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.
© Copyright 2002-2020, ROOTS for Churches Ltd. All rights reserved.
This article was found in the August 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Being the seventh imaginary letter from an imaginary uncle to imaginary twins
Dear Jack and Betty,
We left our story last month at the period of the Commonwealth when under Cromwell Independency had come to power. It would not have been surprising if in these circumstances it had shown itself harsh towards its oppressors, and it is to its credit that it did not do so. It had lived through nearly two centuries of bitter persecution and it lived in an age when toleration was almost unknown. But Cromwell drew the line only at Popery - that he would not tolerate. He proclaimed that all Protestants of whatever sect should have freedom and protection in their ministries so long as they did not promote Popery or Prelacy.
Baptists, Presbyterians, Independents and Anglicans were appointed to Church Livings and they were allowed to organise their Churches as they desired. Anglicans were even allowed to use the Book of Common Prayer. Only minister who endeavoured to set up Popish practices were summarily ejected. Of course, this created many anomalies. There were in existence "gathered churches" entirely unconnected with the Parish Church and in cases where Independent ministers had been appointed to Parish Churches all kinds of compromises regarding the place of worship and income of the ministers were to be found. Two Congregational Churches met in Westminster Abbey and Exeter Cathedral respectively. A Congregational minister was appointed Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and another became Cromwell's Chaplain at Whitehall. The religious toleration allowed during the Commonwealth was greater than anything England had experiences before. Dr. Peel says this:-
"In the year of Cromwell's death 200 representatives of 120 Independent Churches met in London and drew up a detailed and careful statement of the 'Institutions of Churches and the Orders appointed them by Jesus Christ.' It is in effect a scholarly statement of Congregational principles and it is a landmark of the growth of our denomination. Dr. Dale says of it: 'In its fullness and precision it is perhaps the most admirable statement of the ecclesiastical principles of English Congregationalism'."
On the death of Cromwell the people clamoured for the restoration of the Monarchy and great was their delight on the accession of Charles II. But this delight was short lived. Oliver Cromwell had many faults, but at least he was trusted and respected throughout the land. Charles soon made his name to be detested. Cromwell's Ironsides were disbanded but this had the effect of dispersing throughout the country a leavening of men, sober and god fearing, who had a marked influence on all with whom they came in contact.
Repressive legislation was soon rushed through Parliament and it was not long before it began to press heavily on all Nonconformists.
The Corporation Act, 1661 prevented anyone holding a municipal office unless he had taken Communion according to the rites of the Anglican Church.
The Act of Uniformity, 1662 made every clergyman and schoolmaster give his assent to the Book of Common Prayer or be deposed from his office.
The Conventicle Act, 1664, and the Five-mile Act, 1665, contained further measures against Nonconformity - the former giving authorities power to transport offenders out of the country.
It is the Act of Uniformity, 1662, that is important to us today. On the appointed day, 24th August 1662, over 2,000 clergy left their livings and refused to conform. Of these 2,000 it is estimated about 500 were Congregational. In actual fact 380 have been identified. One of these 380 is the founder of your own Church in Romford. Rev. Blackmore, who held a living in London, refused to conform, left his Church and came to live in London. He gathered a few Independents around him and founded the Romford Congregational Church of which he was the first minister. It is something to be proud of to belong to a "1662 Church." When you join it you join a Church with a great and proud history and inspiring traditions.
Next month I will tell you how persecution ended and was followed by decay, which in its turn was followed by a great revival.
communicating aspects of the kingdom of God. Parables consist of short narratives to illustrate a point. Sometimes the elements in the narrative are explicitly identified as pictures of, or metaphors for, something that helps us understand the meaning. Sometimes the meanings are explained, while at other times they are not spelt out. For example, several of these parables concern seeds, but the picture language, or metaphor, of a seed is used in varying ways in the different parables. For this reason, it is important to take each parable as a whole to determine its meaning, rather than focusing on single words or taking the metaphors too far.”
Those that have attended church when I have lead a service will be very aware that I find the use of props very useful to me, I have an art background – so I like the idea of using story boards to light up my sermon, words sometimes get lost in the message – but a picture well that’s another matter altogether. Many of our Ministers & visiting lay preachers over the years have brought seeds in, some have allowed us to take them home to see how they germinate.
