Thursday, April 21, 2016

NCBC Leaks No. 2

Concerning Fundamentalist John MacKay
Flying into the teeth of the evidence: Many fundamentalists believe that less than 6000 years ago 
people lived with carnivorous dinosaurs - except that they weren't carnivores at that time, they tell us!

I thought I had better publish the following item which I added as a comment to this post* on Network Norwich and Norfolk. It is topical because the main sanctuary of Norwich Central Baptist Church is currently being rented by John MacKay's fundamentalist Young Earth publicity and teaching organisation.


Yes, this article doesn’t make it clear that John MacKay is part of a fringe fundamentalist group who do not reflect the opinions of the majority of Christian scientists, evangelical and otherwise. 

But I would like to draw attention to some back ground on John MacKay. In the late 1970s John Mackay was a business partner of Ken Ham; they ran a business selling YEC literature. But according to the documentation I link to below there was a complex three way schism starting in the late 1980s triggered by the accusations MacKay made about Ken Ham’s secretary Margaret Buchanan. As a result MacKay fell out acrimoniously with his own organisation, now called Creation Ministries International (CMI). It seems that even today there is considerable rancour between CMI and MacKay. Also, CMI remain bitter about the way they were treated in the early 2000s by Ken Ham's start up, Answers in Genesis-USA. I needn’t go into details as those details are provided in the documentation I link to below. The revelations in this documentation are disquieting to say the least, quite apart from one’s opinion on Young Earth Creationism. As far as I'm aware the troubling questions surrounding this affair have never been satisfactorily cleared up

The British Centre for Science Education had a web article that is probably best read first as an introduction to the affair. My copy of it can be obtained here:

Some of the links in this article are orphaned but that doesn’t matter as I supply links to the requisite documentation below.

Creation Ministries International at the time of writing still have a web page on the affair. My copy of this page can be found here:

The original, if it is still available, can be found here:


Supporting documentation can be found at these links:

Answers in Genesis’ theme park manager, Ken Ham, has, it seems, come out on the side of MacKay. See this link:

Footnote:  * This post has gone as of 2 May so I have now linked to my own copy of the article

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Rise and Fall of the Baptist Aristocracy


The picture above is of George White; that is, Sir George White to you and I.  White takes his place with the names of other establishment grandees who were once part of Norwich Central Baptist Church (then known as St Mary’s Baptist Church). If you are local to Norwich you may recognise some of those names: e.g. The Coleman’s, The Jewson’s and, Sir Samuel Morton Peto. These men were the pillars of a protestant society: They were MPs, Sheriffs, Mayors, business magnates and - this is very ironic - knights and baronets. George White was an MP as well as director of the Norvic shoe factory which can still be seen on St. George's today. Norwich had lost its position in the textile business as textile production moved to the power rich north; it might also have lost out in the shoe trade were it not for White who introduced mass production to shoe making. In fact the St George's works was the largest shoe factory in Gt. Britain under one roof.

White attended St Mary's Baptist Church in Duke Street for many years and was a Deacon there for 29 of them. The church was a fashionable place of worship for prominent Liberal businessman and provided a forum for debate on the moral and political issues of the day under the ministration of George Gould and his successor J H Shakespeare.

How is it, then, that a small Anabaptist* sect of 1669 inclined to fanaticism (as are marginalised groups in general) and oppressed by government and state church should eventually become a major and respected player in politics and business? That, no doubt, is a long story; the result of the confluence of many causes lost in the mists of time: One factor may have been the increasing confidence of an industrial nation growing in power as it left behind the paranoid days of pervasive fear about plots against the state by malign conspirators.  Moreover, after the repeal of the Test Act in 1823 (an act barring non-conformists from civic office) the way was clear for non-conformists to take up public appointment. The progressive Whiggish ethos at NCBC favoured an involvement in liberal politics and business.

The English Baptists had their origins in 17th century republicanism and this was not conducive to them viewing the aristocracy and the concentration of power in a monarch with any great favour. Ironically, however, by the 20th century these Baptists had become gentlemen and they were starting to ape the aristocracy of a former era. They were building churches that looked suspiciously like the worship houses of their well-to-do state church brethren. Moreover, the ruling influential families of the church now had their own coats arms and these can still be seen today in the stained glass windows of the main worship space of Norwich Central Baptist Church.  Viz:

In the left window the coat of arms with pictorial references to whelks is an echo of the family name of “Wilkin”. A notable member was Simon Wilkin: Although he had rather mixed business fortunes he was successful as a publisher and literary scholar.

