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Pope’s rewriting of Lord’s Prayer brings home power of every word

By Alf McCreary

Pope Francis has created a theological stir by supporting moves already underway in the Catholic Church to change one of the key statements in the Lord’s Prayer.

Instead of reciting the traditional words of the Authorised Version, “And lead us not into temptation”, he suggests the phrase “Don’t let me fall into temptation”.

With a typical Franciscan twist, the Pope also suggests that, “It’s Satan who leads us into temptation. That’s his department”.

The Pope’s words made international headlines last week partly because of who he is. If these words had been uttered by the Principal of a Theological College few people would have taken notice.

The Pope’s words about the Lord’s Prayer were nothing new. Other versions offer the same thought. The Good News Bible states: “Do not bring us to hard testing”; The Contemporary English Version says: “Keep us from being tempted”; the New Living Version underlines “Don’t let us yield to temptation”; and the Christian Science Church interpretation by Mary Baker Eddy, dating from 1875, states: “And God leadeth us not into temptation but delivereth us from sin, disease and death.”

Nevertheless, the Pope’s intervention has made many people think again.

I have often wondered what was meant by the familiar King James Version, “And lead us not into temptation”, which could imply that God was deliberately putting us to the test to satisfy His own motives.

How much more comforting it is to ask God in prayer: “Don’t let me fall into temptation.” This suggests that we all have our testing points almost every day and that we need God’s help to stay on the right path.

However, the Pope’s recent comments raise a much more fundamental point, namely how many of the Bible translations can we actually believe?

This will challenge those people who state that every word in the Bible is true. If that is so, what are we to think then if the Pope himself challenges one of the key translations of the words of the Lord’s Prayer?

Of course, there are those evangelical Protestants who will refuse to believe anything the Pope says, like a Donald Trump allegation of “fake news”.

Sometimes I wonder how many people in an Anglican or Catholic service merely repeat the prayers and responses parrot-like without really thinking of their meaning.

On occasions I have been in churches where the words of hymns, or  “songs”, were displayed out of sequence on a screen, but the congregation sang away happily, despite the wrong sequence of words.

Maybe they were thinking of their lunch rather than what they were singing. Perhaps one of the lessons in all of this is to pay much more attention to what is going on in a Church service, and also to be more aware of every word you are reading or praying in your private worship.

That said, however, there are certain phrases in the Bible or in prayers which will never change or lose their meaning for me.

One of them is that lovely passage in Psalm 23: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside  the still waters. He restoreth my soul.”

The other phrase, which I will always remember, has a deep connection with Christmas.

Many years ago I returned to  London in mid-December after  nearly three long hard months in the outback in Africa, working for Christian Aid. On the Sunday morning I attended worship in Westminster Abbey and I was struck by the ornate opulence of this church, compared to the poverty I had seen in Africa.

I wondered to myself ‘How will the preacher bridge that gap?’.

However, Canon Colin Semper did so admirably in his very first sentence. He said: “I am going to talk to you about the four most important words in the Bible — they are ‘The Word Became Flesh’, from the Gospel of St John.”

That is at the heart of every Christmas, and the meaning  never changes, whatever the translation. As a controversial Catholic Bishop once told a former editor of mine: “Truth is indivisible”.

And so it is.

New book tells fascinating story of NI’s mission halls

A new book presents a photographic record of more than 100 mission halls in Northern Ireland, showing in vivid detail how each one of these buildings, built to preach the gospel, is unique.

Many of the halls were established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in the decades following the 1859 spiritual revival when, it is believed, around 100,000 people here came to faith in Christ. Many cottage meetings were established as a result, partly because people couldn’t travel long distances to church and partly because they were looking for a more evangelical message than existed in the churches. Subsequently, as more and more people joined these cottage meetings, purpose built mission halls were constructed.

Many of these halls are still preaching the gospel today — and the photographs show the love and care which has gone into creating every piece of furniture and artefact. The hardback, 362-page book also records a history of each hall and reveals the great inventiveness of the people: for example, the folk of Ballynafie Mission Hall, Portglenone, used an old railway carriage in which to meet before finding a wooden building; at The Commons, near Carrickfergus, seating came from utility buses used during the Second World War; and at Derrycrew Mission Hall, near Loughgall, the seats came from Belfast International Airport which was getting rid of its old furniture to prepare for a refurbishment.

And the people were undeterred should any obstacles arise in their way. One example of this indefatigable spirit was among the people of Camagh Mission Hall, Armagh, which was established in the 1930s. The people originally met in an old disused outhouse in a farmyard and theirs was the only regular Sunday evening meeting for miles around. However, in 1939, a Presbyterian man who was strongly opposed to the meetings stuffed the chimney with hay before a meeting in an attempt to smoke the people out. While deeply saddened, the people were offered a piece of ground six miles away to build a hall — and from then on the meetings flourished, with attendees coming from some distance away on foot and bicycle.

History of Mission Halls throughout Northern Ireland, by Judith Cole, Ambassador International, £25, available from Judith by telephoning 0788 428 1235

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