infellowshipnow – news and views

infellowshipnow is the online companion to infellowship a quarterly print magazine published by the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches (UK).  The magazine itself is the successor to Congregational Concern, also published quarterly by EFCC under the same name for 46 years (January 1969 to Summer 2014).  Much of the content of infellowship will be recognisable to established readers of Congregational Concern, although the balance of articles and the name and design have been changed to reflect the mission of independent evangelical churches with a congregational heritage in the 21st century.

Likewise, infellowshipnow gives the opportunity to introduce additional content on a rolling basis, which may be:

  • news items of events between issues of the the print magazine
  • longer versions of, or addenda to articles published in print
  • articles on topics for which space cannot be found
  • articles of special rather than general interest
  • better and more timely reporting of gospel work in the churches
  • better reporting of God’s work internationally
  • articles giving a Christian perspective on topical events in the UK and worldwide

After a slow start, due to pressures on the Editor’s time,  infellowshipnow articles are beginning to be added more often.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Heart for Brazil

by Diego de Araujo Alves [1]

A shorter version of this article appears in the current issue of EFCC’s infellowship magazine (Issue 216, Summer 2015).
This is the full article submitted by Diego.

Brazil Today

I have been trying my best to avoid the cliché that the church in Brazil is ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’. It is not quite like that. To be honest, defining the state of the Evangelical Church in Brazil today is arguably as complex as describing anything else in such a diverse and multifaceted country. In what follows I am setting out to present a general overview of the progress of the Gospel in Brazil in three stages. First, the present unsettled political and social state of affairs across the country; second, a description of Brazilian Evangelicalism and, lastly, its more urgent needs. My prayer is that this reflection will challenge all of us to think about how we could best contribute to a healthier expansion of the Gospel in a country of continental dimensions.

Brazil is today the world’s seventh largest economy, having overtaken the UK in 2011. The nation was then coming to the end of a thriving decade which saw the economy grow at a fast pace. From 2000 to 2010 the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) maintained a steady and impressive average of 3.7% per annum growth, despite two global economic crises that shook Europe and the US. South America’s biggest nation was then considered one of the world’s most promising emergent markets (one of the so-called ‘BRICS’ alongside Russia, India, China and South Africa, which were set fair to reshape the world economy). Well, things now are not going too well for Brazil. The visible and relevant role of Brazil on the international stage, as well her internal growth and stability, have virtually disappeared under the current president Dilma Rouseff’s government.

Although the political fabric is too complicated to try to get to grips with it here, it might be safe to say that political scandals, the economic slowdown and domestic crises caused by widely perceived administrative ineptitude of the government, have led to social turmoil that took hundreds of thousands of protesters to the streets in every one of the 27 states of the country on 15th March 2015, less than three months into the new Government term. Over 1 million took part in São Paulo alone. So instability and uncertainty may well summarise the feelings of millions of Brazilians.

What does all of this have to do with us, the Church? Surely a great deal, especially on a practical level. As a result of the present political and economic crises the nation is facing higher inflation and a gradual weakening of purchasing power. As a result, families and, consequently, local churches suddenly find themselves running on reduced budgets. This in turn affects a great number of missionaries and pastors worldwide who depend on local churches for their support. In fact, there are already accounts of transcultural missionaries who are facing difficulties in meeting their monthly bills. Furthermore, besides affecting the support of those already on the field, this scenario also presents a challenge to further mission efforts. It goes without saying that we are more than ever certain both of God’s providential supply, and of the Biblical truth that the progress of His Kingdom can never be ultimately hindered. However, we also know that His provision comes by means of individuals and institutions. The apostle Paul urges Timothy that ‘supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way’ (1 Tim. 2.1-2, ESV). It is possible that in requesting these prayers, Paul also had in mind that sort of political and social calm that not uncommonly paves the way for a bold and rapid missionary advance, which Paul himself knew first-hand, having benefitted from the Pax Romana during his missionary work. The Church is, therefore, urged to intercede for this world for the sake of the world to come.

The Evangelical Church in Brazil

Having looked briefly at the general situation in Brazil we move on to outline, in broad strokes, the shape of the evangelical Church.

