Tell me the old, old story

If I look back over the thirteen years of this blog, its various preoccupations might be summed up in the idea of “threats to the Christian faith.” Being a Christian, I might also interpret that as “threats to the human soul” or even as “threats to the well-being of mankind.” Even Richard Dawkins seems to be on board with that last conclusion now!

The theme of The Hump’s first decade was predominantly “science and faith,” but in practice that means the apparent conflict between science and faith occasioned by the dominant ideology of materialistic naturalism. Along the way (through the examination of “evolutionary creation” at BioLogos), it also examined the threat from the ideology of progressive Evangelicalism, which is in practice subservient to whatever ideology prevails in society, from materialistic evolutionism to critical race theory. Engaging with Young Earth “Creation Science” was also in there along the way, but only occasionally as our position was that this was more of a threat to critical thinking than to the faith, or to society. Indeed, the threat of a “Creationist Theocracy” was, as we sometimes pointed out, a bogeyman of paranoid materialists.

After the publication of my two books on that science-faith theme in 2019/20, I had started to examine our propaganda society, particularly as it began to undermine basic realities through gender theory, climate alarmism and so on, when the COVID scare hit. Since that overlapped both the propaganda/conspiracy theme, and my own medical background, as well as impacting Christians’ joy and duty to worship in public, that’s where the focus of The Hump shifted. As COVID merged into other deep-state led adventures like the war in Ukraine, so the blog focused more on geopolitics. This situation, like the science-faith debate, dealt with an external threat to Christians which deceived them into ignorance about the state of the political world, and their own governments. Not to mention science.

Over much of this present year, I’ve been concentrating on another internal threat to faith, in the form of Pentecostal theology and its cultic extremes which, for reasons I have examined, have become mainstream in many Evangelical churches. These quite literally threaten churches worldwide by a concerted attempt to bring them under the authority of self-styled apostles, through the seduction of false signs and wonders, and the show-business razzamatazz of music, lights, smoke and mirrors. It may be that, for now, I’ve said all I need to on that (though I thought that before, and other related issues cropped up!).

In summary, one could say that the Church, and individual Christians, are immersed in dire threats in our day and age. Firstly, foreign ideologies stemming either from secular roots (like critical theory or materialism) or religious roots (notably, and still surprisingly, Islam) are imposed on us directly from the outside by the authority structures of society – politics, law, the media, education, academia – and deceive “even the elect, if possible.”

Most Christians will also know the experience of their own family, sold into such worldviews, opposing their faith either actively, or through passive aggression. For myself, I remember my parents sending me to Sunday School, and encouraging me to join our local Crusader Bible Class, but deciding I was a fanatic when I was actually converted there. In Muslim countries I might have ended up murdered “for honour,” and in Communist countries my own family might have had me arrested. In any case, this emotionally-potent challenge to faith adds bite to the constant messaging of external ideologies from society at large.

Secondly, churches themselves can become dangerous places to be because of the religious heterodoxy to which they seem so prone. I have dealt at length with the Gnostic and Mystic elements of the Charismatic movement. But churches spared that may, like most British Anglicans, find themselves assailed by the syncretism with postmodernist ideas espoused by their denominational leaders. On top of all that, the ancient problem of traditionalism, by which long-outdated syncretisms have become venerated dogma, invites us into its arms as a reaction to contemporary errors. Outdated ideologies like Roman, or British, imperialism or goddess-worship do not become harmless by being commemorated in cathedrals in defiance of socialism.

As if that were not enough, Christians are always individually under the assault of the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. This of course also impacts on the morale of churches as well as individuals when, for example, role models local, national or even international turn out to be serial sexual offenders, psychological abusers or financial scammers.

How then, can a church hope to keep its faith authentic and intact? The first thing to say is that, at a global level, the question is answering itself, since the Church is growing despite the often unprecedented violence of its opposition. Tertullian was right to observe that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Church was founded on the understanding of such opposition from all sides, and within. The New Testament is, of course, full of the question of sin and how to deal with it, in Christ, through the Spirit, in order to become holy like the Father. “The world, the flesh and the devil” have their origins in the first temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

The forces of tradition were represented in the ministry of Jesus and the Jewish church by the Pharisees, Sadducees and elders, and in the early Gentile church by the idolatrous state cults from which they came. Most of the early persecution came from believers’ own religious communities.

Then again, home-grown heresies were planted in the churches from the earliest time. I heard last week that there is only one book of the New Testament that does not address this issue directly. It’s also interesting that modern heresies appear to share the same roots as the ancient examples: false teachers eager for wealth and power, the attraction of more spectacular supernatural experiences and deeper gnosis, were all designed to make the simple gospel teaching of the apostles seem mundane and “entry-level.”

