Saturday, January 30, 2010

John Ortberg: It all goes back in the box (youtube link)

John Ortberg, Pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, takes on the topic of stewardship at the 2007 Presbyterian Global Fellowship Conference in Houston, TX.

View him on youtube here.

John Ortberg: It all goes back in the box

John Ortberg, Pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, takes on the topic of stewardship at the 2007 Presbyterian Global Fellowship Conference in Houston, TX.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What if the church met in a pub?

Just suppose the church met in a pub. What name would you call it? The name would have to be quintessentially English. Here are three suggestions

1. The Lion and the Lamb

2. The Everlasting Arms

3. The Master's Return

Any more suggestions?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Go to jail, go directly to jail (part three)

The expansion of the Primitive Methodist Movement into Lincolnshire, in 1817-1818, was accompanied by considerable persecution. John Wedgwood was the first Primitive Methodist preacher to be arrested and sent to prison.

On or about 15th August, 1817, John Wedgwood visited Grantham and began to preach at the stone cross in the centre of the Market Place. He was quickly arrested, marched off, singing as he went, and taken to the Guildhall.

Hearing of Wedgwood’s arrest, a fellow preacher, a Mr. Lockwood, followed his example. He took Wedgwood’s place at the market cross and was immediately arrested also.

At the Guildhall, Wedgwood “had to sit in the prisoner’s chair with a man to guard him, as though he had been a highway man.” He took it all joyfully and in good heart even though Grantham was thrown into commotion by an excited crowd.

He was committed to take his trial at the next Quarter Sessions, and detained in custody. He made himself as comfortable as he could under the circumstances. A ten year old boy and his sister took him breakfast in prison. During his incarceration he said “I felt quite happy while I prayed and sung to the prisoners.”

Lockwood meanwhile succeeded in posting bail, but Wedgwood remained behind bars for the time being.

“Wedgwood’s imprisonment deeply moved the Primitive Methodist community… It was the first instance of the kind that had occurred. John Wedgwood was the first Primitive Methodist to undergo imprisonment; the first of a type of prisoner quite new to that generation – prisoners who were always genial in the presence of magistrates whom they often admonished and baffled, who prayed with their fellow-prisoners and exhorted turnkeys as Wedgwood did when in Grantham jail.”

The news of Wedgwood’s arrest and commitment naturally excited great interest and concern at Tunstall where he was so well known. One man, a certain T. Woodnorth was inspired to write 144 lines of poetry. Wedgwood himself wrote some prison-rhymes, irreverently known as Wedgwood’s jingle:

At Grantham cross I did appear,
The constables did then draw near;
And from the cross they had me down,
But could not take away my crown

The Tunstall circuit took a practical as well as poetic interest in Wedgwood’s concerns. It was decided to free William Clowes, from his round of circuit engagements for a time, in order that he might go to Grantham and learn for himself how things were going with Wedgwood. Clowes left Tunstall on Aug 29th, and made his way to Nottingham, where he heard rumours that Wedgwood was now out on bail.

Lockwood and Wedgwood duly surrendered on their bail at the Quarter Sessions, on October 23rd. Legal counsel was employed on their behalf, and the jury returned a verdict of “Not Guilty”, so that the magistrates were beaten, and found themselves, to their chagrin, saddled with the costs. The result was a signal triumph for the movement.

After the trial meetings were held occasionally at the Market Cross, without interference from the authorities. Thus it was that Hugh Bourne was able to record in his journal:

“Sunday, April 26th, 1818 I got to Grantham in Lincolnshire Camp Meeting. In the afternoon we stood upon the Market Cross, the place where John Wedgwood stood when he was taken up [arrested]. Thus hath God wrought.”

The Journals of William Clowes, pages 127-134
“The History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion”, by John Petty, page 58
“The Origin and History of the Primitive Methodist Church”, by H B Kendall, Vol I, pages 254-262.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Go to jail, go directly to jail (part two)

Throughout history Christians have been sent to jail, for preaching the Gospel. The pioneer preachers of the Primitive Methodist movement soon became more than familiar with this dimension of ministry. Here is another story of the arrest and imprisonment of two of their open-air preachers.

