Friday, December 31, 2010

By the Rivers of Babylon, part 2

Boney M's song Rivers of Babylon is based on the words of Psalm 137. It is a lament based on the experiences of the exiles from Judah being tormented by their Babylonian captors.

The song also refers to Psalm 19 verse 4:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer

Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were four out of many thousands of exiles deported from the land of Judah. There were three deportations from 605BC to 586BC, when Jerusalem fell as recorded in Jeremiah 52.

For my first post and the video of Rivers of Babylon, click here

By the rivers of Babylon

Boney M frontman, Bobby Farrell, has died while on tour with the band in Russia. They were famous for Rivers of Bablylon song based on the lament of Psalm 137.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.

There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign
land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand
forget its skill.

Psalm 137 verses 1-4

Click here to view

Friday, December 17, 2010

Six trends emerging in 2010

The Barna research report for 2010 makes challenging reading for church leaders. The report identifies six themes:

1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.

What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans--especially young adults.

2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.

Despite technological advances that make communications instant and far-reaching, Christians are becoming more spiritually isolated from non-Christians than was true a decade ago.

3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.

When asked what matters most, teenagers prioritize education, career development, friendships, and travel. Faith is significant to them, but it takes a back seat to life accomplishments and is not necessarily perceived to affect their ability to achieve their dreams.

4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.

Largely driven by the passion and energy of young adults, Christians are more open to and more involved in community service activities than has been true in the recent past.

5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled judgmental. The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies.

6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
Christianity has arguably added more value to American culture than any other religion, philosophy, ideology or community. Yet, contemporary Americans are hard pressed to identify any specific value added.

Clearly the research is from an American perspective but I strongly suspect that these trends are applicable to our Australian context. Read the full report here

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Time honoured advice

We found this over a doorway in a church in Tasmania.

The Primitive Methodists learned to watch (to understand the challenges of their times) and they certainly knew how to pray.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How do we keep our spiritual fervour?

The early Primitive Methodists were zealous and passionate about their faith. Where did their spiritual fervour come from?

The answer is quite simple. It came in part from powerful prayer meetings that in turn ignited powerful preachers, who were bold and effective. These prayer meetings fanned into flame the zealous faith of new converts and in these prayer meetings new converts caught the DNA of the movement. That is where their passion came from. Dynamic prayer became the fuel for the expansion of the movement.

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour” (Romans 12:11)

See also Practicing a Shout, Dynamic Prayer Meetings Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Drifting is easy

Drift can be spelt A.B.C.D. Here are four possible causes of spiritual drift.

A – Apathy

It’s so easy to become casual and go with the flow and let the daily discipline of time with God fall by the wayside. So we say to ourselves “I can’t be bothered today”.

B – Busyness

There is so much in life that just has to be done. We have to work and earn our daily bread. Children need to be got ready for school, and our family and friends need time. In the rough and tumble of everyday life, especially when we are under time pressure, one of the first things to go is voluntary time set aside to listen to God or read the Bible.

C – Comfort

God wants us to be comforted, that is to experience divine comfort, but he does not want us to be comfortable. The old saying remains true today “that the role of pastoral leaders is to comfort the afflicted … and to afflict the comfortable”. For some of us the challenge is to move out of the comfort zone.

D – Distraction

The world is full of things to grab our attention. In fact the media is designed to do just that. So T.V., Facebook, Twitter, and the like all compete for our time. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong in these things, but they can steal our time.

The Primitive Methodists were zealous and passionate in their faith. They maintained their spiritual fervour in part through dynamic times of prayer and praise to God. We have much to learn from them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Hallelujah Chorus

The Hallelujah chorus in Macy's store in Philadelphia. Brilliant. Hallelujah. Amen

Here is the youtube link

Friday, November 5, 2010

A short story about life

Where are the most extreme abortion laws in the Western world? Where can the horrific Partial Birth Abortion procedure be practised? Where can unborn babies be aborted up to full term? Answer: right here in Victoria.

In the video, Melissa Ohden, a survivor of a failed abortion compares the situation in the U.S. with that here in Victoria. There is a significant gap between the practices in the U.S. and here. We are far worse.

In 2008 the Brumby government passed the Abortion Law reform act. This includes the following

1. Abortion up to birth is allowed
2. Partial Birth Abortion is allowed
(this is partially delivering a live baby using forceps by its feet, then killing the baby before it is fully delivered)
3. A Doctor’s freedom of conscience is denied
4. No independent counselling is provided

This happening here, now. Be aware. Be informed. Know what your candidate thinks about this issue for the state election.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Asking very interesting questions

For some years now astronomers, physicists and cosmologists have been asking big questions about the origin of the universe and life on earth. Rather than simply asking how things came to be they are asking why things are the way they are. The why questions cause them to ask God questions.

Here are two books that are well worth reading.

1. The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life?

By Paul Davies, a physicist and cosmologist.

If any of the basic features of the universe, from the properties of atoms to the distribution of the galaxies, were different, life would probably be impossible.? (page 2)

"... a bio-friendly universe looks like a fix - or a 'put-up job', to use the pithy description of the late British cosmologist Fred Hoyle. It appeared to Hoyle as if a super-intellect had been 'monkeying' with the laws of physics ... On the face of it, the universe does look as if it has been designed by an intelligent creator expressly for the purpose of spawing sentient beings" (page 3)

Here is the Amazon link

2. Just Six Numbers

By Martin Rees (Royal Society Research Professor at Cambridge University)

Sir Martin Rees delves into the numbers behind the forces that govern the universe, explaining how delicately balanced they are. He identifies six numbers.

"These six numbers constitute a 'recipe' for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be 'untuned' there would be no stars and no life.Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator?" (page 4)

Here is the Amazon link

Monday, October 18, 2010


Photo: AFP

The rescue of the 33 miners after 69 days underground from the San Jose mine in Chile provides a real-life metaphor for what Christ has done for us:

For he (Christ) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)
Here is another mine disaster where the human outcome was different, but the faith of the trapped men and boys sustained them - the Seaham Colliery disaster of September 1880

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Praying through the storm

When her friend, fellow preacher and future husband, Thomas Russell was in prison for preaching the gospel, Elizabeth Smith a Primitive Methodist pioneer evangelist prayed this prayer:

Thanks be to God, the storm which distresses us helps us towards the shore;

Though there are changes, it is but one journey, and we soon shall be at the end.

Though there are many conflicts it is but one battle;

And we shall soon shout VICTORY! through the blood of the Son of God!

