BeliefsWhat we believe
Some of the things we believe
To summarise all that we as Christians believe would be near impossible on one webpage … below are the basics – if you want to find out more please do not hesitate to contact us. Here you will find some commonly asked questions.
The Apostles Creed
What we say we believe
I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
Links to other pages in About section
Our Beliefs – Commonly Asked Questions
What does the Church of Ireland believe?
We are disciples of Jesus Christ, worshippers of God of the Holy Trinity (Father, son and Holy Spirit) and subscribers to the Creeds of the early Church.
In keeping with Anglican theology, our beliefs and practices derive from Scripture, reason and tradition. We are Catholic in holding all the Christian faith in its fullness and being part of the one worldwide Church of God. We are Reformed in believing that the Church’s life should be aligned with Scripture and that the Church should only require its members to believe those doctrines to which Scripture bears witness.
The Church of Ireland is a member Church of the Anglican Communion, a family of independent Churches in full communion with each other and with the See of Canterbury.
We rejoice in the progress on unity made by the ecumenical movement and we seek to remove obstacles to full communion between Christians and to gain from the insight and experience of others. We provide a context in which people of diverse views on theology and liturgy can live and worship together.
We regard worship as a priority for every Christian. In particular, we see the Holy Communion (the Eucharist) as the main way in which church members celebrate their love for God and for each other and become renewed as the Body of Christ for mission and service.
The Book of Common Prayer is a source of unity within the Church and an expression of a liturgical language, traditional and modern, which over the years has captivated people by its beauty and spiritual power. We see a direct relationship between the language of common prayer and the language of doctrine: the words that church members themselves pray and own become the expression of what the Church itself believes.
We affirm the ancient three–fold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons. The ordained ministry serves the whole people of God, to facilitate and encourage its members in their worship, and to enable each of them to identify their own particular ministry as baptised Christians.
Irish & Universal
1. Did the Church of Ireland begin at the Reformation?
No – the Church of Ireland is that part of the Irish Church which was influenced by the Reformation, and has its origins in the early Celtic Church of St Patrick.
2. How is it that so many of the ancient church buildings of Ireland belong to the Church of Ireland?
Since the days of the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century European states saw themselves as having a central role in the government of the Church. This church–state link was vigorously applied when the Normans came to Ireland in the 12th century. Bishops were required to do homage to the king for their lands, just like earls and barons, who were vassals of the crown. It was therefore accepted, both during and after the Reformation, that the crown should continue to exercise that authority over the church, in which it continued to play a central role. In this way, church property that existed at the time of the Reformation, buildings included, was retained by the reformed, established (state) Church of Ireland.
In the 19th century, at the time of the Disestablishment of the Church, its property was confiscated by the state. However, schools, churches and cathedrals were given back, and remain in the possession of the Church to the present day.
3. Is the English monarch head of the Church of Ireland?
No. At the time of the Reformation, the English crown (which had jurisdiction over Ireland) claimed to govern the Church of Ireland. For centuries the monarch held that position in the Church of Ireland as the official state Church.
However from 1871, when the Church of Ireland was disestablished, and ceased to be the state Church, the crown and government have had no authority or constitutional role in the Church in any part of Ireland.
4. Is the Church of Ireland under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury?
No. The Church of Ireland is a self–governing part of the Anglican Communion, which means that it is in communion with the See of Canterbury. But it is not under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church of Ireland is led by the Archbishop of Armagh (Primate of All Ireland) and the Archbishop of Dublin (Primate of Ireland).
5. What authority has the Lambeth Conference over the Church of Ireland?
The Lambeth Conference (the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ten yearly meeting of Anglican bishops and certain others in full communion) usually issues statements on major theological and moral issues, for the guidance of the various member Churches but they must be accepted by the individual Churches before they become effective. The Church of Ireland is governed only by the preamble and declaration to its own constitution which requires it to:
- accept and unfeignedly believe all the canonical scriptures of the Old and New Testament . . . as containing all things necessary to salvation
- profess the faith of Christ as professed by the primitive church
- maintain inviolate the three orders of bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons in the sacred ministry
6. Why is the Church of Ireland sometimes called the Anglican Church?
The Church of Ireland is sometimes called “Anglican” because it is part of an international fellowship of churches known as the Anglican Communion. This communion is called “Anglican” because many of these churches owe their origin to the missionary outreach of the Church of England (formerly known as Ecclesia Anglicana) and both morally and canonically have looked to Canterbury.
Each Church in the Communion is independent with its own pattern of synodical government, by bishops and representatives of the clergy and laity.
The bishops meet in conference, usually every ten years, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Any resolutions made by the conference, while in their own right carrying considerable weight, become operable in the different Churches only when they have been officially accepted by them. The struggle to maintain independence and interdependence in communion, challenges these churches to face the attendant issues of identity and authority.
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Protestant & Catholic
1. Is the Church of Ireland Protestant or Catholic?
It is both Protestant and Catholic. For this reason it is incorrect to refer to members of the Church of Ireland as ‘non–Catholic’.
The terms Protestant and Catholic are not really opposites.
There are Catholics who accept the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. Often in consequence they are called Roman Catholics. But there are other Catholics who do not accept the Pope’s jurisdiction or certain doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Some are called Protestant or Reformed Catholics. Among them are members of the Church of Ireland and the other Churches of the Anglican Communion.
It follows therefore that the terms ‘Protestant’ and ‘Reformed’ should be contrasted with ‘Roman’ and not with ‘Catholic’.
The Church of Ireland is Catholic because it is in possession of a continuous tradition of faith and practice, based on Scripture and early traditions, enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, together with the sacraments and apostolic ministry.
The Church of Ireland is Protestant, or Reformed, because it affirms ‘its constant witness against all those innovations in doctrine and worship, whereby the Primitive Faith hath been from time to time defaced or overlaid.’ (Preamble and Declaration to the Constitution of the Church of Ireland of 1870, 1.3)
So there are Catholics who are in communion with Rome and Catholics who are not. But all by baptism belong in the one Church of Christ.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. The Nicene Creed – said at the celebration of the Eucharist in the Church of Ireland.
2. How does the Church of Ireland differ from other Protestant Churches?
Churches which resulted from the sixteenth century Reformation, and from the subsequent divisions in these churches, although varying in their beliefs and practices, and not always in any official relationship with each other, are generally known as Protestant Churches.
The Church of Ireland is a Protestant Church in so far as it shares with these churches opposition to those innovations in doctrine and worship that appear contrary to Scripture and led to the Reformation.
However it differs from these churches in retaining elements of the pre–Reformation faith and practice which they have rejected or lost.
The Church of Ireland maintains a liturgical pattern of worship, observing the feasts and fasts of the Catholic liturgical year. It remembers the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints on special days. It retains many of the rites and ceremonies of the pre–Reformation Catholic Church.
The Church of Ireland has within its fellowship religious orders of men and women, under the traditional threefold vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The Church of Ireland emphasises the importance of the Sacraments. It administers the two Gospel Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, as well as the sacramental ministries of confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, absolution and healing. (Church of Ireland Revised Catechism)
The Church of Ireland has retained the structure of the pre–Reformation Catholic Church and is no stranger to words like parish, bishop, diocese, priest, sanctuary, confirmation, eucharist, synod and to all for which they stand.
As a result [of events which are commonly referred to as the Reformation] many communions, national and confessional, were separated from the Roman See. Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions continue to exist the Anglican Communion occupies a special place. Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, III, 13.
3. What is the difference between the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church?
The chief difference is that one Church is under the jurisdiction of the Pope and the other is not. This results in certain importance differences of belief and practice. However, it should be noted that the beliefs and practices held in common greatly outweigh those that separate the two Churches.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope has, by divine right, jurisdiction over the universal Church, and that in certain circumstances his utterances are infallible. The Church of Ireland does not accept either of these teachings, and resists the claim of the Pope to rule over and speak for the universal Church.
Furthermore the Roman Catholic Church teaches that belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in her Corporal assumption, are necessary for salvation. These beliefs had for a long time been widespread in Catholic Christendom, but were regarded with varying degrees of certainty. However, within the last hundred and fifty years, the Roman Catholic Church has pronounced them to be necessary for salvation.
The Church of Ireland teaches that neither Holy Scripture, nor the understanding of the Scriptures by the early Fathers of the Church, support these doctrines.
The Church of Ireland, as a Reformed and Protestant Church, doth hereby re–affirm its constant witness against all those innovations in doctrine and worship whereby the Primitive faith hath been from time to time defaced or overlaid, and which at the Reformation this Church did disown and reject. (Preamble and Declaration of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland 1870, 1.3)
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Clergy & People
1. What is the role of the Laity (those who are not ordained) in parochial administration?
Every member of the Church of Ireland who has reached the age of eighteen years and lives in the parish, or who attends the parish church, is entitled to be registered as a member of the general vestry, subject, if the diocesan synod so requires, to making a minimum annual contribution to church funds.
The general vestry of the parish meets annually to elect the select vestry which is the committee, chaired by the incumbent (rector or vicar) of the parish, that has responsibility for the administration of the parish finances and care of the buildings.
Every third year, the general vestry elects other officers, including the parish’s representatives to the diocesan synod.
2. What is the place of the laity in the administration of the diocese?
The lay persons elected by the general vestries of all the parishes of the diocese, together with the clergy, sit on the diocesan synod. This synod meets under the presidency of the Bishop, and has responsibility for many aspects of diocesan life. For instance, it elects the diocesan council (comprising lay and clerical members) which is in a sense the executive committee of the diocesan synod. Every third year the diocesan synod elects the clergy and laity who will represent the diocese on the General Synod.
3. What is the General Synod?
The General Synod is the supreme legislative authority of the Church of Ireland. Clergy and laity of all the dioceses are represented there, and the General Synod can alter the constitution. The General Synod consists of two Houses: the House of Bishops and the House of Representatives, the latter comprising the other clergy and the laity.
The clergy and laity can vote separately on all questions if they wish to, and the issue is only passed if both clergy and laity assent to it.
The House of Bishops may, if it sees fit, exercise (after very elaborate procedures) what amounts to a veto. However in the century and a quarter since the General Synod was set up, this right has never been exercised.
4. What is the Representative Church Body?
Until 1871 the Church of Ireland was the Established or state Church of Ireland. Hence its name. When it was disestablished, it adopted a constitution and this in turn gave it government by synod. To act as trustees for the Church and to administer its financial affairs, the Representative Church Body was established by royal charter. This body comprises among its members all the diocesan bishops, with representatives of the clergy and laity from each diocese (elected by the diocesan synods). The staff of the RCB, like the staff of General Synod, is in many ways the civil service of the Church.
5. How do the laity participate in the appointment of clergy to parishes?
Normally, when a vacancy occurs in a parish, the Bishop convenes a meeting of a Board of Nomination consisting of clergy and laity representing both the diocese and the vacant parish. The board selects a name which must be supported by two thirds of the members for nomination to the Bishop. If the Bishop accepts the nomination it is he who makes the appointment, who institutes the new rector and to whom the rector makes his canonical vows.
6. Are the laity involved in the election of Bishops?
Yes, (except for the election of the Archbishop of Armagh, which is conducted by the House of Bishops alone). The election of Bishops to all the other dioceses is conducted by an electoral college, which has clerical and lay members elected by the diocesan synods.
This is a much simplified description of how the Church of Ireland structures operate. A reader who wants an authoritative treatment of the subject is referred to the Constitution itself and to J L B Deane, “Church of Ireland Handbook: a guide to the organisation of the Church” (APCK 1982).