The first half of this week’s reading presents the picture, familiar to Jesus’ audience, of someone sowing seed, probably throwing it across each side of the ground as they walked along a path of beaten earth through a field. Jesus notes reasons, within the story, why the seed falling in each of four different places might be more or less productive. He then calls on the crowd to listen (v.9).
“The second half of the reading jumps a few verses to where, having answered the disciples’ question about why he uses parables, Jesus calls them to ‘hear’ the parable (it is the same root word as that translated ‘listen’ in v.9) and he proceeds to explain it. This is where our tidy categories of meaning fail us; it is meaningless to argue whether the germinating seed (v.21) or the soil type (v.19) represent the person. The wording is ambiguous but the meaning is clear. The different growing situations are metaphors for different responses to the word of the kingdom. As such, they help explain why Jesus’ message is not received with acclaim by all of Israel. Various factors affected how the same ‘seed’ of God’s word fared in different circumstances in Jesus’ time: distraction by forces against God, by hostility from others, by worries of life and concern for wealth. Beyond that, we may find that the parable helps us understand why people outside the Church today respond in varying ways to the gospel, and it may also reflect how Christians feel that they respond to the ongoing call of God on their lives. This range of potential applicability reflects the power of a good parable. It can speak to various situations in differing ways – but all may be fruitful.”
There can be no better example of how we should act as Christians if we use the example of the seed. But also that image of Jesus having to get into a boat – because so many people were there, like the image above reminds us of the climate affecting how we worship moving forward, we will have some form of social distancing, there will be many changes in the short to medium term but whatever our Church looks like as we move forward we must all remember we are the “seeds” we have to grow our Church, it’s just that we may have to find new ways of doing that.
The links between the readings
We use pictures to communicate ideas all the time. Isaiah and the psalmist both make poetic use of pictures to speak of abstract concepts, such as God’s word, or to express the way in which they saw the whole of creation giving praise to God. Paul uses metaphors of walking and dwelling to speak of the ways in which believers’ lives are bound up with the Spirit of God. Jesus, the master storyteller, conjures up pictures to communicate deep truths about people and about the work of God. We shall see more over the next two weeks.
Part 3 will be posted on Saturday
This article was found in the August 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. The following address was given by Mr. Ebenezer Cunningham, a Deacon of Emmanuel Church, Cambridge.
The Relationship Between Minister and People in a Congregational Church
That there is something different between the relationship of minister and people in a Congregational Church and the relationship which one obtains in an Anglican Church is fairly apparent. It shows us clearly in the way in which a member of the Anglican Church will speak to his minister as "Vicar", while we should almost invariably address him as "Mr. Smith", or as often happens in these days, as "John" or "Eric". In the former case he is the official representative of the Church. In our case, he is a friend and equal among us. And of course this is related to the difference in the way in which he comes among us as compared with the advent of a vicar. The bishop appoints a vicar. The Congregational Church invites a minister. Our Anglican friends would perhaps consider that our way is informal and lacking in weighty sanction. But in principle, though not always realised in practice, the invitation of a minister to a Congregational Church in the action of the Church, of the members covenanted together in Christ under the guiding of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the most solemn actions of a church. It is the action of the Church in its most complete sense. This is evident in the way in which, for a great many Churches, notice is given publicly at each service on two Sundays previously of a special meeting for the consideration of a call to a minister. The call, like all subsequent relations with a minister is conditioned by all the frailty and failings of ordinary people; but in this matter, as in every true Church meeting, the members are acting at their highest level, Indeed, that the Church is wise which never sends a call except on the unanimous feeling of the meeting.
And the minister, on receiving the call, awaits the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that he may reply rightly. And if he accepts the call, he trusts himself into the keeping of the Church, for good or ill, to serve and not to count the cost. It is a solemn engagement into which minister and people enter. They become responsible to, and responsible for each other. The minister becomes a member of the Church on the same terms as any other, entering into the same covenant with the Church to walk together in the ways of Christ and to be guided by the one spirit.
