1 Corinthians 3:9-14
All Saints Chapel
Church Divinity School of the Pacific
October 16, 2012
Dr. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski
“For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor 3:9)
On October 6, 1555 the former bishops of Worcester and London, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, were executed by burning at the stake in Oxford.
Latimer and Ridley were tireless advocates of the Protestant Reformation as it unfolded in England.
They had worked diligently in advancing it during the reigns of both Henry VIII and Edward VI.
They stood for the great Reformation principles of Scripture, preaching, and worship in the language of the people.
And they died as staunch defenders of Protestantism, defying Queen Mary’s efforts to re-establish Roman Catholicism in England.
In Oxford there stands the Martyr’s Memorial to commemorate Latimer, Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer.
The history of this monument matters.
In the 1850s, this monument was erected by those opposed to the rise of Anglo-Catholicism.
Opponents of the so-called Oxford Movement, like the priest Charles Golightly, envisioned this monument to Protestant bishops martyred at the hands of a disgraced Catholic queen as a rebuke to the followers of John Henry Newman, Edward Pusey, John Keble, and the like.
The inscription on this monument reads in part:
“To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake”
But around this monument there stand other structures, symbols of the Catholic revival in the Church of England.
The Martyr’s Memorial is just next to St. Mary Magdalene’s which became an Anglo-Catholic bastion in the 20th century.
Just up the road from the Martyr’s Memorial is Pusey House and its chapel, a historically important center for advancing the Anglo-Catholic movement.
One can look at the ecclesiastical geography of Oxford as a story of the on-going divisions within the Church of England concerning reform, catholicity, authority, and piety.
And we must remember that there were martyrs on all sides of the Protestant-Catholic divide in England and throughout Europe.
While there is something awe-inspiring in the willingness of a martyr to die for the sake of Christ, there is something horrifying when the executioner is another Christian.
Martyrs die out of the conviction that one is a member of a Church that rests upon the true foundation of Jesus Christ.
The death of a Christian at the hands of another undermines confidence in the nature of that very Church.
The execution of Latimer and Ridley under Mary, or Jesuits like Edmund Campion under Elizabeth, or even the divisions between Evangelicals and Catholics in later Anglicanism, show cracks in the edifice of God’s Church.
Paul addressed the problem of fissures threatening to bring down the Church in his first letter to the Corinthians.
Paul reminds us that amidst our awful divisions, we must acknowledge that no one party or faction can claim the Church for themselves.
“Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 3:10-11)
There is no doubting the deep faith of Latimer or Ridley or any other Protestant or Catholic martyrs from this era.
But the showdown of competing edifices in Oxford – a Martyr’s Memorial here, an Anglo-Catholic chapel there – in a spirit of striving or rivalry must give us pause.
Paul urges not to let our differences define us but to look to Christ as the only and true foundation.
We must not enshrine our differences.
And we should look to our words and actions.
We should look closely at our assumptions and our certainties about our take on the Church.
Do we speak about other Christians disparagingly?
Have we broken ourselves up in factions?
Do we give off subtle messages of superiority if we set ourselves apart by our piety or our speech about other Christians?
Do we introduce divisions when we should seek unity?
Paul warns the Corinthians, he warns us, he warned Christians in the the sixteenth century, that builders and buildings are tested by fire while in this world.
We do not build Churches for ourselves.
We are all alike laboring in service to God’s plans laid down for the Church.
And that plan is to worship God and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Let us work together as one body, equally serving God, so together we can pass through the fire to be God’s Church together for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of the world.