Designer Babies: should we play God?

A review of the third talk by the Rt Revd Dr Lee Rayfield in a series of four on “Science & Faith: Big Questions in Faringdon Corn Exchange” 

Nearly 90 people came to Faringdon Corn Exchange on 11th January to hear the Rt Revd Dr Lee Rayfield, Bishop of Swindon, talk and answer questions about this topical and challenging issue. With a background in Immunology research, Dr Rayfield has been a member of the UK Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) since 2012.

Dr Rayfield started by asking the audience what we understood by the phrase “Designer Baby”. He then took us through a brief review of pertinent medical techniques, including amniocentesis, fetoscopy and Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), that are already in use to diagnose genetic abnormalities causing conditions such as Down’s Syndrome, Thalassaemia and Cystic Fibrosis. PGD is used to screen embryos produced in the laboratory to select those that are free of diseases which are likely to be fatal in infancy, or significantly limit lifespan or quality of life. More controversially, parents may select an embryo with tissue matching a sibling born with a genetic disease to facilitate later tissue donation. Dr Rayfield stressed that these techniques have been developed with the good intention of reducing human suffering. We do not seek to “play God” but rather to “be human in God’s way”.

For some people the foetus is viewed as a person from the moment of fertilization, so they cannot accept a procedure which leads to the creation of “unwanted” foetuses. For others, including Dr Rayfield, our response must be more nuanced since 70% of naturally-conceived embryos fail to implant in the womb. We need to look beyond our initial reaction to decide what respectful and regulated use of unimplanted embryos may be permitted for human benefit. Dr Rayfield suggested that all medical interventions modify our natural bodies and therefore we shouldn’t view our DNA as sacrosanct. He stressed that the HFEA does not permit any laboratory work on embryos beyond 14 days after fertilization, the stage at which recognizable organization of neural tissue is beginning.

Dr Rayfield, as a Church of England Bishop, believes that he should engage in the HFEA licensing process to build bridges and bring a Christian perspective that upholds the unique value of every person, created in the image of God. He sees human cloning as wrong because it denies the uniqueness of the individual. The Bishop said that modifying the genetic make-up of an embryo, currently not generally permitted under UK law, is a more controversial question. The HFEA is allowing research and treatment based on the use of donated mitochondria (the cell’s power supply) to replace faulty mitochondria in the maternal egg. This has been misleadingly described as making “3-parent babies”.

Current research on gene-editing, presently only licensed for treatment of non-reproductive cells, will make it possible to replace faulty genes. The Bishop is concerned about the danger that modifying the human genome may in future be promoted to maintain the UK’s world-leading research status and economic competitiveness, rather than continuing to be governed by strong medical and ethical principles.

For this reviewer, the take-home message was that genetic research is fast outpacing our ability to judge ethical issues. As Bishop Rayfield says, we need to have people involved in the licensing process who will engage in ethical, prayerful decision-making. We should pray that they will be enabled to speak truth to those in authority.

Mark Ritchie

We believe the Holiness and Unity of the Church (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

In this article we shall think first about the Holiness of the Church then its Oneness.

What does holy and holiness really mean? In Old Testament Hebrew the word for ‘holy’ is kadosh; and in New Testament Greek hagios. It simply means ‘separated or set apart’, the same in both Testaments, and is used for God and for his people. In Leviticus 19:2 Moses speaks to the whole Israelite people: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy”. In 1 Peter 1:15 the writer speaks to the Christian assembly: “As he who has called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct”; and again in Chapter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”.

This shows how holy is invariably used in a faith-religious context with strong moral emphasis, and with real everyday relevance and application for the whole of life. It means being set apart and dedicated for a higher wider purpose or ‘consecration’. And the Christian Church is certainly not an exclusive club with a ghetto mentality! Indeed our Lord spoke of his readiness to give himself utterly for his disciples and for all of us and his whole world, when he said: “And for their sake I consecrate myself that they also may be consecrated in truth” (John 17:19). Some translations have ‘sanctify’ which means the same.