Quoted in The Life and Labours of Elizabeth Russell, from The Writings of Thomas Russell, page 198 Tentmaker publications.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Stand up against Victoria's extreme abortion laws

For those who would like to do something more to protest against Victoria's terrible abortion laws, allowing abortion on demand up to full term, here are some useful websites:

Please help to make sure this issue is on the main agenda for the Victorian state election in November.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

We need heroes not celebrities

I have many heroes. Among them are Winston Churchill, the leader of Britain during WWII, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and William Wilberforce, who fought against slavery. Others are less well known, but they are my heroes of the Primitive Methodist movement. They are people such as:

  • Hugh Bourne – the chief founder of the movement

  • William Clowes – the “apostle Paul” of the movement, who was their lead missionary and evangelist

  • Thomas Russell – a courageous preacher who overcame persecution, adversity and personal tradegy

  • Sarah Kirkland – the first female “travelling preacher”, an effective evangelist who was instrumental in the Nottingham revival of 1816-17

  • John Benton – a highly passionate evangelist who could hardly construct a grammatically correct sentence

It seems to me that we don't need more celebrities in our modern day culture, we need more heroes like these men and women of faith.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thomas Russell (1806 – 1889)

Thomas Russell was an evangelist and missionary of the Primitive Methodist movement in England and Ireland. He was born in Middlewich in Cheshire, and first came into contact with the Primitive Methodists in 1817. He became a full time travelling preacher (or missionary evangelist) in 1829. He endured persecution, hardship and personal tragedy with courage, perseverance and fortitude.

In 1830 he was falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned for preaching and sentenced to hard labour for three months, in default of payment for a £10 fine. For ten hours each day he and other prisoners had to endure rigours of being forced to push a large mill wheel to manually grind corn in half hour stints. For thirty minutes they were covered in sweat and every bone in their body ached. Then for the next half hour the prisoners pulled old ropes to pieces with their fingers and thumbs. And so the cycle repeated, half an hour on, half an hour off.

In prison he was hungry. In his journal he writes “hunger pinched severely, so that I often wondered why a human being could not eat the ground to pacify the cravings of hunger”. Soon he became ill, and was unable to stand at the mill wheel. The prison doctor was called, who simply exclaimed “Here he came to be punished, and here he must be punished.” So Thomas Russell was ordered to the wheel again, and he wrote that “I found that the scripture was true, ‘The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel’.” It was rough justice.

Thomas Russell was instrumental in the missions to Berkshire and Hampshire in 1830. He was passionate in prayer, and a powerful preacher whose hearers were often moved to tears. He preached courageously, facing stones, other missiles, and vehement opposition. The mission was highly successful and soon spread to neighbouring counties.

He was engaged to and married Elizabeth Smith, a female preacher in 1831, and they had a baby, Julia who died in 1835. Four months later his wife died, at the early age of 30. Nearly 2000 people attended her funeral. He writes “Thus I was deprived of a child and wife in a few short weeks … But in a few days I returned to my labours, though with nearly a broken heart”. As he processed his grief he continued in effective evangelism in the Staffordshire Potteries.

In 1838 after three years as a widower, he married Elizabeth Duke, a Primitive Methodist convert from the Weymouth mission. By July 1847, he was stationed at Guernsey in the Channel Islands when his second wife died leaving him with four children, the youngest of whom was very ill. He writes “Her mother had made a most triumphant end; yet I dreaded the loss of the child”. He found practical sympathy and support from friends in the islands of Jersey, Alderney and Guernsey.

In 1849 a cholera epidemic swept across England, and people died of this dread disease within days or even hours of the onset of symptoms. In one instance after preaching in Hartlepool market place, a woman was converted through Thomas Russell’s preaching, and died just twelve hours later. The epidemic was a significant factor for the increase in conversions across the country. Thomas Rusell and his fellow missionaries visited the sick and dying at great personal risk.

In 1855 he was sent to Portadown in Ireland. It was the last place on earth he wanted to go and his four daughters cried bitterly when they heard of the posting. They moved as a family to live in Ireland and, in spite of initial misgivings, he had a vibrant ministry there. Seven years later he was posted to the Yorkshire dales, but in the meantime his daughters had married in Ireland. He recalls that “though I went to Ireland with reluctance, I left it with regret”. He ministered in the Yorkshire dales for three years until 1865 when he transferred to St. Albans.

During his life the Primitive Methodist movement grew from a small revivalist group based in the English midlands, to a worldwide movement that had a significant impact on the lives of working class people and their communities. Thomas Russell was one of a second generation of preachers who continued what had been started by the pioneers, Hugh Bourne and William Clowes. Thomas Russell died in 1886, and is buried at Englesea Brook in Cheshire. We need men and women of faith, courage and perseverance like him today.

Quotations from The Writings of Thomas Russell, originally published in 1869 and republished by Tentmaker publications 2005.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

More Evidence of Biblical Illiteracy

A new survey finds atheists know more about religion and the Bible than evangelicals.

Find out more here

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Paris Hilton and Primitive Methodism

It is said that Paris Hilton is famous … for being famous. She is a celebrity because she is a celebrity. Her main claim to fame is that she is, well, ... famous.

More generally it seems that today in our culture we honour those who are prominent in the media, such as actors, or musicians. We honour and revere our celebrities.

It seems to me that what we need today are not more celebrities … we need heroes. We need men and women whose example inspires us and motivates us to do what they did.

In Hebrews chapter 11, the famous chapter on faith, we read not about celebrities, but about heroes of faith. We read of people like Abraham, who obeyed God even though he did not know where he was going.“I’ll know it when I see it” was his motto as God led him to the promised land.

One of my heroes is William Clowes, a pioneer and founder of the Primitive Methodist movement. In his young adult years he led a life of violence, often fuelled by alcohol. He led a decadent lifestyle and was known for his drunkenness, swearing and fighting. After a prank gone wrong he was forced to leave Hull in the northeast of England in 1805.

Shortly afterwards he had a radical conversion to Jesus Christ, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and became a leading Primitive Methodist preacher. The man of violence became an apostle of Jesus Christ. In January 1819, he returned to Hull, in radically different circumstances.This time he came as a preacher of the gospel.

William Clowes preached in the open air, in the market place, in farmers’ fields, barns, sheds, factories or any other convenient location. Within seven years from his return to Hull, he was instrumental in making 12,000 converts and members of the Primitive Methodist movement.

He died in 1851 and a chapel in Hull was named the Clowes Memorial chapel in his honour. His memorial states "that he was a burning and shining light".

He is a hero of the faith. We need men and women like him today.

Monday, September 27, 2010

March for the Babies

Date: Saturday October 9, 2010
Time: 2:00pm
Location: Treasury Gardens

For more details see the website

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What I am reading

I have just begun reading the works of Thomas Russell, 1806-1889, a Primitive Methodist preacher. He was a man of faith, prayer and vision, who faced persecution and hardship with courage and perseverance.

He was falsely accused, arrested, and sentenced to three months hard labour, because of outdoor preaching. His imprisonment became part of the battle for religious freedom in England. He was instrumental in the mission to Berkshire and Hampshire.

We need men like him today.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The true colour of the Greens

It looks as though we are beginning to see the Greens in their true colours. The Age reports that Greens leader Bob Brown pledged his first priority would be a bill to restore the Northern Territory and ACT's power to pass euthanasia laws.

