The history of the ‘Reformation and Revival Fellowship’ was outlined in a fascinating
way by the Rev James Wood at the annual Conference of the Fellowship this November.
Mr Wood wasn’t present at the very first residential conference, but in 1956 he went
to the third conference in the High Leigh Conference Centre, the year in which he
graduated from the London Bible College. The organisation at that time had been in
existence for about twenty years. The 1930's were dark days, with the rise of Hitler
and Fascism, Communism spreading over Russia and Eastern Europe, unemployment, the
General Strike, hunger marches, and widespread poverty. Also they were dark days
spiritually, and though there was relatively high attendance in churches there was
a low level of theological and spiritual life within the denominations. So in the
1930's a group of Baptist ministers met for prayer for new life and a revival of
love for God in their own hearts. The Rev. Theo Bamber of Rye Lane Baptist Church,
Peckham, was the prime mover in this, in association with Geoff King of the East
London Tabernacle, and other ministers such as Angus MacMillan, Ernest G. Rudman,
Leslie Lyall and Hugh Butt, joined later by Stanley Voke. They met to study together
and pray. The Baptist Revival Fellowship came out of this. The leaders were Baptist
Union men, including some on the Council of the BU, and none from the much smaller
Theo Bamber, the guiding force, was a fine preacher and he reformed the Rye Lane
church and members went from that congregation onto the mission field. The Holy Spirit
was upon his ministry; he was bold and forthright, and was hated by the liberals.
Other Fellowships for Revival also came into being, notably the Methodists under
Roland Lamb’s leadership along with JHJ Barker and a few others. They shared the
conviction that God must revive the denomination. The Congregationalists also had
a similar fellowship, and the Anglicans too had something similar based in St Paul’s
Portman Square, under Colin Kerr. There was a similar burden they all shared for
the spread of the evangelical faith, a growing spirit of prayer, and that the estranged
masses in the United Kingdom should be won for Christ.
The Baptist Revival Fellowship was the strongest, and it is the only one to have
endured. The ministers who led it wanted others to know of their concerns, so they
began a series of meetings in London. The first rally was held in Bloomsbury Baptist
church, the prestigious denominational congregation in the centre of London. Its
minister, Townsley Lord, was flabbergasted to see the church building full. This
successful meeting spawned others. At the close of the first meeting Theo Bamber
challenged the members of the congregation to stand up if they wanted God to be Lord
over their lives. Slowly various people throughout the whole congregation got to
their feet, until finally all were standing. We don’t believe in the invitation system,
but there had been something moving and thoughtful about that response. Other meetings
were arranged, always well attended, and Theo M Bamber generally spoke.
After the war ended the Fellowship and its meetings continued. Finally it was felt
that a residential day conference would be advantageous. So in 1954 a conference
on revival was held at the High Leigh centre with Duncan Campbell fresh from the
Lewis revival as the main speaker. It was a very ‘atmospheric’ occasion and he spoke
with great passion. Leaflets were distributed with names of men who led the BRF in
different parts of the country. Conferences and local meetings were held. The prayer
fraternals were significant for many younger ministers who were bringing the evangelical
faith into churches that had had the old liberal message for several generations.
They felt they were part of a new movement of Word and Spirit raised up by God. The
Fellowship grew to well over 1,000 at that time, 1,400 is a figure that people mention.
In the 1960's there were 350 or so present at the annual conference and it moved
to Derbyshire to its present destination at Swanwick.
The certainty and reliability of the Word of God was one central plank of the Fellowship.
They were assured that God’s work in revival could not be done in any way other than
by the preaching of the Bible. Such speakers as Ernest Kevan, and Leith Samuel were
invited, with Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones coming on many occasions. He was at his very
best in such ministers’ conferences as the one at Bala and the BRF. Two of his three
unforgettable addresses on Romans 14:17 (the kingdom of God not being meat and drink
but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit), can now be read in the ultimate
volume of his series of studies on the epistle to the Romans which the Banner of
Truth has just published. On the nights he preached them to the BRF Conference the
hearers felt they were being swept up to glory. There were also prayer times after
someone had opened the Scriptures and the conference members knew a liberty of earnest
Then the BRF Bulletin began to be published and Theo Bamber again wrote most of its
articles. There were gatherings for prayer advertised, and it kept conservative men
in the denomination in contact with one another over the years. There were ecclesiastical
issues raised within the Baptist Union and they impacted the Fellowship’s supporters.
There was the accreditation of Bible College students who had not gone through any
of the 7 or 8 denominational seminaries of the BU. The ecumenical movement created
a number of issues, and booklets were written on the World Council of Churches. In
the 1960's David Pawson, Ron Luland and David Kingdon wrote a booklet entitled ‘Liberty
in the Lord’ on the ecumenical theme.
Then in 1971 the Principal of Manchester Baptist College, Michael Taylor, spoke on
‘How Much of a Man is Jesus Christ?’ at the annual assembly of the Baptist Union
held in Westminster Chapel. “It could not be claimed that he was the Son of God,”
he said. “We have to stop short of saying unequivocally that he is God.” That speech
raised a storm in the BU itself. Beasley Murray wanted the Council to disassociate
itself from Michael Taylor. The Fellowship itself was in the forefront of this movement
which pointed out the tragic consequences of error being allowed to be taught in
a seminary of the denomination. The BRF concluding that they could not stay in association
with the BU. There were others in the Fellowship who felt they could not separate,
but the Fellowship itself did come to that conviction. The BU did nothing about Michael
Taylor’s views in a discussion about his heresy at a packed session at Westminster
Chapel during the following year’s Assembly. It concluded merely that the address
“caused concern for some”. The BU has never rescinded its acceptance of Taylor’s
views being permitted to be promoted at any BU college or from any BU pulpit.
