Christians throughout Britain have expressed outrage at the wrongful arrest of an elderly Christian minister in Uxbridge on Friday April 23. Pastor John Sherwood was handcuffed, led off and held overnight in a detention centre. His ‘crime’ was preaching from Genesis that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. And that there are only two sexes. He was arrested for a purported breach of s5 of the Public Order Act 1986. This was because three members of the public complained to the police that they had been offended by what he had said. However there is no offence under the Public Order Act unless threatening and abusive language is used. He was only released from the detention centre the following day after representations made by a Christian solicitor.
It appears that the police have learned nothing from the wrongful arrest of a Nigerian pastor in Southgate two years ago. We were then given assurances that freedom of speech would be respected. But this brutal false arrest and imprisonment give the lie to such statements. The police are now becoming the woke enforcers of an anti-Christian agenda. They arrest, unlawfully, those who are expressing politically incorrect views. Other offences are either left unprosecuted or handled with kid gloves. While violent crime in our cities is growing at an alarming rate.
This unlawful policing against such a soft target as a Christian pastor in his early seventies, who was simply expounding the bible, is a serious threat to free speech. It must stop. Police can only arrest people for breaking the law. Their powers of arrest end there. And they need to know what the law is. Freedom of expression is a vital and precious heritage of this nation’s Parliamentary democracy. Lord Justice Sedley, in the landmark ruling in Redmond-Bate v DPP, said – ‘Freedom to speak inoffensively is not worth having … From the condemnation of Socrates to the persecution of modern writers and journalists, our world has seen too many examples of state control of unofficial ideas.’ Those words are of abiding importance.
This country is, historically and constitutionally, a Christian country. That has been our strength. But that Christian foundation has been attacked and weakened. It will be a shameful tragedy if the agents of the state are allowed to become an anti-Christian enforcement agency. But Christians will continue to preach the gospel whatever the state does. The Christian faith was born of suffering. When the apostle Peter was forbidden to preach he refused to comply – ‘We ought to obey God rather than men’ Acts 5:29. But it is shameful that, in a so-called Christian country, believers are increasingly faced with that choice.
There is a struggle that we all face as we seek to live truly faithful Christian lives – and that is to conquer our fear. Because the existence of Satan requires us frequently to check out how we are managing (are we truly God-honouring, and in what ways do we need to reform ourselves, or redouble our efforts to be Christ-like?), for we are, as the BCP describes it, in a constant battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil.
It is all too easy for us, when engaged in the Christian life, to take our eyes off the one in whom we are more than conquerors, and instead get bogged down in the mud of life, and so, like Napoleon’s artillery at Waterloo, to become ineffective – in our case ineffective both as Christian individuals, and as Christian leaders. One of the easiest ways for us to get bogged down is to be affected by fear.
Now, let me be clear, there is a perfectly reasonable form of fear – the fear of falling from a height (or is it the fear of hitting the ground after the fall?) serves to act as a brake on acting foolishly – for most people. The fear of being made to look a fool can serve as a spur to make greater efforts in our preparation of, our study for, and even in our presentation of talks, liturgies, sermons and the like. But there is also a fear which is a paralysing agent – a fear which can prevent people from acting. Those on the stage or in music can suffer from stage fright – that is a fear that prevents the individual from doing something that they are perfectly capable of doing in the practice room. And we know that many Christians live their lives in fear of failing as a Christian – such fear ends up making the person anxious, uptight, and ineffective as a sharer of the gospel. In the January 2018 Tabletalk magazine this is described as “…due, ultimately, to disordered doxology.” And they go on to say that those who fear man so much do so because they fear God so little.
With specific relevance to our current situation, there can be a fear of the world and of what it might think. Such a fear may be a fear for the reputation of the individual themselves, or of the congregation, or of the Christian faith – but such a fear is folly. It is right that we should take reasonable precautions – it has always been thus however. A man professing to be a Christian recently stated that because he might be a unwitting conduit for carrying the virus he would be remaining extremely vigilant, wearing a muzzle (as Peter Hitchens describes face coverings), and that he desires the lockdown to continue. Except he forgets that he might, and always may be, an unwitting conduit for carrying a virus which may possibly do someone else harm. Is he going to live his life in such fear?