Euthanasia has profound implications for those in the medical profession, and violates the hypocratic oath.

"I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan"

Euthanasia opens a dangerous Pandora's Box. The public debate over this issue is being re-ignited, and Christians need to be at the forefront of the debate.

See also Why the Greens make me see red

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A bit of light relief

These were the instructions for our self guided tour of the Great Wall of China.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus

The fifth and last parallel between the church in Acts and the Primitive Methodist movement is proclamation.

As Paul and his mission team journeyed across the regions around the Mediterranean they proclaimed the message of Jesus as Messiah, that he had to suffer and rise from the dead. (Acts 17:3). They proclaimed the gospel in towns and cities like the Roman colony of Philippi, and the Greek cities of Athens and Corinth, to Jew and Gentile alike.

Many became believers, although they stirred up opposition from Jewish groups, violent mobs or tradesmen whose livelihoods were threatened (as in Ephesus, Acts 19:24). They formed churches in many of these places.

The missionary pioneers of the Primitive Methodist movement journeyed from town to town, and village to village. In a ten year span from 1810 to 1820 they “missioned” towns and villages following the course of the River Trent, in the English Midlands from Stoke-on-Trent and going east via Notttingham towards the port city of Hull. In each place they formed chapels.

Their greatest apostle and evangelist, William Clowes, entered the city of Hull in January 1819. The proclamation of the gospel transformed that city. By 1881 there were fourteen chapels with a total capacity of over 12,000.

In a little over 30 years they established chapels across the length and breadth of England. In short they had made an impact on a nation. By the beginning of the 20th century they had formed schools, orphanages, helped found the Trade Union movement and had ten elected MPs.

Can the proclamation of the gospel change our nation, the nation of Australia? I believe it can.

See also Five Characteristics of a Church Planting movement

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


The fourth parallel between the church in Acts and the Primitive Methodist movement is persecution.

After the stoning of Stephen, a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the surrounding regions. (Acts 8:1). Paul and his companions met with persecution in Antioch (Acts 13:50), Iconium (Acts 14:5), Lystra (Acts 14:19), strong opposition from Jewish groups and violent mobs in Philippi (Acts 16:22), and in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5), and there was a great riot in Ephesus on account of their message (Acts 19:23).

The early Primitive Methodist pioneer preachers faced two particular forms of persecution – the mob and the magistrate. Violent mobs of angry men and women pelted their preachers with stones, rotten eggs and vegetables, mud, excrement, as well as verbally and physically assaulting them. Some preachers were lucky to escape with their lives. Verbal assault apart from the usual cursing and swearing also included calling them “Ranters”, a term of derision and offence.

Many a preacher found himself in court or in prison as the result of trumped up charges, such as obstructing the highway, or intention to cause a riot. It was not infrequently that they picked up “the Go to Jail” card.

It is the experience of many preachers of powerful Christian movements to go to jail. Examples include Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany and Martin Luther King in Birmingham jail. It often seems to be part of God’s plan. As our western society moves from being post-Christian to being increasingly anti-Christian, it may be the lot of modern-day preachers to be sent to prison for preaching the Gospel, as well.

See also Five Characteristics of a Church Planting movement

Friday, September 3, 2010


The third parallel between the New Testament church and the Primitive Methodist movement, is praise, particularly through music.

The New Testament believers praised God in song, as well as in prayer, and other forms of worship. When Paul and Silas were thrown into prison at Philippi, they prayed and sang hymns at midnight. Paul wrote to the Corinthians advising “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (1 Cor 14:26).

The Primitive Methodist movement likewise was characterised by song. They used music and song effectively, especially in the open-air. It was standard practice for an open-air preacher and his supporters to approach a market-place, singing as they went. Their singing soon attracted a crowd. Their hymn books were some of their most popular publications.

Like William Booth of the Salvation Army, fifty years later, the Primitive Methodists did not see why the devil should have all the best tunes. They put new words to lewd or ribald popular songs of the day, thus making a connection between the surrounding culture and their movement.

How can our modern day church use music and song more effectively?

And now for a bit of light relief

Just when you think you've seen it all before, here is the pulpit with built in iPad. It's called iPodium.

With thanks to

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pentecostal power

The second parallel between the New Testament church and the Primitive Methodist movement, is the power of the Holy Spirit.

On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came in great power. There is some evidence that the Primitive Methodists were Pentecostals, a hundred years before the Azusa Street revival in 1905. They were a movement of the Holy Spirit where the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit were taught and experienced. Both of the founders of the movement, Hugh Bourne and William Clowes, experienced personally powerful experiences of being filled with the Spirit.

There were times when there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the believers. Hugh Bourne recalls one particular service held at Tunstall on Sunday September 24th, 1820. There was such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the whole congregation that it resulted in a “revival of the work of the Lord.” The next evening he preached and many were converted to Christ.

Towards the end of his life, Hugh Bourne regularly preached on ‘the Pentecost’.

The books of Acts has been called “the Acts of the Holy Spirit”. It seems obvious that a movement of God is inspired, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. As it was for the New Testament church, and for the Primitive Methodist movement, so it is for a contemporary movement of God – it must be a movement empowered by the Spirit of God.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dynamic prayer

The first and most obvious parallel between the New Testament church and the Primitive Methodist movement, is the central role of prayer.

In Acts, 120 believers were “constantly in prayer” in the upper room, after Jesus had ascended to heaven. (Acts 1:14-15). When Peter was imprisoned by Herod, and on trial for his life, many people gathered in the house of Mary to pray for his release. (Acts 12:12). Barnabas and Saul were commissioned for the first missionary journey in Antioch after fasting and prayer. (Acts 13:3). Being gathered for prayer was at the heart of New Testament ministry.

Prayer was at the centre of ministry for the Primitive Methodists. Their meetings were legendary in North Staffordshire, England, where they began. They were known for being demonstrative, passionate, zealous and powerful gatherings. They were dynamic meetings, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Hugh Bourne called those who were zealously committed to prayer, by the quaint title of “pious praying labourers”. To them, prayer was core business. Today we would call them prayer warriors. They were earnest in their passion for God and for the conversion of their friends. There was an expectation that every convert would become part of the prayer meeting.

I want to suggest that our modern-day church needs to encourage and expect new converts to be part of a regular dynamic prayer meeting. In such a prayer gathering, new believers catch the DNA of the movement, and learn to become bold and passionate about making disciples.

When was the last time you went to a dynamic prayer meeting? Do you need to start one?

See also Practicing a Shout, Dynamic Prayer Meetings Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Five characteristics of a church planting movement

I have been reading about the first great Christian movement, the growth and expansion of the New Testament church, as recorded in the book of Acts. I have also been making notes about the parallels of the stories in Acts with those of the Primitive Methodist movement.

