What can churches gain from reflecting on their history?

Stephen Kuhrt is Vicar of Christ Church, New Malden and has recently written an illustrated history of his church from its beginnings in the 1850s to 2006. He has also written two volumes on the stained glass windows at the church and their background, which can be found here and here. I asked him about this project and its relationship to the practicalities of ministry and mission within his church. 

IP: What factors made you want to investigate the history of your church?

SK: I have always loved history and been keen to integrate it with theology in the teaching at my church. Planning the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Christ Church, New Malden in December 2016 made me realise the potential of doing this in a way that was more focused on the history of the church itself. Surviving photographs, old church magazines and the memories of our older members all pointed to the potential of the project. Two previous histories of Christ Church existed, the first covering 1857-1952 and the second 1952-1982. Both, however, had significant limitations now able to be rectified through the much greater accessibility of source material through The British Newspaper Archive, online census records and the internet more generally.

The ease with which photos can now be scanned and reproduced was another key factor prompting the new history. But the most important motive was a desire for the current members of Christ Church to have a renewed appreciation of ‘the cloud of witnesses’ that had gone before us. Reflection on their legacy to the church and its strengths and weaknesses would, I hoped, play an important role in informing its future development. 

IP: Your history of the church sets its narrative within wider developments in the nation and Church of England. What are you trying to achieve by doing this?

SK: My hope was that by placing the history of Christ Church within its broader context, we could learn from the way that it had responded to the issues arising in each era.  Church magazines from as early as 1894 (preserved at the local history centre) and local newspapers from even earlier revealed much about the response of Christ Church to national issues. These included the Depression in the 1930s, the two World Wars and more fleeting episodes such as the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and the dangerous appendicitis of King Edward VII that delayed his coronation in the same year. All of this encouraged greater reflection upon making a Christian response to current events.

More specific to the Church of England, research revealed more about the church’s response to happenings such as the growth of Anglo-Catholic ritualism in the 1880s and 1890s, the Billy Graham ‘crusades’ in the 1950s, the development of ‘Keele evangelicalism’ from the 1960s and the ordination of women in the 1990s. Examining the local response made to these issues facilitated a greater appreciation of their nature and the contemporary application of this. Members of Christ Church who might otherwise have shown little interest in the history of the Church of England have been enabled to grasp the key developments within it over the last two hundred years and the impact of these upon the current nature of the national church.  

IP: How challenging was the research involved? 

SK: The most surprising element of the project was the vast amount of material that existed and how accessible most of this was. The popularity of postcards during the Edwardian era, for example, provided far more visual material than I had anticipated and it was extraordinary to discover the detail with which local newspapers (all available online through The BNA) covered funerals, the openings of new buildings and other events involving the church. The websites Ancestry and Find my Past provided valuable access to census, marriage and funeral records. Local historians couldn’t have been more helpful and generous in sharing their research, which in every case included material about the church.

Once word got out about the project, members of Christ Church and the locality provided visual and written material from the lives of their relatives. This included wedding photos going far back as the 1920s and some stunning pictures of Edwardian garden parties at the church. Research included attention to the various memorials and ten stained glass windows at Christ Church with an astonishing amount of information fairly easily discovered about the people associated with them. Googling the names of the soldiers remembered on plaques in the church, for instance, swiftly revealed photographs of two of them placed by their families on a website remembering those killed in the First World War. 

IP: Were there any discoveries that were surprising? 

There were plenty! These included the huge row that took place between the first Vicar of Christ Church, Charles Stirling in 1870 and his then Churchwarden, the author Frederick Merryweather, over Christ Church School and how this resulted in a breakaway church in New Malden. This was followed by the discovery of the same vicar’s public allegation in 1887 that W.E. Gladstone’s ‘heart and soul were devoted to the papacy’, leading to an equally public rebuttal of this by the four times Prime Minister. More happily, another discovery was the series of Christian novels written by the wife of the second Vicar of Christ Church, Jessie Challacombe, between 1897 and 1913. Copies of these were able to be purchased from antiquarian booksellers on the internet. Published by SPCK, chiefly to serve the strong demand for Sunday School Prizes during this era, these stories were a fascinating insight into the spirituality of evangelical Anglicanism during that period and its response to issues such as poverty, upper class decadence, illness and sudden death and the growing secularisation of Britain.

