From “The Foolishness of Preaching: Proclaiming the Gospel Against the Wisdom of the World”

I think good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills…and flush them all down the drain. The church, by and large, has drugged itself into thinking that proper human behavior is the key to its relationship with God. What preachers need to do is force it to go cold turkey with nothing but the word of the cross–and then be brave enough to stick around while [the congregation] goes through the inevitable withdrawal symptoms. But preachers can’t be that naughty or brave unless they’re free from their own need for the dope of acceptance. And they wont be free of their need until they can trust the God who has already accepted them, in advance and dead as door-nails, in Jesus. Ergo, the absolute indispensability of trust in Jesus’ passion. Unless the faith of preachers is in that alone–and not in any other person, ecclesiastical institution, theological system, moral prescription, or master recipe for human loveliness–they will be of very little use in the pulpit.

The final Carey from the archives

Three posts in a day! Another article from the old ARMNZ Magazine.


by George Carey. Lat—ARMNZ Conference, August 1987.

The church needs a fresh perspective on Jesus Christ and His claims on us. We come to this conference from many different backgrounds and needs. You may have seen your church come in a fresh way in the recent past. On the ether hand, you may have had a time of failure and problems. A year ago I was speaking in a church in the west country and the Vicar came up to me and said “A cough in my congregation is the only sign of life.” We do indeed need a fresh infusion of life.

For Paul Christ was the incomparable Lord. He sees Christ as dwarfing everything else. He is writing a letter to a little group of Christians in Colossae, Asia Minor, who were being beleaguered by a heresy. False teachers had come with a smattering of Christianity which they mingled with gnosticism and a dash of other faiths and hoped that they would be able to serve it up as a satisfying meal. They had room for Jesus. They thought He ought to have a place in their religion. Paul would have nothing to do with that.

In Colossians 1:15-20 we have a breath-taking account of Paul’s measure of Jesus Christ. One word in 19 sums it up: “fullness.” In relation to God, Jesus Christ is His image, 1; in relation to creation Jesus is the firstborn, 15: in relation to creation all things are moving towards Him, 16-17; in relation to mankind He is Saviour and reconciler, 20; in relation to the church He is the Head, 18. Lie as Christians ought to be excited about a message like that’. Often we sit back with an ‘I’ve heard it all before’ attitude. Paul is excited because he sees Jesus Christ as the Saviour of everything and the answer to our needs. We will study the implications of that for ourselves today.

How to Kill a Church.

There are three sure way of emptying a church and the Christian message.

1. Strip Jesus Christ of His exclusive claims.

Have a Christ who doesn’t give an uncomfortable message, who is one of a number of religious teachers. A John Hick kind of Christ. Such n Christ will eventually kill Christianity because Jesus Christ confronts us today as He always has done. He is the one who says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” A Gospel with any less than that will kill the church.

2. Strip Jesus of the Miraculous.

Have a reasonable Christ, modest in His claims, a fallable human rather than a divine Christ. We ought to be preaching His humanity as a bridge to His divinity, but take away from Jesus His power and His signs and wonders, His glory and majesty and you’ll make Him much more mysterious than perspicuous, and people will say “why bother about Jesus? Why follow Him? In what way is He superior to Buddha?” In this way many teachers are in fact killing the Christian faith today. (If we didn’t have the New Testament, what would we know about Jesus Christ? From pagan sources all we would know is that Jesus Christ was a man who went around healing the people.)

3. Strip Jesus, of personal salvation.

Replace His uncomfortable teaching as being a Saviour with more fashionable notions, and make Him a social worker Jesus, mending people’s lives, or an educator with a pleasant message, or a political leader and liberator.

Any one of these three lines will quickly empty churches. I was recently in Canada and attended a church where the Minister told me that “We are working our way through Aesop’s Fables. We don’t really believe in tho Bible as the Word of God. I’m a modernist. I don’t believe the Bible is any different from any other literature.” It was no surprise to know his church was dying then; nor that shortly after he left the ministry. Maybe these things are relevant to the church in New Zealand.

David Holloway writing in “Where is the Church of England Going?” says he is convinced it’s going down the drain because it is not preaching the Christ of the New Testament. He’s saying the leadership of the church hasn’t got a firm grip of the Gospel. We must return to a secure hold upon Scripture. I believe he is right.