Thinking about the holiness of God as taught in holy Scripture, and supremely as seen in Jesus, we could sum it up like this: God is faultless and unfailing in perfect Love, Goodness, Beauty, Truth and Purity; in Understanding and Wisdom; in glorious Eternal Purpose for all Creation; and above all in Compassion, Justice and Mercy. And there is no malice or evil intent or sin in God.

Such is our Holy God, and we who bear his image and likeness are called and challenged to be holy too. . . nothing less. To put it mildly it’s a very tall order; a tremendous challenge! But the Church of Christ has never hesitated to accept that vocation enshrining it in its Creeds as its sure belief, knowing that the God who calls us never fails to equip us with his grace. It means to become and to be what we truly are, by the grace of justification (put right with God), and sanctification (made holy by God).

This is why the Church speaks of Holy Baptism, Holy Confirmation, Holy Eucharist and Communion, Holy Marriage and Holy Orders (Ordained Ministry); Holy Scripture and Holy forgiveness, freely available for everyone forever. And a Holy Fellowship too, both universal and local, of those who seek to help, support and care for each other, in the loving holiness journey.

There are times of course when ‘Holy Church’ has seemed anything but holy. There are not a few dreadful pages in its history. But there are far more better pages; and such there will always be, for however much you and I let the side down (as we sadly do), our holy God and Saviour never lets us go, leading us on to better holier ways.

When we looked at the meaning of ‘Catholic’ it was necessary to see something also of the Church’s Oneness and Unity. ‘Catholic’ we learnt means holding the true universally received Faith of the Church, the one common biblical Faith of the New Testament – a Faith which by its very nature unites us. ‘Catholic or world-wide’ also means embracing all nations, races, colours; all social groups, ages, abilities; gender and sexuality. No one is excluded from the Gospel of Christ and the Christian Family.

So an essential component of the Church’s unity and harmony is its adherence to the Gospel truth, that ‘there is only one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all’ (Ephesians 4:3). And “of us all” means exactly that – all peoples across all continents, all human families, all shapes and sizes; all made one-in-Christ by Baptism forever. (We shall look at this again later).

The Church is fundamentally One because there is only one God. And so there can only be one sure organization with the mission and task of bringing God’s Creative-Saving Love to all humanity. This, the Christian Church faithfully fulfils by God’s clear guiding Light and divine grace. And though other world faiths may teach much that is good, only faith in Christ Jesus provides the fullness of truth.

The Church’s Unity however, though truly real in its undergirding essence of Baptismal Life is still sadly impaired in various other levels. At Communion, before sharing ‘The Peace’, the president often says: “We are the Body of Christ and in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12,13). Indeed we are the Body of Christ whether Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist or whatever. Our prayer and hope should be that this becomes a full complete reality, embracing all the Churches; with sharing of all Ministries and the Sacramental Bread and Cup of the Eucharist; and in worship and prayer, in learning together, and witness and service to others. May this vital ecumenical task grow until we are all truly and wholly visibly One, just as Jesus longed and prayed: according to his will and in his good time across our whole world (John 17:19-23).

The causes of division are many and complex, often purely political or nationalistic. But sadly deficiency in holiness and love, and lack of humility before the whole truth, is also its cause. Too often also, assertions are made by some Churches or groups that only they have got it right; and that too can bring about division! Real holiness, genuine love with patient truth-seeking dialogue, and above all earnest prayer, are the surest ways to bring about the unity we yearn for. And this must apply to all the Churches who look to Christ as head and Lord, and seek to do God’s will for all his peoples.

An act of praise to acknowledge the holiness of God, his Church, and each one of us:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord;
Holy is the Lord God almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.
Amen. Alleluia.

George Abell

Wassail! or Cheers! Happy Christmas! or Merry Winterval!

I have been trying to reinstate the word ‘WASSAIL’ (Old English meaning “be healthy”) to replace the meaningless ‘Cheers’, as a greeting, farewell and a toast. Some people also use ‘cheers’ to mean, ‘thankyou’, a word that needs emphasising rather than changing.

I seem to remember that about 20 years ago Birmingham Council officials decided that, in their multi-cultural city, ‘Christmas’ was a word not to be used. Instead they invented “Winterval”.

