Dancing in the Streets  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

I can only speak for myself, but the memory (mentioned last week) of the Evening of Praise in the great Norman Cathedral in Durham is such a beautiful one that it will live in my mind and heart till the day I die.

Having worshipped (mid week) in the Cathedral when less than ten people were there, and on many a Sunday when less than a hundred were there, to see the building filling up that night was breathtaking. The excitement and expectation that we were about to  share something wonderful was palpable.

When the Fisherfolk took to the stage, erected just for the night in the great crossing, and began to lead us in worship, the crowd grew more and more enthusiastic. Hymns old and songs new were sung, and the glory of the Lord seemed to fall. When finally the Revd David Watson began to preach the massive crowd grew silent. It was so still you could hear a pin drop. And in his inimitable fashion David took us into the Word of God. He spoke of the call of the gospel and the need we all had for the Holy Spirit’s power if we were to live it faithfully. He beckoned to all present, of whatever background or theological persuasion, to recommit their lives to the Lord Jesus, and ask for a new (or fresh) anointing of the Spirit. To those who were not Christians he beckoned them to receive the Lord’s love and life. Then he called us all to pray.

At once a murmuring stillness filled the great cathedral and then a symphony of prayer arose, and lasted for some time. When the Fisherfolk finally took the stage they  began a worship set of gentle and melodious grace. The great congregation was drawn into a time of heart worship unlike anything many had ever before experienced. After multiple cycles of song and praise there descended a holy silence. It went on for several minutes, and then the voice of Mimi Armstrong, as she was then, started to sing a cappella  the refrain from the Christmas Carol “Oh Come Let Us Adore Him.” First a few joined her, then more, and then it was as if the whole cathedral was swaying in adoration. Over and over we sang those words. Tears of joy flowed, and healing balm descended on many, as a vision of a new dawn of faith and worship became incarnate.

Few wanted the evening to end, but a closing prayer was offered and a final blessing was pronounced. It was then then that an even more surprising thing occurred. As some people made their way to the platform to ask for prayer, or to seek guidance, others began to sing and dance spontaneously in the Nave and Transept aisles. Soon they formed a living chain, and as it grew and grew someone led it out the large doors and onto the Castle Green. The joy was unstoppable, and the chain of dancers and singers wound their way down into the Marketplace in the center of the town. It was a night and an experience that was unforgettable.

Those of us from the parish of St Margaret thought that any day the whole town would return to the Lord. We had seen a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

 

Next Week: Growing Pains & Vision Disharmony

Not What They Prayed For       ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

News of the dramatic changes in the first three people to experience the beginning of the revival (see last week’s blog) was soon shared at the Monday Night House Group in the Summer of 1972. Indeed it was there that the young seminarian had come under conviction, after the story of the other two had been told, and where he broke down in uncontrollable weeping. It was not what the members of the group expected, and the meeting soon came to a hurried and embarrassed end. Fr Stephen was overjoyed, however, and was eager to fan the flame. He undertook the daily discipling of the young man, and began to rethink how the parish was organized.

Early that Autumn the rector decided to use the Sunday Night Service (Evensong, or Evening Prayer) as a rallying point for those wanting to see the Lord move in a fresh way. News spread quickly through the small university town, and attendance started to grow. At the same time, the newly ordained curate and his wife began to hold a regular prayer meeting in their college flat. First a trickle, then a small stream, of students began to attend those meetings, and a number were deeply touched by God. Soon the meeting was held almost every night, and most of those attending started to go to the Sunday Night Service at St Margarets. At those services the Holy Spirit began to move, under Fr Stephen’s guiding hand, but challenges arose very quickly.

The joke among us in those days was: “When a bright light shines, it attracts the bugs.” The “light” that had begun to shine in the parish was attracting people from a distance. Some came to see what was happening, some came with a deep spiritual hunger, but some came because they believed they were needed to help us walk in the right direction. It was these latter that began to cause trouble. Evangelicals thought the theology of the Holy Spirit being shared was deficient, Pentecostals thought everything we were retaining from the Anglican helotage should be jettisoned, and strict Anglo Catholics thought the whole thing should be stopped. The diocesan establishment and the cathedral where embarrassed. We were struggling to know what to do.

