Jesus people, loving people

Hungry for Souls

[Source: The Independent on Sunday Published: Sunday, 13 January, 1991]

The evangelicals are on the march – out of the church, down the corridors of power and on to the air waves. But is their fervour bringing with it a dangerous intolerance?

At the sound of the very first note, hundreds leapt to their feet with hope in their eyes, hunger in their hearts, and arms outstretched in the Jesus Army salute. In this highly charged carnival atmosphere, the Wembley Praise Day began, already at fever pitch at 11 o'clock in the morning, with loud and lusty singing and uninhibited dancing on stage and in the aisles.

As the first medley of catchy praise songs ended, and the choir and band on stage sat down, the organiser and host introduced the agenda for the day. "Loosen up, don't be inhibited," said Noel Stanton, founder of the Jesus Army, inviting people to dance in front of the stage. Then, surrounded by his "soldiers" in their uniforms of multi-coloured T-shirts and specially designed combat jackets, he prayed: "Our Father, will you make the name of Jesus great today? Oh, let the sinners be saved by that name; let the sick be healed by that name; let demons be cast out by that name; set us on fire by that name!" There followed 12 hours of exhausting bouts of singing, excited preaching by a succession of speakers from around the world, and a circus of "signs and wonders", as faith healers, exorcists, tongue-talkers and prophets performed.

Throughout the day the audience of about 2,500 was encouraged to join in. Married couples were told to stand, to dedicate their marriage to Jesus. Celibates were invited to crowd on stage, to show they had dedicated their lives to the Lord. The once-homeless formed a parade. Former dabblers in the occult renounced Satan. On every side, sinners proclaimed their repentance. The star of the day, a South African faith-healer called Paul Dell, told how he had cast out demons from witch-doctors, made cripples walk, given sight to the blind and raised a woman from the dead. His speciality was the laying on of hands, and hundreds of participants at the Wembley Conference Centre that day accepted his invitation to be filled with the Holy Spirit and fall down in a heap on the floor.

But the climax came as the day drew to a close, at the conclusion of a further hour-long harangue by Noel Stanton, a 53-year-old man in a striped shirt with wild hair and a volatile delivery. Alternately wailing, shouting and beseeching, Stanton invited people on stage for a "Kingdom demonstration" in which people would be healed, saved, filled with the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues and have demons cast out.

"You are not meant to sin," Stanton proclaimed as his address got under way. "You are not meant to be a moral cripple; you are not meant to be under the control of demonic forces of drugs or alcohol or nicotine or lying, deceit, gambling, sexual habits, whatever it may be." His forefinger stabbed the air. "You are meant to be majestic, to rule!"

The audience stirred. Some cried "Hallelujah!" The preacher moved on, into more specific areas of sin. "If you're a person who engages in deviant sexual practices, Jesus died for you. If you're violent, into prostitution, Jesus saves. Come on, your guilt torments you. You shall be set free of your guilt…" Some of his listeners wailed their assent.

"Now comes the time for total surrender. I want to claim every part of your physical body for God. We often have to minister to those who have engaged in oral sex, just as we've got to minister to those who have been out of control in straight sex, and of course we've had to minister to those who have engaged in anal sex.

"Oh beloved, let there be glorious penitence in this place tonight as we bring every part of our bodies and surrender them to Jesus. You know yourselves to be unclean, but bring your minds as well. What are your thoughts? What are your imaginings? What are your fantasies? What corrupt things occur to you? Beloved, your mind, your thoughts, your intellect must be surrendered to Christ Jesus, and your emotions, and your desires!"

"Amen!" some of his listeners responded. "Praise the Lord!"

"Beloved," he continued, "there are some of you who have got to be set free from demonic powers tonight. You will know these occult practices you have engaged in. We have often cast out demons connected with drugs and alcohol and nicotine. I will bring deliverance and release from demonic powers."

Suddenly, he gestured to a black plastic dustbin which had been placed by his feet.

"We've got our sin bin here. You can throw your cigarettes away. We've had all sorts of things in the sin bin. Things connected with drugs, sometimes items of clothing, things connected with the old life – bracelets, charms, occult things."

Then, stamping his feet to add emphasis to his repeated supplication: "Lord, I want to thank you – these people are going to be cleansed of all sin. Demons are going to be cast out. "Lord, I want to thank you -they are going to receive the Holy Spirit. "Lord, I want to thank you – they are going to speak in new tongues. "Lord, I want to thank you – there are bodies being surrendered to Jesus. "Lord, I want to thank you – that healing is going to move apace among these people. Come and throw things away in the sin bin! Get rid of your old life!"

