This article was found in the November 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Being the tenth imaginary letter from an imaginary uncle to imaginary twins.
Dear Jack and Betty,
As you know I came to South Street Church last Sunday to hear you make your promise and to see you receive the right hand of fellowship, and during that short ceremony I saw something else. I glanced at your mother and father and saw them thrilled with joy as they watched their children joining the same family Church where they themselves had worshipped for so long. I saw the light of thankfulness in their eyes that the great decisions had been made and heard in the prayer in their hearts that our Heavenly Father would give those children help and strength to fight the good fight in the years ahead. You will need those prayers, for the Christian way of life is not easy. Never forget that Christ needs you young people, too. He needs the passion and enthusiasm of youth for it is to you we shall have to look now for the Great Revival of the 20th century.
Now I am almost to the last of my letters and I must hurry on for my self imposed task is nearly finished.
We now come to the history of the last 100 years or so. Some of it is within the memory of those older members of the Churches still with us today. To cover adequately the activities of the Congregational Union of England and Wales would take a long time and I can only give you the barest outline. To start with it covers a period of over 100 years. During these years the tendency of Congregational Churches has been towards the centre. I do not think it could be challenged if I say that in recent years the tide has been running stronger than ever in this direction.
Here is a list of some of the outstanding achievements of the Union:-
"The growth of these funds and the increased activities of the National and County Unions provide one of the supreme tests for Congregationalism. It is not easy for a Union to allow a Church to be independent when it is being furnished with financial aid and when perhaps it persists in doing things which appear foolish to the Union's officers. With every increase in the central funds and in the power of organised Congregationalism there must be a corresponding increase in the vigour of the independent churches, a renewed sense of the presence of Christ in the midst of His people, if true Congregationalism is to survive. With more provision made for the support and superannuation of ministers there must be a parallel increase in the spirit of adventure in the Ministry if the work of the Church of Christ is to be adequately performed. If the churches come to rely on Unions for support rather than on their own efforts allies to the leading of the Divine Spirit, the time of decay is at hand. If Congregationalism ever becomes a safe and static things it is doomed. With every improvement in organisation for increase of efficiency in denominational machinery, there must be in the churches a more alert understanding of the Will of God, a speedier grasping of opportunities of service and a more ready adaptation to changing circumstances."
And here are two further extracts from the same source:-
"In forms of worship, too, there have been developments, though here perhaps the greatest conservatism of all is manifest. There is, however, an increasing willingness to make use of both silence and of some liturgical elements in the worship of the churches, and the old uniformity with its two lessons and a 'long prayer' is breaking down. It is recognised that here again Congregationalism must be willing to experiment. Forms of worship are not sacrosanct, whether they have come down unchanged for a couple of centuries or whether they arrive steaming hot from a Country Secretary's office or a Moderators' meeting. Once again the churches have to be prepared to be led by the Spirit into new ways."
And the second extract:-
"We have seen that Congregationalism has no formal creed. It does not believe that men said in the first, the fourth, or the sixteenth century the final word about the things of God. It holds that the Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth and is still making His ways known to men."
Next month I shall conclude these letters with a brief summary of Congregationalism and what it stands for.
This article was found in the November 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Notes from an address by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D.
The book of the Acts of the Apostles, as its name implies, is chiefly concerned with the work of the early Christian leaders - men called and chosen by God and endowed with special insight into the meaning of the Gospel. Without them there could have been no Christian Church. They are as essential to it as the prophets were to Israel.
But Christianity did not spread rapidly across the world only through the preaching of the Apostles. There must have been thousands of laymen too, their names now lost, who carried the message everywhere. The success of the Gospel in its encounter with pagan society was as much due to this hidden and unrecorded work as to anything.
The message which the anonymous lay Christians took with them was probably a very simple one, lacking in theological subtlety. Perhaps it could be summed up in the three words, "Jesus is Lord". And yet it was this message which had the power to turn the world upside down.
For the Jew, oppressed with a legalism he could not fulfil, hedged about with regulations and dominated by an ecclesiastical authority, the message brought a sense of joyous freedom. In the name of One who had declared Himself Lord even of the Sabbath the converted Jew dropped a religion which had become a burden for him to carry and in exchange found a faith which carried him.
