In 1977, it was my privilege to make a trip to Great Britain to attend the Leicester Minister’s Conference by the Banner of Truth Trust. It was a trip I will never forget as I got to meet many British Christians, some of whom I had known only through their writings—‘the Doctor’ D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Iain Murray, and Errol Hulse, among others. Errol Hulse (1931-2017) will probably not be as well known by many of you who receive this article as Lloyd-Jones or Murray, but he was certainly one of the great ministers of the 20th and early 21st centuries in my estimation. If you knew him, no words are necessary. If you did not know him, no words are sufficient. He was energetic, humble, self-effacing, prayerful, magnanimous and involved in several giant projects all at the same time. My purpose in this article is not to write a mini-biography, but to point out some things about his life that are lessons for us in Vanguard Presbytery. He was a reformed Baptist minister, but truth is irrespective of denominations.
Errol was born in South Africa and received a degree in architecture. After graduation, he and his wife, Lyn, moved to London in 1954 where he began theological studies under Professor Ernest Kevan and attended Westminster Chapel (Lloyd-Jones was there from 1938 to 1968). He intended to use his architectural degree to work for a large firm in London, but he actually spent most of the rest of his years designing ways to build up the church of the Lord Jesus. Errol was an Arminian in 1954, but his views were being challenged by Kevan and Lloyd-Jones. ‘The Doctor’ was then in his careful exposition of Romans on Friday evenings which disturbed Errol even more. He said, “I disagreed with the Apostle Paul also!” Many of us can relate to that experience. But, he came around by God’s grace and became a convinced Calvinist who was evangelistic. He believed in the ‘free offer of the gospel’ which is a hallmark of true Calvinism. Calvinists, of all Christians, should be the most evangelistic and that is what we are trying to promote in Vanguard Presbytery.
In 1958, Errol became the first General Manager of the Banner of Truth Trust whose offices were in London at that time. In 1962, he was contacted about trying to revitalize the Cuckfield Baptist Church in Haywards Heath, near London. The church at that time was as weak as possible while still being alive. There was only one member of the congregation, an elderly lady, who continued to beseech the Association of Strict Baptists to help restart the church. Errol was asked if he would be interested in taking on the challenge and he accepted. He solicited the help of Stanley Hogwood who also moved into the area of the church and both men agreed that the church should be built back up through evangelism and new converts. Those were not just words. They were commitments.
It was my privilege to visit with Errol and Lyn Hulse for a few days both before and after resurrection Sunday which was April 10th that year. Lyn picked me up at the train station and when I arrived at their house Errol immediately took me with him to visit some houses in the area. I remember him pointing to one house in particular and commenting, “I have never visited that house and I need to do so soon.” Door-to-door evangelism was one of the means he used to take the gospel to sinners. We were not able to visit the house he pointed out, but we did stop at another house close by. The family invited us in and soon Errol was talking to them about Christ and their souls. The family also asked me several questions. Errol later told me that they were questioning me because they wanted to hear my accent, which quite bemused me, because they were definitely the ones with an accent!
The Cuckfield Church exhibited the marks that are set out in Acts 2:42 when I was among them—the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. Door-to-door evangelism was buttressed by ‘cottage prayer meetings’ on Saturday evenings in which members of the church prayed not only for the Lord’s Day worship services, but especially for the lost. Prayer, as Charles Bridges wrote to ministers, “is one half of your ministry and gives all the strength to the other half.” Door-to-door evangelism without prayer will never work. Aaron and Hur had to hold up the fatigued arms of Moses when the Israelites were battling the Amalekites. Israel prevailed when Moses’ arms were lifted up but when they became heavy Amalek began to prevail. That is a beautiful picture of the importance of prayer for everything we do.
