Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

A woman Bishop of London? God’s not bothered. 22 December

December 22, 2017

I remember the Big Deal that the ordination of women was in the 1980s. Battle-lines, campaigning groups, bad disagreement. Predictions of disaster brought about by ‘fundamental change’ to Bible teaching and Church tradition.

An Evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, took a bold stance by disagreeing strongly with the Conservative Evangelicals. Carey called the Church to make the general principle of ‘in Christ there is no male nor female’ more important than particular instructions to particular churches on women in church. Jesus had gone as far as he could in welcoming women as forefront disciples, not least in giving women the responsibility of witnessing to his resurrection. The focus had to be first and foremost on Jesus rather than equally on Moses, Paul and Jesus: ‘Listen to him!’

George Carey, and others, also made sure that no-one would be coerced contrary to conscience. The Church would have two, apparently conflicting, practices to match the conflicting theologies. Some churches would have women in leadership, some would not. Room was made for both. The same decision was made for marriage after divorce, some clergy and parishes taking the weddings of divorcees, some not. Without this, Prince Harry’s marriage to a divorcee would have been tricky, at least.

The Church of England took the step that has now led to Sarah Mullally the next Bishop of London, a Bishop in a direct line of succession from the first Apostles. Paul wrote that an Apostle had to be a witness of the resurrection. It took the Church a long time to recognise the implications of the gender of the very first witnesses of the resurrection. The Holy Spirit leads into truths which, sometimes for a very long time, Christians cannot bear.

Predictions of disaster were not fulfilled. (The gut human belief: change = disaster is another sign of the fall and the fear that we all inherit.) The Church of England has not fared notably worse with women leading parishes and dioceses. Yes, there has been continuing decline, as would be expected in the most Christendom Church as we leave Christendom, but not because of women in leadership. Churches led by women vicars grow, generally, much the same as those led by men vicars. (I don’t think anyone has dared to do these statistics; this is my view, mostly from across the West and East Midlands.)

What about churches who refuse to have women in leadership? My experience is that these churches too grow with the same variety as Anglican churches generally. I think of one Midlands church officially unaccepting of women priests and bishops, running thriving Alpha courses with remarkable Holy Spirit Days and healthy congregations. Predictions of disaster here too have not been fulfilled.

The Gamaliel Principle is that we should allow people to go ahead as they deem best and see if God blesses their ministry (Acts 5:33-39.) The experience of the last 30 years is that God, the Holy Spirit, seems happy to bless ministry whether by those pro or anti women in church leadership. He’s not bothered. Women in leadership is not a Primary Issue for Him. If it were, the results would be obvious by now. He loves all who faithfully follow Jesus within their own limited understandings.

Can we learn from this for our current debate about Gay Marriage? Might this be something into which the Holy Spirit is leading the Church, though it could not have been borne before? Might the principle of loving faithfulness, to one person, for life, coming out of the heart, be more important than particular mention of particular physical practices? What happens when we do not listen to Moses, Paul and Jesus equally, but listen to Jesus first and foremost?

(Welcoming Gay Marriage is not welcoming all relationships of all LGBT people. The life-long commitment to one person specifically excludes anyone wanting to be a practising bisexual.)

How would the Gamaliel Principle be applied today? Could the Church of England allow, even encourage, two different, apparently conflicting practices, to match the conflicting theologies? Then we could see how the Holy Spirit blesses the different ministries.

Some people say that Gay Marriage is so definitely a Primary Biblical or Church Tradition issue that there can be no fellowship with those who adopt a new understanding and practice. How do they know? How do we know? 30 years ago people were saying the same about women in leadership. Maybe God will be proved to be not so bothered about gay marriage either.

Roger Harper


Proof of Hades? The Experience of Eben Alexander: 8 July

July 8, 2015

‘Darkness, but a visible darkness – like being submerged in mud yet also being able to see through it… Consciousness, but consciousness without memory or identity – like a dream where you know what’s going on around you, but have no real idea of who, or what, you are… My consciousness wasn’t foggy or distorted when I was there. It was just … limited.’ (p29f)

This was the first part of Eben Alexander’s Near-Death Experience in November 2008 as related in his book Proof of Heaven (Simon and Schuster 2012). His Experience is significant in that his brain definitely had no functioning at all, nor any possibility of functioning. As a neuro-surgeon, he concludes that his brain could not possibly have been giving him the Experience in some kind of hallucination. The only explanation he can see is that his soul was truly experiencing life beyond this life.

