Creflo Dollar, The Independent Methodists, the Gospel of Power, Health and Wealth, and Revival of the Church in Britain Today

 

 

Life is a learning experience – the more I learn the more I realize what I do not know! The Creflo Dollar ‘experience’ has taught me a great deal, not least as I set that in contrast to where I have just been this past couple of days – speaking at the Independent Methodist ministers and church leaders conference in the beautiful Lake District town of Windermere.

In a sense Creflo and the Independent Methodists are at opposite ends of the ‘Christian’ spectrum. Whereas Creflo has a church with tens of thousands, millions of dollars and a massive profile, the Independent Methodists are a small group of 1500 members mainly scattered throughout small churches in the post-industrial and rural areas of Northern England, whom very few have heard of.   Creflo has a ‘world changers’ ministry. The Independent Methodists would struggle to see themselves as changing Chorley, Croxton or Crosby.

http://www.imcgb.org.uk/pages/pv.asp?p=imcgb1

I have been reflecting on the contrast between the two and what I learned from the IM’s. It seems to me that whilst the majority of evangelicals will not go as far as the prosperity gospel heresy of Dollar, we do have a kind of prosperity version gospel of our own.   I fear that we have adopted a kind of spiritual version of the Thatcherite economic ‘trickle down’ theory – the idea that if you give the wealthy more money, that will trickle down to the poor and so everyone will be lifted.   In spiritual terms this means that we think if we go to the city centres, get the bankers, leaders, professionals, educators – i.e. the gatekeepers of society, then that will trickle down/out to the suburbs, rural areas and the poor.   As worldly strategic goes it makes perfect sense. The trouble is that it is worldly thinking and not the thinking of the Bible –which seems more like ‘trickle up’.  Of course we want and need churches in the wealthy and influential centres, but not as a means of reaching the majority of the country – spiritual economics just does not work like that.

And yet can anyone explain to me why it is that if we want to get people to plant churches in central London, Edinburgh, St Andrews, or Oxford, we have no problem; but if we suggest Kilmarnock, Cowdenbeath, Wigan or Hull, there is largely a deafening silence?  The belief seems to be that of course God wants to reach the poor, but he wants us first of all to reach the influential and rich so that we can then reach the poor.   One potential church planter came to Dundee and asked for support because he felt that God was calling him to church plant here. We said yes as long as he went to one of the urban housing estates where there was little church involvement. But he disagreed with the suggestion, because he had been taught that you reach the city centres first and then go out to the poorer areas. In other words he was going to come to the centre, compete with the existing evangelical churches there by having his own distinctives, grow the church by getting people to come from other churches and then reach out beyond. I don’t doubt that his motives were good but his methodology was unbiblical and whilst it might have worked in terms of creating another church, it was not going to work in terms of extending the kingdom.

Again – I realise that for many people this is a really touchy subject.  It’s incredible how sensitive Christians can be.  Reading between the lines they will think I am opposed to  church planting, or that I don’t think we should have big city centre churches.  Please don’t read between the lines – for a start I am involved in church planting and I am in a city centre church!  Why do people feel a need to justify themselves by attacking others?  My point is not about whether we should be supporting rural, town, Northern, industrial or posh city centre churches – as though they are in competition.  My point is that we should be doing the lot – and NOT telling the Lord how he should be working.  A small rural congregation can be as worldly in thinking and methodology as a large city centre one.  Smallness does not guarantee spirituality, and largeness does not mean you have sold out to the devil!

I suspect that there are those in the evangelical world who would despise or at least disparage the Independent Methodists I was with this weekend. A good number of older people, from working class backgrounds, living and working in what some would call deprived communities. Doubtless some would perceive it as the ‘its grim up North’ mentality. They belong to small churches. They have no paid clergy, an independent ecclesiology and what they called ‘Quaker’ worship. Their ministers/church leaders were a mixture of men and women, largely middle-aged and older.   I don’t think they could be called ‘cutting edge’.   I loved them. I thought their praise was lively and heart felt and distinctively Northern English (what in missiological circles is called ‘contextual and authentic’!), and their warmth and love for the Lord and his people palpable.  As I shared with them I felt so privileged to be part of them, and that we are all part of the same church. Of course they have problems, and unless they are renewed and revived they will die, but for me I suspect that our strategy for reaching all the towns, villages and cities of Britain should depend more on brothers and sisters like them, than all the church planting gurus, conferences and theories we can fashion. (Note – I am not saying that such conferences, theories and teachers are not good or helpful, I am however suggesting that it is all about people – and without real ordinary, faithful Christians on the ground, nothing will work. Generals are useless without foot soldiers!).

