Monthly Archives: September 2013



by Tricia Tillin

The following article appeared in The Times, 11 May 1996,


A WOMAN has walked out of her church and is holding services in her living
room, because she says she cannot bring herself to “snort like a pig and bark
like a dog” on a Church of England course. Angie Golding, 50, claims she
was denied confirmation unless she signed up for the Alpha course, which she
says is a “brainwashing” exercise where participants speak in tongues, make
animal noises and then fall over.

She has left the evangelical St Marks in Broadwater   Down, Kent, with 14
members of the congregation and founded a church at home in Tunbridge
Wells. She said: “I’ll be a fool for the Lord any day, but I won’t be a fool for

However, the church last night denied that she had been refused
confirmation, and course organisers said she had misunderstood the nature of
the event… “St Mark’s is running an Alpha course at the moment which a
number of people are attending. Those being confirmed this summer are
attending the course as well.”

Mark Elsdon-Drew, of Holy Trinity Brompton, said the Alpha course included
lectures on the Holy Spirit. “It affects different people in different ways.” He
said the course had the “overwhelming support” of Church leaders and
theologians: “The suggestion of animal noises in connection with the course
is unwarranted and could not have been made by anyone who is familiar with
the material.”

Everyone is asking “What about Alpha?” What is it, and what are we to believe
about it?

The Alpha course is an evangelistic initiative begun by Holy Trinity Brompton –
perhaps better known now for its promotion of the Toronto Blessing.

The official history of the Alpha Course begins 16 years ago when a member of
HTB, Charles Marnham, set up an informal home group to present answers to
basic gospel questions. However, HTB curate, Nicky Gumbel, transformed the
course into what we see today. [see endnote] It is designed to appeal to non-believers, with every detail – the food,

flowers, hospitality and questions – aimed at disarming the unchurched.

The final weekend away is a vital part of the course – and this has attracted the
most criticism, as it gives a chance for the leaders, if they are so disposed, to
present the Holy Spirit in an experimental fashion to a captive audience. The course
always ends with a Supper laid on to which more non-believers are invited, and so
the process continues.

Whatever else can be said about the Alpha Course, it has been a runaway success.
In 1991 there were just four courses involving 600 people; in 1993 there were
fewer than 10 courses being held in Britain. Now there are an estimated 3,000
being run regularly three times a year, more than 500 of them overseas. These are
being run by every denomination, including Catholic.

One difficulty in pinning down the problems with the Alpha Course is that each
church running the course will use the materials in a different way. Thus it is
feasible, in theory at least, that a church might avoid all controversy and simply use
the course to preach the gospel to unbelievers. This does leave unanswered the
question – why does any church need to buy a course to be able to preach the

However, there are deep concerns. Below I present some thoughts on the Alpha
Course by a Christian (i) who grew alarmed when viewing the course materials. It
is a personal view but I believe it speaks for many.

Alpha certainly starts by preaching the gospel; the first three talks on Video One
focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the three talks on video Two
which cover fundamental steps for new Christians, such as ‘How can I be sure of
my faith?’, ‘Why and how should I read the Bible?’ and ‘Why and how should I
pray?’ are all good. But as the course progresses, some of the talks tend to wander
off into lengthy accounts of HTB’s experiences of the Toronto Blessing and
associated ministries, novel exegeses of various Biblical passages common amongst
pro-Toronto preachers, calls for unity despite truth and an over-emphasis on the
Holy Spirit, all of which are less than helpful, to say the least, to potential

Clearly the aim is to bring as many into God’s Kingdom as possible but by the end
of the course I cannot help feeling that the Toronto Blessing may have been the
greater beneficiary.

The Alpha course was virtually unknown until Eleanor Mumford of the South-West
London Vineyard church brought the Toronto Blessing from the Toronto Airport
Vineyard church in Canada to HTB, via Nicky Gumbel in May 1994, (ii) and
Nicky Gumbel spends a substantial amount of time relating to Alpha participants in
video 3 talk 9, exactly how it occurred:

“Ellie Mumford told us a little bit of what she had seen in Toronto… .it was
obvious that Ellie was just dying to pray for all of us.. then she said ‘Now
we’ll invite the Holy Spirit to come.’ and the moment she said that one of the
people there was thrown, literally, across the room and was lying on the
floor, just howling and laughing….making the most incredible noise….I
experienced the power of the Spirit in a way I hadn’t experienced for years,
like massive electricity going through my body… One of the guys was
prophesying. He was just lying there prophesying. . .”

Gumbel’s description of the antics that went on in the vestry of HTB after their
invocation of the Spirit seems to me to bear no resemblance at all to what
happened on the day of Pentecost. (iii)

Yet Alpha participants are being taught all this as part of an evangelistic/Christian
Living course as though it is normal and desirable, with absolutely no mention made
of the need to test the spirits (1 John 4:3), and at the end of this talk are prayed for,
corporately, to receive it. Thus, they are initiated into the Toronto Blessing without
a whimper of protest amongst them.

“I believe it is no coincidence that the present movement of the Holy Spirit
[TB] has come at the same time as the explosion of the Alpha Courses. I
think the two go together.” [Nicky Gumbel, ‘The Spirit and Evangelism’,
Renewal, May 1995, p15].

So one of my concerns is whether the TB, which is being experienced at HTB, can
possibly be divorced from the Alpha Initiative. In view of the similarities of
emphasis and content between the two, I’m not sure that it can. Alpha also
promotes, as does the leadership of the TB, ‘unity’ between Protestants and Roman
Catholics, with no consideration, or perhaps realisation, of the unreconcileable
doctrines of the two Churches, and so another concern is its trend towards


              Heavily influenced by the ‘Signs and Wonders’ ministry of John Wimber in the
1980s, power evangelism has been one of the preparation grounds for the Toronto
Experience. It focuses on a pragmatic/experiential rather than a
proclamatory/doctrinal approach to spreading the gospel. As such it tends to shift
the focus away from the shed blood of Jesus on the cross and onto the supernatural
works of the Holy Spirit carried out by men. This is the method of evangelism
favoured by Alpha. [Telling Others pp21-24;29-31].

              ALPHA AND THE NEW AGE

              All of this heightened interest amongst Charismatic Christians in ‘Signs and
Wonders’ and the supernatural experiences of the Toronto Blessing is a reflection
of spiritual and cultural changes going on outside Christianity, in which New Age
experiential mysticism predominates.

Nicky Gumbel is aware of this paradigm shift from reason to experience: “In the
Enlightenment reason ruled supreme and explanation led to experience. In the
present transitional culture, with its ‘pick-and-mix’ worldview in which the New
Age movement is a potent strand, experiences lead to explanation”. [Nicky
Gumbel, Telling Others, p19].

Post-Christian neo-mysticism is already so pervasive that virtually every
non-christian participant of Alpha – or any other evangelistic initiative – will reflect
to some degree New Age thinking. In New Age philosophy “experiences lead to
explanation” yet, like the Toronto Experience, the thrust of Alpha is towards the
experiential, not the written Word. One pastor who has made use of the Alpha
course writes: “One of the problems of proclaiming the gospel in a post-modern
world is that culture itself warms much more readily to lifestyle than to doctrine. But
the Christian lifestyle is not Christian faith… .I am sure that many people are being
converted through the Alpha course, but I have a suspicion that some of those
people are being converted to a Christian lifestyle rather than to Christ.”. [Ian
Lewis, ‘The Alpha Course’, Evangelicals Now, Dec 1995].

The two testimonies given by Alpha participants at the beginning of the first Alpha
video are prime examples of this. There are certain basic elements one would
expect to hear in a classic conversion testimony: the conviction of sin leading to
repentance and subsequent assurance of God’s forgiveness and salvation through
the death on the cross of Jesus Christ. But these are not there in any form in these
two testimonies.

A relationship with God is referred to, as is the experience of the baptism in the
Holy Spirit, prayer, an interest in Bible reading, church-going, Christianity and what
Alpha has done for them. But Jesus and what He has done for them and a
relationship with Him is not mentioned at all. Yet the Lord Jesus is the gospel, He is
salvation, He is their new life so how can He possibly be so completely overlooked
in a basic conversion testimony?

Adherents of false religions claim a relationship with God, and a prayer life, but
they are not saved. Many church goers read their Bibles and have an interest in
church and in Christianity, but they are not saved.

Likewise, more compassion/understanding at work, more patience, tolerance,
confidence and deep feelings of contentment can equally well be produced by a
sense of psychological well-being. Without the cross they do not constitute
salvation. The attempt by Nicky Gumbel to bring Jesus into the testimonies by
asking exactly what had made these differences, was met with a blank look and the
response: “Just the relationship that I’ve developed with God. Simple as that.”