Eben calls the place where he first found himself ‘Underworld’ or ‘The Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View.’ ‘… like being a mole or earthworm, buried deep in the ground yet somehow able to see the tangled matrices of roots…’ (p30)

The Old Testament’s answer to the question ‘Where do people go when they die?’ was ‘To Sheol – a place of darkness and semi-consciousness, a gloomy half life.’ ‘…for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.’ Ecclesiastes 9:10 ‘… the underworld was not a particularly important concept for the Israelite writers… Descriptive details are very sparse, but suggest a somnolent, gloomy existence without meaningful activity or social distinction…’ (Philip S Johnston Shades of Sheol – Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament, Apollos IVP 2002, p85) Sheol was synonymous with ‘The Pit’ or ‘The Grave;’ the dead were understood to be half-living down under the earth – very much like a mole or earthworm.

Jesus talked of Sheol with its Old Testament understanding. When the New Testament was written, in Greek rather than Hebrew, the writers used the Greek name Hades as the translation of Sheol. (This is clearest in Acts 2 where Peter quotes Psalm 16.) Hades in the New Testament is the same place as Sheol in the Old Testament.

Jesus spoke of Sheol as a place to which people are brought down, a place of darkness and also a place of affliction. The deeply unpleasant nature of (semi-) existence in Hades / Sheol was one of Jesus’ additions to our understanding of it. Jesus also spoke of ‘the outer darkness where there is weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth’ implying that there may be different sections of Hades / Sheol with different degrees of darkness and affliction.

For Eben Alexander the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View was deeply unpleasant. He was immersed in sound, ‘a deep, rhythmic pounding, distant yet strong … like the sound of metal against metal, as if a giant subterranean blacksmith is pounding an anvil somewhere off in the distance: pounding it so hard that the sound vibrates through the earth, or the mud, or wherever it is that you are.’ (p29) ‘Grotesque animal faces bubbled out of the muck, groaned or screeched, and then were gone again. I heard an occasional dull roar. Sometimes these roars changed to dim, rhythmic chants, chants that were both terrifying and weirdly familiar – as if at some point I’d known and uttered them all myself.’ (p31)

‘How long did I reside in this world? I have no idea… When I was there, I felt like I (whatever “I” was) had always been there and would always continue to be.’ (p29f) Eben Alexander uses the word ‘aeons’ or ‘aeons and aeons’ (in a talk recorded for Youtube) to describe how long he was in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View.

Revelation 14:9-11 describes people in Sheol / Hades in affliction ‘to ages of ages’ (to translate the Greek literally) or ‘to aeons of aeons.’

Although Eben felt like he would always be in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View, he was rescued from it. First came ‘a feeling like I wasn’t really part of this subterranean world at all, but trapped in it.’ (p31) This made the experience worse, the rhythmic pounding more brutal, the faces more ugly and threatening, now with reptilian bodies he could feel rubbing against him. He could now smell a stench of death. ‘Whoever or whatever I was, I did not belong here. I needed to get out. But where would I go?’ (p32)

‘Even as I asked that question, something new emerged from the darkness above…’ (p32) ‘Turning slowly it radiated fine filaments of white-gold light, and as it did so the darkness around me began to splinter and break apart. Then I heard a new sound: a living sound, like the richest, most complex, most beautiful piece of music you’ve ever heard… The light got closer and closer, spinning around and around… Then, at the very center of the light something else appeared… An opening. I was no longer looking at the slowly spinning light at all, but through it. The moment I understood this, I began to move up…’ (p38)

Eben was lifted up out of the darkness, with its brutal noise, into a place of light, colour, and beautiful, permeating, music. He calls this place ‘The Gateway.’ It sounds like Paradise as talked of by Jesus and Christians. The beautiful music, the same as made by the spinning light, came from innumerable immense beings which he calls the origin of the human understanding of angels. The spinning light which rescued him from the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View was, in our terms, an angel.

Jesus proclaimed to John in Revelation 1:18 that He has the keys of death and Hades. Nearly everyone understands these words to mean that Jesus has the authority and power of entry and exit to and from Hades. Jesus also has angels working for Him. When Jesus rescued Peter from prison in Jerusalem, He sent angels. Peter saw angels taking him out of prison, not Jesus, but he understood they were acting on behalf of Jesus, in answer to the fervent prayer being made for him. (Acts 12) Jesus can bring people out of Hades Himself; Jesus can also use angels to bring people out of Hades, as He did with Eben Alexander.

Eben describes fervent prayer for him. Firstly, his own prayer. Just before he became completely unresponsive ‘out of nowhere, I shouted three words. They were crystal clear and heard by all the doctors and nurses present… “God, help me!” ‘(p24) Secondly, the prayer of many Christians, family and friends, including his neighbour, Michael Sullivan, an Episcopal priest. They were asking Jesus to help Eben and Jesus did.

