lifted up - Jesus Son of God! The Darling of Heaven crucified - worthy is the Lamb".

How much more Gospel-filled can you get?!  Because the fact is - the Son of God isn't hanging on a cross broken and dying.  So what is the point of "kneeling at the old rugged cross"?  Of course we will be forever grateful for His sacrifice, but like Pilgrim in John Bunyan's classic - that is where our burdens roll away!  We are then free to stand and march on towards the Celestial City knowing that one day we will see Him face to face!

I would just add a final video which I think strikes powerfully at the heart of this "charismatic/cessationist" controversy.  It is by Noel Tredinnick - the Music Director at All Souls Church Langham Place (neither person nor church could be called charismatic in any way!).  But Tredinnick was speaking about worship in particular - the wonderful "Prom Praise" concerts held yearly at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  And he said this (the video is below);

"Now worship is two-way.  Our hearts are being lifted through the music to Christ.  We are adoring Him - we are singing our praise to the living Saviour.  That is one way - the arrow is going up.  But at the same time there is that moment, where God comes down if you like.  The veil of His robe fills the temple - His Presence.  There is a sense of His holiness where God is coming down into our midst - and that is a very exciting moment to behold".

I would suggest that is the issue.  Cessationists want to (as it seems) put God in heaven and leave Him there.  And to suggest that He is not only willing but eager to come down and reside among His people seems to shock and horrify them.  That's nothing new - it was apparent throughout revivals through the centuries.  There have ALWAYS been the rigid prayer meetings continuing to meet weekly to pray for revival, even though outside and around them God is saving souls by the thousands.  It is that eagerness to see God come - I think - which perhaps leads some charismatics to embrace experience that is of the flesh.

But that is no excuse to change one's theology and limit God to what He can and cannot do - as Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones said quite rightly - the greatest sin of the evangelical church and all that is wrong with "Strange Fire".  As this post was touching on worship - it seems appropriate to end with another version of "The Power of the Cross" sung by Chris Bowater at the (also charismatic) Bible Week - "Grapevine".

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Word of Balance!

I am concious that John Macarthur and his "Strange Fire" conference has provoked me back into blogging thoughts but that I may have become guilty of becoming a "charismatic Macarthur" - i.e. I hate his absolute, judgemental and unloving language (and always have done since the days I read "Charismatic Chaos" in Dunstable).

I was determined therefore thanks to yet another sleepless night to expose myself to Macarthur's broader ministry and thoughts - of which I know not a great deal.  I found this video during a conference where Phil Johnson interviews Macarthur on a few points:

Points of agreement:

1.  The New International Version (in relation to Macarthur being invited to write an NIV Study Bible)

PJ:  It is (NIV) not your favourite translation?

Macarthur:  It is NOT my favourite translation.  The question is ... does anyone reading the NIV actually care what it (the text) means?!

I wince at (again) Macarthur's broad suggestion that all NIV readers are ... less than theological (although I confess to laughing).  I too dislike the NIV and prefer (and always have) the KJV or the NASB!

2.  Mark Driscoll and his comments/book on marriage and sex.

I've never made any secret of being less than a fan of Mark Driscoll.  I have no doubt his unique ministry is spreading the gospel and reaching the lost in his way.  I just hate his macho-school-bullish-rude attitude and behaviour.  His recent publicity stunt at appearing at the "Strange Fire" conference less than impressed me either.  I thought it hilarious that security (he claimed) confiscated his books, but was again shocked he distorted the truth seemingly.  But also his views on the Song of Solomon and marriage - disturb me.

PJ:  You didn't make any recent comment about Mark Driscoll's recent book "Real Marriage" - do you want to?

Macarthur:  Commercialism.  There is such a beautiful dignity to the way the Scripture speaks of marriage, such a precious veiled way in which even the intimacies of marriage are alluded to in Scripture.  That maintains it's intimacy and personal nature and beauty without painting it in commonly used pornographic laungage.  I think these are things that shouldn't be said, don't need to be said and pander to interests in the part of people.  The last thing you would ever want for the people who gather before you to hear the Word of God is to have their minds filled with your sort of uncouth, unclean speech and images that go with it.

