This is going to be a personal post, mostly of relevance to my Newfrontiers family. But I am sure many of my readers who only know of us through these posts will find in this a glimpse into the warm, relational, family on a mission that is the group of churches I have been a part of for more than 40 years. It is not good to serve our Lord alone. I am thankful to God that I am part of a community which spans the globe. Perhaps God is calling you to join us if you don’t already have a similar home.
One by one, and thankfully still slowly, an old guard is passing on to heaven. When I heard that just a few days ago Arnold Bell had gone to be with Jesus, I immediately knew this death will have immense impact on Newfrontiers as a movement. But although we grieve we do not do so in the same way as those without hope.
Like the deaths of Henry Tyler (anybody have any old tapes by him?), Simon Pettit, and Frank Gamble this passing will be felt more keenly than Arnold would have expected. It is the end of a life well lived that shaped our movement. As we grow and continue to diversify their will probably be few if any who will shape us as a whole family of churches as much as them, and a small group of others who remain very much alive.
To give an idea of the breadth of response and the depth of feeling, after I share my own brief reflections, let me share a few excerpts from others on Twitter, and I have linked to their profiles. You would do well to follow them all! There is also a Facebook page which is collecting longer tributes, many of which contain endearing stories, I smiled as I read many of them. It is only a dinner to celebrate the 90th birthday of my Grandad that will keep me away from his memorial service on the 5th January.
I cannot claim that I knew Arnold as well as some. But, he was one of a very small list of people I would always try to make a beeline for at prayer and fasting and other Newfrontiers events to greet. I met him while I was a young doctor and attended “Equipped For Ministry” which was a day release training course that he ran for Newfrontiers. He helped so many of us cover up our lack of a more formal theological education. He would preside over every session of the course, and encouraged discussion after the speakers concluded, they were all pastors in Newfrontiers that he carefully handpicked.
I will never forget the eyebrow. Whenever one of us made a point that was clearly not correctly derived from the Bible it would raise and a quizzical look would appear on his face! You really didn’t want to cause that eyebrow to lift. The eyebrow made a special appearance in the preaching class, which was the terror of all of us. He was kindly in those classes, and so warm and friendly outside of them. But to him, the Bible was everything. When we butchered it, his response would ensure we resolved never to do so again! He impacted me more than he realized, since at the time I was just another student.
A couple of years passed, and an advanced course began. Apologies to John Hosier who ran the version of this course for the South, but there was no doubt in my mind, directly because of Arnold I had to travel North to Sheffield! This time the course was smaller, and more interactive as a result. I probably annoyed all the speakers by having my Logos Bible Software with me and precociously challenging them at times. But if they complained to Arnold, he probably would have secretly been pleased at my Bible-focus, even if bemused slightly by technology. When he first heard of my blog I am sure that like many he thought it was rather strange. As it grew in popularity, I do remember thanking him for helping me so much in forming my foundations theologically. He rather cheekily accepted the credit for any success I might have had, but jokingly said he took no blame for any heresies I might write! I think that he was probably quite pleased (though no doubt surprised!) that God had give me something of a voice, for some reason best known to God’s mysterious decrees of grace that Arnold was so fond of!
Arnold always spoke warmly of his family, and I know he prioritized them. The rest of us have lost a pastor, a theological mentor, or a friend. They have lost a father and husband. He was also a man of great faith, rising to the challenges God put in front of him with great vigor.
When I wrote my book on the Resurrection Arnold kindly commented on an early draft. Later on, I was invited to speak on the material in the book to a gathering of leaders which Arnold was part of, I was very nervous! Watching him near the front throughout a day of teaching I was anxiously looking at that eyebrow. The fact that it didn’t even twitch meant more to me than Arnold will ever know!
You have heard from me, now it is time to hear from others. Terry Virgo, the founder of Newfrontiers said:
“So hard to believe that Arnold Bell my dear friend of over 40 years has completed his race. So strong in the word, such a man of faith, such a sense of humour. He will be so missed. Our love & thoughts are with Mary, Jonathan & Esther.”