Both were dynamic church planting movements. I identified five common themes each starting with the letter P, as follows:

I will expand on each of these in later posts, to help us in our context today.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reflections on New Age in Warburton

A couple of weekends ago we decided to go away to stay in a cottage in Mount Evelyn to celebrate my birthday and our wedding anniversary. We also drove out to Warburton, some 70k north east of Melbourne, for a walk along the river. Deciding to stop for coffee, we were once more surprised at the increasing prevalence of New Age.

We went to one coffee shop and having sat down for a few minutes had to make a quick exit – the pictures on the walls seemed to us to be disturbingly dark and oppressive. The more we looked, the more evidence of New Age was all around, such as advertisements for palmistry, tarot readings and the like. There were a significant number of shops displaying New Age influence.

It is so very sad to see some of our most popular venues coming under the shadow of New Age and the eastern mysticism that it promotes. Pray for the churches and Christian believers in Warburton and surrounding areas, that their witness may be strong and powerful.

See also my Reflections on New Age and the Strangler Fig.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Are we heading for the worst case scenario?

In the federal election on August 21, are we heading for the worst case scenario, from a Christian perspective? Consider this:

    • Julia Gillard is a founder member of Emily’s List. This is a pro-autonomy, pro-choice (that is, pro-abortion), pro-euthanasia organisation, who view the Victorian abortion legislation as a great success. This heinous legislation allows late term unborn babies to be aborted.

    • By her own personal example, she does not promote marriage (she lives with her partner). She has stated that Same Sex Marriage is not on the agenda for the next term of government. Given her membership of Emily's List, and her philosophical position, can we trust her assurance?

    • She is a declared atheist.Will she support the rights of churches, Christian schools and similar organisations to teach Christian values in the area of sexuality?

    • She has betrayed Kevin Rudd. Can we trust her?

    • Labour have a preference deal with the Greens.

    • The Greens are anti-Christian, in philosophical basis, and in their policies. Cardinal George Pell has publically stated that he is concerned about the Greens gaining the balance of power in the next Senate. He states bluntly that "Their program is explicitly anti-Christian".

    • The Greens promote Same Sex Marriage, alternate sexuality and the like. They promoted the Marriage Equality Bill in 2009. For more details, see Why the Greens make me see red

    • There is a strong possibility that the Greens could hold the balance of power. This is most likely in the Senate, but is also a possibility in the House of Reps.

    • So in my opinion, the worst case scenario is a minority Gillard Labour government with the Greens holding the balance of power in both houses. If this is the case, what concessions will the Greens extract from Labour?

    • Whatever his failings, Tony Abbott takes a strong stand against abortion, and promotes heterosexual marriage.

    • Other scenarios are

      • a minority Liberal government, with Greens holding the balance of power
      • a majority Labour government
      • a majority Liberal government

Democracy is a blunt instrument, and the responsibility of governing our country is considerable.

Use your vote wisely. Be informed. Be careful with preferences. Pray for our leaders, and pray for our nation at this critical time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Practicing a shout

A week or so ago, I had the privilege of meeting with some twenty or so church planters in the Western suburbs. I was asked to share on the subject of the Primitive Methodists and prayer, both subjects close to my heart.

For the Primitive Methodists, who were also known as “Ranters”, prayer was at the very core of the way they operated. For them, it was not an optional extra, but a central feature of their ministry. For them, prayer was the engine that powered the spaceship. So I took the opportunity to introduce the idea of dynamic prayer as practiced by the Ranters.

Their prayer meetings were passionate, zealous and loud. In these prayer meetings, new converts learned to become energetic workers for Christ. They learned how to wrestle in prayer for people to become Christians. They learned that their faith was more precious than gold. They learned to pray effectively, fervently and with the kind of prayer that prevailed.

There was one more aspect that often featured in a such a dynamic prayer meeting – the practice of a “shout”. The Ranters knew how to give praise to God in a loud voice. So in a quiet little street in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, we worshipped God with a loud shout, for around twenty minutes or more. We sensed the power of the Holy Spirit as we loudly declared God’s praises. It was a profound moment.

Now I am not saying that the power of the Holy Spirit is proportional to the increase in decibels. To be sure, we can experience God in quietness too. What I am doing is introducing a shout as a valid way of praising God.

There are times when a shout is appropriate. And I think it is more appropriate than we think. Indeed the Psalmist wrote “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth” (Ps 100:1)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What’s in a name?

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 11:26)

Antioch is significant in the book of Acts for two reasons: firstly that Greeks in that place became some of the first Gentile (non Jewish) believers, and secondly that it was there that followers of Christ were first called Christians.

For the Primitive Methodists their “Antioch” was the village of Belper in Derbyshire. It was there that they were first called “Ranters”. It was not a name they would have chosen for themselves. In fact the name was most often used as a term of derision, scorn and abuse. Many a young convert experienced verbal assault as their persecutors and opponents mockingly called them a Ranter.

However, there was an upside to the name. It was most often used with negative overtones. When word got round that a Ranter preacher was coming to town, a curious and sometimes hostile crowd would gather. It meant that you could not ignore the Ranters. You were either for them or against them.

Early Ranter preachers often faced a barrage of eggs, rotting vegetables, mud and worse as they preached in the open air. Violence and opposition was part of the package for the early pioneers.

What’s in a name? A great deal, it would appear.

More: Primitive Methodism Centenary plate Hugh Bourne William Clowes Prayer Bible Reading Discipleship Reflections Statistics

Monday, August 9, 2010

Reflections on a Me centred world

In 1543, a Polish astronomer and mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus published a paper called “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres”. He proposed the radical idea that the centre of the solar system is the sun, not the earth.

Until this time, the accepted thinking about the cosmos placed the earth at the centre of the universe. For practical purposes, this view of the world worked most of the time, but there were some awkward questions about the trajectory of the planets, that did not seem to fit this world view.

The very idea that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa, was truly revolutionary. We now speak of the “Copernican Revolution”, to describe the monumental change in our understanding of how the planets relate to the sun.

Unfortunately there are many today who live with a wrong view of the universe.
They are called Narcissists, or me-centred people. For the Narcissist, it’s all about me. At the centre of this universe is ME. Then orbiting ME is “My Stuff”, and “Stuff About Me”. Somewhere in the outer reaches of the solar system are Others.

Now my concern is not so much with the self-obsessed celebrities in our media dominated culture. Rather it is with “Me Centred” Christians. For the self-centred Christian, going to church and being part of a church community is an exercise in WIFM – What’s In it For Me. In other words, I’m in it for what I can get out of it.

The journey of being a disciple of Christ is learning to put Christ at the centre of our life. Only when we have a right view of the world, does the world make sense. Rick Warren opens his book “The Purpose Driven Life”, with the now famous words “It’s not about you”. It’s not about me, either. It’s all about Christ.

