Accountability is in the news a lot, with demands for bankers, politicians, the military and the intelligence services to be obliged to accept responsibility for their actions and to answer to someone for them. Does the same thing apply to church leaders? Opinions differ. In this article, we have a clear yes. This one is far less certain and sees dangers.
Are there examples from church history that we can look at and learn from? I believe so, and here is one.
In 1793, William Carey, a shoemaker and subsequently Baptist pastor from Northamptonshire, UK, took his family to India as missionaries. They finally settled at Serampore in West Bengal. For seven years they had not a single convert, their funds ran out and they were destitute for a time, his wife Dorothy got severely depressed and three of their children died. But by the time of his own death 41 years later, Carey had planted churches, founded colleges, overseen the translation of the gospels into forty local languages, and had secured the banning of ‘sati’ – the ritual burning of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. He is still a revered figure in India and has featured on postage stamps.
Carey baptising his first Indian convert, Krishna Pal
What made the difference were some radical changes made when reinforcements arrived in 1799. Joshua Marshman, a gifted linguist, was a happily married man who saw immediately the strain in Carey’s marriage and his neglect of his children (whom Marshman found rude, indisciplined and uneducated). The Marshmans took the children under their wing and brought them some much-needed love and discipline. William Ward brought a practical business brain and took the weight of administration off Carey’s shoulders, as well as taking charge of the printing operation.
All this gave Carey a support structure that freed him to discover his leadership gifts. These three men thrashed through many issues and found a oneness of heart. This found an unusual expression: a brotherhood covenant, a pledge of loyalty and commitment. Entitled Form of Agreement, it was published in 1805 and has eleven points. Three times a year they read the pledge through at a special service and re-committed themselves to it. This covenant bond was faithfully kept by all of them until death. It was in many ways their backbone, the mainstay of the work in India.
This document has received little attention, but it well merits a closer inspection. Its context is specifically missionary – as opposed to the church covenants of membership that existed at the time. It is heartfelt, uncompromising and at times very strict. For example, the final point pronounces woes to the man who ever pulls away from the unity and does things on his own.
In my next posts I’ll look at the points in turn and see what they say to us of the power of radical agreement and accountability.
The writer George Bernard Shaw made a comment about the healing shrine at Lourdes, France. He remarked that, while there were plenty of crutches hanging on the walls, no longer needed by their users, a few false eyes or artificial limbs would be more convincing.
So, is there any evidence of such truly miraculous healings in Church history, where supernatural regrowth took place? I believe there is. Here I offer two instances from the early years of the Pentecostal movement in the UK (1920s and 30s).
The first is recorded in Colin Whittaker’s Seven Pentecostal Pioneers (I quote here from the George and Stephen Jeffreys blog referred to in my last post) and concerns a blind girl named Celia Brown. The evangelist Stephen Jeffreys was holding a campaign. He records:
‘She did not appear to have any eyes, even in embryo condition, and had never known the difference between light and dark, day and night. Immediately after the laying on of hands a new world began to be opened for her. With her new and very small eyes she discerned the marked difference between light and shade. Next day she saw more clearly, and power began in her to count and pick up pennies from a white tablecloth.’
Jeffreys’ assistant in this campaign, Rev. J Adams of Wall, Staffordshire, adds this:
‘”I have seen and talked with her since on several occasions and each time her eyes had slightly grown in size and ability. She could count fingers held before her and form some estimate of distance. In this she was as an infant learning to see. Her eyes are blue and like those of her father.”
The second instance involved Smith Wigglesworth, the converted plumber from Bradford, who witnessed many remarkable healings. It is recorded in Albert Hibbert: Smith Wigglesworth, the Secret of his Power. He was staying at the home of a curate of the Church of England, who had no legs. Smith suddenly said to the man, “Go and buy a new pair of shoes in the morning.” The curate thought he must be joking, but that night felt God prompt him: “Do as my servant has said.”
The curate rose early the next morning and was waiting at the shoe store when the manager arrived to open up. On entering, an assistant asked if he could help him. The curate replied he would like a pair of shoes. The assistant, realising the condition of the man, hesitated in embarrassment, so the curate blurted out: “Black shoes, size eight, please.” The assistant returned with the shoes and as the curate put one stump into the shoe, a foot and leg instantly formed. The same thing happened with his other leg.
Wigglesworth was not surprised. His comment was that with God there is no difference between healing a broken limb and forming a new limb.
If you know of further, well documented instances of miraculous regrowth, please use the COMMENTS option and let us know.
I had not been aware of the existence of the George Jeffreys and Stephen Jeffreys Official Website, but I’m delighted that I found it here. The founders of the Elim Pentecostal Church were certainly innovative in obeying the Great Commission to proclaim the gospel.
Their methods were bold and apostolic. In the economic depression of the 1920s and 30s, with dole queues and poverty, they would target an industrial city and rent a large hall. They were unknown, unsupported and often opposed by local churches. Meetings went on for weeks, the hall at first almost empty, but once news of the miraculous signs was out, it would be crammed. After the campaign they would buy a disused building, renovate it together, and Jeffreys would install a man he had trained up, to be pastor of the new church. In this way, several hundred new churches were planted all over Britain.
Here, with due acknowledgement to the Jeffreys blog, is a contemporary report of a campaign which they held in liverpool, UK, in March 1926.
“Revival Fires are burning in Liverpool. Although the campaign only started on Sunday 14th March, by the middle of the week the church was packed out. Hundreds have been saved and there have been many remarkable healings.” It was not long before the secular press began to report what was happening in these meetings, including the Yorkshire Observer, which referred to “the extraordinary scenes being reported at a disused Liverpool Chapel.” The Daily Despatch of 18th March carried the following report: “Remarkable scenes of religious fervour are being witnessed at the little chapel in Windsor Street. Several remarkable ‘cures’ have been claimed by sick and maimed people who have been anointed with oil during the campaign. Several of the patients whom the pastor described as being under the power of God, swooned and lay trembling for some moments.”
The Daily Despatch went on to list some of the healings that had already taken place including a five year old girl suffering from Infantile Paralysis, a woman healed of deafness, a man from heart disease, and two people from paralysis. On the following day (19th March), five days after the commencement, the Daily Despatch carried the following report:
“Hundreds of people had to be turned away from yesterday’s services. Queues began to assemble outside the chapel two hours before the meeting commenced. As soon as the doors were open crowds began to clamour for admission, choking the aisles and every available inch of space. A crowd just as large could not gain admission and had to remain outside, while a few yards along the street other evangelists conducted open-air services until long after ten o’clock. So great was the pressure inside that the pastor was unable to anoint any of the people with oil and the service was terminated prematurely. Nevertheless a number of people testified to healing including a woman who had been dumb for many years, and two women healed of deafness.”
For further reading, here is a testimony to the healing of a girl born without eyes.
On the 22nd Nov 1891 Allister Smith and four Salvation Army volunteers arrived at the Amatikulu River in Natal. After several days of visiting peoples’ homes they organised a series of evangelistic meetings. On the first night Smith preached the gospel and although they had decided not to make an appeal for responses after the […]