I am a regular churchgoer. I do not believe in Original Sin, the Virgin birth, or that Jesus died to atone for the sins of the world, or in his bodily resurrection. Am I a heretic, or are these views more generally accepted than acknowledged? [Answers, 25 January]
Your answers: Until my father died after a drawn-out and painful illness in 1971, this was my position. My nearly 40 years of being a regular churchgoer had not prepared me, and I became an atheist. I still attended church regularly for eight years. Then I was diagnosed as having depression.
I was off work for months. One day, I went for a walk and exhausted myself. Passing the church, I went in to rest. In the silence, I began to feel better. Then I heard: “O Lord of the harvest, send labourers into the field. Send some to sow and some to reap and some to clear the ground and plough and, if you will, send me.”
I was alone and gobsmacked. After much discussion with my wife, I offered to work for the local church, doing anything that would not step on other people’s toes. The Revd James B. Seaton suggested that I train as a Reader. I agreed, and came to realise that I had never been a Christian, only a churchgoer.
Before I began really to study it, I had regarded the interpretation of the Bible as interesting but not to be taken too seriously. It is, indeed, possible to find apparent contradictions in it, and difficult to believe some of its content. But it is more than a good book: it is the Christian’s guide book.
The questioner does not believe in Original Sin. Since sin is an offence against the divine law, who can avoid it? Everyone will break the divine law in some way. In earlier life, I had had difficulty with the term Original Sin because I assumed that it had something to do with human reproduction.
If you believe in a God who created the universe, a God who can do anything, what is so difficult about accepting the Virgin birth of his Son? The Bible is quite emphatic.
The Old Testament has many stories about God punishing the Children of Israel for their wrongdoing. He had to, because he is righteous, and sin must be punished. To discontinue this saga, the God of love sent Jesus (John 3.16).
The risen Jesus was not instantly recognised by Mary Magdalene, or by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Who would be expecting to meet someone they knew to be dead? The astonishing truth is reflected in Luke 24.37-43. Spirits have no need to eat.
What we believe is between each individual and God. Heresy is a human concept, inspired by the desire for power. Who has the right interpretation of the Bible will be revealed by God at the last judgement — the only judgement that counts.
I am now a priest, and retired. I hope that this letter helps the questioner.
(The Revd) Haydn Williams
Your question: I am in the 11th year of my dream job as organist of a Forward in Faith town-centre “mini-cathedral”, where I play a magnificent historic pipe organ. My day job comes with free accommodation, but will end soon. At that point, should I seek a new church post on a house-for-duty basis (all the rage in clerical circles, but not so fashionable for organists), or put my possessions in a lock-up garage, live in a tent, and stay where I am? Or is there another way forward?
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