The Clapham Sect

Brad Verreynne
September 20, 2013

Ever heard of the Clapham Sect? Didn't think so! I hadn't until recently preparing a message on our responsibility as the church to social reformation. Perhaps I should ask another question: Ever heard of William Wilberforce? Now I have your attention! Besides being known as the key leader in the campaign for the complete abolition of slavery, he was also the leader of a group that were nicknamed "The Clapham Sect.”

Basically it was a group of aristocrats who because of their faith in Jesus were moved with compassion to address the social issues facing them in their day. They were not pastors, but ordinary saints who set their sights on the transformation of the world around them in the name of the Lord Jesus.

They were moved to action by their view of Jesus. By considering how their master had left the comforts of heaven to save such wretches as themselves. How could they sit on their intellectual wealth, their material wealth, their positional status and do nothing? They were compelled to act as they considered their Saviour Jesus.

When one looks at Church History as checkered as it is with the church often missing the true Gospel there is a constant theme that runs throughout her history and it is that of having a Social Concern, it certainly was not only the Clapham Sect who set about changing the world around them. The history of the church is so FULL of examples of the good that Christians have done in the world that I don’t think there would be enough libraries in the world to contain the books that could be written just telling the stories of saints across the world who have been moved to action in their neighbourhoods, villages, cities and countries. I have chosen to look briefly at two aspects of social reform in which Christians have played a leading role so as to stir us in our thinking and hopefully into action as we allow the Spirit to speak into our hearts.



One of the key characteristics found in the church is that of mercy and this cannot have been expressed more clearly in the rapid expansion of CARE from the time that the Church was decriminalized in about 325A.D. Up until this time hospitals were nearly non existant, but from this time they sprang up in abundance. After the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. the construction of a hospital in every cathedral town was begun. Thus in-patient medical care in the sense of what we today consider a hospital, was an invention driven by Christian mercy.

In point fashion:

IN the Medieval Islamic world –

The first physicians under Muslim rule were Christians or Jews

In Medieval Europe –

Hospitals were set up by religious communities, with care provided by monks and nuns.

(An old French term for hospital is hôtel-Dieu, "hostel of God.")

Some were attached to monasteries; others were independent and had their own endowments, usually of property, which provided income for their support. Some hospital's had land where the land was farmed so as to feed its patients and guests.

The MISSION OF THESE HOSPITALS was to: “care for the sick wherever they were found, "slave or free, Christian or Jew" and so become a center for the relief of suffering.

During the tenth century the monasteries became a dominant factor in hospital work.

Germany -

During the period 1207-1577 – 370years – nearly a hospital every 2 years ****(that’s no less than one hundred and fifty-five hospitals were founded in Germany.)****

Latin America -

(1519) The first hospital founded was by Catholic bishops, regional governors, local charities, religious members of the order of St. Vincent de Paul. Christian principles of distributing charity by the rich and helping the poor through a social and professional network combined to encourage the building of hospitals in all the major cities of Latin America.

Early modern Europe –

In much of Europe town governments operated small Holy Spirit hospitals, which had been founded in the 13th and 14th centuries. They distributed free food and clothing to the poor, provided for homeless women and children, and gave some medical and nursing care.

Church sponsored hospitals and nurses – only at the end of the 19th century did this begin to change.

The Protestant churches set up orders of women, called deaconesses who dedicated themselves to nursing services.

France - Professionalization of nursing in France came in the late 19th and early 20th century.

In 1870 France's 1,500 hospitals were operated by 11,000 Catholic sisters; by 1911 there were 15,000 nuns representing over 200 religious orders.

United States

The American Methodists – the largest Protestant denomination—engaged in large scale missionary activity in Asia and elsewhere in the world, ***making medical services a priority as early as the 1850s.***

Methodists in America took note, and began opening their own charitable institutions such as orphanages and old people's homes after 1860.

In the 1880s, Methodists began opening hospitals in the United States, which served people of all religious backgrounds beliefs. By 1895 13 hospitals were in operation in major cities. ***that’s 13 hospitals in 15 years – in major cities. Initiated by Christians***

All the major denominations built hospitals; the 541 Catholic ones (in 1915) were staffed primarily by unpaid nuns.

