Back Tae Torah part 1: The Fall of NOS - ‘Learn’ the problem
Have we, the innovators, activists, emerging evangelists and millennial missionaries scrambling into the desert of 21st century Post-Human Europa - ended up following the wrong Jesus? This four part series traces some of the crevices of this devastating possibility - around my own journey into the Sinai desert of a post-modern Scotland caught in the liquidiser of globalism; the Almighty dragging my schemie butt out of the crumbling Egyptian idols and pharaohs of 20th century charismatic Christendom - from housing estate, church planter as a teenager to The Nine O’ Clock Service (NOS) to club church and marxist grassroots mission to the present day. Ending with my own search for answers under the bright shadow of Sinai and a mission…to return back tae Torah.
The Fall of NOS
As I look at those faces again on that film I recognise, with great sadness, my old friends and brave compatriots searching out how to walk humbly before God towards the Promised Land. Fee and I were with NOS Sheffield for 5 years, until its collapse in 1995. The lessons here were never really learned.
We were introduced to Chris Brain in John Wimber’s hotel bedroom in Edinburgh after a very ‘Holy Spirit-drenched’ time next door. A small group of invited guests shared stories about our new church plants and other crazy ventures. John Mumford, about to setup a Vineyard in London, was there too I think. We were already ‘in deep’ in Aberdeen by then: teaching ‘signs and wonders’ sessions, gathering after nightclubs and planning our rave church. Chris and his team became very interested in us and offered to help launch the Aberdeen service together, because (as they said), “we were the only working class led bunch they knew of doing this stuff”.
“Brothers, Sisters, one day we will be free” - Soundtrack: Joe Smooth – ‘Promised Land’ (1989)* The service launched after many visits to Aberdeen and long conference calls and consisted of multimedia worship, mixed with what they dubbed: ‘social justice’. Full-on incarnational theology stuff, legs giving way, phenomena, words of knowledge, God encounters on the dance floor, and tearful conversions in chill out rooms and flat after parties. As things progressed I sensed something was missing and Fee and I were invited to come down to Sheffield to ‘learn how to do it better’ for a couple of years while our friends continued in Aberdeen.
After the first week in Sheffield, while helping to setup their famous worship gig on the main stage at Greenbelt, it hit us: there is something way off here. We’d fallen for this whole thing hook and line and sinker and something didn’t sit right, but we couldn’t quite put a name to what was wrong. We’d sold our house by then, and were living with community members, so returning was unthinkable. We decided to stick it out. The more we voiced concerns to Chris and his team, the more we were pushed to the side. We were no longer interesting, I think. But we did get to know some incredible people, many of whom smiled whimsically at our ‘critical questions’. They reasoned it as some kind of Scottish dourness perhaps. Until it crashed, that is. It was only then that we realised that there were many others also asking questions. Whistleblowers who had recently been dismissed at a very high level within the Church of England.
Many, including some of the faces you saw on that video, have never returned to the radius of church and chapel, and have never mentioned the name of ‘Jesus’ whom they were so insanely passionate about before and during their trek with NOS. I am in touch with many of them still. Many of them have built their new lives out of the rubble of the explosion. I mean: where do you go after you’ve done NOS? Where? Worse still, once you are inoculated by such a deception involving this kind of ‘Jesus’ - how would you ever manage to get past the labyrinth of smoke and mirrors to find the Real One again? I think that now I was desperate enough to really seriously ask the ‘big question’ and want an honest reply this time. Whatever it would end up costing me: loss of friends, money, career, popularity, respect. With that came one of the few times I think God genuinely spoke to me. He answered, strong, gruff, but insanely wise, like my old army rear guard Grandad, barking at me from the shores of Dunkirk: ‘LEARN. Learn son. Learn!’
So learn is what I started to do.
So, what went wrong?
Next Episode: ‘Rewind - Jesus was on my Housing Estate and it was Braw! (1980)’
* This club anthem was also remixed as an insanely brilliant NOS ‘plaintive’ worship song. It wouldn’t be unusual to have danced and sang to this at 9pm and then walk to Sheffield’s famous Leadmill Nightclub at 11pm to hear exactly the same club anthem pumping, ripping up its floors. I did my own remix for the Aberdeen crowd. This song, among us stumbling saints in the granite wilds of the ‘Deen, seemed to ‘sing our story’ in those days.
Join in the discussion on Facebook