“Thoughtful men all around us are crying out for a better Europe after the war”

The Bishop of Oxford wrote to churchgoers across the Diocese prior to the launch of the National Mission.

The Bishop’s Letter

Cuddesdon,
Aug. 21, 1916

My Brethren,

This letter is written to help to prepare you for the National Mission of Repentence and Hope which is to be held throughout the country and in this diocese and in your own parish this autumn.

I hope this terrible war is making everyone of us think. I can hardly tell you how deeply I feel that we need to think, lest it be said of us as of Israel of Old, “Israel doth not know; my people doth not consider.” The awful spectacle of the nations of Europe occupied with disastrous effect, month after month and year after year, in destroying one another on the battlefields, has not come about through the will of God or in accordance with the principles of our religion. It has come about because our boasted civilization had ignored God and forgotten Christ.

Thoughtful men all around us are crying out for a better Europe after the war, in which the nations shall not destroy one another but help one another as fellow members of the common human family, and for a better England, in which individuals and classes shall out the common good above their own interests. And they are crying out for a better church. Indeed, when we think of the church which is commissioned to represent Jesus Christ among us, we are ashamed at the weakness of its moral witness and influence; at the abuses and neglects which it tolerates; at the divisions of Christians among themselves; at the neglect of the word God and of Sunday, and of the Holy Communion which our Lord instituted to bind us to Him and to one another.

What has cheered us in this terrible time is the splendour of the sacrifice so willingly made by multitudes both men and women who have given themselves to help their country, and especially by those, our soldiers and sailors and airmen, who have given their lives for us. We pray from our hearts that this tremendous sacrifice may not be in vain. But it will be in vain unless we will be at pains to think what God is calling us to through this awful visitation.

We hear and know that some of our men on the battlefields and in the hospitals are feeling, as they have never felt it before, the need of religion and the call of Christ. But we tremble when we ask ourselves whether their new aspirations will be strengthened and encouraged in their homes or among their comrades when they get back to England.

Many are crying out for this reform or that reform in the church or the nation or the relation of nations to one another. But no particular reforms are enough. We must go back to the root of things and ask what is the will of God, what is the meaning of the religion of Jesus Christ our Master.

He was not a Teacher who spoke difficult words which only the learned could understand. He spoke words of divine authority which all can understand – a Gospel about God and His mind toward us; about our human nature and its possibilities; about sin and redemption and heaven and hell. He offered the awful sacrifice of Calvary to redeem us. He founded His Church, and instituted His holy sacraments to bind us together in one fellowship, for our own redemption and that we may work together with Him for the redemption of the world through sacrifice.

The national Mission is a call to you to think about the real meaning of all this afresh, as if you had never heard it before. We have suffered the deadening effect of routine and custom. We have made the commandment of God of none effect by our tradition. I claim you, all alike, that you should listen afresh to the message of God, and to the meaning of the great salvation.

Most of us clergy have been in solemn retreat together in order to make a fresh start ourselves. I hope you will pray for us that we may be in future better minsters of Jesusu Christ. But we call on you to join us in repentance. We call you solemnly to think again about the Majesty of God, and His purpose for us all. In such common thought and repentance is the only ground of hope, for ourselves, for our church and for our nation.

Believe me to be
Your faithful pastor,
C. Oxon.

Letter from the Bishop of Oxford, published in Wargrave parish magazine October 1916 (D/P145/28A/31) and Earley parish magazine, September 1916 (D/P191/28A/31/8)

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