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1. What does the word ‘Eucharist’ mean?
The word ‘Eucharist’ comes from a Greek word meaning thanksgiving. This sacrament is called the Eucharist because it is the Church’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. It is also called the Lord’s Supper or the Holy Communion because it is the meal of fellowship which unites us to Christ and to the whole Church. (Revised Catechism, 50)
2. What does the Church of Ireland teach about this sacrament?
In the sacrament of the Eucharist, by Christ’s command, we make continual remembrance of him: we remember his passion and death, we celebrate his resurrection and ascension, and we look for the coming of his kingdom. In doing this we give thanks for the benefits of his sacrifice conveyed to us in the sacrament. In receiving his body and blood, we are strengthened in our union with Christ and his Church, we receive the forgiveness of our sins and we are nourished for eternal life. (Revised Catechism, 54)
3. How does the Church of Ireland celebrate the Eucharist?
The Church of Ireland continues to use an order of service derived from the ancient common practice of the Christian Church. This liturgy is divided into two parts: the ministry of the word and the ministry of the sacrament. In the ministry of the word, passages from the Bible (Old Testament, Epistles and Gospels) are read, and may be followed by a sermon. The congregation affirms its faith using the words of the Nicene Creed, followed by intercession (prayers of the Church), confession of sin and absolution. The ministry of the sacrament is centred on the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper when he took the bread and wine, gave thanks over them, broke the bread and shared the bread and wine with all of his disciples. In the Eucharist, these same words and actions are repeated in response to the command of Jesus: ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ .
4. How does the Church of Ireland understand Christ’s presence in the sacrament?
The Church of Ireland teaches that a sacrament has two parts: an outward and visible sign and an inward and spiritual grace. The outward and visible sign in Holy Communion is bread and wine. The inward and spiritual grace is the body and blood of Christ received in faith, that is the life of the risen Christ. (Revised Catechism, 53)
The Church of Ireland teaches that there is no change in the physical properties of the bread and wine. However, there is a change in the significance they have for worshippers. Through them the life of the risen and glorified Christ is communicated and received by faith. Thus, following consecration, they are considered as Christ’s sacramental body and blood.
It is the glorified Lord himself whom the community of the faithful encounters in the eucharistic celebration through the preaching of the word, in the fellowship of the Lord’s supper, in the heart of the believer, and, in a sacramental way, through the gifts of his body and blood, already given on the cross for their salvation.
(ARCIC, The Final Report, p.21)
5. Does the Church of Ireland teach that the Eucharist is a sacrifice?
The Church of Ireland believes that the Eucharist is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God in which we remember and show forth the sacrifice of Christ, made once for all, on the cross, and receive the benefits of that sacrifice. In response to this we show our thanks by offering our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. (Romans 12: 1)
6. Does the Church of Ireland permit members of other Christian Churches to receive communion in the Church of Ireland?
Communicant members of other Christian churches may receive Holy Communion in the Church of Ireland. This reflects the spirit of the Lambeth Conference resolution, affirmed by the General Synod in 1969: ‘Christians duly baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity and qualified to receive Holy Communion in their own churches may be welcomed at the Lord’s table in the Anglican Communion.’ (The Lambeth Conference 1968, Resolutions and Reports, p.2)
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Mary: Virgin & Mother
1. What special recognition is given to Mary in the Church of Ireland?
Mary’s special position within God’s purpose of salvation as ‘God bearer’ (theotokos) is recognised in a number of ways. The Church of Ireland affirms in the historic creeds that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and retains in the Church’s calendar the following days on which Mary is especially honoured:
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also called The Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin – 2nd February. Jewish law required a mother to offer a purification and thanksgiving sacrifice forty days after the birth of a child. Mary fulfilled this law when she and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple.
The Annunciation of our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary – 25th March. On this day the Church commemorates the choice of Mary to be the Saviour’s mother. This message was conveyed to Mary by the Angel Gabriel, and she humbly accepted her role: ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word’.
The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary – 31st May. This day commemorates the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. The gospel reading includes Mary’s song, the Magnificat, with the words ‘henceforth all generations shall call me blessed’. The Magnificat is appointed for daily use in the Church of Ireland.
The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary – 8th September. Because of the importance of Mary’s role as the mother of Jesus, the Church celebrates her birth.
2. Does the Church of Ireland pray to Mary?
The liturgical tradition within the Church of Ireland has been to honour the saints, including Mary, without invocation. In other words, while we honour Mary, our prayers are offered only to God.
3. How does the teaching of the Church of Ireland about Mary compare with the teaching of other churches?
The Church of Ireland shares with all Christian churches a common faith in the Incarnation. Mary is honoured as the person through whom the one who is both divine and human was conceived and born. As the Church of Ireland does not consider belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and her Assumption to have an adequate basis in Holy Scripture, these feasts are not observed in the Church of Ireland.
Father, almighty and everliving God…
You chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son
and so exalted the humble and meek;
your angel hailed her as most highly favoured,
and with all generations we call her blessed:
Preface of the Annunciation,
Book of Common Prayer (2004), p.234.
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1. What is the Bible?
The Bible is a collection of texts in two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament comprises the sacred scriptures of the Jewish people at the time of Christ. These writings formed the authoritative scriptures of the earliest Christians. Alongside the Jewish scriptures, writings from within the early Christian community, which came to be known as the New Testament, took on a similarly authoritative role. Among these writings, the gospels bear witness to the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The epistles, or letters, help to spell out the centrality and the significance of this for a Christian way of life within the developing Christian movement, and also address practical problems faced by the early believers.
The biblical texts provide a ‘normative record of the authentic foundation of the faith. To these the Church has recourse for the inspiration of its life and mission; to these the Church refers its teaching and practice.’ (ARCIC Final Report, p.52). Because scripture is uniquely inspired it conveys the Word of God in human language.
It is likely that from an early date, when Christians gathered together for worship, they read from such writings of their own as well as from the Jewish scriptures. The Church continues this practice with readings from the Old and New Testament in its worship.
2. Do all Christians share the same Bible?
All Christians recognise the same twenty–seven early Christian writings as belonging within the New Testament. There are some books which the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches regard as part of the Old Testament but which the Protestant Churches do not. Protestant Churches generally refer to these books as the Apocrypha, that is, the ‘hidden’ books.
These include, for example, Ecclesiasticus, the Wisdom of Solomon and the books of the Maccabees. The Church of Ireland considers the Apocrypha as worthy of reading by the Church ‘for example of life and instruction of manners’ (Articles of Religion; 6), but not for establishing doctrine.
3. Is the Bible historically accurate?
While there is very considerable historical accuracy in scripture, the experiences of Jews and Christians through the ages bear witness to the truth of the Bible at a deeper level than its recording of data alone. As well as history, the Bible includes poetry, prophecy, parable, story and other types of literature. In their different ways these continue to convey the truth of God.
4. How should the Bible be interpreted?
The Bible tells of God’s relationship with God’s people through the centuries. This record always needs to be interpreted in the context of the church’s faith, prayer and worship, and in such a way that what scripture said for its original audience is faithfully re–expressed for the modern world.
5. How does the authority of the Bible relate to human reason and the church’s tradition?
Christians must keep returning to the Bible as they continue to explore the truth of God, for scripture ‘containeth all things necessary to salvation.’ (Articles of Religion; 6). The Church of Ireland believes that the church’s teaching must be founded on and consistent with scripture. We also have a responsibility to use our reason in understanding the Bible in the context of tradition, which is how the church’s interpretation of scripture has developed.
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The Communion of Saints
1. Who are the saints?
According to the New Testament the saints (Latin, sancti; Greek, hagioi; literally ‘holy people’) are all the members of the Christian church (Acts 9:13, Rom.1:7, 1 Cor.1:2, Eph.1:15, etc.). Christians are ‘holy people’, ‘saints’, not because they are morally perfect but because God has made them ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’ (1 Peter 2:9). To be a ‘Saint’ is to be part of a community; the word is nearly always used in the plural in the New Testament, and refers to the important truth that Christians are not meant to live in lonely isolation but as members together in the body of Christ. The ‘saints’ to whom St Paul wrote in Corinth, for example, were far from being morally perfect; in fact, there were serious faults among them. Yet God had made them a holy people, and the apostle urged them to grow up into what God had made them. While all Christians are members of the holy people of God, it is obvious that they vary greatly in holiness, from the luke–warm to those of heroic sanctity. This was true even in the time of the New Testament itself. After that period the term ‘saint’ gradually came to be applied to those of outstanding holiness, especially the martyrs. The days of their deaths, if known, were observed as their ‘birthdays’ into eternal life. Christians thanked God for their holy lives and for the inspiration of their examples. They were conscious of their fellowship with the saints in their worship and in their everyday life. The celebration of saints’ days is a reminder of the calling of all of us.The Church of Ireland calendar appoints saints’ days for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Christ’s apostles and other notable disciples mentioned in the New Testament. It also includes great figures of the early Irish church, like Patrick, Columba and Brigid. Lesser–known saints, too, are remembered in the dedication of many of our churches.
2. Does the Church of Ireland pray to the saints?
In its authorised worship the Church of Ireland does not pray to the saints but with the saints. Our worship is addressed to God alone, but we are conscious of the saints, both living and departed, both the exceptional and the ordinary, as our fellow worshippers. Christ’s church includes the blessed dead along with those still on earth. We worship God ‘with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven’ (Eucharistic Prayer, BCP 2004), with ‘The glorious company of apostles… the noble fellowship of prophets… the white–robed army of martyrs’ (Te Deum). In addition we observe saints’ days when we thank God for their holy lives and pray that we may follow their examples. As well as those exceptional Christians to whom the church has given the title ‘saint’ we praise God for all those whose holiness is known to God alone on All Saints’ Day (1 November), remembering that we are ‘knit together’ with them ‘in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of [Christ]’ (Collect of All Saints’ Day). Hence ‘the communion of saints’ (Apostles’ Creed) is an important reality for our worship and our lives as Christians on earth.
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Death & Eternal Life
1. What happens to us after we die?
The Bible is clear that, after the death of our bodies, we all will face God’s judgement, and also that there is the hope of life with God, fuller and more wonderful than this one. Beyond that we have no certain knowledge of the details of life after death. The Bible uses pictorial language, as in Christ’s parables and in the Book of Revelation, to convey the reality of judgement and eternal life, but these are not literal descriptions. Indeed, it is impossible that human beings with their limited understanding and experience could either envisage or communicate an exact or literal account of what happens after death.
The Church of Ireland, in common with the rest of the Anglican Communion, is faithful to the Bible’s reticence on this subject and does not require from its members any belief not clearly taught in the Bible. Many questions are left open and we can exercise our judgement on them. For example, is there progress after death or is the final state of each individual reached at the moment of death? The Bible does not give a definite answer to these questions either way. A complicating factor is the question of time in eternity. We cannot assume that time continues in the same way after death as it does before. The day of judgement is not a date in human reckoning that can be known. Judgement may be going on all the time, as some verses in St John’s Gospel suggest (e.g. “Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out” John 12:31).
On these and similar questions, many Anglicans hold one view, others hold another, and still others suspend judgement.
2. What is eternal life?
‘And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.’ (John 17:3). That is, eternal life is a relationship with the eternal God. According to the Bible, eternal life is a gift of God to us through our faith in Jesus Christ, not a natural endowment. St Paul wrote, ‘this mortal nature must put on immortality’ (1 Cor. 15:53, italics added). Eternal life refers primarily to the quality, rather than the duration, of life. The converse of this state of blessedness is hell, or separation from God. Eternal life can begin on this earth but it does not end with our death. We have been created with a desire for communion with God, and God satisfies this desire by holding us in being, in this life and beyond this life, with a love that is stronger than death.
