Saturday, 5 July 2008

If I were a Patron

What can be done to halt the Liberal drift of the Church of England identified at the post-GAFCON gathering at All Souls Langham place on the 1st July?

The answer is not “Sign a petition in support of the GAFCON principles,” although I suggest you do exactly that in a moment by heading here (non English residents head here).

The problem with the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration, is that it declares what every minister working for the Church of England is required to declare on their appointment. The core of our faith, according to the Jerusalem Statement, is (with the exception of two words) exactly the same as that found in Canon A5 of the Church of England:

The doctrine of the Church [of England] is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.

Moreover, every Anglican minister affirms at their appointment their commitment to this doctrine:

I, A B ... declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness ... (The Declaration of Assent)

Isn’t that fantastic? Every Anglican minister believes what is in the Bible, and the developments and clarifications of the biblical witness (such as the doctrine of the Trinity or of the one sacrifice for sin made by Christ on the cross) found in the Creeds and our foundational liturgy.

Well, it would be fantastic if it were true, but it isn’t! The fact is that very many of our ministers doubt great swathes of what is stated in the Prayer Book the Articles and the Creeds, not least because, like the head of the Church of Ireland, their view of Scripture is that sometimes it is right and sometimes, since it is the work of human authors, it is wrong.

And far from being loyal to the ‘inheritance of faith’, as they say they do in the Declaration of Assent, they submit, finally, to their own private judgement.

As the saying goes, not many churchgoers know that, though if they go here, here and here they can read the results of a 2002 survey which paint an alarming picture.

But to go back to our opening question, what can be done? One thing is to use the opportunities presented by being the patron of a parish, or one of the parish representatives, when a vacancy occurs.

A friend of mine involved in patronage work recently asked me what questions he should put during interviews. I said there should be at least one straightforward doctrinal question — a simple question that invites a straight answer. “But,” I said, “Don’t ask them if they believe in the resurrection. Everyone will say ‘yes’ to that. Ask them whether they believe in the Virgin birth.”

It is surely a fair question. I cannot find the quotation, but I seem to remember ABp John Sentamu chiding conservatives over their attitude to divisions in the Anglican Communion by observing that it wasn’t as if fundamental doctrines, such as the resurrection or the virgin birth, were being denied.

But they are. In fact, my friend has followed my advice, and sure enough candidate after candidate openly admits that the Virgin birth is something they do not accept.

Now it might be objected, isn’t the Virgin birth problematic and can we act as if everything hinged on this one thing? And of course it is problematic — so is someone rising from the dead. But the issue is more complex than simply ‘is this believed, or believable’.

The fact is that the Church of England constantly makes confessional statements: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty ...”, “I ... declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures.”

It is not so much that all doctrine stands or falls on this one issue as that where there is one problem there may well be others — see the recent fate of Ray Lewis.

The Liberal drift of the Church of England is not irresistible. If directors of ordinands, or bishops or, yes, patrons and parish representatives, asked a few basic questions at the right time, they might at least discover who was likely to be truly committed to the ‘inheritance of faith’ and who is not. And then they might act accordingly.

John Richardson

5 July 2008

No comments will be posted without a full name and location, see the policy.


  1. You missed out 'the ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons' as part of what is committed to - and therefore, by implication, the rejection of lay presidency?

  2. It is hard to work out whether this new thread is disingenuous or dishonest. I do not believe in the Virgin Birth, nor do I believe in the empty tomb version of the resurrection. I agree with David Jenkins who said that the resurrection is not just a conjuring trick with bones. I do not believe that the Bible is true in every part. I do not believe that the mixture of doctrines to be found in the Book of Common Prayer are a coherent statement of the Christian faith. I do not believe that the 39 articles are appropriate to modern Christianity. Yet, without casuistry or dissembling, or dishonesty, I can in full conscience accept Canon A5 and I can, without reserve, make the Declaration of Assent. Why? Because none of these things says how the various texts are to be understood or interpreted. The Church of England has a long and honourable record of encouraging scholarship, and its priests are expected to take note of that scholarship in understanding and interpreting their foundation texts. The Ordinal itself, in the 1662 Prayer Book, makes this clear. The candidate is asked by the Bishop:

    WILL you be diligent in Prayers, and in reading the Holy Scriptures, and in such studies as help to the knowledge of the same, laying aside the study of the world and the flesh?
    Answer. I will endeavour so to do, the Lord being my helper.

    Now, you can’t expect a priest to be made aware of the all the complex issues about the formation and interpretation of the Bible and then to just ignore them and treat it as though nothing had moved since the 16th century except the birth of fundamentalism in the early 20th century.

