Bishop Calls Us All To Bear Witness

Preaching at the Annual Southampton Commemoration Service and Parade on Sunday 1 June 2008, organised by Silver Jubilee LOL 1977, Rt Rev, Bro Henry Richmond, Chaplain Elect of Portsmouth District and Chaplain Elect of Martyrs Memorial LOL 213 Oxford, Bishop Henry asked:  what is the relevance of the Orange Order in England, and in the world, today?  What are its members supposed to be or to do?  The bishop said that the simple answer is:  Witnesses - we are called to be witnesses.  He reminded us that the Greek word in the New Testament for a "witness" is "martyr".  So, it was a later development that a martyr came to mean one who witnesses to his or her faith to the point of dying for it, as did the Protestant martyrs at the time of the Reformation.  WE are unlikely to be called to give our lives for our faith, but we ARE all called to bear witness to it by our lives.

The bishop drew attention to FOUR subjects to which we as members of the Orange Order should bear witness.

1.  We are called to witness to a deep spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood with fellow members.  Our lodges should be places in which deep personal relationships are developed.  There are times in the lives of all of us when we need to be able to share important, even intimate, concerns and fears with others, and it should be a natural thing for us to look to fellow members to find such people.

2.  We are called to witness to the reality and importance of God.  That means that we have to recognise the importance of religion in today's world.  Unfortunately, both God and religion are getting a bad press today, certainly in Western Europe (though not in the USA).  God and religion are often held to be divisive matters, and the Orange Order is often accused of being tarnished by its involvement in political conflicts, especially in Northern Ireland.  In recent years the conflict has been intensified in Britain by immigration:  we now have a huge variety of gods and of religions.  Members of the Orange Order cannot evade the question:  which "god" do we believe in, and what kind of God is He (the bishop did not go into the question of exclusive and inclusive language)?  This led him to his third point.

3.  The Orange Order is called to witness unashamedly to Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.  We are witnesses to the God of Jesus Christ, the God who loved us and the world so much that He became one WITH us, one OF us (see the gospel of St John, chapter 3, verse 16).  He did this to assure us of God's love for us as sinners; to assure us of God's acceptance of us sinners; to assure us of Godís forgiveness of us as sinners.  ALL of us need these 3 things:  to be loved, to be accepted and to be forgiven.  There is a huge need in today's world for people to witness to this kind of God, this kind of Jesus, and there's a huge need today to share this Good News with those who don't know it, including members of our Order and of our Churches.

4.  The Orange Order is called to witness, fourthly, to the Church of Jesus Christ.  St Paul says that the Church is nothing less than the Body of Christ:  in other words, wherever people encounter Christians, there they encounter Christ.  The Church consists of all those who express a living faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, and baptism is the outward sign of this.  Jesus prayed for the unity of His Church on the night before He died.  In a sense, that unity has already been achieved, for inasmuch as we all look to Christ as the Head of the Church, we are already united with one another in an important sense.  At the same time, we have to recognise that we haven't yet achieved the visible unity of the Church:  our many denominations bear witness to this fact.  Sometimes we Protestants are blamed for breaking the unity of the Church.  While we must be sorry about the disunity of the Body of Christ, we as Protestants cannot regret it.  For the Protestant reformers didn't WANT to break the unity of the Church:  they knew that they HAD to risk breaking the unity of the Church if they were to PROTEST against the corruptions and errors which had crept into the medieval Church, and which were obscuring or contradicting the truth of the Gospel of Christ.  They felt that they had to give an even higher priority to truth than to outward unity.  They wanted to recover the Gospel of God's love and acceptance and forgiveness of sinners.  They knew that these things are free; that God gives these things freely and that we cannot earn them.  They come to us by the sheer grace of God:  as Scripture puts it, "It is by grace that you have been saved through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no-one can boast" (Ephesians 2.8).  We must continue to witness to this:  it's a gift to every Christian and every Church, including the Church of Rome.  Roman Catholics are our brothers and sisters in Christ, but they hold some beliefs which we cannot accept if we are to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus.  Let all of us therefore witness to the deep fellowship which binds us together as brother and sisters in Christ in the Orange Order, to our faith in God, who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and let us witness to the universal Church of Christ, of which we are members by God's good grace.  Amen.