The Distempered Ravings of Moonstruck Fanatics

I am off on holiday tomorrow, but before I go I leave you with a little historical morsel to chew on.

This morning I was reading through Independency in Warwickshire by John Sibree and M. Caston. (Get the free eBook here from Google.) As part of a 19th century church planting initiative led by John Angel James, then the evangelical (reformed) congregational minister of what is now Carrs Lane URC in the centre of Birmingham, John Sibree was sent out to Solihull in 1823 to preach the gospel to a needy village of 2,580 inhabitants. (Now it is a town of over 100,000.) However, the work was not without opposition. Practically it was difficult to buy property to build a meeting place and in the press there were vitriolic attacks on the work, the missionaries and the sending church. 

The following is an example of a letter quoted in the book from an anonymous Silhillian, thought, it seems, to have been the Rector of the local parish church himself:

The gospel has always been preached in Solihull; and if its inhabitants have preferred to hear the word of God from regularly educated clergymen, to the distempered ravings of moonstruck fanatics, it is a proof of their good sense and excellent discrimination. … The ‘zealous, useful, respectable Home Missionary’, who, they say, is appointed is a cobbler; and here, though at the expense of a bad pun, I must compliment the promoters of this notable scheme on their truly judicious selection – for it is but right that the souls of those who wax irreligious should be worked upon by a regular operative … This ‘Case’ is recommended by John Angell James, Timothy East and a long list of ‘illustrious obscure.’ John Angell James is … celebrated for being the most intolerant and bigoted of an intolerant and bigoted sect… He is without talent, without respectability, and with an almost utter destitution of anything like common sense; and has succeeded in making himself the admired head of an immense congregation, whom he rules with a rod of iron, and whom he has intertwined round him with a link of bigotry and fanaticism unparalleled in any annals save those of the Spanish Inquisition. … The term ‘religious privileges’, of which Solihull is said to be ‘destitute,’ is to me unintelligible; but if blasphemy under the disguise of religion; and false calumnious, and unmerited attacks on ‘2580 inhabitants,’ be among them, — that this village and the country at large may ever remain in utter ignorance of such ‘religious privileges,’ is the earnest and hearty prayer of

Independency pp. 321,322

The letter is a reminder to me that there is nothing new under the sun. The work of planting churches and spreading the good news will always attract opposition from various quarters, even, perhaps especially, from established churches. It may even come from other evangelical church leaders who mock principles, methods and lack of “success”.

But history and Scripture tell us to press on. And here in Solihull we will to the best of our limited abilities (after our holidays!). We have a treasure worth holding out to people – the good news of Jesus Christ and his saving work. There is no other hope; there is no other stream to drink from. 

The Distempered Ravings of Moonstruck Fanatics

Closing with a Benediction

Last weekend we (I and the family) were away from home for a family wedding. We had a great time, thanks.

On the Sunday we went to a nearby large church. It is a church I have known about for many years and so to go there was a small ambition fulfilled.

I enjoyed being there, but …

…they messed up the benediction. I had forgotten that in many evangelical churches the usual practice is to get the whole congregation to say together 2 Corinthians 13:14, but with the modification, “The grace … be with us all”.

That’s weird to me. It’s like we have to make do with saying it to each other because we believe either that God has gone away, or that at that point he has nothing to say to us. So a minister cannot say, as God’s mouthpiece, “The grace … be with you all”.

So then we get this other weird thing, that each member of the congregation begins swinging his/her head around trying to catch the eye of someone else in the congregation so that the someone else knows that this a meaningful, personal communication.

When I used to do this (yes, once I thought this was a good thing) my experience was that the “hit” rate of eye-catching was quite low. In fact, I did wonder if catching the eye of another during “The Grace” was not something of an embarrassment which could be avoided or at least diminished by sufficient head swinging. That’s the physicist in me. Then I thought the whole “saying the Grace” could become like a ‘gelly form of the murder-wink game. But I digress…

To learn some more about the place of a benediction and its biblical basis, you need to read Ryan McGraw’s article. Majestic.


Closing with a Benediction

Lying about Hitler

Some time ago (2010 I think) Carl Trueman was visiting south Wales and had agreed to spend a day giving lectures to a number of pastors on church history. Part of the reading Dr Trueman set for us was “Lying about Hitler” by Richard J Evans.

Well, a confession – I have only just got round to reading it, three and a half years later. Never mind.

In the end, it was a great book about the libel suit brought by David Irving, the well known holocaust denier, against Penguin Books and the author Deborah Lipstadt. Lipstadt had had denounced Irving in her book, “Denying the Holocaust”. In the end the trial turned into a detailed examination of Irving’s methods as an historian (hence, Trueman’s motive in getting us to read it). Irving was one who was found to be selective in which evidence he used (the most shocking to me being that he discounted eyewitness testimony of survivors), that he twisted what evidence he had to his view, and that in the end he was in fact a denier of the holocaust.

The author, a professor of history at Cambridge, was enlisted as an expert witness and had the unenviable task of sifting the writings and recorded speeches of Irving with a view to examining his methods. So the book takes us through his findings. Evans examines how Irving dealt with Hitler’s attitude to the Jews pre-war, the question of a “final solution” and the use of extermination camps. While accepting that some Nazis sought to exterminate Jews, Irving, through his analysis of texts, had always given Hitler a “pass”, and sought to show that the actual death toll  was a small fraction of the usual figure of 6 million. On the other hand, Irving had also sought to exaggerate the scale of the Dresden bombings by the Allies at the close of the War and to argue that the scale of killing was somehow comparable with the death toll of the Jews. Evans also looked at Irving’s method here also and found it badly wanting.

Most interesting to me was the final chapter which dealt with the judgement int he Spring of 2000, where Irving lost the case, and the aftermath. The trial had been complex and detailed. As a result the press had had a hard time keeping up. Few journalists did. After the judgment in the round of interviews that followed,  Irving got more publicity. Because the journalists and broadcasters had not kept up, they were unable to call him to account for the findings of the court. As a result, for a time at least, Irving appeared as a victim of unjust libel laws. Even respected historians were coming to his defence.

The book is a fascinating study of how history is done and shouldn’t be done. It serves as a warning to our superficial culture about the need to check sources carefully. And it is an encouragement that there are some assertions about history that can be verified and some that can be denied, and that we are not just at the mercy of those who shout loud and long.

Lying about Hitler