The Cuckfield Church began to grow under Errol’s ministry and has continued to do so even to this day. The growth was not spectacular, but was steady. There was one lady; then a couple of families; then, others came along side them. A spiritual body of believers grew up. There are many who tell us that door-to-door evangelism does not work anymore. Combined with concerted prayer, combined with the vigorous preaching of the Word, combined with the personal holiness of believers, door-to-door evangelism works in the 21st century as it has in every century. In neglecting evangelism, the modern church has become conformed to the world rather than calling sinners to be transformed by God’s grace.
Another conviction of Errol Hulse that speaks especially to us Presbyterians today was his belief in establishing a pure church. We can never have a truly pure church, but that is no excuse for not striving to do so. The church on earth will always be a mixed lot which even the Apostle John acknowledged in 1 John 2:19—“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” Yet, Acts 2:47 says, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” As a committed and convinced Presbyterian, I believe that one of the failings of too many Presbyterians is that we do not strive hard enough to establish churches composed “of those who are being saved.” This is particularly true with respect to the casual manner of receiving those who were baptized as infants into communicant membership in our churches. There is no specified age at which every person baptized in infancy will become a true Christian or even any guarantee that they ever will. The experience of grace is almost always distinct from the performance of the sacrament, even for those who receive ‘believer’s baptism’. The problem is not just with indiscriminately receiving those who were baptized as infants into communicant membership. The same thing can happen in churches that hold to ‘believer’s baptism’ only. The problem is with casually examining and indiscriminately receiving nominal Christians into membership. If enough nominal Christians are brought into the church without giving credible evidence of a saving change in their lives, then the church herself becomes a nominal church.
Presbyterians seem to struggle with the idea of a pure church. That is one leading reason why I believe so many Presbyterian ministers, elders, and congregations are often reluctant to break away from denominations that are permitting heresy or immorality. A fellow minister told me about a year ago that he would be glad to defend his reasons for remaining in a denomination that has accepted heresy. I am still waiting on him to send me such a defense. For myself, I can honestly say that my greatest trials in the ministry have come from those that did not have clear testimonies of God’s grace in their lives. They have been the ones who were most offended by the preaching of the Word, even as the Pharisees took offense at what Jesus preached. My congregation in Destin at this time is the purest church I have ever served. There is such a wonderful spirit of fellowship, such deep Christian love, and such a sense of awe among the members of this congregation. People comment to one another, “I have never been in a church like this one before.’ My wife tells me that we finally have the kind of church that we have always wanted. It is a blessing to have such fellowship among true believers. The church is the community of those who are called out of the world. So, Errol Hulse was certainly right in his emphasis on building a church on true converts.
Finally, the emphasis that Errol placed on hospitality is a lesson we can all learn from him. His church was very hospitable. Of the various churches that I visited during my three-week vacation to Great Britain, the Cuckfield Church was the one I enjoyed the most. I especially remember a Sunday evening gathering on April 10th, 1977 in the home of one church family, probably that of Stanley and Iris Hogwood. There were many people who gathered there, both young and old. It reminded me of what William Williams wrote about the ‘Experience Meetings’ in Wales during the Great Awakening. Fellowship is a vital mark of the church. That requires us to be hospitable and open our homes to others. Errol Hulse believed hospitality was a requirement commanded by the Lord. His church evidenced that they took it seriously.
What we learn most about Errol’s ministry, though, is the importance of simply doing God’s work in God’s way. There are some of you who have expressed your strong desire to me to be in a Vanguard type congregation and you may be wondering whether it will ever be possible. Remember the elderly lady in Haywards Heath. Keep bothering the Lord in prayer until He answers your petition favorably. There are some churches which need revitalization. Pray to the Lord fervently. He is able to do more than we ask or think. Pray for the lost. Pray for conversions. Pray for the purity of the church. Pray to see sinners converted. Pray that your faithful evangelization of the community will bear fruit. Pray that the Lord will add to your numbers those who are being saved. But don’t stop with prayer. Evangelize. Visit people door-by-door. Preach the truth with faithfulness and pray for the unction of the Spirit. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers. Strive to be holy. Persevere. Trust in the Lord!
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Destin, FL
You may send contributions to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540 www.vanguardpresbytery.com