Later Eben returned to the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View and, through remembering the angel and the music, was able again to be lifted out. Then he returned to the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View without being able to be lifted out. This time, however, he was also aware of ‘countless beings … surrounding me, kneeling in arcs that spread into the distance.’ They were murmuring, a quiet version of the same glorious permeating sound of the angels in The Gateway / Paradise. ‘Looking back on it now, I realize what these half-seen, half-sensed hierarchies of beings, stretching out into the dark above and below, were doing. They were praying for me.’ (p103)

Revelation 14:9-11 not only describes people in affliction in Hades for ages and ages, but also ‘the holy angels’ present with the people in Hades.

Together with the angels praying in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View Eben saw faces. ‘Two of the faces I remembered later were those of Michael Sullivan and his wife, Page. I recall seeing them in profile only, but I clearly identified them after my return when language came back. Michael had physically been in the ICU room leading prayers numerous times, but Page was never physically there (although she had said prayers for me too.)’ (p103) Six other faces, saying things, also appeared, faces of people he later identified as his wife, her sister, friends and his son.

In Matthew 16:18 talks about building His Church, ‘and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’ Gates serve to restrict or prevent entry and exit to a place. Jesus is saying here that nothing will restrict or prevent His Church from entering and leaving Hades. As the angels join with Jesus in His mission to seek and to save the lost in Hades, so His people, those called out to belong to Him and His Father, also join with Jesus in that same mission. The Church’s role begins in this life and continues in the next. Even now, Christians, through prayer, can ‘enter’ Hades. The prayer of Christians is heard in Hades.

This ministry to the dead, prayer for the dead, is, doctrinally, most controversial. It has been much abused over the years and was a trigger for the Reformation. Yet, in the simple way Eben describes, we see confirmation of the simple extrapolation of the words of Jesus. The gates of Hades will not, do not, prevail against the Church. Hades cannot keep the Church out. Hades cannot keep the prayers of the Church out.

It is not only this aspect of the nature of Hades / Sheol that seems to be confirmed by Eben Alexander’s Experience, but every aspect. Eben knew nothing at all of the understanding of Hades / Sheol. (Very few people know of Hades / Sheol because people have instead been wrongly taught or have heard about ‘Hell.’ See The Lie of Hell for an explanation, Eben simply describes what he saw and felt. Even now he seems puzzled by what this Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View is. He coins his own name maybe because he is aware of no other name. His focus in the book and elsewhere is on other aspects of and conclusions from his Experience. He may well be surprised to learn that his Experience ties in so closely with the teaching of Jesus and the Bible about Hades / Sheol. He may also be pleased that the Bible shows clearly that Hades will one day be emptied and disposed of, together with all that is evil, all that works against life and the author of life.

Eben Alexander’s Experience could not possibly have been an experience in his human brain. He sees it as proof of heaven. It also looks remarkably like proof of Hades / Sheol.

Roger Harper



Blessing Gay Marriage in the Church of England? The Pilling Report: 10 February

February 10, 2014

In November last year an official, but not authoritative, Church of England Report recommended allowing ‘celebrations’ of faithful same sex relationships. The Report was from the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, chaired, not by a Bishop, but by Sir Joseph Pilling. The Report is known as The Pilling Report.

We have here a typical Anglican, English, fudge. A Report set up by Bishops but distant enough from Bishops for them to evade responsibility. A Report which satisfies the need to show that due attention has been paid by our episcopal leaders, after which nothing further need be done for a while. A Report which is a finger up to the wind about blessing gay marriage. If there is a strong current in that direction, the Bishops can ride it. If not, no face lost.

The Report conveys this message:
We have listened carefully to a wide variety of people and not come to a clear common mind about the permissibility of homosexual sexual practice for English Anglicans. (One of us considers there is a clear Biblical mind and disagrees with our not coming to a common mind.)

We recommend that
The whole Church of England also engages in a process of careful listening to a wide variety of people and views on homosexuality
In the meantime, clergy and parishes who are so minded be given permission to conduct semi-formal blessings for same sex couples. There is to be no authorised rite nor push towards such blessings, but, equally, there is to be no outlawing of such blessings.’
(The Report uses ‘celebrations’ instead of ‘blessings’ but, as many people have noted, ‘blessings’ is the usual terminology. cf para 481)

Why more listening to people and views when listening has not led to agreement?

