THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IN MODERN BRITAIN

PART SEVEN:

 

THE PROFESSING CHRISTIAN CHURCH & ITS MISSION OF SELF-DESTRUCTION

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:  Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)

 

The changes made to the laws of our country by governments, particularly most recent ones, have been as horrendous as they have been iniquitous. What these ‛progressive’ measures have produced in the population at large is clear for all to see in our towns and cities particularly at night. We now have twenty-four hour drinking, easy access to gambling of all kinds, government sponsored gaming. Night clubs have sprung up like mushrooms and are frequented by members of every class. On many evenings and at weekends, town centres are plagued by nihilistic binge drinkers making themselves a public nuisance. Some progress! Young women, many earning excellent salaries in banking, insurance, the law invade the large cities in gangs with the sole aim of getting uncontrollably drunk - ‛totally out of it’. These same women can be often found lying in the street vomiting into the gutter, sometimes weeping in self-pity because their lives are a chaotic mess, meaningless. We have become a degenerate nation, the laughing stock of the world, and all in the space of a few decades and everyone who has eyes to see can see it.

During the closing days of the Roman Empire, Augustine of Hippo prophesied a day of reckoning for the debauched life styles and moral squalor he saw around him. It was not long afterwards that the Roman Empire fell apart. The barbarians were at the gate and few were aware of the impending disaster. The western world today stands before a similar collapse to which most are oblivious or refuse even to consider. Those who choose to hide away, shut their eyes to what is taking place, will sadly be overtaken by events that will tear apart their former way of life when they least expect it. The storm clouds are gathering; we must not be unprepared. Those who believe that God will turn His eyes away, as many do, that there will be no price to pay, are deluded and foolish. God is surely wearied and we cannot forever reckon on His silence. “Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (Malachi 2:17)

The Christian faith plays a much less prominent role in public life than was the case forty or fifty years ago and it shows. This has not happened by public demand, but at the behest of a God-hating morally irresponsible establishment as a justification for their own depravity to which they turn a blind eye in each other, but are quick to condemn in everyone else. There is little point in politicians pontificating about moral values when parliament itself consciously ignores the wrongdoing in its own circles and among other public figures in entertainment, the police, the justice system. It is only by preaching the historic Christian Gospel and by stressing its demands, whilst at the same time confronting the underlying evils of degenerate humanism that anything effective can be achieved and it is to this we must give ourselves while we still able.

Let us be mindful that outside western democracies around the world there are now more people following the Christian faith than ever before. Let us take Russia as an example, once the bastion of atheistic communism, few Russians would deny the existence of God today and their Churches are regularly quite full. Yet in England, from where in recent centuries and well into the 1950s, missionaries were sent out all around the world with the Gospel of Christ, now the professing Christian Church as a whole languishes to the point of threatened extinction. It is conveniently forgotten that it was our Christian faith that gave us most of the liberties we enjoy today and shaped the social and educational institutions we have almost taken for granted and forgotten their origins. The diminution of our long-held freedoms, the pulling apart of our historic institutions by a frenzied establishment are not unrelated to the rejection of the distinctively Christian ethos associated with our way of life. Once gone, everything the Christian faith gave our country will go with it. Our politicians and ruling élites in attempting to change the face of British life are on a crusade to dismantle Christianity so that not a trace of it is left. Christianity must conform, or be relegated to personal belief, but in every instance it must be swept from public life. Any institution that refuses proposed reforms will be taken apart. A new ethics is being forced upon us of liberty, equality, diversity, relativism, and a lock on free speech called political correctness. This humanistic amoral flood has also soaked far into the innermost heart of theology and the professing Christian Church. Its officers are in the front line, falling over each other to implement the latest fad, thereby blindly writing their own suicide note.

In living memory, viewing the spiritual malaise that now besets our beloved country and threatens to destroy us, there has rarely been greater need for a proclamation of the authentic Christian Gospel. It seems that days are upon us as prophesied by Amos. God has indeed sent a famine in the land, “...not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). Search where we may, the word of God eludes us. “And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it”  (Amos 8:12). There are plenty of crooks and charlatans peddling a false gospel, preaching “another gospel: which is not another” (Galatians 1:6-7), offering stones instead of bread, a serpent in the place of a fish, and a scorpion for an egg (Luke 11:11-12). And those who ought to know better are strangely silent.