There I COMPLETELY agree!  That is the way I was brought up under Dr Stanley Jebb.  That's the way I was raised to view marriage as beautifully portrayed by my parents.

Another fascinating Q and A session I found from the Shepherds Conference focuses around John Macarthur, Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan's preference for using a pen to prepare a sermon rather than a computer!  As a geek - I stand convicted (not that I prepare sermons!).

Monday, October 21, 2013

Excellent Robust Answer to John Macarthur - by Andrew Wilson

I was really pleased to see this robust answer to Macarthur and his "Strange Fire" silliness by one of Newfrontiers (sorry I don't know which "sphere" Wilson fits in these days!) brightest and best theologians - Andrew Wilson from Eastbourne.

Here's the article:

"Unfriendly Fire"

Following my response to the cessationist arguments put forward at Strange Fire, here are three further comments about the content of the conference, after having reflected a bit more on the whole thing.

In no particular order:

Creeds and confessions.” In his final session, John MacArthur made the extraordinary statement that cessationism is delineated in the “creeds and confessions” of the church. Well: no it isn’t. It’s delineated in some of the Reformed confessions, including Westminster (as Kevin DeYoung explains here), and there are good historical reasons, given the nature of medieval and early modern Catholicism, for the caution expressed by the early Reformers towards miraculous claims. But you won’t find it in any of the creeds: the biblical creeds, Irenaeus’ rule, either version of the Nicene creed, the Chalcedonian definition, the Athanasian creed, the Apostles’ creed, or (as far as I know) any ecumenical creed at any point in the first millennium of Christianity. So while MacArthur’s statement gives the impression of an ecclesiastical consensus stretching from the first to twentieth centuries, what he is actually referring to is a collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century affirmations - as valuable as they certainly are! - amongst Reformed Protestants. By all means, say that Calvinists have generally been cessationist, but don’t imply that the entire church has.

90% of Charismatics aren’t Christians. I have no idea where this number comes from - research, intuition, the clear blue sky - but it is nowhere substantiated, extremely judgmental (what on earth entitles anyone to say that of professing Jesus-followers they have never met?), and strangely self-referential (since a huge number of those who reject miraculous gifts today are not Christians either. I feel certain Richard Dawkins does, for example). It is also a terrible way to argue: it is quite possible that 90% of paedobaptists are Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, but I’m sure MacArthur wouldn’t accept that as an argument against paedobaptism. This silliness needs to be called out for what it is.

Babies and bathwater. One of the dangers of responding to a conference like Strange Fire, ironically, is that its very extremism makes it easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater - which is precisely what John MacArthur himself does with charismatic gifts. Yet when we peel away the inflammatory remarks, unfair representations and (in my view) arrogant judgments which have been made, there remains an important kernel of truth to what MacArthur and others are saying. There is a lot of nonsense in the global charismatic movement. Leaders within it, myself included, do not speak out against much of it with the clarity and courage needed to identify the true from the false. The exegetical foundations for various charismatic practices are much shakier than many believe (the silly link from “they were accused of drunkenness at Pentecost” to “and therefore that legitimates any bizarro practice I feel like engaging in” being an obvious, and sadly frequent, example). The prosperity gospel is a genuine threat to biblical Christianity, and is also much more closely embedded in the global charismatic movement than many of us in the UK realise. It is common to attribute babbling, blessed thoughts and psychosomatic, temporary physical improvement to the Holy Spirit, without discernment or appropriate reflection. And so on. MacArthur and others have, sadly, thrown very valuable babies out with the dirty bathwater during this conference; let the rest of us not copy his example by ignoring the valid and important points he and others have made, or (which would be equally damaging) tarring all cessationists with the same brush.

In many ways, it’s been a sad week for evangelicalism. But if we respond wisely, as many have, there are plenty of ways in which the fire of God will increase, rather than diminish, in our midst. “And the God who answers by fire - he is God” (1 Kings 18:24).