Men who lived in terror of evil spirits found in the message One who was stronger than they. Millions who had been taught that the stars in their courses determined life, and who therefore felt themselves to be helpless victims of fate, learned that Jesus is Lord of the heavens no less than of the earth. The cold state of religion of the Roman Empire, which could satisfy no human heart, was undermined, because Jesus had claimed lordship over every earthly power, and taught that a man's conscience did not belong to Caesar. And the sad dignity of the Stoic was transformed into the courage of the martyr, willing to give his life not as a lonely illustration of virtue in the face of adversity, but as a triumphant vindication of the truth that Jesus is indeed the Lord.
Our situation to-day is very different from that in which the early Church found itself. Behind us are centuries of Christianity, and this constitutes both an advantage and a disadvantage. Many feel that Christianity has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, and this makes our task doubly hard. But there are points of similarity between our world and that ancient world into which Christianity came. Like the men of those times we are conscious of an increasing pessimism. Like them we are conscious, too, of a prevailing moral and spiritual decay. And like them we feel as though something massive and inhuman were weighing upon us - in their case the Roman Empire, in ours the growing power of modern industrial states which it seems no man can direct or control.
Our world knows no Imperial cult, but it knows nationalist self idolatry. It does not know physical slavery, at least in the West, but it knows desperate poverty and economic slavery. The Roman arena has gone, but much of modern life is equally vicious and unhappy.
The need today is for the same message - "Jesus is Lord". And the method for releasing the transforming power which that message contains must be the same too. It is not enough to leave the propagation of the faith to parsons and professional religious teachers. For one thing there are not enough of them. For another their work only touches a tiny fringe of life. What is needed is for every Christian to shoulder part of the responsibility for evangelism which is laid upon the whole Church. Not all are called to preach sermons. But all may do something to influence others with the truth that Jesus is Lord.
This should be felt with special force by Congregationalists at the present time. For we have now been called to enter the next phase of the Forward Movement, and this means that every Congregational Church is invited to undertake an evangelistic Mission during the coming year.
Such a task should not be entered upon lightly. It involves much more than a series of meetings conducted by special speakers. What is required is that the Church as a Church should earnestly seek to win others for the Christian faith, and every member should ask himself how best he can take a share in this.
If you are in sympathy with these aims, will you make a point of attending Church meetings during the next few months, especially if you are one who seldom comes? We need some sign that the Church has been touched in its heart by the need for evangelism. A sudden and substantial increase in attendance at Church meetings would be one way of giving a silent witness that this is so, and would be an encouragement to us all.
Nothing can be done now, however, without personal preparation and dedication, and each member is soon to be asked to subscribe to the following covenant, which will be published with our new Constitution. Let us use it as a starting point for a missionary enterprise.
"The members of Romford Congregational Church desire to live in absolute dependence upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and own in Him their only Lord, Saviour, and Mediator. Praying for strength to stand by the covenant into which Almighty God has graciously entered with the whole Church of Christ, they solemnly bind themselves to strive to love and serve Him with all their hearts, and to walk in unbroken Christian fellowship with one another."
This article was found in the October 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Being the ninth imaginary letter from an imaginary uncle to imaginary twins.
Dear Jack and Betty,
We come now to the last few years of the 18th century and the first 30 or so of the 19th. Up to now each Independent Church had been a little unit of its own, its horizon mainly limited to the particular locality in which it was situated. It had little or no contact with and not much knowledge of other Independent Churches.
The first step in doing something together was the formation of the London Missionary Society (affectionately known to us as the L.M.S.) in the year 1795. While Independent Churches formed the backbone of its support among its sponsors were many other Evangelical Churches. This was in itself a big step forward and it had the result of showing clearly that together Independent Churches could do things it was impossible to do alone.
In the early 19th century Independents began to realise that there was a real and desperate need for Home as well as Foreign missions. Local churches near enough to be able to work together formed small associations from which itinerant preachers and evangelists were sent out to spread the gospel. A first these associations were nothing more than a "getting together" of a few ministers but gradually over the years they became more ambitious until finally they blossomed out into full County Unions. In the first 20 years of the 19th century many large County Unions came into existence and did grand work for the extension of Congregationalism in their particular County.