More was also discovered about Bryan Green, an influential curate at Christ Church, New Malden from 1924–28 who went on to have very significant ministries at Holy Trinity Brompton (1938–48), St Martin’s in the Bullring in Birmingham (1948–70) and through his development of international evangelistic missions. This led to much greater appreciation of the legacy of a man, largely forgotten today, but once described by Billy Graham as ‘the world’s leading evangelist’!  Just as valuable was the discovery of the stories of the ministries of lay members of the church such as a woman called Elizabeth Bunn, remembered by a stained glass window, who led the Sunday School at Christ Church from 1909-55, a remarkable 46 years!  

IP: You included quite a lot of theological reflection at the end of each volume. How can the history of a local church being used as a teaching resource?

Each era of the church’s history turned out to have very obvious characteristics, represented by the titles I gave to each volume. These characteristics invited consideration of the specific opportunities and threats faced by former generations of the church and evaluation of how they responded. This included wonderful examples of commitment and faith in the face of hardship and loss, particularly the sudden death of members. It also involved critical reflection on the angry responses made to the growth of Anglo-Catholicism in the Victorian age and the church’s subsequent retreat, during the Edwardian era, into a more insular pietism that then made it more difficult to respond to the horrors of the First World War. Sermons were preached on each of the church’s ten stained glass windows using the stories of the people they remembered, alongside their biblical imagery, to draw out their messages.

Time and again we were inspired by the stories of ordinary Christians seeking to serve and honour God, often in heartbreaking circumstances. During the Covid pandemic, like many churches, we recorded services for our members. This included burning an audio version onto CDs for older members, without access to the internet, to listen to. As a ‘bonus feature’ for these members, I included a chapter of a Jessie Challacombe novel each week, read by me and my teenage daughter. This proved extremely popular, especially with those who were isolated. One of the novels, Little Christopher’s Cross from 1898, about a young boy determined to live out the truth of his baptism, had a great deal to say to us as a church. Another from 1904 called Nell Garton, about a young Christian governess determined to witness to the non-Christian family for whom she worked, was equally inspiring.

The overall effect of the project was to make current members more appreciative of the legacy that we have received, the need to steward this faithfully and give greater consideration of what we are currently building for God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 3.10–15). In overall terms, it helped to foster a greater sense of identity in both Christ Church, New Malden and ‘the communion of saints’ ie. the church not just throughout the world but down the ages. As one member commented, it felt rather like the whole of Christ Church was appearing in an episode of the BBC TV series Who do you think you are? 

IP: What advice would you give to other churches interested in doing something similar with their history? 

There is an excellent Grove book by Neil Evans and John Maiden called What can Churches learn from their Past? The Parish History Audit which is well worth reading. The challenges are obviously greater for older churches because, generally speaking, the further a church’s history goes back the scarcer the source material becomes. However, certainly from the mid-Victorian age onwards, it is probably true that for most churches far more material exists than they realise, much of it available online. Local history centres, found in most towns, and local historians are, more often than not, both helpful and a mine of useful information. Once started, such a project is extraordinarily energising and exciting, with it having many of the characteristics of detective work.

Every church has an existing narrative about its past, often strongly underlying its identity. Once its history is examined afresh and new discoveries about its past emerge, this narrative starts to be amended, sometimes quite dramatically. This can be uncomfortable as well as inspiring but it is always instructive. Investigating afresh the story of those who have gone before us is a wonderful way of inspiring the contemporary church in our calling to proclaim afresh the gospel of Jesus Christ in our generation and the setting in which God has placed us.  

IP: Thank you Stephen—I hope this inspires many others to do something similar and also make some surprising discoveries!

Stephen Kuhrt is Vicar of the Parish of New Malden and Coombe in Southwark Diocese.

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38 thoughts on “What can churches gain from reflecting on their history?”

  1. Understanding a church’s history can also bring to light spiritual aspects which may have been covered up, but continue to affect the church adversely in the present. Praying about these in a very specific way can sometimes remove blocks to moving forward in mission.

  2. Very special memories of Canon Bryan Green (anyone would if they are a Brummie of a ‘certain’ age!) His pulpit was as much outside in the (old) Bull Ring, by the ‘bus stops, in the various markets and amongst the barrows and vendors. My school (George Dixon) supplied the choir and organist/choir master at St Martin in the Bull Ring, such that the link we had was doubly-special. As the Vicar of Birmingham, he brought gospel truth to countless thousands, with a simplicity and the gift of speaking amongst people as they were, not above or beyond them. His gifting was a true model of how to communicate, albeit that the media is now so different.