When Peter wrote those famous words: 1 Peter 3:17 – “Fear God. Honour the king.” he was seeking to tell us that we needed to turn the way we regard the worldly authorities, and life itself, around – that Christians should not be like the pagans, who honoured their gods with incense and offerings, and lived in fear of the king. Instead, though we should make efforts to honour the secular authorities of this world, we should reserve our fear for God himself. John Flavel:
Godly fear does not arise from a perception of God as hazardous, but glorious.
It is notable that over the last few months many Christians in positions of responsibility have demonstrated what I would term ‘craven’ attitudes in the face of the demands of the governments in their nations, and demonstrated a real and tangible fear that because they might lose the good opinion of the secular world around them, and its leaders, we must all genuflect before their demands. The number of clergy is significant whom I have observed to comment that we should lock down, or stay locked down, because the world will think badly of us if we don’t kow-tow to the ‘rules’ imposed. As Dave Brannan wrote in his Brephos article – reposted by Christian Concern – such men have adopted the attitude that
it’s what they [the world] think, not what God thinks, that makes witness ‘good’. Fear of man, rather than fear of God.
What saddens me is that so many, Christian leaders, and Christians, have clearly lost sight of the fundamental truth laid out for us in Scripture – that the critics they are so afraid of are those who are dead in their sin, and who therefore have no time for us in the first place. The gospel will not fail because we are weak and human – because we are and always will be weak and human, and the spread of the gospel of God transcends our hopeless humanity. If we live our lives in fear of the world, in fear of the court of public opinion, we simply would not preach the only gospel of eternal salvation there is. And that is no way for the faithful Christian to live. The most repeated command in the Bible is “Fear not.” Dave Brennan finished his Brephos article by saying:
What we need in this present crisis is more than just to act as implementers of government guidelines. What we need, is to exercise real, courageous, spiritual, Biblical leadership. And we need to be clear on what our ultimate authority is.
Extracts: This letter is a request from the Council of the Protestant Truth Society to end the lockdown on Christian churches…Britain is, constitutionally and historically, a Christian country. Our churches have played a vital part in our national story…Our country has a long and vital tradition of civil and religious liberty. Those liberties are precious. They should not be curtailed unnecessarily…This nation’s welfare ultimately depends on God. Our country desperately needs the public prayers of believing Christians. We would therefore urge you to permit the reopening of our churches.
We are delighted that you have recovered from your Covid-19 infection. Clearly many prayers for you have been answered. Our lives are in God’s hands and you have been given a new lease of life. We are also glad to hear of the safe birth of your son.
This letter is a request from the Council of the Protestant Truth Society to end the lockdown on Christian churches.
We know that this new virus has been a major challenge for your government. Many, particularly among the elderly and vulnerable, have died. There is strong evidence that the virus is now past its peak. Many businesses, deemed essential, are continuing to function. Many more businesses will reopen this month.
Britain is, constitutionally and historically, a Christian country. Our churches have played a vital part in our national story. They were not closed for the vastly more lethal Spanish Flu. They were not shut for the Blitz. In May 1940 George VI ordered a national day of prayer. God heard the nation’s prayers. Churchill’s political position was secured. The British Army, through a miraculous combination of circumstances, was almost entirely delivered at Dunkirk.
Christians are law-abiding people. We fully understand the need for hand washing and social distancing. There is no reason why churches cannot be permitted to meet, observing sensible precautions. Our country has a long and vital tradition of civil and religious liberty. Those liberties are precious. They should not be curtailed unnecessarily. If B & Q can open then so should the church.
You have said that you will be guided by Cicero’s dictum Salus populi suprema lex esto. There is wisdom in this if the word salus is rightly understood. The motto of Oxford University is Dominus illuminatio mea, the opening words of the Latin translation of Psalm 27. The verse continues et salus mea. ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation.’ This nation’s welfare ultimately depends on God. Our country desperately needs the public prayers of believing Christians. We would therefore urge you to permit the reopening of our churches.