During these years the Baptist Revival Fellowship became a port in a storm for many,
and some of its members set about forming a new association of Baptist churches.
A small group of seceding churches did emerge at that time committed to staying together
for ten years, and in fact that was its precise duration. In 1972 at the Metropolitan
Tabernacle this fellowship of churches was launched with D. Lloyd-Jones speaking
from Colossians on the theme that Christ in all things might have the pre- eminence.
He preached with a lucidity that made the theme of the deity and glory of Christ
clear to the humblest believer and he also silenced the most critical liberal.
Spurgeon spelled out the issue clearly:
For Christians to be linked in association with ministers who do not preach the gospel
of Christ is to incur moral guilt.
A Union which can continue irrespective of whether its member churches belong to
a common faith is not fulfilling any Scriptural function.
The preservation of a denominational association when it is powerless to discipline
heretics cannot be justified in terms of ‘Christian unity.’
It is error which breaks the unity of churches, and to remain in a denominational
alignment which condones error is to support schism.
In the next years the Methodist Revival Fellowship drifted into a mere charismatic
grouping before it disappeared, and the Congregationalist Fellowship also petered
out. Reformation, biblical church discipline, secessions and new church groupings
became the proper approach to modernism within the denominations, except for the
Anglicans, though they did have some conservative seminaries and a measure of independence
in their own churches which the Baptists, Congregationalists and Methodists lacked.
The Pentecostal pressures that were brought to bear on the Methodists were also raised
in BRF conferences. Some who came to the BRF were impressed with the charismatic
movement and wanted to bring its approach into the annual conference. The praying
was affected, and the kind of music they desired to introduce was different, and
there were mounting tensions. All this was evident in the Fellowship itself. Before
this time they had never known groups meeting privately during the Conferences to
promote an agenda, and the strains began to appear. The committee meetings were less
united because some men were advocating these convictions. Charismatic men like Arthur
Wallis and Campbell McAlpine were invited to speak. Attempts were made to balance
the speakers, for example, Lloyd-Jones speaking along with McAlpine at the same conference.
But David Pawson was incautious and unguarded in his criticisms of the approach of
the more reformed men within the Fellowship. He told the Conference on his last visit
that he had visited the Railway Museum on his way to Swanwick and those old trams
and steam engines reminded him of the present Conference, all machinery and no life.
“That is how the Fellowship is at that time,” pronounced Pawson. If the charismatic
premises and diagnoses are correct then Pawson was right, but that question continues
to be a division to our own day. There were serious reservations in sections of the
Conference. That night Pawson packed his bags and returned home. Herbert Carson took
his place preaching the final messages on, “Let this mind be in you ...”
Obviously this kind of arrangement didn’t please anyone and Irish Baptists, not enamoured
with the charismatic movement, largely stopped attending the Conference. Others ceased
for the opposite reasons, choosing to go to the Dales Bible weeks for charismatic
worship and teaching. The reformed men felt it was right to continue within the Fellowship,
though they maintained excellent links with some of the people who had departed.
They were all united in opposing the theology of Michael Taylor. The promotion of
the charismatic interpretation of phenomena and feelings resulted in the division
of the BRF.
Where is the Fellowship by 2003? Why should it continue? Is it necessary or relevant?
The Fellowship is certainly much smaller - 71 people here in 2003 compared to five
times that amount in the best attended period. The past struggle which it experienced
has had some virtues, the defining of true revival, the growing certainty of the
marks of a remarkable work of God, the conviction that the toleration of heresy grieves
the life-giving Spirit. It has also brought into focus the abiding need for revival.
Some have a longing for God to come, purifying his people and giving his servants
an awakening ministry, with power in the pulpit, as God is exalted. That is how we
understand God reviving his people ‘in the midst of the years.’ The BU fight was
necessary but a form of distraction from the need for God’s blessing to be upon the
exaltation of Christ.
There is no need to argue the case that our nation needs revival and reformation.
There is sleaze in high places, and corruption in the judiciary. Our nation needs
the gospel and its reviving grace. There is hatred of historic Christianity evident
in every area of society. There is a desperate need for the dwindling churches to
be awakened. Why do we meet to ask God to revive us? Erroll Hulse has listed six
reasons but one which he missed was that the Lord is a God who delights to revive
and to bring his elect back and pour out his blessings. That is the pattern of the
Old Testament. There were judgments and messengers of warning and judgment, and then
God delivered the people out of his pity because of their groaning. It is true of
church history too as you compare, for example, the rise of Primitive Methodism in
the early 19th century under those giants, Bourne, Clowes, the Wedgewoods and their
extraordinary camp meetings.
If the Lord is the God who delights to revive his people then we are obliged to seek
him, pursuing him and pleading with him to revive us again. What else does the church
believe it needs for the future? We ought to give God no rest until he makes his
name a praise in all the earth.