Section navigation

From the Archives: ‘Openness to the Holy Spirit’ – How Westminster Chapel Was Turned Around

Category Book Reviews
Date November 22, 2013

A review of R. T. Kendall, In Pursuit of His Glory: My 25 Years at Westminster Chapel (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2002).

In the past quarter-century, Westminster Chapel, London, has been through seismic change. Either from personal experience of what it was, or from the reading of Lloyd-Jones’ literature, there are many who know what it was in the era before Dr Kendall became its minister in 1977. The present book by its former pastor is not exactly autobiography; its theme is rather, as the subtitle says, about his life at Westminster and what the church became before he left there in 2002.

Far from minimizing the extent of the alteration that has taken place, Kendall regards it as the main accomplishment of his ministry, and in his narrative various turning points are spelt out clearly. First, a visit from Arthur Blessit in 1982 brought the altar call and choruses into public worship; that visit ‘freed us from the past in such a manner that I was actually able to invite Billy [Graham] to preach at Westminster Chapel’ (p. 88). Dr Graham duly came, somewhat surprised, apparently, at the difference in Dr Lloyd-Jones’ former congregation. ‘I assured him,’ writes Kendall, ‘that he would be welcomed at Westminster Chapel, but that what we were doing was like turning a battleship around in the middle of a river. “I can well believe it,” he said’ (p. 187).

Yet this was only a beginning. In a chapter entitled ‘Sweet Moments’, we are told of the night in 1986 when Blessit got the congregation ‘to follow him in a “Jesus cheer” – that is “Give me a J, give me an E . . .” ‘I urged him to do it,’ Kendall writes, ‘It was fantastic’ (p.181). The year 1990 brought John Wimber and Paul Cain into the picture. ‘The word about Paul’s prophetic gift began sweeping the charismatic world,’ (p. 109) and the prophet saw revival coming to Westminster Chapel, ‘like in Jonathan Edwards’ day’ (p. 102). Thereafter, we read, ‘the measure of the Spirit’s power’ was on the increase, until ‘The Toronto Blessing came to us on the night of 22 October 1995’ (p. 111). As Rodney Howard-Browne ministered, people ‘fell to the floor laughing’; one man, hitherto a staid banker, ‘literally rolled back and forth on the floor behind the pulpit, laughing his head off.’ ‘God loves to offend our sophistication,’ comments Kendall, who advocated ‘an ever increasing openness to the manner in which God chooses to turn up’.

There were more prophecies from Paul Cain and these were interspersed with the exhortation ‘to the congregation at the Sunday services – that the Chapel must not go back to the way it was before’ (p. 112). The warning was hardly necessary, as changes went on apace, and worship (previously said to be ‘rather boring’) was altered dramatically – there were now the laying on of hands, healings, drums (to augment many other instruments), a ‘worship leader’, reports of visions, and such like.

Occasionally, it seems, consideration was given to the pace of change, and we are told that some believed it was proceeding too slowly (pp. 92, 258). ‘Perhaps I will never know for sure,’ says Dr Kendall, ‘whether we have been too slow or too fast.’ At two points he is sure that the people were too slow to follow his lead: he writes that they were unready ‘to raise hands in worship,’ and lacked ‘willingness to speak in tongues. All I know is, I have not made an issue of these things but have stated repeatedly, nonetheless, that God is honoured by our moving in this direction’ (p. 170)1. That there were mistakes and deficiencies is freely admitted, but before the termination of his ministry he was satisfied at least about the turn-round:

It was a good while before I could say we had truly become a ‘Spirit’ church. But I think we have accomplished this – at last. It may well turn out to be that my chief legacy was that I helped to make it, by the help of the Lord, a new wineskin into which new wine may be poured (p. 232).

