Saturday, July 01, 2006

Tom Nefyn Williams: A Warning from History 5: A liberal Ministry

Tumble is located in the Gwendraeth valley of eastern Carmarthenshire, on the edge of the South Wales coalfield. It was here that Tom Nefyn arrived in 1925, being formally inducted in 1926. At this time, 'Nefyn' was a left-leaning preacher, still possessed of the dramatic preaching style of his itinerant, evangelical days.

He enjoyed some notable success in his early months, winning the respect of his flock and the community. Such was his appeal that Tom Nefyn was able to bring back into the Church a number of young men who had left Chapel for left-wing politics. This was not due to Gospel preaching, however, but his preaching of Socialism from the pulpit.

His left-wing politics and preaching of the 'Social Gospel', especially during the period of the General Strike of 1926, increased the new minister's popularity. His main focus was not the care of souls, but the care of bodies. Tom Nefyn campaigned fervently against slum housing, doing a thorough survey of the housing belonging to the Coal Company in Tumble and sending his findings to the management. Asked whether such campaigning was appropriate work for a ministry, Tom Nefyn replied '[...] that the building of an impressive Chapel to worship God while the worshippers lived in slum condidtions was nothing but 'empty worship.' (Robert Pope, Building Jerusalem (1998), p.209). But Tom Nefyn was not simply a political preacher. When offered the Labour Party nomination for Cardiganshire, he turned it down. Rather, he believed that Gospel work was practical work. To allow him to speak in his own words:

"... devotion without responsiblity is not enough; prayer without work is not
enough; the Father's satisfaction on the Mount of Transfiguration is not enough
without satisfying the father of the epileptic boy on the plain."

Swift recourse to the Bible reveals that Tom Nefyn's exposition to be troubling, committed to naturalistic philosophy (the boy was demon-possessed, according to Christ), and distorting the passage (Jesus rebuked his disciples for their unbelief, and in Mark's Gospel states that Prayer and fasting were necessary to expel the demon). In an address to the London Association in October 1927, in which Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was ordained, Tom Nefyn spoke of Christ as an ideal which all men should seek to follow in order to live a fulfilled life.

By this time, there was disquiet in the Presbyterian Church of Wales over Tom Nefyn, indeed, he was under investigation. Four elders had resigned over his unorthodox style of worship, commitment to left-wing politics, and his theology. The complaints were referred to the South Wales Association in June 1927.

We shall see, next time, what the investigation revealed. and I warn you, it wasn't pretty.



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