External opponents of the Christian faith are not really needed to destroy these Churches. Genuine and biblical Christian testimony in Britain is already well on the way to extinction. Left to themselves, Churches will easily accomplish all that is required to extinguish what is left of any spiritual life in them without outside help. Congregations are already dwindling fast. One in four parishes in the Church of England have fewer than ten regular worshippers. Centuries old church buildings are being compelled every year to close their doors; others will be able to open for services only during the major religious holidays. Within the Church of England there are now fewer than 800,000 worshippers in the pews on Sunday. This is around of half of what attendance was in the 1960s.  Bishops and clergy are determined to reform and renew the Church by prescribing yet more potent versions of the same fatal concoctions that have contributed to this miserable state of affairs.  The institutional Churches, State or non-conformist alike, are now soaked in the very things that are antipathetic to the Christian faith and that are opposed in nature and character to the teaching of Scripture.

Professing Churches of all denominations have now almost all jettisoned the older doctrines and truths they formerly held dear. Few Church of England ordinands could today hand on heart endorse the Thirty-Nine Articles, which they presumably still swear before God to uphold. The ancient Creeds of the Church have become less a statement of faith than a quaint formality. Most of the other denominations follow in their train, indeed some lead the way.

One of the most obvious changes has been ousting the Authorised Version or King James Bible and its replacement with one of the many other modern translations on the market. A common objection to the use of the Authorised Version of 1611 is that it is unintelligible to people today. This is of course complete nonsense. If there are words you do not understand, you take a dictionary. It is Shakespeare who multiplied words not Tyndale or the translators of the Authorised Version who relied on him as Melvyn Bragg rightly asserted in his excellent television programme on Tyndale a short while back. The reason many do not understand the Authorised Version of the Bible has to do with stumbling about in spiritual blindness rather than with an antiquated translation. Transcribing the Bible into ‛modern’ language will not make it more accessible, but will remove the reader further away from the original meaning. It is suggested that whilst the language of the 1611 Bible may be very beautiful, no one speaks like that today and so it makes itself irrelevant to modern readers. Again, this is nonsense. No one ever did speak like this. It is in a real sense unique because it seeks to reproduce in English an accurate and readable translation of the underlying text. In this, it succeeded like no other translation before or since.

No other English version of the Bible ever reached such wide acceptance and this remained the case until the upheavals began within the Church in the 1960s. The move away from the Authorised Version coincides with the disappearance of more traditional forms of worship brought and the desire to use a version that would support the new and more modern trends.

The Authorised Version, or King James Bible as some call it, was in constant use and has enriched everyday English. It has influenced the way English is spoken and used like no other book. These enhancements to our language represent a residue of religious consciousness in the ordinary people, something that is now being trampled on by trendy clerics and the cohort  of iconoclasts who want to replace the Authorised Version with the banal substitutes that have appeared in recent times.

One of the effects of discarding the Authorised Version and the old hymns is that children no longer know the words by heart, in fact they learn very little by heart. Many of us learnt whole Psalms and passages  of Scripture in School or Sunday School. This no longer happens as learning ‛by rote’ is now frowned upon. Those of riper years cherish these things, hymns and Bible verses that have impressed themselves on the mind by continuous use over many years. This opportunity is being denied to our young people today, deprived of their spiritual heritage, and are imbued instead with practical atheism. There is no one widely accepted Bible version any more. They are all so different; the language is often banal and does not stick in the mind and is consequently difficult to memorise.

The same can be said of the vacuous drivel of modern ‛worship songs’ that have now pushed out the older hymns of the faith. It is not uncommon the find many of an earlier generation who may have now lost contact with any Church can sing hymns from memory: The Lord is my Shepherd, Abide with me, God Moves in a Mysterious Way His Wonders to Perform ― and others besides. They were also taught and remember from school days many of the popular Bible stories: Noah, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, the Feeding of the Five-Thousand, and much more. Progressives and modernisers have expunged the forms of the Christian faith from the hearts and minds of the people. They have changed things almost to the point of utter destruction. They desecrate the sacred text along with all that is seemly and beautiful. Philistines is hardly the word to use when describing them.