Protestantism in Brazil is still very young, only about 160 years old. Although there were some Protestants in Brazil before him, the Gospel was first preached in the local vernacular (Portuguese) by the Scottish missionary Robert Reid Kalley in mid-19th century. ‘The Wolf from Scotland’, as he was known, and his wife Sarah Poulton Kalley disembarked in Rio de Janeiro, the capital of Imperial Brazil, on 19th May 1855. They remained in the country for ‘twenty-one years, and in staying they were to accomplish what others in the past had failed to do, that is, to plant the cross of the living Christ in the “land of the Christless [sic.] cross” – and that on a sure and lasting foundation.’[2]

Although it was not his intention to create a new evangelical denomination in Brazil, 13 churches, direct fruit of Kalley’s work, decided to join forces, and thus they created the Union of the Independent Evangelical Churches in 1913, a union marked by the congregational system of church government. It was the beginning of what became the Union of the Evangelical Congregational Churches of Brazil (UIECB, acronym in Portuguese). Although the oldest evangelical denomination in the country, due largely to a series of divisions over its history it is not as expressive today as it could be. UIECB has currently over 400 churches and about 630 ordained ministers in all the 27 states of Brazil. It has missionaries and pastors working in countries such as Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Uruguay, Peru, Argentina, and others. The Union also runs two Seminaries, one in the Northeast, Recife (STCNE, acronym in Portuguese), and the other in Rio de Janeiro (STCRJ, acronym in Portuguese), in the Southeast of Brazil.[3]

Before describing the religious landscape of this huge country in which we minister, a brief account of the history of the country will help us understand where the Evangelical Church in Brazil is at right now and how it got there.

A Brief History of Brazil from Colonisation

Pedro Álvares Cabral is believed in mainstream history to be the first European to set foot on Brazilian soil at the opening of the 16th century, arriving under the sponsorship of the Portuguese Crown. To say that Brazil was only then ‘discovered’ is, to say the least, relative, for there had been millions of native inhabitants there from times before recorded history. Cabral’s ‘crusade’ determined Brazil’s destiny as a colony of Portugal for the next three centuries. After a short war between Brazil and Portugal, known as the War of the Independence of Brazil, the latter declared its independence on 7th September 1822, and Dom Pedro I (the first) became the first emperor of the new Empire of Brazil. However, the land had been a Portuguese colony long enough to become permanently marked by its religion, amongst other things.

The still strong Medieval Catholicism of Portugal was systematically forced on the Indians as soon as the Portuguese fleet landed. Catholic monks travelled with the soldiers, and, as a first act on landing, they enacted what appeared to the Indians to be an utterly strange ceremony that culminated with a wooden cross being erected on the shore and everyone kneeling before it. As history in general testifies, it is no surprise that the Christianization of those pagans would invariably involve a great deal of violence.  As W. B. Forsyth correctly summarises it:

‘The Indians did not prove to be as malleable as the friars thought; they would become “Christians”, but under duress. Inevitably they would graft on to the Roman Catholic dogmas and practises their on paganism. This also the African slaves were to copy, only to a much greater extent. […] They were forced to kiss the cross, but at [sic.] heart they remained pagan. Not only were they baptized and given Christian names, but inevitably their gods were also “baptized” and reincarnated as saints. In the “Land of the Holy Cross” the cross was not only Christless [sic.] but ingrained with the ignorance, superstition and idolatry of paganism’.[4]

Syncretism is arguably still the strongest tendency in Brazilian religious experience, and deeply rooted in the national soul. This fusion of Catholicism, native Indian paganism and African mysticism has proven to be so ingrained in Brazil’s religious ethos that not even Evangelicals seem able to escape its grip. Rev. Dr Augustus Nicodemus, one of the Brazilian’s finest Reformed theologians, touches on the issue in a short article entitled The Catholic spirit of evangelicals in Brazil (free translation)[5], in which he contends that Brazilian evangelicals still struggle to get rid of a Catholic mindset in their understanding and practice of religion. This is not to say that this is their only problem, but it is certainly an underlying constant. So it is against this backdrop that the following evaluation of the current situation of Evangelicalism in Brazil must be understood.

You may have read that we have been experiencing a great spiritual revival since the late 90’s and early 2000’s. This view is held predominantly by local charismatic groups and by many international observers. At the other end of the spectrum, some would argue convincingly for nothing less than an Evangelical collapse in Brazil.

Those who defend the eruption of a spiritual revival in Brazil argue on the basis of the explosive growth of the evangelical church over the last four decades or so. The numbers are impressive. According to the latest official census (2010)[6], evangelicals represented almost one-quarter of Brazil’s population (22.2%) in 2010, a figure which, at the time, meant 42.3 million Brazilian evangelicals. This is remarkable especially when one considers that just 40 years ago that figure was only 2.5%. Just in the decade 2000-2010, the number of evangelicals increased by 16 million. Although the country still has a Catholic majority, the number of practising Catholics continues to plummet, something particularly noticeable over the last two decades. To mention only the last decade, they decreased from 73.3% in 2000 to 64.6% in 2010. Although no official census has been conducted since 2010, the figures projected a steady rise in the number of evangelicals peaking at 25% by 2014 (over 51 million evangelicals) and an equally stable drop in the number of Catholics from 64.6% in 2010 to about 54% by 2014 – a dramatic decrease of 20 points in 20 years. The projections seem to have been quite accurate.

