Was the Church of England formed in 1534?

Forum, Rome © 2014 Simon Peter Sutherland

Today we often hear claims that the Church of England was formed in 1534 by Henry V111. Often these claims are followed by repeated references to the lifestyle and apparently tyrannical ways of this king of England. By all accounts, the popular claim presents Henry V111 as the boogeyman.

The problem is, it is not true. It is only a fraction of the story.

The historic truth is that the Church of England was not formed in 1534 by Henry V111 because he wanted a new wife, it was actually formed in 597 AD by Augustine of Canterbury. The history shows that while visiting the Forum of Rome, Gregory saw some slaves and was fascinated by their hair and after inquiring of them, learned that they were in fact Angles (people who settled in Great Britain). Being burdened, Gregory met Augustine (of Canterbury) in a monastery in Rome and Augustine mentioned his desire to be a missionary in Britain. Gregory granted permission for Augustine to go to Britain, and in 597 he established a Church in Canterbury where he baptised a quantity of persons. This mission is known as the Gregorian mission and this is the date and event that marks the formal history of the Church of England. Today, Canterbury Cathedral stands in the location associated with that event.

So in answer to my rhetorical title “Was the Church of England formed in 1534?” the answer is no! What happened in 1534 was the Act of Supremacy, being brought about as a response to years and years of doctrinal division and the false usurping of unbiblical teaching and unholy living of Pope’s and clergy, past and present. If you will, it can be likened to a 16th century ecclesiastical Brexit. Just as England and Britain have existed long before the EU, so the Church of England existed long before the creation of Roman Catholicism at the East-West Schism (Great Schism) of 1054.

The reality is the 1534 Act of Supremacy was an engineered event. 16th century reformers William Tyndale, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer knew full well what they were doing, and they used and engineered Henry’s desire for a new wife as a Nosus Decipio to get this 16th century Ecclesiastical Brexit Done.

Did everybody agree? No. There was and always will be remainers and Brexiteers. But thank God for William Tyndale and for Thomas Cranmer.

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Light In The Darkness

2020 has been a very difficult year. I’m sure by now many people are tired and weary. 2020 has been a disruptive year and I’m sure many will be glad to see the back of it. But we should never assume 2021 will be any better. Times do not change because Big Ben strikes twelve. Time is a flat circle and evil, fanaticism and sins are forever busy.

In my opinion, we do not live in a good era. Attacks and destruction are becoming too common. Massive earthquakes, floods, homelessness, deadly pandemics are slowly becoming over familiar. There is a lot of suffering out there and I would rather live in the past. Although there are some things of modernity that I am fond of, the world has become a very dark and cruel place, where people are trapped in a marred lens of imposing worldviews. Governments are proposing a Covid-19 vaccine, yet there is a continuous air of mistrust. Times are sneaky and untrustworthy. Everything is up for grabs. People are starving, while grab and greed are running amok.

Although England is an intrinsically peaceful country, things are changing and nowadays, she too seems to be running amok. Political chaos, and division. Riots, protests, lockdowns, corruption and deceptive conceit. It seems that everybody has an opinion yet few want to be challenged. Everyone is right in their own eyes. Many people are becoming aggressive toward any challenge of their beliefs and discussions are being restrained. Many fear that ‘freedom of speech’ is under attack. Maybe it is.

I’ll not rant, but it seems as the saying goes, the world has gone mad and I’m inclined to agree.

The ancient Greco Roman world was, (in my opinion), a much more safer world to live in. I say this because things were much quieter back then and the air was clean. For certain, dictators existed, and the powers that be, but they were fewer in number. People thought more and spoke slower. Communities were proper. Although I admire past times, I am fully aware the ancient worlds were not without their troubles and monstrous evils. If we focus upon the ancient Biblical lands, King Herod was by all accounts a wicked person. History purports, ‘Better to be one of Herod’s pigs than his son‘. Matthew 2: 16-18 claims it was Herod who ordered the slaughter of the innocents around the birth of Christ. This, by all accounts is entirely accurate and the type of thing that Herod was capable of ordering. Josephus records that Herod ordered ‘nobles’ executed at his death to ensure mourning.