Most, if not all, of that which has replaced the old is abysmal rubbish that soon will disappear. Someone recently described these modern ‛songs’ as sub-Lloyd Webber sounds, homogenous musical pap, sentimentality set to a tired rhythm written by tin-eared rhymers. It is difficult to quarrel with that. The empty doggerel is an insult both to our taste and our intelligence. Poverty-stricken theology and sentimental twaddle is not answer to the dire spiritual need evident all around us. It is an infamous deception parading as the truth. They blasphemously claim that this stuff is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Can it really be true that this low-level fifth-rate stuff is God-given? Devoid of all sanity and sobriety second-rate musicians belt out heavy rock music in the name of Christ. Music belts out, an out-of-tune piano, an oboe not in tune with it, a violin that sounds like a scalded cat, a congregation craning its neck to read words projected on a screen at the front of the building. Much music heralded as modern worship is often little more than a third-rate copy of fading pop culture fashions.

These people want to remove from all forms of worship all contamination by the tradition of the past four-hundred years. Following Marshall MacLuhan, the medium is the message. If these people are telling us by their form of worship that this is the Christian faith, then they are liars, deceivers and false prophets. They want to be inclusive by excluding the best.

What can be more suited at a Christian burial than for the coffin to be accompanied down the aisle with the words: For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”  The coffin enters and all stand, not to the sound of some pop song or football chant, but to these words of Christian assurance: “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26). This all has little meaning in the modern world. It seems that funerals are no longer about death, they celebrate the life. If there is no death, where then is the hope of the resurrection? We are being offered diminished spirituality, bankrupt, dumbed-down forms of worship full of inane insanities. All singing, all dancing rock ‛n’ roll, music hall worship ―  idiocy. Is this all to fill the Church? Then it has failed miserably as fewer and fewer people feel it is worthwhile to darken the doors of any Church. If all you want to do is fill the Church, then how about beer and skittles instead? The point of bringing people into Church is so that they may in the first place hear the Gospel of the Lord Jesus not have their ears filled with the trash they can hear outside it.

Modernisers in the Church think of themselves as liberal. They are nothing of the sort. They are generally intolerant, vicious authoritarians who would impose their will on all and sundry, persecuting those who resist. A retired bishop wrote recently that when people are finding their way into the Christian faith, Christians do not take seriously enough people’s sense of horror at the sacrificial cannibalistic language of the Communion Service. “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. ...This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”(1 Corinthians 11:24-25) This blaspheming bishop should choke on his words. We no longer have a Church that fights the world, the flesh and the devil, but lives at peace with them, capitulating readily to modern secularism.

We do not need to go very far back to find the more recent origins of this trend. In the second half of the 19th century the desire to ‘get rich quickly’ and amass possessions of every kind engendered a very materialistic outlook on life. Britain was at the height of her commercial and political power, there was an increase in material wealth, progress seemed unstoppable. She had indeed become the ‘workshop of the nations’. At the Great Exhibition of 1851 homage was paid to Great Britain at the shrine of industrial might. As is always the case in such circumstances, for many, spiritual matters began to take second place. The rampant optimism of the times foundered only when the reality of the senseless slaughter of the Flanders fields in World War I began to penetrate the consciousness of the nation. Optimism was shipwrecked on the rocks of human wickedness.

The century was marked not only by a wider material prosperity, but also by a growth in a sceptical rationalism that was hostile to the Christian Gospel. The new scientific theories that became prominent seemed at the time to conflict with the Bible and it became fashionable and respectable to express doubts about the Bible. The publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species by Natural Selection, owed its success more to catching the popular mood than to any credible science.

In the world of theology, the German scholars Strauss and Bauer sought to explain away everything supernatural in the Bible in the spirit of the times. David Strauss (1808-1874) was a student of Friedrich Schliermacher and a reader of Hegel. Strauss scandalized the Christian world with the publication of his book Das Leben Jesu in which he portrayed what he called the ‛historical Jesus’, denying Christ’s divine nature. Bruno Bauer (1809-1882) was a Hegelian rationalist, a teacher, mentor and friend of Karl Marx. However, he broke with Marx and Engels in 1841, rejecting their socialism and communism. He later worked in association with Nietzsche. In 1838 Bauer published Kritische Darstellung der Religion des Alten Testaments in which he sought to explain the miracles of the Old Testament in naturalistic terms. King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia was a strict Lutheran, conservative in politics and religion. His orthodox approach to the Bible ran counter to Bauer and so he was eventually banned along with other Hegelians from teaching at the university.