No one would seriously question the positive aspects of such phenomenal growth in such a large country, historically dominated by Catholicism. The number of Bibles and good theological resources for sale is pretty expressive, and there is no sign of a slow-down. Many new doors for the proclamation of the Gospel have been opened in both public and private spaces, a fact which reminds us of Paul’s exhortation to ‘walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.’ (Col. 4.5, ESV – The NIV translates: ‘make the most of every opportunity.’).

Having said that, however, it is necessary to point out that numerical growth is not in itself a sign of spiritual awakening, and those who claim that there is a revival going on in Brazil need to take into account the relevant biblical and historical testimonies.

A true spiritual awakening is characterized by repentance for sin, thirst for holiness, faithful exposition of the Scriptures and God-centred worship, and results in a profound social transformation that replaces sinful paradigms by Biblical ones. Unfortunately, those marks are not what stand out in the evangelical Church in Brazil.  On the contrary, it is characterized by a syncretic, man-centred Gospel which attracts people by offering material prosperity, physical healing, mystical experiences (à la Toronto Blessing and worse – something which I know it is hard to believe), and a ‘no-strings-attached’ relationship between the believer and the local church. A great deal of its growth, therefore, is due to the natural appeal of this pragmatic sort of Gospel (cf. Gal. 1.6-7) that goes for what works, for what the great masses want to hear.

The growth has been in breadth, not in depth – I almost said ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’!. The impact and relevance of Protestantism in Brazil do not keep up with its numerical increase. In what follows I will attempt to describe what Brazilian evangelicalism looks like in five distinct areas.

  1. Theology

In his official report of the April 1500 ‘discovery’ of Brazil, Pero Vaz de Caminha, the royal secretary who accompanied Cabral’s fleet, expressed his optimism about the new land saying, ‘whatever you plant there will grow’ (free translation). That is so very true when it comes to all sorts of theologies. Over the decades divergent theologies have multiplied and thrived without meeting much resistance, a fact which makes for a very confused scenario. The apparently inevitable theological liberalism has made inroads into seminaries and churches over the last quarter of last century, so undermining the status of the Scriptures, and thus preparing the way for theologies such as Liberation Theology in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Prosperity Theology, Open Theism, the New Perspective on Paul, Emerging Church and so forth. The picture is of a gigantic patchwork. This theological inconsistency has both crippled the Church, making it vulnerable to ‘every wind of doctrine’ (Eph. 4.14), and demeaned the importance of doctrine while exaggerating the importance of personal experience.

  1. Ecclesiology

In recent times, much of the evangelical church in Brazil has adopted a non-exclusivity principle. Due largely to its theological vulnerability, it has given up fundamental tenets of the Christian faith to embrace relativism and pluralism in order to welcome a plurality of ecclesiologies. In its search for broadening communication and communion with different sectors of Christendom and of society in general, the Evangelical Church has watered down the Gospel and blurred its clear boundaries.

  1. Leadership

The last few generations of evangelical leaders have been marked by a certain lack of moral and spiritual authority. This phenomenon is closely associated with the rise of Neo-Pentecostalism and popularity of Prosperity Theology. Many charlatans – so-called pastors and self-proclaimed bishops and apostles –  have spread their false Gospel and dictatorial leadership all over the country, while showing off their five-thousand-dollar-suits, flashy cars and private jets. Unfortunately, such is the stereotype of an evangelical pastor as held by the majority of the Brazilian population.

  1. Ethics

Biblical ecclesiastical discipline is another issue for concern in Brazil today. The Church in general is struggling with its own moral standards, those internal standards that, ideally, serve as the starting point for ecclesiastical discipline – historically one of the marks of a healthy local church. As already hinted above, many leaders lack a solid reformed theological basis (actually, many lack any decent theological training), and it is hard to conceive of biblical orthopraxy without a foundational, biblical orthodoxy. Consequently, this disconnect is reflected in the ethics of the local congregations that, as a general rule, look and behave just as their leaders do. The internal ethical issue, in turn, spills over to the world outside the Church, with a negative impact on society.