These testimonies seemed to me to be, as Ian Lewis suggests, only evidence of
conversion to a Christian lifestyle, not to Christ. And when the “Christian lifestyle” is
an endless round of blessings’, supernatural ‘experiences’, spiritual ‘parties’ [see
video talk 14] and ‘play’-times (iv), then the transition from the counterfeit
spirituality of the New Age to Christianity is really only one of degree, not kind. In
which case I would echo the question of one evangelical minister who asked:
“What is it they are converted to?”


              “Scripture tells us that salvation comes through hearing the gospel, and I would
expect any course aimed at non-christians to concentrate primarily on the facts of
the gospel. The Alpha course deals with the basics of the gospel in two sessions…
While these are unequivocal gospel presentations, the remainder of the course
deals essentially with what may be described as Christian living… When we used an
adapted version of the course in our church, non-christians were left behind by
about the sixth week. They still had very fundamental questions about what
Christians believe, which were not answered by talking about how Christians live
and for this reason the course seemed more suited to people who have already
made a commitment to Christ.” [Ian Lewis, Evangelicals Now, Dec 1995].


              White Alpha training manual pp26-36/Video III talks 7-9 “We live in the age
of the Spirit.” [p29].

Christians have always referred to the period of time between the first and second
advents as the age of Grace, or the Church age. That has not changed. Why
encourage now, in such a precarious spiritual climate, the New Age concept of the
Age of Aquarius (the spirit)?

Continuing his observations on the New Age Nicky Gumbel writes: “I have found
on Alpha that those from an essentially enlightened background feel at home with
the parts of the course which appeal to the mind, but often have difficulty in
experiencing the Holy Spirit. Others coming from the New Age movement find that
rational and historical explanations leave them cold, but at the weekend away they
are on more familiar territory in experiencing the Holy Spirit.” [Telling Others, p19].

But it is the “rational and historical explanations” of sessions l and 2 which are the
essence of the gospel (Acts 2:22-41; 6:9-7:60; 8:26-38; 17:16-33) and which the
unbeliever must grasp and accept with his mind, under the convicting and
illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, if he is to repent and experience salvation in
his heart (Romans 10:13,14). Nevertheless: “At the end of the course I send out
questionnaires… if there is a change I ask when that change occurred. For many the
decisive moment is the Saturday evening of the weekend.” [Telling Others, p120].
This is the time when Nicky Gumbel invites the Holy Spirit to come and
participants are filled with the Spirit. [Telling Others, pp117,120,123; Blue Alpha
training manual p18]

I find this extremely worrying. The “decisive moment” should surely be the point at
which a person steps over from eternal death to eternal life through the conversion
experience (John 3:16; 5:24; Romans 10:9,10,13 and other refs). But most of the
testimonies in ‘Telling Others’ seem to confuse the experience of conversion with
the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit.

But is this surprising when Nicky Gumbel himself seems to treat conversion as a
preliminary to the main event? The breath of new life into a repentant sinner is
taught in talk 7, but Nicky Gumbel does not make it clear that this happens at
conversion (2 Cor 5:17). Rather, he suggests this is due to a second experience:
the baptism in the Spirit.

The following testimony is an alarming example of the confusion between
conversion and baptism in the Holy Spirit, but it is by no means the only one:

“….my wife encouraged me to read an article in a magazine about the Alpha
course at HTB. What had stuck in my mind was how the work of the Holy
Spirit was described as of paramount importance. I knew in my heart I had
to have his power in my life at any cost. So I… enrolled on the course and
focused on the weekend where the work of the Holy Spirit is discussed…
.Never mind the weeks of pre-med, I just had to get into the operating
theatre… .I looked at the order of play, saw that the third session on ‘How
can I be filled with the Spirit (which I identified as the main one) was at
4:30pm and simply hung on like a marathon runner weaving his way up the
finishing straight with nothing but the finishing tape as the focus of his
attention… .the prize was so near but we were getting there so slowly. I
literally wanted to scream out ‘Do it now! Do it now! I can’t hold out any
longer’ I’m not exaggerating when I say I was in agony Then Nicky Gumbel
invited the Spirit to come and oh, the relief.” [Interview in Renewal, Oct
1995, p16; Telling Others pp36-37].

Though the prayer at the end of these talks includes repentance, the gospel talks
are not at this point uppermost in participants minds, and the corporate request
“inviting the Holy Spirit to come and fill us” is then made by all in the room.

             HOW CAN I RESIST EVIL?

              Session 9 White Alpha training manual pp39-45/Video IV Talk 10.

In section II of this session Satan’s tactics are listed: destroys; blinds eyes; causes
doubt; tempts; accuses. All of these Gumbel applies to the area of Christian
behaviour. Deception, the tactic focusing on belief, is omitted. This oversight can be
deadly. Deception concerning doctrine is Satan’s most powerful weapon against
the Church and new Christians need to be made aware just how practised Satan is
at deceiving Christians through false doctrines and false spiritual experiences. (v)

Gumbel points out in this talk that occult activity “always comes under the guise of
something good”. The Toronto Blessing is seen as “something good”. How strange
then that neither he nor anyone else at HTB thought to test the Toronto spirit before
accepting it and then passing it on to everyone else. (vi)

             HOW DOES GOD GUIDE US?

              Session 10 White Alpha training manual pp46-51/Video IV Talk 11

The “Guiding Spirit” and “more unusual ways” of guidance referred to in this talk,
especially guidance by angels, need thorough testing against Scripture in today’s
religious climate in which false prophets and occult ‘spirit guides’ masquerading as
angels of light abound.

A testimony in HTB in FOCUS: ALPHA NEWS, Aug 1995, in which Jesus is
referred to as “a guiding light” (p14), is just an inkling of what may be to come.

             DOES GOD HEAL TODAY?

              Session 12 White Alpha training manual ppS8-62/Video V Talk 13

During this talk Nicky Gumbel tells Alpha participants of the visit by John Wimber
to HTB in 1982 to demonstrate God’s power to heal. He says: “John Wimber then
said ‘We’ve had words of knowledge’ these are supernatural revelations, things that
they couldn’t have known otherwise about the conditions of people in the room…
specific details were given, accurately describing the conditions… .as the list was
responded to, the level of faith in the room was rising.”

Gumbel says that he still felt “cynical and hostile” until the following evening when

he  was prayed for: “So they prayed for the Spirit to come….I felt something like
10,000 volts going through my body….The American had a fairly limited prayer.
He just said ‘more power’….it was the only thing he ever prayed. I can’t remember
him ever praying anything else… Now we’ve seen many kinds of these
manifestations of the Spirit on the weekends… these manifestations… and the
physical healings themselves are not the important thing… .the fruit of the Spirit…
these are the things that matter, the fruit that comes from these experiences. So we
began to realise that God heals miraculously….”

Nicky Gumbel gives no indication here that he or anyone else attending that
meeting tested the spirits to ensure that everything came from the Holy Spirit.

And, of course, the fruit of the Holy Spirit does not come from “these experiences”
but from the daily sanctification by the Holy Spirit through obedience to the Word
(John 14:15;21;23-26;15:l-7;10;14-15).

Once again Alpha participants are not being warned of the very serious dangers of
accepting anything and everything from anyone and everyone. So they will walk out
of the cocoon of Alpha and straight into the path of the “enemy the devil [who]
prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. (1 Peter 5:8).



              Session 13 White Alpha training manual pp63-68/Video V Talk 14

             (1) ROMANISM

              “The Alpha course is… adaptable across tradition and denominations… .I
know of its uses in Catholic… churches.” [Martin Cavender in Telling

Adaptable in what sense exactly? Alpha’s publications manager advises that, while
presentation of the material can be adapted to suit, the content should be followed
exactly. (He makes particular reference to the weekend dealing with the Holy Spirit
in this respect) [Christian Herald, 9:12:1995].

If the content of the course teaches the fundamental historical and theological facts
and doctrines of the Christian faith as recorded in Scripture, then, having tested and
proved that to be so, any Protestant church using Alpha could follow the course
exactly. But could a Catholic church do that?

In talk 8 and in section II of this talk Gumbel teaches Alpha participants that the
differences between Protestants and Catholics are “totally insignificant compared to
the things that unite us… we need to unite around the death of Jesus, the
resurrection of Jesus; the absolute essential things at the core of the Christian faith
on which we are all agreed. We need to give people liberty to disagree on the
things which are secondary.”

