Remembering Gerald Coates

Remembering Gerald Coates

According to Wikipedia:Gerald Coates (25 November 1944 – 3 April 2022) was an author speaker, broadcaster and the founder of Pioneer, a Christian network of churches and forums, established to “develop new churches across the UK and engage in mission globally.” Coates was an author, speaker and a broadcaster, in both secular and religious media. The Pioneer network he founded is a charismatic group of evangelical churches. It is part of the British New Church Movement and can also be described as Restorationist ...”

According to Christianity Today:Gerald Coates, a church leader who envisioned a new way of doing church, free from formality and the trappings of tradition, has died at 78. Coates was influential in spreading charismatic renewal in the United Kingdom and helped develop the house church movement into the British New Church Movement. Through his preaching, prophesying, and provocations, he pushed Christians to be more creative, be more receptive to the Holy Spirit, and understand themselves more as pioneers than settlers. “God will not be tied to 17th century language, 18th century hymns, 19th century buildings, and 20th century religious inflexibility,” he once declared. “God is changing his church. We are part of that change!” …”

I never met Gerald, much as I would have liked to do so (for there would have been a lot I would have liked to chat about)! The nearest I ever got to him was an exchange of comments on his Facebook page, but over a period of fifty years I have met many who did know him as well as reading about him and his activities in the Christian press. As I recall, when in my late teens the charismatic movement hit my town, Gerald’s name began to crop up as being one of its leaders. At college, I was friends with someone who belonged to Gerald’s Cobham house group, who paid me what I can only take to be a compliment: saying that I reminded him of Gerald. On the flip side, some of the Brethren (the group with which I was associated, as was Gerald in his early life) warned me off of Gerald because of his charismatic leanings and especially because he spoke in tongues.

Given he was a major influence in British Christianity (including, significantly, among those from quite different theological stables) and further afield, it comes as no surprise the number and quality of the tributes to the man following the recent announcement of his death. I have read some of his writings (which I can best describe as engaging and scathing when he felt he needed to be and appearing to be not all that deep). Despite being the bane of the establishment (all denominations) with his cheeky digs (I smile at some of the examples of clichés Christians use, in his book Gerald Quotes), in later life it became evident he wanted to encourage and work with Christians, whatever their camp, and that was because he truly loved Jesus and His “Church” (it struck me God has a sense of humour to use Gerald in this way). My purpose here is not to add to what has already been said but rather pay my own tribute to this man I never met and reflect on his legacy, which I believe to be a significant one, given we are where we are in the story of the church which, as I reminded one friend, includes raving charismatics like Gerald and Brethren reactionaries like me – but all who love Jesus. I use, as the basis for this reflection, a one hour interview with J.John, a few years back: “Facing the Canon with Gerald Coates”.

The first thing that struck me from the interview was revelations of his early life and especially, from just before to just after his speaking in tongues experience, his experience with the Plymouth Brethren, which resonated because some of it touched on my own. Before being politely asked / encouraged to leave, he regularly attended meetings (giving credit to them for some of the teaching he received). I couldn’t help smiling at his experience at some Bible reading sessions on 1Corinthians that took place over several months, how the brothers could wisely pontificate on words (spending an inordinate long time in Chapter 13, for example) but then to skip over Chapter 14 (which includes teaching about speaking in tongues), and when he politely asked why, was patronisingly fobbed off. The other observation Gerald made, relating to my own experience, is wondering when considering the thirty-year period covered in Acts, how little of God working could be seen in that Brethren Assembly, for example: why were they not seeing people being added to the church. The writing was on the wall; Gerald left to begin a meeting taking place in his own home.

There is a lot in the public domain about what happened next including the network of churches that was to emerge and Gerald’s engaging in wider activities like March for Jesus and Spring Harvest. Regarding Gerald’s theology, that is not what I want to dwell on although some of it I would disagree with as well as a lot I agree with. I noted, for example, he was a fan of the Queen (ironic given my last post) and others who I am inclined to put in the bad guy camp. My impression is my views on the evil cabal running the world, intent on enslaving humanity e.g. through Covid, is not one he shared. I am sure in heaven we are both in for some surprises. What struck me was his desire to bless and build up other Christians whatever their church affiliation, including sharing words of encouragement (even prophecy) with them, even to relative strangers. One project struck me arising out of his love was him addressing the problematic area of pornography, affecting many: men, women and children, including among earnest Christians.

As an important aside, Gerald did much to inspire prophets of today by leading the way (prophecy is a subject I discuss in my Prophets of the Bible book). While he could and did speak the word of the Lord into people’s lives (with many testifying to the fact), he didn’t, as far as I could tell, fulfill the Hebrew prophet role by prophesying concerning world events in addition to individual lives, which going back to Corinthians (chapter 12) goes to demonstrate why the whole Body has a part to play in God’s plans. But to end, this was meant to be a brief tribute from a personal perspective and much more has been said elsewhere. We pray for Gerald’s family and for the various ministries he helped to start, and thank God for his life. There will never be another Gerald and neither should we want there to be, but in so many ways and no doubt as he would have admitted, he was not without fault, he began projects we may well continue and build on. He provided a wonderful example of what we might accomplish.    

PS: The first report that came my way concerning Gerald’s death was from another Facebook friend, John Noble, who I became aware of around the time I found out about Gerald, who had been long associated with Gerald right up to his death, sharing many ministry opportunities. (I shared some of my thoughts with a minister friend, who over the years valued John’s friendship, having met through their common interest in stamps, and thought highly of him despite any theological difference). For John, there was an additional sadness in that his wife Christine (see here for a tribute) had died only the day before, after a long illness. Besides the two families being closely connected, Christine was one who served the Lord, whose ministry in her own right well complemented that of Gerald’s.

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