The Archbishop Of Canterbury called for lessons to be learned from the sex abuse scandal of the Nine O'Clock Service. In this detailed report Tony Cummings looks at NOS and strives to unravel the spiritual lessons from the media hyperbole.

Continued from page 1

In fact, the Church Of England gave every impression of running an exercise in damage limitation once the scandal broke. Of the Church of England hierarchy only the Archbishop Of Canterbury came out of the sorry affair with any vestige of dignity. The sadness of which he spoke for Chris Brain as well as his victims of his abuse struck a Christian note while the newspapers engaged in vilification and one or two clerics made smug, cheap shots at the charismatic movement and those with the temerity to use contemporary music (How Charisma Can Corrupt Christianity by the Venerable George Austin, Archdeacon Of York in the Daily Mail was a sad example). Certainly the forces of religious reaction had a media field day and used every opportunity to argue a 'rave culture in the church = brain washing heresy' standpoint. In the media's clamorous search for scapegoats besides Chris Brain it was inevitable that Greenbelt, for years a platform for all manner of post-evangelical (not to mention liberal) points of view should come under fire. Sure enough, one newspaper, the Sunday Express, duly delivered with a scurrilous piece on Greenbelt '95 entitled Sects And Drugs And Rock 'n' Roll.

In such an emotionally charged, media hyped atmosphere it is only now becoming possible to discern the real issues involved. Key to them all is church leader accountability. Cross Rhythms' Chris Cole comments, "In my opinion the problem was the Rev Chris Brain's lack of accountability to his authority figures within the Church Of England. Equally, the Church Of England must take some responsibility in not discerning the problems themselves. Where was their spiritual sensitivity?" Recently the Archbishop Of Canterbury bravely went ahead with a meeting of alternative worship leaders arranged before the NOS scandal broke. Dr Carey broadly endorsed the movement, going on to comment, "I would not like to see creativity vanish from the Church. We are in the job of trying to encourage people to take an interest in the Christian faith and show that it's exciting news. But we have to make sure that the structures are in place to ensure that the terrible problems of Sheffield never happen again."

So what are the lessons to be learnt not simply for the Church Of England hierarchy but for all of us?

The lesson for Chris Brain himself.
Full and precise details of his sexual abuses, and his manipulative leadership are still to come out of course. But whatever the revelations to come and the nature of his sin, there is a profound truth and a shining lesson for Chris Brain, one he can still grasp despite all the despair that has now enveloped his life, a lesson that he'd once learnt but forgot once he'd stepped into the labyrinths of lust and doctrinal error. He can still find forgiveness, healing and restoration in the arms of a God who took a murderous adulterer and made him a composer of Psalms, and turned a killer of Christians into an apostle. Our hope and our fervent prayer is that Chris Brain looks beyond the limitations of modern psychiatry or the lies of shamanism (his latest interest) and returns to faith in a living God.

The lesson for NOS victims.
Personality cults, even those coming in the disguise of Christianity can be horribly wounding. So too can the deep sense of betrayal that they bring. We must pray that each victim, however she or he is hurt, looks not to the divinity-denying god of cosmology or the illusionary buzz of charismatic existentialism but finds real relationship with the Healer of hearts.

The lesson for the Church Of England.
It is arguable whether the Church can ever deal with the roots of some of NOS' problems while it walks a broad road as a broad church. With no machinery or indeed the will to correct doctrinal deviance, there is little to stop some other firebrand cleric with a head full of wacky ideas and a forceful personality running roughshod over the needs of his flock. Without striking at the heart of heresy, one of the most pernicious of sins afflicting the church, dealing with other sins, like misappropriation of funds or sexual abuse or homosexuality, seems a little like applying an elastoplast to a gaping wound. But even so, if Dr Carey can somehow build a hierarchal structure of accountability so that loose cannons in the ministry are identified and helped before they do too much damage, that would be a step forward.

