And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel? - 2 Samuel 3:38
I count it a great privilege to have known Philip Powell as a friend and father in the faith. I first met Philip in 1995 when he passed through London and spoke at Stroud Green Christian Assembly in Finsbury Park, North London, where I had recently started attending. At the meeting I gave my testimony about how the Lord had opened my eyes concerning the so called “Toronto Blessing” which caused me to leave Holy Trinity Brompton, the UK centre of this phenomenon, the previous year. He was the second generation of Powells that I had met having previously been introduced to his uncle David who I greatly admired for his fervent prayer, faith and great character.
At the time I met Philip he had three years previously resigned from the Executive of the Assemblies of God and moved to New Zealand because of the terrible doctrinal downgrade that had taken place within the movement. I greatly admired the way that Philip was willing to cast off from the safe harbour of a job, pension for life and ministerial status within AoG in order to follow his conscience and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
It is quite amazing when one stands back and views the extraordinary way that God honoured Philip’s stand by granting him a new and wonderful ministry with Christian Witness Ministry Fellowship after his call back to Australia in 2001. That ministry has touched lives throughout the world as he has sought to contend earnestly for the Faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) both through his preaching and written ministry in CETF.
One of the great lessons I learned from Philip’s written ministry was always to allow a right of reply to anyone about whom he wrote critically before publishing. It makes one more careful about what one says and how one says it. Generosity of heart and spirit was one of his great qualities. He always had a kind word to say even to those with whom he disagreed with most strongly. Philip had an eye for detail, for grammatical correction and uniformity of presentation. Philip believed in high standards and he set them.
Philip was an extraordinarily diligent correspondent and I was amazed at the fluency of his emails. Not only would he respond to emails from complete strangers but he would maintain a dialogue hoping to win around an opponent until further communication was fruitless.
Philip was intensely loyal as a friend. He would leap to the defence of others who he felt were unjustly criticised and was never afraid to enter the fray. I only hope that I might follow this noble example. I was the beneficiary of Philip’s loyal support on numerous occasions. Nothing was too much trouble for him when it came to supporting friends.
Philip was nothing if not impartial. While he was the most loyal of friends, he would not hesitate to speak his mind but faithful are the wounds of a friend. I remember when he stayed with me on one occasion and he felt that I was being unduly critical. He brought to my attention Isaiah 42:19-20:-
“Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the LORD’S servant? (20) Seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, but he heareth not.”
Philip suggested that there are times when we need to be blind and deaf to the faults of others. This might seem strange for a man who was known for speaking his mind boldly on so many issues but Philip taught me to know the difference between issues that should be allowed to rest and those that needed to be confronted.
I can also remember an occasion when I preached at one of Philip’s conferences and he felt that I did not have a good train of thought. He told me so and on reflection I knew he was right and it taught me the importance of working out where I was going before I started preaching and not as I was going along.
Philip was a great travelling companion. In 2010 I went at Philip’s invitation to the US to participate in the CWM conference that Pastor Jeff Whittaker hosted. On arrival at Chicago we became stranded by one of their notorious storms that had swept through the airport grounding all aircraft. We spent a very uncomfortable night but at 4am I was awakened by Philip who was on the hunt for breakfast... Certainly the early bird caught the morning worm! I have noticed that food has always been an important part of Powell family life: I shall never forget the splendiferous T-bone steaks served to foreign visitors on arrival at the Powell residence!
One of Philip’s enduring qualities was his interest in people. Philip remembered the people he met and maintained his concern for them. I was aware of the enormous trouble he took to look after the flock that he pastored. For Philip it was one extended family and in truth that family was spread throughout the world.
There has been much debate within the church as to whether there are modern day apostles (with a small “a”). It is quite clear that there were only a limited number of actual Apostles because their qualification was to have seen the risen Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:8) but if apostles (with a small “a”) still exist then I believe that Philip exemplified that gifting due to his concern and influence over the Body of Christ at large. His concern covered churches throughout the world and they all held a special place in his heart – and Philip had a big heart. It was Philip’s inspiration and encouragement that led to the establishing of Christian Alliance Ministries in the UK of which he has been such a strong supporter. We shall greatly miss his visits to the UK to speak.
Philip has now gone to his reward. No one could have wished him to continue his suffering which was intense at the end. Nevertheless one can’t help feeling that we still need Philip’s wisdom and forthrightness in the Church today.
Philip last visited the UK in May 2013 when he spoke at our fellowship’s anniversary service. He spoke so memorably about “the lad” with the 5 loaves and 2 fishes and the encouragement to put all at the disposal of the Lord Jesus who can multiply our efforts many times more than we could imagine. Philip’s life shows us what “an errand boy for Jesus” could achieve when all is placed in the hands of the Lord Jesus.
Although I have not seen Philip since that visit we spoke many times. I shall greatly miss my Skype calls with him as I cycled to court. They presented a great opportunity to keep in touch. Philip always had time to chat and to pray.
I, along with many others, shall miss him greatly but the challenge now is to pick up the baton that he has left behind and continue to fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12), contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
A prince and a great man has truly fallen this day. However we are encouraged by scripture not to mourn Philip as those who have no hope because Philip’s hope was firmly fixed on His Saviour into whose presence he has now entered. Nevertheless it is with tears in our eyes that we wave goodbye to our beloved brother until we meet again.