3. What is meant by ‘the resurrection of the body’ (Apostles’ Creed)?
The human person is a physical body with a spiritual dimension, described by such words as ‘mind’, ‘soul’, ‘spirit’. The Bible treats a human being as a unity, rather than as a soul imprisoned in a body. God’s gift of eternal life is richer, fuller, certainly not less, than physical life. Hence, in the fuller life beyond this one, there will be something corresponding to our bodies, but we cannot possibly envisage the precise nature of such life. Belief in ‘the resurrection of the body’ means that God brings the whole of us to life again after death, not just a part of us.
4. Should we pray for the dead?
Should we pray for anyone? If God knows what is best, need we ask for it? Christ clearly encouraged us to pray for each other and for ourselves (Matt.7:7–11), and it is a deeply engrained instinct to do so. We naturally pray for those we love, and we are commanded to pray for those who do not love us (Matt.5:44). But since God knows better than we do what is best for everyone, our prayer cannot be to change God’s will but to align our wills with that of God. In moving us to pray, God gives us a share in fulfilling the Father’s perfect will for all creation.
Should we, then, pray for the dead? On the understanding of prayer given above, if we pray for the dead we are not telling God what to do for them but aligning our love for them with God’s perfect love. Prayer for those on this earth is not always a specific request for a specific need. We often don’t know what is best for someone, but we bring their situation to God in prayer asking for the fulfilment of God’s perfect love for them and offering our love for them to God.
Do the dead need our prayers? It has been argued that the dead are either in a state of perfect holiness and happiness, or have finally and irrevocably rejected God’s love. For those in one state, prayer is unnecessary, and for those in the other, it is futile. But the Bible does not enable us to be so certain about the state of the dead or to say dogmatically that prayer for them is either unnecessary or futile.
Anglicans disagree about the rightness of specific petitions for the departed and the official documents of the Church of Ireland leave the question open. It is significant that prayers for the dead were not rejected in the 39 Articles. Prayers in the Book of Common Prayer remember the faithful departed, thank God for their good examples and pray, ‘that we, with all those that are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory’ (The Burial of the Dead). This and similar petitions can be understood to be for the living only, or for both the living and departed. Anglican comprehensiveness allows for difference of interpretation on such matters. Anglicans believe that the Church, the body of Christ, encompasses the living and the faithful departed. Many believe it right to ask that God’s perfect will be fulfilled in them and in us, and all can remember them before God and thank God for them.
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Baptism & Confirmation
1. What is baptism?
‘Baptism marks the beginning of a journey with God which continues for the rest of our lives, the first step in response to God’s love.’ (BCP page 357)
Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan by John and this marked the beginning of his earthly ministry’ (Mark 1:9–11). Near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry he commanded his disciples to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. (Matthew 28:18). For over two thousand years Jesus’ followers have begun their Christian lives with the sacrament of baptism. The water of baptism is a visible sign of the grace which God conveys in the sacrament. God’s gift in baptism is new birth in Christ, a new direction in life as God’s child, and a calling to be a lifelong, faithful disciple of Christ.
2. Is there a particular age for Baptism?
No. Baptism can take place at any age. In the Church of Ireland most people are baptised as infants. Children are baptised before they can answer for themselves so that they become fully included in the life of the Church. Adults who have not been baptised, or who convert to Christianity, also receive the sacrament of baptism. If they do not know whether or not they have been baptised, they should receive conditional baptism. Baptism is a sacrament which, for any individual, cannot be repeated or undone, because it represents God’s once–for–all gift and calling to those baptised. If baptised persons want to affirm their faith at a later stage, the proper procedure is to present themselves for Confirmation or to renew their baptismal vows.
3. What are godparents/sponsors?
It is both a privilege and a responsibility to be asked to be a godparent (also known as sponsor). The godparent promises to help care for the spiritual welfare of the child. It is important therefore that the godparents can answer honestly the declarations of faith and that they will be committed to supporting and praying for their godchild.
4. What happens in the Baptism service?
Baptism welcomes the candidates into the Christian family and the congregation promises to support and pray for them and their parents and godparents (or sponsors). Therefore, the baptism service ideally takes place within a time of public worship. In some situations, or in the case of an emergency baptism, it will be appropriate to have the baptism at another time. At the baptism of infants, parents and godparents are required to make promises on behalf of the child and to undertake to ‘encourage them in the life and faith of the Christian Community’ and to ‘care for them, and help them to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church’ (BCP page 361).
As they are answering on behalf of the child, they must also affirm their own Christian faith. Those being presented for baptism will then have water poured on their heads. Water declares God’s presence in the life of the candidates and signifies that they become God’s adopted children and members of the Church. The sign of the cross is made on the forehead as a visible sign of belonging to Christ: ‘Christ claims you for his own. Receive the sign of the cross. Live as a disciple of Christ’ (BCP page 362). As baptism is the beginning of the Christian life, a lighted candle may be presented with the words ‘You have received the light of Christ; walk in this light all the days of your life. Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father’ (BCP page 367).
5. What happens after baptism?
After baptism it is the responsibility of the parents, godparents and the wider Church to ensure that each newly baptised child or adult is welcomed and nurtured in the faith as a member of the local and worldwide Christian family. In the fellowship of the Christian community, it is the responsibility of the baptised to make God’s gift in baptism their own by sincere faith and resolute commitment to Christ. Otherwise God’s gift in baptism is not accepted. Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity does not confer membership of just one denomination, but rather of the whole Christian family.
1. What is Confirmation?
Confirmation is the rite at which those who have been baptised seek the blessing of the Holy Spirit for their growth as Christians. The confirmation candidates first confirm the promises of their baptism. Then the bishop lays hands on them, praying that God’s Spirit will confirm, strengthen and guide them to live out their faith in their everyday lives.
2. Why Confirmation?
As children we often adopt our parents’ beliefs and practices but as we grow older we develop our own opinions and beliefs. This is part of the transition into adulthood, which is marked by many different stages – moving to secondary school, becoming a teenager, wanting to choose our own styles of clothes and music. In the Christian faith there is also a stage of transition when young people may feel that they want to make their own declaration of faith and commit their life to Christ. This transition is normally marked by confirmation. It is a service in which the young people confirm for themselves, and publicly before family, friends and the wider Church, the promises made on their behalf at their baptism. However, confirmation is not just something for teenagers but can take place whenever an individual desires to make a faith commitment. Sometimes young people come before they reach their teens and others come as adults.
3. What happens at Confirmation?
The candidates renew their baptismal vows before the bishop; and as in baptism, the congregation is asked to support the candidates in their life of faith. The bishop then asks each candidate by name, ‘Do you … believe and accept the Christian faith into which you are baptized?’
The candidates then affirm their faith, together with the congregation, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. After this, they kneel before the bishop, who lays hands on each one, praying,
‘Confirm … O Lord, with your heavenly grace, that he/she may continue to be yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until he/she comes to your eternal kingdom. Amen.’
4. How is Confirmation related to Holy Communion?
Holy Communion or Eucharist is when Christians draw especially close to God. In some parts of the Anglican Communion individuals who have been baptised do not have to be ‘confirmed’ to receive Holy Communion. In the Church of Ireland, admission to Holy Communion has usually presupposed confirmation.
5. What happens after Confirmation?
By making a public affirmation of faith the candidates take responsibility for themselves as members of Christ’s Church. When the bishop asks, ‘Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?’ and ‘Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbour as yourself?’, the candidates respond, ‘With the help of God, I will’. This demonstrates both their commitment and their recognition of their dependence on God to live a Christian life.
Quotations from The Book of Common Prayer 2004, © The Representative Church Body, of the Church of Ireland, 2004
The above information copyright © 2007 APCK, Church of Ireland House, Dublin 6
The Holy Trinity
A schoolgirl said to her teacher in a religion class, ‘I believe in God, but I don’t believe all this stuff about trinities and things.’ The teacher replied, ‘Think for a moment about what God is. Write it down’. The girl wrote, ‘God somehow started it all. He has something to do with Jesus. And he’s still around.’
God becomes known to us in three ways. God is the creator, without whom nothing would exist. We know God supremely and most fully in Jesus Christ, the human face of God, God in so far as he can be contained in a truly human life. And the God whom Jesus shows us is still with us and in us. The facts of Christian experience force us to confess that the one God exists primarily in three ways, which Church sums up by the doctrine of the Trinity, the three ‘persons’ in the one Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (also often referred to as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier). This way of speaking does not explain the being of God but is the best human language can do to point to the mystery of who God is.
Naming the Mystery of God
The Church of Ireland, in common with most Christian churches, shares in the worship of God the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit. Yet many people, believers and non–believers alike, find the doctrine of the Holy Trinity perplexing. What does it mean to affirm that God is three persons in one God? In one sense, a perplexed response is appropriate, since the language in which the doctrine of the Trinity is classically expressed – ‘three persons in one substance’ – was designed specifically both to name and to protect the mystery of God.
A mystery, however, is not the same as a puzzle: puzzles end when solved, whereas mysteries are lived with. Perplexity at the doctrine of the Trinity should signal that we are in the presence of mystery, and not that we are confronted by a complicated mathematical puzzle. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is intended as an invitation to explore the mystery of God, and not as a puzzle for clever people to solve.
How did the doctrine of the Trinity come about?
It is to the history of the early church that we must turn in order to witness the emergence of the doctrine of the Trinity. A great deal of early Christian literature – including the New Testament – employed Trinitarian–sounding language, such as ‘Father’, ‘Son,’ ‘Word,’ ‘Spirit’, but this is not yet fully developed.
As it reflected on the theological significance of Jesus Christ, the church struggled to acknowledge a number of realities. It affirmed the central Jewish belief that there is only one God. This is the religious tradition within which Jesus of Nazareth lived. Yet, without diluting their commitment to this central belief, early Christian writers confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. And at an early stage, when speaking of Jesus, Christians deliberately echoed the way in which the Old Testament speaks of Israel’s God (e.g., Lord, Word, Spirit, Wisdom, Son of God, etc.). A further influence on the church’s reflections was its experience that the Holy Spirit of God had been poured out on all God’s people ‘Then afterwards I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…’ (Joel 2.28).
This was a complex, and not always attractive, period of struggle within the church. Non–doctrinal factors were often to the fore in the church’s deliberations. Yet in 381, when the church met at its second General Council at Constantinople, it reached two vitally significant doctrinal decisions. First, it restored the phrase ‘of one substance with the Father’ in its confession of the Eternal Son in the church’s creed. Second, confessing the Holy Spirit, the Nicene (or more correctly, the Nicaeno–Constantinopolitan) Creed attributes full divinity to the Holy Spirit: ‘…who with Father and Son is worshipped glorified…’ These phrases in the creed, which remain a central part of Christian worship, express the church’s teaching on the Trinity.
The Holy Trinity in the Church’s Life and Doctrine
Prayerful acknowledgement of the Trinity abounds in the church’s liturgy: the liturgical year traditionally runs from the season of Advent through to its climax at Trinity Sunday; new members are baptized ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’; psalms and canticles conclude by glorifying Father, Son and Holy Spirit; sermons are frequently delivered ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit;’ and the blessing pronounced by priest or bishop at the end of an act of worship, is ‘the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ Those who worship in the Church of Ireland traditions are familiar with the invocation of the Holy Trinity. What do we mean by using these ancient words in today’s liturgy?
