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The Holy Spirit: A Confusing Creed

The Roman Empire as it declined in influence, was divided into Rome and Constantinople, with an Emperor in each, and a Church divided on doctrines. A “Pope” each, as well!

Trying to fathom out the doctrine of the Holy Trinity after changes made in the Nicene Creed, (the one we use at the Eucharist) the final split came in a dispute that had been simmering for six centuries over three words.

There had been an uneasy standoff for most of this time over the place of the Holy Spirit in the Godhead.

“Was He a Person (equal to the Father and the Son) or merely an agency of both?”

Originally, ideas tended to assume that there were only two persons (a “Holy Duality) of Father and Son, but with the final shaping of the Nicene Creed in 381, three words had been inserted that changed it all, viz., “Who proceedeth from the Father AND the Son.

This made the Eastern Christians, centred on Constaninople (The “Orthodox”) very cross, and brought about their separation from Rome and the Western Church in 1054 called “The Great Schism” the “Great separation”.

It had not been helped by Rome claiming that its Pope was master over ALL Christians, whether East or West to whom all were to be obedient.

These differences have not been eased during the last 100 or more years, with the proclamation that “The Pope is infallible” for which there is no Biblical evidence at all.

It enabled Rome to produce doctrines, which while they may have had popular support among its followers, were not so by historical or Biblical evidence.

However, that is as it may be, we have to take note of the activity of the Spirit regarding the growth of the Christian Church from the resurrection onwards and for this there is plenty of evidence.

“It seemeth good to the Holy Spirit and to us” say the gathered apostles in Jerusalem, when they decided that the Gentiles need not observe the numerous pernickety worship rules of the Jews, only certain basics, and this was no small step forward for a “Missioning” Church.

The Spirit eased the task of the Evangelists of The Church, increasing the rapidity of conversion among the Gentiles.

The Spirit is mentioned as the motivating and guiding force throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments and seems quite arbitrary in His judgements.

This is the message that comes clearly, that God through the Holy Spirit is present empowering, guiding, strengthening, creating from the very beginning of existence.

It is of some significance that what makes the “Catholic” Church a Universal religion destroying all barriers, can be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit.

Without the breaking of barriers between Jew and Gentile guided by the Spirit there could be no “Universal” Church, therefore the Nicene Creed states that the Spirit is to be “worshipped together with the Father AND the Son”.

The Spirit is the link between God and His people and God’s People with one another; by inspiring and promoting Christian love in our relationships, enabling us to sing: “Where true love and kindness are found, God Himself is there”; the motivating power is that of “love”.

Remember that this Greek word “agape”, (pronounced a-ga-pay) in the Greek New Testament has a unique quality, for it suggests “concern and care”, treating each other as if they matter to you, loving them as much as you love yourself.

Setting all divisions aside, the truth is that the Holy Spirit is fundamental to understanding the Christian life and should be the Guide and “Comforter” (“strengthener”) of both The Church as a whole and ourselves as individuals.


22 September 2019.

The Holy Spirit: "Lord and giver of life"

Talk of the Holy Spirit, and one might immediately think of Pentecost, with the outpouring by the apostles, obviously under the influence, not of drink, but of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, in the very first verses of Genesis, we find that Creation springs from the activity of God’s Spirit, and is the source of “Life”; note it is “The Spirit of God”, and as Hans Kung, a German theologian rightly points out, that ‘The Spirit is both the Spirit of the Father and of the Son”, the agent by whom (the Spirit is a ”He” and not an “It”) things happen.

It is interesting that what is translated as “Spirit” or “Ghost” is “pneuma” (Greek), from which our word “pneumatic” comes, an invisible, powerful force where air under pressure is able to exert great force. The Spirit is the invisible but powerful force that enables God and Jesus’ work to be done.

The book of Wisdom (to be found in an adjunct to the Old Testament, called the “Apochrypha”), identifies “Wisdom” as another expression of God’s thoughts, and although the text implies that it is a “she”, it suggests that in fact, he is masculine.

Throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, the Spirit is a cogent force in conveying God’s will to those who seek guidance and an enabling force to carry it out.

It is the Spirit by whom the leaders of the Hebrews are guided and given the power to triumph; when the guidance of the Spirit is ignored, then disaster strikes.

The Early Church was aware of the Spirit in ways which have been lost over the centuries of The Church’s existence. We give lip-service to a Guiding and Enabling force emanating from God the Father and the Son, but we are half-hearted in practise.

My training Vicar John, refused to say conventional prayers prior to a PCC meeting, because it seemed to be a prelude to meetings that very often did not convey that sense of power and ability which the scriptures would lead us to expect.

The late Archbishop Temple in his valuable book “Readings in St. John’s Gospel” warns “When you pray, ‘Come Holy Spirit’ you should know the risks you may be taking and be dismayed by the guidance that the Spirit gives, changing your ideas and plans”.

Sometimes as the hymn says “We linger, shivering on the beach, but fear to launch away”, and I believe it is the failure of the modern Church to be bold, decisive and confident.