The Independent Methodists are descendants of the Primitive Methodists, who in turn came out the Methodist revivals of the 18th and 19th Centuries. During the 19th century, the denomination grew, largely in the North of England.  They were usually located in industrial and mining areas amongst the poorest of the population.   My impression is that they grew during a time of spiritual renewal and revival and that they are in decline during a time of spiritual declension.   They are in need of renewal and revival, as we all are, it’s just that they don’t have the middle class Churchianity to act as a cover for the decline.

We met in a beautiful URC church in Windermere.  It was gorgeously restored and perfect for our conference.  But I wonder what the real church is like.  Does the pub across the road (photo above) have more customers on a Sunday than the church has worshippers?  It seems to me that we have many dead and dying churches in the UK who are living of the wealth of the past, doing up their buildings (the ones they are not selling off), setting up new ‘ministries’ and yet its just clothing.  The spiritual heart and biblical backbone is missing.  It was not so much the beautiful building the IM’s loaned for their conference that impressed me, but rather the beautiful people within!

It may not fit the current fashions in evangelicalism but what if God were to renew and revive the church in the UK, not in the leafy suburbs of Oxford, London and Edinburgh, but the urban housing estates of Bolton, Dundee and Wrexham or the oft forgotten rural villages and towns?   As I grow older I am becoming increasingly wary of telling the Lord how he should be working! But as I observe history and read scripture it seems to me that that this is often the way God works. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:

26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no-one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

My fear is that in the UK most of the resources of the evangelical church are being concentrated in a few areas and that whilst we can point to dozens of thriving churches, we are unmoved by the thousands of dying ones. When you are in a church that is prospering it is so easy to become proud and complacent and to think that if only everyone followed your model and lead, then the whole church would be renewed.

Reflecting on this and also thinking about Dollar, and the sadly large number of messages I have received from Christians defending his heresy, I once again have been helped by my pastor, John Flavel, who ‘being dead, yet speaketh’.

I read the following this morning:

To see a man humble under prosperity is one of the rarest things in the world.

I should wonder if any of the rulers be saved, says Chrysostom. O how many have been coached to hell in the chariots of earthly pleasures, while others have been whipped to heaven by the rod of affliction! How few. Like the daughter of Tyre, come to Christ with a gift! How few among the rich intreat his favour!”

The heart may be kept humble, by considering of what a clogging nature earthly things are to a soul heartily engaged in the way to heaven; they shut out much of heaven from us at present, though they may not shut us out of heaven at last. If you consider yourself under of the notion of a stranger in this world, travelling for heaven and seeking a better country, then you have as much reason to be taken and delighted with these things, as a weary horse has with a heavy cloth bag”

As I see more and more how the evangelical church is operating in the US and the UK, I ask myself, is this biblical? Where is the humility?   Do we really want a situation where we go cap in hand to the few wealthy Christians/trust funds who then determine what we should be doing and how we should be doing it? Are we in danger of relying on money and the methods of this world in order to achieve spiritual goals?   What if we too choose the weak, the despised things of this world and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are?   Yes – of course the Lord grants riches, and the rich are to use their wealth to help advance the gospel, and we gratefully receive whatever we can. But do we really value the widow’s mite as much as the millionaires tithe? It may not buy us a jet to ‘advance our ministry’ but that widow may do more to advance the kingdom than anything we may achieve.  It is the widow that matters not the mite.  It is the millionaire that matters, not his millions.  I think we are far too concerned about prestige and what people do, than we are about their heart.  Flavel again…

But as one said, when dying, I shall not appear before God as a doctor, but as a man.  So much every man is, and no more, as he is in the judgement of God.

For those who gave me a row for not contacting Dollar first (playing the Matthew 18 card), I took your advice and contacted him.  An Open Letter to Creflo Dollar Have I heard anything? Not a peep. It’s just a game. This is about commerce, power and political games. It’s not about the kingdom. In Dollar’s world I am an insignificant nothing – a ‘wee flea’. And I don’t care. What bothers me more is whether the saints from Bolton, Sunderland and places I had never heard of, accepted and allowed me to share in their work. May God richly bless them, because if he does, then all of the rest of us will be blessed as well.

