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