    • That’s great to hear Peter. I believe Bryan Green should be far more remembered. He started a Bible study group for teenagers here at Christ Church in 1924 called King’s Own which then ran for fifty years with hundreds, possibly thousands of young people passing through it, coming to faith and serving God in all sorts of amazing ways. His mission to New York in 1948 seems to have been hugely significant at the time as well. I’m interested in what you make of my section on him in Volume 3 on Christ Church between 1921-35. A lovely vicar called Alvin Birkett was a crucial part of encouraging Bryan Green – in the face of some congregation members who found the young curate’s preaching rather too challenging. He died at Thame – near to where my parents now live – in 1993

      • King’s Own was the name of the youth group to which I belonged at St Paul’sBeckenham in the late 1950s and was quite common I think in Rochester diocese. your comment makes me wonder whether Bryan Green initiated the name which then spread to other parishes -of whether he had seen it in other parishes.

        • Bryan Green originally wanted his group affiliated to Crusaders but formed Kings Own at Christ Church when Crusaders wouldn’t agree to him establishing a mixed rather than single-sex group. The title was, I think. deliberately militaristic in a way that people wouldn’t be attracted to now. As far as I know, it was a new name in 1924 but I guess it could have been copied – perhaps by people who had been part of the group in New Malden and then moved. When we had the 150th anniversary of Christ Church in December 2016 we had countless former members of King’s Own there – most of whom had belonged to it in the 1950s and 1960s. It had clearly had an enormous impact upon them.

          • “King’s Own” sounds pretty militaristic to me! A common name for regiments. Billy Graham called his ‘campaigns’ (oops) ‘crusades’ for many years. The word fell out of favour in the last 30 or 40 years as a revisionist history of the Crusades became ascendant and Muslim immigration increased.

  3. Great to see the value of local history given such prominence and support by Stephen Kuhrt. Too often the focus is entirely on people in the present, but the church is also the people in the place from previous generations. There’s so much to learn from engagement with the locality and its people. We too easily neglect the communion of saints in the past and the importance of remembering them in prayer with thankfulness, almost as though we can step over the past 1900 years.

    Bryan Green was a key figure in the background at Ridley Hall during my time there, alongside Charlie Moule. They had both been deeply influential on the life of the then Principal, Hugo de Waal who was Green’s curate in Birmingham. Moule was the theological inspiration for the place with his deep knowledge of the NT text and understated, slightly cautious conclusions; the other was the model for evangelism. Interestingly Green was a very early advocate of the remarriage of divorcees in church at a time when it was generally though to be clearly and unequivocally unbiblical and was seen as a dangerous modern trend after the second world war. So he placed himself in the open/liberal wing of evangelicalism and was regarded with suspicion by some.

    • This is precisely why I love doing such history – people keep telling you stuff you didn’t know. Bryan Green being an early advocate of the remarriage of those who were divorced was new to me.

      • Yes, he was willing to use his legal right to marry those who were qualified even though almost all clergy deeply disapproved, including Archbishop Fisher, who, it’s suspected, blocked his preferment. In the longer term Fisher was shown to be out of step with wider English society which was changing fast after 1945 and had a more liberal attitude that he did, and Green came to be seen as something of a trailblazer in some evangelical circles.

        • This is great stuff Tim. I’d assumed that Bryan Green like John Stott always wanted to stay a vicar but can now see why Geoffrey Fisher would have been concerned about him. Its a shame Green’s autobiography ‘Parson-Evangelist’ wasn’t completed before he died although Timothy Yates did a good job of collating it from Green’s surviving papers. Have you read it?

        • Tim, it is deeply distasteful and (far more importantly) without visible grounding to present the ill-defined word ‘liberal’ as equivalent to ‘preferable’. You present this as self evident, as though no argument were required.

          It is astonishing that you simply assume that every time ‘English society’ changes it must be doing so in a good direction. Where is the reasoning behind that? I cannot believe you even believe that principle itself.

          If divorce and remarriage of this nature is inescapable then how come it was for so many hundreds of years escaped? Is not what we see now more a case of opportunism against the face of a weakened tabu?

          Divorce and remarriage cements an irreconcilable, unhealable state.

          There may be other reasons why Bryan Green was not preferred, e.g. his points scoring nature (over Frank Buchman in his autobiography).

          He trailblazed to the brave new world of broken homes.

          • Just reread the section on Frank Buchman (pp 36-40 in the autobiography). It is quite frank but what are your precise objections to what Bryan Green said, Christopher?

