Thank you!

THANK YOU! To all who: played their part administratively, culinarily, or artistically (wittingly or not!), or by purchasing a ticket and attending; the “Super Sibilant Supper” on 1st September.

We raised £550 which was added to other contributions and presented to Lynn Treneary on 10th September. It was a fun evening that was enjoyed by all – even my guests who were Shanghaied into the entertainment.

May God bless Lynn and her work. Thank you again,

Max Young

I know that smell ….

On the first Sunday of this month, even if we were blindfolded and led into All Saints’, we would be able to say immediately what the name of the Sunday was – because we’d be able to smell the scent of the apples, pears fruit and vegetables perched on the windowsills and ledges around the church. On opening our eyes we’d see beautiful arrangements of flowers and produce from people’s gardens and allotments, and wheat sheaves, both natural and made of bread, with maybe even the heads of some of Lord Berner’s pink mice peeking out of the wheat stalks.

What are we doing when once a year we beautify our Church building with flowers and fruit and vegetables? I’d say that we’re putting into action those words of David found in 1 Chronicles 29:11, the words we sometimes use at the offertory in our Communion service, “Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours.”

On Harvest Festival Sunday we are recognising that everything we have belongs to God. The creation is God’s, but he has gifted it to us to look after, to be the stewards of His creation.

But how are we to exercise that stewardship? In my opinion there are two main ways: first we need to be, as Lynn Treneary told us in September, thankful people – like those Lynn meets in Meridi – to use David’s words again, “Riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. And now, our God, we give thanks to you…”

Giving thanks is of huge importance. It was J N Ward who said, “The Christian is a person whose mind is dominated by thankfulness. The believer who is a great sinner and yet preserves this characteristic element of thankfulness has still the essence of the kingdom of God within him”. Thankfulness is the open, happy and free recognition that we are infinitely indebted to God and that should help motivate our lives as Christians.

The once familiar words of the General Thanksgiving say everything that needs to be said, “We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace , and for the hope of glory. And give us, we pray, such a sense of all your mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days.”

So, we are to walk before God in holiness and righteousness. This is the second way in which we exercise our stewardship, by giving ourselves in love to the world. King David says, “I know that you test the heart and that integrity pleases you, my God…” It is integrity that forces us to admit that we’ve been bad stewards in that we’ve allowed an imbalanced and unjust situation to come into being where a third of the world has 20% more food than it needs whilst two thirds have 25% less then they need.

Think of the statistics that cover the number of doctors per person, housing, and life expectancy. There are huge disparities. It is a matter of judgement on all of us that whenever we have a general election in this country, little attention is paid to the world’s underprivileged two-thirds. We tend to listen to the politicians telling us how they will improve rather than simplify our own standard of living.

Do you remember those slogans used in world development appeals about twenty or thirty years ago: “Live justly to justify living,” and “Live simply that others may simply live!” In my darker moments, I feel that we are no longer a Christian country – the Church of England is the established church but seems to have little influence on the way our politicians conduct our country’s business. The Church of England has become an ‘accepted’ church, that is tolerated provided it doesn’t interfere with politics.

To sum up, we exercise our stewardship by being thankful people and by giving ourselves in love to the world. If we forget or ignore injustice at this harvest season, then it will appear to many that our Harvest Festival Service is something more akin to a fertility rite than to a Christian act of worship.

God our Father, giver of all good things, make us more thankful for what we have received, more content with what we have, more mindful of people in need and more ready to serve them in whatever way we can; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Max Young

We believe in One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

So far we have seen how this earliest catholic (i.e. universal) statement of the Christian Faith has concentrated on the nature and being of God. God the Father our Creator: God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer: God the Holy Spirit who makes the things of God real for us and brings about our Sanctification. We now look at the closing section of the Creed which briefly defines and marks out the nature or makeup of the living Church of God; the very family of Jesus; the community of Christian people. No statement of the Christian Faith whether Creeds or personal acts of faith can be complete without a clear declaration of belief in the Church’s essential nature, following of course first our belief in the One supreme God.

I stress this because it is tempting to denigrate or even dismiss the Church because it does get things wrong sometimes, or makes demands that are too costly. The Christian faith is something that must be very personal, but it is also about belonging to a corporate Body, the very Body of Christ, indeed the Bride of Christ. It’s impossible to be a Christian and not belong to the Church. Its mistakes and errors are often of our individual making in large part!

In the New Testament and in her early years the Church is often described with significant names like this: the New Israel, the Body of Christ, the Bride or Spouse of Christ, the People of God, the Vine, the Fellowship and Communion, the Way. Also supremely from the earliest years what I will call the four pillars of the Church, that she is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, with her one sure foundation and head the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 22:17; 1 Peter 2:9; John 15:5; Acts 2:42 & 9:2).

Two well know hymns express something of all this:

“The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord; she is his new creation, by water and the word; from heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride, with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died”. (Samuel J. Stone: Hymns Old & New 636).

“And I hold in veneration, for the love of him alone, holy Church as his creation, and her teachings as his own”. (John Henry Newman: Hymns Old & New 174).

As a living organization with a clear mandate from Christ himself to teach his saving faith to all people, the Apostles and others enshrined that teaching in the writings of the New Testament. The Bishops at Nicea in A.D. 325, again as the Church’s commissioned leaders with the Holy Spirit’s continuing mandate, drew up this Creed to confirm the essentials of our holy biblical Faith when many disputed it. This is part of what it means to be an Apostolic Church.