The evangelical Church will only be relevant to Brazil – as well as to any nation – and to this world when it is brave enough to stand by what it is true and get in line with Jesus in speaking up for the Truth – even when that means being politically incorrect (in itself, a politically correct way of saying ‘compromising’). Cowardice and compromise are marks of a dying Church. What is our Church saying on homosexual issues, on family issues in general, on abortion, divorce, immigration, the ISIS Christian ‘holocaust’ in the Middle East, government corruption and so on? What does an inerrant Bible have to say about these things? In a recent article entitled ‘As a gay atheist, I want to see the church oppose same-sex marriage’,[7] and prompted by the Irish Referendum (May, 2015) on same-sex marriage, Times journalist Matthew Parris expresses his longing for the old good days when the Church was not so wishy-washy. Challenging the institution to stand up for its philosophical and moral principles, he writes, ‘Even as a (gay) atheist, I wince to see the philosophical mess that religious conservatives are making of their case. Is there nobody of any intellectual stature left in our English church, or the Roman church, to frame the argument against Christianity’s slide into just going with the flow of social and cultural change?’ Will someone accept the challenge? Although the author refers primarily to the Roman Catholic, is it any different from the current Protestant Church? In Brazil, things are not much different either. The Church can only be relevant to this world and fulfil its call in it and to it when it is utterly different from the world’s sinful system and willing to boldly proclaim the Truth (cf. Rom. 12.1-2).

  1. Missions

Missions are one of the most positive and productive aspects of the evangelical church in Brazil. Over the last decades many missionaries have been sent out all across the globe to do transcultural mission. The country that once received hordes of missionaries from the US and Europe, now is a fruitful source of missionaries for the world. In a new and more recent stage of missionary efforts, the Church has at last turned its attention to mission inside the country – not as something opposed to transcultural mission, but in addition to it. The Gospel has made great inroads in many poorer areas of the nation such as the Northeast, and the thousands of small villages by the banks of the Amazon River in the North (Ribeirinhos, in Portuguese). Worthy of special note is the work of the Presbyterian missionary and missiologist, Rev. Dr Ronaldo Lidório who leads a team of many well-trained Brazilian missionaries, and has successfully reached out to remote Indian tribes deep in the Amazon forest.

The crisis of Evangelicalism in Brazil is even more worrying in light of its relatively short history. Protestantism in the US went through a glorious period of spiritual awakening in the 18th century but then, a few generations later, it started to go downhill, due mostly to the creeping in of liberal theology into influential seminaries and pulpits across the nation. In Brazil, however, the Evangelical Church is not even 160 years old, it has not yet experienced true spiritual revival or left its mark on society and culture, and, sad to say, it is already facing decline.

Signs of Hope

The above assessment may sound quite negative. Being aware of that and also being aware of the good things God has done in Brazil, it is appropriate to round this article off with a brief description of the blessings God has poured upon the nation. There are good signs of hope.

Brazil has seen a new revival of Reformed Theology, particularly among the young Christians. Reformed literature is springing up quickly and becoming ever more popular. This is refreshing news as there is an urgent need of a Reformed worldview that keeps the sovereignty of God as the standpoint from which a comprehensive understanding of all reality may be attempted. Prayers are needed that mature pastors and theologians will be able to help those young Christians shape their faith in such a way that their theology is not merely another new evangelical ‘fashion’, but the basis for a holy life and loving engagement with other Christians and with the world. It is worth noting too an equally recent interest in Reformed Theology on the part of not a few Pentecostals.

There is also a growth in numbers of new evangelical theologians who are well-trained and passionate about the Brazilian Church. As a result, theological training has improved, and more and more locally written theological works have been produced over the past few years. However, there is still a need for more Brazilian theologians, writers, lecturers, and preachers trained to the highest levels of academicism. Although the number of good evangelical publishers has multiplied in recent years and, consequently, there is an abundance of good theological books on the market, the majority are still translations of North American and European works. It is urgent that more and more theological thinking and writing be done by Brazilians for the Brazilian context.

The Evangelical Church in Brazil is thriving in many ways and still has a huge potential to be explored. It is my conviction, however, that this can only be achieved by re-affirming and re-establishing the historic Christian faith, as in the days of Reformation.  Firm convictions about the inspiration and inerrancy of Scriptures, godly leadership, and a vital, relevant missionary involvement, must be the marks of the Church that wants to be a genuine alternative to the ‘folk’ and hybrid Evangelicalism that currently dominates the religious landscape of Brazil.