How do followers of Christ change from being “Me Centred” to “Christ Centred”?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person's Life

The Barna Research Group surveys religious belief and opinions in an American context. Their results are both surprising and a cause for concern, particularly in our understanding of young adults. I suspect that their results apply in an Australian context too.

This has triggered my thoughts for a series of posts on discipleship, and the importance of helping Christian believers develop a Bibical “worldview”.

One survey, now some years old, from 2003, found that a Biblical worldview has a radical effect on a person’s life. In other words, how we see and understand the world has highly significant effect on our attitudes and behaviour. It seems kind of obvious doesn’t it?

However the research indicated that whilst everyone has a worldview, relatively few people have a biblical worldview - even among devoutly religious people. The survey discovered that only 9% of born again Christians have such a perspective on life.

For the purposes of the research, a biblical worldview was defined as

- believing that absolute moral truths exist;
- that such truth is defined by the Bible;
- and firm belief in six specific religious views, as follows:

  1. that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life;

  2. God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today;

  3. salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned;

  4. Satan is real;

  5. a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people;

  6. the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.

So if only 9% of born again Christians have such a perspective, there is a lot of ground to cover. This statement begs many questions, such as

  1. What do adults actually believe? What is their worldview?

  2. How do followers of Christ grow in their faith to come to a Biblical worldview?

  3. What helps and what hinders the spiritual formation process?

  4. Why do so many self described born again believers not hold a Biblical worldview?

See the full research paper here

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why the Greens make me see red

Australia has a federal election on 21 August. There is the distinct possibility that the Greens may end up holding the balance of power in the Senate. In addition the ALP have a preference deal with the Greens. It is in this context that the ideology of the Greens and their specific policies should be understood, and in my opinion, be a cause of great concern to Christians.

Cardinal George Pell has publically stated that he is concerned about the Greens gaining the balance of power in the next Senate. He states bluntly "Their program is explicitly anti-Christian".

In 1996, Bob Brown co authored with Peter Singer a book called The Greens, which sets out their philosophical outlook. Peter Singer is the well-known atheist and utilitarian philosopher who supports animal liberation, abortion to term, euthanasia, and in general seeks to overturn the Judeo-Christian ethical foundation of our western society. He also gives qualified support for infanticide. Whilst not necessarily in agreement with Singer on all points, Greens leader Bob Brown nevertheless supports abortion and right-to-die legislation.

At the policy level, the Greens are a mixed bag. There is apparently no family policy, which is conspicuous by its absence. The omission of a policy on the family as the basic building block of our society is telling. On the other hand, they have strong policies on sexuality and gender. They promote same sex marriage and seek to give a range of relationships the same rights as heterosexual marriage.

Their education policies are also an area of great concern. Angela Shanahan writes that The Greens “under the banner of inclusiveness have caved into to the entire gay agenda. Their education policies include giving the state power to give children the ‘right’ to ideological education on ‘alternative’ sexuality.” The Greens would remove exemptions on anti-discrimination laws forcing teachers in Christian schools to teach material with which they disagree.

Writing in Viewpoint magazine, Angela Shanahan warns that “Christians should beware of the lure of the Greens”. (You can read the full article by downloading View Point magazine “Greens: Balance of Power?”).

It is my prayer that in the lead up to this election we will see the candidates, the parties and their policies in their true colours, enabling us to make a fully informed vote.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Johnny Oxtoby and prayer

Johnny Oxtoby was a member of the infant Primitive Methodist Movement in the 1820s. He had the sort of faith that moves mountains.

He was a prayer warrior. He spent hours on his knees each day, which prepared him for his amazing conquests. In 1823, he was commissioned to revive the mission to Filey, a fishing port on the coast of North East England.

He set out a few days later. Asked where he was going, he replied: ‘To Filey, where the Lord is going to revive his work.’ When he came in sight of the town he fell on his knees behind a hedge, and pleaded with God for hours for the success of his mission.

A miller passing by overheard the strange prayer: ‘You must not make a fool of me. I told them at Bridlington, “You were going to revive your work”, and You must do so or I shall never be able to show my face among them again, and then what will the people say about praying and believing?’

Eventually assurance came, and rising from his knees, he exclaimed: ‘It is done, Lord! It is done! Filey is taken! Filey us taken!’ Filey was indeed taken. A great revival began, which completely transformed the moral condition of the town, and laid the foundations of a powerful church in that locality for many decades to follow.

Today the Filey Fishermen’s Choir proudly continues the work started by John Oxtoby in 1823.

Abridged from The Romance of Primitive Methodism, by Joseph Ritson

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lord give us Berkshire!

On a dull, cheerless winter day in February, 1830, two men approached Ashdown on the Berkshire Downs. John Ride and Thomas Russell were men on a mission - they were indeed Primitive Methodist missionaries. Thomas Russell, the younger of the two had already walked for several hours, a distance of some ten miles, across the Downs to meet his friend and fellow missionary. They went to a nearby wood in order to pray and talk. Their objective was simple: they needed to know that their mission to Berkshire would be spiritually successful.

In spite of the snow, and of personal discomfort, they fell to their knees and prayed passionately and earnestly to God. They prayed in faith for the success of their mission, to honour God, and save souls. Their passionate cry was “Lord, give us Berkshire! Lord, give us Berkshire!”

They pleaded with God in prayer for hours. At last Thomas Russell received inward assurance, rose to his feet, and exclaimed “that country's ours, that country's ours and we will have it!” He pointed across the landscape bounded by the Hampshire Hills some thirty miles distant. John Ride declared “I like your confidence of faith!”

They parted with the assurance that Berkshire would be won for Primitive Methodism. God heard and honoured this afternoon prayer in Ashdown. While John Ride and Thomas Russell pleaded for Berkshire, God gave also territory beyond. The dedication, faith and zealous prayer of the missionary pioneers paid handsome dividends. Out of the Berkshire mission sprang other missions in Hampshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, and Surrey.

Abridged from the History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, Kendall, Chapter IV

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Billy Braithwaite and prayer

Some two hundred years ago in the village of East Stockwith in Lincolnshire, England, a farmer was busy ploughing his field. Soon he became aware that he could hear what sounded like several loud voices arguing, coming from behind a hedge. He left his plough horses and went to investigate. He peered through the hedge and to his surprise he discovered there was just one man, on his knees.

His eyes were closed, his hands clasped, and tears were running down his cheeks. The loud words and requests were addressed to One unseen, and their urgency was extraordinary: ‘You must give me souls. I cannot preach without souls. Lord, give me souls, or I shall die.’

The farmer was awestruck and returned to his ploughing. That night he told the strange story to his wife. Hearing this, she exclaimed: ‘Why, he must be the man who has been round saying that he is going to preach here.’ The farmer decided to hear him preach and became one of the first Primitive Methodist converts in that village. The farmer had a lasting conversion to Christ, living full of faith to the end of his life.