          • Nothing. He is entirely right to speak plainly. He is not right, though, to air FB’s (perceived) dirty linen to everyone from his own subjective perspective without right of comeback. Which is why I use the term ‘points-scoring’.

          • Dear Christopher,
            Thank you for your response to my comment about Bryan Green. I’m sorry if you found what I wrote deeply distasteful. I don’t think I was endorsing every change in society (either in the past 60 years or in any other historical era) as automatically positive. But I do think that some changes can be recognised as such, sometime at the time and sometime only in retrospect. For example, Britain no longer executes those convicted of certain serious crimes. Some societies still do and the biblical evidence suggests that what we call capital punishment was permitted in ancient Israel, which was a very, very different social, cultural and political context. Perhaps if I was living in that context I would favour capital punishment, as Christian friends of mine living in other parts of the world do today. I simply can’t know what I would have thought if I had lived then. But in Britain we have decided not to execute people, partly because of some tragic cases in the post-war era such as Derek Bentley and Timothy Evans(!) Is that a bad development because it’s liberal? Personally I don’t think so but you may disagree.
            To come back to your point, as it happens I do think that the reform of the divorce laws has had some good effects, but also some deleterious ones as well. That’s how life is – a complex mixture of the predictable and unforeseen and we make the best judgement we can at the time, knowing that in 50, 100 or 200 years things may look very different and we may be glad about decisions or regret them. Which, to come back to Stephen Kuhrt’s article, is one of the reasons why good history is essential to help us to put present concerns into perspective and give us a due sense of modesty by helping us to recognise that views we take now may change over time and positions we consider certain today may look less so in the future. Or they may look more certain and or views may be vindicated.
            And I don’t think using the word liberal is problematic in itself, but if I was a little too casual in how I used I apologise; it’s not a negative but a descriptive word just as conservative is. But all those words (liberal, traditional, conservative, orthodox, to mention just a few,) can be problematic because they carry such a huge range of meanings which vary across time and from person to person, so what is a positive association for one might be very negative for another.
            But again, thanks for your thoughts.

          • Thanks, Tim.
            You are not distinguishing between (1) some good effects and some bad, and (2) the good and the bad being equal in quantity. But even if one were 99% and one were 1% of the quantity, one could still say ‘some good effects and some bad’. Conclusion: ‘Some good effects and some bad’ is almost meaningless without comparing the two quantities with one another, and even more so when we are dealing with a large scale.

            Judith Wallenstein has a peculiarly entitled book ‘The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce’ giving the statistical data. For ‘unexpected’ read ‘expected and confirmed’. It is of course pure hell for children, but also equally pure hell for the abandoned spouse of which there is one 75% of the time. And just as bad for the soul of the deserter. There are many sins but few where the sin is, unbelievably, reinforced and confirmed for all time without mending. Even on a deathbed.

            But in fact I cannot think of any advantages anyway, whereas the disadvantages are colossal. If ‘d******’ were calculated to be a necessary evil, that would not be an advantage but still some kind of deficit.

            The law ‘reforms’ (lol) were part of the tranche of laws brought in by Roy Jenkins who had himself a compromised lifestyle which made his conscience unable to feel the degree of evil.

            If you allow low standards and evils you thereby normalise them. This has been shown time and again. And the human cost is incalculable by comparison with what it would have been if high standards had been inculcated as normal (together with protective tabus if necessary). Any habits undertaken early are easy to keep.

            On capital punishment, I agree it is a complex question and I am personally against it precisely because I believe that it is never too late for repentance.

  4. Interesting Church Times article on how the Great War changed the life and witness of the Church of England

    The Great War in general, and the Battle of the Somme in particular, made an impact on the life and witness of the Church in two significant ways. One of these concerned the eucharist … Some British soldiers in France began to derive great comfort from the eucharist: we know, for example, that, as they contemplated the possibility of death or disfigurement, the words of administration from the 1662 Prayer Book started to mean much to them: “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.”

    Something similar happened on the Home Front: reservation of the Blessed Sacrament increased greatly during this period, so that communion could be administered in a hurry to the sick, dying, and those injured in air raids. Significantly, more and more lay people, suffering from unparalleled stress, found solace in the peace and stillness that arises in places where the sacrament is reserved, and this came to be used and appreciated as an aid to prayer and devotion ….