What inspired this transformation at Westminster Chapel? The answer the book gives us, at every point, is that there was clear divine prompting. At various points Dr Kendall confesses to some trepidation on leaving behind what he likes to call ‘the comfort zone’, but at every change he thought he got supernatural assurance that it was right. The six-week period of Arthur Blessit’s visit to the Chapel, was ‘The greatest turning point for the whole of my twenty-five years in London.’ Blessit was ‘so much like Jesus’, and his visit was ‘like the earthquake that rolled the stone away on the Easter morning’. What more confirmation was needed? Kendall saw ‘God’s seal’ on the introduction of the altar-call, and had he not followed the new lead, ‘God would have sidelined me for not being obedient to the heavenly vision’ (pp. 71, 73). Later Paul Cain came with such remarkable prophecies that who could doubt him, and, when Mrs Kendall was miraculously healed in connection with the ministry of Howard-Browne, there was no more question about accepting the Toronto Blessing.

All this is not to say the Scripture played no part in the development. It did, yet it was not the authority of Scripture as historically understood by the churches. Rather what Kendall endorses was the use of texts, interpreted without reference to their original sense, but quoted as newly ‘given’ to the recipient in quite a different sense. Thus ‘Isaac’ after ‘Ishmael’ was said to mean the coming of revival: ‘I predicted the birth of Isaac and world-wide revival’ (p. 108). Fulfilment of the prediction is then said to have come with Howard-Browne, who was introduced by Kendall at Westminster Chapel as ‘Baby Isaac’ (p. 131). Scripture used in this way, with supposed supernatural authority, is unchallengeable. This practice belongs only to deviant sects that have at times arisen in church history.

But to the many who have known the past history of Westminster Chapel, this book raises another pressing question: how could such change have begun only nine years after the termination of the ministry of Dr Lloyd-Jones?2 A part of the answer is indicated in these pages where Dr Kendall has much to say on the close relationship between him and his predecessor. As I shall prove in a moment, on this subject the author’s statements cannot exactly be taken at face value. The truth is that Lloyd-Jones liked Kendall as a person, valued his preaching gift, and for three years after the latter’s coming to Westminster (February 1977) did all he could to guide and encourage him.3 In particular, he was gratified that the American agreed with his understanding of the sealing of the Spirit as a post-conversion experience – a belief that he saw as closely connected with revival. It thus appeared clear to Lloyd-Jones, and to his former deacons in 1977, that prominence to the ministry of the Holy Spirit would continue in the pulpit of Westminster Chapel. In his early years in London, Kendall made much public use of his ‘Timothy-Paul’ relationship with ‘the Doctor’, and knowledge of this undoubtedly allayed any early misgivings in the congregation. In the now-published account, however, Kendall says nothing of why the relationship broke down. Indeed it broke down so seriously that prior to his death, Dr Lloyd-Jones indicated that Kendall, far from organizing his funeral or memorial service, was to take no part in those proceedings. The reason for this solemn decision by Dr Lloyd-Jones was, at first, unknown to the deacons at Westminster Chapel. After Kendall had protested to them about his exclusion, they supported an enquiry to the Lloyd-Jones family. Writing to the deacons before the Memorial Service, to be held at Westminster Chapel, Kendall said, ‘Surely the family will see the importance of the Minister of Westminster Chapel opening the service that the Gospel might not be hurt at Westminster Chapel’ (Letter of 17 March, 1981). A crisis over the use of the building for the Memorial Service was averted by allowing Kendall to speak briefly at the beginning of that service. We forbear mentioning other matters in this connection, but this much needs to be said to correct the impression of Kendall’s book that he ever enjoyed the confidence of Lloyd-Jones.4 He did not, and he knew it. He told the deacons ‘that he had given grave theological offence to the Doctor’ (testimony of Dr Richard Alderson).

By the year of Dr Lloyd-Jones’ death (1981), it has to be remembered, none of the aberrations that were to enter public worship had yet occurred. Arthur Blessit’s first visit was still a year away. Following that visit, unease over Dr Kendall’s real theological position surfaced in the congregation. ‘By the middle of 1984,’ Dr Kendall writes, ‘nearly half the deacons were opposing my ministry’ (p. 91). That same year he calls ‘the year of infamy’ (pp. 85, 153). Yet the reader is left in the dark as to why it should be so designated, especially as he describes those who challenged him as ‘among the most talented and godly people we had at the Chapel’.