The ancients didn’t celebrate Christmas as we do today. Studies show that it is very unlikely that Jesus was actually born on December 25. In a previous article I demonstrate how the Messiah was probably born at Nissan. In another previous article I have offered discussion concerning the historic possibilities of St. Luke’s references to the Census of Augustus and its whereabouts in his ancient world. These studies offer more insight for us to consider and can present a very real view of a very real world that once existed. The world of the New Testament was as real for the Gospel writers (and the Apostles) as today is for us. Consciousness was no less real for ancient persons than it is for each one of us. Evil has always been a very real existence. Yet Matthew and Luke’s Gospels communicate that as the Christ-child was born God was doing a great thing. The world was being redeemed and the Saviour was born to bring peace on earth and goodwill to mankind (Luke 2: 14). This is in the context of mankind being offered peace with God. But all around, things were all but peaceful. Matthew’s Gospel references the story of the wise men and the Massacre of the Innocents (by order of Herod) of all new born babies up to the age of two. Justin Martyr (c. 100 – c. 165 AD) claimed these wise men (Magi) were from Arabia (c. 160, E, 1.237). Matthew claims the wise men were warned in a dream that they “should not return to Herod” (Matthew 2: 12). Herod then viciously ordered a Massacre of all the male children and this evil happening was an angry response (from a wicked ruler) to the wise men who had deceived him.

Matthew puts it this way:

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.” (Matthew 2: 16. NKJV)

Yet although things seemed dark, God was at work. Matthew records the famous “star” that appeared around the Messiah’s birth was seen in the East. In a previous article I discuss what this star could have been? Whatever it was, be it an actual star or the glory of the Lord, this light shone in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not. Herod did not see beyond the narrow limits of his own mind and his own self-governed materialistic worldview.

Today, historians and astrologers know full well this star was not a tale of fiction. Ancient Greco Roman coins from Antioch, Syria from the time of Augustus affirm the star was a historically verifiable event.

Ignatius writes:

How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars. The light from this star was inexpressible, and its uniqueness struck men with astonishment.” (Ignatius. c. 105, E, 1.57)

What is clear is that the world is, and always has been a mess. Ever since Cain murdered Abel, this wretched world awaits a day of reckoning. That day will come, and although I confess, there are a lot of good and nice things in this world, (and I paint a dim picture), can you not see that evil is and always will be. Light cannot exist without darkness. Just as evil needs exist in order for good to triumph and yet through it all, God is speaking.

Regardless of the enemies of Christianity, or coronavirus, politics, cancel culture, or dates, times or seasons, Christmas exists in the heart. It is not a time, it is a state of being. Nothing can take that away from you. So regardless of what this world throws at you, be good to one another and remember that Jesus said “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 33)

Can you not hear His voice?

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My Scottish ancestors and the Disruption of 1843

Over the years I have always known my surname ‘Sutherland’ has implications of Scottish ancestry. My father often told me that his grandfather was Scottish, but I never gave it any serious thought until recently. It was then when I discovered that my great-grandfather “Daniel Sutherland” had journeyed to Lancashire from Old Machar, Aberdeenshire in the late 1890’s. The Great Depression of 1873-1896 had effected many people, including the Sutherland’s of Scotland. This lineage led me to my 3rd great-grandfather John Sutherland (1803-1884) of Golspie, just north of the historic seat of the Earl of Sutherland, the chiefs of clan Sutherland.

My 3rd great-grandfather witnessed an event known as “The Disruption of 1843”. A schism or division between the established Church of Scotland and Scottish Protestants. Some 450 evangelical ministers walked out of the established church to form the Free Church of Scotland. After ten years of bitter conflict, Scotland would never be the same again.

The history shows that proceeding the days of the 16th century, and the Scottish reformation associated with John Knox, the majority of Scottish people were in support of the reformation. During Mary Tudor’s totalitarian persecution of Christians, Knox had left Scotland for Geneva where John Calvin had established a majority position. When Knox returned to Scotland he brought this reformation with him and this foundation remained in the Church of Scotland for centuries. However, between 1833 – 1843, Scottish evangelicals underwent ten years of conflict leading to a protest against state interference with the Church. Scotland saw a mass exodus of ministers and congregations leave their beloved churches to form their own. It was a bitter business that would cause mental stress, division and upset to families and entire congregations and would cause ministers to be without homes or financial support. Thus the proceeding years saw Scotland having two churches, the Church of Scotland and the newly formed Free Church of Scotland.

Division and disruption does not always break Christianity up, it often enhances and expands it. But this disruption should never have happened, even though it was a necessary response.

Nobody wants division like this. The majority of rational people all desire peace. But historic events such as these are a finger of warning to political activists and those who cause divisions by teaching and enforcing things they ought not. There is always a cost. History proves that.

My 3rd great-grandfather John Sutherland was 40 years old when he saw this disruption with his own eyes. Yet he went on to live until he was 81. He had two children with his wife Mary. Their son Daniel Sutherland, was my 2nd great-grandfather. Daniel was 15 years old when the disruption occurred.

Their ancestors are my bloodline and the name Sutherland goes all the way back to William Sutherland (William De Moravia), the son in law of King Robert the Bruce.

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Remember the Great Ejection

In 1662, the Church of England ejected thousands of ministers from their ministerial positions. At that point, the civil war was over and England had seen the restoration of Charles 11.

Back in those days the dispute was concerning the nature of the faith when contrasted with the new revisions of the Book of Common Prayer. Today these revisions would be seen as unimportant, but maybe they were.

Outstanding ministers, preachers, thinkers and writers such as Richard Baxter, John Flavel, Thomas Watson, Simeon Ashe, Thomas Brooks and thousands more were forced out of the Church by revisionists, who wanted to sway the church with the flow of the wind.

In Albert Square Manchester, a 19th century building called “Memorial Hall” stands to commemorate this important history.

This unnecessary historic division caused the C of E to lose the very people it needed to keep. Of which the Bishop of Liverpool, J. C. Ryle, rightly commented that the great ejection was “an injury to the cause of true religion in England which will probably never be repaired.”

This Bishop of Liverpool was correct and I hope the present Church of England remembers this.

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Does the 1549 Book of Common Prayer teach ‘Limited Atonement’?

The original 1549 Book of Common Prayer by Thomas Cranmer is a wonderful and historically significant Christian book. In Rylands Library I have had the honour of reviewing and researching ancient original copies of this work, in the original prints and wording.

The original Book of Common Prayer supports the claim to universal redemption as a consistent Christian truth. The text of reads as follows;

Answere:

First, I Leanne to believe in God the father, who hathe made me and the worlde.

Secondly, in God the sonne, who hath redeemed me and all mankind.

Thirdly, I God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me, and all the electe people of God” (The Book of Common Prayer. 1549. A Cathechisme.)

The proposed questions which I set forth are these;

Q. does this article consider the possibility that the world does not mean ‘the entire world’? That is the entire human race?

A. No it does not. The text clearly states in clear basic terms for simple Christians in England during the 16th century, not to view the world as meaning only the elect or the people from within the world, but all the world. If God made all the world and this means ‘all’, then it follows that when the passage speaks of redeeming “all mankind”, that it means ‘all’ and not only some.

Q. Does this imply universalism? Or does this imply universal offering of redemption?

A. I think the word “redemption” states that the passage refers to universal redemption, that is in the sense of Christ regaining possession of mankind, in the context of a payment. It does not imply universalism. I think there is not even a hint of limited atonement within this article.

Q. But does not the text say “sanctifieth me, and all the elect”? Yes, it does. That those whom have the Holy Spirit are elect and are sanctified by Him and when the Holy Spirit is given, His work is effectual for those who believe. But that belief must be present, active and continuous. A person need not be understood as ‘elect’ because he or she has been determined by God to be elect in order to believe, but that he or she is elect because they believe.

Once again we see further proofs in favor of my claim that the Calvinistic doctrine of ‘Limited Atonement’ need not be understood as pure reformed teaching.

We must consider that if Christ has died for all, He must have made a way for all to receive Him, as communicated throughout the New Testament. But Calvinism cruelly offers salvation to people when in reality it knows all too well that unless a person is determined to believe, he or she cannot receive the grace of God unless that soul has been predestined and elected to salvation by the deterministic power of ‘God’. It offers a man bread only to give him a stone.

It is a very cruel doctrine that is somewhat deceptively diluted by many modern Calvinist preachers and presented as reformed. Yet the 39 Articles of Religion (1562) do not teach it. On the contrary, Article XXX1 (31) states the following;

The Offering of Christ once made it that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone.

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Visiting Westminster Abbey

In 2019 I visited Westminster Abbey for the very first time. This was of course in our pre ‘Covid-19’ world which can at times seem a little difficult to conceive. It can almost appear a lifetime ago when people wandered around with hardly anybody wearing face masks, or socially distancing themselves.

To go back even further, I remember visiting Big Ben with my parents back in the 1980’s. However, since Lancashire is well north of London, many of my later visits had centralised themselves around the music scene. History had not yet taken it’s prominence with me.

Today, London has changed quite a lot. It is still however, one of those great places where all people can still find something to do. Whether you are a Christian or a history fanatic like me, a saint or a sinner, or someone who just likes to enjoy the moment, few can deny that visiting Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament rarely makes anyone feel out of place. Or at least it shouldn’t do.

Then comes matters of faith, where the soul of a Christian can often feel out of place in this ever changing world, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come.” (Hebrews 13: 14) Then comes the material Ecclesiastical buildings known as Churches. They can without doubt help the tent of the soul to feel at home. I certainly did, especially when I reached Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey is a beautiful place that was founded in 960 AD and although the present building dates to the 13th century, it is believed to be dedicated to St Peter.

Standing outside Westminster Abbey can leave a person in awe. While contemplating the many souls and pilgrims who have, for many centuries, been visiting and worshipping here, it is not difficult to reflect upon your own mortality.

It was here where, at the Abbey, where folklore claims the expression “robbing Peter to pay Paul” either originated or at least, took on a new meaning. The story goes that when Westminster was dissolved in 1550, some of the assets were sold to fund the repairs for the old St Pauls.

Curiously enough, St Pauls Cathedral sits 2 miles away from Westminster Abbey who’s architecture differs dramatically. The former has external similarities to St Peter’s Basilica (Vatican), whereas Westminster Abbey is distinctly gothic.

At times the Abbey can have the feeling of looking like a ghost or a spirit from the past. It is alive but not alive, like a soul who has long gone but who’s spirit lives on. I speak course of the building, and not of any humans. The Christian Church however is not a building, but a people. A congregation of human souls who are united in and through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Today however, Christians are not always united. Doctrine divides. One person follows this teacher, another follows that. Yet all claiming to read the same Bible. Strange isn’t it that too many congregations have separated themselves and are all too quick to condemn others for holding opinions that differ to their own. Yet each one reading from the same Bible.

However, it was here, at Westminster Abbey, on Saturday 23rd February 2019 that I decided for certain that I am joining the Church of England and here I will stay. The Anglican communion is far from perfect, but at least here people can agree to disagree.

Since that time I have been drawn to prayer more than ever and the Book of Common Prayer has helped me enormously through the difficult seasons of lockdown.

Today, in September 2020, a person does not need to look very far to see that this world is a mess. England is no better. Such is always the case when nations abandon the principles of their Maker. But I have a hope within me that England and the Church will be great again, even if the Lord judges her before that time. Light After Darkness (Post Tenebras Lux) is written in creation. Of this I am sure.

I am also sure that although great buildings may not actually be the Church, they can certainly help believers congregate together, and hopefully, if right doctrine permits, dwell together in unity and in truth.

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Moving toward the eschatological challenge

Photo © 2020 Peter SutherlandDuring the Coronavirus Pandemic, a lot of people, Christians and none believers, have been asking a lot of questions. Many Christian spokesmen, leaders and organisations have been expressing their views concerning Covid-19 and its relation to the Christian worldview.

As is common, some views I have agreed with others not. However, it appears that eschatology has become quite topical and many take the viewpoint that we are in the ‘end times’. And in some sense, I would agree.

However, the New Testament is clear that this world has been in the “Last days” (ages, aeons) since the time of Christ. This is stated very clearly in Hebrews 1: 1-2.

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, who He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.

The Epistle of Hebrews was written prior to the events of AD 70 and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by Titus. This means that the original author of Hebrews, understood the “last days” as an age that had already begun in his day. However, this right understanding is not always mentioned by dispensationalist thinkers. On the contrary, many Christians understand the “last days” as though it either specifically relates to now or our future, but rarely as a period that began 2000 years ago and could span thousands of years.

When I was a young Christian, the majority eschatological opinion, more often than not, conditioned that term ‘last days’ as expressively related to a time in the distant future when the antichrist would sign a peace treaty and a seven year tribulation would follow. This interpretation is taken from Daniel 9: 27.

But not everybody has subscribed to that interpretation.

When I was a young Christian and newly baptised, I was often presented with a then recent publication called ‘Approaching Hoofbeats’ by Billy Graham. The book was popular back then and the dramatic title intrigued me and although I never read it, I often left the Book of Revelation alone through some form of unease.

Well meaning Christians would say ‘We are in the last days’ and read passages to me relating to ‘antichrist’ and a ‘rapture’. “One will be taken, one will be left” (Matthew 24: 40-41) Yet no one ever referenced any other viewpoint, or mentioned the many contrasting interpretations of those passages.

Eager to read the Bible for myself, I grew up, and after reading the Bible from start to finish, I eventually reached an opposite view. I read the Gospel of Matthew in its original context and could not see any reason why our Lord Jesus Christ would warn, or inform, 1st century believers about events that would happen in Jerusalem thousands of years later when they would be no longer on earth.

This is also true of the Book of Revelation. I still see no reason why John would write to Seven Churches in Asia Minor about events that would happen thousands of years later after those original readers were all dead.

