‘The Lord laid it on my heart’

shearmanOver on the other abuse blog, victimsofmichaelreid.blogspot, there is an interesting and instructive discussion going on. Since I last wrote about Trinity Brentwood, the church have introduced two new ministers to look after things during the extended leave of Peter Linnecar. Unfortunately, for the church, the official website for the church has posted examples of their preaching. This has enabled followers of the blog to do some cheeky irreverent deconstructions of their sermons. No doubt the person who posted the sermons thought that they were in some way encouraging the members of the church. What they have done is to show up the incredible shallowness of the preaching at Trinity Church at present. The main blog poster who has commented on these sermons shows some theological background and is well informed. I have made my own comment as Anonymous 14.19 on the 15th September.

I myself tried to listen to the sermon of one of those parachuted into Trinity, David Shearman. I succeeded in listening to only two minutes before I could bear it no longer. I was therefore grateful to read the commentary and critique of the same sermon by the determined blog contributor who had persevered right through to the end. In my comment on what he said, I complimented him for his stamina in listening to some very painful and unedifying theology. What is the main objection that the anonymous blogger made about sermon preached by David Shearman? Simply stated, the blogger objects to a preacher who believes that to think something or to feel something is the same as receiving direct guidance from God. The sermon was filled with the words ‘I felt’ and this was the basis for the preacher to announce that the will of God for the congregation was contained in his words. Another blogger informed us that DS had preached the identical sermon somewhere else and it had been posted on YouTube. In other words it was the prophetic word of God for two different congregations! Cynics among us might believe that that recycling sermons is likely to be something he does quite often.

Listening in to a sermon away from the context of the church where it is being preached, means that one is removed from the internal dynamics of the congregation. One is also able to observe objectively something of these dynamics. By contrast it is impossible for a member of the congregation who has already surrendered their self-determination and independent thinking process to observe and analyse in this way. Also the position of the preacher within the architecture of the building reinforces the tendency of the vast majority of the congregation to accept his authoritative interpretations of Scripture as being binding on them. It is not difficult for a preacher like David Shearman to become more and more convinced of the truth of his own rhetoric over a period of years. The title of this piece, ‘the Lord laid it on my heart’, although not used in the sermon, is a summary of this kind of subjective, authoritarian but ultimately irrational theology.

David Shearman represents a subjective style of theology which is being shared in churches all over the country. The reason why preachers can continue in this vein for year after year, decade after decade, is simply because nobody who listens has any incentive or desire to challenge them even if they talk palpable nonsense. To say: ‘I feel something therefore I know what God is saying to me’, is unbelievable arrogance not to mention self-delusion. That this kind of preaching is entering once more the severely traumatised congregation of Trinity Brentwood, is bad news in the extreme. It reminds me of a film which explored, in a somewhat humorous vein, the history of an unnamed South American country. In this film a tyrant was overthrown and, almost immediately, the one who organised the coup began behaving in exactly the same way as the tyrant who had been defeated. For Trinity to bring in two people who subscribe to the same independent, unaccountable and arbitrary dispensing of superficial theology is to condemn that institution to continued danger and potential abuse of its members.

The expression, ‘the Lord laid it on my heart’ is a turn of phrase common in the Christian circles which do not hold themselves accountable to others. To be fair, it is a theological stance that is frequently challenged by others in more mainstream, less Pentecostal-type churches. You will find plenty of such ‘biblical’ critique if you search the web. The typical evangelical response and critique is to say that the preacher has to search the scriptures before declaring God’s will for the moment. But the real answer to this kind of theology is not, I believe, an abundance of text quoting, but the training of a mind to understand the wider Christian tradition and to recognise the difference between an idea which comes to us out of the blue and one which is thought through and maybe discussed with others. I refer to the ‘Christian tradition’ not least because I believe that many things that we regard as being new in the church have been explored in some way elsewhere in the world or in the past. In short Christian tradition is a template through which to look at new-fangled ideas. The problem is that most of us occupy too small a segment of this wider tradition and so find this kind of evaluation difficult to do. Tradition and the experience of other Christian cultures will often show how something that is considered the latest ‘word of God’ is not only not new but it may have been tried already and sometimes shown to be heresy or dangerous nonsense.