The application of rationalistic critical methods to the Bible had already begun in earnest on the Continent in the previous century with men like Jean Astruc (1684-1766) and then Johann Gottfried Eichorn (1752-1827). Initially, most Christian ministers ignored the trends. By the end of the 19th century such indifference became impossible. The Graf-Wellhausen higher-criticism theories sought to give Old Testament books more recent dates in order to make the claim that the writers were dealing with history rather than prophecy. Like much critical activity, higher or textual, their work was based on subjective speculation rather than solid evidence.

In England, the textual scholars Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892) produced their revision of the Greek text, often guided by little more whim. They relied extensively on discredited manuscripts of doubtful Alexandrian scholars among others. The Revised Version (1881) based of their text was received with some scepticism by many, particularly because of a perceived anti-Trinitarian bias. A significant start had been made on casting doubt on the reliability of the textus receptus and the Authorised Version. So began the publication of a series of inferior versions of the Scriptures down to the present day. The Authorised Version remained the common Bible of English-speaking Christian believers until the early 1960s.

On the other hand, the 19th century in Great Britain also saw a spiritual vitality in many Churches and an ready acceptance of the Gospel. This was an era of great and godly theologians and of preachers who drew thousands to their Churches to hear uncompromising Gospel messages and Bible exposition. Few conversant with those times will not have heard of the great Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Church of England was blessed with bishops like J. C. Ryle in Liverpool. In Scotland the brothers Bonar and Robert Murray M’Cheyne exercised extraordinary ministries in their Churches. All this went on despite the continual growth of rationalism and scepticism inside and outside the Church. After World I, there were few such men left. An era had come to an end. By the 1960s the situation had changed radically and very much for the worse.

 

Declension and disintegration

Many will remember that immediately after World War II there was something of a growth in Church attendance. In the 1950s Churches and Sunday Schools flourished. Most children would have attended a Sunday School somewhere at least once in their lives. This was as true in working class areas as it was in the well-heeled leafy suburban districts and those living in the countryside. This continued to be so into the early 1960s when decline set in rapidly.

The falling away was in the first instance theological. The traditional doctrines of the faith were attacked and ridiculed. One concept that became widely accepted at the time was Rudolf Bultmann’s ‛demythologising’. Two British theologians, Bishop J. A. T. Robinson and Dr Alec Vidler, put much effort into popularising this kind of thinking. Robinson, the ‛swinging’ bishop, wrote the bestseller Honest to God (1963). It went through five printings in its first year. According to Robinson a God who is ‛metaphysically out there’ is as nonsensical as the One who is ‛up there’. In reality it was atheism in theological dress propagated by a bishop of the Church of England. Our existing view of God must go, he said, traditional beliefs were simply childish and unbelievable. The call was to grow up. Modern man, according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer has ‛come of age’. This destructive tendency became more pervasive and intense. Harvey Cox wrote The Secular City; Paul Van Buren, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel; and from Thomas J. J. Altizer there was The Gospel of Christian Atheism.

Theologians denied and derided the fundamentals of the faith in an onslaught hardly seen before and their insights were quickly taken on board and widely celebrated inside and outside the Churches. The virgin birth was scorned as were the resurrection of Christ and all things miraculous in Scripture. According to Bultmann, “You cannot believe in the miracles and the resurrection in an age of electric light and wireless.” Theologians made a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. The first of these figures was a kind of hero of antiquity, the second pure myth.

It is difficult how a faith such as Christians have always followed could take off as it did and survive and grow, if its basic revelation and doctrines were false and particularly if they were known to be so by the apostles who had been with Christ. What we are told is that the empty tomb seen by the apostles and others was not seen by them. It makes them either incredibly stupid, deceived, or liars. Here would be no basis for a faith. Incredibly, what we are told actually happened was that the followers of Christ suddenly realised the significance of His person and teaching and were “filled with new life”. What these theologians mean by this is unclear. What kind of nonsense is this? It seems highly unlikely that the disciples would have gone everywhere, suffering the trails and persecutions they did, preaching that Christ had risen from the dead when they knew all along that this was not true.