In the right window are the coat of arms of the Jewson family: A notable member was Percy Jewson whose memorial can be seen in the church. He served as a Lord Mayor of Norwich and a liberal MP. 

In the middle window we have the coat of arms of the Colman family of Coleman’s Mustard fame. Notably Jeremiah James Colman attended the church (See also here). He was another Baptist who was a scholar, businessmen and politician. He became Liberal MP for Norwich in 1871.

Of course, those days have long since gone and a Baptist community well connected to the establishment has waned to be replaced by a congregation who from the outset take it for granted they are not so well enfranchised with power and influence and must cope with that fact. The ego nourishing self-image of Baptists has changed from establishment movers and shakers to that of the holy heroic remnant. There are opportunities and dangers for both types of congregation. The Baptist “aristocracy” of the past had the opportunity to bring a Christian influence to the corridors of power but a sense of having arrived might tempt them to put down roots in this world and lose that restless pilgrim striving which should always be the lot of the Christian. On the other hand the socially marginalised congregations of today are spiritually honed by their more humble status as they identify with the common people, but they may succumb to alienation and be plagued by separatist and sectarian paranoia. However, the underlying spiritual challenges of both types of Christian community remain the same:

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God……..  (Philippians 2:3-6)

* Baptists of that time were called Anabaptist which means “Re-baptise”. This appellation would have had a subversive connotation as the state churches of the day endeavored to baptise all infants thus bringing them into the fold of state religion. Re-baptising was therefore likely to be read as a rejection of that religion.

Relevant Links:

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Midnight Eucharist at Norwich Cathedral

Norwich Cathedral: Romanesque and Gothic
The liturgy at Norwich Cathedral for the Xmas midnight service is, in my opinion, inspiring. It picks out all the positive aspects of the faith which we associate with Xmas and explains why Christmas brings light, hope and faith to millions of souls who have otherwise lost their way or are oppressed by darkness. Below I reproduce a few of the highlights from the order of service:

Prayers of penitence before the crib
Deacon: Christ the light of the world has come to dispel the darkness of our hearts. Let us turn to the light and confess our sins.
All: Amen
Deacon: God our father you sent your Son full of grace and truth; forgive our failure to receive him.
All: Amen
Deacon: Jesus our saviour you were born in poverty and laid in a manger; forgive our greed and rejection of your ways.
All: Amen

The Collect:
Bishop: Eternal God who made this most holy night to shine with the brightness or your true light..bring us, who have known the revelation of that light on Earth, to see the radiance of your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
All: Amen.

A Christmas proclamation
Choir: God is with us. Hear ye people. Even to the uttermost end of the earth. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. The people that dwell in the shadow of death, upon them the light has shined. For unto us a child is born! For unto us a son is given! And the government shall be upon his shoulder; And his name shall be called Wonderful! Counsellor! The Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace. Hear ye people. Even to the uttermost end of the earth. God is with us. Christ is born!

Hymn: It came upon a midnight clear
All: For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the Age of Gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song

Which now the angels sing.

Prayers of intercession
Bishop: Father, in this holy night angels and shepherds worshiped at the manger throne. Receive the worship we offer in fellowship with Mary, Joseph and all the saints through him who is your Word made flesh, our saviour Jesus Christ. 
All: Amen.

The distribution
Bishop: Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Blessed are those who are called to his supper.
All: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.

My Comment
A humble stable, a helpless new born, a manger throne, worshiping ouctast shepherds, gentile astrologers, a mother of humble birth,... and above all the lamb of God who was to give himself to the uttermost.....who would have thought that these were to be the means by which in these last days God has spoken. Whoever, except from a divine perspective, would be able to say of those who viewed such an apparently prosiac scene: The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light!

The stable throne isn't the natural revelatory expectations of guilt and angst ridden human religion, religion which likely majors in one or more of: high and mighty patriarchal rulers, power, authoritarianism, sectarianism. judgement, condemnation, rule driven salvation, punishment by torture, vengeance, fear, hell and hamnation for the infidel, gnosticism for the spiritual elite etc....... this clustered complex fills the heads of those who have yet to see a vision of the God of grace for themselves or who think the gospel is only for their very bespoke religious community with its proprietary practices and beliefs.  