What an uproar that caused! Can you just imagine Christmas being, as it were, cancelled? Some, including millions of turkeys and acres of Christmas trees, might welcome the thought, and some people too, of no Christmas Cards, stocking fillers, expensive presents, tinsel and Gift-wrap. But the flip side is that shops would go bankrupt; children would be disappointed that there wouldn’t be a pile of e-gadgets, computer games, robots and drones, piled under the Christmas tree; and tubby white bearded chaps in red coats would face early redundancy.

“Winterval”- how insulting that must have felt to the good Christians of Birmingham! It must also have upset the many Muslims and Hindus who celebrated the holiday as well as their own festivals of Eid and Diwali. In that year Advent in the city of Winterval was a time of controversy.

This year amidst all the hustle and bustle of the preparations I hope that there will be time for us to prepare to meet the child Jesus and to celebrate God’s life-changing, hope-giving intervention in our world.

We can learn from the past – remember the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth – old people with no children – the angel’s message to Zechariah? Zehariah was a good and committed Jew who knew the prophets’ words about a Messiah. But he didn’t know just how important a part he and Elizabeth would play in the arrival of this Messiah.

And here we are in the present. We will all have looked with awe and wonder at the almost miraculous sight of a new-born child – no matter who’s it is. The marvel of such perfection. At that stage it is difficult not to feel God’s presence in the child whom we see as a symbol of hope – a new, pure, unspoilt life with unknown and vast potential. Zechariah knew his child was a unique messenger who would be the one who announced the Messiah at the start of his mission.

Today, Jesus’ Advent is into a world with huge distractions; into a world of massive indifference where people will take a full part in “Winterval”  but, sadly, not in Christmas. We must rejoice in the present and enjoy the sense of anticipation of his arrival and, importantly, communicate to all about us that Jesus was born to save sinners and their souls, not to cause us to flex our credit cards.

As we prepare for the future we need to ensure our birthday celebrations focus on the Christ-child and the wonderfully different future he offers to all. Zechariah used the words of Malachi to describe the gift the Messiah was bringing, he talked about the night – the haunt of darkness, bad dreams, fear and evil – being driven away by the sunrise. Isn’t that a wonderful picture? A picture of what he has done, does still, and will do. The present from Jesus under our tree is one of tender mercy that brings to an end our separation from God.

Although we can enjoy the fun, bright lights, TV repeats, pantos and everything else that “Winterval” brings, we know they won’t last. By New Year’s Eve they will definitely have lost some of their sparkle.

However, Christmas represents the unexpected joy brought about by our unorthodox God reaching down and offering to touch our lives. Try hard to accept his gift, because it will last; we will be forgiven so that we can start again; any darkness will disappear, because the light has come.

There may be some of you who remember the words of King George VI in the first Christmas broadcast of the World War II He was quoting Minnie Louise Haskins:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
“Give me light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of Christ.
That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.”

Don’t celebrate Winterval,
Celebrate Christmas! Wassail!

Max Young

Fellowship of St Birinus

Firstly I would like to thank Steve and our Churchwardens for nominating me for this Award, and to the all those who travelled to Dorchester for the service.

On Sunday 24thSeptember , a service of Evensong was held in Dorchester Abbey for the Fellowship of St.Birinus, when I was made a Fellow and presented with the award by the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Reverend Colin Fletcher.

The citation states:
‘The Fellowship of St Birinus. To our beloved in Christ We welcome you into the Fellowship of St Birinus Joy Blake With thanksgiving for your service to God and the Parish of All Saints’ Faringdon in recognition of your faithful service as Organist and Choirmaster and for your love and service in all that you do’.

The service of Evensong was a wonderful occasion with the Abbey full, with about four hundred persons, including new Fellows, previous recipients and their supporters.

The service consisted of hymns:
Hymns – ‘Praise to the Lord’ and ‘Father hear the prayer’;
Psalm 145 v1-8 sung by the Abbey choir;
Canticles – Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis,
Anthem – Rutter’s ‘I will sing with the spirit’.

A brief address was given by the Bishop after the presentations of the Awards.