The record In Pursuit of His Glory passes over this major crisis in just a few paragraphs (pp. 96–97). Drawing the veil over ‘infamy’ may be said to be the God-honouring course to take. However, Dr Kendall has elsewhere made public his views on those he believed caused ‘division’, and there is no understanding of what happened subsequently at the Chapel without more information being in the public domain.

On June 25, 1984, two deacons wrote to Dr Kendall. One was John Raynar, who as a senior deacon had been Chairman of the Pastorate Committee at the time of Kendall’s appointment, and the other was T. W. Weddell. They wrote:

For some time we have been increasingly concerned about the state of affairs in the Chapel and would like to share our thoughts with you. There have been considerable changes since you began your Ministry, especially during the last two years. Many Members are seriously concerned about several matters. This tends towards disunity, confusion and a lack of trust and of profitable fellowship. The causes may be various but we believe them to be mainly the changes which have been introduced into the Services and the preaching, in particular your present teaching on such fundamental matters as the Christian Walk, sanctification, the atonement and Heaven. When we called you to be our Pastor seven years ago (a Call which was supported by a very large majority of Members), it was naturally assumed that in accepting the Call, you were fully in sympathy with all that the Chapel had stood for. Had you then made clear your position and views on the matters which are the cause of the present difficulties there is no doubt that, whilst respecting them, we would not have extended the Call to you . . . After careful and prayerful consideration of our duty in these matters, we have concluded that we should share our thoughts and anxieties with you. It may be that during the Summer holidays you will consider afresh your position . . . This letter is written in a true desire to further the best interests of yourself as well as Westminster Chapel, and not in any spirit of ill will or antagonism.

The conclusion Kendall reached during the summer break was clear enough at the church meeting that followed that break on 14 September 1984. He asked those who were supporting him to raise their hands and expressed the wish that all who disagreed would leave Westminster Chapel. He was not prepared for any discussion of the cause of disagreement, and when he had refused to talk with deacons on the subject, the deacons informed him of their intention to meet without him on 25 October.5 At that meeting, with eleven of the twelve deacons present, the majority could not agree with the dictate that those disagreeing with the minister should leave the church. Further meetings were inconclusive. Six dissenting deacons stated their position in a letter distributed to church members on 30 December 1984. They spoke of their difficulty in agreeing with aspects of Dr Kendall’s ministry and the fact that Dr Kendall had not replied specifically to their expressed concerns. They continued, ‘Some of Dr Kendall’s views are novel. That of itself does not necessarily mean that they are wrong. But when we find them to be contrary to accepted reformed teaching and established Christian and Congregational doctrine we question them.’ In an appendix to the letter they charged Kendall with Antinomianism and referred specifically to his book Once Saved, Always Saved.6

Matters came to a head at a church meeting on 16 January 1985. The previous week Dr Kendall had asked the six deacons to withdraw their charge pending the publication of a further book by him. This they declined to do. At the church meeting, after a short statement repudiating the error with which he was charged, he called upon a deacon who was supporting him to move this resolution: ‘I propose that the six dissenting deacons retract their letter or resign from the deaconate.’ Debate proved futile, and the motion was carried by 109 votes against 59 (with 8 abstentions and 2 spoiled papers). Dr Kendall then immediately proceeded to announce changes to the composition of various chapel institutions, removing the dissenting deacons. After it was pointed out that deacons could not be forced to resign, another motion was moved to secure their dismissal from office. When it was also carried, hand-clapping followed.

One long-time member of the church went home and wrote:

There ended an unhappy evening in the which six long-serving, faithful, godly-living men, having a good report in the Church and also in the world, were put out of office because they had endeavoured to ascertain that the Word of God was preached in purity and because their minister placed himself above criticism.7

The six men were: Richard Alderson, Peter Collins, George Miller, John P. Raynar, John Sloan and T. W. Weddell.