The solitary man in prayer was Billy Braithewaite, a pioneer missionary and preacher. He had gone there to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. His method was typical of the early Primitive Methodist pioneers in the early decades of the 1800s.

Abridged from The Romance of Primitive Methodism, by Joseph Ritson

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A new definition of leadership

One of my heroes is William Clowes, the Apostle Paul of the Primitive Methodist movement. He brought the life changing message of Christ to many thousands of working class men and women, preaching in the outdoors. He knew that the secret of connecting with people is first connecting with God. Then, and only then, could he communicate to those around him. He defined leadership like this:

"leading was not so much a matter of talking to the people as ‘getting into faith and bringing down the cloud of God’s glory.’"

He knew that like Moses, he had to bring God's glory to the people. Clowes epitaph in 1851 records that "he was a burning and shining light". He reflected the glory of God to those whom he reached with the gospel. He knew how to bring the glory down.

How about you and me?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The story of Willie Wilkinson, the Duke of Cleveland and the agent

(or the butler is more fierce than the king)

(or how the Primitive Methodists obtained a site for a chapel)

Occasionally it happened that the difficulty in obtaining a site for a Primitive Methodist chapel was due to the intolerance of an agent, and when the applicants managed to get past the underling to the great man himself, all troubles ceased.

This story is from Bowlees, near Middleton-in-Teesdale, in the north east of England.

All requests to the owner of the desired land, the Duke of Cleveland, had been fruitless. After much prayer, a sturdy Yorkshireman, Willie Wilkinson, resolved to present his plea personally to the landlord, shrewdly suspecting that as yet his Grace knew nothing of the matter. The Duke was staying with a shooting party at High Force Inn, and Willie Wilkinson was, of course, refused admission. Brushing past the Duke’s servant, Willie made his way to the Duke, and began the interview by grasping his Grace’s hand, with the inquiry:

‘How are ye Mister Duke, an’ how’s Missis Duke?’

Happily the Duke was not without a sense of humour, and took in the situation, so that Willie was asked to state his business.

“Ah want a bit o’ground, Mister Duke, to build a Primitive Methodist chapel on. An’ it’s not the first time we’ve asked for it neither, Mister Duke. Ah’ve sent paper after paper myself, an’ never gotten any word back.’

The agent admitted the truth of the statement, excusing himself on the ground that he had never deemed it of sufficient importance to lay before his Grace.

Willie could contain himself no longer. ‘Ah always thought that was t’way it was. Ah’ve never spoken to ye in my life before, but ah was sure ye were a decent sort of a man. Ah always thought it was them nasty bodies about ye.’

Willie intimated further that if they could get a few poachers converted in the new chapel, his Grace would be ‘obliged’ to them.

‘You shall have a piece of land, most certainly, my man,’ said the Duke.

‘Thank ye, Mister Duke,’ was Willie’s prompt response.

‘Where would you like to have it?’

‘Mister Duke,’ replied Willie, in his most insinuating manner, ‘there’s a bit o’ ground down yonder in the corner of the pasture, it grows nowt, it never growed nowt, it grows nowt but weeds, but it’ll do very well for a chapel.’

The Duke promptly granted the site, and at once instructed his agent to meet Willie at nine o’clock next morning to stake out as much land as Willie desired. Willie was on the spot in good time, with a bundle of stakes ready for staking out. Then the steward arrived.

“Thou’s come then,’ was Willie’s caustic greeting. ‘Ah thought thou would come. Thou didn’t dare but come when t’ Duke tells thee. But ah have thee now. Does thou see them stakes? Thou’ll put them in just where ah tell thee. T’ Duke said ah was to have as much ground as ah wanted.’

Meekly the agent followed Willie from point to point, until an ample site had been staked out, and Bowlees chapel stands today a monument of the sturdy Yorkshireman’s ‘holy boldness’.

Abridged from The Romance of Primitive Methodism, Joseph Ritson, pp. 133 -134.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Liberal theology is alive and well

The seeds for decline of the Primitive Methodism movement were sown by the acceptance of Protestant Liberal theology, and the Social gospel. The Bible was open to reinterpretation, and the stories of miracles and supernatural events in the gospels were dismissed as myth. Within a hundred years core beliefs of the founders of the movement were gradually overturned.

The problems of liberal interpretation of the Bible are ever present. Steve Addison writes about liberal Biblical interpretation in the Baptist Union of Victoria.
There is nothing more important to the vitality of a movement than it’s commitment to its core beliefs. Dynamic movements hold both orthodoxy (core beliefs) and engagement with the culture in creative tension.

About a year ago my denomination (Baptist Union of Victoria) reappointed its New Testament professor, Dr Keith Dyer. The appointment was supported by the denominational leadership and theological college and affirmed by a two-thirds majority of a BUV Assembly of ministers and church representatives.

Historically, the BUV has been an evangelical denomination with a conservative statement of faith that upholds the supremacy of scripture.

For more on this post see a Case Study in Decline. This time the debate is about a Biblical approach to homosexuality. So another hundred years later, it would seem that little has changed. Liberal Biblical interpretation is alive and well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Reflections on New Age and the Strangler Fig

A few weeks ago we went on holiday to the Sunshine Coast. One day we hired a car and went for a tourist drive from Caloundra. We went west inland to the quaint tourist towns of Malene and Montville, continuing on to Mapleton falls.

The tourist towns were what I expected – craft and gift shops, second hand bookshops, cafes and restaurants mixed in with more utilitarian retail outlets such as pharmacies, newsagents, and the like. What was noticeable was the prevalence of New Age shops, and places advertising Palmistry and Tarot readings. Add to that adverts for courses to discover the “real you” and find future direction in life, and it is hard to escape the tentacles of New Age. The influence of New Age seems pervasive.

After lunch we drove to Mapleton, famous for its dramatic and impressive waterfalls. The view from the lookout is nothing less than spectacular. There on the delightfully named Wompoo walking track we came face to face with the great Queensland Strangler Fig. The Strangler Fig starts life high in the branches of an existing tree, as a seed planted by a bird. Then it grows roots, which drop many metres to the ground and gradually wrap round the trunk of the host tree.

Over many years the roots strangle the host tree, by taking essential nutrients from the sap, and growing at the expense of the host. The roots grow so big and strong, that eventually the host tree dies. The Strangler Fig has gone from an innocent seed dropped onto a branch to total domination. From initial planting of the seed to killing the tree, it is only a matter of time.

It seems to me that in many popular tourist locations, such as Montville and Malene, that the seeds of New Age have been planted, and the roots are tapping into the life of the local community, and the existing Christian presence there. Is it just a matter of time before New Age totally dominates communities such as these and churches die out?

In Victoria, I would add that similar comments apply to the spa town of Hepburn Springs, well-known for its range of New Age establishments. One time we visited the Baptist Church there, only to find that it was struggling to keep the doors open. Is New Age strangling the Christian presence out of towns such as these?

I think it is.

