"I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins"
”She (he) doesn’t go to Church but is a real Christian” is the kind of statement that you may hear about a good, thoughtful member of the community, but it is mistaken.
Suppose I buy myself a tent and the necessary camping equipment, even light a fire by rubbing two sticks together and other activities that Scouts and Guides may take part in, that doesn’t thereby make me a Scout or Guide.
You can only become so if you have undergone the Admission ceremony with all its vows that are supposed to direct your future behaviour.
That makes you a member of the Baden Powell family.
This idea that doing Christian things but un-baptised makes you a Christian is completely incorrect. It is Baptism with water and in the Name of the Holy Trinity (Matthew 28, vv16-end), the way in which the first Christian Converts and millions of faithful folk since became committed followers of our Saviour and members of His Body, The Church.
The old Baptism service (1662), when signing the child with the sign of the Cross reminded it “that he (she) should “fight manfully under His banner against sign, the world and the Devil and to continue Christ’s soldier and servant until his (her) life’s end”.
Paul, in his Epistle to Timothy, tells him to “Fight the good fight”, which indeed, the Apostle eventually did, even unto death.
That makes me wonder why when we sang “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus” last Sunday the modern version became very weak and inoffensive (to be PC, of course) so that any mention of the Christian life being a constant fight against sinful tendencies is unacceptable.
Yet, if your experience is similar to mine, all my life has been a fight to cope with the sinful tendencies within me, which sometimes I have managed to master (with Divine help) also as a Church fighting on behalf of everyone else, especially the marginalised folk in our Society. Where does the Christian stand?
Over 720 homeless people, many young, died sleeping in our streets in 2018 and I for one am waiting despairingly for the Archbishop or some senior clerics to condemn this lack of priority for their plight.
Of course that means delving into the political realm, but Jesus had no such compunction, criticising the Jewish leaders in no uncertain terms.
We cannot stay quiet when we see injustice and greed are ruining people’s lives.
The Church (in all denominations) should be the guardian of the people (God’s people), concerned as Jesus was, with the people’s plight.
Baptism is the route by which we join God’s Army, becoming the hand, eyes, mouth and ears of Christ’s Body here on earth (as St. Teresa said).
Baptism is not simply a nice ceremony enabling families to meet up with a suitable feast afterwards, not realising that they are making a solemn commitment as they become (for better or worse), part of Christ’s Body here on earth.
It is a commitment for us as individuals or as a Body, to challenge our selfish and sometimes callous Society to a new way of thinking in regard to God and our neighbours.
Looking to Jesus we see, not a pious “do-gooder”, but one who came to set us free from Guilt (through His cross) and was prepared to die for the unworthy as well as the worthy. Always ready to condemn where there was injustice and indifference to the needs of others, regardless of whom He offended.
Hans Kung in his book “On being a Christian” says that the enemies of The Church are “not the outside forces of evil, but those who claim to be Christians who fail to live up to their Baptismal Vows.
One thing that Church history teaches you is that if you wish to see radical changes to the Worship, Ministry and Teaching of the Church, it is useless to look to the elders and hierarchy, including Bishops for leadership.
This was shown in the 4th century of The Church, when a vital Synod was discussing and wrestling with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, over whether Jesus was truly equal with God the Father.
They were near to adopting a Resolution suggesting that He wasn’t, which denies much of what Jesus said about Himself as recorded in the Gospels.
A young priest named Athanasius, at that time only a Deacon (a minor Order), stood and gave such clarification, that it swayed the others (Archbishops, Bishops and Senior Clergy) to oppose this and from this valiant stand earned him the title of “Athanasius contra mundum”, which when translated is “Athanasius against the world” hence the title given to this 3rd (and barely understood) Creed and its champion.
Brave individuals have weathered the storm of abuse and condemnation in the defence of the Gospel truths, to point out the contemporary Church’s failings, and despite of all the opposition from high places have won the day.