I agree wholeheartedly with the last sentence but that is not the issue here. It is on
the essentials that Protestants and Catholics do not have unity. That was the whole
point of the Protestant Reformation. Discussing the price of unity in the Church,
Bishop Ryle wrote: “Our noble Reformers bought the truth at the price of their own
blood, and handed it down to us. Let us take heed that we do not basely sell it for
a mess of pottage, under the specious names of unity and peace.” [Warnings to the
Churches, 1877, p128].

Still Gumbel says: “We need to unite… there has been some comment which is not
helpful to unity. Let us drop that and get on. It is wonderful that the movement of
the Spirit will always bring churches together. He is doing that right across the
denominations and within the traditions… we are seeing Roman Catholics coming
now… Nobody is suspicious of anybody else… People are no longer ‘labelling’
themselves or others. I long for the day when we drop all these labels and just
regard ourselves as Christians with a commission from Jesus Christ.” [Renewal,
May 1995,p16]

‘Adaptability’ of the Alpha course to include Catholics, not necessarily to convert
them, is referred to in Alpha as ‘unity’ and I am concerned that Alpha is contributing
– albeit unintentionally – to the undoing of the Protestant Reformation through the
promulgation of ecumenism disguised as Christian Unity.



              “A disunited church, squabbling and criticising makes it very hard for the
world to believe”. [Gumbel, Renewal, May 1995, p16]. Consequently “we
make it a rule on Alpha never to criticise another denomination, another
Christian church or a Christian leader.” [Telling Others, p114; and this talk,
section II].

Yet there are times when failure to ‘criticise’ – or rather to rebuke and correct (2
Tim 3:16; 4:2-5) – is actually to be disobedient to the Word of God. Although in
talk five Gumbel only applied the rebuking and correcting to Christian behaviour, it
also applies to false teaching. We must certainly not judge one another’s sins or
their hearts (e.g. Matt 7:1-5), or their personalities, but we are to test all teachings
prophesies and practices against Scripture and judge whether they are true or false
(1 Cor 2:15;16; 1 John 4:1).

According to Ephesians 4:3-6 Christian unity comes through our being baptised
through one Spirit into “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of

Unity is also essential to Latter-Rain doctrine, to enable the incarnation of Christ
into His physical body (the Church), because He cannot incarnate a divided body.
But Latter-Rain is a “different gospel” (Gal 1:6-7) with a faulty eschatology which is
insinuating itself into Charismatic fellowships these days; one of its most successful
routes being the Toronto Blessing (vii).

It is vital that we “earnestly contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to
the saints” (Jude 3). If not, we may find ourselves, and those new believers we
have nurtured, part of the Apostate church.


             (3) THE PARABLE OF THE PARTY

              In section IV, Gumbel says the Church, though God’s HolyTemple, so often loses
“the sense of the presence of God in its midst”. He is making reference here to the
Sunday meetings of believers rather than to the Church as the body of Christ and
uses the parable of the Prodigal Son to explain that Sunday services should be like
a ‘party’. “Jesus was saying that….the Church is like….a feast and a celebration, and
at a party everyone has a good time. There’s fun, there’s laughter… .Why shouldn’t
there be laughter at the biggest party of all? and that’s what we’re seeing today,
laughter and fun, and people getting drunk – not with wine, Paul says ‘don’t get
drunk with wine – be filled with the Spirit, Come to a party where you can get
drunk on God… .I was at a party like that last night. It was a whole load of church
leaders, and we invited the Spirit to come… It was a party thrown by the Holy
Spirit. It was a fun place to be. The Church is meant to be a party…”

The Church will celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb when the Lord Jesus
returns, but I find no references to “fun” or “parties” anywhere in Scripture, except
in denunciation. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 for example. Until Jesus returns and we
attend the marriage feast of the Lamb, there is no place for “parties” or “festivals”;
not even “to the Lord”.


              It may only be part of Alpha’s teaching which does not accord with Scripture, but I
would say with Paul: “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” (Gal

Every Christian and every fellowship is able to witness to the gospel. Many
fellowships create their own evangelistic courses under the guidance of the Holy
Spirit. It should not be necessary to rely on the methods and techniques of another
fellowship when we have all the instruction and teaching material we need in
Scripture, all the experience we need in each of our relationships with the Lord
Jesus and are each empowered by the Holy Spirit to go and do it. But if leaders do
decide to use the Alpha course they should at least consider the following points in
light of the concerns above:

That they ensure non-believing participants have fully understood the meaning of
the cross and are saved (sessions I and 2) before propelling them into a course on
Christian Living. (sessions 3-14).

That they ensure converts are fully aware of their conversion experience and are
becoming stable in their daily relationship with the Lord Jesus before thrusting them
into the baptism of the Holy Spirit, for which they are not yet ready and which
could allow into their lives the influence of an alien spirit through ground given,
albeit unintentionally.

That they ensure participants understand the different nature of the work of each
person in the Trinity.

That they ensure the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and his convicting and sanctifying
work in a believer’s life is not submerged beneath the gifts and the power of the
Holy Spirit.

That they ensure participants are taught to proceed from the Word to experience,
not from experience to the Word.

Following from this, that they ensure participants understand that deception
regarding doctrine and supernatural phenomena has always been Satan’s main
weapon against the Church and that knowing and standing fast in the Word is our
weapon of defence, as it was for Jesus (Matt 4:1-11).

That they ensure participants are taught to become Bereans (Acts 17:11) able to
test everything against Scripture for themselves, not relying on leaders, who are not
infallible (e.g. Gal 2:11-14), to do their thinking and living for them.

That they revise the booklist on pp72-75 of the white Alpha training manual as it
tends to display a bias towards writers sympathetic to the Vineyard/Toronto
Experience/Restorationist persuasion, while omitting other sound and more obvious
choices in several of the sessions.

In 1877 Bishop Ryle wrote: “The Lord Jesus Christ declares, ‘I will build My
Church’….Ministers may preach, and writers may write, but the Lord Jesus Christ
alone can build. And except He builds, the work stands still….Sometimes the work
goes on fast, and sometimes it goes on slowly. Man is frequently impatient, and
thinks that nothing is doing. But man’s time is not God’s time. A thousand years in
His sight are but as a single day. The great builder makes no mistakes. He knows
what He is doing. He sees the end from the beginning. He works by a perfect,
unalterable and certain plan.” [J.C. Ryle ‘The True Church’ in Warnings to the
Churches, 1877, pp13-14].

[Note: Nicky Gumbel dates his call to evangelism (Tape Five of the video set) to
the 1982 incident in which he received prayer from John Wimber. On that
occasion, he experienced such supernatural power that he had to call out for it to
stop. Wimber gave a “word” that Gumbel had been given “a gift of telling people
about Jesus”.]

  A much expanded version of this paper is presently available from Jo Gardner,
             price £1.25 incl. postage. Write to: Adullam Register/Alpha, 86 Manor Way,
             Croxley Green, Herts WD3 3LY. This paper and other material will also shortly be
             produced in the form of a booklet. Enquiries to Jo Gardner, not Banner!


(i) Letters to the author should be directed to Banner Ministries.

(ii) HTB in Focus: Alpha News, Aug 1995 p9. See also Wallace Boulton, ed., The
Impact Of Toronto, 1995 pp2O-24.

(iii) See Richard Smith, “Spiritual Drunkenness”, Sept 1994.

(iv) See Wallace Boulton, ed., The Impact Of Toronto, 1995, p19.

Also David Noakes, Dealing With Poison In The Pot, audio tape, CFCM 95/04,
side 1.

And Johannes Facius, ‘Laugh? I Nearly Cried’ in Prophecy Today, May/June
1995, p25.

(v) See for example, Robert M. Bowman, Orthodoxy And Heresy: A Biblical
Guide To Doctrinal Discernment, 1993. And J.C. Ryle, Warnings To The
Churches, 1877.

(vi) During the Leadership Consultation held in January and March 1995, by the
Centre for Contemporary Ministry, it was noted that Wm Branham also practised
impartation of the Spirit, which others could then pass on. Arnott has likened the
Toronto Blessing to a virus. (See Haggai 2:10-14).

(vii) See ‘Birth of the Manchild’ in Mainstream, Spring 1995, ppi-5 for the
eschatology being taught at some Vineyard churches

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Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

Harry Potter and his Strange Origins

Daily Mail, Saturday 28 September 2013

How JK Rowling’s sob story about her past as a single mother has left the churchgoers who cared for her upset and bewildered
◾Author often speaks of her ‘tough time’ as a single mother in Edinburgh
◾But members of the church she attended dispute it
◾They say she was cared for and offered positions within the church

By Paul Scott

PUBLISHED: 23:38, 27 September 2013 | UPDATED: 01:08, 28 September 2013

The plotline has all the best-selling — if resolutely downbeat — hallmarks of the sort of misery memoir so beloved of the more populist end of the publishing world.