The lesson for Greenbelt.
In the past Cross Rhythms has said much about Greenbelt's massive contributions to the Church and cultural life. Without Greenbelt there would probably be no Christian music scene and worse the Church would be more inclined than it is to languish in the dualism of the secular/sacred divide. But Greenbelt's theological shift from an expression of evangelicalism to the slippery pick-and-choose eclecticism of post-evangelicalism has played a significant part in allowing breathing space for a spiritual mutant like NOS to develop. The fact that taking a workshop at the '95 festival was a speaker from St James, Piccadilly - the notorious Anglican church expounding a similar unbiblical creation spirituality that NOS imbibed - shows that much must change at Greenbelt if it is to return to the large 30,000 crowds it once enjoyed and the wholesale support of Bible believing Christians. Greenbelt gave a platform to Chris Brain, massaged his ego down the years and cut him adrift only very belatedly. Without a Greenbelt there is unlikely to have developed a Christian music scene, as we know it in Britain. But there is unlikely to have developed a NOS either. We can but hope that the insatiable urge of their post-evangelicalism to pick up and absorb Christian spirituality (as with the rich, vibrant Catholic mysticism of Brennan Manning) doesn't also mean it imbibing the unbiblical postulations and demonic lies of theologians and pagans.

The lesson for the Charismatic Movement.
One idea, now displayed as patently untrue, that the Charismatic movement has been very slow to shake off is that Charismatic experience in any way authenticates a profession of Christian faith. This idea is both unbiblical and naive. This naiveté was clearly demonstrated in the NOS affair. When John Wimber gave financial support to a church grouping that was from early days deviating from biblical orthodoxy. Charismatic experience is NOT an exclusive experience of Christians (some Hindus speak in tongues for example). Much more doctrinal and spiritual maturity is needed as charismatics seek to make sense of their experience -particularly at this time of the Toronto Blessing - or else they will be deserving of the "happy clappy airheads" of the liberal caricatures.

The lesson for alternative worshippers.
As Clive Calver, director general of the Evangelical Alliance, succinctly put it, "The problem is not one of style but of content. Youth services and other forms of evangelism, in their attempts to be culturally relevant, must never fall in the trap of distorting Christian teaching or of being compromised into justifying standards." One of the saddest quotes ever gleaned from Greenbelt came from a flippant 19-year-old girl speaking to a Sunday Independent reporter, "He (Chris Brain) may have manipulated and sexually abused women in his grasp but he knows how to take the anorak and train spotter out of young Christians." This sad preference for style over content may be an extreme one but it echoes a point made with blackest humour in the Electrics' song "The Hip Shall Be Redeemed". There are clearly those within the alternative worship world for whom "being on the cutting edge" of some perceived hip in-crowd is more important than pursuing a life of holiness. Let us worship God, if we want to, with strobes and techno. But let us never forget even the most thrilling, stimulating cultural expression is no substitute for a relationship with Christ.

The lesson for all Christians.
We need to pray at all times into all kinds of situations. And now that the NOS tragedy has struck, let us pray that Christ will bring healing, truth and justice to all the individuals involved.

The lesson for the media.
Away from the patent fabrications of the sleezo Sundays, the newspaper and television coverage ranged from the very good (the spinoff story of the World Wide Message Tribe on Newsnight) to the utterly inaccurate (Today's piece which began with the words "Rock drummer John Wimber"). Greater accuracy is clearly needed in our media, as is the need for journalists with at least a passing knowledge of the now complex Church tributaries (evangelical, liberal, post-evangelical, etc). It is probably too much to expect a media toting sexual titillation and popular occult, to refrain from taking up the high moral ground of shocked indignation when a churchman falls. But at least a better reportage of factual matters would benefit everyone.

The lesson for the public.
The lesson is simplest of all. Don't get your perception of the Church or the Christian faith by the Rave Rev or Randy Vicar stories fed you by a humanistic media. Look to a God who through his incarnated Son can bring purpose, dignity and life to all men. Hate hypocrisy, just as Jesus hated it. But don't feed your hatred of real or imagined cleric hypocrisy while swallowing the hypocrisy of those who bring you the story. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.