Such too was Martin Luther, who by condemning the Papacy and all its works laid the foundation of the Reformation in the 16th century, transforming the whole existing structures. He lit a flame of rebellion that eventually swept through the Christian Church, and the creation of our own Anglican Church.
This was followed by the Wesleys (Charles and John), who, whilst Anglican priests were dismayed at the slackness and lifelessness of their Church and lack of Missionary zeal and finally, because of the opposition and lack of approval from the English Bishops separated from their own wing of the Church.
They were “High” Churchmen, wishing to put the Eucharist centrally in Sunday worship against the laziness and lack of enthusiasm among all levels of the clergy.
Finally, in desperation, in 1831 a small group of Oxford-trained parish priests met, believing (rightly) that the Anglican Church needed to review and renew its worship, but looked to the Roman Catholic Church as the only model.
Strange, because prior to the Reformation, many priests and congregations had looked to English examples of good and restrained ceremony, many adopting the customs of Salisbury Cathedral (called the “Sarum Rite”).
They believed passionately that we needed to look and realise our position as part of the whole “Catholic” Church; worship became colourful and attractive to many, not least to the working classes, and this new approach brought great gains in numbers of people attending.
Yet, candles on the altar, vestments and ceremony were condemned by the Bishops and by Parliament which legally had a role to play, usually restrictive.
Technically it was claimed that lighted candles on the altar (no more than two in number) were illegal, unless they were needed to enable the priest to read the altar book! Two curates at St. Michael’s, Swanmore in the 1880s had their licenses to officiate taken away until they obeyed.
Two priests in the East End of London were imprisoned for the same reasons, yet with the sacrificial actions and faithfulness of this handful of clergy (called the “Oxford Movement”) standing against all the forces of Church and State, the tide turned and a revival built up in our own Church that brought us in line with the beliefs and traditions of the whole Catholic Church. Yet, even in my younger days, vestments, candles and especially incense were tabu to many of the older members of our congregations, condemning these as “Popery”! Do we need a new uprising at parish level within our Church, for history shows that the dynamic leadership we now need rarely has come down from above?
" I believe in one Catholick and Apostolic Church"
“It’s getting more like a Catholic Church every day” complained a disgruntled worshipper when leaving St. John’s, Sandown after I had (at the request of Bishop Phillips in 1963) presided over a Sung Communion, complete with vestments.
“I’m so glad, because that’s just what it is” I replied but with a dismissive toss of her head she flounced out of the church, not giving me a chance to quietly explain the truth of my reply.
Try as you may, you won’t find the word “Protestant” anywhere in the Book of Common Prayer, because we are indeed part of the whole Catholic Church which includes predominantly, the Roman Catholics, so called because they owe allegiance to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.
Then there are the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches who split away from Rome in the 11th century also the “Old” Catholics and are stoutly independent.
Coming along in the procession is our own Church of England with the Church of Wales, the Episcopal Church of Scotland and the Church of Ireland.
Now, where do the other groups such as the Methodists, Baptists, United Reformed fit in?
They are “Free” Churches that order their own affairs within the limits set by their own Articles.
To be “Catholic”, we need to be in conformity to the 3 Creeds, then to have the 3 Orders of clergy, i.e. Bishops (essential) Priests and Deacons, The two “Christ ordered” Sacraments being The Mass, Communion or Eucharist, and a firm approach to the nature of the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Baptism.
The word “Catholic” means “Universal” so a Catholic can be of any race, nationality, anywhere and whenever, so it is a Universal religion for everyone.
As I wrote previously, for Roman Catholics, the ability to trace the “laying-on of Bishops’ hands" back to the time of St. Peter is a necessity, although something historically questionable.
There is credible evidence that this line was not in fact broken at the Reformation, which Rome will not accept.
Historically, the Roman Catholic Church was outlawed for a great part of the post-Reformation years, its members not being considered as English citizens until the 19th century.
Unlike other churches, it claims to be the only true Church and anyone not confirmed by an RC Bishop is ineligible to receive Communion at Mass unless they convert and are received into that Church.