If so, what does the Christian Church do about it?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Doing a U-turn

In the space of less than one hundred years the core beliefs of the pioneer founders of Primitive Methodism had been overturned. The consequences were far reaching.

The Bible could no longer be trusted as the Word of God. Christ was demoted from being the incarnate Son of God, fully human and yet fully divine, to an inspirational human being. Supernatural events such as the Virgin birth were denied.

Christ became a moral example to follow. The concepts of heaven and hell became vague and more abstract. Emphasis on God’s righteous anger, and the coming judgement were down-played in favour of a Fatherly God of love.

The gospel message of Bourne and Clowes, embodied in the catch-cry “flee from the wrath to come”, was virtually obliterated. The proponents of the liberal gospel were anything but Ranters.

It was a U-turn for the movement.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Simple Gospel or Social Gospel?

John Day Thompson had to answer a heresy charge in 1896. He preached the Social Gospel. The Bible "is a record of man’s discovery of spiritual truth; it is to be treated as ‘any serious human book’ should be treated." It was not, therefore, divinely inspired, or God-breathed.

Which gospel would be proclaimed? Would it be the Simple Gospel of the Ranter missionary pioneers or the Social Gospel of the liberal theologians?

Kenneth Lysons comments that "In 1896, the Primitive Methodist Conference meeting at Burnley was asked to adjudicate on the matter as the final Connexional Court of Appeal where, by an overwhelming majority, it was resolved that no action be taken on the matter."

"It was a landmark decision, and it represented a watershed in the transition from the early Primitive Methodist evangelism based on the inerrancy of the Scriptures."

It would have deep and lasting consequences for the Primitive Methodist movement in the twentieth century.

Quotations from "A Little Primitive", Kenneth Lysons, p140-141

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Going off track – heresy

John Day Thompson had to answer a heresy charge in 1896. It was the first time in the history of the movement that a serious charge of heresy had been made.

The heresy accusation was made by two former principals of the Primitive Methodist Theological Institution, James Macpherson and Joseph Wood. The charge was based on a published address delivered by Thompson in Adelaide in 1894 on ‘The Simple Gospel’ in which he attacked the view that it was the duty of ministers to proclaim ‘the Simple Gospel and leave on one side critical questions’ and what came to be called ‘the Social Gospel’. Thompson’s address in Adelaide outraged the old guard.

Which was it to be? The Simple Gospel of the missionary pioneers or the Social Gospel of the liberal theologians?

Quotes from "A Little Primitive", Kenneth Lysons, p140, "Modern Religious Rebels", Stuart Mews, p216

Friday, June 25, 2010

Going off track (3)

The Primitive Methodist movement began to go off track with the adoption of Protestant liberal theology. The crisis developed in Adelaide in South Australia, from 1889 onwards.
Hugh Gilmore’s successor, John Day Thompson, was an even more outspoken exponent of religious liberalism. … For Thompson there could be ‘no final or absolute theology. There must come new theologies whether we like them or not.’

The Bible “is a record of man’s discovery of spiritual truth; it is to be treated as ‘any serious human book’ should be treated. The climax of the Bible’s moral development was the ethical principles of Jesus, and the church of today must be released from ‘the dead hand of Paul’.” These were familiar themes in Protestant liberalism, and Thompson’s espousal of them did not leave him unscathed. He had to answer a heresy charge from within his own denomination in 1896.

It was the first time in the history of the movement that a serious charge of heresy had been made.

Quotations from "This side of heaven", Arnold D Hunt, p137

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Going off track (2)

The Primitive Methodist movement began to go off track with the adoption of Protestant liberal theology. The crisis developed in Adelaide in South Australia, 1889 onwards.

Arnold Hunt, in his history of Methodism in South Australia, provides more detail.

In 1889 Hugh Gilmore and his wife and family, came to South Australia to be the minister of the Primitive Methodist church in Wellington Square, North Adelaide. Gilmore was the first Methodist minister in the colony to be an overt advocate of Protestant liberal theology.

This movement stressed the need for a new understanding of the authority of the Bible. It subordinated doctrine to ethic, preached social reform as well as individual conversion, took an optimistic view of the possibility of human progress, rejected the infallibility of the Bible, and preferred the Gospels to the Epistles of Paul. Primitive Methodism had spawned by the 1880s a group of proponents of this new theology, two of whom, Gilmore and his successor, John Day Thompson, came to South Australia.

Gilmore’s Methodism had moved a long way from excessive concern with individual salvation. There was still a desire, of course, that people should find in Christ the power and the person to empower and enhance life. But the emphasis on the social witness of the Christian was strong. Social brotherhood and compassion for the poor were the highest manifestations of Christian spirituality.

See also "Going off track (1)"

This side of heaven, Arnold D Hunt, p134-136

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Miracle of Dunkirk

In what is still called 'the Miracle of Dunkirk' the story is told of how over 300,000 British troops were snatched from the beaches of France in an operation that was so fraught with dangers that success can only be attributed to a miraculous combination of circumstances.

His Majesty King George VI requested that Sunday, 26 May should be observed as a National Day of Prayer. In a stirring broadcast, he called the people of Britain and of the Empire to commit their cause to God.

Three miracles occurred:

1. Hitler overruled his generals and halted the advance of his armoured columns at the very point when they could have proceeded to the British army's annihilation. They were now only ten miles away.

2. A storm of unprecedented fury broke over Flanders on Tuesday, 28 May, (1940) grounding the German Luftwaffe squadrons and enabling the British army formations, now eight to twelve miles from Dunkirk, to move up on foot to the coast in the darkness of the storm and the violence of the rain, with scarcely any interruption from aircraft, which were unable to operate in such turbulent conditions.

3. Despite the storm in Flanders, a great calm—such as has rarely been experienced—settled over the English Channel during the days which followed, and its waters became as still as a mill pond. It was this quite extraordinary calm which enabled a vast armada to ply back and forth in a desperate bid to rescue as many men as possible.

This post is a summary of the full story here on the Christians Together website.

Going off track (1)

The most significant change that affected the future direction of the Primitive Methodist movement came from Adelaide in South Australia, 1889 onwards. The ministry and theology of Hugh Gilmore, and his immediate successor, John Day Thompson, had a profound and lasting effect on Primitive Methodism for much of the twentieth century. Thompson himself went on to hold the highest offices in the movement, becoming Secretary of the Annual Conference in 1903, and President of Conference in 1915, positions of considerable influence.

The adoption of Protestant liberal theology by John Day Thompson led to a crisis – a charge of heresy - in the Primitive Methodist movement. It was a defining moment.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Checking the vital signs (3)

The Primitive Methodist centenary celebrations spanned the years 1907-1910. Outwardly they were a great success.

To the careful observer, however, the vital signs were showing the movement had reached a plateau. History tells us that the process of decline had begun.

H. B. Kendall puts it like this:
As tabulated, the spiritual results of the Centenary were disappointingly small. It had been hoped and expected that there would be a large ingathering into the Church.