These sad events do not show a massive failure in discernment on the part of Dr Lloyd-Jones’ former congregation. It should be noted that in the seventeen years that had passed since he had been in the pulpit, there had been a major change in the composition of the congregation,8 including the removal by death or re-location of others of his most trusted deacons. Certainly in 1985 there were still some good people who could not understand the issues, and who voted for the minister along with new and younger members, but the six dissenting deacons are to be honoured for the stand they made for an era in the ministry and worship of the Church that was passing away. Once these leaders were removed, and two of them dismissed from membership, the changes listed above could proceed virtually unhindered. ‘Opposition still remained for another eighteen months,’ Kendall writes, ‘but eventually most of these people went to other churches’ (p. 97).

In his latest book Dr Kendall repeatedly considers the lack of numerical growth that he saw at Westminster Chapel. His explanation is apparently self-effacing. It is that God appointed the small numbers to keep him humble (pp. 244, 249): ‘I thank him for withholding numerical success after all.’ This is in line with what he told the people in his final letter of 11 December 2001:

While in Israel recently beside the Sea of Galilee I had a ‘revelation’. Some may say surprise, surprise. But it is true. I cannot give the details. I wrote in my journal: ‘I now concede that nothing great will happen while I am at the Chapel.’

We do not doubt the sincerity of Dr Kendall’s statements on conditions at Westminster Chapel, but it is sad that the possibility that there was something seriously wrong with the message of ‘openness to the Spirit’ is left unquestioned.9 What he wanted most was ‘many conversions . . . accompanied by signs and wonders’ (p. 252). The Word of God was not enough, the churches needed the Word ‘remarried with the Spirit,’ and that meant, not the Spirit accompanying the Word, but ‘signs, wonders and miracles’ in addition to the Word (p. 202). So he quotes with approval the words of Howard-Browne, ‘Do you think Moses would have had the same kind of results if all he had was a message?’ (p. 129).

Some of our readers may doubt the wisdom of a review of this length about the concerns of a particular local church. But this is not just about a particular local church. It was not an individual that changed Westminster Chapel so much as surrender to an ethos that was rapidly gaining ground in many churches. We do not doubt that there were those outside Westminster, and in association with its minister, who were eager to see that ‘battleship’ turned round. The idea was popularised that the charismatic movement was one legitimate expression of genuine evangelicalism, that it was only a corrective to a stuffy traditionalism, and that its music and praise were but a recovery of the New Testament. As long as it suited their purpose, advocates of the ‘new wine’ claimed that they stood where Dr Lloyd-Jones stood. What has happened at Westminster Chapel is proof of the folly of that claim. Let the reader not take this writer’s word for it but read In Pursuit of His Glory for himself. It demonstrates very clearly at what a critical juncture evangelicals are in England and beyond.

Edwards and Spurgeon are quoted in this book as heroes, but it would be easy to show that both belonged to a very different tradition. What Spurgeon once feared is now upon us:

Anchors are up, winds are out, and the whole fleet is getting into confusion. Men in whose sanity and stability I once believed are being carried away with one fancy or another, and I am driven to cry, ‘What next? and what next?’ We are only at the beginning of an era of mingled unbelief and fanaticism.10

