Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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This kind of innovation is not surprising when we consider the substantial intellectual and spiritual resources available to the mainstream churches. Even his most severe critics acknowledge that Pope Benedict XVI possesses as powerful an intellect as any predecessor for centuries past. And however sick the Church of England might be in its attendance levels, its leadership still includes figures as distinguished as any in its history. Since 2002, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been Rowan Williams, a formidable intellectual who is one of the greatest living Protestant theologians. Among other achievements, he is the first holder of that office who knows Russian and is thoroughly at home in the spiritual traditions of Orthodoxy. Among the church's other leaders, the Bishop of Durham is N. T. Wright, one of the world's most respected scholars of the New Testament. The other most prestigious see, besides Canterbury, is York, which is now headed by Ugandan John Sentamu, a creative appointment that recognizes the global role of the Anglican Communion. If this is a church in its dotage, it is doing an excellent job of disguising the fact.

For the Church of England as for other bodies, the fact that uniform belief can no longer be assumed has had a liberating effect, permitting the rise of new movements that almost assume the role of new churches in their own right. The greatest beneficiary has been the evangelical movement within the Anglican Church. Through most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Church of England was divided between two parties, high and low, respectively, the liturgical Anglo-Catholics and the evangelicals: in popular parlance, they were respectively the high and crazy, and the low and lazy. Since the 1960s, the high party has shrunk into virtual insignificance, and some of its leaders have defected to the Roman Catholics or Orthodox. Evangelicals have flourished, however, and have come to resemble an enthusiastic U.S. denomination, although often worshiping in venerable Gothic churches.48

The movement is seen at its strongest in a London parish such as Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), which attracts over 3,000 to its Sunday services. Like an American megachurch, the life of Holy Trinity is based on intense small group activities, organized through its fifty pastorates, lay-led groups of twenty-five to thirty each who meet fortnightly in non-church locations. As the church advises members, "The pastorates are not one program amongst many that the church supports; the pastorates are the church." Holy Trinity is committed to church planting and has established seven offshoot churches following its evangelical principles and worship style. Though HTB has acquired worldwide fame, it is by no means the only church of its kind. In Chorleywood in Hertfordshire, we find the charismatic church of St. Andrew's, which is also part of the Anglican church and also offers an impressive range of levels of involvement. Besides full-scale services, the church's Mid-Size Communities "give a fresh and exciting new expression to our life as a church by setting free the creative dynamic of a group of church members that is larger than a small or cell group but considerably smaller than a Sunday service gathering." Some of Britain's most flourishing evangelical congregations are either Anglican, or involve Anglican alliances with other traditions; other examples include All Souls in Lang-ham Place, Holy Trinity Cheltenham, or St. Thomas's Sheffield.49

Anglicans within the church cooperate with evangelicals from other bodies, including the remnants of the old non-conformist churches that were once so powerful a force in British politics and culture. British Christianity also has its own version of the new ecclesial movements, groups that originated as ad hoc fellowships and networks but which have since acquired an institutional life of their own. Spring Harvest began as a Christian conference in 1979 and has now become a regular event, attracting up to 100,000 enthusiastic believers in several locations around the United Kingdom. Its sponsors claim it as "the largest Christian conference in Europe."50

We also find parallels both to the Thomas Mass and the U.S. emerging church movement, gatherings that try to convey Christian experience without the trappings that some find alienating. British examples include Tribal Generation or London's Grace service:

The monthly Grace service is experimental and hence rarely the same twice. We don't work to a fixed structure, giving us the opportunity to create a space, atmosphere and service suitable to the theme that we have chosen. Walking through the door you'll probably find soft lighting, candles, TVs and projections showing words and images. . . . Alongside the visuals will be chilled-out music shaping the atmosphere. . . . Beyond the general styling the service is less predictable. There may be things to look at, touch and do, a chance to wander around and explore, write things down or simply sit or lie still. Meditation, discussions, readings and prayers may be said, written or read. Just don't expect a sermon. . . . It's an event which questions what a church service can be, what kind of things it can contain, what kind of issues can be explored and what kind of questions can be asked.51

Some movements have grown out of evangelical efforts within the Church of England, though they have subsequently acquired a more independent identity. One creative figure has been David Pytches, former Anglican bishop of Chile and vicar of St. Andrew's, Chorleywood. Pytches's roots are firmly within Anglicanism, "with seven generations of family vicars behind me. ... I have two brothers ordained and a son-in-law, all clergy." Even so, he drew freely on other Christian traditions. Pytches imported to England the enthusiasm of Latin American charismatic revivalism and was also influenced by John Wimber, founder of the U.S.-based Vineyard church. From the late 1980s, Pytches became involved in two successful parachurch organizations. One is Soul Survivor, which since 1993 operates a charismatic Christian version of a rock festival, where young people gather "to pray, sing, dance and have fun." New Wine operates training events and summer conferences, and has many resemblances to the Vineyard.52