And, on cue, hundreds poured forward to be saved. Within two minutes the stage was overflowing with swaying figures, bodies prone on the floor, some held down, groaning, shaking, crying, shrieking, howling, retching and babbling – all manifestions, Noel Stanton said, of the demons that were being cast out. Little knots of people stood out, a lost Soul surrounded by three or four Jesus Army members, each with a hand on the head, praying fervently or in a trance, murmuring and chanting, "Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord." Other helpers knelt hunched together, crowded round bodies, holding them down, pressing on chests, calling on evil spirits to be released. On the word from Stanton the saving stopped, and soothing music came through the loudspeakers. A 20-minute disco finished off the day. Discarded in the sin bin were cigarettes, matches, a packet of ' tobacco, Rizla papers and a silver ring.

Hundreds of such gatherings took place last year, as like-minded Christians met at rallies, marches, festivals and jamborees, in towns and cities across the United Kingdom, from Edinburgh to Brighton. Many more are scheduled for this year. Although modern Britain is still predominantly a secular society, in which less than 15 per cent of the population regularly attends church (compared to the 40 per cent in the US and 36 per cent in Italy), figures indicate that a religious revival is undoubtedly under way – part of a worldwide evangelical movement, fuelled by something known as the "charismatic renewal". Yet not all church leaders are rejoicing at every aspect of this revival. In private meetings and in the columns of the Church Times and the Church of Eng-land Newspaper, growing numbers are ex-pressing anxiety and even anger about some of its more extreme elements and unorthodox practices.

"It's the manipulation of the gullible," says Prebendary Michael Saward, vicar of Ealing and himself an evangelical, referring to events such as Wembley Praise Day. He speaks of a movement "dominated by the need for a Führer".

Others are worried about the long-term consequences of a revival which, if it takes the most likely course and follows the American model, could lead to the whole-sale commercialisation of religion, in particular via "televangelism", with its record of exploitation and fraud. An Essex parish priest, the Rev Wallace Benn, speaks of the danger of "mail-order religion" following the imminent deregulation of religious broadcasting, achieved largely as a result of lobbying by evangelical groups.

Outside the world of the religious denominations, there are fears that the movement will reveal itself to have a political agenda, along the lines of the Moral Majority in the United States. Already there is evidence of evangelical lobbyists' growing ability to influence secular society and even government policy – for example, broadcasting policy and religious education. Evangelical Christian groups and individuals were also largely responsible for spreading stories last year that children were being sexually abused by satanists in black-magic ceremonies, and that teenage girls were being used as "brood mares" to produce foetuses for sacrificial rites. No evidence in support of these allegations has been found by the police, but children have nevertheless been removed from their parents, and some remain in council care.

The Evangelical Alliance, representing a million Christians of many denominations in Britain, produces a leaflet encouraging teachers and parents to persuade schools to ban discussion of a range of topics, from Hallowe'en to horoscopes, on the grounds that it can lead children to dabble in the occult. Writers of children's books and television dramas have even been warned by their publishers and producers not to mention the word "witch", particularly in the titles of their books, because of campaigns orchestrated by evangelical groups.

The words "evangelical" and "evangelicalism" are the most potent religious terms in Britain today. They lie behind the reversal of what had seemed to be an unstoppable decline in Church of England membership in Britain, which had slipped from 8.7 million in 1970 to 6.9 million in 1987. Last month, however, the Church reached a turning point in its recent history when figures for 1988 showed the first increases in attendance and membership – 1.5 per cent and 1 per cent respectively -since its records began in 1968.

Most people in Britain are probably unable to make the distinction between an "evangelist" and an "evangelical"; still less between "evangelism", which is the business of spreading the gospel, and "evangelicalism", a technical term referring to a broad collection of Christians sharing a fundamentalist belief in the words of the Bible. In fact, despite being the focus of current interest, the evangelical movement is neither a novelty nor a single unified force. The Evangelical Alliance was founded in 1846 and is now a diverse and at times conflicting grouping of churches, ministries and individuals with widely differing aspirations and attitudes, behaviour and beliefs.

