Tribute: Arnold Bell
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 summarise 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 fuelled his worship. For Arnold, studying the Bible was never an end in itself, but was always a means of knowing and loving God better.
Having studied English Literature at Bangor University and then Theology at London Bible College, he claimed he actually learned most of his theology in private study where he read extensively, especially the Scriptures. During these times he shaped his understanding of the Church, the work of the Spirit, God’s financial provision and the place of children in meetings. Arnold, however, was not merely an academic and a scholar but was a Pastor-Teacher, leading The Vine Church in Odiham and more latterly City Church, Sheffield, and anyone who sat under his ministry benefited from his faith-filled leadership, his wise counsel and his rich, deep and practical teaching which was delivered with clarity, grace and power (and a little dry humour!). He was a man of honour and integrity, an evangelist to the lost and a father to many young men.
No tribute to Arnold is complete, however, without reference to his interest in buses. He tried many times to convert me to this hobby without success, showing me his photo albums and magazines going back decades. Arnold loved the church and spent his life serving her, but he also knew how to enjoy life – which for him often included photographing buses. That said, his greatest enjoyment was his family; his wife Mary and his children Jonathan and Esther and their lovely families. (Although Arnold enjoyed being a grandpa I don’t think he enjoyed having the title or being married to a grandma!).
In recent years, Arnold repeatedly said he would never retire but would keep going to the very end. He did just that, preaching in his home church and teaching leaders in London just a couple of weeks before “the time for [his] departure”, as the Apostle Paul put it. What he then goes on to say is apt, not only in describing Arnold but as a goal for all of us: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord will award to me on that day” (2Tim 4:6-8). Arnold kept the faith and has received his crown and his life is an example to us that we might do the same.
Given Arnold’s extensive teaching of Paul’s letter to the Romans, I think it should have the last word.
Romans 8:38-39 “neither death nor life …will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”