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Saints of old still line the way: reflections on the early Christian Unions

I've posted news from the beginnings of the CUs at Bristol and Reading, Exeter, Newcastle and Sheffield Universities in the 1930s.  More stories to come next week.

In each CU we catch the story of a grassroots movement, students finding one another by the providence of God, and banding together for mission. Stories of people like Arts students, Miss E. Kenadjian, who for two years prayed for some definite witness for God such as she had heard was given by the CU at Cambridge. Similar stories are heard elsewhere. The story is the same today - there's a legacy to inherit, but the Christian Unions are built on Christian freshers turning up in halls and standing together. We stand on the foundation of home churches and youth work, we stand on the work of God in people.

Seems to me we catch these values in action:

Newcastle reflected: "The Union is deeply indebted to Christian business men of the city, through whose kindness such large numbers have been reached." I'm struck by this opportunity that I'm not sure we're taking much today.... to use academics and business people who are Christians to speak with authority to students. The Universities doesn't stand apart from its city, nor the CU from the churches. We saw an example with a former high ranking Hong Kong government official speaking at Bath recently.  Reading: "we received really valuable assistance from several people outside the University." It's hard for any of us to ask for help, but we need it. And much is on offer. Manchester reflect the same: "It is noticeable that men famous in their own subject do attract a crowd. The problem is the personal work afterwards."  A helpful caution of the need for follow-up, that was a challenge then as much as today!

Manchester reflected: "Most important of all was the personal work." By which they mean personal evangelism. This is and has always been the key, living with people, listening to them, opening the Scriptures with them. Events are good, proclamation is good, but we stand on a foundation of personal work.

Students reflect on hearing returning missionaries speak, of building relationship with mission partners and Coggan lists CU members sailing for the mission field. Its not that this is forgotten today but there is a deep world mission commitment in the DNA of the CUs.

Exeter: "members began to realise in a new way to what an immense family they belonged, that they were one in Christ Jesus with numbers of other students with one object before them." The family of students on mission is bigger than ever, but there remains a need to see the bigger picture. No empire building, just a big family. Today resourced by established charities who can fund workers, but no less an organic movement for mission. Unity issues in the early CUs were more the encouragement of others on mission than disputes over the ministry of men and women and other issues. They gathered round the campfire of the gospel as they went together for Christ.

Men and women at Universities took their stand for Christ together and won many. They received help from the best that the church had, evangelists like Bryan Green and Howard Guinness seem had a particularly strong impact. There were disputes, such as the 1919 divide with the S.C.M over the centrality of the cross (a hill worth dying on) - as there will always be. We speak of seeking New Testament Christianity but that means trouble as much as it means fruitfulness. There were spectacular moments and apparent lack of growth, there were advances followed by many students graduating and stripping the CU of its experienced leaders. People move on, but the gospel stands.

The life-blood of the movement, then as today, was personal witness, Bible study together, and prayer. Bristol reflected: "the Lord called for further advance. The first thing was to double the number of prayer Meetings, and to advance on our knees before God." The gracious work of the Holy Spirit and an acute awareness of his grace runs through the stories of the Christian Unions.

Now it is for today's generation to carry God's call forward.


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