[1] The writer is Brazilian, an ordained minister of the Union of the Evangelical Congregational Churches of Brazil (UIECB) and is currently doing a PhD at London School of Theology.


[2] FORSYTH, W.B. The Wolf from Scotland: the story of Robert Reid Kalley: pioneer missionary. Durham: Evangelical Press, 1988. p. 105.

[3] UIECB, in Access in 31 May 2015.

[4] Ibid, p. 107.

[5] LOPES, Augustus Nicodemus. A alma católica dos evangélicos no Brasil. In Access in 25 May 2015.

[6] IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, in Portuguese). Available in: Access in 23 May 2015.

[7] The Spectator, in Access on 31 May 2015.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Harvest Underground

It seems an unusual time of year – between Easter and Pentecost – to be publishing an article about Harvest, but in ancient Israel, harvest time ran from February to September, as follows:

Feb/ Mar Spring rains Almond in bloom / flax harvest
Mar/Apr Barley harvest begins
Apr/May Barley harvest completed
May/Jun Dry season Wheat harvest begins
Jun/Jul Wheat harvest completed / first figs
Jul/Aug Summer heat Vintage (grape harvest) begins
Aug/Sep Date harvest / summer figs

And, although Christians in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate Harvest in late September or early October, and link giving thanks for the annual food harvest, with God’s ongoing Harvest of Souls, we should be thinking of the Lord’s  continuing work in the hearts and lives of men and women, boys and girls, all the year around.

This article, written by Andy Dalton at Morley Community Church, relates the church’s last Harvest Festival Service, and is published now:

(i)  to remind us that God’s Harvest of Souls is an ongoing work, and

(ii) to prompt us to plan contemporary Harvest Thanksgiving events in 2015 and beyond.

What can we do to make our next harvest festival service interesting to draw visitors and yet effective in presenting the gospel?  This is the question considered by Morley Community Church each year.

Church members came up with an original idea and decided to make coal mining the subject of a unique harvest festival.

Morley Community Church is a small EFCC church in the town of Morley, West Yorkshire. The town is still a close knit community. There is little evangelical witness. The last coal mine closed in 1968. The church finds evangelism hard going – apathy, disinterest and a preoccupation with materialism are characteristic of so many residents in the town. However, church members noted that there is always great interest in the town’s history.

This became the key for a novel idea for outreach. They decided to run their harvest festival on Morley’s mining heritage. It proved to be their major evangelistic outreach of the year.

Several months in advance they contacted a number of organizations. First port of call was International Miners Mission who agreed to send a power point presentation on the work of the Mission.

The Morley Local History Society provided information and pictures of Morley coal mines. Church members were amazed to discover that the area once boasted 20 operating pits.

A local Elderly Craft Group were contacted. The volunteer pensioners agreed to knit jumpers, scarves, gloves, woolly hats to be used by the International Miners Mission amongst orphan children from mining families in the Ukraine. Their hard labours eventually saw six boxes of beautiful clothing produced and despatched. Morley - Happy Knitters         Morley - Mines Tapestry

They also embroidered a Morley Mines Tapestry recording the 20 working pits which once employed hundreds of men in Morley. They carefully embroidered this over the summer at their weekly meetings. A local shop framed it for permanent display.  It was later erected in the Town Hall

The North of England Mining Museum at nearby Wakefield provided historical artefacts for display on the day. The local newspaper published an article in advance of the harvest festival and also ran a mining photographic quiz. The prize was a box of harvest produce and Christian literature which was delivered to the winners by the church pastor.

Attractive publicity was prepared and distributed – with a particular emphasis on inviting those who had played a part in assisting in preparation for the event.

Morley - Miners Welcome

Everyone was thrilled when a capacity congregation gathered on the Sunday evening for the Harvest Out Of The Ground harvest festival and supper. As they entered the church they were greeted by welcoming stewards dressed up as colliers. Guests saw a display of coal surrounded by mining memorabilia which contrasted with the traditional harvest display of fruit and vegetables. The knitted items and Morley Mines Tapestry were also put on display.

Morley - Fruit Display     Morley - Clothes Display

Church organisers were left in the embarrassing position of running of out of chairs to seat the number of people attending. The church was packed to capacity with 46 adult visitors plus another 20 teenagers and children. Church members were outnumbered by 4 to 1!

Retired miner Geoff Robinson told his story about working down the pit at Wheldale and Allerton Bywater mines near Castleford and how he found Christ to be a living Saviour. An evangelistic harvest message concluded the service.

Morley _ Miner Interview                        Morley - Harvest Preacher

A delicious miners supper of Cornish pasties, mushy peas and chips concluded the service. It was served by young people from the church.