Abundant Trinitarian language in liturgy does not entail great familiarity with the doctrine. This is not surprising. The church’s most important statements of belief – its creeds – are deliberately brief and are concerned primarily with excluding a small number of beliefs considered dangerous to the Christian faith. Where do we find a clear statement of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity? Neither the Apostles’ Creed nor the Nicene Creed uses the word ‘trinity:’ indeed, whilst the Church confesses God as Trinity, it has never given official sanction to any particular account of this doctrine. Hence, the church has always had a rich range of Trinitarian confession in prayers, hymns and other aspects of its liturgical life.
The Mystery of the Triune God
Anglican Christians name the mystery of God as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In doing so, we anchor our religious language in a particular tradition which was shaped by centuries of prayerful reflection on the person of Jesus and the church’s experience of God. This doctrine reminds us, as Christians, that the mystery of God is revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and it invites us to explore this gracious mystery as disciples of this Jesus.
The above information copyright © 2007 APCK, Church of Ireland House, Dublin 6
1. What is marriage?
Marriage is an institution going back to early civilizations.
In many societies it was a civil rather than a religious ceremony. The essential element has always been the contract agreed between the couple.
2. How did the Church become involved in the marriage ceremony?
In the early days of the Church, Christians married in the same way as everyone else, according to local custom. There was no Christian marriage service.
Over time, the celebration of a civil marriage in the home was often blessed by the local bishop or priest. Once Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, the marriage service gradually moved from the home to the door of the local church. Eventually the whole ceremony came to be conducted inside the church, the local priest acting in a civil as well as a religious role, providing proper legal records.
What was once a private arrangement between families and/or a couple is now regulated by church and civil law throughout the world.
3. What is the Church of Ireland’s teaching on marriage?
The Church of Ireland teaches that “marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort whicb the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.“ (Canon 31).
4. What about marriage with people who are not members of the Church of Ireland?
The Church of Ireland position is that one party to the marriage within the Church of Ireland has to be a member of the Church of Ireland, or a church in communion with it. This applies equally to any minister invited to preside, who must have the permission of the rector of the parish. There is no specific religious requirement for the second party to the marriage; all are welcome, provided they are content to be married according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of Ireland.
5. What about marriage with a Roman Catholic?
The last few decades have seen dramatic changes in inter–church relations, and one of the most visible effects has been the attitude of both churches to inter–church marriages. The strictness of the Roman Catholic Ne Temere decree has been replaced by the much more liberal Matrimonia Mixa.
Roman Catholic Canon Law requires that when a Roman Catholic marries a member of the Church of Ireland they need to obtain a “Permission” to marry a baptized member of another Christian church. To obtain this Permission, the Roman Catholic partner has to promise “to do what you can within the unity of your partnership to have all the children of your marriage baptized and brought up in the (Roman) Catholic faith.” No written or verbal consent is required from the Church of Ireland partner but they have to be made aware of the obligation of the Roman Catholic partner. However, the Irish Roman Catholic Bishops’ Directory on Mixed Marriages recognizes that “the religious upbringing of children is the joint responsibility of both parents, (and that) the obligations of the Catholic party do not, and cannot, cancel out … the conscientious duty of the other party.“
When the marriage is to take place in a Church of Ireland church, a further “Dispensation from Canonical Form” is required. It should be noted that the Permission and the Dispensation from Form are not required for the legality of the marriage in a Church of Ireland church. They are necessary to enable the Roman Catholic partner to remain in good standing with his/her church.
6. What about cohabitation?
What we now call cohabitation was considered acceptable for much of Christian history before ceremonial marriage became the norm in the nineteenth century. It is, once again, a social reality to which the church’s previous attitude is currently being debated. The bottom line in any view of cohabitation has to be the intention of the couple to lifelong loyalty and faithfulness within their relationship.
7. What about marriage preparation?
It is advisable that as much notice as possible should be given to the minister of the parish to allow sufficient time for adequate pastoral preparation before marriage. Marriage preparation is strongly recommended and is provided by most dioceses. In some, experienced marriage counsellors provide a one–to–one marriage preparation session with the couple. In others, marriage preparation is provided in a group setting. There are also special courses for inter–church couples. It is essential, especially in inter–church marriages, to discuss in good time all the implications of marriage with each other and with the clergy.
8. What is the Church of Ireland position on the remarriage of divorcees?
Legislation to permit the remarriage of divorcees in church was passed by the General Synod in 1996. While stressing that the lifelong nature of Christian marriage remains the ideal, the Church of Ireland seeks to show compassion and understanding to those whose marriages have broken down. Through a private service of preparation, which divorced couples must attend before their wedding day, the Church mediates God’s welcome and forgiveness. Clergy are first required to seek the bishop’s opinion before agreeing to celebrate any such marriage. Clergy who, in conscience, feel they cannot solemnise the marriage shall refer the couple to the archdeacon.
9. Is it possible to have a service in church after a civil marriage?
Because the Church of Ireland recognises the validity of civil marriages, couples are often encouraged to take part in a service of prayer and dedication following their civil ceremony. In this service husband and wife recall their marriage vows and dedicate to God their life together, asking his blessing upon their union.
The above information:
Church of Ireland House,
Repentance and Forgiveness
The central message of the gospel is that God loves the whole of creation. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.“ (John 3:16).
God loves us even though we often behave badly, just as parents still love their children even when they misbehave. We human beings have denied, ignored or rejected that love by our sin. (Sin occurs when, we as individuals or as members of society, through our attitudes, actions or inactions fail to live up to God’s loving standards.) God cannot ignore the sin of his human children, because sin causes suffering and alienation from God and one another. God’s purpose for us, on the other hand, is that we should live in harmony, creativity and love. This can only become possible through our change of heart, our repentance.
How do we receive forgiveness?
To repent is not simply to be sorry for our sins in a trite way, or even to lament their impact on others. Rather it is to experience a real change of heart, to be resolved with God’s help not to go in that particular direction again, to be determined to learn from our errors and to amend our manner of life. A moment of true repentance can be a time of profound change.
Repentance and faith are foundational to Christian life. Although we try to follow the example of Jesus Christ we often find that through our human failings and weaknesses we have not lived or acted as we should. Thus, in our personal devotions we come to God to seek his forgiveness and may receive an inward and powerful sense of God’s pardon, acceptance and love. When Christians gather for worship, they usually acknowledge in a formal prayer of confession their shortcomings and sins an receive, in the context of the liturgy, an assurance of God’s forgiveness and grace, declared by the priest. God is always ready to forgive.
What about private confession?
It is often rightly said of the ministry of private confession that “all may, some should, none must”. This ministry is normally available on request, either in the church or in a less formal setting. The priest (as suggested in the exhortation in Holy Communion One in The Book of Common Prayer, 2004) is in a position to listen carefully, offer guidance, and the assurance of God’s forgiveness, all under the strictest confidence. A practical or devotional penance may be given as a demonstration of thanksgiving or to make good in practical ways the wrong done to other people.
How is God’s forgiveness related to ours?
In the Lord’s prayer we ask God to forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Readiness to forgive as God does, unconditionally, is part of the costly, generous love demanded of the Christian disciple. It may be difficult, but the cost of not forgiving is even higher, in that it is we who fail to forgive who are inwardly poisoned.
So, at Holy Communion we are encouraged both to seek and offer forgiveness (to live in love and charity with our neighbours) in the sharing of the peace. This is not merely a convivial mutual greeting, but a powerful if sometimes uncomfortable sign that within the Body of Christ we must actively seek reconciliation before we offer our gifts or approach the table.
What happens if, in my heart, I simply cannot forgive?
The human capacity for forgiveness can never equal the divine. We need to do our best to understand the actions of others when they appear hurtful or offensive to us. However, when the crime is, in our view, too appalling, or there is no evidence of repentance, it can sometimes seem impossible to forgive. In such situations, we may only be able to acknowledge that we are not saints ourselves, that our confusion must not be allowed to turn to hatred and that the ultimate judgement is God’s. God’s forgiveness is there for us when we are honestly struggling with our inability to forgive others and praying for the grace to do so.
Forgiveness does not wipe away all the consequences of wrong–doing or condone it; it is not the same forgetting. But, through forgiving we leave behind any desire for retaliation. A man, tortured in a Second World War prison camp said afterwards that he managed to love his tormentors, not by concentrating on their present deeds, but by imagining them as little children. A woman, whose husband was murdered during The Troubles in Northern Ireland simply asked God to understand and forgive her inability to forgive.
And what of the Cross as the ultimate expression of forgiveness?
Although there are many ways of understanding the work of Christ on the cross, it is central to our faith and shows the effect of sin and the cost of forgiveness both for God and for us. It reminds us again of the love of God, who reaches out to us in Christ, calling us to repentance and offering us forgiveness.
The resurrection shows that, on the cross, Christ triumphed over sin and death, and that evil will never have the last word.
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© 2010 APCK
Church of Ireland House,
1. Why do we need Salvation?
We need salvation because we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). We have denied, ignored or rejected God’s love, both as individuals and as members of society. We have all sinned through action and inaction and have, as a result, damaged others, ourselves and the world around us.
We human beings are made in the image of God for relationship with God (Genesis 1:28). Through our sin we have defaced that image and damaged that relationship (Genesis 3:1–19). We need God’s grace to restore his image in us and make us fully human once more.
The medieval Church identified seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth. That is a fairly comprehensive overview of the self–centred human impulses which are in conflict with God’s values. It is from the personal and communal consequences of these sins that we need to be saved and moved from self–centredness to God–centredness. In that way we can with confidence stand before our creator and our judge.
2. What is Salvation?
At the heart of the Christian understanding of salvation is a transforming relationship with God. This embraces all of creation. Ultimately, salvation is sharing in God; returning to the One who is the source and goal of all things.
The benefits of salvation extend beyond essential healing and forgiveness to include a state of wholeness and liberation from all that is evil in our world. In addition salvation entails the fulfilment of our true human potential enabling us to overcome the transience and mortality of earthly life. Salvation means experiencing the fullness of life in God just as he intended.
Salvation is not something that we can achieve for ourselves. It is a gift from God through which God gives of himself in order to restore our relationship with him. Our sin, the barrier which separates us from God, is removed, and our lives freed from its grip. We are reconciled and restored to a harmonious relationship with God, each other and all creation, in this world and the next.
3. The Means of Salvation
The good news of the Gospel is that God has acted and continues to act in and through the person of Jesus, to liberate all of creation from the power of sin and death and enable us to share in the divine life. It is the whole life of Jesus, a life of self–giving, reconciling love, which is the channel of the healing and saving power of God. That life of love came to its climax in the cross and resurrection.
The New Testament contains many different metaphors and images to help us understand the mystery of the cross. Different passages speak of it in different ways:
Some passages speak of the cross as a sacrifice to atone for human sin.
“He [Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9:26)
Some use the language of the law–court (“justification” means in effect acquittal).
“For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.” (Romans 5:16)
Some speak in more personal terms of reconciliation with God and one another.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace…” (Ephesians 2:13–14)
Some use language drawn from the freeing of slaves (and the “ransom” by which this is achieved).
“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Others speak of a paradoxical triumph of Christ over the powers of evil even at the moment of “defeat” on the cross.
“Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14)
These different perspectives all support our belief that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God acts to liberate us from the crippling effects of sin and offers us a new life of reconciliation, compassion and forgiveness in Christ.
4. The Promise of Salvation
The promise of salvation is that we and all creation will be in true relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, in which sin and its consequences will be no more. This is the life in all its fullness that Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10) as portrayed in the vision of a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21 and 22).