    To my mind, it is priests who deny biblical scholarship who are denying their faith, not ones who accept it. So, these statements, which we are asked in this thread to consider, are not EXCLUSIVE. The doctrine is to found in these places, grounded in these places, revealed in these places, but it needs to be understood. The statements do not exclude the likelihood that doctrine is to be found in other places as well, and that these foundation documents will be understood in the light of the learning and study which the Ordinal demands of the priest.

    So, it really isn’t a matter of face-value acceptance. The living Church is part of the tradition, part of the ‘inheritance of faith’, which was not fossilised in the 16th century but lives and develops now.

    Many godly, learned, prayerful, scholarly, faithful and pastoral men and women have assented to these in the way I have just described, and to call them dishonest is just reprehensible.

    It is also worth noting that the BCP calls these people priests, a word which has been avoided in the introduction to this thread.

    I would also add, that those who listen to scholarship are often likely also to listen to the people with whom they have a pastoral ministry. In my experience, the ones who think the way this blog asks them to are deaf to the experiences of their cure.

    If I were a patron I would ask myself two questions about every candidate – in no particular order – ‘Where did this person train for ministry?’ – ‘if I woke up in hospital, would I want to see this person sitting by my bed?’.

  3. And hang on -Ray Lewis. On May 7th you were commending him to us, and complaining that the Mayor was dodging the fact that we was a priest:

    'Boris, the Mayoralty and Ray Lewis: Still not 'doing God'?

    I was very pleased to see my old mate Ray Lewis had been appointed by Boris Johnson as a Deputy Mayor with special responsibility for tackling youth crime (though see here for a cautionary note about the title).

    However, I was slightly bemused to find that although Ray is being described as a 'former prison governor' there is no mention of him being an Anglican clergyman. Indeed, I had to check more than once that this was indeed the Ray Lewis I knew when he was a student at Oak Hill, then curate at St Saviour's, Forest Gate and finally Team Vicar at St Matthew's, West Ham, just round the corner from where I lived in the confusingly named Mathews Park Avenue (one 't'), which gave the name to my own book imprint MPA Books.

    Moreover, the GLA's biography of Ray seems to make it as hard as possible to detect his church role. Can you spot it here?

    He began his career working as an administrative officer for the Civil Service before becoming a Clerk in Holy Orders for the Church Commissioners in 1990. During this time he gained a degree in Theology & Pastoral Studies from Middlesex University [ie Oak Hill Theological College].
    As an Anglican clergyman I've described myself in various ways, but never as "a Clerk in Holy Orders for the Church Commissioners"! All this makes me wonder whether the new administration at County Hall is still going to be one that follows the Labour approach of not 'doing God'.

    Meanwhile, good on yer, Ray.'

    Perhaps it was Ray who was concealing his past, not Boris. After all, we're now being told he is on the Lambeth 'banned' list. I bet he was able to assent to everything you ask other priests to asent to, wasn't he?

  4. Madeline

    Just a thought, but if I had an accident and woke up in hospital, do you think I'd want to find you sitting at the foot of my bed?

  5. A very well-reasoned response to a coherent argument. And, as you ask, my experience in this suggests that the answer would be, 'yes'.

  6. Sam

    Please don't read anything into my 'omission' of the Ordinal. I tend to be a bit lazy about including it, since it is bound with the BCP, and I tend to assume it is a package, though I know technically it is not.

    I love the Ordinal, especially this about the work of the priest (and yes, I'm quite happy to use that term as well - it comes from the Old English preost, which itself derives from the Greek 'presbyter' meaning 'elder', its just that a lot of people think it means 'sacerdos'):

    "Forasmuch then as your Office is both of so great excellency, and of so great difficulty, ye see with how great care and study ye ought to apply yourselves, as well to show yourselves dutiful and thankful unto that Lord, who hath placed you in so high a dignity; as also to beware that neither you yourselves offend, nor be occasion that others offend. Howbeit, ye cannot have a mind and will thereto of yourselves; for that will and ability is given of God alone: therefore ye ought, and have need, to pray earnestly for his Holy Spirit. And seeing that ye cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the Holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same; consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures, and in framing the manners both of yourselves, and of them that specially pertain unto you, according to the rule of the same Scriptures; and for this self-same cause, how ye ought to forsake and set aside, as much as ye may, all worldly cares and studies."

    I also like this bit from the consecration of bishops:

    "The Archbishop: 'Are you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to the same?'

    Answer: 'I am ready, the Lord being my helper.'"

