Graham Hind reviews Noel Gibbard’s recent book on the history of the Evangelical Movement of Wales (EMW).
I must start with a declaration of vested interest, for I serve on an EMW committee and do so because I love Wales and value highly the Movement’s role.
There is no real English equivalent to the Movement. It maintains a conservative evangelical stance, and is invaluable to the many churches who maintain contact with it, but it has none of the signs or trappings of a denomination.
Its conservative stance embraces a range of theological and ecclesiastical positions – Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists work ‘side by side’.
Some are ‘Pentecostal’ in their approach to the gifts of the Spirit, while others would declare themselves cessationists. But all long to see the gospel advanced in Wales and share a common burden for revival.
There is a deep interest in missionary work and many missionaries with little or no Welsh connection have benefited from the Movement’s excellent publications, particularly the magazine which is about to be re-launched as The Evangelical Magazine and hopefully have a wider circulation in England.
The hand of the Lord
Dr Gibbard begins with the post-war scene in Wales and shows the context in which the Movement emerged. The key figures are named and their stories recounted.
These are thrilling stories – of men and women meeting the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and coming together to consider how the Evangelical faith could be promoted in Wales.
Prayer meetings and other gatherings are remembered, and there is a thrilling sense of the Lord’s hand on the work in a special movement of the Holy Spirit.
The reader will have to deal with incidents, accurately recorded, which today some might label as ‘prophecy’ or ‘words of knowledge’, and yet were clearly influenced by God. Many of the people named are still alive and well known in England as well as Wales – so you can check the facts for yourself!
If you are a strict cessationist, prepare to have your presuppositions shaken. But if you think that wild disorder and an excess of strange phenomena are marks of the Lord’s work, you will find no support here.
Instead there is a real desire for holiness, evident sacrificial living, and a willingness to do what the Lord requires – coupled with obvious manifestations of his presence.
The opening chapters of this book are firmly in the ‘can’t-put-it-down’ class – if such things appeal to you.
This account of the early years raises one of the two great questions posed by this book, and it is the more important of the two. Simply put, both the Movement and conservative Evangelicals in a wider context must ask where these remarkable tokens of God’s blessing have gone.
In recent years, in common with Evangelicalism generally, the Movement has been on a sounder financial footing, and more numerous and better equipped than it has ever been. Its books, beautifully produced, along with tapes and so on, are available in a way the pioneers could not have dreamed.
It is no longer a case of six or so in a prayer meeting, or twenty at a conference – the Movement’s English-language Conference is usually full to capacity. Doubtless, our theology is better thought-out and communicated, and more widely accepted.
But where is the sense of the Lord’s presence, and the immediacy of the Holy Spirit? What has happened to the longing for holiness, sacrificial living, and willingness to do what the Lord requires?
The words of Revelation 2:4 and 3:17 have something to say to our generation: ‘Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen … you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked!’
Nationalism and the gospel
The other question raised by this book is perhaps less obvious, but is still important. It was printed first in Welsh, and this English translation has been adapted to include more mention of the English-language work than the original.
Nevertheless the bias is clearly toward the Welsh work, and there is an underlying assumption that the maintenance of a Welsh-language work is vital – at almost any cost.
In Wales this is a highly controversial matter, and the book takes the position that a strong nationalistic emphasis is wholly compatible with the gospel.
Clearly, Wales is a nation in its own right and has an unquestioned right to its own language. But whether a strong commitment to nationalism (in whatever form) is fully consistent with the gospel, needs to be studied more closely.
The book will certainly appeal to all who love Wales, and particularly to those who are concerned for God’s work there. But I recommend it to all who, in these seemingly prosperous days, feel there is something missing in the church.
By whatever means, may the Lord restore the longing for his presence and power – and come down among us!
The First Fifty Years: The history of the Evangelical Movement of Wales 1948-98 by Noel Gibbard is published by Bryntirion Press (Distributed by Evangelical Press) (200 pages, £9.95, ISBN 1-85049-191-7).