The root meaning of the Greek noun Ekklesia which in English we translate Church is simply called out and gathered together. At the start of the Church’s mission, as the apostles preached about Jesus, new believers who responded to God’s calling were joined to a living community or Ekklesia. St. Luke writes of new converts joining the Church: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:27,28,42 & 46).

It has continued so over 2,000 years to this very day. In Faringdon and Little Coxwell new members are still added to the living Church.

We now look at each of those four pillars of the Church, and for reasons that will become clear I shall take them in the reverse order. First, the Church is Apostolic because supremely it is built on the faith of the apostles and is forever nurtured in that faith and no other. In all our articles we have looked at the New Testament teaching about Jesus; his whole life, ministry and saving work. The apostolic faith was the distillation of all that those first disciples had experienced; a revelation of God’s great purposes of saving Love in and through Christ. Briefly “The faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude verse 3).

The Church is also Apostolic because it is sent out to bring the whole world and humanity to Christ. The Greek word apostolos simply means one who is sent. It has been said that the Church is the one organization which exists more for those who are not members than for those who are! The Church’s apostolic task may be summed up briefly like this, to save souls, to fashion saints, and to serve humanity. That’s not given in order of priority for each is equally important. This fundamental task involves organized Mission Societies (home and overseas), evangelism in many differing ways both large scale and by the gifted individual. Key operations also like translating and producing Bibles, Christian schools, hospitals etc. and Aid Charities. But perhaps most of all by the quiet steady witness of countless people like you and me. One of the greatest joys we will experience in heaven will surely be to meet those whom we have helped to come to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

The Church is also Apostolic because it is linked through all the Christian centuries to the early Apostles and leaders, first by its Faith and secondly by its threefold ordained ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In particular the office and role of the Bishop has by Ordination what is called Apostolic or Episcopal Succession. It’s a gift of grace given for service: for leadership, teaching and upholding the true Scriptural faith; guarding the Church’s unity and enabling its mission; caring for the ordained co-workers with the Bishop; and not least for all the people of God in their ministries too. It’s an onerous task and can only succeed with God’s constant renewing grace and the daily prayers of the faithful. Indeed all ordained men and women need loving prayer and patient support with warm friendship just as we support and pray for each other as Christ’s family.

The Church is also Apostolic because it shares the same life, worship and prayer of those very first Christians: Adoration of our one Lord and God: Praise to our only Saviour Jesus Christ: Glory to the life-giving Holy Spirit. The focal-point of that life and worship, from the very beginning, has always been the Sacrament of the Eucharist: the Holy Communion, the Mass, Divine Liturgy, or whatever name we use. The early Church Fathers often spoke of this great Sacrament as that which actually makes the Church, and so makes herself also to be a sacrament of saving love for many (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

In the next two Articles we shall look at the Catholicity, Holiness and Oneness of the Church.

Praise be to God. Amen.

George Abell

Barabbas. Pilate and Jesus

Max Young was right to explore the figure of Barabbas more closely – and he is surely correct to conclude that this shadowy man has but a short moment in the glare – playing a crucial but, for him, entirely unintended role in the Passion of Christ, before retreating back into the recesses of the forgotten past.

This scene with Barabbas figures strongly in a new book, Pontius Pilate: Deciphering Memory by Aldo Schiavone*, a distinguished commentator on imperial Roman law. According to this interpretation, the appearance of Barabbas is part of an off-the-cuff attempt by the Roman prefect to set Jesus free (John’s Gospel makes this general intention quite clear: 19:12). Given a choice between Jesus (still without a charge against him) and Barabbas, the already-condemned subversive of Roman authority, the Sanhedrin would surely not free the latter for fear of insulting Rome.

But Pontius Pilate underestimates the Sanhedrin’s hostility to Jesus because of the claim that he was the Son of God, a view that would not have exercised the average Roman officer one way or another. Barabbas is chosen for release on religious grounds, despite the evident lack of political logic.

But Schiavone’s case is that Pilate was not an average Roman. Perhaps he needed to be special to play his part in what is arguably the most portentous meeting in human history. ‘Where are you from?’, Pilate asks. Clearly, ‘Nazareth’ is not the answer he is looking for or needs. The argument of this book, based on a very close and entertaining reading, mostly of the account in John’s Gospel, is that Pilate is shown to have reached a remarkable awareness of the extraordinary person before him.

As the exchange of questions and answers proceeds after the release of Barabbas, Pilate ‘put all the pieces together into a single picture, fully grasped the prisoner’s attitude, and became persuaded not to oppose his design’. In sum, Pilate came to acknowledge the end that Jesus, following his Father’s will, wanted to achieve.

The man who facilitates this is not deserving of the conventional reputation for being weak, vacillating, pushed and pulled by a crowd of the Sanhedrin, translators and hangers-on.  This brief summary does insufficient credit to the subtlety and power of the story that Schiavone perceives but two points after the events can be recalled usefully.

The first is that Pilate – none other – forcefully insists on the three-language sign to be raised over Jesus on the cross saying ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’. Pilate almost certainly did not know fully what that implied but the internationalist and evangelising display of the title illuminates the serious nature of Pilate’s understanding.

Secondly, when the Nicene Creed was revised at the end of the 4th century to produce the version we use, Pontius Pilate is brought back into the text without any blame being attached to him. It is as though the truth lying behind John’s text was more fully appreciated by the early Fathers than in Christianity’s subsequent centuries.

Jesus and Pilate: as Schiavone puts it, ‘Those names had to go together, as on that morning when everything unfolded. Forever’.

*New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017 (ISBN 9781631492358).

Peter has a copy to lend for anybody interested.

Peter Foot