A second way of challenging subjective theology is to seek the guidance of other preachers and teachers or, in the case of a denomination, some kind of overseer. This is where the problem of independent fellowships is seen to be acute. There are simply no other structures in independent fellowships which might check the power and influence of a self-appointed preacher. People like Michael Reid are indeed dangerous in the same way as dictators. Such people control others without any recourse to law, custom or Parliamentary restraint. Christians must always avoid coming under the influence of any individual who claims to speak in the name of God quite independently and without the guidance of other people to provide some kind of balance or moderation. Such people are quite simply potentially extremely dangerous.

We await the report of John Langlois who, in all the chaos that is engulfing Trinity Brentwood at present, appears to be a figure of sanity and clarity. In a situation which resembles a kind of madhouse, it is good to have at least one person who seems to speak sense and is not caught up with the extraordinary dynamics of this congregation. Let us hope so. My readers can be sure that any progress in this direction will be fully reported and discussed by this blog.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

9 thoughts on “‘The Lord laid it on my heart’

  1. This post touches on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to my mind. See Acts eight verses 26 to 40 for a biblical example. Note firstly that the angel of the Lord (verse 1) and the Spirit (verse 29) seem to be synonymous here. How interesting! How did the words come? As thoughts? As an audible voice? We don’t know. I don’t think it matters. The issue is, are such thoughts from God? See 1 John 4:1.
    For years I have been trying to cultivate hearing from God in this way, and I find myself frequently acting according to my instincts as a result, e.g. on occasion taking no umbrella when the skies are heavy with rain because my sense is that God is saying to me, you won’t need it. I hope that benefit has come to others from this process sometimes.
    The best instance I heard of was a friend who sensed the need to ring her aunt one morning. The aunt had been so persecuted by local youths that she happened to be in the act of fetching a ladder so she could hang herself. The aunt accepted an invitation to come and stay with her niece for a few days, which turned into fourteen years, when she finally died of old age. This story came out at the funeral. Lovely.
    Stephen, you may have come across an abuse of hearing from God in this particular circumstance, but please don’t let’s throw the baby out with the bath water!

    1. Of course the Holy Spirit can speak to people but that is not done going to be done on tap and to order as it was in this case. Two identical semons in two different places claiming to be the prophetic voice of God for each of those churches? Of course one is cynical and concerned that the Holy Spirit is here being used as an instrument of coercion and power – here human power. If the Holy Spirit is speaking I would expect it to be done in a spirit of humility and discernment. Humility has always been in exceeding short supply at this particular institution. This church might have found itself less liable to every kind of abuse under the sun, if someone had done some humble listening instead of proclaiming God’s word as a way of manipulating and exploiting others. The Holy Spirit and hundreds of abused and battered victims don’t make a good mix! I have every right to claim that human greed and power abuse are here more in evidence than the voice of God. I think the Commission will indicate that my suspicions are correct. But I do agree that God does speak but not in the highly dangerous travesty which this church has become, even if there may have once been something good at the beginning..

  2. Cliff Richard once appeared at a Billy Graham crusade and after that got thousands of letters from young female Christians saying that, “The lord has told me that we need to get married!”
    Stephen has this absolutely right, this kind of church environment breeds contempt for the Spirit of God!
    It is with deep sorrow that I can access many memories from my past, and I must acknowledge that this type of immature worshiping of ones own conclusions goes as a substitute for God’s revelation a lot of the time. Along side this, the habit of using selective use of scripture to bolster up one’s private bias is common place in these types of Fellowships.

    Again it saddens me (because of my past), to acknowledge that many caught up in this mentality are poorly educated and cloned off from demonstrative Pentecostal denominations.
    Again I emphasise that the damage done to the reputation of the Christian faith is terminal.

  3. Yes, I knew a senior cleric who believed the Holy Spirit would guide him if he sent an arrow prayer. The answer that came was always the Holy Spirit whispering in his ear. Unfortunately for me, the Holy Spirit whispered in his ear that I wasn’t worth bothering with. So he didn’t. I have experienced guidance from God. But I know from personal experience that you need to have the constant thought in your mind that you could be wrong. And as for believing God wants you to reject other people! It’s always the people that they don’t like who mysteriously are not the ones God wants.

  4. Well said E/A
    We must keep challenging this religious circus and breaking down the walls of Factory church? I wonder, do we need the devil,when ruling elites and self made leaders exploit the trusting and pure in heart and break them? God help us.


    1. Well, I know what you mean! Surely, the evil we do is the devil. Wish I could understand which of the instructions does italics. Some people do believe the devil is a reality as a person. Many I’d say, don’t. But when something awful happens like the Soham murders, suddenly everyone talks about evil as in some sense “other”. As maybe it is. But that it often comes from us is surely beyond doubt.

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