Naturally as the years went by there grew up a demand for a larger Union. One that would combine all the county unions into one for the Country. There were many reasons for the growth of this demand, among them being:-
(a) The growth of the Wesleyan Methodists, who, tightly controlled from a central office, were able to produce convincing statistics of their strength and membership - something which the Independent Churches were unable to do;
(b) the fact that many itinerant preachers sent out by local or County Unions were having a very difficult time. They experienced hostility and opposition, sometimes very bitter, from Anglican Churches, and this brought Independent Churches more and more together in sympathy and fellowship;
(c) the outstanding success of the L.M.S. which by now was well established and showing Independents what could be done by getting together.
But there were great objections to a full union from many of the Independents themselves. One of the strongest arguments against Union was that they were independent and that by joining together they would lose their independency and become merely another "sect". Many attempts were made, many schemes drawn up but all came to nothing. But the movement for Union was too strong to be resisted indefinitely; indeed in the long run it was inevitable. In the year 1832 it became an accomplished fact when the first Congregational Union of England and Wales was formed. Its constitution was very carefully drawn up. Under each Church retained its independency to govern its own affairs, appoint its own ministers and worship as it desired. The powers of the Union were very strictly limited to matters that concerned the Churches as a whole. One of the safeguards was that the Union was not to become a legislative authority or a court of appeal.
During the last 100 years various amendments to the Constitution have been made. In the main these have tended to give more power and authority to the Union, but through all the years independency of the local churches has been jealously safeguarded.
I will try and tell you a little of the work of the Union in my next letter.
“Today’s reading presents several different ways to think about the kingdom of heaven. The images would have been familiar to the original audience, many of them being drawn from everyday life. Together they build understanding of God’s kingdom. What would be equivalent images for today? How might we use images from our contemporary everyday life to explain what God’s kingdom is like to our friends and neighbours?
There is a dual message about the kingdom of heaven. First, it is something that seems very small to begin with but will grow. Like the yeast and the tiny mustard seed, the kingdom of heaven will grow and permeate far and wide. The other images speak to us about the worth or value of the kingdom. For both the treasure in the field and the pearl of great value, someone gives everything to acquire them; the kingdom is worth more than anything else. Which of these images resonates with your understanding of the kingdom of heaven? Which do you find the most challenging?
Describing the kingdom as treasure buried in a field suggests that the kingdom needs seeking out. What does this image of hiddenness mean in practice? Even after you have bought the field, how will you find the treasure? Can you see signs of the kingdom where you are? What are they? How do we uncover the kingdom of heaven?
Two of the images refer to giving everything up for the kingdom. What might this look like in your life today? How do we give sacrificially for the kingdom? Should we? Do we? How do we respond to this ancient image about the kingdom of heaven in modern-day Britain? Can you think of a modern parallel?”
Have a good long look at the Bible Reading from Matthew, and see if you can find something that you can connect to, we had the image of the diamond in the stone, the mustard seed, and the loaf of bread. Surely we in the year 2020 can find some comparable objects or items, how we come to understand and adapt to his words, at the beginning we touched on Forest Church, the Church doesn’t have to be in a forest – but how nice would that be, it can be anywhere we like, our Church first met in a house not far from where our Church stands, as we to some extent come out of lockdown we will all be tested, with new ways of doing things – for some of us things will not go back to how they were – but we have to continue to be inclusive to remember all as we move forward, so that no seed is dropped on stony ground. We are not asked to sacrifice our life for our God but many across the world are. We must continue to pray for all people who are oppressed and remind ourselves of how lucky we are.
Lord, it’s not up to us to sort the bad from the good,
the wheat from the weeds.
Rather, send us out to love everyone equally,
and to do everything we can to promote your kingdom.
© ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com) 2002-2020.
Reproduced with permission
The readings for today are listed below, I will be concentrating on the reading from Mathew.