By now there were a half dozen of us meeting for prayer every morning in the parish chapel. We read the daily scriptures and discussed them, then prayed and celebrated Holy Communion together. The lectionary brought us to the second chapter of Acts one day, and we all seemed to be riveted by it.

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship,

the breaking of bread and the prayers…. (cf 2:42-47)

We had no other thought than to begin to imitate what we read. If that was the way the early church began, when the Holy Spirit first fell, then perhaps that is what God wants when there is a new beginning?

The Parish Church became our temple, and we met in one another’s homes. Soon we had formed several small communities, each made up of a nuclear family plus others who were single, which we called “Households,” in which we began to live our new life.

 

Next Week: News From Coventry

AD 1972 – One Time and Place      ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

The story of the revival that broke out in Durham in 1972 is only known fully to God, but I was in the midst of it. I will write what I remember of a time of amazing grace. It began because one clergyman, the Revd Stephen Davis, was more a Christian than a Churchman. He had come to a living faith as an adult, without any church background at all. It marked him forever as a lover of Jesus Christ. That was his first loyalty.

When he came to the rectorship of the Parish Church of St Margaret of Antioch, Crossgate, in the cathedral town of Durham, England, he found a typical congregation of the time. It had long since had any profound effect on the surrounding population, though many still brought babies for baptism, and asked to be married in or buried from the old church. The local Boys Brigade (a type of Boy Scouts) had a regular church parade, but almost none of them or their leaders worshipped regularly. Confessions were heard every Friday and Saturday for one hour, and a small handful of parishioners would occasionally attend Holy Day Communion. Regular Sunday attendance hovered near seventy-five in the morning, and around thirty for Evensong.

Fr Stephen (as he was always called) preached with passion, and was notorious for his forceful personality. He gave directions easily, and was rarely opposed. He was what, in those days, would be called a Prayer Book Catholic, teaching what the Book of Common Prayer taught, but with a catholic slant. The one unusual exception was his conviction that the practice of Infant Baptism was a mistake. He had formed this opinion as a missionary priest in South Africa, where he saw a whole white culture of Christians, all baptized as infants, oppressing the native people he served in a way that seemed to him impossible for true believers.

After some time as rector in Durham he grew more and more discouraged that the external practice of many in the parish was not leading to inward change of any kind that could be seen. It was then that he first heard of the Jesus Movement that had begun in California. When he began to learn more about it he soon came to know of the Charismatic Movement that had preceded it, and which sprang from the ministry of the Revd Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal priest. Stephen bought and read his book, Nine O’Clock in the Morning, and began to pray that something similar would come to his parish. He formed a small house group, made up of his most faithful (all elderly) parishioners, and gathered them once a month to pray for revival in the parish.

After over a year of these meetings, events began to unfold in a way that turned the parish upside down. First, a young mother in the parish, while at a traditional directed prayer retreat in an Anglican Nunnery, experienced a profound coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Soon after the rector’s wife, finally and quite reluctantly, read the Bennett book, and experienced a deep work of the Holy Spirit in her life. Then within a few weeks the young soon to be curate came under deep conviction of sin, and surrendered to a new walk of grace. Unexpectedly and amazingly a local revival had begun.

 

Next Week: Not What They Prayed For

Lessons In Revival?     ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

Last week we ended with a picture of division in the church. Two Christian communities that exist in the same small English Village but which maintain almost entirely separate lives in a place that numbers less than fifteen hundred people. And on any given Sunday less than one hundred people worship between them. The witness to that village is of churches that cannot get along. It reveals those who do not know how “to love one another,” as Christ loves, and it weakens – if it has not destroyed – the witness of the gospel to most who live there. How can something good come out of such a situation? Can the truth that is in Jesus come forth from that place?

Could it be that one of the most critical teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ has been forgotten by his people in that village and countless other places? He taught his disciples, on the night before he died, that their love for one another would be the witness that they belonged to him. (John 13:34,35) Indeed he said that this would show “all men,” believers and unbelievers, that they were his disciples. To prayerfully ponder the teaching of Jesus here is to be brought under conviction. Can we doubt that one of the gravest impediments to a time of new life in the church, a time of revival, may be the way the church has organized and divided itself into isolated denominations?