The Bible was comprehensively ‛demythologised’, thoroughly cleansed of everything miraculous, removing anything not suitable for a modern man ‛come of age’. The virgin birth and everything else like it in the Bible is to be placed alongside other similar stories and myths to be found in other cultures. It is true that the materialistic presuppositions with which these men begin prevents them from seeing the miraculous in Scripture in any other way. They must rule it out before they begin looking at anything. Their rejection of the miraculous is based upon unsupported prior assumptions that amount to little more than bald prejudice. God was thus secularised and for many became a metaphor for revolutionary politics. Jesus was a revolutionary.

With the new theology there came the new morality.  Chapter 6 of Honest to God is titled ‛The New Morality’: The Revolution in Ethics. It has been correctly described as the old immorality written new. In this new morality, the Old Testament Commandments particularly are singled out and discarded as obsolete and authoritarian. This may have been sufficient for Moses, but hardly for modern man. Replacing the moral absolutes of the Scriptures are ‛situation ethics’, moral decisions made according to the demands of love. Having got rid of all moral absolutes, a definition of the demands of love remains elusive. Churchmen supporting the new sexual revolution also supported also the decriminalising of homosexuality, the easing of restrictions on divorce, the legalisation of abortion, and much more besides. The Commandments and anything remotely authoritarian went against the spirit of 60s libertarianism. God cannot be authoritarian for it smacks of imperialism. Christians are now anti-authoritarian freedom fighters.

Behind the new morality lies the doctrine of progress. The main streams of western thinking had been evolution and development. First Hegel and then Marx had mapped out the future, Marx after the inevitability of dialectical materialism. Revolution was in the air, the workers’ control of the means of production, a secular heaven, a Marxist utopia. Darwin had proclaimed physical evolution of the species. This was to be accompanied by a moral evolution. It prophets were: Herbert Spencer, George Bernhard Shaw, T. H. Huxley. There was no need for the traditional prohibitions any longer, these were far too negative. This 1960s delusion remains with us. It is really difficult to reconcile progress with the events of the 20th century, two world wars, concentration camps, genocide on an unparalleled scale, wars and more wars. There have been more people killed in the wars and revolutions of the 20th century than in the whole of the rest of history put together. The 21st century does not seem to be any different. This is progress, bigger and better killing and devastation. The belief in progress, the belief that all is getting better all the time has been bolstered by technological innovation. Within a hundred years we have moved from horseback to a man on the moon. Such progress, the road to better and more efficient ways of killing and tormenting each other.

 

Failure in the Free Churches: the Baptists

A denial of the major doctrines of the Christian faith was not confined to the Church of England, but took place in all mainstream denominations. Often non-conformists led the way.  This in some way confirmed their status as Churches, assuaging the feeling of inferiority which they often nursed living as they did in the shadow of their larger state-sponsored counterparts. What happened in the Baptist denomination is fairly typical. It took some time, but reached an undeniable climax in 1971 when Rev. Michael Taylor addressed the annual assembly of the Baptist Union in England with these words:
“I am not troubled or surprised that he [Jesus] doesn’t know everything or sometimes makes a mistake, or gets angry, or doesn’t have all the gifts, or betrays himself as a child of his time. However remarkable his life, I think I must stop short of saying categorically: Jesus is God. So first, Jesus is a man like you and me, and second God is present and active in Jesus as he is present and active in us all.”

This was the inevitable end of a long road. From the middle of the 19th century non-conformists were being called upon to relinquish uncomfortable doctrines such as eternal punishment. The collateral teaching of the universal salvation of all men was being propagated by the Nottingham Baptist minister, Samuel Cox. From the outset C. H. Spurgeon countered with a stout and uncompromising defence of the straightforward teaching of the Bible in his magazine The Sword and Trowel. It was not long before the propitiatory and substitutionary atonement was also being marked down as immoral and unnecessary. Preaching before the Baptist Union Assembly in Leeds on 6th October, 1878, Spurgeon took as his text “We preach Christ crucified” and warned against what he called ‘modern thought’.