Mr W. Taylor began his missionary work in the Sheffield circuit, in July 1820. On Sunday, July 16th, he and a fellow preacher stood up in Huddersfield market-place, and began to preach; but the constables rudely interrupted them, and took them into custody. They were put into a dirty prison, locked and bolted in, but like Paul and Silas at Philippi, they “prayed and sang praises to God.” A crowd gathered outside; many of whom deeply sympathized with them, and gave them food through the bars of the prison. Many inquired into the doctrine they preached, and Mr. Taylor gave them all the information they needed.

It was about half-past two in the afternoon when they were imprisoned. There was so much excitement produced, that many people remained outside the prison till near midnight. “I was very happy all the time,” says Mr. Taylor, “and when the people departed, I lay down and slept a few hours.”

“Early in the morning, a man in another cell, who had been arrested for house-breaking, called me to pray for him. I exhorted him to repentance and faith in Christ, and then prayed with him. He also prayed, and was in sore trouble.”

When Mr Taylor and his companion were brought before a magistrate, he requested them to preach no more in that town. Unable to consent, they were eventually allowed to depart without fine. Many people testified their gratitude and affection to the preachers, and took them to their houses for refreshment and comfort.

Here is another story of going to jail.

Abridged from “The History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion”, by John Petty, page 99-100.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Go to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass “Go”, do not collect $200!

It is the experience of many preachers of powerful Christian movements to go to jail. Examples include Paul and Silas in Philippi, 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.

Here is the story of how some early preachers of the Primitive Methodist movement were imprisoned, and what happened as a result.

On Sunday, July 2, 1820, Mr. Brownsword and others went to Stourbridge. At six in the evening, he stood up to preach at the top of the town, to about a thousand people. But after he had spoken for a short time, a constable came and took him into custody.

On the next day, Monday July 3rd, Mr. Brownsword and two others were committed to the county jail at Worcester, because they had preached in the open-air, and would not refrain from the practice. Once in prison, they “exerted themselves for the good of the prisoners generally, preaching or exhorting among them every night, and a great reformation soon appeared among them, and many who had been accustomed to curse and swear, began to read and pray.”

“This imprisonment,” said Hugh Bourne, “caused considerable excitement. … Throughout the Darlaston Circuit, and a great part of Tunstall circuit, prayer was made without ceasing to God for help; and He raised up friends on every side, kindness flowed from every quarter; ministers of other communities came forward to assist – voluntary contributions came in liberally; Tunstall Circuit also pledged its aid; and due preparations were made to meet the expected trial. But as the preachers had broken no laws, those who had ordered them to be apprehended, declined bringing the case to a trial.”

The preachers were taken from jail to the Shire Hall, on the 11th of July, and there liberated. In the evening of the same day, they held a meeting on the race ground at Worcester. A vast concourse attended, partly through curiosity to see and hear persons who had been in jail for preaching the Gospel; hundreds were melted to tears; deep religious impressions were made on many minds, and the apparently untoward event became the means of introducing the Primitive Methodists into this city.

Are you prepared to go to jail for the sake of the Gospel?

Source: History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, by John Petty, page 93.

Pentecostals before the Pentecostal movement?

Were the Primitive Methodists Pentecostals? Given that the following event happened over eighty years before the Pentecostal movement in Azusa Street, Los Angeles, this is an interesting question.

A Primitive Methodist preacher (Mr A. Brownsword) makes the following diary entry

Monday 31 July, 1820

“I preached again in this room (in Manchester). As soon as I had done, there was such an outpouring of the Spirit – such a Pentecostal shower, as I never before witnessed. Sinners were crying out for mercy on every side, and ten at least, struggled into liberty”

It sounds Pentecostal to me!

See here for more examples of powerful outpourings of the Holy Spirit.

Source: History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, by John Petty, page 89

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Would you join this movement?

