Reasons the Welsh Revival of 1904 faded

Question 143, from Phil, Germany

I was interested to read what you wrote about the Welsh Revival. There seems to be a general reluctance in Christians to get involved with politics and social issues which you mention. Do you think that if those in the revival had been more involved in politics, the First World War could have been avoided. Or were those in the revival so far removed from politics of the day – in class, education and social and financial power – that it would have been impossible?

NB – In this previous freelance theology article, brief references are made to the shortening of the revival by two profound events. These were the First World War, and the rise of Socialism, which took hold in the mining communities of South Wales in particular in the first few decades of the 20th century.

Realistically it is impossible to state one way or the other the effects of the Welsh Revival, had it impacted significantly among the political class. Given that Wales was mostly regarded as a primitive provincial backwater, it’s very unlikely that even had the revival profoundly changed the outlook of those in power in Wales, that the First World War would have been prevented.

It is perhaps simplistic to look at the ‘Great War’ and the rise of Socialist politics as the reasons why the Welsh Revival faltered. Certainly these were key external factors. But there were a number of internal factors to contend with too.

Fair Trade – “a prophetic resurrection act”.

Jon the freelance theologian preached this address at the 10th Anniversary Thanksgiving Service for Fair Do’s Ltd, Cardiff’s premier fair trade shop, on 4 October 2008.

A few years ago my friend Nick, who told us why he is thankful for Fair Do’s earlier, was interviewing various people about why they were involved in fair trade. It was for some academic paper; I have to admit I don’t know the details. Having talked to Nick, I wasn’t sure he knew the details either, but I agreed to do an interview.

So we sat and we chatted about fair trade, and I explained how and why I would identify my faith as an integral reason for being passionate about fair trade. Now I realise not everyone here would identify themselves as a Christian, and if you aren’t thank you for coming and celebrating with us anyway, but for me, and many of us at Fair Do’s our faith and our commitment to fair trade are intertwined.

Fair trade meshes with the Christian story for many reasons. (more…)

Christian justification for war – and arguments for peace

Question 142, from Paul, United Kingdom

How can we tie together the Old Testament God who uses Israel to wipe out other tribes, with the New Testament teachings that seem to suggest Christians should be pacifists? Is it ever okay to use violence?

[Jon’s note: this is a long answer, so be prepared for lots of reading!]

While mainstream Christianity has always claimed that the God ‘revealed’ in the Old Testament is the same God who is incarnate in Christ, there have always been some people who have found the difference too great to reconcile. An example would be Marcion (died c.160AD), who distinguished between Yahweh as a ‘cruel, despotic god’, and Christ as the incarnation of the ‘true god’, and was denounced as a heretic as a result.

However, the issue of whether Christians should be involved in conflict, or use violence, is often precisely an issue because of the difference between the two testaments. There are several viewpoints that justify the use of violence or combat based primarily on the Old Testament, but surprisingly there are also many based on the New Testament too.

Here are some different arguments advanced for Christians being involved in wars or employing violence:

Passover becoming the Lord’s Supper

Question 141, from John, United Kingdom

I was wondering when the churches began to separate the bread and wine out of the context of the Passover Seder, and how the “Bread and wine” became “the Lord’s Supper”. Can you help?

It is generally accepted that the ‘Last Supper’ that Jesus shared with his disciples took place around the time of the Jewish Passover. In the synoptic gospels, the ‘Last Supper’ certainly appears to be during Passover week, but John’s gospel implies it takes place beforehand. In John chapter 13, the Last Supper is set “just before the Passover feast” (verse 1), and the disciples assume Jesus is giving Judas instructions regarding preparations for Passover (verse 29). In addition, none of the gospels mention (more…)

The Florida Revival and Todd Bentley’s teaching

Question 140, from Mark, United Kingdom

Any thoughts on the latest ‘so called’ healing revival in Florida

I googled Todd Bentley and read and saw some worrying things, some are saying this is a false move as we are warned about in Matthew chapter 24, verse 24.

For those who don’t know, Todd Bentley is a Florida-based preacher who has recently been attracting much attention amid claims of dramatic spiritual manifestations, healings and angelic visitations. Recently Bentley’s ‘revival meetings’ have been broadcast in the United Kingdom on religious cable channels, and clips are also available on internet sites such as Youtube.

Naturally, in any situation where things appear to happen outside normal experience, questions are asked. Specifically, in this case, is this a revival? And, if not, is this the kind of deception foretold by Jesus in Matthew chapter 24, verse 24? (“For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.”)

Some of the concerns raised about Bentley’s actions include, in no particular order:
~ The methodology used in ‘healings’, which includes physical impacts, such as punching and kicking
~ Association with a number of high-profile ‘prophets’, including some who were integral members of the group called the Kansas City Prophets in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The ministry and theology of some of the Kansas City Prophets has often been questioned, and there have been several accusations relating to “moral failure” (a eupehemism for sexual indiscretions).
~ Appeals for money/financial support, often with an attached promise of blessing on those who give money
~ An emphasis on angelic visitations, particularly with regard to “financial angels”

In the United Kingdom, the questions being asked about Todd Bentley’s ministry has provoked a response from the Evangelical Alliance, in the form of an open letter from director Joel Edwards. The solution the EA put forward is for people to ‘wait and see’ what the long-term effects of Bentley’s ministry will be[1].