A hard-up single mother finds low-paid, menial work in an inner city church but bigoted, unchristian people make clear their disapproval of her unmarried status, and cruelly taunt her.

Then, as evening falls, she trudges through the snow, wheeling her baby daughter’s pushchair back to her grotty rented flat.


What’s the story? Author JK Rowling was helped during her time as a single mother, according to many at her old church in Edinburgh
But like all the best stories this is, ultimately, a tale of redemption and triumph over adversity. For it transpires our downtrodden heroine is a secret would-be novelist.

Fast forward a few short years, from the mid-Nineties to the present day, and she has gone on to achieve huge international success, earned millions and bought herself a mansion close to the church where she once worked part-time.

Which might cause raised eyebrows from even the most credulous of readers — were the story not, apparently, 100 per cent true.

The female protagonist is, of course, none other than JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series of children’s books which became the fastest-selling in publishing history, rewarding her with a £560 million fortune in the process.

The rags-to-riches story of how she made a cup of coffee last all day in her local café as she wrote, rather than going home to her freezing Edinburgh flat, has been endlessly told and re-told.

2 Edinburgh

Back in the day: JK Rowling has often mentioned her struggles as a single mum in Edinburgh

But writing last week on the website of Gingerbread — the single parents’ charity of which she is president — 48-year-old Miss Rowling revealed, for the first time, her painful feelings as a single mother in the climate at the time.

She was paid £15 a week — the most she could earn without losing state benefits — while working as a part-time secretary. She wrote: ‘My overriding memory of that time is the slowly evaporating sense of self-esteem, not because I was filing or typing — there was dignity in earning money, however I was doing it — but because it was slowly dawning on me that I was now defined, in the eyes of many, by something I had never chosen.

‘I was a Single Parent, and a Single Parent On Benefits to boot. Patronage was almost as hard to bear as stigmatisation. I remember the woman who visited the church one day when I was working there who kept referring to me, in my hearing, as The Unmarried Mother.

‘I was half annoyed, half amused: unmarried mother? Ought I to be allowed in a church at all? Did she see me in terms of some Victorian painting: The Fallen Woman, Filing, perhaps?’

Miss Rowling, who described herself as, ‘prouder of my years as a single mother than of any other part of my life’, went on: ‘Assumptions made about your morals, your motives for bringing your child into the world or your fitness to raise that child cut to the core of who you are.’

All of which is suitably thought-provoking stuff. This is Miss Rowling’s bleak recollection of her life at the time.

However, members of the church in question, St Columba’s-by-the-Castle in Edinburgh’s city centre, recall going out of their way to make her welcome by taking it in turns to babysit her daughter, Jessica, so the hard-pressed budding author could have time to write her debut novel, Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone. They remember inviting her into their homes for meals.

They pride themselves on being one of the most forward-thinking parishes in the country, who were at the forefront of the battle for sexual equality in the priesthood 20 years ago.

3 Potter

Young actors: Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone
Indeed, the church had one of the very first women rectors in Scotland, the Rev Alison Fuller, and it was she who took pity on Miss Rowling — offering her the secretarial job in 1994 to help her out financially. None of which exactly fits with the impression of a congregation holding on to outmoded stereotypes about single mothers.

Miss Rowling, has remained a member of the very same congregation — even asking one of the church’s priests to officiate at her wedding to second husband Dr Neil Murray in 2001?

By describing her trying experiences as a single-mum, is the best-selling writer employing a liberal dollop of poetic licence?

Commenting on Miss Rowling’s recollections, Sheila Gould, says that the Rev Alison Fuller, then rector of the church, helped the wannabe author (who had not yet swapped her Christian name, Joanne, for JK) by offering her the role of vestry secretary, for which Miss Rowling says she was immensely grateful.

Mrs Gould, who with her cleric husband the Rev Bob Gould has been very closely involved with St Columba’s for more than 50 years, told me this week: ‘Alison went out of her way to help Joanne, and a lot of people in their congregation helped her, too. People looked after her daughter Jessica, babysitting her to give Jo the space to write.

‘She was also invited to dinners and lunches, which is the sort of thing we do within the congregation. It was a safe place for her and that’s what we provided. She needed a safe space for herself and Jessica.

5 Church

Helping hand: Saint Columbas-by-the-Castle in Edinburgh, where JK Rowling is said to have received refuge

‘We offered her protection. When she came here, she wasn’t famous, she was just a single mum with a child and it was obvious that was not what she would have chosen for herself.

‘We knew she was writing and Jessica was only very small, in her pram, at the time and needed quite a lot of attention, so we helped out.’

So what do Mrs Gould and other parishioners think of Miss Rowling’s description of her miserable time during the period when she was working at the church?

‘It’s all quite confusing,’ she says diplomatically. ‘We have all sorts of different people in the congregation, including alcoholics who live on the street, and we would never stigmatise any of them in any way.

‘I don’t think that what Jo has said happened to her would be typical of the church at all. It’s a very open, friendly place. It’s a tiny church with a tight-knit community and small congregation.

‘I’m not aware that she brought her concerns to anyone here at the time and I can’t think of any member of the church who would have said those things to her.

‘To be honest, when I heard about her comments to Gingerbread, my reaction was she’d said it because of the audience she was talking to. As far as we’re concerned, this church has been a safe haven for her. We have tried to offer her a sanctuary.

‘Jo is still a member of the congregation, though she comes and goes depending on her commitments. None of us has gone around talking about her and we’ve always protected her.’

But perhaps she felt her surprising story of discrimination and stigmatisation was an appropriate platform for someone who gave £1 million to the Labour party in 2008, to attack the Tory-led Government’s welfare policies on behalf of Gingerbread — which published her article on its website last week.

Gingerbread is not without its critics. It has been accused of encouraging lone-parenting by offering single mothers detailed advice on to how to get the most out of the benefits system.

Gingerbread’s founder, hippy activist Raga Woods, who changed her name from Tessa Fothergill, served time in Holloway Prison in the early Nineties for breaking an injunction which stopped her joining protesters wanting to prevent the building of the M3 motorway at Twyford Down, near Winchester.

However, JK Rowling is a passionate advocate of the charity.

The writer, who was brought up an Anglican and has talked openly in interviews about her religious faith, arrived in Edinburgh in 1993 after the breakdown of her stormy 13-month marriage to Jessica’s father, Portuguese journalist Jorge Arantes, whom she met while teaching English in Porto.

Subsequently, a rather grim picture of her life in the Scottish capital in the years before she found success and money has emerged. However, not only did her sister Di live in the city, but it has emerged that it was Di’s husband, Roger, who owned Nicholson’s café where Miss Rowling famously did her early writing.

Significantly, a TV documentary a few years ago, which saw a tearful author revisiting her old flat, revealed it to be far from the dump we might imagine.

In fact, it’s a spacious two-bedroom apartment in the sought-after Leith district. But without doubt, her hard-luck back-story — and all the publicity it has generated — has not done her career any harm.

Another mystery is why the author has once more chosen to reveal details of her private life for public consumption. After all, she famously guards her privacy and appeared as a star witness at the Leveson Inquiry into Press standards last year, during which she complained bitterly about the attention of photographers.

However, Miss Rowling, who employs two sets of PR advisers, is not unknown to reveal titbits about her private life when she has a book to or film to promote.

Last year, for example, while doing publicity for her debut adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, she talked extensively in interviews about her troubled relationship with her estranged father, her unhappy teenage years, her failed marriage, her current husband, daughter Jessica (now 20), and her battle against depression.

The book, with its profoundly depressing themes, tells the story of a teenage girl in a fictional West Country town who lives on an estate with her heroin-addicted prostitute mother and young brother.

But the novel, which is being made into a mini-series by the BBC, has been slated by some critics for being vehemently anti-middle class and for portraying anyone with money as a dreadful snob.

Which some might say is a bit rich coming from one of Britain’s wealthiest women. She lives with husband number two, the bespectacled Dr Murray, a GP, in a 17th century mansion in an upmarket suburb of Edinburgh which she bought for more than £2 million in 2009.

They live there with Jessica and their two young children, a boy aged ten and an eight-year-old daughter. Last year, Miss Rowling applied for planning permission to build a pair of two-storey treehouses — said to cost £150,000 — for the youngsters.