What they have in common is the root of the word "evangelism", which has come down to us – via Greek, ecclesiastical Latin and Old French – meaning "the bringing of good news". Evangelicals are people who believe strongly in salvation only by faith, in personal conversion and repenting of the past and, above all, the authority of the Bible. They believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, that he performed miracles, rose from the dead and through his crucifixion offered an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all who put their faith and trust in him. They recognise the scripture as truth and believe in the second coming of Christ. They reject the philosophy that there are several routes, through different faiths, to God.

Within the Church of England, evangelicals represent one of the three main factions (the others are the liberals and the Anglo-Catholics). Evangelicals are low church, which means they worship in relatively informal surroundings and deplore such aids to worship as incense, ornate robes and genuflecting. They believe in the authority of both the Old and New Testaments. So someone like the Rev Tony Higton, the rector of Hawkwell, Essex, and a member of the General Synod, who is a vocal campaigner against homosexuality, will say that because there are references in the Old Testament to God condemning homosexuality and no references to Him approving it, it must, by definition, be wrong.

In the Church of England, more than 50 per cent of ordinands currently in training are evangelicals, compared with 31 per cent in 1969 and 10 per cent in 1956. According to the Evangelical Alliance, between 35 and 40 per cent of parishes are classed as evangelical. Although the popularity of evangelical worship and theology has been slow to spread from the church's grass roots to the hierarchy, 10 of the 44 Anglican bishops are now widely regarded as evangelical.

The independent sector – outside the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches – has also enjoyed a bigger than expected growth, according to a survey of all Britain's 38,000 churches for a reference book, The UK Christian Handbook. Figures to be released in March show a projected estimate of 500,000 independent church members in the year 2000, almost double the number in 1970. The most spectacular single example of this growth is the so-called "house church" movement, which began in 1970, as its name suggests, in private houses and has gone from zero to an estimated current membership of 145,000 in 20 years.

About 50 per cent of British evangelical; both inside and outside the Anglican Church, could be described as "mainstream"; they fit more or less comfortably into the orthodox routines of their denominations. But the other half are what is known as "charismatics", distinguished by their belief in the charisma or gifts of the Holy Spirit – faith healing, speaking in tongues, miracle working, prophecy and the casting out of demons. Cynics term them the "signs and wonders" brigade.

This half of the movement is, by secular standards, unconventional and controversial, and it has therefore attracted the most publicity. In mainstream evangelical circles there is concern about some of its activities, particularly an increasing use of miracles and prophecies; an obsession wit black magic, Satan and demons; cultish communities and leaders; and gatherings like the Wembley Praise Day, which generate what some critics call "the I'll-be-a-cabbage-for-Jesus mentality".

The continuing ascent of the evangelicals can only be accelerated by a series of unconnected but significant events this year. Last week, for example, a Decade of Evangelism was launched by the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist churches, with the aim of "evangelising" Britain and persuading all Christians "to live, to proclaim and to teach the gospel".

More obviously, the evangelicals' influence will inevitably grow in the Church of England following the appointment of Dr George Carey, Bishop of Bath and Wells, as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Dr Carey is an evangelical with some charismatic leanings – when he was the vicar at St Nicholas's Church in Durham, between 1975 and 1982, he encouraged faith healing, the laying on of hands to infuse followers with the Holy Spirit, and an informal style of worship. People spoke in tongues and stood up to prophesy. Dr Carey succeeds Dr Robert Runcie, the embodiment of the Church's previously dominant liberal wing, on 31 January.

But perhaps the most influential factor in the rise of the evangelicals will be the advent of deregulated religious broadcasting, enabling radio and television evangelists to appeal to a potential audience of millions, in a way that has become familiar in the United States. This month, the finishing touches will be put to the guidelines governing the content of religious programmes and advertising, and the methods by which religious broadcasters will be al-lowed to operate.

The guidelines are expected to be far more relaxed than the Government had originally intended, following an intense and skilled lobbying campaign by various evangelical groups, which had also been responsible for persuading ministers to change their policy and deregulate religious programmes in the Broadcasting Act. The Evangelical Alliance, for example, co-ordinated a successful campaign by lobbying MPs and civil servants, and by issuing press releases to the media and hundreds of thousands of leaflets to the public. Similar lobbying techniques were used by allied organisations such as the Christian Broadcasting Council, the Conservative Family Campaign and the evangelical pressure group Care Campaigns. By such means, the Government was persuaded to change the Bill to allow religious groups to own television and radio stations and more freedom to make and broadcast religious programmes and advertising.