"This Movement (Charismatic) has Diminished Music" - John Macarthur

One of the aspects of the "Strange Fire" conference that slightly staggered me and infuriated me was the utter lack of logic and consistency reported by men who proudly call themselves "men of the Word" - and indeed near the end of Macarthur's final session seems to proudly liken himself to Timothy "guarding divine revelation".  What do I mean by that?  Macarthur made many blunt and straightforward statements that many of his "spin doctor" fans sought to water down.  To be fair to Macarthur (and I respect him for it, as much as I find his sheer arrogance dislikable) - he didn't seek to do so.

And he stated rather proudly he doesn't care about offending people.  So I feel little shame in joining the right and proper robust responses against him.

He stated charismatics are, in his eyes, unsaved - and he stuck by it.  But even he seemed to flounder a little when confronting issues such as the fact that equally credible and respected theologians such as John Piper or Wayne Grudem would not agree with his hyper-cessationist, anti-charismatic views.  Adrian Warnock reported from the Q and A session in the conference that he seemed to bluster;

"With John Piper, that is a complete anomaly. That is just so off everything else about him ... Even Wayne Grudem. I look at this as an anomaly [in his theology]. I don’t know and don’t need to know where this impulse comes from".

The thrust of Macarthur's argument too about worship seems highly inconsistent.  His spin-doctor fans on Twitter seem to claim "of course he is not throwing the entire baby out with the bathwater" - apparently Macarthur likes Stuart Townend's "The Power of the Cross".  Whether he does or doesn't, or maybe doesn't realise Townend comes from Newfrontiers flagship church "Church of Christ the King" in Brighton - he is clear on his views of charismatic worship offering to the church universal.  Challies reports;

"MacArthur disagrees with this opinion. He is convinced that the contemporary style of music in the charismatic movement is the entry point of false doctrine into our churches. A church rooted in historical doctrine and hymns will be reluctant to embrace this music. This movement has diminished music by taking it out of the area of the mind and reduces it to feelings of the flesh".

There are thousands of songs from charismatic songwriters I could quote but as "the Power of the Cross" was cited - let's focus on that;

I love this song because it particularly highlights and preaches the power of the complete gospel.  And if Macarthur maybe would claim that this song from Townend is an "anomoly" like he sees Piper and Grudem's more charismatic pneumatology - I would rather counter that I think (I don't know - I haven't heard a testimony of how he wrote it) but actually Stuart Townend's charismatic experience and encounters with God indeed aided and inspired him to see the glorious gospel in it's entirety!

A key example of this is - to me - the baptism of the Holy Spirit (and for clarity's sake - I remain Lloyd-Jonesian in my understanding of this).  Macarthur presumably would class this among other "demonic" doctrines.  But I loved the way that Terry Virgo at Stoneleigh Bible Week 2000 drew the vital paralell between the ascension of Jesus the risen Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  For those with no time to hear the clip - here's what Terry said;

"Every person filled with the Holy Spirit is a proof and demonstration that Jesus Christ is not a corpse in some hidden cave in the Middle East.  Every Christian filled with the Holy Spirit is proof that He ascended on high ... only resurrected, ascended Messiah's can give the Holy Spirit.  Dead corpses aren't very good at it.  It is a demonstration He is alive!  It is His coronation gift!".

I would counter Macarthur's vitriol that the charismatic movement has spread in such entirety because it is "offering the world what it wants" - rather I think the charismatic movement is reminded the church what real life in the New Covenant is.  Of course I would not claim, as some charismatics do, that reformed evangelicals are "dry, dead and dusty" (although some are).  Neither would I claim that ALL charismatic churches are "alive, exciting and in right relationship with the risen Christ".

I actually believe that many charismatic movements and streams have become dry, flabby and complacent.  Back in the 1970s and 80s there was much talk of "building a house for God".  House churches thrived and there was a passion to relive New Covenant life.  There are many charismatic (so-called) churches I visit and one can almost predict what "gift" will be manifested.  And this complacency has no-doubt fuelled Macarthur and other anti-charismatic views.

Suddenly (thanks to people like Mark Driscoll - well-intended as he is) the focus has become "mission" - and the endless buzz word is "mission".  If your church is not "missional" then you should be ashamed of yourself - we are led to believe.  Many charismatic churches have seemed to have forgotten that true life in the Spirit and an enjoyment of the Presence of God naturally leads to a passion for the lost.

As John Piper said;

"Mission exists because worship doesn't".