The Report states: ‘The problem we are unable, collectively, to solve is between the belief that God’s purposes revealed in Scripture are eternal, unchanging and consistent, and the plain fact that faithful, prayerful, Christians who aspire for their lives to be governed by Scripture, do not agree about the implications of the scriptural texts for same sex relationships.’ (para 58)

The problem has remained despite much listening. The Report does not explain what is to be gained by more listening by the Church as a whole, other than a deeper sense of fellowship across disagreement. This deeper fellowship is, to some extent, helpful but the experience of the Group is that it does not ‘solve the problem’ of disagreement.

What might solve the problem of disagreement?

Two complementary approaches:

A deliberate process of listening to Jesus, focusing on both His recorded teaching and practice, and on His present voice brought to His Church by the Holy Spirit. This fresh approach to authority might lead to a fresh sense of agreement.

As part of this process, a deliberate focus on whether homosexuality is a matter about which we can agree to disagree. If there is no fresh sense of agreement about the issue, we might have a fresh appreciation of how primary the issue is for Jesus and His Church.

For a detailed explanation see:

May the listening process recommended by the Report be more than a careful listening to differing views among us. May it be also and primarily a careful, humble, listening to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit, both about ‘the problem’ and about what we are do when we disagree about ‘the problem.’

Roger Harper

Revival? We don’t know! 14 June

June 14, 2013

‘There is one prayer that God never answers with a ‘yes’ – ‘same again please.’ C S Lewis wrote this, or something very like. God is too creative to repeat Himself. He loves to do far more than we can ask or imagine, as Paul wrote.

Christianity magazine (July 2013, out this week) asks of The Cwmbran Outpouring ‘But is it a revival?’ Some moves of the Holy Spirit in the past have been given the term ‘revival.’ Some people have looked at what the Holy Spirit did then and created a pattern of what they consider revival. What happens today is then checked against this pattern, this definition, so that a judgement can be made.

The danger of this thinking is that it is that of Nicodemus the Pharisee in John 3. Nicodemus starts by saying ‘We know… Because of our religious and historical knowledge we can tell who is a teacher sent by God and who isn’t. Good news, Jesus, you make the grade. We, with our superior special, knowledge are ready to give you our approval. We know you are a teacher sent by God…’ Nicodemus is about to carry on when Jesus interrupts him.

Jesus is not impressed. He does not welcome this, probably conditional, seal of approval. He challenges and dismantles Nicodemus’ whole thinking. ‘Very truly, I tell you, no-one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.’ ‘You think you know things. Here’s the truth, greater than religious knowledge. To see and recognise what God is truly doing, you have to start from scratch. Go back to being a baby who knows nothing at all. Start all over again. Give up your religious knowledge. Then you can see, then you can know.’

Starting with ‘We know what revival is,’ is the wrong place to start. Far better to start with a child’s view, even a baby’s view. ‘What’s this then? Does it taste good? Can I have some? Yum yum. Whoopee!’

Maybe this is why the Welsh Outpouring is primarily for Welsh addicts. Victory Church was started by an ex-addict and, even in only 3 years, has a considerable ministry to addicts. They know they need to start life all over again and need the Holy Spirit to make this happen.

The Outpouring in Cwmbran may or may not be like other recognised Outpourings. It may or may not be like other recognised Revivals. It really does not matter. What matters is what we see God doing, as Jesus said to those John the Baptist sent when John wasn’t sure just how Jesus fitted into his understanding. Healing of body and heart, new commitment to Jesus, new enthusiasm for Jesus. That’s what there is to see. Let’s welcome it, enjoy it and stop trying to find a category for it.

Doug commented on my first post on Cwmbran:
Great post! Although there is great “enjoyment” in being in the presence of God, the ultimate aim has to be to receive the Spirit as per book of Acts and receive boldness to preach renewal in the church and to witness to those outside of the church. The hopes for a wider revival are not for enjoyment, but for the saving of a great many souls in our nation. At least that is my strong hope and prayer. Have mercy on us and our fellow men Lord!

Yes and no. The ultimate aim has to be to receive the Spirit as per Jesus. We are Christians, not Actsians. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ is a command of Jesus in John 20. ‘Don’t let the Holy Spirit pass you by. Welcome Him in. Take Him in.’ (It’s the same word translated as ‘take’ in Jesus’ words in the last supper about taking in, receiving, bread remembering Him.)

Jesus connects this receiving with power and authority to forgive, an awesome power and authority for ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Now, because Jesus died and rose again, God the Holy Spirit, living in us, cooperating with us, can and does forgive sins, or retain sins. Mind-blowing! Jesus also connects receiving the Holy Spirit with sending us as the Father sent Him. Our ultimate pattern is not the early Church of Acts but Jesus Himself.