Every parish where I have been called to lead has had it’s own problems, particularly in those that were strapped for cash and where a major appeal for funds to pay for what was needed to be done seemed daunting and impossible; By proceeding in faith, the funds came and never through years of building and fund-raising was the work ever frustrated by lack of funds or energy input by the people themselves,

The modern Church of England seems to have lost a sense of divine direction and spiritual energy and is bogged down by all the various agencies and conventions and there is no sense of that confidence shown, for instance in the Acts of the Apostles.

Where is that confident leadership from the top that we ought to expect and receive?

In the 1950s, the prospect of having coffee after Church  (which some of us thought to be one way forward in uniting a disunited parish) brought complaints by one or two to the Bishop in that “Father George was turning Holy Trinity into a Coffee Shop!” and also drawing criticism from some of my clerical brethren.  The decision was “Spirit led” for we had prayed about it and were therefore sure that it would succeed.

Not every new idea is a winner, but if is adopted because that is the way the Spirit is leading us, then it cannot fail.

“Come Holy Spirit our souls inspire” but do we really want to be “lightened with celestial fire”? 


15 September 2019

Creed or Chaos: "He ascended into heaven"

Owen, one of our choirboys at Wootton approached me after the Ascension Day Eucharist with a puzzled look on his face.

A very bright lad and an avid reader.

“Father”, he said, “I have studied what the Bible says, that ‘Jesus ascended into heaven’. Now, I have studied how big the Universe is and have calculated that going up at the greatest speed a human could survive, Jesus won’t have arrived in heaven yet!”

He was, as far as I know correct in his maths. However, the Ascension receives different treatment in the New Testament.

Luke records in his Gospel that ‘a cloud received Him out of their sight’, Mark (the earliest Gospel) gives no details, except that Jesus ‘sat down at the right hand of God’ and John doesn’t mention it at all.

Matthew gives us the account where Jesus is recorded as giving a final command to His disciples, “Go therefore into all the world and preach the Gospel”.

We have a choice; whether Jesus went up into heaven, his robes fluttering around Him, or more likely He just disappeared, possibly amid a cloud.

No matter how Jesus disappeared, those early disciples knew that Jesus had returned from whence He had come, His bodily presence removed.

This was essential, for Matthew records that there was (and is) that promise, that He will be with us (yes, all of us) until the end of time.

We have a “Catholic” Christ, meaning that Jesus is universally present to everyone who calls upon Him and in that spiritual Presence, He can be with a refugee in some squalid camp, or a millionaire in a Mayfair luxury penthouse.

Jesus goes from us, in order that He can always be with us.

He said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them” which gives the lie to the priest who said that He wouldn’t take a service because there wouldn’t be enough attending to make it worth while!”

There is more, for the being that ascended into Heaven was both God and Man, and for us that is important, for it signifies that humanity has been therefore glorified.

As the Athanasian Creed says that “Jesus is both God and Man, but one Christ. Not by conversion of he Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into Christ".

That common humanity has been raised to a Divine stature; the Body, born of a country maid is seated at the premier place next to the Father, wherever Heaven is (and it may be closer to us than we imagine).

It was said that “Heaven is where God is”, and that is true, for we can ourselves be in the Presence whoever, whenever and wherever we are.

In our daily devotions, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus is close to us; He isn’t “Up there” but “Down here, NOW”.

“Lo, God is here, let us rejoice and say ‘How awe-ful’ is this place” sings a Victorian hymn and we need to find time and place to become aware of this truth.

In the Dom Camillo stories, the little priest is aware of that Presence and talks to God as he would to any human being.

In our daily prayers, although Jesus is our brother and we can approach Him with boldness, yet we need to bear in mind that He is also “Immortal. Invisible, God only wise” and that hymn must make us aware in whose presence we are.

To help me with my prayers, I now have a lighted candle by me, reminding me that I am not alone; give it a try!

Ascension is not only a commemoration of Jesus returning from whence He came, but a reminder of our heavenly hope, “May  we go where He has gone, rest and reign with Him in Heaven”.

Alleluia, Amen.


1 September 2019

Creed or Chaos: "The third day He rose again"

But, of course, Jesus didn’t, for that implies that Jesus, crucified as a Man, raised Himself from the dead. The Resurrection was the action of the Father.

Peter in his preaching always said “God raised Jesus from the dead” (Acts 2, vv22-36), Jesus lived and died as a man enduring all that terrible suffering and rejection and this suffering was in God Incarnate (“Made flesh”).

One purpose of the Easter event was to justify Jesus’ claims to preach and perform actions that only God can.

The Resurrection was proof that “God was ‘In Christ’, reconciling the world to Himself” and the figure that ascended into heaven 40 days later was both God and Man.

The Resurrection as it was and is, proves us that His life after death being raised by the hand of God is vital as it demonstrates that all Jesus’ teaching and mission were authentic, displaying the true nature of the Divine.

What does that mean for us?

If we wish to know the character of God (whom Jesus indicated that He is a God of Love  and Compassion) it is mediated to us through Jesus.

Humanity, with all its faults, has been interwoven with the Godhead and it is on that basis that Jesus’ promise of eternal life is based.