More overt lobbying will be done by a new evangelical pressure group called the Movement for Christian Democracy, which aims to put Christian values on to the political agenda by influencing the policies of existing parties, partly by mobilising the support of Christian voters in marginal constituencies behind MPs and candidates who endorse the movement's principles.

Since the Seventies, there has been an extraordinary "charismatic renewal" worldwide. According to the World Christian Encyclopaedia, 372 million Christians are charismatics, or about one in four of the total number in the world.

In July, they will be represented by more than 4,000 charismatic church leaders at an international conference in Brighton, organised by a relatively unknown, recently formed organisation called the International Charismatic Consultation on World Evangelism, based in Haywards Heath, Sussex. It is chaired by Canon Michael Harper, who broke off from mainstream evangelicalism in the Sixties and began the British charismatic revival. Canon Harper, now at Chichester Cathedral, is a former curate to the Rev John Stott, sometimes called the father of modern evangelicals. He is president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Anglican Communion, and a chaplain to the Queen.

"Brighton 1991" will bring together some of the most colourful characters on the charismatic circuit, including an American called John Wimber, who has been impressing British audiences with miracles and prophecies. Dr Carey, who by then will have been Archbishop of Canterbury for three months, will speak, and the leader of Britain's Roman Catholics, Cardinal Basil Hume, plans to attend.

Evangelicals agree that the responsibility for beginning the revival in Britain belongs to Billy Graham. In eight mega-missions to Britain, beginning at Harringay Stadium, north London, in 1954 (after a preliminary reconnaissance in 1946), the American evangelist has preached to more than nine million people, converting probably hundreds of thousands. In May and June this year he is preaching in Scotland for the first time since 1955.

The Right Rev Michael Baughen, the evangelical Bishop of Chester, has watched the five-fold increase in the number of evangelicals in the Anglican ministry since he was ordained in 1956. He remembers: "There was a tremendous result from the first Billy Graham crusade. It produced a whole new encouragement and confidence, and there are considerable numbers of people in the ministry who came to faith or who were encouraged into a committed form of service through that original crusade."

Within the Church of England John Whale, editor of the Church Times, sees it as a natural, cyclical process, in which the Anglo-Catholic and evangelical wings of the church have risen and fallen alternately since the eighteenth century. The Evangelicals, he says, were dominant in the early part of the nineteenth century, and the Catholic wing in the latter part of the nineteenth century and first part of the twentieth century until the end of the Sixties. "The appointment of George Carey represents the cyclicality of history. The evangelicals are up at present and deserve an archbishop. They are up because many people had come to see that liberal forms of faith, much publicised in the Sixties, didn't supply the reassurance they were seeking."

The reasons for the expansion of the charismatic and house church movements are the subject of much debate but no definitive research. Peter Brierley, editor of the UK Christian Handbook, suggests a number of factors: a strong if not authoritarian leadership; a compelling vision of restoring the Kingdom of God; independence from bureaucracy; willingness to give young people responsibility; exciting worship; but, above all, they stress the importance of the Holy Spirit, which lies behind such phenomena as "speaking in tongues".

Michael Hastings, prominent in the Movement for Christian Democracy, who spoke at the Wembley Praise Day, sees the main reason for the movement's growth as its attractiveness to people under the age of 30. "In the Forties, Fifties and Sixties," he said, "you found Christianity with a leadership which was unclear about the essentials of its belief. Then came changes in society, a pop culture which challenged the establishment, including the Church.

"I think during the late Sixties, the Seventies and the early Eighties, the average young person was cynical about the need for faith. People got into cults, freaky religions, a do-what-you-want culture. One in three marriages break down, suicides have quadrupled, our society is not coping. People feel distressed, unhappy, unfulfilled. There is a vacuum in their life. This is particularly true among young people. They recognise society's answers do not work. People look for solutions. Now the charismatic movement has a lot of confidence, and it is finding a receptive ear among young people."

The most controversial aspect of the charismatic movement is the growing use of what are known as "signs and wonders". John Wimber, an American preacher who was a jazz musician until he converted through a house group in California in the Sixties, is one of the star performers of signs and wonders – specialising in healing, miracles, exorcisms and prophecy – and has the biggest following in Britain.