One Twitter member who prefers to protect their tweets summed up this mans life as follows:
“Many men know a lot about God. Many men say a lot about God. Arnold Bell believed God.“
Adrian Holloway, explains the key role that Arnold played in our movement at the very beginning:
“For those unfamiliar with the story of Newfrontiers, Arnold Bell was one of a group of pioneers, who in the early 1970s went back to the New Testament and tried to re-imagine and re-think what a church should look like, based upon the New Testament. Arnold was one of a number of key leaders who gained biblical convictions about church, and then trusted God as they worked out the restoration of church life to a New Testament pattern. This of course brought Arnold into conflict with those who resisted all the changes that followed, but there was much joy along the way. What struck me most about Arnold is that above all else he was a man of honour. He honoured God and God honoured him. The joy in all of this is that although Arnold is gone his legacy is everywhere.”
Colin Potter who founded the church I attend said, “Arnold Bell served the purpose of God in his generation and prepared many of the next to do the same,” and as Mark Rushworth commented, “Some people come into our lives and quietly go. Others stay awhile and leave footprints in our heart, and we are never the same.” Mike Betts confessed, “Like many I owe much of my theological foundation to him.”
Adrian Birks elaborated on all this,
“For every one of us there are usually a small number of people who profoundly impact our lives affecting what we believe and how we behave. One of my ‘small number’ was Arnold Bell, who has been a spiritual father to me for nearly 30 years, and who sadly died on Monday.
Since that time there has been a steady flow of tributes from people whose lives were touched by Arnold and his ministry. In fact, I think Arnold would have been surprised by their number and their depth, and he would probably have been a little embarrassed – he was actually rather shy, despite his boldness in preaching and teaching. For many years Arnold led Newfrontiers training (Equipped for Ministry and later Leadership Training) and through his teaching influenced hundreds of people, many of whom now carry church leadership responsibilities. He not only instructed people in Christian doctrine but he helped people to think for themselves, and above all to think Biblically. If there was one phrase that would summarize Arnold’s life and ministry it would be ‘what does the Bible say?’, for that determined his teaching and his practice, and perhaps most importantly fueled his worship. For Arnold, studying the Bible was never an end in itself, but was always a means of knowing and loving God better.”
Liam Bunce heard Arnold’s son recently preach whilst his father was sick in hospital, on ‘Finishing Well’. He explained,
“Jonathan urged myself, and the other “Leadership Training” students present, to consider how we’d like others to sum up our lives when we’re gone. How do we want to be remembered? What are we doing about it now?
How easy it is to take for granted that we’ll “finish well”.
The examples Jonathan shared of well-known Christian leaders who’ve messed up big time was a wake up call to anyone who assumes that they’d never compromise their faith or integrity. The tragic stories of broken marriages, families, churches and lives shook me to my core.
It was perhaps the most sobering thing I’ve ever heard . . .
Arnold Bell, who led City Church Sheffield and the Leadership Training course I’m doing, kept his integrity and faith in Jesus when it counted. I didn’t know Arnold well, but I’ve been fortunate enough to hear him teach from the Bible a number of times, for which I’ll always be thankful. Sometimes you know that what you’re hearing somebody say will affect the rest of your life. That’s what it’s been like hearing Arnold teach.”
Alan Rose said in a similar vein,
“Do you remember Eleanor Rigby, the Beatles song? There’s a line in the song that goes,“Eleanor Rigby, died in the church and was buried along with her name; nobody came”
That might seem like an odd line to recall, but it reminds me of a verse in 2 Chronicles 21, ”[King Jehoram] was thirty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he departed with no one’s regret.”
Death is tragic.
More tragic still is a death like King Jehoram’s; a death preceded by such a wasteful, reckless and God-mocking life that it was regretted by no one.
Arnold ran his race well, finished strong and believed God until the end. As I reflect on his life and on his death, my prayer is that I might live well and finish strong and that like Arnold, there may be no words further from the truth when I die than the words written about King Jehoram.”
Pete Brooks who leads our churches in Australia and beyond said, “He taught me theology and provoked me to have faith and think a little outside the box .A fantastic man!!” and Dave Devinish agreed he was, “A faithful servant and a friend from whom I’ve learnt so much.” Julian Adams said, “what an inspiring man of faith the Spirit and the Word. A rare combination, I learnt much from your life. great is your reward!”
Jez Bebington‘s words could be echoed by many, who said of him that he “ran an inspirational race, and set me straight on more than one occasion.” Matt Simmonds simply said “The world needs more men like Arnold Bell.”
Perhaps most revealing of all was the comment from, Jeremy Simpkins who looks after a group of churches within Newfrontiers of which the Church Arnold led was a part. Having travelled to care for the church and family he said, “Totally humbled last night to be with City Church Sheffield – tenderness in grief yet a firmness of faith in Christ – Arnold you built well!