1 Kings 3.5-12
Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52
“Here we have six parables concerning the kingdom of heaven. The proverbial smallness of the mustard seed (about 1mm), sometimes contrasted to a sizeable mustard bush (typically 2–3m tall), and is referred to in other ancient writings (cf. Matthew 17.20). This comparison stresses that although the kingdom may currently appear insignificantly small, it will grow dramatically. Trees are used as pictures of kings and their kingdoms elsewhere (cf. Ezekiel 31; Daniel 4), and it is thought that birds sometimes signified non-Jews. Jesus’ use of the mustard seed as an image of the kingdom – rather than a more ‘majestic’ species – also draws attention to the unlikely beginnings of the kingdom: in Jesus’ ministry of service rather than the work of a warrior king.”
Have we found any nuggets during lockdown, I have found it very interesting to see how local communities have worked together, how my end of the road I live in are there for each other, the kindness of strangers, as some of you may know I am a member of the Huguenot Society, we were called “ strangers” when we first came to England, it was not plain sailing at all, we were despised by some, our ways seemed alien to a lot, we worshiped in French, we had our own Churches we worked all hours and were seen as a threat to workers in our field ( in our case Silk Weaving) but if you think of us as a mustard seed then I think you can say we have grown into a large bush, no more silk weaving, no more only speaking in French but our Society is involved in a lot of charitable work.
“Yeast in dough (leaven) had to be cleaned out of Jewish houses before
Passover (Exodus 12). It is sometimes used to picture the spread of negative things from a small start (e.g. 1 Corinthians 5.6-8). However, here it is used to demonstrate again the way the kingdom starts small but has a mighty and wide-ranging effect.”
I first went to Church at the Vine in Ilford, it was a very large Gothic Church building with a very large congregation, during my time in Ilford the Church moved to a slightly smaller premises but the congregation remained large, I then moved to Hornchurch with a large congregation and Sunday School, we are now a much smaller church with a much smaller congregation but our task is more important today than it ever was, our message is the same – we can still have that wide-ranging affect.
The next two parables (vv.44-46) both convey something of the huge value of the kingdom in comparison with anything else life might offer. They also both echo, from the mustard seed and yeast, the idea of the kingdom not being easily noticed at first glance. Pearls were more valuable than gold at that time.
The parable of the dragnet that indiscriminately catches fish, both good and bad, comes with an explanation. It is similar to the parable of the wheat and weeds (last week: Matthew 13.24-30) in speaking of the separation of good from evil that will happen at the end of the age, and of the persistence of evil agency until then. It is not clear if the net signifies the whole world (in which case the separation is between those who accepted the message of Christ and those who did not), or if it refers to the kingdom (in which case it might suggest a judgement of those who consider themselves members of the kingdom).
Finally, Jesus tells a parable about teachers within the kingdom. Scribes were those who interpreted God’s instructions in the Scriptures in order that the people would know how to live God’s way. This parable may indicate that, in the kingdom, those who have been trained in kingdom ways (as the disciples have) will draw on their Jewish heritage of knowing God’s ways but also on the new things that Jesus is showing them”
Are we living in the way Jesus has asked us to live, we can take all the parables and dissect them minutely we can discuss debate and cross reference but at the end of the day we have to look at ourselves to establish what we can do in Christs name, I mentioned last time about carrying out random acts of kindness, that surely is a trait we can all follow; if we are the seeds it’s up to us to grow our Church – if we are the yeast it’s up to us to bake the loaf, we have gems hidden from site, some will rise to the surface, some have to be teased out some will remain hidden.
The call to worship prayer implies that the setting is within our Church or does it?
“Forest Church doesn't literally have to be in a forest... it could be in a churchyard or garden, in a local park, on derelict land earmarked for development - anywhere outside.'”
I have only completed two blogs in July, this is the last one for this Month, It’s an interesting time to say the least, we are all getting used to new ways of communicating, I had never used Zoom before but now it has become a regular form of communicating, it has its drawbacks the speed of the internet connection being the main one ( a narrower band width means you can lose connection, going Mute is another) but in reality this is a bit like a normal conversation even a one to one if we are surrounded by noise then sometimes we fail to hear or we hear incorrectly, the words we use are open to interpretation and how they are delivered can cause issues. At the start of this script is a reference to Forest Church, a Roots project for August 2020 looking at different ways of worshipping, in my last Blog I touched on the new ways we using to keep us all connected, and as the rules change nearly daily we have to also keep to the forefront of our mind what Jesus would want us to do. To help enrich the lives of all those that we meet day to day, but have we ever attempted to hold a conversation in a noisy restaurant or a crowded train, it’s not easy – it may be no easier in a forest glade, where we could be competing with bird noise and the sound of the wind through the trees.