We receive the Holy Spirit, in Cwmbran or anywhere, simply to enable us to love God fully and love our neighbour as ourselves. Part of this love will be witnessing to others. But if we think of witnessing before loving we are putting the cart before the horse. John Arnott of Toronto says ‘The Great Commands before the Great Commission.’

We receive the Holy Spirit to make us children of God. The Holy Spirit does not want to make us servants of God, but children. The Father does not make us His children so that we then act wholly as messenger evangelistic servants. He makes us His children because He loves us and wants us to love Him, because He enjoys us and wants us to enjoy Him and enjoy the life He gives. Enjoyment is primary. It includes the great great joy of seeing sinners repent. But if our witnessing is not enjoyable, not fun, the cart has again crept in front of the horse.

Roger Harper

Visiting the Welsh Outpouring: 2 June

June 2, 2013

The Welsh Outpouring at Victory Church, Cwmbran, continues. Five of us from our family went last Wednesday to catch it.

Victory Church is in a converted industrial unit, round the corner from a major shopping park in Cwmbran, easy to find. We joined a large queue before being ushered into the ‘dark shoe box’, as the Minister, Richard Taylor, called it. People were standing packed at the back, not a seat in sight. A leading local man led us to the front where there were free seats. Not so different from normal church…

The format was normal Pentecostal: worship songs, followed by talk, followed by more songs and prayer ministry at the front by the local team. Some of the initial songs were from 10 or so years ago, not all bang up to date. Later we sang some old hymns. The familiarity and gusto of all the singing indicated that most of the people present were long-standing Christians. We sang ‘Here is love, vast as the ocean…’ the ‘signature hymn’ of the 1904 Welsh Revival. Richard Taylor said that the Cwmbran Outpouring is the first significant such move of the Holy Spirit in Wales since 1904.

People had come far – from Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Tennessee and Singapore. We heard that Victory Church has had a million people viewing their Facebook page since the Outpouring began. Hundreds of people have decided to welcome and follow Jesus in their lives. Hundreds have reported healing. We were told of an 18 year old girl who had been self-harming, including on her legs, and who now no longer needs to cut herself. She came again to Victory Church in shorts, showing her former scars: ‘trophies of grace’ – a phrase she had heard there. A man with curvature of the spine came. He wasn’t healed, but he started praying in tongues. The Holy Spirit prompted him to go back to be reconciled with the leaders of a church which he had left in bad grace. He returned to Victory Church and, on this second visit, his back was straightened.

My 88 year old mother-in-law was with us, hoping to see at last with her own eyes a dramatic healing, like someone leaping out of a wheelchair. We didn’t see that. We did see her falling onto the floor while someone prayed for her. This is usual for her. Many such times have made her healthier and happier than when she was 68. I went forward for prayer for Holy Spirit Outpouring on me and through me. I didn’t fall over, as is usual for me. Standing, I did feel gently filled up, as though with warm air, similar to other times of prayer for the Holy Spirit, but distinctive. No obvious difference since. Maybe when I pray with others..?

From what I could see, there were fewer physical signs of the Holy Spirit moving, fewer shakings and fallings over, in the congregation, as opposed to during prayer ministry, than I have seen in a couple of other places.

Richard Taylor preached on the cross with genuine passion. He called for people to make first time commitments in the usual way: first putting their hand up, then coming to the front for a prayer of dedication and to be given follow up material. Nothing unusual: focus on Jesus and him crucified, rather than on the Holy Spirit.

It seems that some critics have said the Outpouring is all money-making. Richard Taylor joked that he could make a fortune out of selling anointed prayer cloths, instead of just giving them away. There was no offering, nor a mini-sermon on giving, as is usual in many churches, only a retiring collection. The screen at the front was no hi-tech super-reflective surface, but a white bed sheet tacked onto a wooden board.

Richard Taylor said repeatedly that Victory Church is just a local church. They are doing what they have done before, but with more sense of the Holy Spirit flowing.  He hinted that they have moved on from some of their previous practice – no longer giving a benediction. ‘When the Outpouring came, Benedict left the building.’ Mostly, though, they are the same but more so.

Normal local church with more sense of the Holy Spirit welcome, present and moving. That possibility, to me, is tremendous, exciting, inspiring hope. Not an unusual time called ‘Revival’ which comes and then goes leaving powerful memories and a disappointed hangover. Ordinary local churches being themselves in their various traditions, but with more enthusiasm, more sense of the Holy Spirit, more light, more fire, more healing, more commitment to Jesus. ‘Don’t join our church,’ said Richard Taylor, ‘there are plenty of other good churches.’ A few things may have to leave the building; not all that we do is what the Holy Spirit wants. Mostly, though, we will remain the same, but more so. May this Outpouring flow to many more local churches in Wales and beyond.