From Prebendary Horace F. Harper
Sir, — The Bishop of Worcester (
Comment, 23 July) rightly suggests that there is a need for some order-ing of
the generous Anglican doctrinal space; but I voted against the Discipline
(Doctrine) proposals because they failed adequately to define such boundaries,
left intact many moribund 19th-century judgments (paragraph 60), and relied on
the building up of fresh case law. they were offering a blank cheque-book to
We have a boundary now. It is mapped out by the Declaration of Assent, and
(importantly) its little-heard Preface. The Church has the right to hear its
ministers make this, and to mean what it says. It does not have the right to
question us further. The Preface and Declaration define our liberties as much
as our obligations.
What is now needed is to offer a new deal to the clergy (something akin to
Measure for Measures) which gathers into one consideration everything that
relates to our working conditions: canon law, the Declaration of Assent, guide
to professional conduct, codes of practice, ministerial review, etc.
To gain our full respect, it must not assume that either bishops or other
clergy are free from original sin, nor allow orthodox phrases to be given fresh
and narrowed meanings; and must promote conditions under which the gifts of
ordination may flourish.
HORACE F. HARPER
3 Mahogany Drive, Stafford ST16 2TS
From Mr Walter James
Sir, — I should be grateful if you would allow a person who is neither a
cleric nor a professor of theology to intrude some comment on the attitude of
some of your correspondents to what you have described as the “heresy report”.
Mistakenly, I had assumed that since the publication of
Honest to God no one would now be encouraging the clergy to be either
pusillanimous and/or patronising. That awareness of evolutionary creation which
led Charles Kingsley to agonise over whether to enlighten his congregation, and
Tennyson to recommend, “disturb not thy sister when she prays,” is arguably
excusable in the 19th century. “Not in front of the laity” is an attitude that
needs to be consigned to history in the 21st.
Fortunately your own attitude is more enlightened than the Church’s. Your
Books, 23 July) drew to my attention a book that “offers the kind of
information about the Bible that ministers meet in their training, but which
they rarely feel able to share with their congregations”. On the same page, I
another review that informed me that “To be ‘god to us’ in Jewish thought
is not to be ‘God in essence’,”; and that it is possible to move “too easily
from dignity to divinity” in interpreting Pauline regard for Jesus.
If we are to put away childish things, we laity need more, not less, of this
kind of exposure; and we need this teaching not only in your columns and the
books you review, but also in the Church, if she is to be faithful to truth,
and fit us for an honest pilgrimage to God. In your columns, I found a bishop
admitting that “Tom Wright’s Jesus is not my Jesus.” I listen in vain for such
openness and honesty from the pulpit.
Finally: if others could be as warm in their commendation of views with
which they disagree as the Bishop of Lincoln was in concluding his review of
the Gospel commentaries of the then soon-to-be-appointed Bishop of Durham, we
might have enough people to establish a Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved
that could be trusted.
Unfortunately, the appetite for the intransigence and intolerance
identified by Dr Selby appears not to have been sated. Until it is, we will do
well to be on guard against those who want to draw boundaries around how the
Church talks of God to God’s unfrozen people.
25 Kepplestone, Staveley Road, Eastbourne BN20 7JZ
From the Revd Richard Wilkins
Sir, — Differences over the fate
of the Clergy Discipline (Doctrine) report highlight a dilemma in the Church’s
engagement with its own and other modern minds. Do we believe in freedom of
reasonable inquiry or not?
A 20th-century spokesman for my own conservative Evangelical tradition
wrote: “We believe our cause will come to rights only when youth refuses to go
thoughtlessly with the anti-intellectual current of the age. . . The last thing
we desire is to discourage originality or independence of mind” (J. Gresham
I listened once to a studious layman sharing excitedly with me his
discoveries in textual and historical criticism. These, he said, rendered
questionable our parish church’s unexamined certainties about traditional
doctrines and biblical stories. I agreed, and said that, considering life, the
universe and everything, the evidence that “God is love” is about as thin as it
gets, and that only a sentimental fundamentalist in comfortable circumstances
could believe anything so far-fetched.
Of course, if all evidence is fearlessly pursued from a background of
Christian belief about Almighty God as the eternal and holy Creator of all
except himself, then a quality like love, if God has it, can be ultimately
important, even to the inhabitants of a doomed planet. But who can believe
that? Either a wishful thinker in a sheltered intellectual environment; or
people to whom God has communicated eternal truth.
Either way, a Church insufficiently convinced of anything to border its
beliefs is a Church that ought, in all honesty, to dissolve.
27 Spring Gardens, Garston, Watford, Hertfordshire WD25 9JJ