These events in the Baptist Union are well-known as the ‘down grade’ controversy. Spurgeon stood almost alone among the ‘great and the good’ of Baptists. It seems he was virtually alone in having the foresight to see what was coming, and that separation from the Baptist Union was now the only course open to those who would maintain the faith. He said that he was willing to be eaten of dogs for the next fifty years, but the more distant future would vindicate him. It has done so and with a vengeance. The August 1887 edition of his magazine The Sword and Trowel shows Spurgeon wrote,
“It now becomes a serious question how far those who abide by the faith once delivered to the saints should fraternise with those who have turned aside to another gospel. Christian love has its claims, and divisions are to be shunned as grievous evils; but how far are we justified in being in confederacy with those who are departing from the truth.” In an article entitled The Case Proved in the October edition of his magazine, he wrote,
“One thing is clear to us – we cannot be expected to meet in any union which comprehends those whose teaching is, upon fundamental points, exactly the reverse of that which we hold dear....With deep regret we abstain from assembling with those whom we dearly love and heartily respect, since it would involve us in a confederacy with those with whom we have no communion in the Lord.”

The Baptist Union had been founded in 1813, its doctrinal basis was reduced by 1832 to an agreement ‘in the sentiments usually denominated evangelical’, but by 1873 even this was gone. It was felt that baptism by immersion was a stronger doctrinal basis than evangelical sentiments! Spurgeon objected, but was overruled. From that moment on the Baptist Union has had no definable doctrinal basis. The door was now open to every kind of apostasy and heresy. By 1883 Spurgeon was sufficiently uneasy about the direction being taken as to decline all further invitations to speak for the Baptist Union or the Baptist Missionary Society in order to avoid compromise. On 28th October, 1887 he withdrew from the Baptist Union and on 11th April of the following year from the London Baptist Association he had helped to found in 1865.  It is understandable that hackles were raised within the Baptist Union, which he described as being “like Noah’s ark, affording shelter both for the clean and unclean, for creeping things and winged fowls?” On 18th January, 1888, the Council of the Baptist Union passed a vote of censure on him. To this day a man may deny the deity of Christ and still remain within the Baptist Union. Nothing has changed since Spurgeon’s day. The sad thing is that many protested their evangelical beliefs as they do today, but they still refused Spurgeon their support.

 

Evangelicalism: its rise and fall

Mention the word ‛evangelical’ today and to many minds this evokes a world of happy-clappy, tongue-speaking, glassy-eyed, ‛worshippers’ jumping up and down to a rather inferior version of modern beat music. If this is to what evangelicalism has descended today, it has moved very far away from its roots. Its beginnings were something of another sort.

The moral and social devastation of Britain today is nothing new. Our beloved country has fallen to such spiritual depths in previous centuries. In the 18th century, Christian belief was giving place to scepticism and with it came the inevitable accompanying immorality as it always does, men glorying in their shame. Unlike today, God graciously raised up  a number of mighty preachers who would call the nation, high and low, to repentance and faith in Christ. Historians may argue this point, but it was effectively the beginning of ‛evangelicalism’.

It was into this world that the brothers Wesley and their Methodist friends came, men like John Fletcher of Madeley. Alongside them was the Calvinistic wing of Methodism, George Whitefield, Howell Harris, Daniel Rowland, John Elias and many, many others. Although belonging to different wings of the Christian Church, they all without exception preached the same Gospel truth, man’s lost condition through sin, regeneration, cleansing in the blood of Christ, and salvation through faith alone. They preached it in the face of much ecclesiastical opposition and were often in mortal danger. Over more than fifty years John Wesley covered around 250,000 miles, largely on the back of a horse, preaching the Gospel the length and breadth of Britain. Although clearly Arminian in theology, he was loved by many Calvinists because he preached the Gospel with such effect and power. Whitefield, a Calvinist, also preached to huge gatherings of up to 20,000 strong – and this was not unusual for many of these men. He writes of one occasion in his Journal when a huge crowd made up largely of miners gathered one bleak March morning.
“Having no righteousness of their own, they were glad to hear of a Jesus Who came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. The first discovery of their being affected was to see the white gutters made by the tears which fell down their black cheeks. Hundreds were brought under deep convictions, which, as the event proved, ended in a sound conversion.”

Evangelicalism lay behind much social innovation: abolition of the slave trade, orphanages,  schools and the alleviation of poverty. It engendered evangelistic efforts at home and  missionary activity abroad, much of which continued well into the 1950s. It operated as a movement largely on an inter-denominational level, sharing those essential doctrines all believers hold dear. In 1873 Dwight L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey came to Britain and held their meetings up and down the land with surprising results. Moody’s presentation of the Gospel was devoid of sensationalism, yet it affected men and women from all classes of society, both rich and poor alike. They were welcomed by C. H. Spurgeon’s to his Metropolitan Tabernacle. Large numbers up and down the land made a profession of faith in Christ. Moody’s work was consolidated by the preaching to the young converts of the veteran George Müller, a man who quite genuinely loved all who loved Christ.