Church Secretary Andy Dalton said the service and supper had proved to be a great occasion, had evoked many memories and provoked tremendous interest. He said “This harvest festival was certainly very different and thoroughly enjoyable. It proved to be an effective key for evangelism amongst a community which is traditionally hardened to conventional methods of outreach”.

He said he was sure that the idea could be adapted and used by other churches. He went on to thank the IMM for all their support. The church were able to forward a harvest collection of £100 to the work of the IMM.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rev. Brian Dupont

We have just learned that Rev. Brian Dupont, until his retirement minister at Staines Congregational Church and prior to that minister at Latimer Memorial Congregational Church, Beverley, has died after being in failing heath for a number of months. He was in his nineties and the last survivor of the founding group of the Congregational Evangelical Revival Fellowship, which ultimately became the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches.  Two others of the founding group, Rev. Stan Guest and Rev. Gordon Booth, died in 2013.  They were also in their nineties.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Brian’s family at this time of sadness, but we rejoice with them that he is now safe in the loving arms of the Saviour he served so faithfully for so many years.

It is hoped that a full obituary will be published in the Summer issue of this blog’s companion magazine, infellowship.  The Spring issue is already at the printers.

Posted in In memoriam | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

See, what a morning!

Easter Sunday was a beautiful morning where we live, much better than Good Friday, which was an awful day. I’m talking about the weather, of course, and in other places, or in other years, the weather may have been the other way around.

But for me Easter Sunday was a beautiful morning, as it is every year, in a different way. And it was also a beautiful morning for many others, with whom I met to sing:

” See, what a morning, gloriously bright,
  With the dawning of hope in Jerusalem…”

This modern hymn, by Stuart Townend, tells the story of God’s love for his people; how he gave his Son, Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for sin; how he defeated death by rising from the dead; and how his resurrection gives those who believe in Him the promise of eternal life to reign with Him .  The last line of each of the three verses resonates with the assertion:

 “For He lives, Christ is risen from the dead.”

This line is Stuart’s modern equivalent of the first line of Charles Wesley’s hymn, written more than 200 years earlier, which we sang next:

“Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Hallelujah!”

It’s strange to be singing  this as the second hymn in a service rather than the first, and perhaps  because of this I paid more attention to the words in all the verses than I previously have. Or perhaps it was the memory of a very recent astronomical event that struck a chord with the last two lines of the second verse:

“Love’s redeeming work is done!
Fought the fight, the battle won:
See, our sun’s eclipse has passed;
See, the light returns at last!”

We use the ‘Praise!’ Hymn book, where there have been many changes to modernise language , some of which have not been  well received. And I must admit that I am one of those who finds it hard to understand why some words have been changed in the way that they have – especially when I find myself singing the words I grew up with and know by heart! But there are some lines in some hymns that always were difficult to understand, and the original last line of the second verse of “Christ the Lord is risen today” is one of them.

“Lo! He sets in blood no more” follows  the original third line,

“Lo! The sun’s eclipse is over”

Is it speaking of the blood redness of the sun in certain atmospheric conditions, especially at dawn and at dusk? Or does it speak of the completeness of Jesus’ sacrifice – shedding his blood once and for all? The compilers of Praise must have found this problematic too and have chosen to disregard it. Their third line, “See, our sun’s eclipse has passed;”  is recognisable against the original, but their fourth line is completely new:

“See,  the light returns at last!”

This is one of the types of change that gets critics of the Praise project hopping, but I think it is a very neat way to sidestep that impenetrable original fourth line.

With the 2015 eclipse in recent memory, even though it was only a partial eclipse across most of the UK, the loss of daylight during the eclipse and the sudden drop in temperature were seen and felt by millions, to some degree. And then the eclipse was passed: the sun was seen to shine again (except where there was heavy cloud cover) and its warmth was felt once again. This is the sense that Charles Wesley, ably assisted by today’s Praise team, intended to convey. The death of Jesus was the eclipse, and his resurrection its passing. His light was seen again and the warmth of his love was felt again but in a more complete way, the world having experienced for just a short time, what it would be like to be without him.

The total darkness of a full eclipse lasts for only a few seconds, but the death of Jesus was marked by the event that Luke records in his gospel as follows:

Luke 23:44-45 NIV

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.”

At that moment Jesus gave himself up to death and when the sun returned, three hours later there was only a feeling of emptiness and bewilderment amongst his disciples. But that discovery on the morning of the third day that he had risen from his grave must have far exceeded the brilliance and the warmth experienced by 2015 eclipse watchers.

