At 1.56 a.m. on Monday July 9th 1984 the South Transept roof of York Minster suddenly burst into flames, and was totally destroyed before the Fire Brigade could do anything about it. This was a strange event indeed, because although the “official explanation” has always been that a bolt of lightning caused it, the sky happened to be completely clear that night, and nobody heard any thunder, even though some eye witnesses spoke about a strange “sword-like stab of fire” reaching down from some “rugby-ball shaped orange object” above the Minster.
The Cathedral’s roof was fully wired with lightning rods, which for some reason didn’t work that night. In addition there were six smoke detectors in the ceiling, which had been tested just a month before. Again, these didn’t register. In other words, the whole event may be considered an inexplicable mystery. The York Minster article on the Internet says simply, “On 9 July 1984 a fire, probably caused by lightning, destroyed the roof of the South Transept.”
The days following the fire were full of theories, accounts, interviews, and speculations. Local papers and the national press gave much space to the event. The Daily Telegraph of July 10th devoted a whole page to pictures and stories, from which we have reproduced the above photograph and diagram. Gradually the intensity waned, and now, at the turn of the Millennium, many people are totally unaware of the event, unless they happen to go on a guided tour round the Minster. Repairs cost £2,250,000, and a further £350,000 was spent on installing modern fire protection systems.
Why has it been necessary to include this event in the book? Surely it’s just one of those inexplicable happenings, of which history is replete? We do not think so. Let’s follow it up.
On the afternoon of Saturday 7th July, about 35 hours before the devastating fire, David Jenkins was consecrated Bishop of Durham in York Minster by Dr. Habgood, Archbishop of York. There were many protesters outside the Minster noisily voicing their dissent, so much so that a police presence was necessary to maintain law and order. Why was this? And in any case, who was David Jenkins?
Most Anglicans were quite surprised to learn that he had been selected for this prestigious post, the fourth most important church position in the land, one that carried a seat in the House of Lords. Jenkins, at 60 years of age, had lived the quiet life of an Oxford don, had been a church bureaucrat in Geneva, and had finally settled into academic life as Professor of Religion at Leeds University. To many, he was just a man with merry blue eyes, a shock of white hair, and interests that included bird-watching, hill climbing, and Mozart. So why all the fuss?
The reason was easy to find. The previous spring American television had asked him to appear on a chat show. In answering certain questions, David Jenkins had expressed his opinion that the Virgin Birth was incredible. In his own words, “I wouldn’t put it past God to arrange a virgin birth if he wanted to, but I very much doubt if he would, because it seems to be contrary to the way in which he deals with persons and brings his wonders out of natural personal relationships. We have no right to insist on the literal truth about the Virgin birth. To insist on literal language is to get stuck in something very close to magic and superstition, and to encourage unbelievers that we religious people deal in fairy tales.” Later in the programme he also denied belief in the literal resurrection of Jesus.
Back in the U.K., based on Jenkins’ statements in the States, the BBC programme “Credo,” made an analysis of the beliefs of church hierarchy, and presented the disturbing fact that one third of Church of England Bishops held the same views as Jenkins, but hadn’t been quite so flamboyant in advertising their “disbeliefs” in public.
To deny the Virgin Birth and the Literal Resurrection of Jesus Christ is to remove the two basic foundation stones of Christianity, and many Christians were up in arms when they realised that this man was being given such a high-ranking post in the church. One minister, Rev. TonyHigton, vicar of St. Mary’s Church in Hawkwell, Essex, had sent a petition of 12,000 names to York Minster opposing the ordination of Jenkins. It had no effect. In addition he had written to 11,000 parishes throughout the land with a trumpet-call to fundamental Christian belief. He received a positive response from about 1,000. “That’s 10 percent,” he said. “I believe we can make some impact with that.” When interviewed, Tony Higton said, “The historic event is important. If Jesus didn’t die and rise again the third day, then the whole of the faith is eyewash. I’m quite convinced that the Bible means physically and bodily, not in some vague spiritual sense.” After the Minster fire, he went on to say, “I believe it was a divine warning. I’m just very sad that a historic building had to be damaged.”
The American evangelist Billy Graham, after holding a series of rallies round Britain earlier that summer, said he believed in the theory of divine retribution. “This event,” he said, when asked about the Minster fire, “served to shake people from their apathy and caused them to consider what the Bible really does have to say about life and God.”
But the Anglican authorities were adamant in their view that the fire was just “an act of God” in the sense that Insurance Companies use, and had nothing to do with divine warnings. David Jenkins said, “My daughter asked me why people didn’t say instead that the devil was so angry at my consecration that he set the church on fire. There is room for miracles, but you have to decide what the miracle proves. I believe the bolt from the night sky derived from simple weather conditions.” Dr. Habgood, the Archbishop, was of the same opinion.
Here then is a case in point. We began by asking the question about divine interventions as warnings from God, as judgments on lawlessness, and here we are presented with almost incontrovertible evidence that God had spoken to the Nation, and more particularly to the Church, by this fire. The strange manner in which the fire was caused, combined with the fact that it happened just hours after the ordination of a man of bankrupt theology, is too coincidental to dismiss. We speak here of “coincidence” in the correct manner. It was a divine coincidence, showing divine displeasure at one who denied the very foundations of Christian belief. It is one of a number of such “coincidences”, all of which have been sent by God to alert us to the shameful way in which we, as a nation, are discarding the faith of our fathers. We are walking down the wide road that leads to destruction instead of fighting for righteousness, truth, and fidelity.
But the Anglican authorities publicly denied all responsibility. They hid the truth from the British people, and are therefore doubly responsible before God.
“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Proverbs 14:34