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