Prospering & being blessed

Question 139, from Sarah-Louise, United Kingdom

Some Christians say that it is the will of God for all believers to prosper financially, that poverty and lack is a curse and that our prosperity is contingent upon our obedience to the Word of God. Does the Bible actually say this?

I don’t think it does at all as plenty of non-believers prosper, people like Mother Theresa died poor etc but I don’t know how to back up my hunch scripturally.

This is a difficult question to definitively answer, simply because either view can be supported through referring to the Bible. Certainly in the Old Testament, key figures in Israelite history were wealthy as a result of their obedience to God. Abraham, for example, saw his wealth grow as a result of his faithfulness.

Others who were significantly blessed in material terms include Job, David and Solomon, and there are several instances of God promising blessing on the nation of Israel if the Law is kept. Interestingly, several of these ‘blessing texts’ are often used to reinforce the idea that true believers will prosper financially, often with little or no regard for the context in which God promises blessing.

Mis-using texts by ignoring contexts
A classic example of this is Malachi chapter 3, verse 10, which is often used to justify appeals for money, as ‘God will financially bless those who give their tithe’ [1]. However, the context of this verse is (more…)

Messages in tongues

Question 138, from Julie (UK)

My ex-fiance felt that he could receive messages in tongues from God for his own personal information and use. I could not see this in the Bible and felt uncomfortable about it. Can you elaborate?

‘Speaking in tongues’ – which can be defined as prayer or praise spoken in syllables not understood by the speaker [1] – is a Christian practice that can be quite divisive. Some Christians would regard it as an essential part of Christian experience, while there are many church streams that regard ‘tongues’ and other ‘charismatic’ practices to be redundant. The word ‘tongues’ can be confusing; in this sense it means speaking in another, unknown, language.

However this practice is now viewed, ‘tongues’ were certainly part of church life as recorded in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians, which Paul is generally assumed to have written, contains a number of specific instructions relating to how ‘tongues’ should be used in corporate worship. Interestingly, many of the experiences seen in current Pentecostal churches, including practices like ‘singing in the Spirit’, are not mentioned.

One often overlooked aspect of the use of ‘tongues’ is (more…)

Self-harm in the Bible

Question 137, from Emma, United Kingdom

What, if anything does the Bible say in regard to self-harm? What if the reason for self-harm was something that the person had no control over and is having to deal with later in life?

Although there are few direct references to self-harm in the Bible, there are several references to the Christian’s body belonging to God. In 1 Corinthains chapter 6, verses 19-20, Paul writes: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.”

Paul makes that statement in the context of discussing sexual behaviour and morality. However, it does illustrate the Christian idea of a holistic salvation – the body is ‘saved’ or ‘redeemed’, as well as the soul.

Biblical references to deliberate self-mutilation are located (more…)

Ploughshares in the Old Testament

Question 136, from Roger, United Kingdom
I’m confused about the phrase in Isaiah chapter 2, verse 4: ‘They shall beat their swords into ploughshares’. As I understand it, the Middle Eastern plough didn’t need such an attachment as their soils were very light – and the plough share was developed in the 7th century to enable the ploughing of heavy grassland in Europe.

The kind of plough used in Old Testament times was a light one-handled affair pulled usually by oxen. The point of the plough was covered with iron and was held in place by strips of iron which were about the shape of a sword.

In this verse in Isaiah, the prophetic statement revolves around a coming time of such peace and prosperity that metal used for swords can be re-used in this way. It may have been common practice for metal – a relatively expensive commodity – to be utilised for different purposes, depending on circumstances. For example, in Joel chapter 3, verse 10, the reverse instruction is given: “Beat your ploughshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.”

The use of the word “ploughshare” in English translations is simply to make the metaphor understandable to an English-speaking reader. It does not refer to the English style ploughshare, and should not be read as such.

“Selfish” Prayers

Question 135, from Nick, USA

I recently read Rabbi Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I understand his logic on free will and how prayer shouldn’t be about asking for things like God is Santa. He mentions that he prays for patience, wisdom, and understanding before he counsels his patients. My question is how can you distinguish from the two types of prayers? You are still asking for something whether it is pious or selfish.

If Kushner is not “asking” but praying that he will be patient and understanding then doesn’t prayer become meditation? I understand that their is a difference between how and why you ask for something during prayer (i.e., selfish versus praying for God’s will). Perhaps I shouldn’t be looking for something absolute (asking is asking regardless of how or why you ask) because if we can’t ask then all we can do is thank and praise Him and He might get tired of that.

Prayer, in Christian practice, takes many different forms, including specifically asking for things. It has become quite popular to characterise prayer as ‘conversation between the believer and God’, with an emphasis on ‘listening for God’s reply’. In some senses this is very similar to meditation, and it may be possible that the ‘benefits’ of prayer are actually more to do with taking ‘time out’ to think through problems, or to ‘pass on responsibility’ for problems to an external source.

In his recent book Prayer: Does it Make any Difference?, popular theologian Philip Yancey actually discusses whether prayer is a form of therapy or not {op cit pp 280-1]. Whether the psychological benefits of prayer which some people experience should be attributed to general principles of meditation and reflection, or supernatural intervention, is a subjective decision.

In Christian tradition there is definitely an expectation that God hears prayer and acts on it. This does raise an interesting question: does the believer’s prayer change the situation, given that God knows what’s going to happen anyway?

Jesus’ teaching on prayer outlines this tension. According to Jesus, God (more…)