I believe in the importance of scholarship and research, and that it is possible to hold on to them and still have a secure hold on Scripture at the same time. You may know of Richard Niebuhr’s stinging criticism of liberal theology written a couple of decades ago. He speaks of liberals as preaching “A God without wrath, which brought man without sin, into a kingdom without judgement, through the work of Christ without a cross.”

Another from the archives

Another excellent article reprinted from a 25 year old ARMNZ Magazine…


From an address given by Dr George Carey at an ARMNZ Renewal Conference
at Ngaruawahia, 5 August 1987

1. Spiritual renewal invites me to die.

In my more sceptical moments I wonder who we are serving. Who is Lord of my life? Who is Lord of your life? Do we share that great conviction of John the Baptist: “He must increase and I must decrease”? Are we really prepared to die? If renewal is authentic biblical renewal it invites me in a threefold surrender:

a. To make sure that the real centre of my life and ministry is Jesus Christ my Lord. All of us have a need to be affirmed in ministry but sometimes that need to be affirmed can take the attention away from Christ whom we should be adoring and honouring. If He does anything through our ministry it must come from Him in any case but there is a need we find in all of us to try to grab the attention and we have to avoid that. We all need to be affirmed but we must be very careful about praise when people say great things about us. We don’t want to slap them in the face but we need to say in our hearts “Lord, I want to give the glory back to you because You must be the real centre of my existence”.

b. I must make sure that my ambition is to be what He wants me to be and to go where He wants me to go. Ambition is there in the Church’s ministry. People often say “Of course there is no ambition in the church’s ministry. We are all the same”. Rubbish! Of course there is ambition there. It may be the secret tension to be the vicar of a successful church with lots of people in your congregation and to see success. Even to be a holy person, to write books and to be famous. And Christ can subtly, instead of being Lord, be removed from the position of Lordship that is His. We see the classic of that when after Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi and Jesus’ prediction of his death Peter says “No, Lord!” To say “No, Lord” is a contradiction, and we sometimes do that as well. I have on my study wall a little couplet which says:

“Perish every fond ambition, all I’ve sought and loved and known;
Yet how rich is my condition, God and Christ are still my own.

I say these words daily because I need to hand the glory back to Christ. If we can do that we can do what Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar, said of the man he replaced out there who lived for forty years in a ministry where he was totally insignificant “He could gladly accept the day of small things because he had a vision of what things were going to be”.You can live with significance if you know that God is glorified in your life.

c. Spiritual renewal invites me to take on board deep personal sacrifices that may involve my loved ones and my family. Anyone who has tried to serve Christ wholeheartedly, whether ordained or not, will have learned that it often causes pain in the family circle. One day my ten-year old daughter asked me, “Dad, do you love me as much as you love your work?” I was absolutely devastated by that “Is that how she sees my life, that work predominates over my family?” It is a real dilemma in ministry. Of course Christ must come first Bonhoeffer in “Life Together” said Christ must come in between every relationship. He must be first, but in coming in between he never comes in to divide, but to unite, to draw together. So we must take enough time to allow family life and rest and watch for the warning signs of exhaustion. Yet the sacrifices will continue and the Spirit will sustain in those.

2. Spiritual renewal invites me to share God’s vision.

This is very much at the heart of renewal. We hear it often said today that the Church is in crisis but that has been said ever since the Reformation yet somehow the Church of England always manages to survive and be part of the fabric of our society. But if we are to embrace God’s vision for the world it is going to involve us in a certain number of things.

First, it is going to involve us in clear and effective leadership. The Church is changing. A few years ago the Archbishop of York said to the Council that chooses people for ordination that we are no longer seeking men and women who can lead the mission of the people of God. We are under enormous pressure in the ministry today with scattered congregations often in hostile or indifferent environments, and with acute financial problems. We must see the leadership we have been given as a gift from God that we give to His people. The quality of true leadership is offered humbly as a gift to the people of God. A true leader does not expect affirmation or praise for his gift. It was said of Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher that he was able to go through his entire ministry without having true recognition of his leadership. The praise always was given for the school (Repton), or the diocese (London), or the state of the Church of England but rarely to the man whose able service was making it possible.

Secondly, vision means that we can open to change. To be committed to renewal in the Church is to be committed to inviting people to take on board change and people may not like that. Life without change is so much more scure and hassle-free. All of us are in favour of change as long as it doesn’t make any difference! Like the little doggerel:

My ancestors have been churchmen for a thousand years or so
And to every new proposal we have firmly answered “NO!”