Notes

  1. In a final letter to the congregation of the Chapel, 12 December 2001, in which he spoke of the future publication of In Pursuit of His Glory, Dr Kendall noted a regret that on the subject of Tongues speaking: ‘If I had one more evening for a School of Theology session I would have included a subject on “Speaking in Tongues”. I hope I have not let you down too much in this area, but I wish I had revealed sooner that I have a prayer language. I shall do my best to make up for this in a sermon on the morning of December 30th.’
  2. Dr Lloyd-Jones’ ministry concluded in 1968. He was followed by Dr J. Glyn Owen who was called to Toronto in 1973.
  3. But it is a very considerable overstatement to say that, for the better part of the years ‘1977 to 1981, virtually every word I was to utter from the pulpit of Westminster Chapel had been vetted by Dr Lloyd-Jones’ (p. 248). At various points in his book Dr Kendall quotes Lloyd-Jones accurately, but clearly he misunderstood what the Doctor said (e.g. on tape ministry and on pastoral work, pp. 50, 32). Yet by no means all he attributes to ML-J is accurate, for instance, ‘He was not particularly fond of the arid and scholastic teaching of the seventeenth-century Puritans, except for Thomas Goodwin’ (p. 30). On the contrary, ML-J said in 1971, ‘From that time [1925] a true and living interest in the Puritans and their works has gripped me, and I am free to confess that my whole ministry had been governed by this.’ (D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987], pp. 237–8.) Kendall was known to say, ‘The Puritans were a miserable lot.’ In his latest book Kendall persists in claiming that the thesis of his Oxford doctorate, published in Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649, had the continued support of Lloyd-Jones. It did not. On the contrary, the latter warmly approved the critical review of that thesis by Dr Paul Helm, which was published in book form as Calvin and the Calvinists (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982). In that book Helm gives blatant examples of ‘how cavalier and unscholarly Kendall’s use of evidence is’ (ibid., p. 53). See also Iain Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939-1981 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1990), pp. 721-6.
  4. His diminished contact with Lloyd-Jones is accounted for only in terms of the latter’s illness (p. 57).
  5. When another deacon, and one-time close helper, approached Dr Kendall privately he was told ‘How dare you touch me, the Lord’s Anointed? There is something wrong with people who question a man of God. You must accept everything I say!’ ‘You mean when you are wrong?’ asked the questioner. ‘Yes! Your attitude to your minister is your attitude to Christ.’ (Statement by Dr Alderson.)
  6. The appendix quoted four independent reviews of Once Saved Always Saved (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1983) and cited p. 41 (the believer is saved ‘no matter what sin [or absence of obedience] may accompany such faith’), and p. 100 (sanctification is not a prerequisite for glorification). For a fuller examination of this, see The Banner of Truth, March 1984, ‘Will the Unholy Be Saved?’ and, more fully, Richard Alderson, No Holiness, No Heaven! (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986). The dissenting deacons pointed out Dr Kendall’s disagreement with Dr Lloyd-Jones on the place of the law in the Christian life.
  7. Mr Ron Eeles, writing on 22 January 1985.
  8. The congregation of about a thousand in his day had been made up of at least half who were only temporarily in London and who were later to be found in various parts of the country and the world. The congregation in 1985 was no more than 300 on Sunday mornings and about 100 in the evenings.
  9. Kendall claims that his teaching on ‘openness to the Spirit’ was not novel at Westminster and writes, ‘But for Dr Lloyd-Jones, then, I would not have made it through’ (p. 31). But it is a sleight of hand to identify ML-J’s position on the sealing or witness of the Spirit with what he calls ‘openness to the Spirit’. In fact, he criticises his predecessor’s position, while taking care not to name him: ‘Some would claim they are open to the Spirit because they believe signs and wonders may appear today. But to me that is not enough’ (p. 230).
  10. C. H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 29, 1883 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1884), p. 214.

This review article appeared in The Banner of Truth magazine, Issue 486 (March 2004), pp.25-32.

Latest Articles

Evangelical Christians and World War One November 10, 2018

It is the centenary of the end of the First World War. Let us remind ourselves of that fearful period in British history of valiant courage, self-sacrifice, unimaginable suffering and death. What can we learn from it? Five of the Causes that Triggered the War 1. Mutual Defence Alliances Countries throughout Europe made mutual defence agreements […]

Small Things and Grace November 9, 2018

Just a couple of weeks ago, Steve Burchett and I loaded up his van and drove to Oklahoma from Kansas City for retreat with the leaders of a well-known international ministry I won’t name. The trip was pleasant, but when we arrived after several hours, the gate of the retreat center was only partially opened […]