WAYLAND CYBERSMITH (WAYCYBER) STRONGHOLD : GENESIS :- 6) JOSEPH EVANS
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The following is adapted from an interview Joseph Evans gave in the May, 1982 edition of Crossfire Magazine, a Christian magazine that was published between 1964 and 1984. Additional material comes from Wild Olive Shoot documents.
Evans grew up an Anglican. He left home for the first time in 1968 when he went to Oxford University to study English. He joined the Christian Union, more to make friends than anything else. One of the other students, Lewis Kearney, came from Bettel and spoke about the Chapel People. All together, forty-three members of the Christian Union spent a weekend at Bettel. Evans stayed with Kearney’s parents. Many of the students were deeply affected by their experience, none more so than Evans.
“I found a community of people committed to one another. The love I felt the first time I went there was almost tangible. It was nothing like the church I had been raised in. There was a zeal, a passion, to learn all about Christ and be the people Christ wanted them to be.”
He wanted to stay, but was encouraged to finish his studies first. He spent every available weekend and holiday at Bettel.
Evans’ parents were worried about this, they came to Oxford and confronted him. They called the Chapel People a cult and tried to make Evans promise not to go there. That just made him all the more committed to the group.
When Evans left university in 1971, he moved in with Kearney’s family. The two were instrumental in building up a vibrant youth scene, writing new songs, and playing in a band at meetings. Evans was widely considered to be a future successor to Stoneham and was encouraged to take on more responsibility. He regularly led meetings.
In 1975, Stoneham read a paper called Sheep Without Shepherds – A Call to Covenant by Jack Melville, one of the so-called Cooper City Shepherds. It spoke of accountability, loyalty, and discipline. It resonated with Stoneham’s experience of military life. He decided to adapt what it said to the Blaze Community congregation.
On Thursday, May 8, 1975, Stoneham called the leaders together. There had been reports about lack of discipline, outright rebellion, flirting, and immorality. People regularly missed meetings so that they could be with friends or family. This, he decided, had to stop. “People must put the church family first, before their natural family.” He said. “They must take a full and active part in every church activity. No exceptions for any reason.”
Joseph Evans challenged Stoneham, “Even sickness? Surely you can't expect people to come to meetings if they are ill?”
“They are more likely to find healing at a meeting than they are stuck in bed.”
“That’s a bit strict, isn't it?”
“If people want to be part of this church, they will agree to be bound by our rules by taking a covenant. They will covenant to be loyal to this church and obey its leaders, without question, for all their lives. Everyone will have a shepherd - someone to make sure they are progressing spiritually. Members are not to make any decision without the shepherd’s agreement. We also need to put a stop to the flirting that’s been going on. If a two people want to be together, it must be overseen by a married couple to make sure that it doesn’t get out of hand. Brothers and sisters are to sit at different tables at mealtime.”
“I'm sorry, Christopher, this is wrong. It is not Biblical. It goes beyond Christ’s teachings.”
“How dare you, Joseph! Look at this church. This is what God has done through me. Through me, do you understand? Who do you think you are to challenge me like this?”
“I'm sorry, Christopher. God has done wonders through you and this church is all I could want. But the Bible says we must test all prophecy. What you are asking for is not supported by scripture.”
“This is an Apostolic church. God speaks through me in the same way He spoke through Peter and Paul and the others. The Bible is about the past. We are about the present. God has a new word for today.”
“But the Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself. His word is the same for all time.”
“Times change. The world changes.”
“But God is unchanging. I'm sorry, Christopher. Will you agree not to put this teaching into effect?”
“Certainly not. I believe it is the way we must go.”
“Then I can no longer be part of this church. I'm sorry, but you cannot put man’s rules above God’s.”
“These are God’s rules.”
“Then show me in the Bible.”
“They are God’s rules as revealed to me.”
“Sorry, Christopher. That’s not good enough.”
After the confrontation, Evans went home to his parents. He felt lost and betrayed. He had found a church that he believed in. He had made strong friendships. Now it was gone. A part of him wanted to go back. To say he was sorry. But he knew he couldn’t..
Evans’ departure was a great blow for Stoneham. He said at another meeting, “Our former brother, Joseph Evans has betrayed us. I name him as an apostate. No-one is to speak to him or communicate with him in any way. Anyone that does will be subject to church discipline. If he repents, then we will welcome him back as a prodigal son.”
Evans stayed at his parents for a while, before moving out to Watton in Cheshire. He joined a Baptist church there, quickly demonstrating the same potential he had at Bettel. With the permission of Watton’s minister, Reverend Ferguson, he started a Saturday night youth group.
The Watton Youth Church became famous. It was a combination of church and discotheque, with modern and traditional Christian music played on electric instruments, light shows and dramas. For a quiet town like Watton, this was quite a shock.
Watton Baptist Church was traditional in most ways. When Evans introduced the Gifts of The Holy Spirit to his group, it created a rift in the church. Eventually Ferguson felt compelled to close the Youth Church because of complaints from members of his congregation. Evans was accused of trying to turn Watton into another Bettel, a prospect that horrified many.
Evans and several members of his group bought a house ten miles from Watton. It was organized similar to the Blaze Community Hospitality Houses, but without the strict regime Stoneham had imposed. For a while it was successful, and several people joined it. They bought a farm, determining to be self-sufficient, despite few of them having agricultural training or experience. It was not to last. Evans could inspire people, but he was not a strong leader. The community was plagued with bickering and arguments. Eventually, in 1982, the group disbanded and the farm was sold.
© WaylandCybersmith 2011