The white-bearded Wimber's Hollywood-biblical style frequently inspires spontaneous bursts of clapping and cheering at his rallies. In his books Power Healing, Practical Healing and the Dynamics of Spiritual Growth, he explains his theology: "We are called to liberate territory for Jesus Christ. As we succeed in this warfare, the victims of Satan's power are released. We must face the enemy, we must fight. Like Jesus himself, we have a job to do: proclaim the Kingdom of God and demonstrate it through healing the sick and casting out demons."

Last October, he demonstrated his brand of "power evangelism" at conferences in London's Docklands and Harrogate, attracting audiences of more than 6,000 over several days. His critics did not mince their words. Professor Verna Wright of Leeds University Medical School reported in Sword and Trowel, an evangelical magazine, how a leading psychiatrist who attended a Wimber conference in Yorkshire described scenes similar to the climax of the Wembley Praise Day, judging it "a very expert performance containing all the textbook characteristics of the induction of hypnosis." Professor Wright is also dismissive of the claims of miracle cures and faith healings made by many charismatic ministers. "All the detailed analyses which have been made of healing claims over the years have failed to produce evidence of cures." he wrote, "except for the kind of disorders which in medicine we call functional states, in which there is no change to the structure but the illness has a psychological cause."

Believers are convinced that miracles can and do happen. Roger Forster, leader of one of the biggest house church groups in Britain, the Ichthus Fellowship, which is based in south-east London, is in no doubt. This is his story of one: "My son, who had cancer and was given 12 weeks to live, was healed. He had five lumps of cancer in his lung and his spinal fluid, and two friends came into the hospital with my wife and me and we prayed over my son. He immediately felt a lot better. The next morning they couldn't find the lumps. A few days later they took an X-ray and found the lung was clear, and the simple fact of the matter is, that from the moment he was prayed for, they have never seen a cancer cell in him."

But the British Medical Association has conducted a survey of claimed faith healings, and concluded: "We find that while patients suffering from psychogenic disorders may be cured by various methods of spiritual healing, just as they are by methods of suggestion and other forms of psychological treatment employed by doctors, we can find no evidence that organic diseases (in which there are structural changes in organs) are cured solely by such means."

The signs-and-wonders ministries continue to alarm many Anglican evangelicals. Mr Saward recently voiced his fears at one of the bi-monthly meetings of the Church of England Evangelical Council. This is a 50-strong standing committee of the Church of England Evangelical Assembly, which comprises 120 evangelical Anglican clergy. "One of the things that worries me," said Mr Saward, "is the way we're being towed by the nose by the American fundamentalist style, by extremists like John Wimber. All the growth areas are the extremes, in a reaction to what they see as unbelief in a secular society. There's a handful who want healings and exorcisms before breakfast.

"The more you give people this exciting, miracles-guaranteed type of show, the more they get into a kind of drugged state. It reminds me of a Nazi rally, of Goebbels- style crowd control. There are too many similarities not to be worried. It's the manipulation of the gullible. The house church movement seems more dominated by the need for a Führer. There is also an element of Sixties radicalism. Almost all the leaders were students then. They have become very authoritarian."

Mr Saward put in the same category last year's March for Jesus, in which 200,000 people took part in rallies in more than 50 towns and cities in Britain. One of the purposes behind the march – which was organised by house church leaders, including Roger Forster – was to combat the influence of Satan not only in individuals but also in institutions. Those who subscribe to this idea believe entire organisations, such as banks or governments, can be possessed and must be delivered. This "corporate demonisation" required "corporate exorcism" and a "reclaiming" of the organisation for Jesus, which could be achieved by the prayers of marchers. Mr Saward suggested that this was a dangerous and flawed theology breaking with a Christian tradition that never polarised itself against social institutions, and in conflict with st Paul's declaration that "the powers-that-be are ordained of God".

Clive Calver, general director of the Evangelical Alliance and a member, like Roger Forster, of the Ichthus Fellowship house church, joined the London march, and disagrees with the sceptical view. "I also believe that some of the institutions around us can be affected by forces of evil just like they can be by forces of good," he says.

This vear 250,000 people are expected to march in the event. "I find it a chilling sight – the marching, the chanting in unison, the singing, the slogans," Mr Saward said of the 1990 march. "It is a very authoritarian style. It has produced what I call a 'Jesus, Jesus, über Alles' mentality."

At the Wembley Praise Day, messages of support were read out from Dr Carey, Cardinal Hume and the Bishop of London, Dr Graham Leonard. Such endorsements came as a surprise to the general director of the Evangelical Alliance, which had expelled the two bodies – the Jesus Army and the Jesus Fellowship Community – founded by the event's organiser, Noel Stanton.