As Christians, we experience a foretaste of the reality of this salvation on earth. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we have a deepening awareness of the presence of God in our daily lives. Our lives are changed as we forgive and receive forgiveness and as we seek to live as followers of Jesus, working out our salvation in different areas of our lives. We join with others on the way of salvation, as a new community of faith and love, an alternative society which seeks to challenge the self–centred values of the world, and to model life as God intended it to be.
At least that is the theory! In practice we know that our transformation is not yet complete, and that sin continues to deflect us, both individually and corporately, from the path of holiness. We continue to “press on toward the goal” (Philippians 3:14), aware that we will not fully attain it in this life. The Christian experience of salvation has always been a combination of the “now” and the “not yet”, the gift of God which we have received and seek to live out in our daily lives, knowing that the best is yet to come.
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Sharing the faith
Mission and God
Mission begins and ends with God. It derives from the very nature of God. God’s life is a dynamic, creative and eternal movement of self–giving love. As Christians we believe that this boundless life and perfect love can be most clearly seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As the Anglican Communion document Generous Love puts it: “He [Jesus Christ] opens for us the way to the Father and we wish others to walk that way with us; he teaches us the truth which sets us free, and we wish to commend that truth to others; he shares with us his risen life, and we wish to communicate that life to others.”
Mission and the Church
It has been said that the church exists by mission as fire does by burning. Mission was commanded by Jesus himself and he assured his followers that the Holy Spirit would equip them for this task. According to the Fourth Gospel account of his first resurrection appearance to the disciples, Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you”. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. (John 20:21b–22.) Thus inspired, the Church expanded hugely during the first Christian millennium, as far as Norway and Ethiopia, Ireland and China. From our own country, Irish monastic missions to continental Europe were particularly effective in the 6th and 7th centuries. However it was not until the 16th century that intercontinental missionary activity took off, with Roman Catholic missions to Central and South America, Africa and Asia. Then, in the 18th century the newly confident Protestant churches began seriously to engage in mission, in the South Pacific, India and Africa, with a further intensification of activity in the early 20th century, when the vision was to Christianise the world in one generation. The missionaries frequently went out in the wake of the European traders and colonising powers, and that awkward relationship has only recently begun to be transcended, making the former mission territories truly independent. Indeed the majority of Christians now live in Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the Pacific region.
Mission and Motivation
It is important to recognise the missionary emphasis in the New Testament, from Jesus’ sending out his disciples two by two to teach and heal (Luke 10) to his post– resurrection command recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew, known as the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20).
Jesus came and said to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”.
This Great Commission has been a powerful stimulus to Christians, and still today provides enormous inspiration. These words of Jesus fall into three parts: a statement, a command, and a promise.
The statement deals with the authority of Jesus – all authority has been given to him. It is a universal authority of truth and love, effected and revealed through his life, death and resurrection. It is through Jesus that God’s kingdom, the reign of justice and peace, has been inaugurated.
The word “Go” introduces the threefold command to Jesus’ followers: to make disciples, baptise them, and teach them. The word “Go” is crucial; it makes plain that the outward direction of mission has no limitations, it is to make disciples of all nations, all ethnic groups, tribes and peoples. It is all–inclusive. Baptism, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, celebrates the start of a new relationship with God. Teaching then enables the new disciples to grow in their knowledge and love of God throughout their lives.
As to the promise, the Great Commission ends with some comfortable words about mission: Jesus is with his people until the end of time as together we work to realise God’s kingdom. Jesus will be with his messengers, as they are engaged in obeying his commission, each and every day. They will never be left to depend on their own limited abilities.
Mission can never be an optional extra for a Christian. It is a God–given task and part of being a disciple. In this regard we can learn from St Paul, who after his conversion embarked on three missionary journeys before travelling to Rome, where he was martyred. St Paul’s missionary zeal is grounded in the fact that he felt compelled to share his faith. This to him is what it means to be a follower of Christ (1 Cor 9:16). He goes to the end of the world because of his overwhelming experience of God’s love. He is driven by gratitude and wonder at his sense of Christ’s presence in his life. (Gal 2:20).
We are all called, as Paul was, to convert whole communities if we can; but each one of us is equally “sent” to demonstrate Christ’s love in our daily lives, and thereby to encourage others to share in the Christian life.
Mission and Method
The Church of Ireland is part of the Anglican Communion. In the 1980s and 1990s the Anglican Consultative Council suggested Five Marks of Mission. These marks are firmly rooted in Scripture and remind us as Anglicans what mission includes:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom (personal evangelism).
- To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
- To respond to human need by loving service.
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society.
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
Above all, the mission of the Church is the mission of Christ (John 20:21); it takes place in specific locations and at specific times. What is a successful method in one place may not be helpful in another, so flexibility is needed in the way the Good News is shared. The approach used has to be sensitive to local conditions and show empathy. That is why each parish and diocese in the Church of Ireland is encouraged to take part in this shared task by developing its own mission strategy. Local Christians have local knowledge and can therefore work out what is best suited to their situation.
Mission can never be an isolated activity. It is a way of being that is integral to the Christian life. Mission, being sent, is our response to Christ’s commission and his love as we experience it. We go out to love and serve the Lord.
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The Irish language and the Church of Ireland
The Irish language
Irish (An Ghaeilge) was the main language of the people of Ireland for most of their recorded history. It was brought by the Irish (then known as the Scotii) to Scotland and the Isle of Man, giving rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx. It has the oldest vernacular literature in western Europe and is today the first official language of the Republic of Ireland, a recognised minority language in Northern Ireland and an official language of the European Union.
With the coming of the Anglo–Normans in the late 12th century the position of Irish in Dublin and other large towns was gradually weakened, though for centuries the authorities were concerned that many of the settlers not only adopted Irish social customs, but also spoke the language. Until well into the 17th century it remained the tongue of most of the population. However, a dramatic decline occurred in the 19th century, hastened by the Great Famine and the spread of state–sponsored elementary education conducted entirely through the medium of English. In certain areas of the country Irish survived as the language of the people, and was the medium of instruction in some, though not all, of the unofficial ‘hedge’ or ‘pay’ schools. But English, being the language of the political, professional and commercial classes, was seen as the key to further education and social advancement.
Such was the parlous state of the language by the late 19th century, when its everyday use was largely confined to the Gaeltacht regions of the south–west, west and north–west, that a movement for its preservation, the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) came into being. One of the League’s founders was Douglas Hyde, a son of the rector of Frenchpark, Co. Roscommon. This was an area in which spoken Irish survived to some extent, and captured the imagination of the young Hyde, as, indeed, it did of a number of other members of the Church of Ireland.
The Church of Ireland and the language in the past
Considerable debate continues as to the extent to which the widespread failure by the leaders of the Reformation in Ireland to convert the wider population to the teachings of the Established Church can be attributed to their ignoring the fact that the great majority of the populace was Irish–speaking. Certainly, they were betraying a crucial Reformation principle: bringing the Church to the people in their own language. Some effort was made. The first book printed in Irish in Ireland was an Irish alphabet and catechism published with type presented by Queen Elizabeth I. Subsequently, Bishop Bedell of Kilmore was instrumental in having an Irish translation of the Old Testament made – this was printed after his death in 1685 along with a translation by William Daniel, Archbishop of Tuam, of the New Testament. Crucial to the failure of the Reformation to make greater progress was the lack of Irish–speaking clergy (despite the requirement laid down by Bedell, when provost of Trinity, that ordinands intended for Irish–speaking districts must attend Irish classes) Furthermore, there was a widespread belief in political and ecclesiastical circles that the Reformation must go hand in hand with the ‘civilising’ (in other words, the Anglicising) of the people. The banishment of Irish from public life was seen as a key instrument in that process of Anglicisation. The so–called “second reformation “ of the early 19th century, particularly in the West of Ireland, saw further efforts to advance the reformed faith with the use of Irish–speaking worship materials and the deployment of Irish–speaking clergy.
Yet whatever the attitude of the Church authorities to the language, the major renaissance in Celtic studies in the mid to late 19th century with its fresh academic appreciation of Irish language and literature owed much to scholars with a Church of Ireland background. Douglas Hyde, who was destined to be the first president of the independent Irish state, has already been mentioned for his seminal role in the foundation of the Gaelic League and remains an iconic figure in the Irish–speaking world. But there were many other such scholars, including clergymen such as James Henthorn Todd, Charles Graves and EJ Gwynne. A number of Church of Ireland laity played leading roles in the Anglo–Irish Literary Revival, especially WB Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, JM Synge and Seán O’Casey, all of them inspired by their dedication to Irish language and culture.
The language in the Church of Ireland to–day
Dedication to the survival of Irish, and in the case of some (including Hyde) its restoration as the everyday language of communication, was a growing phenomenon not only among Church of Ireland academics, but also among a small but determined minority of Church members. Influenced strongly by the cultural revival outlined above, in 1914 the Irish Guild of the Church (Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise) was founded with the purpose of preserving the spirit of the ancient Celtic Church and promoting the use of Irish language, art and music in its life and worship. The Guild, which to–day receives funding from the General Synod, has been responsible for such noteworthy publications as Canon Cosslett Quin’s New Testament in Irish (An Tiomna Nua) and his translation of Holy Communion 1984 (Ord Ceiliúrtha na Comaoine Naofa, dá ngairtear i nGaeilge an tAifreann) The Cumann has also published the Irish version of The Book of Common Prayer 2004 (Leabhar na hUrnaí Coitinne 2004), very much the work of the Ven. Gary Hastings and his wife Caitríona. Regular services in Irish have been held for many years in Dublin and more recently in Armagh, Belfast Galway and Kilkenny. An interdenominational service in Irish is held annually in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin where the Guild is based, and where settings of Urnaí na Nóna (Evensong) commissioned by the Guild are sung by the cathedral choir. A regular article in Irish appears monthly in the Dublin and Glendalough Church Review, as does an occasional column in the Church of Ireland Gazette.
A major stimulus to the Guild’s work was given by the appointment in 2011 of a full–time language development officer to promote its activities. This position is funded by Foras na Gaeilge, a North–South body that has state funding.
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1. Why Bishops?
There are clear indications in the New Testament and in the early church of a ministry of leadership and oversight (Greek: episcope). Those who exercised this ministry spearheaded the mission of the Church in particular areas and, as it grew, they delegated aspects of their task to locally based priests and deacons whose ministry they co–ordinated and supported. They were known as episcopoi (bishops) – leaders in the apostolic mission and pastors of the pastors.
2. Why dioceses?
The area over which the bishop exercised oversight became known as a diocese. The central focus of each diocese was the church in which the bishop had his cathedra, or teaching chair, from which the word ‘cathedral’ is derived. The diocese was something of a microcosm of the Church as a whole: its churches found their unity in gathering around the bishop. Dioceses kept communication, and communion, with one another through the person of the bishop. From the fourth century, new bishops were ordained by at least three others representing the wider Church, and gatherings of bishops in synod became the forum where faith was defined and safeguarded.
3. Was it always so in Ireland?
It is now clear that Patrick and other early Irish evangelists organised their converts into small, parish–like communities served by a priest, who was under the care of a bishop. However, by the seventh century, monasteries, as well as parish churches, had become centres of Church life. In some places the monastery was where the people worshipped and the abbot, not the bishop, was frequently the leader of the local Christian community. The bishop, however, had a specific role where doctrine and the ordination of clergy were concerned and in the early twelfth century the Irish Church was organised on a system of twenty–four dioceses.