    The second impact arose from the fact that the Battle of the Somme saw unparalleled casualties. This was the moment, I believe, for many people when patterns of mourning which had their origins in the Reformation finally broke down. For Evangelical Anglicans, not praying for the dead had been an article of faith: they associated it with late-medieval abuses, and it appeared to them unnecessary. They would pray for those who were unwell, but not once they had died …

    Anglo-Catholics understood this not as some sort of bribe to persuade God to squeeze into heaven someone who would otherwise have gone to hell, but rather as a loving and prayerful way of supporting a departed brother or sister who was undergoing purification and healing after death, before attaining the Beatific Vision.

    As the casualties mounted on the Somme in 1916, many Anglicans started to feel that the practice of deliberately not praying for the dead was inadequate … It was known that Anglo-Catholics prayed for the dead, and such prayers began to spread into other parishes.

    Although the average middle-of-the-road parish would not have referred to a service as a requiem mass, nevertheless they began praying for the dead at communion services, and also at matins and evensong. In 1917, the Church of England recognised this trend by issuing official forms of liturgy, containing explicit prayers for the dead.


    • One can make mistakes in order to appear compassionate if one does not have the correct theology. It is happening in the Church of England today, and you have provided an earlier example.

      Whether an individual’s final destination is the lake of fire or the New Jerusalem (‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are potentially confusing words) is settled at the moment of their death (2 Corinthians 5:10 in conjunction with Hebrews 9:27). Prayer of others after someone has died can make no difference to that. The Bible is fairly vague about the immediate afterlife, and the scenario upon which your advocacy of such prayer is based – Purgatory – cannot be derived from scripture. Given that scripture is the only source of reliable information about what happens after death, it is irresponsible for the church to advocate such prayer.

      • Anton, there’s a difference between returning to the orthodox, scriptural practices of the early Church regarding a “particular judgement” after death and being “purged” of imperfection before being in God’s presence, and departing from both in the approval of immoral and unscriptural sexual practices.

        Trust you agree.

        • I’m not going to use your categories, but all Christians must agree that when believers undergo bodily death they are not fully perfected, and that the process must somehow be taken through to its conclusion after that.

          It is in the details of that change that we disagree.

          • @ Anton

            Anton, there seem to be different ‘models’ of purgatory/purification based on ways of understanding its primary purpose. On one end of the spectrum is the ‘satisfaction model’, which understands purgatory as punishment for sins for which adequate penance was not done in this life. On the other end of the spectrum is the ‘sanctification model’, which understands purgatory as a matter of completing the process of moral and spiritual transformation. Other models include elements of both satisfaction and sanctification.

            ‘OthodoxWiki’ has a good overview of Eastern Orthodox beliefs and its history. The article also contains a brief outline of Catholic teaching..
            HJ was surprised at the divergence of Orthodox beliefs on this subject. It’s worth a read.


      • Anton,
        This was always a tricky one for Anglo-Catholics, as Article XXII condemned ‘the Romish doctrine concerning purgatory’. I learned in communication with the late Ron Smith of New Zealand (but a curate at All Saints, Margaret Street in his younger days) that Anglo-Catholics taught that when Jesus told the ‘good thief’, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’, ‘paradise’ referred not to heaven but to a pleasant garden-like place of spiritual improvement where the spiritually underdeveloped Christian learned, in the presence of Christ, the ways of heaven. So the Catholics think of Purgatory as a harsh boot camp (or maybe just a continuation of the Christian Brothers’ schools – Jack knows what I’m talking about!), while Anglo-Catholics think of Paradise as a repeat year at one of the better English public schools.

        • James, HJ is very familiar with the views and opinions of the late Ron Smith of New Zealand, having engaged with him on several occasions on weblogs. Let
          just say, he had a poor understanding of actual Catholic teaching.

          So far as the Good Thief is concerned, it is impossible to know whether or not he went straight to heaven. An issue is that the Greek manuscripts did not contain punctuation. So did Jesus say to him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” or “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.” Punctuation makes a big difference.

          Did “paradise” means Heaven? Did it refer to the abode of the dead for the righteous, the ‘Bosom of Abraham’? In the latter case, the ‘Gates of Heaven’ would not have been opened until the resurrection.

          When Catholics speak of the souls of the just in purgatory we mean those that leave the body in a state of sanctifying grace and are destined to enter Heaven. However, before appearing before God, they need to be cleansed of all imperfections.

          So neither a “boot camp”, nor a “green and pleasant land”!

          The Church doesn’t teach purgatory is a place or a space in which souls are cleansed. She has never given a definite answer to this question. Rather, today it is more common to speak of a state or condition in which souls undergo purification; an interim state for the dead undergoing purifying by “flames.