Oh that many of us could remember the words of Terry Virgo at Stoneleigh Bible Week 1998 - we are a "dwelling place for God in the Spirit".  Oh for churches springing up (or being revived truly) across the UK.  Less of the silly counterfeit and more of reality!!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

An Endless Optimistic/Oft Disappointed Charismatic is Grateful for Strange Fire!

I've been reflecting on and following some of the Twitter feed discussing John Macarthur's "Strange Fire" conference and I am actually becoming increasingly grateful both personally and as a church observer for what it has done.  I think initially I was furious and thought "Here we go again" - re-living his influence on my beloved home church in Dunstable and the anti-charismatic spirit it brought.

But what it has done has made me reflect and remember why I AM an unashamed charismatic and STILL believe and hope and look for the encounters and interventions of God by His Spirit that the Word of God promises.  I do bitterly regret the last few years of being "prone to wander" from God and His church but my hope and longing for Him has remained unchanged.  I am aware that many of John Macarthur's spirit would immediately discount anything I have to say - "Well he's a backslider - and therefore probably unsaved anyway!".  But the benefit to being on the outside of accepted church circles is that you can say what you like and not fear the consequences of being "excommunicated"! (I'm not sure if the double jeopardy legal principle applies to excommunication - I hope so).

A Small Testimony:
As I said in my previous post on "Strange Fire" I have been charismatic in theology and experience since I was baptised in the Holy Spirit back in 1999.  But if I am honest I would say that while my theology and belief hasn't changed (if anything increased in longing) my experience hasn't been that much measured up to what many charismatics claim, believe or experience today.  My beliefs and theology were built upon by much reading of many books after the senior pastor Dr Stanley Jebb changed his theology and thus the church's.

It wasn't long into my reading that a biographical sermon of John Piper's on Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones led me primarily to his glorious book "Joy Unspeakable" and then more broadly into the whole published works of the Doctor and his remarkable ministry (still take pride of place in my library!).  I should add I still find it remarkable that my pastor Dr Jebb actually sat under Dr Lloyd-Jones for some time as part of his fatherly ministry to younger pastors - and I didn't seize on the link or pick up interest in Dr Lloyd-Jones over 18 years of being under Dr Jebb's ministry.

I heard balanced reformed/charismatics like Dr Ern Baxter (who rapidly became my number one hero!) and taught that a "tension" MUST be held between Word and Spirit.  I think this explains my initial excitement when I first encountered C J Mahaney and PDI (now SGM) as well as of course my ongoing love and appreciation for Terry Virgo and Newfrontiers ("Fundamentally we are a Word and Spirit movement" - Terry Virgo, Brighton 2009).  To go to Stoneleigh Bible Week in 1999 and 2000 and finally in 2001 was a taste of heaven itself almost!  Heavenly worship and singing, the spiritual gifts in evidence and awesome preaching - a demonstration if you will of Ern Baxter's fervent belief that it WAS possible to experience God in all His fullness as the Word of God lays out!

Seeking More:
Throughout my life I have sought to look for and hunger for more, and have had the opportunity to go to many conferences or hear great or renowned men and women of God.  For example I went with my dear friend Pete Day to the Word, Spirit and Power Conference at Westminster Chapel in London in 2001.  We heard and saw Dr R T Kendall (a man I already hugely respected) but also Paul Cain - a famous (now infamous) prophet who had links back to the Kansas City Prophet movement.  I had heard his prophecies were acutely accurate and so I was fascinated, open and hungry to see him.

Was I impressed?  If I'm honest - not particularly.  I couldn't say in integrity any of his prophecies were as I had heard.  Did that make me discount the gift of prophecy?  No.  Of course now it is well known that Paul Cain has fallen into sin - and for many that discounts him and his gift.  Does it mean any of his prophecies were not true?  No.  It just means that Paul Cain was and is a human being and "prone to wander".

Through that conference we heard that Rodney Howard-Browne (of Toronto Blessing fame) was coming to speak at Westminster Chapel at R T Kendall's invitation.  So me and my dad went down.  Our church "missed" the Toronto Blessing due to Stanley Jebb's views on it - and I was eager to see if there was anything in it!