4. What is distinctive about episcopacy in the Church of Ireland today?
At the Reformation, the Church of Ireland retained bishops and was ‘established’ as the official state church whose bishops had a significant political role including places in the Irish House of Lords. All this changed upon Disestablishment in 1871 when the bishops became leaders of a Church which was independent of state control and financial support. The Church’s income was greatly reduced and the bishops were now part of the General Synod, instituted at this time as the supreme governing body of the Church of Ireland, made up of bishops (House of Bishops) and elected representatives of the clergy and laity (House of Representatives). The Church is thus referred to as episcopally led and synodically governed. Bishops remain extremely influential in determining the direction of the Church. However, synodical government means that, for any measure to be passed, both the House of Bishops and the House of Representatives must vote in favour. The bishops retain a distinctive role as guardians of doctrine and leaders of the Church.
5. How are bishops elected?
Any priest aged thirty or over is eligible for election as a bishop. At present bishops (and the Archbishop of Dublin) are chosen by electoral colleges which comprise lay and clerical representatives from both the vacant diocese and the wider province in which this is situated, whether Armagh or Dublin. Seven of the present twelve dioceses are in Armagh province and five are in Dublin. The archbishop of the appropriate province normally presides at the election, and if agreement cannot be reached the choice passes to the House of Bishops. The Archbishop of Armagh, who is Primate of All–Ireland, is always chosen by the House of Bishops from among their own number. Unless already serving as bishop of another diocese, bishops–elect are consecrated by at least three other bishops, of whom one shall be the archbishop of the province or a bishop acting as deputy.
6.What is the work of a bishop?
The bishop’s role is to be the chief pastor of the diocese, called to lead in serving and caring for the people of God. The work is richly varied: caring for the clergy; overseeing clerical appointments; encouraging vocations; ordaining priests and deacons; promoting ecumenical endeavour; conducting confirmations and visiting parishes. Bishops also serve as patrons of church schools; acting as teachers of the faith; furthering the unity of the Church and promoting its mission. In addition, bishops devote time to the work of the wider Church and the corporate duties of the House of Bishops. They also represent the Church of Ireland in civic society.
7. Is there an international role?
Bishops of the Church of Ireland take part in the councils of the Anglican Communion – the family of autonomous national churches who share a similar approach to worship and doctrine derived from the Reformation in England in the sixteenth century. Every ten years the Archbishop of Canterbury calls the Anglican bishops together at the Lambeth Conference for fellowship and discussion of common concerns. These conferences have no legislative authority for the individual provinces. Archbishops of Canterbury have no jurisdiction outside the Church of England. The historic role is to be ‘first among equals’ of the bishops when they gather.
8. May women be bishops?
In several provinces of the Anglican Communion women have been elected to the episcopate. Since 1990 women have been eligible for ordination as bishops as well as priests in the Church of Ireland. In 2013, Bishop Patricia Storey was consecrated as the first female Bishop in Ireland.
9. How does the Church of Ireland view Churches with different understandings of episcopacy?
The Church of Ireland maintains the historic three–fold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons. However, the succession of the historic episcopacy is viewed as a sign rather than a guarantee of continuing in the apostolic faith, the latter being in the stewardship of the whole people of God. This view has facilitated the establishment of full communion, through the Porvoo Agreement, with the Lutheran Churches of Scandinavia, the Nordic and Baltic countries where episcopacy remains central to church government. At the moment progress is being made in discussions with the Methodist Church in Ireland to achieve full interchangeability of ministry – this could involve the President of the Methodist Conference being designated as an ‘Episcopal minister’ and a role for Church of Ireland bishops and Methodist presidents in the consecration of persons chosen for episcopal ministry in one another’s Churches.
10. What of the future?
In 2012 the General Synod established a commission to review episcopal ministry in the Church of Ireland. The bishops (and especially the archbishops) have an increasing workload, exercised in dioceses which have retained their essential geographical shape since the twelfth century. Some of the dioceses have small populations but extensive territory. The General Synod is mindful that in our rapidly changing and increasingly diverse society, the way bishops exercise their ministry needs to be reviewed. Only thus can they live up to the high aspirations set out in the order for the consecration of bishops in the Book of Common Prayer.
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The word itself
The word ‘liturgy’ denotes a pattern of worship used in church, usually in a prescribed form. The root meaning of the word comes from the ‘work’ or ‘service’ of the people of God. This is illustrated by the translation of Romans 12:1 in different versions of the Bible. In some, we offer God our ‘spiritual worship’, while others translate the same words ‘reasonable service’. A church poster to be read by people leaving church puts it like this: ‘The worship is over; the service begins’, but it could just as easily say, ‘The service is over; the worship begins.’ The Bible declares that worship or service are to be all of a piece with the whole of our lives, if we are not to become hypocritical. Those who worship God are called to live holy, just and compassionate lives.
Liturgy in life
As liturgy has to do with the whole of life, then what we do in church is akin to what we do elsewhere: we order and structure our lives, not to restrict, but to enable ourselves to live to the full. We cultivate certain habits: we get up at a certain time of the day, go through our morning routine, eat our meals in a certain order, travel on the same routes, and develop a pattern which enables us to get everything done, and to give priority to the things and relationships which are of most importance to us. We don’t constantly reinvent our ritual acts of meeting and departing: they come to us as naturally as the air we breathe. Liturgy is like that as well.
A pattern of worship
Liturgy gives shape to our worship. The Acts of the Apostles reminds us that the early Christians followed a pattern of worship. It is expressed most succinctly in Acts 2:42 as ‘the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.’ (Note that it is not just ‘prayers’ but ‘the prayers’, suggesting a pattern of prayers, as was the case in the synagogue). This is what the followers of Christ ‘devoted themselves’ to when they gathered for worship, initially in their homes. The shape of their liturgies was set for them by what God was calling them to be and do. This pattern is both scriptural and sacramental, allowing for both formality and informality.
Liturgy: written and unwritten
The Church of Ireland expresses its liturgical tradition in The Book of Common Prayer (BCP). In the first BCP of 1549 Cranmer drew on previous riches of liturgical worship going back to the earliest church. The book itself has developed over the course of time with particular revisions: in 1662, when Anglican worship was restored after Cromwell; in 1878, after the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland; in 1926, taking account of new political and social realities; and most recently in 2004, after a long period of liturgical renewal.
While the invention of the printing press eventually allowed wide access to the book, liturgical worship can continue to exist perfectly well where people learn or memorise responses, creeds and prayers and use them in a meaningful framework. It can also exist in the days of PowerPoint and YouTube clips, without losing either its power or rationale. Churches which may consider themselves ‘non–liturgical’ often have patterns of worship which are every bit as structured as those with written liturgies.
For many years, there was a sense that Christians had to opt for worship that was either formal or informal. But it is now quite usual to have a place for the spontaneous in the midst of a set structure. Indeed the structure offers the security which makes space for such freedom.
Liturgy involves participation
Doing things together: sitting, standing, kneeling, coming forward for communion, enhances our corporate sense of worship. Liturgy, through giving us shared things to say and do, also prevents worship from simply being the preserve of the leader.
Liturgy ensures that the whole Christian faith is proclaimed
Following the appointed scripture readings, we celebrate the liturgical year together, observing its times of lamentation and rejoicing. These patterns of worship ensure that we do not omit any of the key elements of Christian spirituality.
Liturgy teaches the faith
What we do and say in worship forms us as disciples and informs what we come to believe about God. Liturgy helps us to attend carefully to our words and actions in worship.
Liturgy passes on the tradition of faith
Each generation comes to worship shaped by what it has inherited: church buildings, prayers, liturgical actions, hymns and songs, teachings and creeds. Liturgy enables us to benefit from our past heritage while allowing for appropriate revision.
Liturgy offers us words and actions when we struggle to find our own
Liturgy can speak powerfully into the ‘wordless’ moments of our lives, by giving us a means of expression through the wise and beautiful words of others. It provides for times of tragedy and sadness and also for times of great joy and blessing.
Liturgy engages head and heart
Liturgical worship can express the deepest longings of our hearts. The Preface to The Book of Common Prayer 2004 gets it right when it says:
‘….we must remind ourselves that words, however memorable, beautiful or useful, are never to be confused with worship itself. The words set out on these pages are but the beginning of worship. They need to be appropriated with care and devotion by the People of God so that, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, men and women may bring glory to the Father and grow in the knowledge and likeness of Jesus Christ.’
Our liturgical response is: ‘Amen!’
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What is Prayer?
Many people think of prayer mainly as asking God for things. But it is much more than that. Prayer is central to being a Christian. It opens us up to God’s presence. Whether we recognise it or not, we all have a need for contact with God. As St Augustine said, “God has made us for himself and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.” The impulse to pray is part of that longing. When we pray, whether alone or with others, we deliberately turn our attention to God, the One who is with us always.
Prayer includes expressing our needs to God and listening for God’s voice. That means we sometimes have just to be silent in God’s presence. The impulse to pray comes from God, so prayer is not only what we do but what God does in us. St Paul wrote, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom.8:26).
In prayer we can be totally open with God. We can’t hide anything from God, so we come as we are. We confess our needs and failings, make requests for ourselves and others, give thanks for our joys, and talk with God both as our Creator and as our friend. Just as friends don’t need to talk with each other all the time but can enjoy silent companionship, so we can sometimes rest in God’s presence without saying anything. Good friends can be completely open with each other. The Bible, especially in the Psalms, contains prayers of complaint to God. “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). Christ even used the psalmist’s prayer of complaint in his agony on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Mark 15:34).
Why do we pray?
We follow the example of Jesus, who needed to pray. His disciples, seeing him in prayer, asked him to teach them to pray. We pray because “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4: 6). To pray, then, is to open ourselves to the Spirit of Jesus, be attentive to him, and so grow in spiritual maturity. In prayer we follow the example of the first Christians who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2.42). Our hope is that, if we are faithful in prayer, we will find our thoughts and desires gradually becoming more closely aligned with God’s loving purpose as seen in the life of Jesus.
In short, we pray in order to grow into that fullness of humanity which Jesus shows us: to come “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Eph. 4: 13)
How do we pray?
There are as many ways to pray as there are people. Prayer involves the whole person, body, mind and spirit.
Setting aside time for prayer is basic, and many people find it helpful to pray at the same time each day. A traditional guideline for prayer is the acronym ACTS:
Adoration – We turn in wonder to God, our Creator and Redeemer, the loving power at the root of our lives;
Confession – we become aware of our own failures, and the damage or hurt we may have caused and seek forgiveness.;
Thanksgiving – we give thanks for all God’s gifts;
Supplication – we ask God to supply what we and those we pray for most need.
Many of us concentrate on supplication, whether we ask God for a deeper sense of his presence, for inspiration, guidance and courage, or for more tangible “things” – a job, a home, a healing, a windfall. But prayer is more than asking God for favours. The ultimate prayer is “Thy will be done,” offering ourselves as instruments of God’s will.
We may pray either in the words of set prayers, especially the Lord’s Prayer, or by simply talking to God of our concerns, asking for help and awaiting the response. We may also approach God through the silent attention of meditation, alone or with a group; or occasionally in the desperate plea of “Help me God!” Some people prefer to pray alone, maybe with a passage of scripture; some find prayer with others more helpful. We all need both. There are resources available to help us in prayer such as books, websites, prayer groups, experienced people we respect, and so on.
What happens when we pray?
Prayer is not an attempt to change God’s will but to align our wills with his.