This article was found in the October 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Notes from an address by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D.
I want to discuss with you three ways in which people sometimes react to troubles. Let us call them the way of the Stoic, the way of the Jew, and the way of the Christian.
Although Jeremiah certainly had no spiritual affinity with Stoicism there is a text in the book bearing his name which expresses very well what I mean by the way of the Stoic. It reads like this. "Woe is me for my hurt! My wound is grievous: but I said, Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it." (Jeremiah 10:19)
Thousands of people with no religious faith show admirable courage in the face of suffering and loss by adopting this attitude. They bear their troubles manfully and in silence. Sometimes they even grin and bear them. They scorn to whine or complain or look for pity, feeling that the dignity of a human being forbids it, and in this matter many pagans put some Christians to shame. Theirs is part of the routine heroism of the world. It happens every day, is not confined to religious people and does not depend on a divine revelation. But nevertheless this is a threadbare cloak to draw about oneself when the wind is bitter.
What else has religion to offer?
The Jew strove to adjust himself to all kinds by accepting it as from the hands of a just and holy God. This point of view is well expressed in the book of Job, where Job says, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?" In this attitude great strength and consolation is sometimes found. Submission to the will of an all wise Creator whose decrees must never be questioned gives to many the courage they need to get through life.
A glance at the hymn book, and conversation with many Christians, will show that this essentially Old Testament idea is sometimes not much enlarged by an experience of the Christian Gospel. In fact some Christians deal with misfortune as a Jew might. They know nothing better than to attempt submission to the will of a God who "knows best". Hymn Thy Way, not Mine is full of the atmosphere of a patient submission. Thus verse four reads,
Take Thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill,
As best to Thee may seem;
Choose Thou my good and ill.
Some Christian buttress this thought by reflecting that our true joys are in heaven, not in this vale of sorrows, and that it is wrong to expect much happiness on earth. Hymn I'm But a Stranger Here begins in this not very inspiring strain: -
I'm but a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home.
The question is whether Jesus thought the earth was a desert drear, and whether the highest Christian ideal in face of sorrow is truly expressed in the prayer for a "heart resigned, submissive, meek."
I do not wish to imply that there is no truth or health in this sentiment. A Christian no less than a Jew desires to accept the will of God and knows that "now we fight the battle, but then shall wear the crown." Nevertheless an emphasis upon acceptance of sorrow is not, as I hope to show, a fully Christian one, and may imply a sub-Christian conception of God.
Now let us turn our thought to the words of Jesus, uttered, according to the Fourth Evangelist, on the occasion of His arrest. "The cup which my Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" This was said to Peter, who wished to resist with violence, and it seems at first sight to imply the Cross ought to be accepted as from God.
But God did not nail Jesus to the Cross. His enemies did that. We cannot identify the will of God with the will of Caiaphas. That His Heavenly Father required of Jesus an obedience which would involve the Cross, and that the Cross was made to serve the highest Divine purpose, is true. But that is very different from supposing that in the hour of His Passion our Lord accepted suffering as an act of God.
No sorrow is like unto His sorrow, but here at the Cross we may reverently learn something of the Christian approach to all suffering.
In the first place many things are permitted by God which are not willed by Him. In our darkest hour let us at least remember that. We are to trust Him as a Heavenly Father in all circumstances. But we are not to suppose that all circumstances come from His hand, although all circumstances are in His hand.