 

 


17 thoughts on “Creflo Dollar, The Independent Methodists, the Gospel of Power, Health and Wealth, and Revival of the Church in Britain Today

  1. Hi David,

    Good article on the work of Christians in smaller, rural areas.

    I think one other reason for focusing on large cities is because of the belief that cities are where culture is shaped and propagated from. Therefore if people become Christians in the arts, media, politics, commerce etc, this will share culture as a whole (I think that this is something Tim Keller mentioned but don’t quote me).

    Nonetheless, even if that is the case is doesn’t or should prevent the essential work of church planting in other rural / smaller places.

    1. Thanks Michael- I think thats the truth but not the whole truth. There is culture in other places too! Plus with the rise of the internet etc many people can be involved whilst not living in city centres! But my main concern with this approach is that it is still a top down approach…and I’m not convinced that that is biblical.

      1. Sorry I realised some typos in my original post!

        I meant “SHAPE culture” not “share culture”. I don’t think it’s about smaller places not having culture, but the belief that if the Gospel goes forth in major, influential cities, that will filter out into other places.

        I see what you mean re: top down approach. However, I think that God uses different ways to reach various groups and demographics. I agree with your assessment that it seems smaller areas get left behind and I hope current and future churches take note and are willing to rectify the neglect.

  2. An excellent thought provoking piece. I live in a small Ayrshire village at least 12 miles from any truly evangelical church. I am a member of the Free Church of Scotland in a church some 35 miles distant. I am going to transfer my membership to my ” local” Free church some 25 miles distant. Meanwhile the local Church of Scotland already a linked parish is losing its minister due to retirement an outcome that will leave all the villages and small towns along a major Scottish trunk route for a distance of some 40 miles with a total population of 20000 without any minister in situ and inevitably facing closure to rationalise resource while creating more funds to enable the flexibility of response that the COS craves. How we evangelicals meet this and other challenges (see the Church of Scotland property for sale page for the sheer scale of the retreat) will define this century.

    Andy Young

  3. beautiful, i am often struck by the faithfulness of many widows, that give themselves to the Gospel work. The small faithful church that proclaims Christ is worth a thoughsand fold the big asemblies than preach an other gospel and lead many to seek riches other than the Blessing that Jesus encorages us to seek. Knowing Him, is to know the Father and to be known by both, what more does a man need than the words that Jesus prayed for all those that are His. That we might be one with Him as He is one with the Father.

  4. I love the IM’s. I grew up in Wigan and have occasionally preached in IM churches. They are great men and women of God humbly following the Lord, with warm hearts, and I totally agree the real work is going and and is needed, down in the trenches in small churches in hard up areas, as with the IM’s. I speak as a Pastor trying to plant a church in a former council estate.

  5. Thank you David. Not disagreeing with anything you wrote but I think population density also has something to do with it. If at all possible I prefer to walk to church. I live in a village with a population of around 750. There are two churches CoS and Scottish Episcopal. Between them they have about 5-10% of the population attending church. When I lived in Hong Kong there were more folk in my block of flats than my village, and that was one of many blocks within an area of similar size to my village. 5-10% of that was a much bigger target.

    1. Hi Alan,

      Not sure what you mean re population density? All the places I spoke about in the North of England have great population density – and you often find that the wealthier city centre churches are not really ‘walk to’ churches! My concern is not with population density and reaching the greatest number of people but how we reach those people. The idea that if we reach the wealthy, powerful and influential first then we can reach the rest, is what I was arguing against – not the need to go to urban areas.

  6. David,

    I fully agree with your final sentence, and have to admit that in some 60 years of wakeful church attendance I have never actually heard the theory expressed quite in these terms, which I hope is acceptable as a reason for missing your point first time round.

  7. This raises many points, but I was struck by the quietude of your post.

    Not too far from where I live there are large City Centre churches of different denominations, none presbyterian. One has planted other churches, in what I’d call, indigenous local poorer (and hardened) populations. I’m aware that there has already been a split in one of them and the local population (initially at least) saw the expensive new building plant as on par with middle class do gooders. They were incomers, parachuting in, not living in the community.

    In one of the other large City Centre churches most travel to the building, do not live near and seek to target students and see City Centres as strategic for church building.