For me the whole service was brought together by the singing of the last hymn ‘Sing of the Lord’s goodness’ – He has been good to me, and the last verse ‘Praise him with your singing, praise him with the trumpet’ – our Church Choir and the Organ at All Saints’.

With many thanks.


We believe in Catholicity of the Church (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

In this article we shall think about the Catholicity of the Church, a term that requires careful analysis, for it is often misunderstood; and “catholic” is understood differently by several Christian denominations.

The basic meaning of ‘catholic’ is simply universal or world-wide, or wholeness. It is not a biblical expression and was introduced in the very early Christian centuries as the Church grew and developed. As explained in earlier articles the Nicene Creed was formed to clarify the Church’s true and essential beliefs about God and his Christ at a time of serious debate and disagreement. Hence the use of ‘catholic’ in the Creed was to stress the received New Testament Faith the true Faith – the whole Faith as established from the beginning, and universally held across all local churches by practically all Christian leaders and people. So when in various places disputes and disagreements over some elements of that Faith occurred, Church leaders appealed to the Catholic Faith” to settle controversies. They looked to the beliefs and teachings that from the first days were held in common; the Faith entrusted to the Apostles and enshrined in Holy Scripture (Jude verse 3).  Our Anglican formularies refer to the catholic creeds because these were clearly defined statements of Faith held from the very first days, drawn up by Christian leaders from all worldwide local churches (i.e. truly Ecumenical Councils); thus representing all the People of God. I will now quote part of an official statement of how we who are Anglicans understand our Church.

“The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation”. Hence we Anglicans affirm our real, true and full belonging to the world-wide Church of Christ, and that we are catholic. We acknowledge of course that there are other Churches also truly and fully part of this large international Christian Family but do not specify them.

As Anglicans we have always claimed and will continue to assert our genuine legitimate authenticity; our full rightful place in the universal Church of God. We affirm strongly the absolute validity of our Ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, our Gospel Sacraments with the God-given graces of sanctification, our fullness of saving truth, and the right to teach with authority the Faith revealed in Holy Scripture. Our basis is Ephesians 4:3 “There is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all”. And as I wrote in a previous article, “the Church is apostolic”, and we as Anglicans are also most certainly apostolic.

We should also note that the large (Eastern) “Orthodox Churches” equally claim to be authentic Churches of Christ; indeed fully true, without any variation from the original teachings of Christ, and the way he meant his Church to develop and grow. Hence these strongly traditional Churches consistently use the meaningful title Orthodox.

Furthermore, other Christian Churches also rightly claim to be truly part of the One Church of God, having strong New Testament faith, full baptismal and sacramental life, ministry and teaching, witness and service.

The very large Roman Catholic Church however actually claims uniquely to be The Catholic Church, asserting that it alone has complete sacramental fullness, truth and teaching authority with its ministry and appointed head. Some consider it has given the term catholic an emphasis beyond that of its initial meaning and usage. From the Reformation period onwards the Roman Catholic Church has shown an exclusivist attitude towards the reforming Churches (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican etc), regarding them as partial or deficient Churches. However, since the huge changes made by the Roman Catholic Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, the essential baptismal and Christian foundation of all these Churches has been fully acknowledged.

Praise God, in these better ecumenical times, despite still some differing understandings of some aspects of our Faith, most Churches do work together in a host of good ways, often worshipping together also. In Faringdon there is real closeness now between all Churches, with common projects like the Mustard Seed, the Family Centre, Summer Holiday Clubs, Clergy Fraternals, etc; regular times too of joint worship, prayer and study.

Our earnest hope and prayer must be that this will grow and flourish until we are all truly and wholly visibly one as Jesus longed and prayed, according to his will, and in his good time, and for all his people everywhere (John 17:19-23). Steady progress is being made, especially between Anglicans and Methodists; or with United Churches (as in Faringdon), and some other Churches. We pray that it will continue embracing all the Churches of Christ.

Although in popular parlance many folk do refer to the Roman Catholic Church as “The Catholic Church” (and certainly Roman Catholics almost invariably do so), many Anglicans will always use the full title. Formal Anglican documents, and all official discussions with the Roman Catholic Church always do. This is not to make for argument or point scoring but to say again that we as Anglicans are also catholic! If we are not, there is no point in reciting that part of the Creed with its strong affirmation on ‘catholicity’.