Sometimes our prayer can seem rather like battering down the gates of heaven, badgering God to change things to suit us. This may actually happen (see Genesis 18:22– 33, Luke 18:1–5), but we also need to be ready for God’s answer to disappoint or surprise us.
Whatever the outcome of our prayers, a change may take place within us. By taking time to pray, we invite God to enter more deeply both into our lives and into the situations for which we pray. Prayer changes the way we relate to God and to other people; it also changes the way we regard ourselves. It offers us a new perspective and a new sensitivity, even when we do not receive the answer we wanted.
The usual ending, at least of prayer in church, is “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” By offering our prayers through Jesus Christ, we are allowing him the last word. And that changes everything.
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Making Moral Decisions
How should I live? What principles should I live by? How can I make sense of a dilemma that I face? Many thinkers and philosophers down the ages have offered a variety of answers to such questions, and Christians have always believed that their faith gives them a distinctive answer. To put it simply, Christians seek to live according to the will of God.
Discerning the will of God can sometimes be straightforward. Murder, torture, theft and lying are unethical and, for Christians, such behaviours are clearly contrary to the will of God. By contrast, caring for those in need, feeding the hungry, and helping the downtrodden or suffering are understood to be both profoundly moral and in keeping with God’s will.
Other moral decisions, however, often prove more difficult to address. This may be because new ethical dilemmas have arisen that are not covered by our traditional moral teaching, or because there are sincerely held differences concerning how that traditional moral teaching might best be interpreted now. The range of our moral experience is broad and complex; so reaching a moral decision can be both difficult and costly. The Church attempts to root its discernment of God’s will in an acknowledgement of these challenges, and it seeks to support those who are struggling with the moral difficulties they face.
How should we use the Bible?
The Bible contains much ethical material, for example the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the general example and teaching of Jesus, and passages in the letters of Paul. It is important that we read and reflect on this material. In doing so, we may well become conscious not only of the way the Bible can speak helpfully to us, but also of the great distance between the biblical world and our own. For many Christians, the cultural context of the biblical writers seems to have resulted in rulings we would rightly call into question today, in the light of Jesus’ central command to love unconditionally. Attitudes in the Mosaic law to enemies, slaves and women, together with punishments such as stoning for sexual transgressions, are cases in point.
So we need to consider how we read the Bible. Two principles are crucial: first, the Church emphasises the importance of the systematic reading of scripture in worship: for every day of the week and every week of the year, the Church follows a set of readings from both the New and the Old Testament, and Christians focus most especially on the words and example of Christ. We cannot focus simply on a few passages that appeal to us; we are required to read and reflect on the Bible as a whole. Thus, the Church is a moral agent that is shaped by its reading of Scripture.
The second principle is related to this way of reading. The Bible contains many Christian ideals, but it is not simply a book of rules. It is a collection of testimonies from across the ages about a living relationship between our loving heavenly Father and his children, a heavenly Father who always wants to protect us from the harm we may bring upon ourselves. So while the Bible offers much moral guidance, especially in the life and teaching of Christ, to treat it simply as an ethical rule–book would be to minimise and even mar its value.
Where else can we discern God’s will?
Our faith in God as creator means that God is revealed in and through the world around us – not just through the environment, but through research and study, through both our potential and our limitations as determined by nature, through human interaction and exploration. The various branches of study and human endeavour continue to reveal much about creation and about its creator.
Through our prayers and our worship, our study and our meditation, we may come to discover more and more of God’s will for creation. Our experience as a community of believers, the Church, is central to this process of discernment. This community – across time and space – offers us a sense of perspective, a yardstick by which we can measure our own experience and response to God. It is reassuring to realise that we are not the first people to wrestle with moral issues as part of our Christian lives. We may find that our conscientious efforts to discern God’s will in difficult situations leave us confused and unable to find an answer with which we are comfortable. Or, that on reaching an answer we find ourselves in disagreement with those we love and trust. But it is vital for us to realise that there is nothing wrong in being unable to produce a definitive answer to every moral question, and to remember that, whatever our conclusions, we may need to revisit them in the light of later developments.
So how does an Anglican make moral decisions today?
God’s will is to be discerned in at least three ways: through the Bible as revealing God’s dealings with his people, especially through the life, death and resurrection of his Son (Scripture); through the community of believers, the Church, today and down the ages (Tradition); and through the world around us, God’s creation (Reason).
If these all point to the will of God, we would expect them to agree. If they don’t agree, we may need to think and pray more deeply and reconsider our interpretation. Have we understood the Bible correctly? Was that insight really from God or merely an expression of our own culture and upbringing? In making moral decisions we need to take all these things into account, humbly, prayerfully and with respect for those who come to different conclusions, as was the case equally in New Testament times.
Where does conscience fit in?
Conscience has been defined as ‘the inner aspect of the life of the individual where a sense of what is right and wrong is developed’. That sense has to be developed and educated, which for a Christian is part of what is meant by growing in faith. Because of this, it is a mistake to equate conscience with the voice of God, as has sometimes been done. Yet as we mature in faith we grow in our understanding of right and wrong. Conscience is not to be confused with our emotional response to difficult situations and choices, nor is it our gut reaction to a moral issue. It is our prayerful understanding of God’s will.
Can the Church help?
From time to time a church body or a church leader will attempt to assist church members to think through a particularly difficult issue. Often it is one where Christian values are clear but hard to apply in a very complex situation. A statement may be issued which offers advice; but nothing can take away the individual’s personal responsibility for their decision. The Church can guide or assist; it is up to the individual to decide.
© APCK 2019
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Unity – Local and Global
The Church of Ireland, as part of the universal Church, is committed to ecumenism and the pursuit of Christian unity. In common with many other Christian Churches, the Church of Ireland includes a creed in its liturgy. In celebrations of Holy Communion it is the Nicene Creed, which draws on two important early Church gatherings, or councils, held at Nicaea in 325AD, and in Constantinople in 381AD. Like other important councils of the Church, these were called ‘ecumenical’ councils, borrowing a Greek word oikoumene, which means the ‘one, inhabited earth.’ ‘Ecumenical’ conveyed the vastness of God’s creative and redemptive act in Christ; today, we might use other words, such as ‘global’ or ‘cosmic’, to connect the believing and belonging in our local parish with the mysterious and loving purposes of God.
Ecumenical engagement begins when we confront the pain caused by either our disunity or suppressed diversity. It calls us both to repent, and to recognise the communion into which God has called us, within which we are to bear one another’s burdens.
When Diversity becomes Division
The Nicene Creed expresses belief in a Church that is ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic.’ Tragically, and from its beginnings, the Church has struggled to receive God’s gift of unity in Christ. Conflict may be an inevitable part of human life, but it has often been addressed with inadequate care, resulting in deep and lasting divisions.
Often the issues at stake matter profoundly, but in the heat of conflict, or when living with the painful legacy of earlier controversies, self–interest can skew the judgement of those involved. As a result, it can prove challenging to acknowledge that, as Christians, we are called by the gospel to make visible the unity that we are offered as a gift in Christ.
Differences of opinion as to what is essential to Christianity have often helped divide Christian communities. Many divisions hardened over centuries into the denominations that we know today. These continue to profess belief in ‘one’ Church; but their divisions diminish the vision of unity that is offered to God’s world.
Doctrinal conflicts are also shaped by non–doctrinal factors, such as differences of language, politics or culture. This is the case in some of the most famous divisions: between Jewish Synagogue and Gentile Church; Latin Western and Greek Eastern Churches; northern European Protestantism and southern European Roman Catholicism. And in Ireland, the division between native and planter added ethnicity and politics to denominational differences.
Christians thus struggle to limit self–interest as they try to imagine the breadth of the truly ecumenical. At the first ‘ecumenical council’, many participants identified ‘the whole, inhabited earth’ with the Roman Empire. Christianity, they assumed, was for the civilised – and was not, therefore, for barbarians (strange peoples outside the Empire), nor for those within the Empire who did not dwell in cities (a pagan, literally, being someone who lived in the country). We may find these limits odd, but every age has its own ways of severely curtailing the gospel’s vision of unity.
Hearing Again the Call to Unity in Christ
There were two driving forces behind the birth of the modern ecumenical movement: the first was the expansion of Protestant Christianity during the nineteenth century – a slogan at the time, more widely shared at the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910, envisaged ‘the evangelisation of the world in this generation’. Christianity was becoming a world faith rather than a European religion.
The second was a mood of repentance: missionaries were acutely conscious that the growth of Christianity coincided with colonialism and imperialism. Christianity had travelled both with European political baggage, and with its own denominational divisions. Christian disunity in Europe might have become a familiar habit on the part of the Churches; in the mission field, however, it was a vivid source of scandal. Missionary expansion overseas thus provoked serious questions for the Churches from which the missionaries came.
Two influential movements in the early twentieth century helped to highlight unity as a missionary imperative. The Life and Work movement emphasised that unity could be realised through shared acts of witness: ‘Service unites, doctrine divides’ was its slogan. The Faith and Order movement revisited earlier doctrinal conflicts to see if these might be resolved in a less heated atmosphere. By doing theology in an inclusive, prayerful and critical manner, Faith and Order has offered important resources to the Churches, assisting them to cherish their diversity whilst also making visible the unity of God’s people. One of the best known resources, produced by World Council of Churches, is Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, (WCC, 1982) which has formed the basis for countless subsequent agreements in which churches have recognised one another as churches, and has been used in shaping new forms of prayer and worship for churches that are growing together.
In 1948, these two movements joined to become the World Council of Churches, combining the theological and ethical strengths of each. The Church of Ireland has supported these initiatives from the start, and locally it is a member of the Irish Council of Churches.
Growth in Communion
During the twentieth century, many churches have moved decisively from stances of mutual hostility to relationships that help in healing the pain and scars of disunity. A key element is dialogue: to enter dialogue with someone is to accept that one does not already know everything about one’s partner in the conversation; indeed, both parties will learn something new about themselves and their understanding of faith in the process. Dialogue happens at many different levels of church life: some at a global or multilateral level, such as the World Council of Churches; some between specific church families, such as the dialogues between Anglicans and Roman Catholics (Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission), Anglicans and Lutheran (The Anglican–Lutheran Commission and the Porvoo Communion), Anglicans and Reformed (International Reformed–Anglican Dialogue), or Anglicans and Orthodox (The International Commission for Anglican– Orthodox Theological Dialogue) ; others between individual Churches in a specific context, such as the Covenant between the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland; and some in local parishes, where Christians of different denominations gather for joint worship as in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Bible study or other acts of joint witness. In all these cases, new relationships develop between people and traditions, and, as a result, people and traditions alike become transformed.
The ecumenical movement is a movement, and not an organisation or an institution: it connects together people, places, ideas, prayers, churches, beliefs, politics, and much else besides. Not every church moves at the same pace in making visible the gift of unity; nor does every Christian. Some Christians have reacted with hostility to the ecumenical movement. But the ecumenical movement challenges all Christians to move beyond what is familiar, to embrace a wider vision of the Church.
Walking Together in Faith, Hope and Love
Ecumenical discipleship – repenting of our shared failures, investing in our shared hopes, hearing together the call of our Saviour – is rooted in prayer and the reading of Holy Scripture. At our Sunday services, a widely adopted system for reading Scripture through the year (the Revised Common Lectionary) allows us to read and reflect on the same Gospel passages as many other Churches throughout the world, including the Roman Catholic Church. As we do so we are mindful of our need for God’s grace and mercy. The Book of Common Prayer invites our ‘Amen’ to following prayer:
You have called us in the body of your Son Jesus Christ to continue his work of reconciliation
and reveal you to the world:
forgive us the sins which tear us apart;
give us the courage to overcome our fears
and to seek that unity which is your gift and your will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© APCK 2019
1. What was ‘Establishment’?
In the aftermath of the 16th century Reformation and the ensuing religious wars it was widely recognised that rulers would decide what the religion of their subjects should be. This principle, known as cuius regio, eius religio, meant that the ruler’s religion was the state religion, ‘established by law’, to which all were required to conform if they were to be eligible for public office. Those who refused to conform (non– conformists) were barred from participation in political life and from many other social and economic benefits.