“See, our sun’s eclipse has passed;
See, the light returns at last.

Posted in in faith, In the news, inspire, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

All will know my name and remember it

The co-pilot of the Germanwings airliner (name intentionally omitted), who deliberately crashed his plane into a French alpine mountainside killing all 150 people on board, including himself, had done so, according to his former girlfriend (as reported in The Times on Saturday, 28th March 2015) as “a spectacular and unforgettable event.” She remembers that he had told her last year: “One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and all will know my name and remember it.”

Certainly his name is in the headlines at present, but not in this blog.  It was an horrific event for all involved, especially when the nature of it became known.  It is a tragedy for the families and friends of all who lost their lives and it must have been an agonising last few minutes for those on board when it became apparent that the plane was going to crash.  But, although air travel per passenger mile is by far the safest form of transport, planes do crash and lives are lost.  Not often, but it happens.  What is different for us in Europe, is that it is so close to home and the circumstances (pilot suicide combined with mass homicide), if not unique globally, are very unusual, as they touch us.

However, the name of the pilot, and the event itself will quickly fade from the memory of most people – except for the people left behind, who are directly involved – those whose sons and daughter, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters,or just best friends were the victims of this awful crime.

Who remembers now, without being prompted, 3rd June 1998, near Eschede, Germany, when an Inter City Express passenger train travelling at 125 mph crashed into a support pier of an overpass, killing 98. Or who remembers 24th July 2013, at Santiago de Compostela, Spain when a passenger train derailed and crashed killing at least 78 people, with dozens more injured, and 11th March 2004, at Madrid railway station, Spain’s most horrific terrorist attack when 191 people were killed and 1,400 were injured in bombings there, for which a Moroccan affiliate of al-Qaeda claimed responsibility.  Families and friends will still remember, but not many people will who were not directly connected.

And, as far as road fatalities are concerned, except for the most serious accidents, they slip below the public consciousness, but in 2013 there were 3,399 deaths on Germany’s roads; and Spain’s roads, the safest in Europe, according to official statistics, claimed 1,128 lives, which compared with 5,940 in 1990, which was the worst year ever in Spain.

So, the horror of this air disaster. which took 70 German lives and 51 Spanish lives (with 29 from 17 other countries) will quickly fade from public memory,even though it will remain for those directly affected for a lifetime.  But there is one death that has remained in the public consciousness for almost 2,000 years, and there is one name and one life that will never fade from the collective memory of mankind, and that is the name of Jesus.

Jesus Christ, used a swear word by many today, but used with reverence by many more throughout the ages, is the name above all other names (Philippians 2:9). It is “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, on earth and under the earth…” (Philippians 2:10). And the death of Jesus, not by suicide, not as a consequence of an act of mass murder in the knowledge that He also would be killed, but as a supreme act of love, allowing those who were his enemies to kill him in the most barbaric way that was known at that time, so that our sins might be forgiven, is a death that is still remembered.  But not only his death, for Good Friday, when we remember his death, is not the whole story.  Two days later on Easter Sunday – “on the third day”, Friday being the first and Sunday being the third day – Christians celebrate the glorious resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  It is not a fairy story, not a fantasy. Death could not hold Jesus, God’s eternal Son. He paid the price for sin but was himself sinless, and his own resurrection demonstrated his power over sin and death and that He was indeed God’s own son.

Earlier verses in chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which was quoted above in reference to the abiding name of Jesus, go like this:

Philippians 2: 5-8

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross.

And the Apostle Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, speaks at length to the multi-national crowd of Jews gathered in Jerusalem (for the Festival of Weeks, the Festival of Harvest and the Day of Firstfruits), and his words include:

Acts 2: 22-24

 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

Little wonder then, from that moment on, Jesus’ name became known, not only in Jerusalem and the land where Jesus had walked and talked in his incarnate state, but out to the then known world, first to the lands where Jews had settled and from where they had come to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, and later taken by the Apostles and other evangelists to many other places.

Today there are few places where the name of Jesus has not been heard but there are some, which is why some Christians are called specifically to take the Good News of Jesus to people in these places, fulfilling the commission of Jesus, himself:

Matthew 28: 18-20

Then Jesus came to them (the eleven disciples by this time) and said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.

Jesus’ name will be known forever, but will yours be? Can yours be? How can it be?

Jesus said, as recorded in the Gospel according to Luke 10:20, “However, do not rejoice that spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  These words were spoken to the “72 disciples”, the larger group that was sent out during Jesus’ ministry.