Most of our troubles can be traced back to human ignorance, or sin or foolishness (our own or another's, or that which belongs corporately to the race); or else to laws of nature which operate, I incline to believe, in a certain measure independently of God. We are often dishonest with ourselves when we forger this. Sometimes what people finally resign themselves to as the will of God is something they have been doing everything in their power to avoid. In fact we often attribute to the will of God those things which we cannot control, and for no better reason. At the present time thousands of human beings die every year of cancer, and Christian people contribute money to cancer research in the hope that a cure may be found. And yet in how many homes is a loved one who died of this disease spoken of as "taken" by God? People who say they cannot understand why such as good man should have suffered so much imply that their sorrow is due to a Divine decree. In that case every penny contributed towards cancer research is an attempt to frustrate the will of God. And if we shrink from such a blasphemous absurdity let us also shrink from the belief that God "sends" all our troubles to us.
The struggle of a protesting, suffering heart to accept some tragic happening as in some hidden way "good" for it can be very distressing and is quite unnecessary. Christian piety is not blind obedience to an inscrutable authority, but trust is a heavenly Father. And when it is desperately hard to maintain such a faith try to remember these three simple things. (1) Whatever happens to us God has permitted to happen, though He may not have willed it. (2) God can use what has happened, even when it is not His will, so that in the end it will be seen to have served His purposes. (3) Ultimately God's will must prevail, and even now, since evil and suffering only exist by permission and not in their own strength, God is in complete control.
This, however, is only one side of the Christian response to suffering, and it is the negative side. Jesus accepted the Cross, indeed He took it up, as the inevitable result of obedience to God. But He did more than receive it. He also offered it, as at the Last Supper when He gave the cup to His disciples and bade them share it amongst themselves, telling them that His death was to be something accomplished on their behalf.
Of course it is futile to compare the sufferings of Christ with ordinary human experience. But in the fact that His cup was both received and offered we may learn something which has a practical application to ourselves. The most Christian response to suffering is surely to ask oneself, not "How can I put up with this?", but "How can I offer this to God? In what way can it be found that a trouble can be turned into an offering, and in so doing we transform it into a creative source of life for other people instead of a drag upon ourselves. I think, for instance, of a woman lying in a hospital ward for many months, her twisted body offering vert little hope of future happiness for herself. And yet it was quite from her cheerful and trusting spirit that she was determined to do something with her situation which would be of service to other people. I think she was a source of courage and reassurance for everyone else in that place. I believe her life was a daily offering to God.
A pagan can bear his troubles manfully. A Jew can submit to them obediently. But only a Christian can offer them lovingly.
"If I stoop
Into a dark, tremendous sea of cloud
It is but for a time; I press God's lamp
Close to my breast; its splendour, soon or late
Will pierce the gloom: I shall emerge one day."
This article was found in the September 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Being the eighth imaginary letter from an imaginary uncle to imaginary twins.
Dear Jack and Betty,
During the reign of Charles II thousands of Nonconformists were imprisoned for failure to comply with the various Acts of Parliament aimed at their extinction - and imprisonment often meant death. There is an estimate that between five and eight thousand died in prison during Charles' reign. Yet, although driven underground they were never exterminated. One of the noted men of the time was John Bunyan who, during imprisonment, wrote that most famous and well loved book "Pilgrim's Progress". Bunyan was later called to be minister of the Congregational Church at Bedford, a church which bears his name to this day.
In 1665 occurred the Great Plague of London. Many clergymen fled from their Churches in panic and in the general breakdown of the city's normal life which the plague caused, many Nonconformists slipped into the vacant pulpits. Their courage in visitation and work during this period made a great impression and may have resulted in the Declaration of Indulgence of 1672 which gave them three years of liberty. During these three years many new Independent Churches were formed but in 1675 persecution broke out again and went on for another 10 years. Then in 1685 James II (a Roman Catholic) came to the throne and in trying his best to help the Roman Catholics he was obliged (probably unwillingly) to give Non-conformists some relief.
A few years after, James II lost his throne to William of Orange (a Protestant) and in 1689 the Toleration Act relieved them of persecution. There was, however, nothing generous about the Toleration Act. It did nothing more than make them safe from further persecution but there was still a lot of feeling against them and they had to suffer many indignities. Many times their meetings were broken up and socially they were almost outcasts among their fellows, but they were safe.
Now Nonconformity began to grow apace. The three main denominations, Presbyterian, Independents and Baptists, built about 1,000 churches (or meeting houses) in the 20 years following the Toleration Act. In the main the congregations were small and the churches poor; the services were simple to the point of austerity; the sermons and prayers were long.