To begin considering this question is to come face to face with a principle reason the church is in decline in in the West. Men love their own organizations, their own institutions, their own traditions, more than they love the Word of God. They may say they believe in “one church” but they live differently. Protest my assertion though they will, their behavior proves it again and again. Any reader who disbelieves me has only to work to heal these divisions in a concrete and lasting way, locally, regionally, nationally, or even globally, to discover that change here is not currently wanted. “Leave us alone in our settled patterns please. We do not want to worship with those people,” they seem to say. Surely the Lord of the Church will raise up “new stones” before those ones will sing. Can new life spring up in such a place, and if so how?

History reveals that new life, when it comes, always springs from a new season of repentance and faith (trust) in the Word of God. There must always be a turning from error and sin to the Lord Jesus and his Word. There must always be a deep and convicting work of purifying grace. And it never comes to those who treat the Word of God casually. Such faith comes only when the power of the gospel first falls upon a man and breaks his heart. He must see that he has not served the Lord he calls his Lord, but has served a lesser god. He has worshipped at an altar that is not the altar of God.

The renewal of one such man is not the revival of the church, but it is always a precursor. The first man may be hidden from the eyes of the world, but he will influence others, and in the Lord’s perfect time a man chosen by grace will hear and turn, and a leader for a new time of revival will be revealed. A day long prayed for by the faithful will break forth.

 

Next Week: AD 1972 – One Time and Place

 One Church or Many? ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

Say the word “church “ today and everyone thinks of a place or a building, usually both. “I’m going to church” means I am going to a specific location, where I will enter a specific building. It is a completely unscriptural use of the word.

The New Testament usage of “church” describes a community of people, or better yet, related brothers and sisters, united in a common family. They are all part of the household of God because they have been adopted into the Son of God himself. What characterizes them is their growing resemblance to the Lord of the Church. He is the head into which all members are growing up. They love him, they submit to him. He is the Master who has saved them. He is their only guide and stay.

Not only is the modern use of the word “church” almost completely disconnected from its roots in the Bible, the use of the word among denominationalists is an even worse category of error. Rare indeed is the person in any denomination who uses the word to mean the one true church of Jesus Christ. “My church” means the one they attend, and it’s denominational connection, not the one body for which the Lord Jesus Christ gave his life.

Recently I was visiting dear friends in a small English village, one which has two church buildings. The older of the two is the Parish Church, built over 800 years ago. The other, a new building from the 1990’s, is a successor structure to one built in the 18th century, during the time of the Great Awakening. The ancient church was built by people who loved the Lord Jesus, as was the chapel. The latter was erected because so many, at the time, felt that in the Parish Church they and their new found evangelical faith were unwelcome, and they wanted to gather for common worship that would edify their souls. It soon led to a separate existence in English Law, and the division persists.

Some time ago, the new minister at the Village Chapel (as it is known) applied to the bishop for license to serve in the diocese, if invited, as he himself is a priest of the Church of England. He had accepted a call to the chapel in order to continue his wider ministry as an Evangelist, while also serving as pastor to a small local community. He even dreamed that his coming might help unite the almost 250 year old division in the town. The bishop declined his request, summarily.

Repeatedly throughout modern Anglican history, the communion at the highest levels has affirmed its understanding of the church as all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus. But the reality is something quite different. Unless a person of faith submits to the organizational system of the denomination, with all of its rules and history, to say nothing of its culture, and its own peculiar man made doctrines, they are not welcomed in. “Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” overrides the Word of God.

A question begs to be answered: Are there two churches in that village or one?

 

Next Week: Lessons In Revival

Separated Brethren  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

Generations have prayed the General Confession from the Book of Common Prayer, in which they have confessed those “things they ought to have done” and then those things “they ought not to have done.” As true as both things are for individuals, the same can be true for whole communities that call themselves Christian.

Some years ago, when I was invited to preach in a congregation descended from people who had separated from the Church of England centuries before, it was painfully brought to the attention of the congregation that I represented a tradition that had persecuted them. Indeed, it was pointed out that “my people had put their people to death.” It was a shattering moment in my ministerial life. I have never been the same.