Nor does she show signs of toning down her famous obsession with controlling every aspect of her work.

Last year, her publishers forced literary critics to sign five-page confidentiality agreements before they were even allowed to read The Casual Vacancy.

And in July, she brought legal proceedings against a London solicitor, working at a law firm she employed, after he let slip she was secretly the author of another book, a thriller called The Cuckoo’s Calling, which Miss Rowling wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

After she was outed as the author, the book — which had hitherto achieved very modest sales — shot to the top of the best-sellers list.

With such good fortune, perhaps it is time for Miss Rowling to thank her lucky stars for her gilded life instead of harping on about how terrible her lot was in the past.

Why, she might even show gratitude to those who helped her in those far off days.


Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic


‘Staying in the Church of Scotland’ – By Alastair Morrice

September 23, 2013

Alastair Morrice, who formerly ministered in Wester Hailes, in Edinburgh, has committed to writing some of his own thoughts on the question of whether or not scripturally-obedient believers should leave the Church of Scotland, and comes down firmly on the side of remaining within the denomination.  His comments can be found on Dropbox here but I have Alastair’s permission to reproduce the entirety of the text, below. Alastair also does not mind if his article is reproduced and distributed to elders and members of congregations, or used in blogs and websites, if that is thought to be helpful:


The Background.

In recent days there have been several strongly worded expressions of opinion by those who advocate secession from the Church of Scotland.  David Randall takes up Bonhoeffer’s  image of what you do if you are in a train that is heading for a crash.  There is no good running up and down the corridor.  The only sensible thing to do is to get off.  Not only is it sensible, he emphasises, it is the only right thing to do.

He writes:

There have been calls for evangelical unity between those who believe it is right to leave the Church of Scotland and those who believe it is right to stay.  This sounds good and “Christian”, and if it means accepting that people are entitled to hold their own views, fine.  But it goes further than that and it breathes the post-modern air of “what’s right for you may not be right for me”.  The truth is that the leavers are convinced that the right thing to do in relation to a church that has rejected Scriptural authority is to depart from it – not only that it is right for them themselves to do so.  We believe it is the right thing – full stop.   That is the whole point, and if it were a case of different people believing different things are right, if that were all that is at stake, then we wouldn’t be in this dilemma of separation; we could simply accept the mixed economy that liberals desire.

Although David Robertson of St Peter’s Free Church, Dundee is not a Church of Scotland minister, he has written frequently on various aspects of the present situation and in his response to an article by Eric Alexander printed in the church magazine of Trinity and Henry Drummond Church of Scotland where Eric is now a member, he writes:

The battle to turn the established church into a predominantly biblical church has been lost.

Having the crumbs of the remnant of civic religion is not worth the price of being shackled by an increasingly autocratic and centralised denomination that has turned against the Word of God.

Its time for more Gospel unity.   Its time for a renewal of real Presbyterianism. Its time to remember and learn from our history.  Its time for us to stop handing over our ministers to be trained by unbelievers.  Its time for us to forget about maintaining and living off the churches legacy from the past. Its time to get on with the mission of the present and the potential of future.  Its time for a new beginning.   Its time to leave.

The conclusion of both David Robertson and David Randall is that the denomination has turned against the Word of God, and that therefore the time has come to leave. 

An alternative way.

At the heart of the argument presented by those who advocate secession there is a conviction that the Church of Scotland as a denomination has so embraced a liberal theology and that theology is so dominant in the church as to make it irretrievable to an evangelical biblical stance.  The case for leaving is incontrovertible not simply because of a number of bad decisions around a particular case of the induction of a practising homosexual minister but because as an institution it has now, they allege, abandoned orthodox theology particularly in relation to the authority of Scripture.

But is this so?   Are there other perspectives from which things might look rather different?

Liberalism in the Church of Scotland.

There have been and are different kinds of liberalism.

In living memory of many of us was a kind of gentle liberalism which was defined not so much by what it overtly denied, but what it never preached.   This was, of course, very dangerous…especially when it meant that there was no emphasis upon personal conversion.  There was a widespread assumption that really everyone who went to church, and most who were outside it, were really Christians.   It was universalism in practice if not in theory. This cut the throat of evangelism, but it was difficult to deal with in any meaningful way, because those who espoused this general attitude were not usually publicly denying the cardinal doctrines of the faith.

Since the 1990s a much more aggressive liberalism has come into existence.

In this form of liberalism the cardinal doctrines of the faith are much more openly under attack.  The universalism which was assumed under older liberalism is now vigorously promoted.   To suggest that someone might not be ‘in’ is itself tantamount to heresy because the doctrine of ‘non-judgmentalism’ and inclusion, has become paramount.   Judgment is an alien concept, and therefore all traditional notions of the atonement have to be re-written.  This is radical Christianity, and it is directly opposed to evangelical views.  This was epitomised in the much quoted remark at a General Assembly when a commissioner said that we had outgrown the Bible.  Such teaching affirms that the Bible’s teaching is there and is of value, but we are not bound by its authority.

The spear head of the attack of this more aggressive liberalism is focussed at present on the issue of sexuality, but the reality is, as has often been pointed out, that behind this is a much broader attack on the authority of Holy Scripture.

The question is, ‘Is this contagion of liberalism such that we must escape it lest we lose our witness to the apostolic faith?’

A historical perspective on evangelical work in the Church of Scotland.

Those who entered the ministry during the resurgence of evangelicalism in the 1950s to the 1990s entered a situation, particularly at the beginning, where the older form of liberalism was widespread, and they entered charges which generally espoused to varying degrees that older liberalism, and they were set upon ‘preaching the Bible’ in such a way that over time the minds of those who heard the truth would be persuaded, people would be converted, and nurtured through Bible Study and prayer so that they grew in a living faith and gradually the tone of a congregation would be changed.

There are many examples of this happening.  Nearly all churches which are now regarded as evangelical were formed in that way…. And it happened throughout the country from Wick to Galashiels, from Edinburgh to Glasgow.   Sometimes people speak as if the only such ministries were in St George’s Tron, Holyrood Abbey, Sandyford Henderson, and Gilcomston South.  It is true that when Jim Philip went to Holyrood Abbey in late 1950s there were only a very few evangelical ministries in the Church of Scotland that could be recognised in Edinburgh. By the time I had my ministry in Wester Hailes from 1977-1987 there was a wide choice of evangelical ministry, in Newhaven, St Catherine’s Argyle, Barclay Bruntsfield, St David’s Broomhouse….and others!  By the time I went to Rutherglen in 1987, it was possible to have an evangelical united witness in the Cambuslang/Rutherglen area where the predominance of ministry was evangelical.  Across the city of Glasgow there were many evangelical ministries being exercised in widely differing contexts.

It is probably worth also bringing to mind that while we can talk of the broad liberalism of the period, there were always those who were clearly on side for the evangelical cause. They came from the group represented by Tom Allan, DP Thomson, Ian Doyle, David Orrock, Peter  Bisset and people of that kind who represented a robust evangelicalism over against the Iona Community which tended to be more liberal theologically leaning to the social gospel especially in the housing estates that were arising at that time.   We have to remember too that after outstanding ministries in Auchterarder, Aberdeen and Edinburgh James S Stewart occupied the chair of New Testament language, literature and theology in New College.  The influence of Scripture Union particularly under ‘Boss’ Meiklejohn, a licentiate of the Church of Scotland also had a deep influence on men and women entering Christian service including the ministry.  David Wright came to New College in the 1960s and continued to teach Church History in New College gaining widespread respect for his evangelical stance on church and social issues.

My point in writing like this is to bring out that all of this happened within a denomination that was broadly liberal.  Liberalism did not spread a contagion that destroyed the Gospel.  We were like leaven in the lump and the lump in our view of it was being leavened and decay arrested.  Much Gospel work prospered.  And often it prospered in strong fellowship with those from different church backgrounds.  The various campaigns during these years with Stephen Olford, Luis Palau,  Billy Graham and others took place on a united base, but very strongly supported from the Church of Scotland.

I don’t recall that during this period there were any of us who wanted to get off this train.   The church as a denomination was predominantly liberal.  We recognised that.  But we could function… we could see people becoming Christians… we could over time see profound changes in congregations.   We could live with the liberalism. In some ways it was not important to us because we could do the work of the Gospel unhindered and in large measure supported by the committees of the church in which many of us had some part.  The work of Church Extension in the massive postwar housing estates was pioneered by the Church of Scotland and not a few of us became involved in that ministry. And there were those who took a significant part at national level in the committees of the church, Bob McGhee, Frank Gibson, Ian Doyle, Jim Philip…. and many more.  There were efforts to see the Church focus on mission and evangelism.   John Campbell as an Adviser in Evangelism was a great help to us in the West of Scotland and others served across the land in that kind of capacity.