Now, strangely enough a blight fell on Independent Churches. The great progress of the previous 20 years was halted - slowly but surely decay began to set in. Dr. Peel describes it thus:-
"Persecution had stiffened Nonconformist convictions; tolerance resulted in the weakening and slackening of moral fibre. The old religious earnestness disappeared, as did the sense of joy and privilege in belonging to a Church composed of Christian believers. It is as true as it is suggestive that 'An enquiry into the Cause of the Decay of the Dissenting Interest' (1730) gives as the first and primary cause 'Ignorance of their own principles'."
A further reason for the decay was a social one. The old Independent stalwarts had died and their children did not possess the convictions of their fathers. They found that as Independents they were looked upon as "cranks" - the social pull of the Anglican Church had its effects and many members and even some ministers went over to the Church of England. The whole of Christianity in this country was at a low ebb. The old burning zeal had been lost. The old insistence on purity of life had disappeared. Men were careless of religion, prayer and worship. They ceased to be scrupulous about their amusements and began to worship the gods of pleasure and money. Men had in fact, for a time, lost the sense of God's presence.
And here, perhaps, I can break my narration for a short space. As I wrote this description of religious life in the early 18th century, I was struck with its similarity to our own times now. Are we going through a similar phase today? Are we today putting too much stress on material things, on getting on in life? Have we of this generation lost the sense of God's presence? Perhaps you young people will just put this down to the moralising of an older man. It may be so, but I feel this generation has lost something and we have to find it before the great revival can start. Come it will I am certain. There is more than personal faith in this statement. It is the lesson history teaches.
Certainly a great Evangelical revival came in the 18th century. Wesley and Whitefield went through the land proclaiming the gospel with passionate intensity. The Sunday School movement commenced and men's thoughts turned towards missionary work. Revival spread throughout the length and breadth of our land. Congregationalists played a great part in this revival and Independent Churches acquired a keen sense of their responsibility for the Evangelisation of the world. Suddenly Congregationalists saw the terrific magnitude of the task ahead and they saw that while a Church independent and alone could deal with the problems in its own immediate neighbourhood something larger was required if the task of evangelising the world was to be attempted.
How we faced up to that task and its results I will tell you in my next letter.
Ever your affectionate
These notes were found in the September 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. They come from an address given by the Rev. Ronald Ward at the Annual Conference of the Guild of Heath.
1. The Biblical View of History
The Biblical view of History can best be indicated by comparing Isaiah 40:3-4 with the first chapter of Ecclesiastes. The writer of this section of Ecclesiastes, though a Jew, has a pagan spirit. For him there is "no new thing under the sun". History can best be represented as a circle. "The thing that hath been it is that which shall be".
Deutero-Isaiah, on the other hand, has a view of history which is Biblical through and through. The verse containing the words "make straight in the desert a highway for our God" sums up the whole matter. In this thought history may best be symbolised not by a circle but by a straight line. The human race is on a road, not a roundabout. History is moving towards an ultimate and triumphant conclusion. Time is therefore an all important element in experience, and this is why the Biblical writers are in the main concerned with meaningful events rather than ideas.
Western man derives his view of history, and in particular his conception of progress, from the Bible.
2. The Lord of History
The Biblical view of history is accounted for by the Biblical view of God. God is creator and Lord of History. As creator He is necessarily above events in this world, and ultimately in control of them. Nevertheless the Bible stresses the immanence of God, and reveals Him as actively at work within world events.
3. The Holy Spirit History
To say God is active in History is to say that the Holy Spirit is active there. For the Holy Spirit is not a vague influence for good, but the life of God Himself as actually encountered by us in the world.
Two things are to be observed about the world of the Holy Spirit.
In addition to this it should be noted that the Spirit is thought of as active in all the works of nature, as well as in personal life. But then the natural world only comes into existence through the Word of God. "God said, Let there be light, and there was light".
The Bible would have us recognise the activity of the Holy Spirit in history through the following Divinely elected ways.