Your job and my job is to invite people to a greater usefulness for the Lord and to take on board that God is doing new things in the world today. And the constant heresy we have to combat in Christianity is that it exists for itself alone. “Don’t touch my worship! It’s ours. We’ve got it just as we want it!” But the Church exists for the Kingdom of God. We have to be thinking beyond our own time because the church stands always one generation away from extinction if we don’t pass on the Gospel.

3. Spiritual renewal calls you and me to live expectantly.

To be a Christian is to be a person of hope and to look ahead with confidence because this is God’s world and He is going to bless it. This means we have to be planners as well as pray-ers. We have to find and grasp God’s vision for our churches and for the world. Church life should not have the predictability of a Mediterranean cruise. It should be going somewhere adventurously for God. We therefore need clear goals what, where, and how much, soaked in faith-filled prayer. Our tendency in church life is to do too many things inadequately. We need to be selective, visionary and prayerfully expectant.

4. Spritual renewal calls all of us to share our priesthood and our ministry with the Christians we serve.

Wherever you have the work of the Holy Spirit you are going to find that God is going to do something dramatic — He is going to speak to members of the congregation as well as to the vicar and sometimes those of us in authority don’t like that. Sometimes the vision is caught first by ordinary people and we will become aware of how threatened we are by other peoples’ vision. How we need to know that ministry starts by sharing ministry. On the one hand leadership is a gift, so do not reject that ministry; but our work is also to equip the saints for ministry, to serve them and therefore the moment we take ministry into ourselves we can cause the church to die. Let it not be true of us as in the reputed bishop’s last farewell to his clergy:

Tell my priests when I am gone, o’er me to shed no tears
For I shall be no deader then, than they have been for years!

If we are to take seriously the gift we have of leadership and that our work as ordained leaders of the people of God is to encourage and allow them to grow, so we must know that whatever ministry we exercise in the church we are doing as a service to the people of God, using and encouraging their gifts. As we are doing this we are dying in the process because we are giving up, surrendering, giving over. Constantly we must go back to the Holy Spirit of God for renewal, for refreshment, for life and for direction and to say with John the Baptist “He must increase, I must decrease”. We must reflect that God has chosen weak and fallible and stumbling instruments to serve Him and as such I have to stand alongside those I serve and to serve them the best I can as a very fallen creature, affirming them just as I allow them to affirm me.

5. Spiritual renewal calls me to be open to the Spirit of God.

We need to ask ourselves, “How can I possibly deny whole chunks of scripture that talk of God meeting men and women through His Holy Spirit — the Spirit touching and healing and reviving and anointing and blessing — how can I deny that? And how can I deny that there are eminently respectable men and women in the Church of God today, intelligent, godly people, whose lives have been radically turned upside down through the Spirit of renewal?” That kind of challenge needs to be faced.

“How can I deny that the charismatic witness in Christianity has been the most significant thing in the history of the Church this century, as Newbiggan has pointed out?” “How can I as a modern Christian learn tht the Spirit of God awaits my response and that it ought to be more my desire to be more like my master, more teachable more trusting of the Father’s desire to fill me with His Spirit?” We need to say the Lord, “Lord I want you to continue doing a work in my life. I don’t want to claim that I have arrived, that I know it all. I must constantly make this journey with you into ever deepening experiences of your love and your grace and to say in the words of that lovely chorus,

“Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me,
Break me, melt me, mould me,
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me”.

From the archives

2012-10-19 14.55.23

I found this article in an old ARMNZ Magazine (ARMNZ was the precursor to New Wine in New Zealand) that I was browsing through. Thought it was still excellent content and worth sharing…


An address given by Dr George Carey at an ARMNZ Renewal Conference
Ngaruawahia, 5 August 1987

The true story is told of when Pope John XXII visited a hospital in Rome which is dedicated to the Holy Spirit. All the staff were lined up on the steps to meet him and he went up to the tall imposing leader of them and asked “who might you be?” to which she replied “I am the Superior of the Holy Spirit”. The Pope is alleged to have blinked and said, “Cor, and I’m only the Vicar of Christ!” Which introduces nicely the subject of the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the believer in Mission!

In the early 1950s Leslie Newbiggin in “The Household of God” alluded to the third great stream in the Christian tradition — the pentecostals. He said that there are now three great movements in the Christian tradition — the Catholic sacramental tradition, the Protestant word tradition and the Pentecostal spirit tradition. This has proved to be a prophetic statement. This worldwide recovery of awareness of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life and mission of God’s people makes it imperative that we truly understand the Spirit’s character and ways of working.

