A Small Black Cloud On The Horizon

In the hot summer of 1984, historic York Minster was engulfed by flames causing massive devastation to large parts of the building  causing an estimated £1m damage. The fire was concentrated in the 13th Century South Transept and left its roof destroyed. Whilst the cause of the fire was initially unclear, explanations ranged from UFOs to divine retribution, North Yorkshire Fire Brigade’s report to the Home Office finally confirmed that lightning was the most likely cause.

In fact York Minster was struck by lightning soon after the then Bishop of Durham, Dr David Jenkins, was consecrated there – an event interpreted in some quarters as divine retribution for his description of Christ’s resurrection as “not just a conjuring trick with bones”. Job recalls hearing the claim that there was a clear sky over much of England that week except for one small black cloud that apparently ‘drifted from the south coast to York and unleashed the anger of God’. In fact this anecdote is totally factually incorrect but nevertheless is just the type of story Job used to mindlessly accept in his ‘evang elastic mindset’. Job’s excuse is that it is quite common for people to conclude that lightning is a sign of God’s judgment. After all, who has control of the weather? Only God. And if a church is struck by lightning God must therefore be angry with a particular individual or the church.

Of course in Christianity, lightning is not just about God’s judgment but about divine presence too. Thunder and lightning can also signify creation’s (way of) acknowledging God’s awesome presence. Lightning appeared after Moses was given the 10 Commandments in the Old Testament’s Exodus and this theme is echoed in the New Testament Book of Revelation
when describing the visions of God. Intriguingly the words of Jesus: ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’, is an interesting twist in the lightning imagery, turning the focus on how God has defeated evil. The issue of lightning from a religious perspective is far from simplistic and Job wishes to obfuscate the issue no further.

Job raises the ‘York Minster’ issue simply for the ‘small black cloud’ anecdote for around the time of the incident Job was a regular communicant at his local Anglican church, where in fact he learned of the ‘small black cloud’. The church in question was generally a vibrant church, with a healthy fellowship and sense of Christian faith. The vicar was a keen ‘man of God’ and appeared to be leading the church where it needed to go. There was however, a ‘small black cloud’ on the horizon – the spectre of extreme Charismania, which was drifting into position. The subsequent devastation caused from this ‘cloud’ would be no less catastrophic than the fabled cloud of York Minster. That devastation would not be to a physical church building but to the real church building, the body of Christ locally.

Job shall add further considerations to his blog in coming days which will hopefully trace something of the history of his own journey into and out of Charismania, together with the impact and dangers such extreme Charismania brings.


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