There had been complaints from disenchanted ex-members, and a series of controversies which is based in Nether Heyford, near Northampton and has branches in Liverpool, Sheffield and Hastings. Allegations have been made about Mr Stanton's authoritarian style and control over all aspects of life in the community – where, on joining, members hand over all their money and possessions to the Community Trust. The assets of the community holdings and businesses, held on behalf of the members, are estimated by the organisation at £9m.

Religion can be big business. The multi-million-dollar earnings of star American evangelists suggest that the pickings in Britain's virtually untapped market will be rich. In the US, religious broadcasting is a $2bn-a-year industry; Christian broadcasters control more than 1,000 full-time religious radio stations and 200 television stations. One of the most successful televangelists is Pat Robertson, who once claimed he had diverted a hurricane with prayer and who sought the Republican nomination for President. Robertson, based in Virginia, earns about $230m a year from his daily show, which attracts nearly 50 million viewers to 180 stations in the US and is syndicated to 60 other countries.

In Oklahoma, Oral Roberts discovered a novel way of raising funds in 1987 – he retreated to a prayer tower in Tulsa proclaiming that God would take his life unless followers donated $8m for his City of Faith hospital. They did. In 1989 he made a further "life or death" appeal for $11m to pay off his 4,000 creditors. Again he was successful. When Jimmy Swaggart was ex-posed for consorting with a prostitute in New Orleans, he found his income from his TV ministry cut by two-thirds – to $1m a week. Morris Cerullo, whose World Evangelism movement is based in San Diego, recently paid $52m for Heritage USA, the Christian theme park built by another disgraced televangelist, Jim Bakker.

In Britain, The Master List, a directory of Christian organisations and businesses, has two pages of presenters and organisations poised to start making religious programmes. One of Britain's first home-grown evangelists is 75-year-old Derek Prince whose radio programme, Today with Derek Prince, can be heard in the US, China, the Soviet Union, India, Australia and elsewhere.

His undramatic delivery may be far from the sweat-and-tears rhetoric of a Jimmy Swaggart (Mr Prince was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge), but he has adopted a typically American approach. The goal of Derek Prince Ministries (DPM) which has its headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with branch offices in eight other nations, is to "reach the unreached, teach the untaught with the pure truth of God's Word". Three principal methods are employed: personal missions by Prince and his wife Ruth, radio broadcasts, and the sale and distribution of more than 30 books, 400 cassettes and 100 videos.

Miracles, healing, prophecy and deliverance are all a vital part of his ministry Mr Prince toured Britain last year, visiting Malvern, Liverpool, Nottingham, Bristol and London. The London office of DPM-UK opened in 1986 with 20 people on the mailing list. Now there are more than 8,000. It is a registered charity with five paid staff and an annual turnover of £150,000 from donations and sales. It is not, says its director, Barry Brown, a money-making venture: "People have the opportunity of purchasing if they want to. There is no pressure on them to buy." The DPM catalogue. Keys to Successful Living, contains 60 pages of material for sale. Cassettes include Satan's Snares Disclosed, God's Plan For Your Body, God's Plan for Your Money, Deliverance from the Fleshy Nature and How to Recognize and Expel Demons.

Mr Benn, the vicar of Harold Wood, gave a report to the Evangelical Council on John Wimber's Docklands conference last year and has serious reservations about the commercial aspects of evangelism. "I don t have any problem with Christians marketing the Christian faith if it's done without exploitation, without manipulation, he said. "But I have a lot of problems about the latest guru setting up conferences and marketing mail-order religion. They ought to be out there communicating the word of Christ But if they end up selling themselves, that's bad news. It's the hype – 'Buy my book and you'll be doubly blessed!' – that worries me."

The advent of deregulated religious broadcasting is another area of concern, even among some evangelicals. The Rt Kev David Sheppard, the Bishop of Liverpool, has been most outspoken about the dangers of opening up the airwaves to televangelists, and fears we will eventually see American-style excesses and scandals.

"People in this country have assumed until now that religious broadcasting would reflect, roughly speaking, the worshipping bodies of people of different faiths in this country," he says. "But now it can become simply those who can pay. There's a very broad point about advertising, which is that there's a danger of trivialising. Are you going to try and explain something about faith and religion in half a minute? There is in some of the American broadcasts what you might call a 'prosperity gospel' – that if you believe the way we say you will be very prosperous, you will have good health, you will be healed, things which certainly as a Christian I would say are very contrary to a gospel which talks about the way being the way of the Cross."