John’s Gospel is the greatest New Testament interpreter of the Holy Spirit Chapter three identifies the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ; the end of chapter seven reveals Him as the Spirit of Power; chapters fourteen to sixteen as the Spirit of Guidance and Truth, and chapter twenty as the Spirit of Ministry.

Fundamental to our thinking about the Holy Spirit and Ministry are these principles.

1. The Holy Spirit is the God who goes before us not just the Go-between God but the Going-before God. This makes a doctrine of the Holy Spirit very, very difficult indeed. Just when you think you have the Holy Spirit cornered like a butterfly — He’s moved! It reminds me of that well-known CMS Youth prayer: “Lord, show us where you’re working in the world today and help us to get there in time!” God is at work in the world — the God who goes before us, generating change.

2. He is the Great Disturber, because to live with the Spirit is to live dangerously, to be open to new possibilities and to live with the provisional with yourself, with others and with the Church. When you are building a new home or renovating one you have to live with the disturbance and the rubble. When the Holy Spirit is working in your church never be surprised with the rubble, the disturbance, the unfinishedness of it because the Holy Spirit hasn’t finished with us yet!

3. He is the Great Christ-Glorifier. Any authentic work of the Holy Spirit is going to take us back to Christ You cannot separate the work of the Spirit from Christ. That’s why John 1 puts the emphasis on Christ not on the Spirit. In “Keeping in Step with the Spirit” Jim Packer gives the illustration of the Holy Spirit as the floodlighting of God. You know how we highlight our buildings by the careful use of floodlights. You immediately admire the building, not the floodlights. The better the lighting the more it accentuates the beauty of the building. You don’t hear people admiring what beautiful, efficient floodlights they are. It is the building they illustrate. This is why it is so difficult to pin the Holy Spirit down, and so easy to overlook His activity — because the Holy Spirit wants Christ to be glorified. Yet there isn’t a great separation between the persons of the Godhead. We offer our worship to the Holy Spirit and to Christ and to the Father jointly.

The Significance of Renewal for us Today

Much of this is obvious but we need to be reminded of it before we go any further. When I speak to people in the Church of England who are embarrassed about charismatic renewal I take them to four particular contributions that charismatic renewal has made to the Church today.

The first is the presence of the Holy Spirit with the believer. John Taylor in “The Go-Between God” speaks of the Holy Spirit ‘who possesses His people, who longs to take hold of us and of His Church’. This presence is signalled in phrases like baptism in the Holy Spirit or release of the Spirit. This has led to a new confidence in the Gospel today. John Taylor said recently “A powerful Saviour cannot be proclaimed by an innocuous church”. It is only when the Holy Spirit gets hold of people and shakes them that we see things beginning to happen. This is a major contribution of renewal, I believe.

Secondly, an emphasis on ministry and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every-member ministry has moved into practically every tradition of the Church today but it started in the renewal and with some fine books such as Michael Harper’s “Let My People Grow”. Every-member ministry open to the Holy Spirit in the family of God is fundamentally important for the renewal of the Church. Linking with that is an openness to the spiritual gifts. For many years I approached the bible with a kind of scissors and paste method, cutting out portions of scripture so that I avoided great chunks of Acts and of I Corinthians and I went to “safe” passages. As a good Protestant I went to the Pauline material and Catholics like to hive off to the Gospels without realising that we are meant to possess the whole of scripture. So we can’t avoid the emphasis of scripture upon the gifts and healing and so on.

Thirdly, the character of worship. Over the last twenty-five years or so its no accident that there has been such a revolution in changing patterns of worship. The significance of the charismatic movement has been very profound indeed with the music that is now part and parcel of all the traditions and the emphasis upon movement and dance and raising of hands. As a result we have become more aware of each other: evangelicals have become more catholic and sacramental; sacramentalists have become more evangelical in an emphasis upon the preaching of the Word and so on.

The fourth feature of renewal has been the way in which the churches in renewal have grown. One illustration: in the Church of England we have had a great resurgence in ordinands coming forward in the last few years. The majority of them are coming from churches in renewal — catholic and evangelical People are knocking at the door wanting ordination to Christ’s ministry.

We should therefore be encouraged and recognise that this is what God has given us by way of inheritance. Lets not be ashamed of it; let’s thank God for it. But then, lets build on it.