Statement of Faith
We believe, as Christians, that we are all known and made and loved by God (Psalm 139.1-6). We believe this because God has invited us into a loving relationship with him, graciously making it possible for us to respond to his love and to grow into a deeper and deeper relationship with him. The Church celebrates and expresses this relationship in worship and adoration of God. Irenaeus, a leader of the Church in Gaul in the second century, described what the relationship, at its best, should be: ‘The glory of God is a living human being; and the life of humanity consists in beholding God.’ (Against the Heresies IV.34.5-7) An important part of the tradition of the Christian faith has been the striving of believers to understand the ways in which God makes it possible for us to meet him.
Christians believe that throughout history, God has been calling people to love and worship him as part of a family that extends across the world. This is one reason Christians often speak of God as Father. The Bible is a record of the ways that God has called and kept faith with men and women. Through the books of the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament, we discover that human beings have not always kept faith with God or responded to God in love. Again and again, we read of how they turned away and came back.
One story that has come to define the way that human beings relate to God, is the account of Adam and Eve in Genesis, the very first book of the Old Testament. Here, we read of Adam and Eve, entrusted with the beauty of a newly created world, but tempted to disobey God’s instructions for living in that world (Genesis Chapters 1-4). Adam and Eve have, over the course of Christian history, occupied a symbolic role. Their disobedience has come to be known as sin, and though God does not stop loving the perpetrators, the original bond of trust has been broken and the loving relationship destroyed.
Christians believe that God restored this broken relationship by entering history at a particular time and by taking on human form and identity as Jesus, the Son of God. Paul, one of the first Christian leaders, understood Jesus as the second Adam, the one who reverses the effects of Adam and Eve’s disobedience (1 Corinthians 15.22).
Our relationship with God is made real through Jesus, who came to share our lives as God’s Son, and knew what it is to be born as a human being, to live a human life, and to die a human death on the cross. The books of the part of the Bible known as the New Testament tell the story of Jesus. We learn of his life, teaching and miracles, his death, resurrection and ascension from the four Gospels. We hear of the very earliest beginnings of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles. And in the letters of Saint Paul, we read powerful accounts of how early Christian communities came to faith and worked out what it meant to live as people who had committed their lives to serving the God made known in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus came to call God’s people back to the love and obedience that they had abandoned in pursuing their own selfish interests. In his teaching, he spoke of the disordered behaviour that belongs under the heading of ‘sin’ – the distortions of the heart and will that lead to violence, deceit, abuse of power, contempt for others and the exploitation of our world. He willingly gave up his own life to a violent and unjustifiable death in order to save humanity from the consequences of its tendency to turn away from God and live as if God did not exist.
The question of why Jesus had to die continues to challenge Christians, but we believe that his death restored the loving relationship between human beings and God, putting right all that had gone wrong. Christians believe that something so world-changing is beyond the power of human beings themselves. It is God who takes the initiative and restores the relationship. This is why Christians dare to talk about the glory of the cross – an instrument of torture – for here they see God working in Jesus’ death to reconcile the world to himself. Jesus is not another random victim: he is the beloved Son, filled with God’s own Spirit, giving himself up to death for human beings. No one else could have offered their own life in this way. We trust God to treat us as individuals who are capable of being restored to full relationship with him because he is ready to see us through the lens of Jesus’s perfect life. A 19th-century hymn puts our hope in this way:
Look, Father, look on his anointed face,
And only look on us as found in him. . . .
For lo, between our sins and their reward,
We set the passion of thy Son, our Lord.
This was not the end of the story, for death had no power over the perfect relationship of love between Jesus and the Father. When God raised Jesus from the dead three days after he had been crucified, it was both a personal vindication of his Son and a total victory over death, won for the world Jesus loved and came to save. As he had shared our death, so he promised that we would share the new kind of life that rose with him from the grave. That promise is the Christian hope, which Jesus had already begun to describe to his closest followers during his life on earth. He told them that he and the Father were one (John 15-17), and that he longed to draw them into that unity. It was, he said, like a vine, which is tended by a gardener, and pruned regularly so that it bears better fruit. In this picture, Jesus is the vine, the Father is the gardener, and we are the branches (John 15). But because our earthly existence is finite, this picture of unity is not to be grasped immediately.
Christians believe that God continues to work today, restoring relationships and freeing people to worship God and love those around them through the work of the Holy Spirit. To encourage us and keep us hopeful and certain of the presence of God with us, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be our comforter and inspiration when he returned to the Father. The Greek word that describes the Spirit means advocate, someone who pleads our cause. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us to walk with us, guide us and stand up for us. God lives in us through the Spirit, and through the inner promptings of the Spirit we find a language in which to communicate with God. This is the beginning of a desire to pray (Romans 8.24-28). The outward signs of the Spirit working in the individual are described by St Paul as ‘fruits’ (Galatians 5.22-23). They are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, and they are seen in the way we treat other people and the world we share.
Christians believe in a God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe in a God whose love is creative, sacrificial and life-giving. While we long for our whole lives to reflect God’s love, we especially celebrate God’s love when we gather to worship. In baptism we joyfully welcome others into God’s world-wide family. In the Eucharist we give thanks to God for all that Jesus has done for us and rejoice in the new relationship with God that his death and resurrection have made possible. In our daily prayers to God, we ask the Holy Spirit to be with us, that we might know God’s loving presence in our lives each and every day
We believe that, in a way beyond human understanding, God will gather those who accept the marvellous gift of salvation into a relationship where we may meet him face to face.
Many difficult questions arise out of this statement of what we believe. Some that occur to you might be:
- How can one God be known as Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
- Do we have to use exclusively male language for God?
- Why did Jesus have to die?
- If his death really does set us right with God, why do people go on sinning? Why are there still wars, abuse, murder, theft, exploitation, and petty nastiness?
- Why do innocent people suffer?
- What happens when we die?
- How do I start to read the Bible?
These questions have preoccupied scholars throughout the history of Christianity. Here are some books that you might like to explore:
- Jeff Astley Christ of the Everyday (SPCK, 2007)
- Jeff Astley SCM Studyguide: Christian Doctrine (SCM, 2010)
- Mark Chapman Anglicanism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2006)
- Martin Davie A Guide to the Church of England (Mowbray, 2008)
- John Drane Introducing the Bible 2nd edition (Fortress Press, 2011)
- Robin Gill Why does God allow suffering? (SPCK, 2015)
- Paula Gooder Where on earth is heaven? (SPCK, 2015)
- Tim Keller The Reason for God (Hodder & Stoughton, 2009)
- John Lennox. 7 Days that divide the world (Zondervan, 2011)
- Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target: A Critique of the New Atheism (Zondervan, 2011)
- C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity (William Collins, 2016)
- Mike Lloyd. Café Theology (Alpha, 2005)
- Gail Ramshaw Liturgical Language; Keeping it Metaphoric, Making it Inclusive (Liturgical Press, 1996)
- John Riches The Bible : A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2000)
- John Stott Basic Christianity (IVP, 2013)
- Keith Ward What do we mean by ‘God’? (SPCK, 2015)
- Rowan Williams Being Christian (SPCK, 2014) (includes material on baptism and the eucharist)
- Rowan Williams What is Christianity? (SPCK, 2015)
- Tom Wright. Simply Good News: Why the gospel is news and what makes it good. (SPCK, 2015)
- Tom Wright Simply Jesus (SPCK, 2011)
- Tom Wright Simply Christian (SPCK, 2011)
- Tom Wright Surprised by Hope (SPCK, 2011)
- Phillip Yancey. What's so amazing about grace? (Zondervan, 1997)