And so the first element in the relationship of minister and people is the same as the relationship between any two members of a Church. This, of course tells both ways. It raises the conception of the relationship between any two members to the level at which each ministers to the other. It is said that "there is no laity." We are all ministers. This is a fact which we often lose sight of. But if it became a reality among us or in proportion as it does so, we are realising the true nature of the Church. Feebly we try to make it so. But how much further do we need to go?
And so our first duty to our minister is to minister to him. We have to minister to his ordinary needs and the needs of his family. We become responsible for his house and home, for his food and raiment, as we are responsible to our own family.
This needs be said: "The first call on the members of the Church financially is the maintenance of the minister." As a member of the Home Churches Fund Committee I have heard so much of the Churches who say we cannot pay more towards the support of our minister because of the dry-rot in our roof, or the breakdown of our heating system, or a £400 bill for repairs. Of course the whole financial set-up is involved. The care of the buildings entrusted to us by our fathers is one that has to be lovingly dealt with. But as a matter of fact we do not care for them enough. We let them get into disrepair, then have a big bill and make that a reason for special efforts, draining our strength, when we should prudently, over a period of years, have been gradually building up a repairs fund against the time of need. And in this prudent budgeting for the whole life and maintenance of the Church, the care of the minister, whom under the guiding of the spirit, we have asked to come and serve us, deserting all else, must have the highest priority. I would say that even then poorest of our Church members should not feel satisfied in these days at devoting less than a shilling a week to that part of the life of the community; and thereafter asking what is due for the work of Christ in the Church. At the least, the labourer is worthy of his hire, and this is a relationship far closer than that of a hired labourer. And it is a relationship far higher than that of charity. There are those who, conscious that a minister is poorly paid compared with themselves, like to give him presents from time to time. But let us make quite sure that he is paid in such a way that he is on equal terms with ourselves. We all know pretty well the sort of standard which is an average one in our own Church.
But the minister has needs other than physical to which we have to minister. How much do we expect of him? He has a limited amount of time, strength and energy as we all have. Mentally and spiritually his output is limited, and may be cut down if we impose strains upon him. But it may be increased by the power of the Spirit and of the spiritual atmosphere with which we surround him. If he is left to plough a lone furrow, he will tire and lose heart. But if he is one of a team, the yoke will be easy, and the furrow straight.
So we have a spiritual ministry to render to him; and this is the most important part of our responsibility to him. How do we exercise it? This is for us lay-folk the question to which we should give most attention, and on which our discussion might well focus. I can only make one or two suggestions.
I remember at the preaching-in of a new young Scottish minister, the preacher gave to the Congregation the charge "Love your young minister." Young or old or middle-aged every minister needs love. And love in the deepest sense. And that is really the sum of the whole matter.
Perhaps the first element in such love is thoughtfulness, putting yourself in his place. Imagine his life. With all the distractions of home and children, all the consciousness of his wife's labours, all the failings of his own nature as husband and father, and of his wife's nature, he has to carry on and seem undisturbed.
With the care and love which his wife lavishes on him, and what a miracle this is, he is painfully conscious of his position and what people expect of him. (If perchance he is a bachelor his plight is worse, with all those temptations that assail a man who lives by himself.)
Picture him getting up, with morning devotions, fireplaces, breakfast, washing up, making beds, carrying coals all competing for him, and his study waiting for him and the newspapers and letters with tales of woe coming between him and settling down to his preparation for Sunday.
Think of the problem of keeping fresh so that life is for ever providing him with more situations which he has to enlighten from the Word of God. Think of the telephone going, the callers for advice, the sick people to visit, the aged and those who expect to be visited. And then think of him planning for the life of the Church, looking forward to ask where the new members are coming from, bearing each separate young person in mind, and the children's Church, and the casual and slipping members. All these and how much else is on his mind and heart. And what do we do about it? What can we do about it? Can we make his care our own? For they are the cares of the whole family of the Church.