So is there some kind of change that has taken place to reverse this attitude of positive engagement in the denomination?  It has been pointed out that where there were the notable ministries of Holyrood Abbey, St George’s Tron, and Gilcomston South, these have been the very ones which now are exiting the church on the ground that the Church of Scotland as an institution is irretrievably corrupted and beyond renewal.  But a multitude of those which were founded in the next generations from the nineteen sixties to the twenty tens, sometimes by those who came from these congregations have no intention at all of leaving.  Indeed many of those who under God established these ministries, some now retired, are dismayed to find that there is a threat to these congregations which were faithfully and laboriously built up.

What has come in, and is it decisively new?

What came in to change the attitudes of some evangelicals within the Church of Scotland and lead them to think that the only course of action is to leave?

There is now, as I have described, a much more radical form of liberalism which has found its focus in the issue of the rightness or wrongness of allowing practicing homosexuals to be ministers.

Since the General Assembly’s decision to allow this in a particular case, two commissions have looked at this issue and have reported to the General Assembly.  The matter awaits a final resolution constitutionally and legally, but meantime there are individuals and churches which feel that they cannot remain within the Church of Scotland because of its ‘compromise’ on this biblical issue.

Does this constitute something new and so radically unbiblical as to justify secession?

I would suggest that it is not so.  Think of the situation vis-à-vis General Assemblies and their decisions with which many of us lived.

We knew that the church was broadly liberal and that if a vote was taken which would establish what the church believed on universal salvation, for example, then in all probability the evangelical view would have failed to gain a majority.  In fact there nearly was such a vote at one General Assembly.

Had such a vote been taken and had the evangelical position been lost, would evangelicals have left at that point?   The answer is ‘No’.

We knew that that was what the majority thought, but we were in the business of patiently working for the truth in the denomination, believing that doctrinal error would be corrected in the whole church over time.  That was what we saw as part of our call.

And we understood something else.

In that earlier generation of evangelicals, we never regarded the General Assembly as the depository of truth, and disagreement with its pronouncements was never thought of as a reason for leaving.  We would register dissent, go home, and get on with the work God had called us to do, submitting as we’d promised to such directives as came down so long as they did not clash with conscience.  It was possible so to live and the fruit of such an approach was and remains evident.

I think we also operated with a broader understanding of the identity of the Church.

Is the General Assembly and its decisions to be taken as the determinative expression of the mind of the Church?

What about an alternative way of looking at it from the point of view of the church’s local embodiment, its rich local character in every community of Scotland.   In reality every Church of Scotland congregation is mixed in almost every sense you can think of, but in many places embodies the reality of Christian life and witness in a community.  Often it is the only such embodiment, but very frequently it bears that witness with others from different Christian traditions. Generally this is harmonious and constructive.

This local church, we do understand, is helpfully related to other churches through the Presbyterian government of the Church of Scotland, but that government is largely unseen day on day.  These are the mechanics, but the life of the Church is the life of Jesus working by His Spirit in a community.

Suppose then, that is your view of the Church of Scotland and a decision is taken at the General Assembly about the rightness or wrongness of the induction of a practising homosexual minister.

Does that materially affect the Church of Scotland in your community?

It might in time have some effect when your church becomes vacant and you have to think about whether you would wish such a minister in your church.  But you will choose!  That is the long standing tradition and constitution.

Does it affect your fellowship, your service, your witness as a local church?   Probably not at all.

Does it affect the way your minister preaches or pastors?   Probably not at all.   It may indeed provide some material to raise in teaching ministry about the nature of sexuality and what the Bible teaches.

Unless, of course, he or she becomes conscience stricken about this issue and wants to leave over it. This will distress you because you love your pastor and will feel abandoned if he or she takes this course.

Worse still it will cause distress if the minister wants, because the church where he or she erstwhile ministered now seems to him or her apostate, to take that church out into another denominational structure, or into an independent fellowship. Then you will be distressed, divided and probably confused.   Why?   You were seeking to embody Christ in your parish, and you were succeeding at least to some degree, but now everything is being dictated by this one issue which suddenly seems to assert that the whole church in all its local manifestations has somehow become newly corrupt and incompatible with any form of Christian witness and therefore must be abandoned.

But have you wrongly isolated the General Assembly as the main or only expression of the Church’s mind?  What is this General Assembly? We know it is very fallible, only in a vague sense representative of the membership of the Church, composed with different people in it from year to year, often dominated by those who for one reason or another have the right to be there every year.  Are we going to let that body determine our whole understanding of what is the mind and the life of the Church?

And now suppose you do decide on the basis of a General Assembly’s decision that the Church of Scotland is apostate and you are going to leave, how will you do so?

Will you quietly leave yourself and join a suitable alternative denomination?   People have always done that honourably over various issues in the past.

Will you, if you are a minister, try to take your congregation with you?   That may be possible if all are agreed with you.   Occasionally it may happen, but let it be granted that all kinds of other issues will arise at this point.  How easy it is for loyalty to a minister to complicate things, or loyalty to the majority, or fear of being a small remnant who are left.

And if you can’t take them all, are you prepared to in effect force a division along the lines of your understanding of the only right thing to do?   What of those who come with you?  Will you join Free Church or International Presbyterians, or become independent?   How will you cope with the consequent lack of support?  And what will happen to those who ‘in conscience’, wrongly of course in your judgment, stay?  They have to in effect restart the church impoverished of some of its best leaders and most generous givers?  And what spiritual attitude is likely to be fostered among those who have come out with you?  They are doing the right thing, so by definition, others must be doing the wrong thing.  Is that not a breeding ground for the worst kind of spiritual pride, and possibly lead to other separations further down the road?

The underlying assumption of those who leave is that the Church of Scotland is beyond rescue.  ‘The battle to turn the established church into a predominantly biblical church has been lost.’  So writes David Robertson.

In this judgment it may have been possible for God to breathe life into the dead bones of Ezekiel 37, but it is impossible for God to breathe new life into the Church of Scotland.

Alternatively, is it possible to view the disastrous decisions of the last few years as but a greater threat to the work of God in the Church of Scotland, but not different in their essential nature from what preceded it and in the context of which so much good was done?

If so then the answer stays the same as many of us lived with throughout all our ministry.  We remain and seek to be faithful to God in life, witness and ministry trusting Him for the fruit in our congregations, communities and the life of the denomination.

If this radical and even aggressive liberalism is something new and so powerful that it truly permeates the whole church in a way to render it apostate,  then it seems to me that it would have to express itself throughout the church as a whole and be evidenced everywhere as a profound antagonism to the biblical Gospel.  I do not think that it does so.  In fact, all across the land, God is clearly working in the Church of Scotland, sometimes outstandingly and obviously so.  There are liberal voices and liberal churches, but are they stopping the preaching of the Gospel?  In many places and sometimes notably there is Gospel work taking place, new initiatives in reaching communities for God, and God is clearly blessing with conversions and people growing in grace and in the knowledge of the love of God. What possible grounds for leaving these situations, or dividing them and fragmenting further our witness?

What if, by contrast with the negative view which would lead to secession, we were to grasp in a new way the calling to faithfulness within the tradition of those who have established and developed an evangelical testimony within the Church of Scotland despite recent setbacks?

As one minister has commented, ‘The vast majority of evangelicals in the Church of Scotland will not be persuaded by secessionist arguments because God has placed on their hearts a deep settled desire to be faithful to what His call is personally, and what He has done and is doing and we trust yet will do within the Church of Scotland’.

Secession or Being Faithful – is this the real choice facing C of S Evangelicals?

24TuesdaySep 2013

Secession or Being Faithful – is this the real choice facing C of S Evangelicals?

A response to Alastair Morrice

Alastair Morrice, one of the most senior and respected evangelicals in the Church of Scotland, has written a fascinating article on why he believes that evangelicals should stay within the Kirk.  Alastair is happy for his article to be widely distributed and I am more than happy to help with that.  You can read it on Louis Kinsey’s blog here –

At first glance it is a convincing and well-written piece.  One that will appeal to those who are going to stay in whatever,  and one which will cause those who are thinking of leaving to think again.  Alastair in particular takes issue with the analysis given by another senior evangelical who has just left, David Randall, and with yours truly.  Perhaps he will not mind if I challenge what he is saying (I hope my membership of Crieff will still stand as well!).   I recognise entirely his good heart and motivation and his passion for the Gospel and for the Kirk.  However his article is I believe profoundly mistaken at several important points – and he is danger of confusing the two.