The first Annual Conference of the Primitive Methodist movement was held in May 1820 in Hull. They reported a membership of 7,842.

John Petty records that

“there were no outward attractions to draw people to the new denomination. The preachers were men possessed of common sense, of sound theological views, and of ardent zeal for the conversion of sinners; but they were not distinguished by learning and eloquence, in the sense in which these terms were generally understood. Their places of worship were the open-air, dwelling-houses, and rented rooms of various sizes, often dark and damp, and in many cases unpleasant and uncomfortable in a high degree. The converts were mostly from the humblest classes; dressed in coarse attire, and of unpolished manners. These things presented no outward inducement to unite with infant societies; and it is no marvel that great numbers who were awakened under the thundering addresses of the preachers in the open-air, sought shelter in the established churches, instead of strengthening the hands of those under whom they were brought to God.”

The Annual Conference for 1821 shows membership more than doubled to 16,394, and that the next year, 1822 it grew by another eight thousand to 25,218 members.

In spite of the lack of outward attraction, God was building a powerful movement that changed their world.

Source: History of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, by John Petty, page 86-87

Monday, January 18, 2010

Kidsgrove: The difference between an Anglican Preacher and a Ranter Preacher

You may be interested in this post if you live in, or have lived in Kidsgrove.

The following description was given in the Staffordshire Advertiser of the Reverend Prebendary Frederick Wade, in 1875. Frederick Wade was the first Vicar of St. Thomas’ Church of England, Kidsgrove, from 1837-1880. It clearly outlines the differences in preaching style between those of the Church of England and the Primitive Methodist “Ranter” preachers.

Kidsgrove is interesting because it was one of the first places to be affected by the impact of Primitive Methodism. It is particularly significant because William Clowes led a weekly class in Kidsgrove, after his conversion in 1805. Clowes went on to become the future missionary leader of the movement, and preached throughout England. He records in his journal that “the class meeting at Kidsgrove rose into great vigour and usefulness in a short time, and many of the roughest colliers (coal miners) were brought to God”.

Here we have the opportunity to compare the preaching style of the early Primitive Methodist “Ranter” preachers, with that of the Reverend Wade, the first vicar of the Kidsgrove Anglican Church.

“Mr. Wade preaches in the old fashioned black Geneva gown, although he does not seem to enforce this rule on his curates, evidently leaving them to follow out the bent of their own convictions. As he reads portions of the prayers or lessons, his congregation are entranced with his beautifully clear and intensity that makes one feel that had he been destined for another profession he would have made the ‘welkin ring again with the echoes of his voice’. But it is in his sermons that Mr. Wade rises to an excellence seldom to be met with. To his congregation he never pictures an avenging God, with all the agonies consequent on an acquaintance with fire and brimstone. Neither does he ever excite their passions by overdrawn descriptions of that heaven to which he endeavours to lead them. He is a hater of excitement, and rather tries to lead his hearers to their God by calmly reasoning with them, and keeping closely to His word. Indeed, he displays an acquaintance with the Bible records truly marvellous, and his sermons are for the most part made up of references interminable, to the sacred word; yet so woven together as, in some cases, to be scarcely recognisable. No ‘crack-jaw’ words find a place in his vocabulary, his language is that of fine Saxon so essential to successful oratory, and is almost monosyllabic in its purity and simplicity. The veriest child need be at no trouble to use its brains in trying to comprehend the meaning he wishes to convey. His sermons are never read, and they have two remarkably good qualities, they are brief and pointed, never lasting more than twenty or thirty minutes; some less than that. …