After the Reformation, the Church in England swung by a militant body of Protestants, anything retaining Roman Catholic ceremonies and practises was outlawed; the style of worship was alien to the general public and the Church of England saw its buildings neglected, the services dull, with long sermons and poor pastoral care.
When Victoria came to the throne in 1837, the Church of England was described as “Drawing her skirts around her so that she can die with as much dignity as she can muster”. It was corrupt in many ways and the result was in that same year, on Easter Day in 1837, St. Paul’s Cathedral (apart from the clergy) could only muster 6 (yes, 6!) communicants.
There was a brief Evangelical revival at the end of the 18th century, which faded at the beginning of the 19th century, leaving a vacuum.
As there was no leadership from the bishops or most clergy, something was needed. Like previous revivals, it sprang, not from the Bishops and clergy, but from a tiny group meeting in an Essex rectory, also in 1831, who were convinced that the only way forward was to recall the Church’s Catholic (but not Roman Catholic) heritage, about which we will think next week.
Did Jesus Christ intend to establish a new Church when He was commissioning His disciples? That seems a daft question to ask, but is it?
If you study Church history, Jesus gave few directions to His followers about how they should continue His work.
True, He appointed Peter to be the leader of this small group (not the best choice at first sight because of his impulsive nature), but a direct ‘commissioning’ only appears in St. John’s Gospel 20, vv19-23.
There Jesus having breathed upon them as a sign, presumably to invoke the Spirit, lays hands on the gathered disciples, giving them an explicit command and authority to forgive their fellow men (and women’s) sins.
That together with the command to “Mission” (Matthew 28, vv16-end) are the only clear statements.
Note that there is nothing to indicate that they had any exclusive authority to preside over the Lord’s Supper, which is obviously normal within a very short time after the Resurrection. Indeed apart from Paul’s account of the former (1 Corinthians 11, vv17-end) which if the Corinthian Christians had behaved more reverently, much we would never have known.
That gives many a clue to the nature of The Church that was developing gradually under the guidance of the Spirit.
Incidentally, those of us who were ordained priest by the 1662 Prayer Book prior to Common Worship, etc., received the laying-on of hands by the Bishop to absolve people from their sins and “to faithfully dispense the Word and Sacraments”.
Unlike Rome, the newly ordained in most other denominations (including our own) are not presented with a chalice, signifying this pre-eminence in the Eucharist, but rather the emphasis is on the faithful pastoral care of those committed to their charge.
Indeed, with the growth of The Church in those early formative years, it is probable that there was no sense of setting apart men (and women?) for the purpose of worship-leading.
The whole Gospel is basically dealing with “Sin” which according to Jesus’ words and actions abolishes that sense of guilt that mars the lives of countless human souls.
In this age of bewildered, anxious people, this neglected Ministry in our churches is an essential tool in pastoral care, (as I have found over 60+ years of Ministry). If better understood and administered such confession would save many a soul from unending misery.
The sermons and addresses that are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, apart from emphasis on the Cross and God raising Jesus from the dead, give us little insight into the greater teaching of the basics of the Faith.
Jesus laid hands on the first disciples; presumably they in turn did so to their successors in pastoral and priestly leadership.
There is a theory (essential to the Roman Catholic scheme of things) that beginning at Peter and the eleven, one could trace that succession down through two millennia, providing a tangible physical descent from the hands of Jesus Himself, thus giving the candidates a continuation of authority and teaching.
This is called “The Apostolic Succession”, whereby, only clergy who had been in this “mechanical” succession, tracing back through Bishop to Bishop down the ages, can be truly said to be guarantors of the purity of the Faith.
However, a quick look at Roman Church history with its sad tale of renegade, immoral and opposing popes, each claiming to be the true successors of St. Peter, shows that here it cannot be accurately claimed that this chain hasn’t been broken.
More importantly, regardless of these considerations, there is little doubt that the Church of England is part of the “Catholick” Church as the 1662 Prayer Book clearly states. We’ll see how this matters in next week’s Jottings.
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.