In the United States the traditional hospital is a non-profit hospital, usually sponsored by a religious denomination.


Running like train tracks next to each other, unable to be separated is an equally massive Christian impact in the area of Justice. This is where I want to briefly highlight the efforts of the Clapham Sect and also reference Britain’s history as a case study for how the Gospel impacted a nation.

If you lived in Britain in 18th century these would have been some of the problems you would have faced:

The State of Britain: [p 405; J Wesley Bready, England Before and After Wesley)

· the wanton torture of animals for sport;

· the bestial drunkenness of the populace

· the inhumane traffic in African negroes

· kidnapping of fellow-countrymen for exportation and sale as slaves

· the mortality of parish children

· universal gambling obsession

· the savagery of the prison system and penal code

· the welter of immorality

· the prostitution of the theatre

· growing prevalence of lawlessness

· superstition and lewdness

· political bribery and corruption

· ecclesiastical arrogance and truculence (defiance)

· shallow pretentions of Deism

· insincerity and debasement rampant in Church and State

THEN CAME THE Evangelical revival that swept through both continents – 18th century Europe and America –

NOT to be remembered only by the preaching of Gospel


Widespread JUSTICE and philanthropy.


Historians have attributed Wesley’s influence rather than to any other the fact that Britain was spared the horrors of a bloody revolution like that in France.

[G.M. Trevelyan endorsed opinion of French historian Elie Halevy that evangelical religion in England “was the chief influence that prevented our country from starting along the path of revolutionary violence”, English Social History (London: Longmans Green, 1942), p. 477. See also W.E.H. Lecky, A history of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. VI (London: Longmans Green, 1919), p. 376



“the true nursing mother of the spirit and character values that have created and sustained Free Institutions throughout the English – speaking world,” indeed “the moral watershed of Anglo-Saxon history,” was “ the much-neglected and oft-lampooned Evangelical Revival.”

The Gospel John Wesley preached inspired people to take up social causes in the name of Christ.

The next generation after Wesley –

The Clapham Sect (led by Wilberforce) Wilberforce and Wesley were friends - Aristocrats who used their wealth and time and the range of their concern was extra ordinary.

- first settlement of free slaves in sierra leone (1787)

- the abolition of slave trade (1807)

- the registration of slaves in the colonies (1820)

- ending of slave smuggling (1833)

- involved themselves in penal and parliamentary reform; education

- Britains obligation to her colonies (especially India)

- Helped spread the Gospel by Starting the bible society and CMS – Christian Mission Society

- Factory legislation

- Campaigned against: Duelling; gambling; drunkenness; immorality; cruel animal sports.

“This group of clapham friends gradually became knit together in an astonishing intimacy and solidarity. They Planned and labored like a committee that never was dissolved. At the Clapham mansions that congregated by common impulse in what they chose to call their “Cabinet Councils” wherein they discussed the wrongs and injustices which were a reproach to their country, and the battles which would need to be fought to establish righteousness. And thereafter, in Parliament and out, they moved as one body, delegating to each man the work he could do best, that the common principles might be maintained and their common purposes be realized.” - Ernest Marshall Howse

SO IN the 19th Century things began to change –

• Abolition of slave trade

• Prison systems humanized

• Conditions in factories and mines improved

• Education became available to the poor

• Trade unions began

***Charles G. Finney – best known lawyer turned evangelist whose preaching and power of ministry won 100’s of thousands of souls and also help change the moral fibre of society says this in one of his lectures on revival - “The great business of the Church is to reform the world… The Church of Christ was originally organized to be a body of reformers. The very profession of Christianity implies the profession and virtually an oath to do all that can be done for the universal reformation of the world.”