Firstly I must apologise again for commenting on this. Alastair points out that though I am not a minister of the Church of Scotland, I have written frequently on this issue.  I know that that really annoys some people who just basically wish I would go away and mind my own business.  Sadly it is my business.  I am not particularly concerned with the Free Church, although that is the denomination to which I belong.  My desire is neither to engage in schadenfreude nor to put down the Church of Scotland at the expense of others. In fact it is a source of sorrow for me that there are several good people in my congregation who have felt compelled to leave the Church of Scotland and come to St Peters.  They are very welcome.  The reason for them coming saddens me though.  My concern is simply this – the cause of the Gospel in Scotland, through whatever denomination. It is for that reason that I have a great interest in the Church of Scotland and why I belong to the Crieff Fellowship.   I recognise the excellent work done by many C of S congregations both in the past and the present.  I also have many friends who are Church of Scotland – some have already left, some are planning to leave, some don’t know what to do, and others are determined to stay, whatever happens.  I don’t apologise therefore for commenting on this – but I do recognise the deep personal issues and feelings involved so I ask for forgiveness if anything I say causes hurt or upset.

Alastair’s case is straightforward and can be summed up in the following way:

1)     The C of S has in the past been liberal but we still managed to work within it and prosper.

2)    We were able to do so because we could just ignore the General Assembly and get on with the work of the local Church.

3)    Those who leave are splitting local congregations and causing division within the body of Christ. They also foster a spirit of spiritual pride that will in turn lead to further divisions.

4)    To leave is to doubt the sovereignty and power of God who can if he wishes turn the dry bones of the Church of Scotland into living ones.

5)    Therefore to leave is to create unnecessary schism in the body of Christ.  It is better to be faithful and remain.

It is a simple case, powerfully put.  But I’m afraid it is completely out of date and does not take into account the current situation both in church and society.  Let’s deal with each of these points:

1) We can live with liberalism 

Alastair writes:  The church as a denomination was predominantly liberal.  We recognised that.  But we could function… we could see people becoming Christians… we could over time see profound changes in congregations.   We could live with the liberalism. In some ways it was not important to us because we could do the work of the Gospel unhindered and in large measure supported by the committees of the church in which many of us had some part. 

No one denies that individual congregations have flourished and that great gospel work has been done.  But looking at the overall situation, where are we now?  Although there are perhaps up to 400 ‘evangelical’ ministries,  one leading senior evangelical told me that he doubted there were even 60 evangelical congregations – and some of these are very weak.   We have often been told that the continuing decline in C of S membership (from 1.2 million to 400,000 and losing 20,000 per year) was due to the ‘dead wood’ falling away and that soon we would be left with those who were really committed and the C of S would have become an evangelical church.  Is there any sign of that happening?  The ‘one more push and we are there’ school, are living in a fantasyland, failing to see the demographic, financial and doctrinal disaster that is happening to the Church of Scotland.

As for living with liberalism.  Alastair says “we were in the business of patiently working for the truth in the denomination, believing that doctrinal error would be corrected in the whole church over time.  That was what we saw as part of our call.”  I’m afraid that that faith has been demonstrated again and again to have been misplaced.    How ironic that today when I received Alastair’s article I also received this:  The Herald is reporting that the Church of Scotland is preparing to welcome Bishop Jack Spong to Glasgow (you can read the full report here – ) Glasgow Presbytery came very close to denying that the Trinity was an essential part of the Christian faith a couple of years ago and therefore it is not to be expected that it will deal with allowing someone who denies the existence of God.  Its not that they are incapable of acting.  Today I also received (it has been a busy day) word from that Presbytery that they have asked lawyers to act in trying to get the ownership of the Tron Manse.  So Glasgow presbytery is preparing to go to law to get an evangelical minister evicted from his manse, whilst preparing to welcome Jack Spong to a couple of its churches.  Monty Python could not make this stuff up!

The question for me is – are or should evangelicals be prepared to live with this kind of liberalism?  Do you really want to be part of a church that promotes heresy and persecutes believers?  There comes a time when you have to shake the dust off your feet.  For me promoting atheists as preachers of the Word is that time.  The rot is in too deep.

2) We can ignore the General Assembly

“In that earlier generation of evangelicals, we never regarded the General Assembly as the depository of truth, and disagreement with its pronouncements was never thought of as a reason for leaving.  We would register dissent, go home, and get on with the work God had called us to do, submitting as we’d promised to such directives as came down so long as they did not clash with conscience.  It was possible so to live and the fruit of such an approach was and remains evident.”

Sadly it was precisely because an earlier generation of evangelicals bought into this ‘Presbyterian by name, independent by nature’ ecclesiology that the C of S is now in such a mess.  The trouble with Alastair’s ecclesiology is that it does not fit with the nature of Presbyterian vows or church government.  C of S congregations are not independent, able to determine what they wish to do, unaffected by decisions from wider church courts such as Presbytery and the General Assembly.   Funds are not just sent from evangelical churches to gospel churches but to congregations that would deny the gospel.  Do I think that my money should be going to fund Jack Spong coming to Glasgow to deny the gospel in my denomination?   Is it really the case that evangelicals can just continue their work unaffected by wider aberrations in the denomination?  I would suggest that to believe that is naïve in the extreme.

Remember when the ordination of women was decided?  It was ‘permitted’, but within a few years it had changed from being permitted to being mandatory.  Even then several congregations who did not think it was biblical were able to get away with it and were left alone to get on with their work.  But one by one they were picked off, until this year the moderator after visiting one such congregation, warned that they were going to be dealt with as well.  I remember visiting my local evangelical C of S in Tain, soundly Stillite, fantastic preaching.  So I thought I was safe in taking my sceptical brethren grandfather along to hear that there could be great preaching in the C of S.  Sadly it was a Presbytery service and the preaching was liberal rubbish.  But the local church had to go along with it because that is what the presbytery wanted.  Evangelicals may not regard the General Assembly or Presbytery as the depository of truth, but they have all sworn to obey them.  Pietistic sound bites and theological truisms don’t change the reality on the ground.

3) Those who leave are guilty of schism and fostering spiritual pride

Alastair acknowledges that there are individuals (particularly ministers) who can no longer stay.  He suggests that they should just leave quietly and not attempt to take their congregations.  He throws up several warnings:

And if you can’t take them all, are you prepared to in effect force a division along the lines of your understanding of the only right thing to do?   What of those who come with you?  Will you join Free Church or International Presbyterians, or become independent?   How will you cope with the consequent lack of support?  And what will happen to those who ‘in conscience’, wrongly of course in your judgment, stay?  They have to in effect restart the church impoverished of some of its best leaders and most generous givers?  And what spiritual attitude is likely to be fostered among those who have come out with you?  They are doing the right thing, so by definition; others must be doing the wrong thing.  Is that not a breeding ground for the worst kind of spiritual pride, and possibly lead to other separations further down the road?

It is difficult to know where to begin with this.  Surely those who are guilty of schism are those who promote and defend heresy?  Surely those who do not stand up to those who administer the poison of false teaching are just as responsible?  Alastair is writing out of a particular context.  He is well aware of the situation in Logies and St Johns where the Session voted to leave along with the majority of the congregation.  Indeed 15 elders stood up in front of the congregation and committed themselves to do so.  But after a strong resistance from Presbytery led by the evangelical interim-moderator, the group that voted to leave has itself split.  Some are now staying hoping to see a renewed evangelical Logies. Perhaps they will.  I hope they will.   Meanwhile the breakaway group had a good start as Grace Community Church in Menzieshill last Sunday (led by the aforementioned David Randall), with over 90 people at the morning service.  But it could and should have been more.

If Alaister’s definition of schism and division is leaving the Church of Scotland then I guess Grace Community Church and others are guilty. But if you don’t equate the body of Christ with the Church of Scotland, but rather with all who seek and follow Jesus, then I would suggest campaigning against fellow evangelicals is a more schismatic act.  Seeking to persuade and frighten people that the sinking ship will go down if they leave and thus divide brother from brother, is a schismatic act. Perhaps even writing his paper accusing those who leave of being unfaithful and schismatic and hoping for its wide distribution to discourage others from leaving,  is itself schismatic in the biblical sense? Who caused the schism in the group that were leaving Logies?  Maybe evangelicals would be better off handing out leaflets at the Jack Spong meetings, and setting up an evangelical network to combat liberalism, rather than seeking to combat other evangelicals.   Why do I get the sneaking suspicion that some evangelicals regard Willie Philip, Dominic Smart, Andrew Randall and even yours truly as a greater threat than Spong?!