In the above liturgy, however, we see divine self-revelation. In all its facets the Gospel is beyond human creative spiritual thought; the evidence of that is seen in the fact that just about every doctrinaire religious sectarian I have met, I have found they do all they can to de-legitimize and undermine the means by which the liturgy above is commended to one's heart, namely, the Spirit of Adoption which cries out "Abba, Father!"

In humble circumstances we find The Unexpected Revelation

Monday, September 07, 2015

Seventy Years Ago

The following picture is a scan taken from the post-VE day edition of St Mary's Baptist Church's magazine, The Messenger,  dated June 1945. The scan shows the lead article written by the then minister Gilbert Laws. It takes the view that God was clearly on the side of the British. There is some justification for that view: For a militarily ill prepared country things hung in the balance for a while and when against the odds victory came about such evil was uncovered  that it seemed impossible for God to have been on the side of the enemy. One other thing which comes out is that St Mary's Baptist Church clearly felt very much part of the British establishment Christian scene; an ironic fact considering their origins in a strongly dissenting out-on-a-limb nonconformity (See my NCBC History walk for more details)

(Click to enlarge)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ten Years Ago, Sixty Years Ago & Eighty Years Ago

Our Oldest Church Magazine: August 1922

St Mary's Baptist Church (Now  called "Norwich Central Baptist Church") used to have a monthly church magazine called "The Messenger".  Copies of the magazine going back to 1922 exist in the church records and form a valuable historical resource. But The Messenger was axed at a church meeting circa 2005 after well over eighty years of distribution; the reasons for this were probably to do with a combination of a lack of interest, support and resources. 

The Messenger gave me an opportunity to contribute and so I wrote a few articles for it (four in all) entitled "Fifty Years Ago" (although one article was actually called "Sixty Years Ago"). In these articles I would quote text taken from a Messenger published fifty years previously but of the same month. I wrote these articles between 2004 and 2005, just before the magazine got axed. Below I reproduce an article I wrote for the April 2005 Messenger which harked back to April 1955. It tells us something very different about the state of the church and the youth work of that day: See if you can spot the difference.

From The Messenger of April 2005:
Fifty Years Ago

The Messenger of April 1955 records a membership at St Mary’s Baptist church of 513 and Sunday school with 319 “scholars” served by 63 teachers. And yet, twenty years before this date, the April 1935 Messenger reports a membership of 704, and a Sunday school in 1933 of nearly 700 “scholars” and 137 teachers. If by 1955 they were getting a little worried about decaying numbers they need not have done because the US cavalry were coming over the hill! The April 1955 takes up the story:

The telephones in the pressrooms are ringing impatiently, there is the whirr and click and flash of cameras. Hundreds of people have gathered at the quayside to give him a welcome. Eyes are goggly and mouths are agape. He is not from Hollywood, he is Dr. Billy Graham….. “Phenomenal” is the word for the way in which the secular Press have dealt with his return to this country …..
            …. In conjunction with the Dr Graham relays from Glasgow to Norwich, St. Mary’s is arranging for the training of counselors. The lectures will be available for all committed Christians and will continue on Thursday evenings at 7.30 in the Shakespeare room until 14th April.
            Now to prayer for all these ventures and a humble trust in God whose harvest we seek to reap.

A year later the tone of the May 1956 Messenger is upbeat. In an article headed “It Grows and Grows” we read:

One of the most encouraging sights on Sunday evening is to look up into the gallery of St. Mary’s to where the young people, the church of the future, are sitting. A few weeks back there was only one vacant seat.

It’s just as well we haven’t got these numbers in youth church – if we did then when the young people go to their classes on Sunday morning, all the teachers would have to go with them, leaving the Rev. James East looking out on ……. an empty church.


Church attendance on a national level rallied somewhat during the austere fifties. But the sixties were yet to come and that decade broke many intellectual and social molds, putting church attendance under pressure and helping to create an embattled marginalized community conducive to the growth of fundamentalist attitudes. However, it's probably true to say that many parents of the fifties and early sixties, although still respecting the church as an institution, sent their children to Sunday school just to get a bit of Sunday peace and did not attend church themselves. Hence, the inflated ratio of Sunday school numbers to church membership that we see above. But I don't think anyone was complaining; it was a nice problem to have!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

NCBC History Walk Version 5

Norwich started as a cluster of Saxon thatched huts in a river valley; after nearly a 1000 years the cathedral still dominates that valley.