Our ministry to him must be not that of expecting to get, but desire to give. It must be an out-going friendship towards him. He must know that we care, that in our measure we will bear the burdens. There will be many that he has to carry about in the secret of his heart. There are others which he should know that he may look to us to share or bear. There must be some among us to whom he can unburden himself, even to bringing that of which he is ashamed with the knowledge that Christ is present as he talks. And all this means that we shall realise the depth of our relationship in proportion as we ourselves are brought nearer to Christ himself. As that happens, any critical spirit will fade out. As that happens, he will not have to search among unwilling helpers for the man for the job. As that happens, suggestions and plans for a forward move will come from us, we shall cease to be passengers to carry, but men who ply an oar.
Of course there are some of us who are too forward with suggestions, and whose judgement is not always of the wisest. Perhaps these of us are more trying than the inert and ineffective. The pugnacious deacon, the difficult deacon are thorns in the flesh of the minister. The grumbler and the stick-in-the-mud are always with us. But how else are these to become co-operative and helpful, save for the breath of that same spirit in their hearts which in another diffident and shy member will bring a readiness to come out of his shell?
How shall we sum up the relationship which we would hope for between minster and the people? Of course it depends upon your vision for the Church. If you have a static picture of the Church, in which the same things go on always, in which the successive generations come and listen to successive ministers, maintain the same organisations, preserve the customs of the last generation through changing ages, then we shall be the despair of any live minister, and sooner or later we shall break him.
If we think of the minister as laying down the law, guiding all that we do, bearing the full responsibility for all the life of the Church, then we shall be tame followers, with no ideas of our own.
But if we envisage the Church as the continuing body of Christ, existing to carry on his work of saving the world, then we shall be an eager team, glad of leadership from one who has given all to the work, offering all that we have and are in co-operation, eager to learn, eager to share. Our leader will not lack encouragement, he will be kept on his toes, he will be worked harder than ever, but not occupied in dragging a dead-weight. He will be a trainer of a team, teaching us how to run, showing us where we are clumsy and revealing to us the things that make us less than we may be. Above all he will be keeping us on the way of discipleship of Him who is the great leader and Lord.
I am writing this Blog on Wednesday 1st July 2020, I have been putting down my thoughts in this format since the start of lock-down, I mentioned in my last blog the respect I hold for all those able to do this week in week out, always enabled ways of reaching out in words & deeds. As mentioned previously I have decided to reduce to two blogs a month in July and I will see how I feel by August. Our world has changed a lot in many ways, but in some sense it’s exactly the same. I have been involved with a Covid-19 study via UCL it askes very many diverse questions – the analysis of this data drives some of the information that our Government uses, what has struck me are the references to mental health, how do I feel day to day, what support am I getting. So while we are coming out of lockdown – I am still deeply concerned for my wife’s health – but at some stage we will both have to face up to our new world.
I spotted this saying the other day, I should have noted the source but forgot but hear goes anyway “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”
In the current climate we all can recognize what is wrong about this picture ( the dreaded social distancing) We as Christians have found new ways of worshiping over the last 100 days, we are all still Christians, Covid- 19 hasn’t changed that, but it has for the time being changed our relationship with our Church, when we meet again in our Church Sanctuary the rules will have changed – the picture above will change those children will be the correct distance apart, we will have to have a Risk Assessment to confirm how worship can take place, we will have to follow the guidance of both the Government and the URC – and we will have to be guided as individuals as to how we approach “ Church” I have always said when leading worship, that our real work Is away from our building, but now having spent so long not being able to worship in that old familiar way I have to say I am missing our Church community, but in the meantime we have all found new ways to worship.
Sorry about these initial ramblings, I think I should now get down to the matter in hand.
The lectionary readings for today are as follows: Isaiah 55: 10-13, Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-13, Romans 8: 1-11, Mathew 13: 1-9, 18-23. I will be using the reading from Mathew for a reference point in this blog.
