A LETTER TO A YOUNG ADULT PARISHIONER
I would perhaps summarise my beliefs by saying that we have been created in love, for love, and by a God of love. As we grow in love ourselves, so we grow, too, in our humanity and in our likeness to God.
It seems to me that the members of the early church were trying to say something like this after their encounter with Jesus. They sensed and came to believe that in knowing him they were experiencing the meaning of human life being lived out. It seems to me that Jesus believed that the ultimate reality in life was love and that the nature of God was to be supremely loving, forgiving and committed to his human family for their good.
I find it understandable that the significance of Jesus was expressed in the terms that we find both in the New Testament and in the Creeds too. The Mediterranean world in which the Church was born had many religions and a particular social structure. There were many divinities, there were the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology, there were mediators and saviours between the gods and the human world; and there were animal sacrifices in many of these religions too as part of their worship. Society was structured so that those with great authority were only approached through intermediaries. It was the same when people thought about how their god wanted to be approached.
So we find Jesus being presented as another 'divinity' ("To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ" 1 Cor. 8 v.6); we also find him being presented as the mediator between God and his human family, and his death is given a sacrificial interpretation, he is the saviour.
I recognise that many believers throughout the world in the churches find that the stories of Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection have emotional and existential truth for them. I think many would agree both that they have assumed (perhaps from childhood) the intellectual truth of these beliefs, and that they have not examined the intellectual truth of these beliefs with all the 'tools' of modern theological research available today. See, for example, 'Reason to Believe' by Maurice Wiles, a short book written with the lay person in mind.
I am not forcing any person to change their thinking or the way they express or understand their beliefs. However, I do want to make the point that the thought forms of the early centuries of the church's life were very different to those of 21st century. For some believers today, it is not possible to unpack, in the currency of 21st century thought forms, a belief in a human person being both human and divine nor is it possible to interpret a person's death as being for the forgiveness of their sins. Yet these believers share the same underlying fundamental beliefs with those for whom the traditional expressions about Jesus (in New Testament and Creeds) do make intellectual sense. An advertising salesperson might say about some of her goods: 'same product, different packaging'. How would you yourself unpack in 21st century language and thought forms a belief that a person was believed to be both human and divine and that their death brought about the forgiveness of your sins and everyone else's too?
As both a member of the church and as a clergyman of the church I see belief in Jesus, this self-effacing person, so loving of people, as pointing us to those beliefs I described about love having the central place in both the life of God and in our life too. So, for example, the Holy Communion Service is all about love, a costly love, as the ultimate reality in life, symbolised by the meaning of Jesus for believers.
A great 20th century thoughtful, learned and evangelical Archbishop of York, Stuart Blanch, summarised the Bible as teaching three things: God rules, people matter, and faith works. I believe that there is great wisdom in this and much in it to ponder deeply. God rules: his is a reign of love. People matter: they are of sacred and eternal worth. Faith works: if you believe and grow in love you will discover yourself becoming more truly human, and coming closer to the meaning of life; and to all that we are meant to be ourselves, as people, created in love, for love, and by a God of love.
I hope some of this makes sense to you. Come and have a chat if you would like to, you would be very welcome. I remember the people of this parish each day, they have a special place in my heart. I respect, admire and love them.
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