Was I impressed?  Again not particularly.  I wasn't "slain in the Spirit".  At one point Rodney got us all to join hands and sing some sort of "silly" song and people at the end of our pew did fall - hence I "almost" did!  It didn't bother or impress me, but neither did it make me discount the present moving of the Holy Spirit and the fact that some have been touched powerfully by God through Rodney's ministry.

Probably the most powerful visit I did make was a few years back, when I travelled alone to Hong Kong and to the very FIRST (and as yet only!) "Glory and Grace Conference" hosted by the incredible Rob Rufus and City Church International.  I did encounter God powerfully, became over-awed by the true glory of the gospel and the power of the Cross and His resurrection and what that meant for me personally (far more in that one week than I had attending a Sovereign Grace ministries "cross-obsessed" church for 2 years!)

Strange Fire?:
These initial experiences made me hunger to know more of God, alongside reading the Bible about promises such as from 1 Corinthians 14:24 and 25;

"But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you".

To me this is one of the clearest Scriptural indicators of the potential power of the prophetic gift.  I admit I have not seen unbelievers convicted by much of modern prophecy today.  But just because I have not seen or experienced it, does NOT take away from the Word of God!  And one of my greatest frustrations with the cessationist viewpoint outlined by what seems like the WHOLE of the "Strange Fire" conference is exactly this;

Demonstration of excess and spurious means the genuine is not present or real.

RUBBISH!  How can these men who so-called claim they honour and value the Word of God really discount entire portions of Scripture just by the presence of excess?  I look forward to hearing the DVD strreams of "Strange Fire" but I am supremely unimpressed by Tim Challies summaries of the complete lack of exposition - particularly by alleged-"excellent" Bible teacher John Macarthur himself.

It seems appropriate to end this reflection by re-quoting Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones;

"The greatest sin of the evangelical church is to put God into a box and tell Him what He can and cannot do".

That is the only "Strange Fire" I see - but I remain grateful to Macarthur et al for re-stirring a passion within me to seek God through His Holy Spirit.  I have sorely missed Him these past two years!

Reformed and Charismatic from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A (?)Backslider Sorta Grateful to John Macarthur

I realised when logging onto this blog that first and foremost it has been too long since I took pen to paper (because I had forgotten the password).  And I was staggered at how long my personal "dark night of the soul" had stretched to.  I have been through two years of intense personal difficulty and professional difficulty - this has had an inevitable impact on my personal life and health.

For the last few months I have been experiencing chest pain and high blood pressure.  My cardiologist explained why.  The body's "fight or flight" mechanism releases adrenaline into your body to enable you to respond appropriately to what is worrying you.  However if you are facing "chronic stressors" as I was at work through initially bullying and then professional questioning - and there is no let-up, then the adrenaline begins to convert and change and this leads to blocking of coronary arteries (as is the case with me).

There have been other horrid symptoms too but that is for another time and another testimony.  What I CAN testify to is that while God has seemed remarkably absent, I am here, I am alive and I still fervently believe in Him - so it must be due to "grace that has brought us safe thus far".

I would not say I am "back to normal" with belief and relationships with God, and certainly not normal relationships with His church (thanks to SGM and my experiences there).  But I am getting there!  And as John Piper said - if you are even facing in the right direction, that is testament to grace.  I thought my first blog would be a testimony to what I have experienced.  But John Macarthur intervened - by organising his "Strange Fire" conference

Background with Macarthur:
I should explain my history with John Macarthur.  I was baptised in the Holy Spirit in 1999 just after going away to university in Birmingham UK.  A leading pastor called Nick Cuthbert (who at the time led Riverside Church) preached on this subject and asked; "Have you received?".  Although I had accepted fully the gospel 10 years earlier, I concluded I had no encounter or experience of the Holy Spirit and my faith was mainly cerebral and legalistic.  I was supremely blessed (although didn't fall over), my relationship with God soared, my quiet times became alive, my experience of "sins forgiven and conscience cleansed" was awesome.  Unfortunately (my timing always sucked) I went home to my church where I grew up - and almost at the same point my senior pastor Dr Stanley Jebb released a "booklet" announcing that although he had always taught the baptism of the Holy Spirit as I had heard it in Birmingham - he had now changed his mind and taught it was "all received at conversion".