“Evangelism and social concern have been intimately related to one another throughout the history of the church…”

What has happened to the church and her involvement? There is definitely a decline in the churches conscience in such matters and it has occurred predominantly of the last hundred or so years. John Stott has attributed her decline to the following reasons:


1. In early 20th century huge swing away from social reform as the church battled theological liberalism where fresh interpretations of the Word of God took the battle away from the frontlines of the lost and broken to battoning down the hatches and trying to defend the faith within the walls of the church, thus the publishing of “THE FUNDAMENTALS.”

2. Also with the advent of the 2 world wars – disillusionment and pessimism in the power of social reform. Ultimately only the Gospel changes a mans SINFUL DISPOSITION.

3. The prolific spread of the view that the world is going down (premillenialism) – so why change anything?

4. Rise of the middle class. Comfort.

If I can add my own – I believe the rise of the role of media and the arts in society – TV. Pleasure; has lulled the church into a deep sleep of comfort and convenience.

So how do we respond?

Escape –

· turn our backs; steel our hearts against cries for help.

· Viewed as a waste of time in view of the Lord’s return – “If the house is on fire what is the point of saving the furniture?”

· Selfishness. Because we don’t feel or want to. Operate too much from a place of feeling as opposed to dogged determination because something is right.

Engage -

“the gospel is the root, of which both evangelism and social responsibility are the fruits.” Stott, “making Christ known.”

· Turn our faces towards the world with compassion

· Allow our hearts to break

· Feel pain - I don’t think we want to feel

· We have been inconvenienced enough

· Time is precious

· Have enough troubles on our own

· Feeling the love of God towards the world.

Where do we start?

At home –

· Literally with your immediate family – see Paul on caring for our family Eg. Cynthia wanting to care for the poor in her neighbourhood.

Our Church - Oxygen Life Church –


Eg. Isithembiso –

(started out of Prov. 31:8 “…speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”)

Bringing Hope to the Future of a some.

Get involved. Help extend influence. Can begin to branch out into other aspects of reformation once we have nailed this one down.

Position your own business Eg. Mosaic Life – (Craig Duffield - tour operator in the church)

“is a humanitarian non-profit organisation, with a heart and focus to develop, impact and change lives. We have a two-fold focus: Leadership Development and Social Upliftment.” See his Non Profit -

· Create UNITY beyond boundaries and barriers of Christian denomination, race, culture or socio-economic divides

· Encourage a reconciled RELATIONSHIP with God and man

· Facilitate the NETWORKING of people, projects and potential

· Validate the importance and relevance of YOUTH ministry

· Encourage the participation Make LIFE CHANGING experiences possible through individual involvement

· DEVELOP and grow people to their full potential

• Joe Slovo – (started and initiated by a Lawyer – Ray Weiss)

Become a Feeding scheme come preschool – education; Gospel centre

• Cappachino Machine –

Basic idea of purchasing a Cappachino Machine last year has meant generating between R1000 – R1500 extra revenue for them per month for Isi as all the profits go to the home.

What about thinking of something like that at your work place?

Starts with baby steps -

- Pray - Elijah was a man….

- Time

- Brain power. Scheme and strategise, get behind existing works and possibly seek to pioneer your own.

- Recruit - Take as many people with you!! Through marketing – get banner ads on your websites, facebook pages; raise awareness.

- Finance

“If your church/business closed down in your city; would the city miss it?”

Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end; on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

Let's go broader than the four walls of our churches. Lets LOVE OUR CITY!!

• What about the state of our provincial hospitals?

• Abortion

• The failure of government wrt our abandoned babies

• The state of our education departments

• Political corruption

• Constitutional matters eg. Criminalisation of spanking.

• General health and wealth of our cities – Beautification and history

My prayer is that the Gospel we will preach today will result in more Clapham Sects. More People seeking ways to show the world the love that they have recieved in Christ Jesus! What are you going to do with this information you have read?

Let’s face the difficult questions. Let’s get proactive. Let’s make sure that in “whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus." Col. 3:17 Shine your light for all the world to see! Let’s get some Clapham Sects going and show the world the LOVE OF THE SAVIOUR!

***[Much of the above was taken from Issues facing Christians Today; 4th Edition; John Stott}