          • Surely, HJ, the issue with what Jesus said to the thief is a matter of Relevance not punctuation. What could Jesus (or anyone) mean by saying ‘I say to you today [X]’?

          • HJ was never good at grammar at school, James! All those adverbs, verbs and what not!

            So it is a scriptural basis for belief that our souls after bodily death have a conscious existence and there is a particular judgement before the Second Coming?

          • I thought Jesus was punished for our sins? In which case why would people still be punished as part of some sort of purification process?

            I disagree with the whole idea of purgatory regardless of how one understands it. The clear impression given by Paul is when you are saved and are physically resurrected, you are ‘changed’ completely. Given that Paul believed that either that would happen some time after death or at the return of Jesus to earth whilst you are still alive, the latter implies there is no need for a purification process as it will happen immediately. If it happens immediately for those who have not died before Jesus’ return, then why would it need some sort of purification for those who have been long dead?

            It makes no sense.

        • @ Geoff

          Indeed. But is righteousness imputed or infused? Are our sinful natures ‘covered’ by Christ’s sacrifice through faith, or does faith and grace begin a process of sanctification in us?

          • Jack, it’s both … and, not either … or. But, strictly speaking, ‘faith’ doesn’t sanctify us, only Christ does. Faith is how we receive his grace.
            But as for Luke 23.42, it is highly unlikely that ‘semeron’ goes with ‘lego’ rather than ‘ese’ ‘you will be’. ‘amen soi lego’ is found over 70 times in the NT and it stands alone. Murray J. Harris says the position of the adverb makes it clear it goes with the second verb.

          • @ Geoff and James

            It’s the concept of “forensic justification” of Luther’s theology and the “total depravity” – “irresistible grace” of Calvin’s, that HJ was pointing to.

            In predicating his theology entirely on God’s sovereignty (Calvin), or on God’s mercy (Luther), these Reformers overlooked the reality that love calls for a free response. Jesus will not simply overwhelm us with His grace irrespective of our genuine cooperation, (Calvin), or ignore our sins (Luther).

            Neither theology has a place for post-death purification/purgation.

          • HJ,
            From Anglican Sam Allberry, with reference to 39 articles and scripture, Lloyd-Jones, and more.
            There is no scriptural support for RC post death purification of sin. That is unbelief in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, the empty tomb, bodily resurrection and ascension. The cross and resurrection are two sides of the one coin of Justification.
            But, this draws to an end any engagement with HJ, on this topic in this comment section, as it tangential to Stephen Kuhrt’s article and consequently diminishes it if it takes attention away from his substantial project.

          • @ Geoff

            “There is no scriptural support for RC post death purification of sin.”
            In fact, there is.

            “That is unbelief in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, the empty tomb, bodily resurrection and ascension.”
            No, it isn’t.

            “But, this draws to an end any engagement with HJ, on this topic … “
            Fine, but you mustn’t cling to misrepresentations/misunderstandings of Catholic/Orthodox on this teaching! There are Protestant’s now who accept the necessity of a final cleansing/purification after death.

  5. This is all very interesting of an individual church’s history.
    I wonder if there were periods of declension and if so what were the steps to recovery?
    In church history there are numerous incidents of declension, just as there were in the Bible both old and new testaments in church, state and individuals.
    What can we learn from these periods? What are the features of declension in individuals and church?
    The obvious one is apostasy [Lit. a falling away] from the word of God, a decline in hunger and thirst for righteousness. Backsliding, a cooling of devotion to God “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
    Does even the slightest breach of God’s law bleed your heart, and drives you to God for forgiveness? Your answer would indicate whether or not you have the signs of spiritual decay.
    What is the remedy?
    Scriptures also teach and warn us of the reality that believers could and can decay spiritually. One of the most pathetic and frightening examples is the church of Sardis depicted in the book of Revelation.
    Jesus Christ sent an urgent message to that church saying, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die… etc.” [Rev 3:1-2, NIV].
    Or Paul “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall reap the spirit of eternal life.
    Or the Prophets ““Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him, ‘take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously.’” And a promise is bound up in that exhortation – “I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely.” [Hosea 14:1-2, 4b]
    The church/member is meant to flourish
    The righteous man will flourish like a palm tree,
    he will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
    Planted in the house of God,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
    They will yield fruit in old age;
    they shall be full of sap and very green,
    to declare that the Lord is upright.
    He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him”
    [Ps. 92:12-15]


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