Part 2 will be posted on Thursday
This article was found in the July 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Being the sixth imaginary letter from an imaginary uncle to imaginary twins
Dear Jack and Betty,
You will remember that last month I mentioned how a large congregation of exile from England had been formed in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, many bitter quarrels rent the peace of the Amsterdam Church. We must not be hard in our judgement of them. Rather should we bear in mind what years of hardship really meant. Many were living in direst poverty, and they were in a foreign country. It is easy to see how almost trifling things would strain temperaments to breaking point. In 1609 a group of these exiles left behind the squabbles of the Amsterdam Church and settled in Leyden. This is important because it is to the exiles of Leyden that we owe that glorious chapter of Independent History - the sailing of the Mayflower.
The power of James I had even followed the exiles to Holland, and they found life very hard and bleak. They decided, therefore, to sail for the New World and found their own colony. The story of the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620 has often been told, and it would take too long to tell it here. In any case it deserves a series of letters itself. Suffice it is to say that from that small beginning has come the great Republic of United States of America, and also American Congregationalism, which today is helping English Congregationalism so powerfully. One thing perhaps I should mention. In your own church you will find a brass tablet to the memory of these heroic men and women. It was placed in the church in 1920, then the ter-centenary of the Pilgrim Fathers was being celebrated all over this country and America. On that plate you will find the name of a local man who was one of their number.
Over the next twenty years or so Independency grew in numbers and in strength. In 1631 it is known there were eleven congregations, and there were probably many more. They were still meeting in secret although perhaps persecution was not so rigorously applied. At this time men's aspirations were beginning to turn towards civil liberties and religious liberties were pushed to the background. Charles I was on the throne, and his insistence on the Divine right of Kings and the truly amazing folly of he Archbishop Laud made civil liberty the foremost political question of the hour. Quite naturally Independents, who had suffered for generations because of their religious views, now took a prominent part in the struggle for civil rights. Independency came rapidly to the front and became the spearhead of the opposition to the King, and began to have a political flavour. I quote from Dr. Peel: -
"When Parliament asked for Scottish aid and were told it would be granted if Presbyterianism were established, it was inevitable that men, sick of the quarrel between Episcopacy and Presbyterianism, should say 'A plague on both your houses - we will be independent of you both.'
Then Independency had been brought into the limelight in the Westminster Assembly of 1643. That Assembly was appointed by Parliament to consider the liturgy, discipline, and government of the Church. It consisted almost wholly of Presbyterianism, but a group of Independents, especially five - Phillip Nye, Thomas Goodwin, William Bridge, Jeremiah Burrows and Sidrach Simpson - counted for far more than their number. They agreed with the majority in matters of doctrine, but they were almost alone in believing that every company of Christian men and women assembled for mutual fellowship and worship is a church and stands in immediate responsibility to Jesus Christ, is responsible to Him alone, and is under the most solemn obligation to allow no authority - Pope, Bishop, Council Assembly or Synod - to come between Christ and Himself. These arguments were pressed with so much fervour and force that, though they could not convince the assembly, they drew the attention of men of all classes to the Independent contentions."
The Civil War ended with Cromwell, an independent, in power as Protector. At one time it looked as if Presbyterianism would take chief place, but Cromwell altered that. Cromwell's Ironsides were composed largely of Independents, and I give here Dr. Dale's description of them: -
"It was largely composed of men who had a grave belief that they had been called of God to rescue the nation from the tyranny of the King and to secure for the 'saints' liberty to worship according to the commandment of men. At the root of their religious life was an intense faith in the illumination granted by the Divine Spirit to every Christian man to Christ by the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Christian Church. They saw, or thought they saw, that the usurpation by the clergy and the civil magistrates of the powers and responsibilities which Christ had entrusted to all Godly men, had been the cause of immeasurable evils. By the authority of the Bishops, sustained by the Crown, superstitions ceremonies had been forced on the nation. Godly ministers who refused to submit were silenced and subjected to cruel persecution, while men of scandalous lives, who knew nothing of the power and glory of Christ, were suffered to retain their pulpits and their tithes. It was not clear to them that Presbytery with the hierarchy of the Courts, was very much better than Episcopacy. The Spirit of God given to all that are 'in Christ' was not to be fettered by 'Confessions', 'Covenants' and 'Directories' of worship. Freedom must be left to the devout and adventurous soul to follow the guidance of the Spirit whenever the Spirit might lead."
Next month I will try and tell you a little of how Independency acted during its brief span of power.