The Rt Rev. Dominic Stockford – on behalf of the PTS Council
A message from the Chairman of PTS Council, Dominic Stockford:
In one of his many examples, in which Jesus primarily explains how we should approach the cost of following Christ, Jesus also gives us a salutary tale as to how we should approach many other challenging situations: “
What king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
(Luke 14:31-2) ”
In the words above we are asked to consider that a king going out against a foe would first make the sensible step of counting the cost of what he is about to do, before he engages in any fight. And, it is clear, he would do this because of the chances of such a battle being far more costly in lives than any peace that he might successfully sue for. The cost of engaging in a fight, we are shown, will frequently outweigh the rather more prosaic ‘doing nothing’.
It is this simple teaching which seems to many of us not to have been absorbed by those who have gone about issuing instructions to lock down anything that moves – and specifically, from the Christian perspective, to close down Christian churches. There are many harms being done to this country, and therefore to the people within it, by the actions that have been taken. People have lost jobs – which they are unlikely to get back again, because many of the firms they work for are unlikely to survive. People will lose income, and in the long term will therefore lose their homes. People will and are losing their businesses, and therefore losing their ability to employ people in the future. And not only are they losing the ability to provide for themselves and their families, many will lose the will to do so again in the future. I read today of the fact that the car finance crisis is going to fuelled even further by this lock down – yet another cause of even more trouble and distress.
There are, of course, many more harmful matters which are now occurring, and many more which will occur in the future. The GDP of the UK will drop significantly, which will affect society’s ability to care for the ill, the underprivileged, and the vulnerable in the future. The NHS might be doing well at the moment (or rather, the front-line staff are doing well), but it will be significantly damaged by what is happening to our economy each and every day of the continued lockdown. And so on. Such real harms, occurring now and in the future, should be properly balanced against the apparent harm which this virus may do. And it does not appear that this is so. One number alone (I do not propose to delve further into statistics) should highlight what seems to be a gross over-reaction. Today’s cumulative total of all who have tested positive for coronavirus in Richmond upon Thames is 235. The population of Richmond upon Thames is, according to current figures, 196,904. This gives us, as a percentage of the population who have had this virus badly enough to come to the authorities’ attention, 0.12% of all those living in this area in London. A city which has, we are told, been extremely badly affected by it. And for that we have basically closed down the borough. Entirely.
Amidst all this harm being done, practically and socially, another great harm is being done. Spiritual harm. The NHS has long employed chaplains in its hospitals because it knows well the healing and helping power of prayer, and of faith in Christ Jesus. This is why every time someone such as the National Secular Society suggests getting rid of them they are simply ignored. Spiritual comfort, prayer, and the coming into the presence of God, which can only be done ‘where two or three are gathered together in My name’,are vital components in health, healing, and wholeness. I know this for a fact – in the past I was a hospital chaplain in a major hospital for three years.
Which brings us on to another great harm that is therefore being done in our society at this time. Our churches have been closed, by law. And it is worth noting here and now, that the President of Brazil has specifically not gone this way, standing out from the crowd by insisting that they remain open and accessible, and that people must be allowed to gather there ‘to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at [God’s] hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask those things that are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul.’
The harm being done by the closure of places where people can place their trust in the Lord God, their Almighty Creator, provider, and sustainer, is not to be underestimated. And yet it is one further damage being done to our nation.
No one is suggesting that we encourage great heaving masses of humanity to gather together, packed and crowded into our churches – most free churches don’t have that problem anyway. I know that my congregation, and many, many others could meet quite successfully, quite safely, taking all reasonable precautions necessary, and worship together each and every Sunday. We could also hold our churches open during the week, with similar precautions, so that people could come into them and join together in turning to God for prayer. But this government seems to have no time for God, no concept of what it should mean in practice to be a Christian country, and no time for any other way through what they tell us we are facing except ‘their way’.
The Bible has clear words for these people, and for all who have lobbied to ensure that churches must remain closed for the duration, during the very time people should need them even more:
Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
And their faces and their minds are clearly completely and resolutely set against the encouraging injunction from God to His people found in the book of Deuteronomy:
When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God is with you.