“Was it too much,” it was asked, “to hope and expect that these years should bring up the membership to 250,000?” But it was not to be. … The Centenary years passed, and the returns showed only eighteen more members than in 1907, while the reports of the General Sunday School Union frankly and feelingly chronicled a decline. We say “feelingly,” because the pain it cost the writers to draw up these faithful reports cannot be hidden. They seem to have been written with a fluid more vital than ink. It was puzzling and disappointing this scanty spiritual harvest of the Centenary years. It was even humiliating.
The vital signs were saying something was wrong.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Checking the vital signs (2)

The Primitive Methodist centenary Camp Meeting was held at Mow Cop on May 25-27, 1907. At the first meeting there were an estimated 90,000 people present.

The Centenary plate made especially for the occasion records the following statistics:

Chapels & Preaching Places …. 4,905
Ministers …. 1,153
Local Preachers … 16,209
Church members … 210,173
Adherents … 607,682
Sunday Schools … 4209
Teachers … 61,275
Scholars …. 477,114
Value of property … £4,958,978

There were high expectations for Centenary. The Centenary Fund was the most successful Thanksgiving Fund in the history of the movement. When the final balance sheet was presented in 1912, it exceeded the target amount by over £77,000, a considerable sum. The Centenary had been a triumph of organisation, from start to finish.

In spite of the outward indications of success, something was wrong. One of the unfulfilled expectations was that membership would reach 250,000 by 1910. It was not to be. To the careful observer, the vital signs were showing that not all was well.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Checking the vital signs (1)

We are all familiar with the need for a health check. It important to check the vital signs, such as blood pressure, heart rate and so on. These vital signs are indicators of good health or potential problems.

As with people, so with churches and movements. In 1860, at the fifty year Jubilee, the Primitive Methodist movement showed the following vital signs:

The detailed statistics for 1859 are as follows:

Members …..................... 123,86
Local Preachers …........... 10,838
Sunday School scholars … 159,251
Sunday School teachers … 29,183
Chapels …........................ 2,166

The general trend was up. The vital signs were good.

From a spiritual viewpoint as measured by growth in members and chapels all seemed well. It confirmed that the movement was in good shape to face the challenges of the next fifty years. It was a different story by the time of Centenary in 1907 - 1910.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review of The Vertical Self by Mark Sayers

One of the biggest questions in life is the question of identity: Who am I? Who am I really?

In The Vertical Self, Mark Sayers studies the way our culture defines our sense of self, or how our identity is culturally determined. He terms this view of self the horizontal self.

Those with a horizontal view must ensure that they keep communicating the right messages to their peers and society at large. For them, “sin” is not fitting in; “hell” is social irrelevance. With no larger truth present in their worldview, truth and facts mean little. Instead they look for identity in momentary pleasure and experience.

The horizontal self seeks status, instant gratification, momentary pleasure, and our worth is tied to what others think of us. He describes three particular ways that the horizontal self is defined in our culture:

  • The Social Self of Sexy
  • The Social Self of Cool
  • The Social Self of Glamorous

He argues that the alternate path to a true sense of identity is the “vertical self”, in other words our relationship with God. The vertical self seeks holiness, delayed gratification, satisfaction, and our worth is determined by what God thinks of us. Sayers introduces us to our future self – the spiritual body – at the future resurrection of believers. (1 Corinthians 15:40-44). He suggests that Jesus’ resurrection body points to the “real you”.

The call to holiness is the lifelong process of being conformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. In our culture, we must rediscover what it is to be holy. He defines holiness as “moving towards perfection” (p. 90).

In essence Mark Sayers presents two questions and answers

  1. Where do we find our true identity? - in our vertical relationship with God
  2. How do we get there? - by living a life of holiness

The book wrestles with the answers to these questions in our twenty-first century culture.

In passing, I liked his paragraph with the heading “no one wants to be a Christian dork”. The cry of the day is “I just want the world to know that you can be a Christian and be cool too”. p.89

In summary, this book is an excellent analysis of our culture. It makes the call for holiness practical and relevant for every Christian.

Available from Koorong $17-95.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Love and Marriage in Australia

In an article entitled “For whom the bells toll”, Angela Blakston in The Age A2 section (Saturday 5 June) interviewed eight couples tying the knot. The couples are a widely diverse group, including one couple with an Elvis impersonator as celebrant. It makes for interesting reading.

She notes that Australian marriages have hit a 20-year high. There were 118,756 marriages registered in Australia in 2008, almost 2500 more than the previous year and the highest number in the past two decades.

She reflects on what love really means in our culture, using the words of 1 Corinthians chapter 13:

Whether you believe biology or a higher power has created us, few would disagree that we have an innate ability or need for love; to love and be loved.

This may all sound obvious but we live in a society where love has been romanticised, sexualised and sentimentalised to such an extent that it’s often hard to work out the real business of love, particularly when it comes to marriage.

“Love is patient, love is kind…” These days, a few years on in my own marriage – with two children, one who has had major health issues and who we almost lost, and a third (unplanned) baby newly arrived – I mostly feel humbled whenever I hear these words.

“Love always hopes, always perseveres…” Is this not the greatest challenge of any marriage? To turn up at the table, daily, to be able to love and be loved, despite your and your dearest faults and foibles.

It seems that the apostle Paul’s timeless description of true love still speaks powerfully into our culture today.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What I learned from the Mormons

Last Saturday, after the prayer meeting, we went to McDonalds for breakfast, as per our normal custom. We were joined at the breakfast table by four Mormon missionaries – two young “elders” from Utah and two young “sisters” from Samoa. They wore name badges “Elder …., or Sister …., Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints.”. The men wore suits, and looked just as I expected Mormon missionaries to look – clean shaven, healthy, fit young guys.

I learned that

  • They will not normally give their first name. One of the elders said, and I quote: “I have been instructed not to tell you my first name”, although one of the sisters did divulge her name. We are requested to address them as Elder X or Sister Y. The reason given for this is to protect privacy and ensure personal security. By the way, my name is Dave.

  • They believe that the Book of Mormon has higher authority than the Bible. Therefore, of course, where there is a conflict, the Book of Mormon wins. On further research I found out that they believe the Book of Mormon is more “correct” than the Bible.

  • There is a Mormon Temple in Cathies Lane, Wantirna.

  • Mormons believe that Jesus is a god, not fully human God and fully divine God. The full deity and humanity of Christ is a key and vital point of difference between Christian orthodoxy and Mormonism.

  • That a Mormon testimony of coming to faith in God sounds very like a “normal” Christian testimony. They talk of forgiveness and love and it sounds convincing. It’s quite hard to distinguish the two.

  • They do not believe in the Trinity – or more precisely they see the Trinity as three entirely separate persons

  • Their commitment to mission and willingness to serve their church puts many orthodox believers to shame

  • For a more detailed apologetic see