In Revelation chapter 21 we find John describing his vision of the New Jerusalem, heaven itself, and in verses 26 and 27 we read, “The glory and the honour of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those names who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

Will your name be found there?  If it is, it will only be by the love and mercy of a Holy God expressed to a sinful people through the sacrifice to death, and victory over death of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  His name is above every other name, but whose are the other names?

World War One, with its massive casualties, was the first war where there was a systematic effort to register war graves and provide, when hostilities had ended, well-tended cemeteries near the battlefields, with headstones linked to a database, in perpetuity.  Even so, there are over 200,000 casualties in cemeteries in 75 countries, the majority in France and Belgium, where no name is known.  In these cases there is a headstone, as there is with named burials, but many headstones simply say:




Is your name “known unto God” in the special sense that Jesus Christ is your Saviour and has made it known?


Posted in in faith, In the news, International | Leave a comment

Anita Ekberg on Heaven and Hell

Anita Ekberg, the Swedish actress who became famous (if not infamous) for her part in Frederick Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita, when she walked through the Trevi Fountain in Rome, has died at the age of 83, after a period of poor health.


Born in Malmo, Sweden, in 1931, Ekberg was the sixth of eight children.
She said her father, a harbour master and a strict Protestant, was “the apple of my eye”, although she later fell out with all but one of her siblings.

Her lawyer said that, in her last days Ekberg was saddened by her illnesses and her advancing age. “She had hoped to get better, something that didn’t happen,” she said.
But in an earlier interview, Ekberg had said she was not afraid of death.

“I don’t know if paradise or hell exist,” she told Sweden’s Aftonbladet, “but I’m sure hell is more groovy.” (Sources: BBC News online)

It is clear from this statement, if there was no change from this belief in her final days, that she died without the salvation that only comes through a personal faith in Jesus Christ. But hers is a common view of heaven and hell: in hell life continues eternally as one enormous, never-ending party, where all the excesses and sins of this life can be enjoyed even more, and forever.

Nothing could be further from the truth! In the words of Jesus, Himself, recorded by the Apostle Matthew, chapter 24, verses 47-50:

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.
This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

But there is hope, even at the point of death – which sometimes Christians who have been faithful servants of God for many years find it difficult to come to terms with – for people like Anita Ekberg, who apparently confess to have lived life to sinful excess. Even at that dreadful point, it is possible for sinners to be saved by grace. Those who are truly “in Christ” know that it is not a life of righteous that sees them safe to heaven, but the love of God for them expressed in the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made when He gave Himself to be crucified as a sacrifice for sin – not his, because He was and is the Perfect Son of God, but the sin of mankind – you and me.

In the Letter to the Church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul writes:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”
(Eph . 2:8-10)

The grace of God is a free gift, so all we have to do is to receive it. From her “strict Protestant” upbringing, Anita Ekberg should have known the way of salvation. Let us pray that that she changed her view and looked to heaven and Jesus Christ before it was too late.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Children on the Ark

Morley Community Church is one of the more recent churches to affiliate to EFCC. Morley is a former textile town located in the West Yorkshire conurbation. The church was planted in 2000 and affiliated to EFCC in 2005. Its fledgling congregation have found innovative ways to take the gospel to its community where there is little evangelical witness.

Morley Community Church recently organised the Chattabox Holiday Club. They took over a local soft play area (The Wesley Playhouse) and a total of 40 children enjoyed five days of fun with a team of six from the church. They helped to recruit children, organise the programme, supervise children, provide craft activities, make refreshments, play instruments and drive the minibus that provided transport to the Wesley Playhouse.

Children on the Ark

Children on the Ark

Andrew Devis a former children’s worker with Leeds City Mission led the singing and told a daily bible story. Children were able to make badges, note holders, key rings, boxes, T–Light lantern holders, picture frames and grassheads during their craft activities.

Craft Table

Craft Table

On the final day a Celebration & Prizegiving service was held. Parents, children, volunteers and friends saw children receive their Christian book and DVD prizes from the Deputy Mayor of Morley Councillor Simon Kimberley. He commended the church for working tremendously hard at organising such an innovative week for a wide range of children in Morley.

Lantern Making

Lantern Making

Pastor Steve Wright said that the church used a local school for its normal church services as it did not own its own premises. Taking over a soft play area had proved to be an effective way to reach out to children and their families with the gospel.

This is a full version of a news item published in Congregational Concern Magazine, Issue 212, Summer 2014

Photographs published with parental / guardian permission

Posted in In the community, Invite | Leave a comment