By C Peter Collinson
Originally, this was a Baptist church in the village of Bugbrooke, just west of Northampton. Noel Stanton became the pastor in 1957, and is still the overall leader. After a charismatic experience in 1969, he led the Church into experiencing the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, and they grew in numbers quite dramatically. Since then, the Church has developed along lines which they see as radical New Testament Christianity, with free charismatic worship, strict holiness of living, caring for one another and reaching out with the gospel in a variety of ways.
Perhaps their most distinctive emphasis has been on community. Over a third of members (which number about 2600 in different centres) live in community houses. These have somewhere between 6 and 60 people, who live together as a family. Those who are church members have a ‘common purse’, and share possessions. The houses ad as the ‘training and service’ centres of the church.
They have also branched out into various business ventures, e.g. farms, health food shops, garages, road haulage. Everybody who works in these businesses is paid the same.
The evangelism is helped by both the community houses and the businesses. In 1987, the Jesus Army was set up, to mobilise outreach in towns and cities in the Midlands, and then in London. They have targeted homeless young people, those involved with drug or alcohol abuse and others in social need. Long-term care has been given by integrating them into the houses, and into the farms or other businesses. Their work in this way has become well known, as has their campaigning against crime, unemployment, homelessness, racism, abortion and the occult.
Criticism has also come. In the mid-1980s, they were asked to leave the Evangelical Alliance and the Baptist Union because it was said they were isolationist, and had poor relationships with other churches. In recent years, they have sought to improve those relationships.
They have also been criticised for being too authoritarian and legalistic, laying down rules too strictly. Their answer is that all they do is to encourage a simple lifestyle, that ‘as God’s covenant people they are called to be separated from the spirit of the world’. Participation is voluntary, each person must decide for themselves, and they can leave at any time.
They describe themselves as ‘reformed, evangelical and charismatic, practising believer’s baptism’. They uphold the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. The leadership and authority is in the hands of elders, who are always male. They believe that every church member should be involved in some way. Each one belongs to a ‘servant group’, and has a ‘shepherd’ and a ‘caring brother or sister’.
The Multiply Christian Network, started in 1992, is a partnership of about 25 independent churches and groups, some in other countries.
Copyright acknowledged. Source: C Peter Collinson, All Churches Great and Small, (Carlisle: OM Publishing, 1998)