October 2014

Do we take the Bible for granted?

[The Editorials have been taken from ‘The Parish Pump’]


As we approach Bible Sunday on 26th October, we can easily take for granted our freedom to read the Bible in our mother tongue. Here David Williams, a former CMS missionary in the Church of Uganda, recalls the suffering endured by those who first translated the Bible into English, and remembers an occasion in modern times when the right of Christians in Uganda to read the Bible freely came under threat.


When we approach Bible Sunday, on the 26th October, we remember our debt to those who first translated the Bible into English. We have so many different translations and paraphrases to choose from today. But the Bible had never been in our vernacular until John Wycliffe’s translation, completed with the help of others in about 1384. For this and criticism of the Church and its teaching, Wycliffe and his followers, the Lollard lay preachers, were condemned as heretics.


It was not until 1525 that William Tyndale’s translation of the Gospels into English was completed and printed, though still in defiance of the law in England. For this Tyndale was condemned and eventually burnt at the stake, in Antwerp, where he had worked in exile. Myles Coverdale continued Tyndale’s work and the whole Bible in English was printed in 1535, and eventually the English Bible became accessible to everyone who could read. It is a freedom we in Britain take for granted now. Though in parts of the world where Christians are persecuted minorities this freedom can still be denied.


Even in Uganda in 1972, a largely Christian country, a crisis arose in which the use of the Bible in public worship seemed under threat. President Amin had recently expelled all Israeli citizens from Uganda because he suspected Israeli military advisors of subversive activity.


Soon afterwards a Bible reading during Thought for Today, on Radio Uganda, quoted from the Old Testament that the People of Israel were coming into their Promised Land. Amin saw this as a modern day threat, and banned the name ‘Israel’ from being spoken in Uganda.


The Archbishop of Uganda, Erica Sabiti (the first Ugandan to be Archbishop), went to confront the President in his Command Post. The President repeated that the name Israel was never to be spoken. The Archbishop replied, ‘But your Excellency, the Children of Israel in the Bible is not the same as the State of Israel today.’


‘I forbid it!’ the President repeated.


‘Your Excellency, if you forbid us to speak the name Israel, you are forbidding us to use this book. The name Israel is written in the Bible from beginning to end.’


‘I forbid it!’


The Archbishop, who was small in stature and quite frail, held up a copy of the Bible in front of the towering form of the President. ‘Your Excellency, down the centuries Christians have been willing to die to defend the right to read this book. We are ready again.’


The President backed down. Thought for Today, however, was banned.


All Hallows Eve – or Holy Evening

Modern Halloween celebrations have their roots with the Celtic peoples of pre-Christian times.


In those long-ago days, on the last night of October, the Celts celebrated the Festival of Samhain, or ‘Summer’s End’. The priests, or Druids, performed ceremonies to thank and honour the sun. For there was a very dark side to all this: Samhain also signalled the onset of winter, a time when it was feared that unfriendly ghosts, nature-spirits, and witches roamed the earth, creating mischief. So the Druid priests lit great bonfires and performed magic rites to ward off or appease these dark supernatural powers.


Then the Romans arrived, and brought their Harvest Festival which honoured the Goddess Pomona with gifts of apples and nuts. The two festivals slowly merged.


When Christianity arrived still later, it began to replace the Roman and Druid religions. 1 November - All Saints’ Day - was dedicated to all Christian Martyrs and Saints who had died. It was called ‘All Hallows’ Day’. The evening before became an evening of prayer and preparation and was called ‘All Hallows’ Eve’, The Holy Evening, later shortened to ‘Halloween’.


For many centuries, however, fear of the supernatural remained strong. During the Middle Ages, animal costumes and frightening masks were worn to ward off the evil spirits of darkness on Halloween. Magic words and charms were used to keep away bad luck, and everybody believed that witches ride about on broomsticks. Fortune telling was popular, and predicting the future by the use of nuts and apples was so popular that Halloween is still sometimes known as Nutcrack Night or Snap-Apple Night.


Today, Christians have learned to turn to prayer instead of charms to overcome the powers of darkness. And the deeper, true meaning of All Hallows’ Eve, should not be forgotten. As Christians, we all draw closer to Christ when we remember and give thanks for our loved ones and for others who have gone before us through the gates of death.