4. The Holy Spirit in the Church
Henceforth the Holy Spirit, though active everywhere, is shaping the course of history through the New Israel, the Christian Church. The Church alone has heard and received the full Word of God which is in Christ, and therefore it is through the Church that the Spirit will realise the Kingdom of God on earth. That is why Christianity is, in Christopher Dawson's phrase, "a world changing religion". The restless enterprise of Western man, though seldom related to religious ends and often evil in its result, is nevertheless due to the impact of Christianity. It is no coincidence that empirical science has flowered in the West and not the East, where religion preserves a static culture for centuries, but provides no impulse for bringing a new kind of world into existence. For the religions of the East time is an illusion, For the Christian faith time, and therefore history, is the loom of God.
5. The Holy Spirit in the Contemporary Situation
Today Christianity exists under the menace of atheistic Communism. It must be remembered that the Communist view of history is in many essentials derived from the Bible (Marx was a Jew). This accounts for its dynamic and revolutionary character. Communism is a perversion of Christianity.
But if God is the Lord of History the present situation has not emerged by accident and cannot get out of control. There is a Word of judgement in it - upon the world, because it has rejected Christ again in this generation, but also upon the Church because it has sought to accept Christ on its own terms.
The Holy Spirit is certainly active in the present scene of world affairs - perhaps forcing us, through events, to take Christianity seriously once and for all. Rest assured that the Work of the Spirit, which we have seen running like a thread through all the centuries, cannot be frustrated by anything men have power to do. History will not end with an atom bomb. It will end when He who began it has finished what He is doing in it.
“In contemporary farming, seeds are sown in neat lines with a carefully calculated distance between them, designed to maximise growth and minimise waste. The sower in the parable takes a very different approach.” Today’s farming methods are so different, technology has improved farming skills – for example the use of drones to identify where growing patterns are different – so that area of planting can be helped. “He ‘broadcasts’ his seeds, casting them far and wide. Not precise, and lacking in the finesse of a modern farmer, but this approach means that the seeds travel a significant distance. How might we broadcast our message of salvation far and wide? How might modern communication help us to broadcast?” I think in some ways the answer has become a little clearer in Lockdown – we must use every tool at our disposal, use our Church to re-charge our batteries & then spread the word with every means at our disposal.
“Although this parable is ‘explained’ by Jesus, there is a tension between hearing a parable and fully understanding it. The parables (in general) seem designed to carry ambiguity or mystery. They invite us to keep thinking about what they might mean – both for Jesus’ audience and for us in the 2020s. It is not all completely explained. We need to think about what the thorns are in our contemporary world, and what forms of persecution might draw someone away from God. We may want everything explained, but that is not how the parables work. How might this have an impact on the way we communicate God to others and convey some of the mystery of his kingdom?”
Hidden out if site is the recurring story of Christians being persecuted worldwide, we must continue to pray for all those suffering persecution – but also remember that persecution comes in many forms – I am proud to be a Christian, even if over my life it has caused issues for me issues of trust & confidence – we hopefully continue to learn & to understand – these current times have I think caused those with faith and those without to review where they stand, but put very simply we just have to remember to stand tall, just as the seed will grow strong and tall if we nurture it. On a lighter note I have been growing Rudbekia from seed for the last few years, this spring I grew a dwarf version, but I have found that although a lot have grown straight and true some have not they have needed support, just as we need support. I refer back to my opening words.
“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you”
“The final part of the parable describes three different yields resulting from seed planted in good soil – one hundredfold, sixtyfold and thirtyfold. What would it look like in your church to experience this level of growth? What would have to change? How would we have to adapt? Are we actually hungry for growth such as this, or have we become comfortable with the yields we currently experience?”
This is so relevant to now, what will our future look like, I am reminded of a story told to me in Northern Ireland. It’s much too long to tell now, but the bottom line was a church of 7 became a Church of 250 via Music, some of you will remember that story, it inspired me – so don’t let us just be comfortable – lets ensure our virtual seeds are scattered wide, if we all perform an act of kindness & I know for a fact that a lot of us have, then we are spreading Gods word at the same time.
In God’s eye, today and every day.
In Christ’s footsteps, today and every day.
Blessed by the Spirit, now and for ever.
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