It was a good while after that embarrassing day before I was deeply and permanently changed in the core of my being. It happened when another man led me to the Martyrs Memorial in the town of Canterbury in England. We were there to celebrate the 1400th Anniversary of the coming of Augustine and his companions to the shores of Kent, and the preaching of the gospel in the weeks following that led to the reestablishment of a vibrant Christianity in England after centuries of suffering under the Anglo Saxon invasions. I had been a frequent visitor to the cradle of Anglicanism, but I had no idea there was any other memorial to martyrs in the town other than that to Thomas Beckett in the great cathedral. What my friend showed me made me weep.

In a poor part of the town rarely frequented by pilgrims and visitors to Canterbury, and not marked on any tourist map, was a memorial to the men and women who were burned at the stake in the time of Queen Mary. My friend and I stood quietly reading the names, when I came to “Revd John Smith” and then on the next line “His wife.” I broke down completely, and the Lord brought back to my memory the time years before. Not only did Anglicans put others to death before and after Mary, but some of our own suffered the same fate in the midst of the reformation that shaped us so profoundly. How could I have forgotten that?  And what faith did they have to accept such a fate? What have we lost? Has division destroyed the reformation God intended?

I have been reflecting on that set of experiences, and praying over them, for twenty-five years. It has made me more and more convinced that many of the divisions between Christian denominations have not come from heaven, but from the hard hearts of men. Though there are times, when in obedience to the Lord, good men separate from one another over a matter of deep importance, many of the divisions among Christians are over secondary matters. Christ is not divided, as the Apostle said, and yet those who claim to follow him keep dividing. Anglicans among them.

Will this change in any wide way in my lifetime? Probably not, but I dare to pray, speak, and write that it might change among those who call themselves Anglicans. If a man is truly a follower of Jesus how can he separate himself from his brothers and sisters?

 

Next Week: One Church or Many?

Can A Church Be Reborn?  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

The time for New Year’s Resolutions has come, but the mature among us know that they will rarely last the year. Does that make them vain? I think not. Better a good intention tried than never begun. Better to set a high goal and reach some of it, than never to set a goal at all. A good man once taught me: “If you have no dreams do not set goals. But if you dream dreams and do not set goals, I promise you despair.” I dream dreams, and I hope all who read this do as well. If they are dreams that have been placed in our hearts by the living God, we must resolve to reach for them.

One of my dreams is to live to see revival again.

I came to a living and true faith in just such a time. A small Anglo Catholic parish, in an out of the way University town in England, entered into a remarkable season of years when the Spirit of God was being poured out upon us. Dozens and dozens of men and women came alive in Christ Jesus. The parish was changed, the town was changed, the whole of North East England was changed, for a season.

Of course the fires of revival always die down, and they did in Durham. But not before countless lives were made new, and not before many were scattered to the wider world to take the Good News of God’s love to others. Some day I pray to be allowed to know, in heaven, the extent of the impact of that time for the spread of the kingdom of God. The thought of it gives me joy.

What might I do beyond think and pray? Revival, if it is truly from the Lord, is not the product of man made manipulation or planning. We cannot set a goal for God. But we can know his heart for the world he created. “He sent his only begotten Son into the world that all who believe might not perish, but have everlasting life.” He has spoken through the prophets and a day will come when “the earth will be covered with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the seas.” And the reason this will happen is his great love wills it. And so too does his true church.

What then of a slumbering church? Can she have a part in that great day if she is asleep? Or worse, can she have a part in that day if she is filled with cultural Christians who are not themselves reborn? Dare we speak of a church that is not reborn?

No student of the Holy Scriptures can be ignorant of the answer. The church that is the church is only made up of the reborn. There is no such thing as a “fleshly, unborn, church.” There are such men, but not such churches. No other than those called and chosen of God will see his face, when the great church triumphant is gathered around the throne of the Lamb. That is the church.

But still, with the liberty of the modern English language may we dare say it? I think so. We need the organized, visible, historic church to be reborn. God wills it.

 

Next Week: Separated Brethren.