I therefore had three years while at university to examine and come to terms with what I had experienced against what I read in the Word of God - and of course had plenty of teachers of the Bible to help and aid me.  Notably Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Terry Virgo (who most key - made the link between the ascended Christ and His gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit) and so on.  John Macarthur - his book "Charismatic Chaos" was circulated widely by Stanley Jebb and his elders as "proof" of the dangers of the charismatic movement which he was dragging my church from.  Hence I read the book several times.

But I must confess - the "excesses" which Macarthur ranted against, intrigued me all the more into what God in His divine sovereignity could do in His church.  Accounts of prophecies from respected Dr Jack Hayford, for example.

So really I have John Macarthur and his rantings and "anti-everything" theology for increasing my interest into the Holy Spirit, His Person, His actions and His behaviour and moving across the scope of church history!

Leaving "Charismatic Chaos" aside, I have watched as an observer seeing the "Reformed/Charismatic" dichotomy gain some degree of notoriety in the Christian church.  Most mainly I have to note - thanks to C J Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries in the USA.  In 2005 I wrote a post commenting on C J Mahaney being invited to speak at John Macarthur's church.  Many were excited by this and thought that Mahaney was bridging gaps between a vehement anti-charismatic and reformed/charismatic circles.  Indeed one SGM pastor suggested to people close to me that; "Oh I think John Macarthur is mellowing".

I suggest "Strange Fire" suggests this SGM pastor was deluded.

I am further strengthened in that belief by my suggestion back in 2005 that C J Mahaney and SGM were downgrading the importance of the Holy Spirit in their circles - in part due to a desire to be well thought of by reformed evangelical "big dogs" such as Macarthur himself or R C Sproul.  It seems thanks to posts by SGM such as the removal of and belief in the "apostolic team" and the baptism in the Holy Spirit - that suggestion was proved right.  I don't claim it to be prophecy by the way!  Just a hunch.

"Strange Fire" conference:
So the conference itself is mid-stream and I am unsurprised or persuaded by what is coming out.  My following of the conference has been mainly due to Twitter, the live-stream (when at home) or Tim Challies usual remarkable summaries.

A response to the conference requires a seperate post - but the main statement by John Macarthur that has particularly grieved me is concerning worship.  Now it should be stated that there is a whole host of Macarthur "spin doctors" who rush to "clarify" Macarthur's statements while he speaks and say "of course he didn't mean that".  But Adrian Warnock was quite right to note that Macarthur himself gave no "clarifications of the kind.  So what did Macarthur actually say about "worship"?

He said:

"The charismatic movement continually dishonors God in its false forms of worship".

His following comments go on to show that (admirably) Macarthur believes what he says.  The charismatic movement has NOTHING to add to the corporate worship of the church and anything beneficial added is in spite of the charismatic movement - not because of it.  I find this comment utterly incomprehensible.

I remember having a heated discussion with on of the elders of my home church in Dunstable UK after Stanley Jebb had left.  He (like the rest of the elders) had followed Dr Jebb suit on cessationist beliefs.  But he conceded that one vital thing that the charismatic movement HAD contributed to the life of the church universal - was worship.  He admitted that many of the charismatic songs were biblically-based and a wonderful addition to church history.  I remember many of them today;

"Jesus we enthrone You, we proclaim You as King - standing here in the midst of us we raise You up in our praise".

And to recent song-writers, many of whom come from unashamedly charismatic backgrounds and churches - such as Stuart Townend writing "In Christ Alone" or "The Power of the Cross" - all it seem fall under John Macarthur's axe.

Charismatics!  We have grown flabby!  We have taken for granted the experience of the Spirit that our forefathers fought.  It seems that Macarthur is fighting again to condemn all - and that must be addressed in a later post.  The reformed/charismatic tension has grown lazy and we have begun to focus on mission instead of continuing seeking of the Spirit in our gatherings.  "Mission" has become the watchword!  Yet does not John Piper state;

"Mission exists - because worship does not"?

I am grateful to Macarthur - he has awakened my fighting spirit.  Time to think, engage and argue once again!