The war’s challenges for the church

The Bishop of Oxford had a message for churchgoers in September 1914 in support of the war:

Our thoughts, prayers and cares are all converted into one channel by the tremendous war. We are called to live through one of the great moments of history. A war of nations on so vast a scale, vaster than anything yet known in history, must in its issue involve tremendously deep social, as well as political, changes, at home as well as abroad. It challenges us, therefore, as the Church of Christ in manifold ways. I believe that we are nearly unanimous in feeling that our country could not have remained neutral; and no doubt, therefore, the primary challenge which the war makes to us is to be instant in prayer so that by our prayers we may effectively support our country, further the efforts of the allies on the terrible road to victory, and bring comfort to the wounded, the sick, the desolate, and peace to those who fall in battle. Let the Church show that it really believes that prayer does work and liberates the hand of God to act…

But besides this there is another challenge which the war addresses to us which it is perhaps not so easy to meet. If we believe that God’s “never failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth” (and there are no words which will be more constantly in our minds than these) then we must expect that, as the outcome of the war, new and yet unforeseen duties will be laid upon us. There will be now, if ever, need for the prophetic spirit in the church to interpret the mind and purpose of God. God is doubtless making a quite fresh claim upon us to bring our private and social life into harmony with Him and into submission to His Will. The war will engender a new spirit of seriousness, and there will be many more than usual ready to listen to the message of God…

Or again, will not this tremendous crisis infuse into our faith a fresh seriousness? We have been getting lamentably vague in our religious convictions…Can we not rise in this great crisis to a belief in our Creed which will make us study it more deeply and dare more and do more for it?

Once again, there is so much in our private and social life that is rotten and hollow. There is a vast amount of sexual uncleanness indulged in, ignored and half tolerated. There has been a lamentably excessive love of pleasure and luxury: an inveterate “love of money” which “is a root of all kinds of evil”; a widespread shallowness in thinking and feeling; a growing bitterness in class relations. Now there is upon us a claim, an urgent claim, for a repentance both individual and national. God has a great and as yet undisclosed purpose for us. Whether we shall be worthy to know it, and then whether we shall have courage to follow it, will depend upon the number of men and women who recognise in their heart of hearts the necessity for a return to God.

Printed in Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, October 1914 (D/P120/28A/14)

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