Britain's most important national federation remains the old-established Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella that includes congregations both within and outside the established church. It claims "a constituency of 1 million persons and includes about 3,000 local churches, 750 parachurch organizations, 30 denominations and 32,000 individual members." Other informal means of national organization include a network of bookstores, radio shows, and Christian publishers, and occasional meetings and revivals that owe much to the American tent meeting tradition. The movement grew during the 1970s and gained strength from moral and political campaigns of the era, including a celebrated attempt to revive blasphemy legislation against irreverent media, and controversies over skeptical academic accounts of the Christian faith. Meanwhile, interdenominational Christian fellowships popularized ideas of charismatic worship and deliverance. By the end of that decade, the charismatic House Church Movement had some 50,000 members drawn from various denominations, including Catholics.53

Evangelicals are well established among Anglican clergy and in the church hierarchy. From 1991 through 2002, the strongly evangelical George Carey was Archbishop of Canterbury. He also indicates the influence of charismatic doctrines and practices in modern evangelicalism, and he himself reported a spirit baptism in which he spoke in tongues. The strength of evangelicals and charismatics in the modern Church of England is illustrated by the persistent struggles within that church over issues of gay rights and gay ordination, which command solid support from liberals, backed enthusiastically by most of the British media. These ideas are of course anathema to conservatives like David Pytches, and the church leadership has to tread warily lest it drive its vital evangelical constituency into schism. A senior official of the Evangelical Alliance recently infuriated many when he compared same-sex unions to "people wanting to marry their horse."54

Some practices of charismatic Christians have also attracted controversy. Charismatics have a powerful belief in deliverance and healing, believing that the miraculous powers described in the New Testament are available to modern-day Christians. David Pytches reports, for instance, that "I have seen hundreds of people healed of blindness in one or both eyes. Cysts on ovaries the size of grapefruit have miraculously disappeared, and the surgeon says simply, 'It's gone.' Healings are a sign of the Kingdom of God." The website of his former church at Chorleywood includes abundant testimonies of the mighty deeds of "the H.S." (Holy Spirit), including these in just one week:

Pain went from cancer patients ... A girl from a mental hospital overwhelmed by H.S. . . . Person with perforated ear drum healed . . . Leg lengthened and hip realigned . . . Someone whose husband died 6 weeks ago, and [ministry team] member had a word "Jesus is your bridegroom". Person greatly encouraged.55

This charismatic element became controversial during the 1970s and 1980s as clergy and activists became increasingly interested in— some would say, obsessed with—ideas of spiritual warfare, with its quite literal ideas about demonic assaults. As Pytches declared, "People get delivered from demons. I have seen many delivered from demonic possession. Demonization is in your life because it is affected by a demon in some way. . . . Often we need to clean out people's houses. Many owners are into spiritism, Ouija boards and their homes need to be delivered." Publishers like Kingsway did a roaring trade in accounts of deliverance and possession, with American-spawned exposés of the dangers posed by Satanists, witches, and New Age believers.56

These matters reached the headlines in the late 1980s when British evangelicals and charismatics, including some wealthy and politically powerful families, accepted theories about the danger of alleged Satanic cults, human sacrifices, and literal demonic conspiracies. In some ways, these stories helped the growth of charismatic churches, whose members found it exhilarating to believe they were engaged in a cosmic struggle for the national soul. Yet the overall effects were disastrous, as some activists became notorious peddlers of outrageous conspiracy theories. For a few years, Britain was rife with tales of Satanic child abuse rings, and several quite literal witch hunts resulted in the destruction of families and the incarceration of many innocent people. Charismatic Christians should not take the full blame for these absurdities, as Satanic stories won equal credence among radical feminists and child protection activists, but spiritual warfare themes were much in evidence. Such charges surfaced elsewhere in Europe, most dramatically in a Dutch case in the village of Oude Pekela. It is remarkable that such ritual abuse stories made their deepest European impact in the two nations generally regarded as among the most secular, namely, Britain and the Netherlands, perhaps suggesting that the decline of formal religious structures had left the popular religious imagination open to excesses. Much like pilgrimage, the willingness to believe in demonic assaults suggests the survival of undercurrents of popular religious belief that are in search of an outlet.57

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