Doubtless elsewhere in this edition of ‘The Pioneer’ there is an article about last month’s Baptism and Confirmation Service, as part of the course that they have been on with me Alice, Jill, Daniel and Duncan have looked at the Creeds including the Nicene Creed that we use each and every Sunday. After one of our sessions and as I was just putting a few things away in church I found myself reflecting upon the meaning of the words in this modern era and especially on the phrase "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church ", this is the claim, after all, that we all make each time we join together to say the Creed.
The Church of which we are members is apostolic, and it is prophetic, quite simply because it has, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "apostles and prophets for its foundations, and Christ Jesus himself for its main cornerstone." The Apostles were missionaries, witnesses to his own ministry and teaching, and witnesses, too, of his Resurrection, whom Jesus chose and subsequently sent out to make disciples of all the nations.
We are the descendants and successors of those Apostles. Ours is the responsibility to continue, as a Church, their mission.
The Apostles made disciples by their preaching of the Good News of Jesus and by their example of living, as far as they possibly could, the way of life of Jesus. They also appointed their own successors, Bishops or Elders of the Church, so that the teaching of Jesus could be, was, and still is, preserved.
For two thousand years the teaching has continued. The Church, left by Jesus to those eleven remaining Apostles, has flourished and grown so that it now covers the world and has hundreds of millions of members. But as it has grown, so it has changed. It has many times fallen into sin and error. The Good News of its founder has been too often ignored and the Church has become the plaything of men rather than the instrument of God it should be.
If we believe in the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church then it is our task and our duty as its twenty first century missionaries once more to listen to the words of Jesus as passed down to us by and through his Apostles and their successors. We must listen again to the wisdom of the Church's early Fathers. We must pay heed to the Scriptures and to the Church's Tradition.
Organisations such as the SSC or Forward in Faith or Reform are neither fundamentalist nor indeed trapped in a time warp, but they do believe that we must return to the basic truths of faith, to the Word of God made known through Jesus rather than continue, as so many in the church are doing, in the belief that present-day, scientific, materialistic Man has all the answers and knows best, and that the Bible and the Apostles were simply of their time and largely unrelated to us and our own lives now.
It is a mistake, frequently made, by those of the more Liberal tendencies to try and marginalize organizations such as the SSC or Reform or Forward in Faith by saying that they are ‘one issue’ or ‘fundamentalist’. It is true that they and their members have chosen to take a stand on certain issues of the faith, as they understand it to have been handed down by the Lord and that because a certain point captures the media’s attention it appears that this is there only reason for being, but such is not true. Their true aim in every case is the preaching and teaching of the truth of the faith as revealed in Holy Scripture for the salvation of mankind.
Jesus healed the sick, made the lame walk, the deaf hear and the blind see. He told his Apostles and disciples to do the same - and they did, but in his name and not in theirs. He invited them, as he invites us, to share in his life of service, to take up our cross as he took up his.
The teaching of the Apostles comes as a package, which in itself is unattractive to the prevailing culture of rights over responsibility. People are being encouraged to pick and choose which bits of the faith they will accept and which bits they will reject or ignore; This cannot be right for it breaks with the very concept of the statement ‘We believe’. A recent study speaks of 'bespoke religion', wherein we create our own faith to suit us at anyone particular moment. But is that faith in anything but ourselves? Does God exist in that, other than as a product of our own creation and imagination? God, it would seem, no longer created us, but we created God.
Both Fr. Mervyn and I are members of the some of the organisations mentioned earlier, we believe in the truth of Jesus Christ and thus we believe in the apostolic Church and in the Apostles as the messengers and missionaries of Our Lord. It is to the teaching of Jesus, handed down to us by them that we must return and in which we, and the world, may rejoice.
The concept advanced in many parts of the Liberal Church that we must accept our brothers and sisters in every respect and not judge them or ask them to change their ways is fundamentally wrong. Yes we should love all people and respect them as His creation, but to be a follower of Christ is to embrace his teaching and follow it totally, not to ignore the hard bits or the bits that get in the way of our own hedonistic or perhaps perverted pleasures. The way is not easy and we cannot make it so! If it was then everyone would be saved without effort and the bible clearly tells us this is not the case.
The book of Revelation tells us how the Beast will lead many astray and how he will place his mark upon them, it also tells us how those who refuse to follow the beast and renounce God will be persecuted and tortured. These are the Saints who have laid down their lives for the true faith; they are to be the first to be raised from the dead, whilst those bearing the mark of the beast will be consigned to the fiery furnace for all time.
To make the statement "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church " is to accept that we are different, that we live in this world and that yet that we are not of this world, but of the kingdom of heaven. That we accept, embrace and indeed actively promote the laws of the country we live in providing they do not contravene the laws of God. As the early church father Diognetus wrote “Any Christian is free to share his neighbour’s table but never his marriage bed.” He continues “They show love to all men – and all men persecute them. They are misunderstood and condemned; yet by suffering death they are quickened into life.” Meaning the heavenly Kingdom
The secular world and those who would chase numbers in Church and pounds in collections are not interested in hearing of things that stand in the way of the ‘Do as I please culture’ For them the statement "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church " has no place, they want to say at the end of the statement, ‘So long as I can do what I want, when I want, where I want and with whom I want’
I put it to you that if we are truly his followers then we must not desert the true faith and we must not surrender it into the hands of those who would use it for there own ends. Those of us who were at Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham on the late May Bank Holiday Monday heard the Archbishop of York challenge them to shout out as loudly as possible ‘I’m for Jesus’. The noise of the several thousand pilgrims was truly inspiring to be a part of and reminded me that in the pursuit of the true faith there can be No Desertion and No Surrender.
May God be with you,