They have chosen their way, and I say here and now, clearly, it is the wrong way. It is wrong because it demonstrates no fear of God – Peter tells us in his second letter to honour the Emperor, but to fear God. These men and women have taken us down a path where not only is there no fear of God (that being replaced by fear of a virus), but there is not even any respect for God; nor respect for the desire of many to turn to God, and to join together as we are mandated to do by God’s Word, and place this current situation into his hands through our sole mediator with God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I call on them to think again.
 I accept that some people may have had the virus at home, and various other caveats – but untested as they are (and the tests themselves are not reliable) we cannot possibly know this to be a fact.
A message from the Chairman of PTS Council, Dominic Stockford :
We are threatened, it seems, with a global pandemic of a nasty virus which is easily caught, and which has an unusually high fatality rate. The UK is already struggling with this, and as I write I have just learnt that when my wife sang in a concert on Saturday she sat next to someone for three hours who has now tested positive for Covid19. It is real, it is nearby, it is personal. However, we must be careful not to lose the balance we should have. We should not over-spiritualize our response and thus ignore the practical ramifications of our actions, nor should we “over-practicalize” our response and ignore the reality of our all-powerful Sovereign God and His place in the events of our lives.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
It would be easy to read this verse and think that our physical needs, which appear to be under so great a threat in the current circumstances, will be filled by God. We should not forget that of course He cares, for God personally knows and understands, through the sufferings of Jesus Christ, how terrible human suffering is. It is worth, however, stopping for a moment and considering the context in which Peter wrote these words – a warning about the assaults of the devil upon our spiritual equilibrium. At this time it would be all too easy for us to become petulant with those around us. It would not be difficult to be cross with those who are stripping the shelves of food and other commodities in London and elsewhere. It might also be easy to get angry with our pastor and elders for either closing the church on Sundays, or strongly discouraging over 70s from attendance. However, we have to remember that temptations in such directions would indeed be the work of the devil.
As Christians we need to give a faithful and consistent witness to the work of Christ in our lives, and we need to do this now, almost more than ever. So many around us are panicking, are indulging in criticism of the behaviour of others, and are doing everything but the one thing that really would help – which is to hold trust in God and in His Sovereign work and will. We need to demonstrate that trust by our calm and thoughtful actions. We should seek to show that we respect our government (Romans 13:1), and seek to follow their advice (they have the medical experts, we do not), and yet still seek to reach out with care and compassion to those around us.
It is more than disappointing that we do not expect anyone in Government to call for a Day of Prayer – even though it would have to be held in our homes. However, our response should firstly be in prayer – turning to our Father and placing the situation before Him. We should seek to know how it is we can best serve Him in whatever situation we find ourselves. And while we should not fail to take sensible precautions against catching or transmitting the virus, we should not forget that man’s days are numbered by the Lord, and whenever He is to call us to Himself, then so be it.
Our secondary response must be to consider how best we can seek to share the peace that we have through our faith in Christ:
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)
Because we know that in Christ there is a sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, we have a peace that we can at the moment see is so visibly lacking in the lives of most of those around us. We know that in the end this world is not the be-all and the end-all, but that there is an eternity in God’s presence lying ahead of us. Whilst we should not deliberately seek to put ourselves at physical risk, the danger of death is not a matter about which we ought to be panicking. Instead, as Christians, we should hope to find a way in which we can share the eternal hope that we have in Christ with those who are panicking. And many are.
Ligonier Ministries put out a tweet today (March 17) saying that “The world is fearful and anxious, but it is fearful and anxious about the wrong things. The world is fearful about the economy, and the world is fearful of diseases like the coronavirus. The world, however, is not fearful of God.” There is our challenge, to help those around us to understand that those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have nothing to fear from man, or from anything else for that matter. Thus, not only do we seek to act in accordance with our faith towards those around us, but we also pray for those around us, pray for those in authority, pray for the church, pray for repentance and a renewal of true faith within this nation, and do so remembering the one in whom we trust.
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. (Psalm 91:1-3)
Chairman of PTS Council, Dominic Stockford writes,
In the aftermath of a General Election there are a number of ways to view the results. We could look to our local result, and concentrate on that – in my case that picture is very sad. We now have a local MP who claims to be Christian, and yet supports both abortion and the variety of so-called ‘re-assigning of gender’, as well as same-sex ‘marriage’. This from a person who attends what claims to be an evangelical Anglican congregation. I have had contact with other clergy who had ‘near misses’ in their constituency, but avoided such a terrible message being presented about the true gospel, and God’s true picture for mankind and Creation.