It was pretty soon, of course, that external opposition from the State came to predominate in Christian suffering, as Christians were called on to renounce Christ or worship the Emperor, or lose their livelihoods and their lives. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

So how did the Church survive to fulfill Jesus’s prophecy that it would cover the whole world and, indeed, transform it? The answer is absurdly simple, for the most part: where the biblical word of God was faithfully taught and proclaimed, churches multiplied and prospered, spiritually speaking. I’m old enough now to see this to be true from experience.

Yesterday, a fairly new member of my church suggested that something special is happening there, in terms of numerical growth, solid conviction, and conversions. Even before I mentioned it, he volunteered that it was because the Bible is taught winsomely, but uncompromisingly. I replied with a quote from a Church of Scotland friend on the teaching team of my last church: “When Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, he knew that sheep need grass, not sweeties.”

That previous church, in Essex, is a second case study. An old family Brethren assembly, around the time I joined New Blood had developed the conviction that it must be the word. preached in the power of the Spirit, that should be central. That word progressively refined, or replaced, the traditions, and in my twenty years there the fellowship, in a village, grew from about eighty members to around two hundred and forty, requiring no less than three rebuilds of the home-built “mission.” Since I left, it has planted a growing daughter-church in the nearby town, and has to have two services on Sunday morning, despite the factory-scale final rebuild.

My first church, as an infant, was our local Anglican one, which was Evangelical in that quiet 1950s way. The vicar during my Sunday School years went on to become the warden of the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. By the time I went to University it was growing into the town’s Anglican preaching centre (I remember going to hear Alec Motyer preach there during one vacation), and it has gone from strength to strength in the intervening half-century.

Contrast that with the United Reformed Church of my later teenage. This was far more liberal (my friend and I joked about the “Vietnam-Biafra Syndrome”), and we joined mainly because it had an active youth club, that is to say a higher number of girls! I had some good times there, but there was never an emphasis on good Bible teaching either in services or in other meetings (apart from the Bible Study group I started as an act of youthful rebellion, which produced at least three church leaders). I now hear that the church’s fortunes have declined to the point that it has combined with the equally liberal Methodist Church. They both had excellent modern buildings – perhaps one of them will now make a very nice mosque.

Much the same is true of the first church I attended in Cambridge. Then, the minister rejoiced that the URC denomination did not baulk at his unwillingness to accept traditional doctrine. Now, it has had to combine with another denomination’s failing congregation, and advertises itself as a safe space for those liking rainbows. Contrast that with the Round Church, a thriving Bible-centred church after Mark Ruston took over in 1955, where I ended up, and which outgrew its historic building in 1994 and moved to the larger St Andrew the Great, where it thrives to this day despite the wokification of Cambridge University and the denomination.

In London we attended St Paul’s Onslow Square, also a Bible Church which grew to take over Holy Trinity Brompton. That is a more mixed story as the Alpha Course it started is also a mixed bag of Bible truth and Charismatic doctrine. In any case, for one or both of those reasons it has become a kind of franchise, like a Christian KFC or MacDonalds with several daughter congregations.

My first church when we moved to Essex was a large and rather overly-traditional Baptist Church. I had issues with it whilst we were there, but for all that it was, and is, an avowedly “Bible-believing church.” That this continued was not surprising since, after we went elsewhere, the pastorship was taken over by noted Bible scholar Paul Beasley-Murray. Once more, the church a few decades on appears to be lively and thriving, from its website.

The conclusion: if you’re in any kind of influential position in a church, then follow Paul’s advice to Timothy:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.


All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

And if you are not at a church that takes such words seriously, then go and find one. Simple, really.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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2 Responses to Tell me the old, old story

  1. Ben says:

    Solzhenitsyn said that pride grows on a human heart like lard on a pig.

    Same for heresy in our minds, I think.

    You can’t develop a church ‘system’ which is inherently immune to heresy, and in any case the longevity of the church is not our problem, but Jesus’s. Being faithful in the small (or simple, as you say) things is at about our level, I believe.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      You speak truth! Any hierarchy can become corrupt, any confessional statement can be creatively re-interpreted, and any disciplinary system can be bucked, by schism if necessary. But the word of God does not change.

      When we were experiencing pretty meteoric growth in my previous church, and I was an elder, if we were ever tempted to say, “We are doing things right,” I would remind us that we were only a church, and that but for the grace of God our lampstand could be removed as quickly as that of any church in Revelation. It’s better to get on with the job and see what God does than to puff oneself up with ambitious visions and targets.

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