Lobbying by evangelical groups has persuaded the Radio Authority to allow religious groups to broadcast appeals for money. The Independent Television Commission is also considering allowing appeals during programmes. But the Rev Eric Shegog, the Church of England's communications director, argued that appeals would be "a gross misuse of air time", while Peter Brierley, editor of the UK Christian Handbook, said: "My fear with the new Broadcasting Act is the amount of supervision and control is fairly small."

The Broadcasting Act states that religious programmes must not involve any improper exploitation of any susceptibilities of those watching the programmes, or any abusive treatment of the religious views and beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination.

So far only one company has been granted a licence to broadcast religious programmes on cable TV – Vision Broadcasting International, which produces a four-hour programme transmitted on Sundays by cable TV stations in Croydon, EaIing and Swindon. And one company, United Christian Broadcasters, has so far been granted a radio licence. Derek Prince plans to have a daily 15-minute programme on UCB's nationwide network by the end of August. He is discussing branching into cable and satellite television.

In America, televangelism was the most potent ingredient in the rise of the right-wing Christian movement, notably the Moral Majority, while in Britain some of Margaret Thatcher's closest advisers were evangelicals, including Brian Griffiths, former head of the Number 10 policy unit, and her influence is said to have been behind the surprising appointment of Dr Carey.

It is not clear whether the new Prime Minister will also put Christian values on his political agenda, but Graham Webster-Gardiner, chairman of the Conservative Family Campaign, a pressure group with a membership of 31 predominantly evangelical Tory backbench MPs, feels "pretty certain we can work with John Major . Under Mrs Thatcher, the CFC wrote the clauses on collective acts of worship and mainly Christian religious education in schools in the 1988 Education Reform Act. They were also behind the insertion of clauses devolving powers of sex education to parents and governors in the 1986 Education Act and were instrumental in getting Clause 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which restricted teaching about homosexuality, through the House of Lords.

The potential power of the Christian vote is not lost on politicians. A statistical result known as "the law of the resolute minority" establishes that the entry of even a small committed bloc vote into a marginal voting constituency leads to a high probability of victory. The Movement for Christian Democracy, launched last November by Ken Hargreaves, a Conservative MP and David Alton, a Liberal Democrat, has 2,000 members and aims for 15,000 within two years. It promises to deliver the Christian vote at election time to candidates who endorse its declared objectives.

The MCD's organisers are reticent about their ultimate ambitions, but admit that they may eventually become a political party in their own right. Although the group claims it will support politicians of all parties in effect Labour MPs are excluded by a single issue: the MCD's principal platform is its desire to reform the abortion law, while current Labour Party policy is to support the woman's right to chose.

This year's Christian calendar is filled with events like Wembley Praise Day – the Jesus Fellowship, for instance, is organising similar days in Sheffield in February, and Northampton in March, April, May, July and August, culminating in this year's Wembley Praise Day in November. Also in March a conference called "Decade of the Harvest" will be held at Kinmel Hall near Abergele in North Wales, and a week-long festival, "Towards Revival", will be held in West Kilbride, Ayrshire, in July.

The approach of the year 2000 is sending some sections of the movement into a frenzy of activity. Many charismatics believe it heralds the second coming of Christ, that the end is nigh, that Satan is at his most active and so the followers of God must be, too.

On behalf of the Evangelical Alliance, Clive Calver is at pains to play down the and activities of the "lunatic fringe" . "I don l see any significance in the year 2000 whatever," he said, "except that it's going to make my job a mess for the next 10 years, if I'm not careful. Because the last time we any had the turn of the millennium, historians tell me we had an awful lot of groupings within evangelicalism getting very, very, very way out in their perspectives, and I think we could have it again. I think we could have groups getting quite wild."

From his Essex vicarage Mr Benn has been watching the revival closely. "There a danger of a thirst for the supernatural rather than a thirst for God," he says of the modern evangelists. "The place for any healing ministry is in a church, not a big razzmatazz rally. At a John Wimber rally, I sat next to some people with a real hunger. I'm concerned the hunger is satisfied with something substantial and people are not let down. My worry about this is that it has produced what I can't help but describe as a big dipper kind of Christian experience. You go to one conference to see fireworks. You get hyped up. You come down. What hypes you up next time?

WordPress Lightbox