The Anglican Communion and its Churches have of course many differing emphases, usually called ‘churchmanship’; evangelical, Anglo-catholic, modernist, radical, liberal, etc. All these make for a rich diversity almost unique amongst the Churches of the Christian world. And this surely is a sign of strength, for our real unity in essential truths with wide harmonious diversity, is also part of what ‘catholic’ ought to mean. Unity in essential truths of faith does not mean or require absolute uniformity of worship, theological emphases, local practice or organization.

“In all essentials unity, in unessentials freedom and diversity, and in all things love” was a slogan frequently used in the Church’s early and later centuries. It should be our slogan and aim too as we seek to follow our One Lord and help build his Catholic Church. And above all we must remember that ‘catholic, world-wide or universal’ also means embracing all nations; all races, colours, social groups, ages, abilities, gender and sexuality. No one is excluded from the universal Gospel of Christ and the universal Christian Family. (Galatians 3:27-28).

Praise and glory be to our common Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

George Abell

Father, Forgive

When I was Bursar of an Almshouse in Bath, we had a wonderful cross-section of ladies as residents: we had missionaries, nurses, teachers, air hostesses, cooks, secretaries etc. One lady had been a leader of a Julian Community and she, Margaret Howard, was the daughter of a Provost of Coventry Cathedral who, almost 77 years ago, on the night of the14th November 1940, had stood with the cathedral stone-mason, Jock Forbes, and two others, on fire-guard on the roof of the cathedral. That was the night, the city suffered the longest air raid of the second world war.

The four of them were able to cope with the incendiaries dropped during the first three waves of bombers, but the waves after that were too much for them, fires started in inaccessible places within the complex roof structure, the fire brigade couldn’t get there for a long time and when they did, they were only able to operate for a short while before the water supply failed. The four men managed to save some of the cathedral treasures, but then they could only stand and watch as the fire raged throughout the building and their much loved cathedral burned to the ground.

In the cold grey light of the following morning the people of Coventry emerged from their shelters to find 600 people killed, even more injured, hundreds of homes had been destroyed, many roads were blocked and at the centre of it all, their mediaeval cathedral was a burnt-out shell. The people of Coventry were shocked, stunned, scared, and bitter.

How do you think you would have reacted if you had been there that morning?

“You wait, you filthy krauts, we’ll get you for this!”

That would have been a very understandable reaction – wouldn’t it? And no doubt there were plenty of people who reacted just like that – in those circumstances, the instinctive human reaction would be a desire for revenge on an enemy who had done such things.

But in Coventry they overcame that desire. The Provost got Jock Forbes to build an altar on the site where the high altar had been – an altar made of stones dug out from the rubble, and, they set up behind it a great cross made of charred roof timbers found among the ruins. On the altar was another cross made of three large, sharp, 14th century nails bound with wire that had all been picked up from the ashes on that first morning. They chromium plated the cross of nails, and had the words “Father, forgive”, carved on the wall behind the sanctuary. The contrast between the black charred cross and the silvered cross of nails starkly symbolises life out of death, and the words on the wall preach the gospel  of divine forgiveness far more effectively than any human voice could do.

“Father, forgive.” … It must have taken a fair bit of courage to write those words. Mustn’t it? It can’t have been easy when there was an overwhelming feeling of hatred and bitterness towards the Germans that was backed by the government’s propaganda efforts to make the enemy an object of hatred. It isn’t easy, at the best of times, to forgive those who have done us wrong – Is it? Yet it is at the heart of the Gospel. It was about forgiveness that Jesus came into the world on the first Christmas day – about forgiveness that he was raised from the dead on the first Easter Day. And it is forgiveness that lies at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” I have always thought that word “AS” in that phrase is too weak, because the meaning is clearly, ‘Forgive us our trespasses only if we forgive them that trespass against us’.