    While I understand Keller’s emphasis on Cities to influence the influencers, as I’ve grown older I’ve appreciated more the older saints, with their steadfastness, who have lived long enough, into their 80’s and 90’s, to know that through thick and thin the Christian life is not a bed of roses. So I see church as being all ages, all sections of society all demographics..

    What I have seen, however, bearing in mind my conversion as an adult, is sometimes a difference between those in church, who have “always been a christian, ” those who were brought up “at their Christian parents knee” and those converted in later life.

    Was not the New Testament church and the epistles mostly corncerning first generation believers, rather than those born into believing families?

    Methodism:

    I was a member of the Methodist church for 10-12 years.

    As many will be aware Methodist and URC churches have merged in some places in England, probably with theology left at the front door. But I think the IM must be truly independent to invite. a truly reformed minister. Having said that it might just be a microcosm of today’s Keswick Convention, which attracts all flavour of Christian.

    I’m am not a historian of Methodism or the Reformed church, but locally there are plaques at places Wesley preached. There is a plaque on a building where the “Methodist Ranters” met. The chapel where I was a member had the right to conduct an open air service in the garden of a local house, where Wesley had preached: “sheep hill” as it then was. I can recall a wonderful service in that garden – a throwback to the Primitive Methodists outdoors meetings.

    A chapel was dedicated to a local preacher, who in living memory used to visit miners cottages and lock himself in with the occupiers, until he had preached to them.

    Yes times have changed, so why mention it? This all happened in and amongst the community where they lived, it was local and visible. But the church buildings were local and visible at that time.

    But it was more than that : just as Knox and the reformation can be credited with education in Scotland, the formation of Methodist “classes” is recognised by social historians as being instrumental in the social and educational development in England and Wales.

    As for “bottom -up” rather than “top down” church, I’m not sure. I am all for it, but I don’t think I’ve encountered it in practice.

    As it relates to Dollar I agree, but I don’t think it is limited to the prosperity messengers. From responses from some in reformed circles in USA demonstrated in your “Rick Philips” blog it can be a wider problem. (To be clear, I’m not saying or implying in any way that this applies or relates to Rick Philips, but to unnamed ministries mentioned by some commenting to your blog.)

    A “bottom up” approach to leadership was an NHS management mantra for a while and was central to some social change papers, but again it was honoured more in breach, than application.

    A view I have of leadership, (and aren’t elders any longer elders, but leaders?) is simple – it is “growing people in Christ, ” a New Testament model, I believe.

    A former NHS colleague had a great notice displayed at her work place : “It’s amazing what you can achieve when you don’t mind who gets the credit”. A profound challenge within the church, where fallen competitivenes can be the submerged rudder.

    This has been a bit of a ramble over old ground and an indulgence, so please forgive me if it is not particularly relevant to the burden many church leaders have for the church of Christ and the lost in this modern world. I’ll understand if it is not posted.

  8. Thanks so much for this David. I’m part of a church on a Council Estate in Middlesbrough. Where we are, many people feel as though they’ve been left on the scrapheap of society – increasingly so with cuts to public services and, of course, the decline of the steel industry. People find it disheartening that just as several governments have neglected areas like ours (and rural areas too I’m sure) in favour of larger, wealthier cities, so too does the Church. The idea that the Gospel is first for the “culture-makers” is not just unbiblical, it’s massively unhelpful for a small church like ours. It’s refreshing therefore when we see that Christians actually do care about churches in otherwise unremarkable places like Middlesbrough – we are massively encouraged by the support and prayers of Christians who do see that Kingdom growth may come through places like this. There’s much more I could say on this topic but I just wanted to say I appreciated reading your perspective.

  9. If you look through the Church of Scotland presbytery plan for Edinburgh, in the main those churches who are permitted to call a minister on an unrestricted call are the wealthy middle class churches in nice areas. The churches in the difficult, deprived areas are mainly on restricted tenure of one sort or another. I think it is relevant that evangelicals have tended to view mission as going into poor areas to save souls rather than encouraging churches to develop out of those communities naturally.

  10. I heard the call to cities from Mark Driscoll when he spoke at Mandate in Belfast and as a country lad was slightly skeptical. To be fair to both Keller and Driscoll on this matter, both saw the vast need for Christ in New York & Seattle and both responded to the call. Keller’s ‘side project’, The Gospel Coalition, has promoted, though not too heavily, church planting and evangelical work among rural, low population-density, hardened areas in places like New England.

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