The Easter event was the Father’s Seal of Approval on the Man who was once the Carpenter of Nazareth.

Those who jeered at the suffering figure on the cross said “He saved others, Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the Cross”, not realising that as He hung there dying, He was in fact saving, not Himself, but all mankind. In His death was our life.

Nevertheless, if we are to share in God’s eternity, we need to think deeply about what eternal life for us entails.

For this, Jesus gave no definite teaching; no angelic choir, no harps or eternal singing, no wings.

When questioned about “With what body shall we come” we need to turn to the simple reasoning of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, where we are reminded that whatever body we have is one tailored to our existence.

It will not be our original bodies, for obviously they are not suitable for Eternity. Paul gives us an analogy by the different creatures being given bodies suitable for their style of life. A fish for living in and under the water, birds capable of flying. However it is essential that we have a body of some sort, for that is part of our identity, not being a puff of wind in the ether.

You might suggest that the fact that the Risen Lord has the same recognisable Body (including the crucifixion scars in hands, feet and side), that this will be the form of our eternal body. However, a moment’s thought will show that if Jesus had appeared in anything else than His human body, this would have proved nothing concerning our own eternal futures

The behaviour of the disciples after the resurrection is a testimony to the reality of Easter.

They had fled terrified from Calvary, most having already abandoned Him; yet within a few hours of Easter morning, they appeared confident, ready to share the Good news with anyone who would listen. This regardless of the enmity of the Hierarchy, both of the Jews and the Romans.

As I have said before, you cannot separate those final days, of Maundy Thursday (the Covenant meal) the Passion (the sacrifice of one who was perfect man but also perfect God, “for us people and our salvation” and the Promise of Easter Day.

We are no wiser regarding the true meaning of “Eternal Life” for mortals, but the fact that humanity was taken into God (at the Ascension) bodes well for us as we move towards our further pilgrimage (John 14, vv1-24), accompanied by Our Risen Lord.

“Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of time”.


25 August 2019

Creed or Chaos: "The Blood of the Covenant"

“You want to buy a field?” Simple, contact a Solicitor and hopefully, everything will be done, safe and secure, plus, of course, a fee.

However, if you are a Jew living in Old Testament times, you will take yourself off to a priest, together with a suitable sacrifice, and you and the vendor will make certain oaths, offer the sacrifice, and then you would be secure. By the sacrifice, God would have been brought into the equation and for fear of Divine judgement, you both would keep your part of the  Agreement.

The words “Covenant”, “Agreement” or “Testament” are all names for the same thing.

Hence, the Old Testament (Covenant) describes the Agreement between God and Abraham, as a solemn covenant, where God will be the Jews’ God, and care for them as long as they keep their part of the Agreement.

The Old Testament traces this Agreement through centuries, constantly the Jews making promises anew and then by back-sliding suffer various disasters as a consequence.

Now, why are we delving into ancient Jewish legal practises? Simply because we cannot understand the Cross and its relationship with the Last Supper, without this knowledge, for the agreement was not valid unless it had been sealed with a sacrifice whence blood would be shed. No blood, no valid agreement. The Blood is a symbol of life.

If you want to see this in action, turn to Exodus 24, vv1-11, where with Moses as leader, the Jews renew their Covenant with God. Symbolically, then the sacrificial blood is shared by pouring it on the altar and then on the people, God and worshippers are brought into a  “Blood-brother” relationship.

In the Exodus passage, the original Abraham/God Covenant was sealed ages before, but the Jews rebelled and suffered the consequences, despite having had the Law read to them to which they gave assent.

Here is where we come to consider the Crucifixion and the Last Supper.

At the latter, Jesus says clearly that He is giving a New Law which will supersede all that has gone before. It will not be “negative” with rules saying “Thou shalt NOT”, but we are to “Love one another as I have loved you”, not lengthy but difficult to fulfil. Positive, NOT negative.

We are called to love each other (regardless) with a love akin to that of the Christ who is shedding the blood by which the “New Commandment” will be sealed.

You cannot separate Maundy Thursday from Good Friday, because they are both involved in the promulgation and sealing of the New Commandment.

Paul tells us that “Love is the fulfilment of the Law” and this is a special kind of love, for it is universal, not to be reserved only for the good and holy, but for ALL who sin by refusing to “love”.

Every time we come to the Eucharist, we follow that sequence: We listen to Jesus’ Summary of the Law and assent to it, we read about the events of the pre-Christian Church and the Jews’ failure to live in harmony with God, and then proceed to recall the inauguration of the “New” Commandment and its sealing by the Saviour’s Blood. We recall the pouring of His Blood over the people, and in our Communions we become “Blood Brothers and Sisters” united in a bond of love by the Cup of Salvation.

Interestingly, for centuries until quite recently, Roman Catholics were denied the chalice, receiving only the wafer. So the important factor, the sharing of the Blood with one another and so linking the worshippers into a sacred family was omitted.

This morning, we go into the world, the Body of Christ having been linked together in love by the Sacrament.


18 August 2019

Next week, The Resurrection and its meaning for us.

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