May God bless you.
This article was found in the June 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Being the fifth imaginary letter from an imaginary uncle to imaginary twins
Dear Jack and Betty,
Although the small groups of Separatists I told you about last month were not Congregational in name, they were so in principle. They claimed they were "gathered churches" and had the right to manage their own internal affairs and to be free from outward control.
In the year 1583, Grindel, Archbishop of Canterbury, was succeeded by John Whitgift. The new Archbishop lost no time in persecuting the Separatists and redoubled the efforts of the Church and legislature to stamp them out. One after another their Ministers and Deacons were run to earth and flung into prison. One of their foremost leaders, Robert Brown, a late student of Cambridge University, was actually put in prison thirty-two times, his release on each occasion being due to his high social connections. Eventually to save his life he fled to Middelburg in Holland. Here is an extract concerning sixty of these "poor Christians impressed by the Bishops in sundry London prisons": -
"... contrary to all law and equity, between imprisoned, separated from our trades, wives, children and families; yea, shut up close prisoners from all comfort; many of us the space of two years and an half, upon the Bishop's sole commandment, in great penury and noisomeness of the prisons; many ending their lives, never called to trial; some haled forth to the sessions; some cast in irons and dungeons; some in hunger and famine; all of them governors and magistrates from all benefit and help of the laws: daily defamed and falsely accused by published pamphlets, private suggestions, open preaching, slanders and accusations of heresy, sedition, schism and what not. And above all (which most utterly toucheth our salvation) they keep us from all spiritual comfort, and edifying by doctrine, prayer or mutual conference."
Two of the heroes of this time were named Greenwood and Barrow. They had been in prison for 7 years when at long last they were tried and condemned to death. Twice they were on the point of being executed - once the rope was actually around their necks - but they were reprieved and sent back to prison. This prison was on the selfsame spot in Farringdon Street where Memorial Hall now stands. In 1593 the sorry farce was ended and they were hanged - their heroic deaths made a great and favourable impression amongst London's population.
Another martyr was John Penry, and young man of 34 with a wife and four children. The charge against him was that he "was a seditious disturber as appeared by his schismatical separation from the society of the Church of England and joining the hypocritical and schismatical conventicles of Barrow and Greenwood. By his justifying of Barrow and Greenwood, who suffering worthily for their writings and preachings, are, nevertheless by him reputed as holy martyrs."
He was found guilty and hanged on 29th March, 1593.
This same year saw more repressive legislation against the Separatists (or as they were by this time called "the Brownists") who it was estimated numbered 20,000 (probably and exaggeration). The legislation said that anyone denying the Queen's power in ecclesiastical matters was to suffer the loss of all his goods and be expelled from the country - the penalty for returning being death.
During the next ten years, Congregationalism developed more rapidly on the Continent than in England mainly because many hundreds of exiles had fled with this country. In Amsterdam, for example, there was a congregation of 300 souls.
I think I must quote you the following paragraph from Dr. Peel's "History of English Congregationalism":-
"Through all these years of persecution there was one force working powerfully. The exiles from Geneva in Mary's reign had translated the Bible into English, and their version, i.e. the Genevan, was being read in England wherever men could read. Edition followed edition, and this puritan translation was more widely read than any other prior to the Authorised Version in 1611. These two versions together produced the result described in J. R. Green's famous dictum that between the middle of Elizabeth's reign and the Long Parliament 'England became the people of one book and that book was the Bible.' Behind all the turmoil of these years there was growing throughout the country a profound faith which rested on the personal experience of men and women who were reading the Bible for themselves."
The death of Elizabeth and the accession of James I raised men's hopes of better times, only to disappoint them once more. The Amsterdam Church sent a petition to James asking him to allow them to return and worship in their own way. James ignored the request and carried on the repressive work of Elizabeth, strongly aided by Richard Bancroft who had become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1604.
Next month I will tell you of a notable event in the history of the Continental exiles.
May God bless you.