He is a thorough-going churchman, heart and soul. He has no sympathy with revivals or revivalists, and is not a believer in the efficacy of the ministrations of the unlettered and unlearned. His ideal of a preacher is that of a highly educated man, set apart, specially trained and ordained to do the work of ministry. With the oftentimes unlettered local preacher he has little sympathy, and the tradesman dabbler in holy things, meets not his idea of a preacher of the gospel. He believes that a preacher ought to be a teacher and not a mere exciter of the passions. Not a simple drawer of blood and brimstone pictures, but a good shepherd who shall lead his flock to his Master by reasonable means, who shall stick to the truths taught in the good old Book, and not take from or add to its pages one iota. Altogether Mr. Wade is a good example of a true-hearted, honest, straightforward, Protestant clergyman of the old school; plain, earnest, highly educated. It is a pleasure to sit under him and listen to his almost faultless oratory. True, he has faults; who has not? But they are so hidden by his excellence as not to be conspicuous. Some persons of the raving and ranting class would say that he lacks fire, and to seriously compare his stately delivery to the excited, vehement, pantomime action of some, would be morally impossible, because while in some people’s ideas, he lacks vigour in his delivery at times, not even this class can complain, when he is stirred by his emotions or by the enormity of the sin he is denouncing. In conclusion, we must say that none have been more unremitting than Mr. Wade in his efforts for the welfare of his parish. Hence he has won a popularity which is as great as it is well deserved”

Let us do “the morally impossible” and compare the preaching style of the Reverend Wade with that of a Ranter Preacher (such as William Clowes and John Benton).

The Anglican Preacher

The Ranter Preacher


Frederick Wade

William Clowes, John Benton


Reverend Frederick Wade, M.A., T.C.D., J.P.

Tertiary Educated

(Master of Arts, Trinity College Dublin, Justice of the Peace)

Little formal education.

William Clowes left school at aged 10, to work as a pottery apprentice.

No formal theological training.


Lettered and learned

Unlettered and supposedly unlearned.

Manner of dress

Black gown, conveying the impression of the expert addressing the untaught.

Generally better dressed than the working class congregation.

Dressed in the same simple working class clothes as their hearers.

Plainness of dress was a characteristic of the movement.

Theological background



Philosophy of preaching

Teaching the people using the force of reason and argument.

They were “exciter of passions”, highly emotive in preaching with the use of stories, metaphors, graphic descriptions, and pathos.

Use of the Bible

“leads his hearers to their God by calmly reasoning with them, and keeping closely to His word”

Bible texts presented boldly, illustrated vividly, and pointedly applied.

Use of English

Clearly enunciated, impressive, lecture style of language. He was an orator.

No ‘crack-jaw’ words find a place in his vocabulary, his language is that of fine Saxon.

Spoken in the local dialects with which the hearers were familiar. Used familiar, simple everyday words.

John Benton’s use of English grammar was appalling; he could hardly string a sentence together correctly. Nevertheless he spoke powerfully and with great effect to thousands.

Style of delivery

Calm, reasoned, logical. He strives for excellence in his delivery.

They were fiery and passionate in their delivery.

Use of emotion

Accused of lacking vigour in his delivery at times.

Occasionally stirred by his emotions or by the enormity of the sin he is denouncing. Generally avoids the use or expression of emotion.

Vigorous and passionate in delivery.

Unafraid to use emotion as a vehicle for communication and change in their hearers.

Their sermons and preaching contained a high degree of emotion.

Style of approach

Professional ordained clergyman of the Church of England. He could easily have chosen to enter another profession.

The lay preacher, from a trade or agricultural background. Not a member of a profession. Clowes was a master potter, Benton a coal miner.

Social class

Wealthy, middle class, respected in the community, appointed Justice of the Peace in 1855.

Different social class from many in his congregation.

Poor, working class; often hated and reviled in the wider community. Known as the “raving and ranting” class because of their loud singing and shouting.

They were ordinary men and women of the same social class as their hearers.

Clergy / laity relationship

Sharp contrast between the clergyman and the laity.

Preaching by the untrained laity unthinkable.

Unsympathetic to “the tradesmen who dabbled in holy things”

Little contrast between the preacher and the laity. The preachers began as local lay preachers.

There was a strong identification between preacher and hearer.

Ideal preacher

A highly educated man, set apart, specially trained and ordained to do the work of ministry

A man or woman, trained as an apprentice, recruited from the groups of “pious praying labourers”.

