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.