From the Rt Revd Timothy Dudley-Smith
Sir, - Twice in your last issue (Comment
and Letters, 30
January) the word "discipleship" is called into question. It is
possible to understand your contributors' misgivings, and yet to
What the word stands for seems to me so central to the Christian
life that we should still cherish the word itself. Its primary
meaning, surely, is of personal learning and following, and only
then of one who seeks to make disciples. Perhaps one reason the
word is out of favour is its link with the word "discipline", not
one of the hallmarks of today's popular culture.
My friend John Stott valued the word and all that it stood for,
believing that we would do well to use the word "spirituality"
less, and "discipleship" more. The former is difficult to define,
meaning different things to different people, and often
inward-looking towards ourselves. In "discipleship", by contrast,
he saw three essential ingredients: worship, faith, and obedience,
all "called forth by the Word of God".
Another way of expressing this might be to see, in practical
discipleship, obedience to the lordship of Christ, attentiveness to
the teaching of Christ, and devotion to the person of Christ. Were
these not the marks of those first "disciples"? Should they not be
found in Christians in every age, including our own?
9 Ashlands, Ford
Salisbury, Wiltshire SP4 6DY
From Mr Simon Foster
Sir, - Professor Linda Woodhead (Comment, 23
January) regards being a disciple as "theologically
peripheral"; Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 30 January) sees it as
"odd". It is hard to believe that a noun that appears, in its Greek
form, around 270 times in the New Testament can be either.
Being a disciple is a worthy aspiration. It suggests taking our
call seriously; growing in it; holding fast and sacrificially to
our Lord. Thirty years ago, in a massive ecumenical exercise for
Lent in 1985, churchgoers were asked what they thought the tasks of
the local church were. Eighty-nine per cent said that "teaching the
faith" was essential or extremely important; 87 per cent said the
same of "helping Christians relate faith to daily life"; 80 per
cent, "helping people to pray". That thirst for growth among the
laity lives on today.
In writing of their different anxieties around the word, your
contributors demonstrate the big challenge for the Church in the
coming decade: how to help the laity grow in, and into, the Church.
The C of E's Developing Discipleship paper has been
criticised for its lack of ideas. One useful next step would be to
reappraise the traditional relationship between the clergy and the
laity, and set out a fresh vision.
"Discipleship" language enables that. The challenge is already
illuminated by amazing examples in churches of every tradition.
The laity has long been the junior partner in the Church.
Letting your "little" brother or sister grow up is never easy. But
grow up they will. The relationship is changing: with nurture, it
should deepen as each matures.
59 Addison Road
Birmingham B14 7EN
From the Revd John Wylam
Sir, - The perception and lament of the laity is that the
clergy do not visit their parishioners. The tenor of much in the
Church Times of late has been that management is
all-important. There is no doubt that the world of the computer has
brought benefits to the world of administration and deployment.
Does the emphasis on management promote decline?
The scriptural image of the shepherd is one of being out and
about, listening and abiding. There is merit in the clergy knowing
their people, and the people knowing their clergy. But the most
important task of a shepherd is to feed his sheep. In pastoral and
Christian terms, this means administering the sacraments and
feeding the word of God. In priestly terms, this may be seen as
presenting God to the people, and the people to God.
Is the perception and lament of the people correct, which
accounts in part for the decline of the Church?
Nether House, Garleigh Road
Northumberland NE65 7RG
From Mr George Short
Sir, - News that a "simplification task group" is
recommending removal of the requirement for there to be
consultation with incumbents and PCCs about glebe transactions
inevitably brings to my mind the particular and painful memory of
the way one diocesan authority brought about the decline and
closure of a thriving parish hall, built by public subscription at
the time of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
Like the Victorian priest who gladly allowed a parish hall to be
erected on his glebe, may the Church of today gladly use its
inherited land and buildings for the common good - and may diocesan
officials be unafraid of open, authentic, and friendly consultative
conversation with incumbents, PCCs, and ordinary folk of "all
faiths and none".
30 Wilmer Crescent
Kingston upon Thames
Surrey KT2 5LU