Educational status of incidental value.

Not formally ordained, but nevertheless appointed by the Circuit to the work of preaching.

Heaven and Hell

Rarely preaches of the wrath of God, or the reality of hell.

Leads people to a God as a shepherd who lives in heaven.

Vivid description of heaven to which he endeavours to lead them. Heaven is a real place – for which they are heading – and Jesus rescues us from the wrath of God and future judgment.

Unafraid to picture an avenging God, and hell as a place with fire and brimstone. They preached “Flee from the wrath to come”.

Sermon characteristics

His sermons are never read.

They are brief and pointed, never lasting more than twenty or thirty minutes.

Sermons were not read. Open air preaching was often to vast crowds in the market place or farmer’s field.

They ensured that their sermons were brief – generally less than twenty-five minutes at Camp Meetings.

The Primitive Methodist preachers preached with passion, fire and boldness. They turned their world upside down. The Reverend Wade for his part, played a key role in the introduction of church schools into Kidsgrove, after whom the Wade Infants School was named. He made an impact on the town that transformed the lives of many families.

I write as a former member of St Thomas’ Church, Kidsgrove, leaving in 1989, to migrate to Melbourne.

Quotations taken from

1. Journals of William Clowes, page 44

2. The Staffordshire Advertiser, North Staffordshire Preachers, 19th June, 1875, quoted in “Together … St. Thomas’ Church Kidsgrove and its Schools through one-hundred and fifty years”, Hampson and Woolley, 1987

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pioneering can be challenging

The Primitive Methodist pioneers took toil and discomfort as part of the missionary’s lot.

This moving account was sent by Joseph Reynolds to report on his mission in and around Cambridge, August, 1821.

"Dear Brethren,

When I left Tunstall, I gave myself up to labour and sufferings, and I have gone through both; but, praise the Lord, it has been for His glory and the good of souls. My sufferings are known only to God and myself. I have many times been knocked down while preaching, and have often had sore bones.

Once I was knocked down and was trampled under the feet of the crowd, and had my clothes torn and all my money taken from me. In consequence of this I have been obliged to suffer much hunger.

One day I travelled nearly thirty miles and had only a penny cake to eat. I preached at night to nearly two thousand persons. But I was so weak when I had done, that I could scarcely stand. I then made my supper of cold cabbage, and slept under a hay stack in a field till about four o clock in the morning. The singing of the birds then awoke me, and I arose and went into the town, and preached at five to many people.

I afterwards came to Cambridge, where I have been a fortnight, and preached to a great congregation, though almost worn out with fatigue and hunger.

To-day I was glad to eat the pea-husks as I walked on the road. But I bless God that much good has been done. I believe that hundreds will have to bless Him in eternity for leading me hither."

Quotation taken from History of the Primitive Methodist Church, Chapter V

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Heaven and hell: an inconvenient truth?

The pioneers of the Primitive Methodist movement had a very clear view on the realities of heaven and hell. They were heaven-bound, and life here on earth was simply a temporary, or probationary existence. Heaven was a real place, and they knew that was where they were heading. By the same token, they believed in the existence of hell, and they were unafraid to proclaim loudly and clearly, “flee from the wrath to come”.

The reality of heaven and hell is a consistent New Testament theme. Jesus himself clearly teaches on the existence of hell, particularly in the parable of the net in Matthew 13:47-50. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30). These are strong words indeed.

The apostle Paul frequently refers to the wrath of God (in other words, God’s righteous anger). “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:8) For other references, see Romans 3:5, 4:15, 5:9, 9:22, 12:19 Ephesians 2:3, 5:6 Colossians 3:6, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 2:16, 5:9. The core of the gospel is that it is Jesus Christ who rescues us from the coming wrath.

In our contemporary Christianity we have emphasized the love of God and rarely talk about God’s righteous anger. We tend not to teach or preach on judgment.