On Christmas Day 1940, just six weeks after the bombing, Coventry Cathedral was selected to start the Empire broadcast. The Provost ended his introduction with these words, “What we want to tell the world is this: that with Christ born again in our hearts today, we are trying, hard as it may be, to banish all thoughts of revenge; we are bracing ourselves to finish the tremendous job of saving the world from tyranny and cruelty; we are going to try to make a kinder, simpler – a more Christ-Child-like sort of world in the days beyond this strife.”

We still have a long way to go, haven’t we?

We have to try to forgive others….No, that’s wrong, we have actually to forgive others. We have to forgive because that takes the danger and tension out of the situation and draws the forgiver and forgiven into closer relationship with each other and with God. That’s the thing that brings peace. Think what would happen if Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Arab, Christian and Muslim, could do that.

Those words carved into the wall at Coventry weren’t, “Father forgive THEM.” They weren’t a quotation from Jesus’s words on the cross. No. Simply, “Father, forgive.” Forgive US, as well as those who destroyed Coventry.  In those words, “Father, forgive,” they were and we are laying before God not only the guilt of others, praying for their release from the slavery of sin, but all our own guilt as well  – Our selfishness, greed, callousness, our indifference, our anger, our lust – all those many contributions which as individuals and as a society we make to the total of human sin. We’re throwing our own sins into the poisonous pot, and we’re asking God to purify and clean it. We’re all in need of God’s forgiveness, we all want a clean slate. In those words we’re praying for ourselves. But we’re also, without being judgemental, praying for others who have done wrong. We’re joining with God, sharing with him in his purifying power, uniting ourselves in his life.

This month 77 years after that terrible air raid in Coventry, we will meet on Remembrance Sunday in this peaceful Church and town. We remember the dead of two world wars and too many smaller wars in which our armed forces have been and are engaged – all fought for “freedom and righteousness.” Today some of us remember relatives, loved ones and friends whose lives were cut short or damaged by war: for those people, this is a day that stirs up many emotions and memories. All of us remember only too well the horrifying pictures brought into our homes by newspaper and TV, of warfare in so many areas of the world including terrorist actions in our own country. Certainly we will not be glorifying war. We know too much of its horrors for that. We’re being asked to remember the fallen and the horrors of war – it is not forgive and forget – we must remember man’s capability for destruction, but when we pray, “Father, forgive,” we confess our sinfulness, and ask God to help us change the way we live, to give us the strength to forgive. If we can mean what we say, we will affect the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us.

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

News from All Saints’ PCC

All Saints’ has been successful in gaining a Grant from the Templeton Trust which will be used to stage a series of talks, over the winter months, by eminent speakers, entitled ‘Science and Faith: Big Questions’. The first will be on Thursday 12th October in the Corn Exchange, commencing at 7.30pm, Sharon Dirckx, from the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics will speak on ‘Has Science killed God’.  The lecture on 3rd November will be ‘Creation or Evolution – do we have to choose’. There will follow further lectures on 11thJanuary and 8th February  (see the advert elsewhere in the magazine for details). There are free refreshments each evening and the chance to ask a question of the speaker. All evenings are free of charge and suitable for everyone, whether or not they have any science background. We are encouraged to bring friends along and make the events widely known. It is hoped we may be able to establish an annual Science and Faith lecture in the town.

As a PCC we are anxious to keep up to date with the needs and opinions of our young families, and with this in mind, have organised an event for young parents in September, when they will be able to enjoy a meal and a quiz but also tell us how we can help them and their children in their spiritual lives.

A working group will also be reviewing our monthly pattern of Sunday worship. It is hoped that we will be able to run an Alpha course this Autumn. And, a monthly Church Prayer Meeting will start on Wednesday 4th October  at 7.30pm in the Barber Rooms, and thereafter on the first Wednesday of each month.

On a Saturday morning in November, the PCC will be meeting with members of our Lead Academy group who are attending a group for churches from market Towns. The aim is to help us set a vision for All Saints’ in the coming year.

The Fabric Working Group, recently set up, are now prioritising, and working their way through the jobs needed to keep our church building in good repair, and implementing any improvements too. You will notice the results of their endeavours over the comings months.

Finally, don’t forget to put 8th December at 6.00pm in your diary when our town Nativity will get the Christmas period off to a lovely start.