Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The last in my series on the arrival of the 1995 "Bedford Blessing" at Dereham Road Baptist Church. This series was written in 1997, but only now has been released for general view.

As a principle in public relations it is a good idea to give people the benefit of the doubt and to be prepared to at least to give an initial qualified acceptance to those Christians who believe they have had some blessing or revelation from God. So, when the Bedford Baptist group arrived at Dereham Road Baptist church in the early spring of 1995 I thought it important that nothing be ruled out in an off hand manner and felt it right to show them the courtesy of being prepared to receive whatever they thought God saw fit to make them agents of. After all, in the architecture of his church Christians are the living stones of a spiritual house, a holy priesthood ministering to one another in spite of human defect. And so I submitted myself to their prayers, although with no observable effect.

"No observable effect" was, except in a handful of cases, the rule that day, and the acclaimed hallmarks of the "Toronto blessing", at least in quantity, were absent; there was no mass loss of balance, little, if any, hysterical laughter and crying, and absolutely no "old McDonaldisms". There was one person who stood up and was prayed over for a long time, the intention being that he would eventually collapse under the wind of the Spirit. To all appearances one of the Bedford assistants started to get impatient with this person, and proceeded to flap his hands up and down in front of the subject as if the small wind thus created would help achieve what they were looking for. When the subject, who had closed eyes and outstretched hands (a position, which if maintained, is not conducive to good balance), eventually did keel over, it was not really a surprise, and I wondered how that person managed to keep standing for so long.

As a principle of self protection, it is a good idea that one's acceptance of the claims of Christian subcultures is always qualified, and if such cultures fail to claim the benefit of the doubt and fail to earn respect, then there is an even chance that there is something wrong with them. Of course, there is an even chance that one's assessment is at fault, but the point here is that no one is so privileged that they are excepted from having to prove themselves. But herein lies the rub for many vendors of blessing and quasi cult Christian groups, because for them an attitude where the benefit of the doubt is given against a background of qualified acceptance is simply not considered enough ("benefit of the doubt ? - you shouldn't have any doubts !"), and anything less than an a-priori unqualified proactive acceptance of their claims is seized on to explain away why things don't work out in the way they expect. Unless it all happens in the way they say it should, happen you fail to get their religious respect and may even be despised. In particular there is often a deep suspicion of positive, convinced, and secure Christian living independent of their means and method of blessing as, of course, they believe that it must all happen in the way they understand or via their ministries. It is upon an ethos of this sort that many "holy spirit "gnosis ministries are founded and nowadays, once I detect it I usually rule them out because, frankly, experience has taught me that you just cannot win with such people.

Therefore, as far as I personally was concerned, the Toronto Blessing, under the agency of Bedford, had a window of opportunity between two principles; one principle requiring an initial positive response, a kind of being prepared to give it a generous try, and the other stipulating that patience is not unlimited because anything coming via human agency must prove itself. Both with deference to these principles and with hindsight I now have to admit, however, that although I believe I gave Toronto-ism a fair hearing, my eventual overall impressions of it were not good. Several years after its beginning it was difficult to ascertain if, amid the gains and losses, there was in fact a net gain of anything except disillusionment. Perhaps there may have been something in it at the beginning (and I wouldn't want to rule it out absolutely), but let me say this; if there was something in it then the Christian subculture which promulgated it did such a bad marketing job that I found it impossible to tell.

For my own part I have to say that if there was a positive side to the Bedford Blessing they did not only failed to prove this to me but they also, in general, failed to communicate to me at all in a way that I understood or on a level that met me where I was at. They would, of course, be likely to see this as my fault rather than their own. But herein lies the problem, because it is often true that if the latest concept in blessing is not seen to be received it seems that the vendors of blessing will not let things lie and simply accept that God's time and place is not yet, but instead are inclined to witch hunt. It is then not advisable to reveal a less than wholly uncritical attitude as this will seem to explain the ineffectiveness of their ministry, and be taken as a sign of some deep seated spiritual blockage that needs exorcism; for it seems that they find it difficult to have a healthy regard for any faith they consider to be uninitiated into the secrets of the Holy Spirit as they understand them. Their self satisfaction leads them to carelessly squander the chance of acceptance they are given; they excuse themselves from the duty of earning respect and the responsibility of proving their worth by faulting instead those who fail to respond to their ministry, thus unintentionally reinforcing some of the very reservations they would criticise. The result is a feedback cycle that needlessly strains loyalties, alienates and may even lead to deep enmities.

Sometimes I feel that there is some awful joke being perpetrated upon the church that plays on peoples insecurities and uncertainties about the nature of God, what he can do, and his claims on us. These uncertainties are exploited by an archetypical system of human religious relationships to subtly cast doubt on the Christian’s independent ability to judge and discern, and to help ease the introduction of a culture of childish dependence. The protective value of critical reservations are thus confiscated amid hints that such are somehow anti-faith and anti-God. And so the aim is to beat down bit by bit the spiritual immune system as the tasks the Christian is asked to perform and what the Christian is asked to believe, slowly get more and more insane, until eventually he or she is on all fours barking like a dog.

c. T. V. Reeves June 1997

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