2. How did the Church of Ireland become Anglican and Established?
Ireland was a realm of the Protestant English monarchs so it was they who determined that the Church of Ireland should be established and follow the same doctrine and practice as the post–Reformation Church of England. However at no time did this win the allegiance of a majority of the population. The bishops were appointed by the Crown. They sat in the Irish Parliament and so participated in the governing of the country. The laws of the Established Church were the laws of the land and imposed by the courts. In the 17th and early 18th centuries Roman Catholics and Irish non–conformists (most of whom were Presbyterian, generally called Dissenters) were subjected to stringent Penal Laws that barred them from political life at all levels, from promotion in the military and from full membership of the trade guilds, and therefore from rising in their crafts. Nonetheless, Catholics and Dissenters were compelled to pay tithes, a tax to support the ministry of the Established Church, while at the same time having to provide for their own clergy. By the later 19th century the most oppressive of the Penal Laws had been repealed.
3. Why did Disestablishment happen when it did?
Following Catholic Emancipation it became clear that henceforth there would be a substantial number of Catholic MPs representing Ireland at Westminster, which with the Act of Union in 1801 had become the sole parliament for Britain and Ireland. Furthermore, W.E. Gladstone, the Liberal leader who was Prime Minister for most of the latter part of the 19th century, set himself the task of ‘pacifying’ Ireland. The suppression of the Fenian rising of 1867 had by no means put an end to nationalist feeling in the country, and there was considerable rural agitation for reforms that would improve the lot of tenant farmers who in very many cases held their land under unfavourable terms from absentee landlords. Gladstone chose to tackle first the issue posed by the Church of Ireland’s position as the Established Church. The argument in favour of Disestablishment was strengthened by the census returns in 1861, which confirmed what had long been widely acknowledged, that the Established Church comprised only 12% of the population and did not constitute a majority in a single Irish county. In 1868, as leader of the Liberal opposition in the House of Commons, Gladstone put forward proposals for the Disestablishment of the Irish Church which were carried by the House. The Conservative government, which deplored the idea, some politicians fearing that the Church of England would next be attacked, called a general election which Gladstone won.
4. What happened at Disestablishment?
The Church of Ireland was disestablished by the Irish Church Act of 1869 which was largely Gladstone’s own handiwork. No longer would it be the State Church, no longer would the monarch appoint the bishops, who no longer would have seats in Parliament. Furthermore, not only was the Church disestablished, it was also disendowed of much of its property and other assets. Over the years a number of parliamentary enquiries had drawn attention to the inequitable manner in which the Church’s considerable annual income (in to–day’s money about €90million) was distributed between those serving in its ministry. To obtain a reasonable income, clergy often held several cures, a practice known as ‘pluralism.’ Sometimes these parishes were situated so far apart that they were served by poorly paid curates with little security, the rector being to all intents and purposes an absentee. At the same time many of those in high office, bishops in particular, drew huge incomes, mainly from church estates.
When the Irish Church Act became law on 26 July 1869 the property and other assets, of the Established Church were transferred to Ecclesiastical Commissioners. However, a trustee body for the Church, the ‘Representative Body of the Church of Ireland’ (RCB) was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1870, and in due course the Commissioners handed over all ecclesiastical buildings to the RCB.
The Irish Church Act guaranteed the incomes of all those then in receipt of emoluments from the Church: clergy, diocesan schoolmasters, sextons and parish clerks. The funds provided were only sufficient to pay those then in office. However, under the Act it was possible for the clergy to ‘commute,’ that is, receive a lump sum based on their life expectancy. A large majority opted to do so and, in an extraordinary act of faith and generosity had their ‘commuted’ sums (totalling £7,500,000) transferred to the RCB This provided a large capital endowment that secured the stipends of their successors.
5. How did the Church prepare for self– government?
While the Irish Church Act came into force on 26 July 1869, the Disestablishment of the Church only took effect on 1 January 1871, thus giving it time to make the necessary arrangements for its future administration.
Gladstone had foreseen that the leaders of the newly disestablished Church, which had no central administration, would have a major task ahead as they prepared for self–government. The Act cleared the way for the archbishops, bishops, clergy and laity to ‘elect representatives to assemblies, synods, or conventions. . . for the purpose of making rules for the well–being and ordering of the said Church’. A Constitution for the Church of Ireland was drawn up by representatives of bishops, clergy and laity which laid down a system of synodical government that included significant lay representation at both General Synod and Diocesan Synod levels.
A priority for the Church of Ireland was the revision of the Book of Common Prayer and here again there was considerable lay participation. Gladstone had realised that the disestablished Church would depend heavily on lay support, both financial and administrative, and the laity accepted the challenge and, like the clergy, showed their confidence by their ready and generous response to an appeal from the RCB for support for a Sustentation Fund for the re–endowment of the clergy (contributing on average over £2,000,000 annually in the years from 1870).
6. Why is it worth remembering all of this today?
It is worth recalling the events around 1871 not only on account of their inherent interest and the fascinating personalities involved, but also because without understanding them we cannot adequately grasp how the Church of Ireland understands itself to this day. To give but a few examples:
- The checks and balances within the governance of the church, and the rightly powerful role of the laity
- The composition, procedures and authority of the General Synod
- The trustee role of the RCB
- The continuous process of liturgical revision
- The largely successful transition of the Church of Ireland from being a privileged minority to being a confident and influential minority, striving to look beyond itself and to offer its Christian voice and service in the context of the common good.
© APCK 2019
JESUS CHRIST demonstrated a way to love and care for the sick that we seek to continue today. Jesus, when sending out the seventy disciples, told them to ‘cure the sick and say to them the Kingdom of God has come near to you’ (Luke 10: 9) and in Mark’s Gospel he says, ‘They will lay their hands on the sick and they will recover’ (Mark 16.18). As Christians we believe that it is God who heals and throughout our lives we work and pray for the wellbeing of all created life, brought into harmony with God.
Healing comes into a sharp focus for most of us during times of illness, trauma or disease. Our normal pattern of life is interrupted as we face our own illness or that of a loved one. As people of faith, we naturally turn to God for strength, support and healing. As human beings, any disruption in our wellbeing – physical, mental, spiritual, social – upsets us and urges us to seek healing.
Modern methods of prevention, diagnosis and treatment give us an expectation of a full and healthy life and, in the event of illness, of a return to full health and potential; but inevitably medical care sometimes fails us, in spite of the skill and dedication of doctors and nurses whose lives are devoted to healing the sick.
In praying for healing, we usually hope for a restoration to full physical and mental health. There is, however, a deeper element to divine healing, for which we give thanks even when physical healing does not occur: the loss of fear, a sense of stillness, peace, freedom from pain and distress, reconciliation of damaged relationships, acceptance in the face of loss of ability, and indeed readiness to face death. Return to wholeness may include adapting to a new way of living even with a permanent injury, ailment or psychological scar tissue.
What is the ministry of healing?
The Church’s ministry of healing assures us first and foremost that we are all, each and every one, loved by God and that it is God’s will to heal and save us. We are all in need of God’s healing throughout our lives; it is not just for those suffering illness. We all need to seek wholeness through closer relationship with God. Theological understanding as well as medical practice, has evolved. Few would now share the view expressed in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer Exhortation: ‘Whatsoever your sickness is, know certainly that it is God’s visitation’. Few would now subscribe to the old belief that illness is somehow a punishment for sin or failure sent by God.
Yet people who are ill may still wonder if they are somehow responsible for their own illness, and such thoughts, along with the question, ‘Why did God let this happen to me?’, can create a sense of alienation from God. It is important to listen to such fears and questions when people are seeking prayer for healing, because simply through expressing themselves and being heard with understanding and sympathy people already find release from suffering and the beginning of healing. Only after listening carefully should we respond that illness is never God’s punishment – (see the story of the man born blind in John 9) – even if it may occasionally be the result of poor life choices. In so doing, we mirror God’s compassionate and healing love.
Resources for healing prayer
The Book of Common Prayer (2004) contains many resources for ministry to the sick. Many churches offer special services of healing with the laying on of hands, also intercessory prayer groups whose members undertake to pray daily for those in need. Pastoral and prayer support is available through healthcare / hospital chaplains, through parish clergy, and through the dedicated Church’s Ministry of Healing teams in Dublin and Belfast.
The Church follows Jesus’ example of healing through the work of lay people and clergy alike, as we are all called to pray for each other’s healing. A vital element, supported by accounts of healing in the Gospels, seems to be faith, no matter how small (Matthew 17:20 – ‘faith the size of a mustard seed’), whether on the part of those who are sick or of those who pray for them, or both. Thus an important element in prayer with a sufferer is helping them to open themselves entirely to all the healing God desires for them, thanking God for that healing love; and that is so often where miracles begin.
In prayer, Christians anticipate a world renewed in accordance with God’s will; we commit ourselves in hope to the coming of God’s Reign or Kingdom. Jesus announced the Kingdom of God with parables as well as by healing the sick. His stories and actions pointed beyond themselves to the peace and flourishing that God alone gives, in contrast with the disorder – including illness and suffering – of our present experience.
For Christians, healing remains a powerful sign of God’s transformative will for our world. The devotion of medical professionals caring for those who suffer is akin to the prayers for healing that we offer for ourselves and for others. From the perspective of the gospel, whether one is a highly–skilled surgeon preparing to operate or an anxious parent praying for a sick child, our search for healing follows the example of Jesus, desiring that God’s Kingdom may come and God’s will may be done on earth as in Heaven.
Religious faith engages us in different ways. Doubt is part and parcel of any thoughtful faith. Painful as this may be, we pray to God as the person that we are, and not as the far holier person that we sometimes wish we were. There is a gentle role model for us in the prayer of the father with a sick child who says to Jesus, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief’ (Mark 9.24). Our ‘faith’ can wane in the course of our lives, but it can also increase. We may not always sense that God is active, but as we persevere in prayer we will find that he is active, blessing us in often unexpected ways.
On those occasions when our prayer seems to receive no response and we cry out ‘Why?’ we lay our heartfelt laments, petitions and prayer in God’s lap. And we learn that, while we long for a cure, healing and blessing may also come as we accept a challenging illness or an injury that will not resolve. As Christians, we come to understand that death is to be seen not as failure but as ultimate healing, for Christ has promised the gift of eternal life.
Death is a unique and essential moment of human experience. Yet while we are aware that death comes to us all, we have innumerable ways of denying its inevitability. Faced with a terminal illness we continue to pray for healing. Sometimes that happens; e.g. a cancer goes into remission. And we give thanks and praise to God.
At other times, though, the illness continues and death draws near; but we continue our prayers for healing, and rightly so. We pray for the patient, friends and family; we pray for a deep awareness of God’s love; for those who struggle to accept the coming of death; for healing of fractured relationships. We give thanks for all loved ones, for all the care we have received. We claim the promise that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. And we give thanks that God carries each one of us through death wrapped in his undying love; that we go through the ‘door of death’ to the fullness of life in Christ.
In death, as in life, we are never alone.
© APCK 2019