This article was found in the May 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Being the fourth imaginary letter sent by an imaginary
uncle to imaginary twins
Dear Jack and Betty,
It has taken three somewhat lengthy letters to reach that period of Elizabeth's reign where a small group of Protestants can be identified as the original Congregationalists. They were not, of course, so called. They were first called Separatists, then Brownists (after one of their leaders a man named Robert Brown), and later Independents. But these men and women are definitely our immediate Congregational forebears.
It is impossible to tell you in detail the full story of the years of persecution which followed. Against the Separatists were ranged the full powers of State and Church. The Queen was determined to stamp out what she described as heresy and sedition. The Separatists went in peril of their lives. They were forced to meet in secret, in private houses, open fields, gravel pits, and occasionally in ships. Many of their Ministers and Deacons were arrested; and imprisonment in those days often meant a slow, lingering death. Indeed many died in prison. Notwithstanding the persecution they were never stamped out. On the contrary, by their courage and faith they won many new adherents. They continued to maintain a firm and unwavering objection first to the Popish practices of the Church and secondly to the relationship of the Church to the State, particularly as regards the Queen's powers in spiritual matters. Read this bold and convincing statement by a Separatist when charged with treason to her majesty:-
"Neverthelesse, this is out of doute, that the Quenes highnes hath not authoritie to compell anie man to believe any thing contrary to God's word, neither may the subject give her grace obedience, in case he do his soule is lost for ever without repentaunce. Our bodeys, goodes and lives be at her commaundment, and she shall have them as of true subjects. But the soule of man for religion is bound to none but unto God and his holy word."
In this 20th century we have learned to be more tolerant of one another's spiritual beliefs, but in Tudor days toleration was looked upon as weakness. Uniformity was the aim of Church and State, and repressive measures were taken to enforce it. Here is a paragraph from Mackinnal's "The Story of the English Separatists." It shows the difference between the Puritans and Separatists of Tudor days, and I hope the part I have underlined will make you feel proud of our connection with these brave people:-
"The difference between Separatists and Catholics - Roman or Anglican - was theological and fundamental. The difference between Separatists and Puritans was political, one of method. The Puritans were for a national Reformation in order to achieve the salvation of individuals; the Separatists sought the individuals and believed that only through their fidelity and spiritual growth could the nation be reformed. In their endeavour they re-discovered and formulated the simple apostolic conception of the Church; from which, since the second century after Christ, Christendom had been departing farther and farther. Our recognition of the nobleness of the two Puritan ideas - the solidarity of the nation and the sanctity of ordination - should not blind us to the superior elevation and courage of the Separatists' faith. They may not have been practised statesmen, but they understood the nature and function of spiritual power. And the true political wisdom proved to be with them. The Reformation movement would have been effectually suppressed if the Puritan dream of a national church had been realised. Every religious revival since the close of the 16th century has ultimately tended to an enlarged freedom of action and an increased sense of responsibility, in the particular congregation. The principle is now almost universally recognised that, for the national well-being as well as for religious prosperity, there must be self-regulating Christian communities, interpreting for themselves the will of God, existing within the state but not using civil power."
Although driven underground, these small independent churches were never crushed completely. The history of persecutions the world over and through all the centuries proves that the free spirit of man can never be utterly destroyed. Next month I will try to tell you about some of the martyrs of this period.
May God bless you.
I recently listened to the New Scientist’s on-line Event, ‘CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC’, led by climatologist Professor Mark Maslin of University College London
Climate change is the most critical issue facing the world in the 21st century. Everyone agrees we must keep global warming to under 2˚C or under 1.5˚C if possible. But how can we do this while dealing with the other great challenges of our age: pandemics, poverty, security, population growth and environmental degradation?
Prof. Maslin showed how we can rebuild the global economy after covid-19, saving our planet from climate change while improving everyone's lives. He discussed the various actions that would need to be taken by governments, by companies and by individuals.
At individual level, some of his thoughts were as follows:-
* Talk to others about the problem.
* Change to renewable energy at home.
* Reduce, reuse and recycle more.
* Change to an electric car.
* Stop flying (or offset the carbon emissions).
* Divest investments from fossil fuel companies
* Protest and vote as appropriate.
We have all heard these various points before…...but could we consider how they might apply to us personally?