A new version of my Norwich Churches and Belief Communities history walk can be downloaded from here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Norwich Churches and Belief Communities: Unity Service.

NCBC Unity Service display

Last Sunday evening at Norwich Central Baptist Church a service was held under the rubrick United Service For the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  The Sermon was provided by Father David Paul, dean of Norwich's Roman Catholic cathedral. It was a good sermon emphasizing a Christocentric faith, a Truine God, sin, repentance and forgiveness. Fr David likened the different expressions of faith to the very different building types one finds in Norwich; from the Cathedral to the University of East Anglia and everything in between. The above picture shows a display of tea lights and church names created during the service by representatives of the different fellowships present. I have listed those fellowships below:

Let's start the list with three well established churches taken from the three main English traditions: 
Norwich Cathedral - Church of England
St John the Baptist Cathedral - Roman Catholic 
Norwich Central Baptist Church - non conformist

The Others:
Witard Road Baptist Church
St Andrews and Christchurch, Eaton, (C of E)
Central  Council of Churches Together
St Peter Mancroft, C of E
St Luke's C of E
Norwich Prison Chaplaincy
Silver Road Baptist Church
St Giles C of E
St Matthews C of E
ChapelField road Methodist Church
White Woman Lane Methodist Church
Holy Apostles RC, West Earlham

The list above represents quite a mix of traditions, notably absent, however, are representatives of the more moderate evangelical fellowships of Brethren, Independents and Charismatic churches. But the fact is even some of these evangelical moderates march along the margins of the separatist hard-line sectarian world. Unity of this kind is a very fragile thing and for some an uncomfortable almost spiritually compromising experience. In this connection it is no surprise that Fr. David wasn't going make any mention of such subjects as transubstantiation, purgatory or the status of Mary and the Pope - that could be inviting trouble, needless to say. The ethos of this sort of gathering is that whilst we have differences of opinion on such subjects, we can nevertheless gather around central and essential unifying themes such as were focused on by Fr David.

It's instructive to contrast the above list with the purist sectarian and fundamentalist Christians I have met in my time, some of whom get dishonorable mentions  in my blogs. The list below embraces a variety of both fellowships, para-church organisations and individuals of this type. Unquestionably, they all to a man would thoroughly despise the sort of unity event of Sunday night. But they hardly need a bunch of ecumenically minded Christians as a pretext to hunt down "heresy"; they can find that enough among fellow fundamentalists to satiate the "error" correcting urges of even the most fastidious of fundamentalists. If some of the Christian fundamentalist brands listed below happened to confront one another the exchange would be sharp, irreconcilable and may well end up with mutual accusations of heresy, apostasy and even blasphemy; as Lord Clarke put it in his Civilization series, among fundamentalists there is an implicit belief in the Divine authority of their opinions. The Christians listed below would likely object to being gathered together with the more doctrinally unorthodox groups such as the JWs and Mormons, but in my experience these communities show such similarity in epistemic method, approach, attitude, concept, culture, ethos, and even use of language as to warrant common classification.  The list below is far from exhaustive; as I have said before, under every stone one turns a new version of Christian fundamentalism can be found.
The 2 x 2 sect
Closed Brethren
Mark Driscoll,
Answers in Genesis
The Witness Lee Brotherhood,
Strict and Particular Baptists
Reformation identifying Evangelicals
Children of God.
Strict and Traditional Brethren
The Christadelphians
Strict and Traditional Evangelicals
Herbert Armstrong and the Plain Truth
The Jesus Army
Gnostic and fideist charismatics
The Snake Handlers sect.
Potters House
The Car Park Sect
Metropolitan tabernacle
Toronto Blessing revival
Barry Smith: Millennium Bug prophet
Gold dust and angel feathers Charismatics
William Tapley, 2010 end of world prophet 
Harold Camping, 2011 end of world prophet

The people embodied in this list would undoubtedly crow over the flabby state of the church represented by Sunday night's service. But then look at the state of this list of fundamentalists; can you imagine any of them getting together for a united service without the precaution of wearing brickbat proof helmets? Does such a collection of contradictory nasties endear the church to anyone?

Relevant links: