Are independent Churches in the New Testament?

The English word ‘Church’ has come to mean a lot of things to a lot of people. The most common is a building, a place of worship, of bricks and mortar, history, structures and things. The original English word however is derived from the Greek adjective Kyriakos meaning ‘the Lord’s House’.

Church in the New Testament however is from the Greek Ekklesia, meaning Congregation. Tyndale’s 1526 and 1534 Translations immediately spring to mind here. For Tyndale, the Christian Church was never a building or a hierarchy of bishops, popes and prelates, but a collective of equal souls, united in faith and bound together through the Bible. This concept is entirely Biblical, and even though the early New Testament Church did not have the entire Canon of Scripture, they had the Apostles teaching.

For them, the Ekklesia, was not merely a gentile thing, but was known and lived among the Jews.

While there certainly were many ‘Churches’ scattered throughout the cities of the New Testament, most, if not all of them were house Churches. I have visited many ancient sites throughout the Biblical lands and a majority of early ‘Church’ buildings were constructed centuries later. Despite this, the New Testament recognises there is only one Church. The modern ideas of pulling out of one Church and setting up your own is alien to the New Testament. Likewise, the idea of popery and one man leadership is unknown. What we see is a plurality of elders and deacons and a collective of equal souls.

In the New Testament, whether a Church be in Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus or Rome, it saw itself as one body. It was a heavenly reality, being built in this world and on this earth, where Jesus Christ is exalted at the right hand of the Father and in the midst of the Church (Hebrews 2: 12) and is head over her (Ephesians 1: 20-23)

Today however, because of false teachers and false doctrine, divisions are as common as muck. Because of circumstances, historic divisions, tribalism, the idea of one Church (in a context) simply does not work. I say this because no person who actually believes the Bible and knows that truth, can abide with a fake unity that excludes truth. As though right doctrine can be set aside, and categorised as unimportant in the cause of unifying people. It really doesn’t work!

But in Acts 21: 20, when they heard they glorified the Lord and many thousands of people believed. Other Churches grew and when Peter wrote his epistles, Churches had scattered to the south coast of Black Sea, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Peter 1: 1) and this is in the context of persecution.

Thankfully, in England, we do not have any set persecution. Individuals may seek to undermine the faith and push down conservative values, but that will get them nowhere in the long run. A democratic society must be founded on freedom of conscience, belief and speech, otherwise we are not a democracy. So long as Christians do not attempt to force their beliefs on others, we are free to maintain them. If anyone seeks to force their beliefs and ethics upon us, they are guilty of doing what they condemn others of. Simply let them do their worst and their own extremist mindsets will expose their deeds.

This is actually quite a picture of the Church in the New Testament. Believers lived their lives, had families, met together, and the world did what the world always does. The New Testament Church never persecuted anyone, but visa versa. When read in this context, Romans 13: 1-7 makes perfect sense. The Church influences society, and works with the governments, but does not not rule them.

This is where todays independent Churches have got it right. However, I have come to understand that the idea of independent churches is unknown to the New Testament. Christ did not say I will build my churches but “I will build My Church…” (Matthew 16: 18). New Testament Churches may well have been established in various cities, but they were still part of one Church.

Thus, to answer my question, are independent Churches in the New Testament? My answer is no. But again, that is just my opinion.

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Relics of Deane Church and Peel Chapel found!

Recently I had the honour of finding two historic relics connected to the ancient Parish Church of Deane. These wooden artefacts are mysterious and contain distinct wood carvings and contain the dates 1632 and 1760.

But what could they be? Well, as the picture shows they appear to be designed as frames to display items. This implies the intention behind these designs may well have been to hold objects of historic or cultural significance. Another possibility is that they were designed to hold family portraits and wood from two buildings that have survived the passage of time.

When these relics were brought to my attention, I recognised the reference to Deane Church. I immediately contacted Lee Higson (CVM, Lay minister C of E) and local Church historian Eric Morgan. Upon viewing the second relic I recognised a link. The reference to Peel Chapel implied these relics were artefacts preserved from internal structures and a building that has long disappeared. Peel Chapel was built in 1760 and demolished in 1874, and was a daughter Church of Deane.

The artefacts read:

Relic of Deane Church 1632

Relic of Peel Chapel 1760

The word relic is an interesting one and can have multiple meanings. The most common usage refers to venerated items of a saint. The church of Rome for example has many examples of relics allegedly connected to passages of Scripture or the lives of saints. In that context they are generally regarded as First, Second or Third Class Relics. Another usage is Contact Relics. However, I do not believe these items have anything to do with these classes or distinctions.

I believe these artefacts are what is known as Cultural Relics. This means the items are part of something that has long disappeared. They are basically keep sakes, recycled from historic structures of Deane Church and Peel Chapel.

These finds are thrilling and a special moment for any historian or history fanatic. For me, finding these relics was an extra special delight since Deane Church is the ancient place of worship once attended by George Marsh (1515-1555). As a Curate, Marsh ministered in this very Church, and is also the subject of a historical biographical documentary I released in 2014. Although there is no evidence the relics relate to Marsh, a 17th century Puritan link is possible.

Bolton and Deane was known historically as the Geneva of Lancashire and the tradition that 17th century Puritans would often get together and read the letters of George Marsh is widely established. These meetings are said to have taken place around the Noon Hill, Rivington Moor area. It should be noted that 1632 (the date on the relic) was the date when Charles 1 issued a charter for the colony of Maryland and 1620-1640 is the official timeframe for the Puritan Migration to New England. Maybe the first of the two relics are connected to structures or pews once used by Puritans in Deane Church?

These relics have now been returned back to the C of E. But what these relics are is a matter for research and discussion. How they will contribute to the history of Deane Church and Peel Chapel remains to be seen.

What can be certain is that finds like these can inspire hope that there is a future within the Church of England.

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How William Tyndale’s influence has guided the Church of England for centuries

Central London and her city is packed with history and it was there, in 1537, where the English Bible was first printed. An early copy, dated 1537, in the John Rylands Library locates the printing at St Thomas Hospital, Southwark. This was a Bible known as the Coverdale Bible and the New Testament was based on Tyndale’s translation.

Tyndale had left London in 1525 but his influence was never far gone. From 1525, and 1526, Tyndale’s New Testament would be smuggled into London along the Thames. His 1534 translation would prove to be his finest edition. It too made it’s way back into London and would prove to influence the Church in England for hundreds of years to come. This was made possible by the the publishing of the 1535-37 Coverdale Bible. This was eventually commissioned by Henry V111 and Coverdale’s translation of the Psalms would also feature in the Book of Common Prayer for many centuries to come. It is an important bed rock in the unity and doctrine of the Anglican communion.

Throughout the 1549, 1552, and 1562 versions of the Book of Common Prayer, it is not difficult to read the influence of Tyndale’s unmistakable New Testament translation. This influence progressed through the inclusion of the King James Version.

Research reveals that 84% of the New Testament in the AV is the work of Tyndale. These passages were printed word for word in the Book of Common Prayer and guided Christians throughout the year and the seasons of the calendar.

A number of these passages have been posted on my The Life and Teachings of William Tyndale facebook page. Here is one example.

Every good gift, and every perfect gift, is from above and cometh down from the father of light, with whom is no variableness, neither is he changed unto darkness. Of his own will begat he us with the word of life, that we should be the first fruits of his creatures. Wherefore dear brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. For the wrath of man worketh not that which is righteous before God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness, all superfluity of maliciousness, and receive with meekness the word that is grafted in you, which is able to save your souls.”

Tyndale’s New Testament, 1534
The Epistle of St James
Chapter One

Compare this with the reading for the Fourth Sunday After Easter, from the Book of Common Prayer and see for yourself. This book has been such a blessing to me and has helped guide me during the Coronavirus lockdowns, and also many more Christians both in and beyond the Anglican communion.

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The Sudarium of John 20: 7

One of the two Scripture readings from the Book of Common Prayer for today (Easter Day) is John 20: 1-10. In this passage John gave his account of the first day of the week where Mary Magdalene saw how the stone had been rolled away from the tomb of Christ and she ran to Simon Peter and the disciple Jesus loved to tell them “They have taken away the Lord from out of the sepulchre“.

In the passage from the BCP it is not difficult to hear Tyndale’s unmistakeable 16th century translation work. And if we look back centuries earlier, we can read Wycliffe’s 14th century translation, yet with a difference.

In verse 7 of the same passage, the 1388 Wycliffe translation makes reference to an English translation of a Latin word. This six letter word is “sudary” from the Latin Vulgate’s “Sudarium”.

The Sudarium is believed to be a bloodstained piece of cloth that was wrapped around the head of Christ after His death. Many learned people who believe the Shroud of Turin is the actual burial cloth of Christ also believe the Sudarium is a match.

The Wycliffe translation puts it this way;

And in one day of the week, Mary Magdalele came early to the grave when it was yet dark. And she saw the stone moved away from the grave. Therefore she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to another disciple whom Jesus loved, and says to them, They have taken the Lord from the grave, and we wit not where they have laid Him! Therefore Peter went out and the ilk other disciple, and they came to the grave. And they twain ran together, and the ilk other disciple ran before Peter and came first to the grave. And when he stooped, he saw the sheets lying. Netheless, he entered not. Therefore Simon Peter came suing him, and he entered into the grave and he saw the sheets laid, and the sudary that was on His head, not laid with the sheets, but by itself lapped into a place. Therefore then, the ilk disciple that came first to the grave, entered and saw, and believed. For they knew not yet the Scripture that it behoved Him to rise again from death. Therefore the disciples went eftsoon to themselves.”

The Wycliffe New Testament 1388. The Gospel of John, Chapter XX

Today a Sudarium is in Oviedo, Spain. Opinion differs as to the authenticity, but it is the responsibility of each individual to weigh the evidences and make a decision. But whatever a person decides, the resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be ignored.

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The Day Thou Gavest Lord is Ended

Dear all,

my mother Joyce Sutherland went home to be with the Lord on February 17. I have dedicated this precious hymn to her. Joyce was a wonderful mother to me and all her children. I will never forget her and I will honour her memory and legacy for as long as I live.

Joyce Sutherland was not only my mother, but was a singer who worked with me from my earliest days and until the final moments. In the 1960’s Joyce and my father met Johnny Cash in Manchester. In 1991, Joyce met Johnny Cash once again, only this time, with me. She was loved by everyone she knew. Joyce had seven children and after the death of my father, spent her remaining years serving her family, friends and everyone she met with kindness, love and friendship.

Joyce became a Christian in 1972 after an experience with Christ that she told repeatedly throughout her life. I was the first born after she became a Christian. Joyce sang with me on most of my recordings and appeared in my live concerts, the last few being the UK’s only Bob Dylan Festival.

Joyce Sutherland’s story will be told.

This wonderful Anglican hymn was written by John Ellerton in 1888 while walking home from his Church in Cheshire. The lyrics are set to the tune of St Clement. The hymn is a national favourite and has become a theme song for me and I have used it in every documentary I have made. When I was in Paphos, filming my first documentary, I asked the Lord what music He wanted me to use for my documentary and immediately the brass band behind me broke into that tune. When I arrived back in England I hummed the tune, as I do in the recording, and asked my mother what the hymn was, and she said she knew it and sang it to me. I have used this hymn ever since and I will use it again. I have dedicated this version to Joyce and I hope it is a blessing to you.

Joyce Sutherland passed away peacefully in her sleep.

“Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust. From dust we came and to dust we shall return.”

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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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