Eventually, cracks began to show and the movement began to fall apart. To use the prefix neo- or new- must by definition mean that it is not the same as the old, whether it is in the world of politics or theology. The 1920s saw the beginnings of neo-orthodoxy with the theology of Karl Barth, a theology that was anything but orthodox. The main statement of its tenets are to be found in his Kirchliche Dogmatik. Whilst all this had spread in Europe, in America something called neo-evangelicalism was beginning to appear, evangelical in the historic sense it was not. It was fathered by Dr Harold Ockenga, pastor of Park Street Presbyterian Church, Boston, and the first President of Fuller Theological Seminary. Dr Ockenga himself in 1957 described the movement as “the latest dress of orthodoxy, as neo-orthodoxy is the latest expression of theological liberalism.” In the political world as in the theological, rather than engaging in dialogue, the ‛neos’ resort to abusive terms such as ‛extremist’ and ‛fundamentalist’. The claim that neo-evangelicalism remains true to the fundamental teachings of the faith is soon dispelled by reading the writings of its leading gurus. In 1962 one such, Dr Edward Carnell said, “If extremist fundamentalists think I am going to join their ‘holy war’ against Barth they are sadly mistaken.” Carnell was known for his unsound views of Scripture, compromises with pseudo-science, a toadying to godless theologians, and endless bitter tirades against all who disagreed with him. Speaking to students in 1957, Dr Donald Grey Barnhouse, another of their number, proceeded to ridicule the great leaders of the Reformation one by one, to howls of laughter from students all over America. He denounced the Reformation as a mistake. He engaged in such vindictive rhetoric against opponents that one Christian radio station took him permanently off the air.

It was the popular face of neo-evangelicalism that did most to plant the new movement on British soil: Youth for Christ, the Billy Graham crusades, and then some time later Bill Bright’s Campus Crusades. British evangelicalism was ready for it, and soaked up the new movement like an old dried-up sponge taking in water. Those who saw through the whole charade from the start and said so were few in number, and they were heavily criticised as ‛lacking Christian love’. Eventually, there was hardly a corner of Christian life in Britain that it had not infiltrated. At the heart of British neo-evangelicalism were men such as the widely-respected theologian, Dr F. F. Bruce. Both he and Rev. John Stott, the one-time popular Anglican preacher of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, held questionable doctrinal views on a number of issues. Neo-evangelicalism had little to challenge it when it arrived on these shores and the disappearance of historic evangelicalism was now well underway.

The emphasis of the Gospel was changing. It was a new and different message. From repentance for sin and faith in Christ’s blood for cleansing, congregations and audiences were offered ‛a wonderful plan for your life’, happiness or peace, a decision was all that was required in following Christ. Evangelists wooed the gullible with the soft braying of a Hammond organ, a grand piano and a mixed choir singing softly in the background. The emotional pull could be very strong at such gatherings and to some it was irresistible. Bidden to come to the front of the Church or auditorium, they did so. Slowly at first, then the stream of people would turn to a flood. They would there be met by ‛counsellors’, who after a few hours of training in the use of selected Bible verses, would proceed to assure these hapless souls that as a result of their response they were now followers of Christ. Next morning, after a few days, weeks, or months, maybe even years, these same ‛converts’ would realise that they had been part of an elaborate deception that had played upon their mind and emotions. In fact, nothing had changed. They then either deserted all things Christian or as some did, or eventually came to a genuine experience of God.

 

The birth of charismatic chaos

The early 60s saw a new movement take roots that spread all around the world. By the middle of the decade it was in full bloom. The charismatic upsurge was a revamp, a more up-to-date version of the earlier Pentecostal movement displaying a new interest in Pentecostal ‘gifts’. The movement was in part a reaction against much of the dead orthodoxy left in Churches in general and the unsatisfying superficiality of evangelicalism in particular. Here was a new breath of revival, of bringing life to the dead corpse or so it was thought. Many once active in the evangelical world now embraced this as a genuine work of God. Lacking any discernment, deprived often of proper instruction in Christian teaching, being believers by tradition rather than conversion or conviction, they fell ready prey to this counterfeit. Having few particular doctrinal demands, their spiritual experience was the touchstone of truth that united them to their like. Like a fire in bracken on the moors, taking all before it, so the charismatic ‛renewal’ swept through most denominations including the Roman Catholic Church.