It was then that I realised that this common ‘end times’ theology radically took the original 1st century readers out of the equation.

To cut a long story short, I can now comfortable state that I reject Premillennial and Dispensational eschatology. I view this theological system as incredibly inconsistent with the original meaning of many Bible passages and what Scripture reveals Christ achieved during His Life, Death, Burial, Resurrection and Ascension.

Now days being in the Conservative Evangelical wing of the Church of England, I need not listen to ‘Premillennialism’ since the majority view, (if it is ever discussed) is ‘Amillennial’.

I have now reached a point in life where I am ready to engage in the eschatological debate and challenge this idea of ‘Premillennialism’ with Scriptural and historical facts.

Having said that, I accept that eschatology is in no way a salvation issue and I do not look down upon other Christians as half Christians for believing something different than I. But I have no doubts that many other Christians will not offer me the same in return.

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Britain’s statues: How I learned about William Salesbury

One of the many things I appreciate about Britain, is her incredible amount of archival and documented history. She’s remarkable. Whenever I visit any town or city, something of history can be found on almost ever street. Whenever I see a statue or plaque, if it interests me, I take note.

Most of the time I find my way to the Parish Church and work my way from there. This is how I learned about William Salesbury.

About 2014 I visited St Asaph Cathedral. I had recently completed the production of my documentary Martyr George Marsh and while visiting the Translators Memorial, I was taken back by the history. There before me stood the 19th century memorial, and the proud image of the 16th century Welshman. Salesbury is depicted holding his New Testament in one hand and his letter from Parliament in the other. He is alive and well. Immaculately dressed, holding firmly on to what he, by the grace of God, achieved. I was immediately drawn to this striking artistic representation.

While visiting the Cathedral, I learned more about his New Testament translation and could see similarities between William Salesbury and William Tyndale. From then on, I knew there was a story and I needed to make a documentary about him.

I read books, numerous biographies and as many articles as I could. But I always returned to the statue on every visit.

This statue features throughout my present documentary and in this film, I wanted to bring the man behind the statue down to a viewable level, that his story could be brought to life, made known and understood.

May Britain never forget her own past. Good or bad, evil or righteous, may she never forget her own history. May it stand strong and clear, bold and powerful, lest she find herself, through ignorance and foolishness, condemned to repeat it.

History may not always be good, many may not like it, but when we know the truth, things generally get a little better.

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WILLIAM SALESBURY Revelation TV Broadcast

After many years of difficult and complex filming, production and research, WILLIAM SALESBURY The man from Llansannan will be broadcast tonight (06 June) on Revelation TV @ 18:30 UK time.

The film is completely uncommercial and is my contribution to the 500th anniversary of the birth of William Salesbury. I am hoping to continually promote this important Welsh history for as long as I can.

This documentary is grassroots and it is up to the people to continually help promote this history and this story. This documentary has been the most difficult production I have made to this day. My hope, for Wales, is that her people return to the Bible once again and may the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ fill the country with the salvation of souls.

The Bible Society have digitised William Salesbury’s 1567 New Testament and you can download your free eBook here.

WILLIAM SALESBURY The man from Llansannan will also be broadcast on 16 June @ 01:00, 20 June @ 22: 30, 29 June @ 07: 30 and I hope, many more years to come.

No William Salesbury, no Mary Jones.

Thank you to revelation tv for broadcasting this film.

https://revelationtv.com/

 

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Guide me O, Thou great Jehovah

In the 18th century, William Williams (1717-1791) wrote the well known Welsh hymn “Guide me O, Thou great Jehovah”. This hymn in the original Welsh was known as “Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch”. 

Today in Wales, it is known as “Cwm Rhondda”. In the Anglican Church it is often known as ‘Guide me O, Thou great Redeemer‘. In other traditions ‘Bread of Heaven‘.

When I was a boy, I often looked through my fathers record collection. He had a vinyl LP called “Songs of the Valleys” by the London Welsh Male Voice Choir. The sleeve had a green cover with a picture of the Welsh hills on it. I loved that album, and the track “Bread of Heaven” stood out to me more than most.

There was something about the sound of the Welsh Male Voice Choir singing the chorus “Bread of Heaven”. The sound called my soul to stand up and rejoice and know that some things are beyond us.

The above YouTube video is my version of this timeless and wonderfully powerful hymn. I love Anglican music and my version reflects that tradition of that great organ sound.

I originally recorded the track as part of a larger project. But I have decided to give it a brief, none commercial hearing, for now, during the ‘Coronavirus’ pandemic. 

May our Lord Jesus Christ guide you, and your spirit, as this East Wind continues to blow.

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