    And also this:

    "Then the Archbishop shall deliver him the Bible, saying, 'Give heed unto reading, exhortation, and doctrine. Think upon the things contained in this Book. Be diligent in them, that the increase coming thereby may be manifest unto all men; for by so doing thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee. Be to the flock of Christ a shepherd, not a wolf; feed them, devour them not. Hold up the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring again the outcasts, seek the lost. Be so merciful, that you be not too remiss; so minister discipline, that you forget not mercy; that when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you may receive the never-fading crown of glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.'"

    Lay celebration is forbidden by the Canons. The Articles talk about authorizing public ministry in the congregation. The way we authorize people in the Church of England is by episcopal ordination, but the Articles, some of the theology of which originates in the discussions which led to the Wittenberg Articles, are worded so as not to exclude other ways of authorizing people without such ordination, such Luther envisaged. Clearly Scripture is entirely uncommitted on the subject.

    I further agree with you that our understanding must not be static. How else could there have been a Reformation? But semper reformanda must go together with sola scriptura.

  7. Madeline,

    Then I trust you'd be sweeter to me in person!

  8. There is a whole world of theology behind the word 'priest' and in the ecclesial context of the production of the ordinal it is quite clear that when the Bishop lays hands on the candidate and says:
    RECEIVE the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and
    his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

    he is deliberately invoking the view of 'priest' as 'sacerdos' with all the associated sacramental power which that word carries. He does not, absolutely and specifically not, in the context of the disputes of that era, mean 'elder'.
    That is just one of the problems with trying to wrest a single theology from the BCP.

  9. Excellent post, Father Richardson. Your comment on the Jerusalem Statement alone not solving problems in the C of E is very well taken.

    Interestingly, I got an email from a friend of mine who is a priest in Australia the day after GAFCON ended in which he told me that his quite liberal bishop saw nothing in the Jerusalem Statement that he could not sign onto immediately, since it demanded nothing more than what Anglican priests in Australia are required to sign at their ordinations. (As you say, the real issue is whether or not they really believe what they are signing, or if they have idiosyncratic ways of getting around difficult elements of these documents for liberals.)

    So at least one left-leaning Anglican bishop out there has already realized that he could actually be a "Jerusalem signatory" and be considered compliant by the GAFCON folks, presumably without abandoning his liberal beliefs and practices.

    The Virgin Birth test is an excellent one, BTW.

    Rev. R.W. Foster
    St. Vincent's School
    Bedford, Texas USA
    Dio. of Fort Worth

  10. Damn. And here I thought this was a chance to measure people by their appreciation of an especially good tequila.

  11. Might I suggest that the presenting issue for prospective patrons could differ with respect to their particular contexts, and that prudential discernment might thus commonly be expedient to such people? While my understanding of our respective formularies is fairly idiosyncratic (being of 'high but dry' churchmanship and on the centre-right in my politics), I nonetheless by and large go along with the rest of your post.

    Could there also be a sense in which such communiques are inherently prone to ambiguities?

    Michael Canaris,

  12. Hello John,

    The problem with using confessions is that people will just re-interpret them to mean what they want them to mean. For example, Bishops Spong and Holloway have theologies which are to all intents and purposes atheistic, but they still must have said the apostles creed in church every week. And Madeline's post above is another example of how this works, you say "I believe this" but then re-interpret the meaning so far that in practice it means something completely different.

    The problem then is that in response you might get into the process of having to define the confessions even tighter, so you exclude some people you don't want to exclude. I knew some perfectly orthodox and bible-believing friends who found UCCF's doctrinal basis overly restrictive, for example.

    A friend of mine was recently ordained in the Presbyterian Church of America. That denomination expects its ministers to believe the Westminster Confession. However, if you don't believe parts of it you can still be ordained, but you need to register an objection. That means any theological difference from the denominational position is out in the open. I like this idea but I can't see something like that happening in the CofE.

    In any case, lay people have a good way of avoiding theology they don't like, they can go to another parish (or church). If people want evangelical or liberal theology, they can choose. People have been voting with their feet for years. Let's face it, nothing empties churches (or denominations) like liberal theology does.

    Matt Simpson
    Baden-W├╝rttemberg, Germany

  13. Madeline,
    I wouldn't want a person who denies the Virgin Birth to get away with calling themselves 'Christian' - much less be made a 'bishop of the Church'.

    Last I checked the creed makes it rather plain that He was 'incarnate of the Virgin Mary', and rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.

    And the three creeds, are still considered as normative and binding in the BCP, are they note?

    Bo Register