Prior to this, ‛healers’ such as T. L. Osborne had held massive crusades around the world. Oral Roberts, Kathryn Kuhlman, and many more too numerous to mention, had also become well-known and the desperate and those looking for the spectacular flocked by the thousand to their huge meetings. Well into the 50s the Pentecostal movement had been treated, and rightly so, with some suspicion by the rest of the evangelical world. Indeed, movements such as Youth for Christ in England would dispense with the services of at least two of its evangelists professing a ‘baptism in the spirit’ and who were ‘speaking in tongues’.

When the Pentecostal movement began to appear at the beginning of the 20th century, godly men like Dr Campbell Morgan of Westminster Chapel were horrified. He is said to have called it ‘the last vomit of the devil’. Baptist minister and well-known conference speaker, Graham Scroggie, was later to publish a booklet denouncing speaking in ‘tongues’. By then Pentecostalism was gaining some respectability and so his booklet was taken from the shelves of many Christian bookstores, and it is still difficult to obtain even second-hand. In the mid 60s the Fountain Trust did much to propagate charismatic error. This role was soon taken over by others in Britain and elsewhere. To attribute the horrendous dog barking, the chicken noises in their meetings and the inane laughter of the so-called ‛Toronto blessing’ to a work of God’s Holy Spirit is nothing short of blasphemy.

The claim is made that there has been a revival of the New Testament charismatic gifts. The gibberish uttered as Pentecostal tongues is an insult to human sanity. Where then are the tongues of fire of Acts 2 sitting on their heads? The so-called tongues, the healings, bear no recognisable resemblance to what we read in the Scriptures. Are these people so blind, so taken up in this insanity that they cannot see it? Matthew describes the ministry of the Lord Jesus thus, “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matthew 11:5)
The blind are not given back their sight by these healers any more than the lame are made to walk, nor are the sick healed by these charismatic healers in the way they were by the Lord Jesus and His Apostles. Certainly, they have not been known to raise the dead, nor will they ever do so. The Gospel they preach is not that of the Apostles, but is a gross distortion of biblical truth. They have ‛prophets’ whose utterances have parameters of fulfilment so wide you could get a bus through them sideways so that any interpretation put upon them is possible. On the other hand, the ‛prophet’ simply spins a yarn and by the time it fails to materialise and is obviously a lie, those who heard it have forgotten what was originally said. These preachers and teachers are little more than slick confidence tricksters many of whom have made a good living out of their ‛ministries’ and not a few enjoy a millionaire’s lifestyle. They no more practise the gifts of God’s Spirit than conjurers practise real magic! None of this is new, deceivers and vain talkers were present in Bible days. Of them the Apostle Paul writes, Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake. (1 Titus 1:11)

Upon those who question their genuineness they call down numerous threats from selected Bible texts in the hope of frightening everyone into silence. Such has been the change in the evangelical world within a hundred years, such the confusion between darkness and light! Rather than being contained in one denomination, these apostate teachings and practices have gained acceptance in almost all quarters of Church life in the United Kingdom, from the loosest Arminian Methodist to the tightest reformed Calvinist. Church of England vicars flail on the floor, Baptists ‘sing in the spirit’, or stutter in ‘tongues’, people fall over backwards at the healer’s touch, ‘gold’ falls from the sky or suddenly changes into teeth in their mouths. How can it be that otherwise sensible, relatively normal people once they get into Church behave like certified madmen? From God this nonsense is certain not. Could they but see themselves through saner eyes would they not be filled with shame and disgust? It  is as though some mist of madness has robbed them of their senses. The god they worship is certainly not the same as the God of whom we read in Holy Scripture. The ‛Jesus’ upon whom they call, to whom they pray is surely another Jesus, they receive another spirit and follow after another Gospel. We might reiterate the words of the Apostle Paul against those who preach “...another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel” (2 Corinthians 11:4).

David W. Norris

 Concluding article: THE POSSIBILITY OF A CHRISTIAN NATION