The Primitive Methodist pioneers preached an uncompromising version of biblical truth.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Richard Dawkins and ignorance of the Bible

In a previous post I misquoted the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins on our ignorance of the Bible. Here is what he actually says

"I must admit that even I am a little taken aback at the biblical ignorance commonly displayed by people educated in more recent decades than I was." (Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”, page 383)
In other words Richard Dawkins wants us to know what the Bible says. The only way to do that is to read it. If an atheist wants us to read the Bible, Christians have no excuse!

Here is my previous posting on the problem of biblical illiteracy. (I have corrected the quote too!)

Have you read the Bible today?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Book review: The Trellis and the Vine

Over New Year I had the chance to skim through a friend's copy of The Trellis and the Vine, by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. For some time now I've been wrestling with the question "what does every member ministry look like, not just in theory, but in practice?". As I read this book, a light came on. This book also answers the question “how do we make disciple-making disciples?" I've not had the time to study it in fine detail, but here are some of the key ideas:

Vine work is the work of making and growing disciples of Christ. It is people focused ministry.

Trellis work is the work of creating and maintaining structures and programs that support vine work and its growth.

The danger for all ministry is that we get consumed by trellis work instead of the main work of making and growing disciples.

Marshall and Payne analyse two predominant models of ministry and present a third and better model

  • Model One: Pastor as supplier of services

  • Model Two: Pastor as CEO of the organisation, consisting of Ministry Departments.

  • Model Three: Pastor as trainer and equipper of believers who do the work of ministry.

They explain how to equip lay leaders for the work of ministry. This means training and equipping leaders to become

  • Leaders of conviction

  • Leaders of character

  • Leaders of competence

They also provide some a useful tool to help identify where individuals are along the discipleship path. I'll give more details when I have my own copy.

I have my copy on order. You can order the book direct from Matthias Media or from Koorong RRP $21.95.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Primitive Methodist Centenary plate

Here are more details of the text on the centenary plate

Top Centre Banner "1807 Primitive Methodist Centenary 1907"
Left portrait Hugh Bourne, Born April 3rd 1772, Died Oct 11th, 1852
Right portrait William Clowes, Born March 12th, 1780, Died March 2nd, 1851

Four oval panels
Panel 1, centre top First Camp Meeting, held at Mow Cop, May 31 - 1807
Panel 2, right hand side Jubilee Chapel, Tunstall
Panel 3, centre bottom Clowes Memorial Chapel, Burslem
Panel 4, left hand side Memorial chapel, Mow Cop

Circumscribed text
"The little cloud increaseth still
Which first arose upon Mow Hill
The centenary Camp Meeting was held at
Mow Cop on May 25th, 26th & 27th 1907"

Background notes
The Primitive Methodist movement was founded by Hugh Bourne and William Clowes. Bourne was the organisational genius, overseer, master strategist and tactician, and an introvert by nature. Clowes by contrast was an extrovert, and the leading missionary and apostle of the movement. He preached the gospel to tens of thousands, usually in the open-air, and was possibly the greatest preacher in his generation.

On May 31 1807, Hugh Bourne organised the first English "Camp Meeting", an open-air all day service, on Mow Cop in North Staffordshire. As a direct result of involvement in these meetings, both Bourne and Clowes were expelled from the Wesleyan Methodists. Subsequently the new movement took the name "Primitive Methodism".

The movement grew rapidly and by 1907 they had established five thousand churches, gathered eight hundred thousand members and adherents, 500,000 Sunday School scholars, and spread to the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Estimates of the attendance at the Centenary services at Mow Cop in 1907 vary from 60,000 to 100,000 people.

Primitive Methodism was a movement amongst working class people during the industrial revolution. The transformation of individuals, families and communities was often dramatic.

Known as "The Ranters" they were persecuted by mobs and gangs, they were often brought before magistrates and a number of their early preachers went to jail. The Ranters were well known for their lively singing and shouting. It was quite common for people to experience shaking, or to lie apparently motionless under the power of dynamic preaching inspired by the Holy Spirit.

For details of the rear of the plate, click here.