We could also be saddened that some individual Christians were not returned to parliament – for instance, David Burrowes was standing once again, but was not elected in Enfield. Or we could give thanks to God that some Christian MPs were re-elected, Fiona Bruce, for instance.
We could, on the other hand, look at the overall picture, which is, let us be honest, if not perfect, a far better result for Christians than was possible. If the current opposition parties had held sway instead we would have had a Parliament that would have brought in the most liberal and ungodly laws on a whole variety of moral issues – abortion, euthanasia, ‘gender identification’, and so on. And although no one would claim that the winning party is either stuffed full of conscientious Christians, or that it is going to stand up for Christian principles, it does at least allow for conscience votes on such matters.
The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. (Job 1:21)
In the end, as Christians, we should finish our ruminations on election results not with celebrations, or with mourning, but with a remembrance that no matter what the result, God is Sovereign – and whatever we might face we should therefore seek God’s will in it.
Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:3)
On March 27, 2019 a number of Christians gathered outside New Scotland Yard in a witness organized by The Protestant Truth Society.
The witness highlighted the case of a recent abuse of police authority in the unlawful arrest of an elderly Nigerian man, Oluwole Ilesanmi, for preaching on the street near Southgate Underground Station. While challenging the authorities concerning free speech, organizers desired to preach the gospel to the police who were present and to passersby. Peter Simpson, Mike Overd (himself acquainted with attacks from the police), Andrew Price, and Regan King all opened up God’s word, proclaiming repentance of sin and salvation in Christ alone
Christian literature was distributed throughout the time, including a special leaflet prepared for the occasion by PTS Council member Duncan Boyd entitled Defend the Freedom to Preach. In this leaflet Mr Boyd backed those who preach on the street:
There is a long tradition of public preaching in this country which must be upheld and which the police should respect. Their powers of arrest are currently being abused. Merely saying that homosexuality is a sin, or that Islam is not a true religion, are not grounds for arrest. Christians are commanded to ‘preach the gospel in season and out of season’. This Christian witness has been a great blessing to our troubled nation. True peace, for people and nations, can only be found in the God who made us. And we can only come to know Him through repentance and faith in His Son Jesus Christ, ‘the Prince of Peace’. These great truths must be heard.
PTS Council Chairman Dominic Stockford describes the day:
On Wednesday, March 27, a small group of Christians gathered in front of the imposing building ‘New Scotland Yard’. Our intention was to highlight the way in which Christian street preachers are treated in a way inconsistent with the way the police treat preachers of other religions – notably Islam. We wished to convey our dismay at this, in what is nominally a Christian country, and protest against it.
For most of the day our numbers were exceeded by the numbers of police on hand – not only were there at least 7 officers watching us, plus two armed officers, there was also at least one van full of officers on the other side of the road for almost the entire time we were there. It was intimidating, and many would have found it difficult just being there, let alone handing out leaflets and preaching.
After the chairman began with prayer, and the reading of John 1:1-18. Following this the witness began. Four men preached, Rev. Peter Simpson, Rev. Regan King, Mr Andrew Price and Mr Mike Overd. Others handed out leaflets and tracts. Many conversations were entered into with passers-by, only a small number of whom were openly hostile. The chairman spent the afternoon holding placards so they could be read by those driving past. Some of those wound down their windows and listened in to the preaching whilst they waited in the inevitable London jams. Though many in number the police were polite – we pray they listened to, and heard what was said.
One moment of note. A coach driver hurried across to us and asked, ‘Are you protesting about the preacher who was arrested and dragged off the other day?’ ‘Yes’, we replied. “Thank you”, he said, “I’d stay, but my passengers are just coming back.” We thanked him for his support, and were grateful that he made the effort to come across, even for a moment.
We thank God for the afternoon, and pray for the courage to grasp future opportunities to stand up for the place of the gospel in public life.
Please let us know if you would like to be informed of similar events in the future.