Alastair is right to warn about the danger of spiritual pride and hubris amongst those who leave.  But it is not just those who leave who have to watch out for that.  When an evangelical can stand up and say that the only show in town is the Church of Scotland, when others can equate leaving with schism and staying with faithfulness, then spiritual pride is indeed not far from the door.

In the midst of all this though is one major reason why many evangelicals will not leave.  It is the fear that Alastair expresses – ‘how will you cope with the constant lack of support’? If you go to the Free Church, or IPC or become independent you will not be supported. There is an unthinking arrogance here and a lack of trust in the provision of the Lord.  How ironic that we are expected to believe that the Lord can and will revive the dead bones of a denomination, but we should not expect him to provide for his people who leave the secure shackles of that denomination!   I suspect that the minister who made a stand against homosexual partnerships within his congregation and was told by ‘evangelicals’ don’t rock the boat, keep quiet; or the kind of ‘support’ given to Willie Philip and the Tron, is not quite what Alastair had in mind!  It really boils down to the perfectly legitimate fear of losing job and manse.  But to be honest I would rather take a pay cut and be in a denomination where there is gospel freedom and discipline (and yes, the two do go together) than continue to be well paid but be restricted by those kind of fears.  Besides which I have known a great deal of spiritual support within the Free Church.   I may have my frustrations with presbytery and some of the strictures but to be honest I know that we are all on the same side.  And believe you me it is much easier to reform a church with a genuine commitment to biblical authority than it is to reform one that neglects or rejects the Bible.  I have been amazed at what God has done in the Free Church over the past decade.  Anyway I would rather be independent than vow submission to church courts that go against the Word of God.  Freedom has a price.

4) God can revive the Church of Scotland

The underlying assumption of those who leave is that the Church of Scotland is beyond rescue.  ‘The battle to turn the established church into a predominantly biblical church has been lost.’  So writes David Robertson. In this judgment it may have been possible for God to breathe life into the dead bones of Ezekiel 37, but it is impossible for God to breathe new life into the Church of Scotland.

This is somewhat disingenuous and not really worthy of Alastair.  I of course am not denying that God is able to breathe new life into any situation.  Can these bones live?  Only the Lord knows.   But that is a truism that does not really help.  And it is one that proves too much.  It is actually an argument for leaving the Church of Scotland, admitting the Reformation was a mistake, and re-joining Rome.  After all if God can bring new life into the bones in Ezekiel 37 he can bring new life into the Roman Catholic Church.  Given that the RC church is far more effective voice in the fight against militant atheism and secularism why would that not be the more attractive option?  If God does bring renewal and revival to the Church of Scotland I will rejoice as much as if he brings it through any other group.

I know that God can heal. It does not stop me going to a doctor.  I know that God can anoint my preaching.  It does not stop me preparing sermons.  I know that God alone can convert.  It does not stop me proclaiming the Gospel. I know that God can speak through donkeys.  It does not make me appoint them as evangelists.  I know that God can bring dead churches to life.  It does not stop me seeking to belong to a living one.

I had a friend who bought into this whole ‘I can be a living witness in a dead church which God can bring to life’ theory.  After three years of struggling in a liberal C of S he moved town and immediately went to the Baptist Church.  I teased him;  ‘what happened to being a witness’?  “I am never going through that spiritual desert again’!

5) It is better to be ‘faithful’ and remain

As one minister has commented, ‘The vast majority of evangelicals in the Church of Scotland will not be persuaded by secessionist arguments because God has placed on their hearts a deep settled desire to be faithful to what His call is personally, and what He has done and is doing and we trust yet will do within the Church of Scotland’.

The trouble with this is that it is also playing the spiritual pride card.  The ‘faithful’ remain whereas those who leave are unfaithful secessionists (talk about loaded words!).  That is as ridiculous as saying that the faithful leave and the unfaithful remain.  I am sure that there will be those who are committed faithful believers who will stay, and there will be those who will leave. Let each be persuaded in his own mind.

Besides which it is a very strange definition of faithfulness which means that you swear allegiance to a denomination which has set itself against the Word of God and which is being used to spread the poison of a virulent liberalism.  As Alastair himself states the situation has changed, from the nice ‘soft’ liberalism of those who just waffled meaningless pietisms to those who now aggressively promote anti-biblical doctrine. Mind you there has been a change in evangelicalism, from one which recognised that unity across denominational borders was key, to one which sees itself as just a ‘part’ of the church – the church being the Church of Scotland.  Evangelicalism in the C of S has become increasingly soft and increasingly denominational.

What he does not seem to recognise and where he is really out of date is in his failure to acknowledge how much Scottish society has changed.  Christendom has gone.  The parish system has largely gone.  The remnants of civic religion remain but bit-by-bit the last vestiges of that are being chipped away as well.  And the Church of Scotland is proving as useless as a chocolate teapot in preventing that.  Whether it is the debacle of appearing before the Scottish parliament and arguing that you are against same sex marriage for everyone, but for same sex partnerships for ministers; or the current pathetic attempts to retain the privilege of being school chaplains by promising not to promote Christianity, the C of S has become a caricature of what it once was.  Less than 5% of the Scottish population attend the Church of Scotland.  Maybe we all need to wake up and smell the coffee, before it is too late.  Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic is not what I want in ministry.  I would rather be manning the lifeboats to rescue the perishing.

Conclusion: Take the Shackles Off

One phrase that Alaister used really struck home to me.  Do I really want to be part of a church that just ‘functions’?  That for me is the maintenance model of the church.  I want the mission model.  I want to be part of a church that is radical and revolutionary, that turns the world upside down.  I don’t just want to ‘function’.

I was recently talking to an elder who has left the Church of Scotland.  He spoke of feeling free and the shackles coming off.  It reminded me of this song –

It may be that you can operate with the shackles of a bureaucratic Presbyterianism in a declining church in an increasingly secular culture, desperately trying to relive the glories of the past and strengthening what remains and is about to die.  Personally I have no interest in merely ‘functioning’ whether within the Church of Scotland or the Free Church. If you can be free within the Church of Scotland then go to it brothers and sisters. (I pray that Alastair and other friends within the C of S will know real times of Gospel refreshing and prosperity).  But if not – get out.  Don’t allow an unrealistic fantasy view of the Church, or the fear of what might happen, keep you from living in the glorious liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to take the shackles off my feet so I can dance! I just want to praise

David Robertson – September 2013

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Frankie and the Renault

Frankie and the Renault

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September 26, 2013 · 15:56

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses

Would you Adam and Eve it?

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September 26, 2013 · 08:44

The “Fair City”. (Perth)

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September 25, 2013 · 17:41

Missionary 3

A missionary, deep in the jungle, came upon a witch-doctor who was pounding his drum furiously.

“What’s wrong?” asked the missionary.

“We have no water” explained the witch-doctor.

“So you’re praying for rain?”

“Of course not!”, came the reply, “I’m sending for a plumber”

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Missionary 2

Two missionaries in Africa were apprehended by a tribe of very hostile cannibals who put them in a large pot of water, built a huge fire under it, and left them there. A few minutes later, one of the missionaries started to laugh uncontrollably.

The other missionary couldn’t believe it! He said, “What’s wrong with you? We’re being boiled alive! They’re gonna eat us! What could possibly be funny at a time like this?”

The other missionary said, “I just peed in the soup!”

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A missionary was walking down a road through the jungles of Africa when a group of cannibals come across him.

The cannibals tie him up and drag him off into the jungle. They take him to their camp on put him in a pot of boiling water (of course).

After awhile the water begins to get really hot, and the missionary starts pleading for his life. The cheif cannibal dude comes out and says he will spare the young mans life, but he has to pass a test (like as in most jokes…). The missionary gladly accepts, not even caring about what the test might be.

OK, says the cheif, first you must guzzle down a gallon of vodka in 15 seconds, then you must pull a tiger’s sore tooth out, and after all that, you must deflower a virgin maiden

They take the missionary and sit him down in front of the vodka. He guzzles it down in 13.58 seconds. Next they push him over to the tigers den. The young man drunkly stumbles his way into the den. They hear sounds of roaring and growling for the longest time; then finally the missionary comes out, his clothes  tattered and cuts and bruises all over him, and drunkly says “now, where’s that maiden with the sore tooth?”


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One Word Essays

You Got to be Kidding's Blog




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