Nature of the expectation of Jesus
From the Revd Professor David R. Law
Sir, — Was the birth of Christ by prophets long foretold (Faith, 18/25 December)? Well, yes and no. No, if by “prophecy” we mean that the Old Testament prophets were foretelling future events of which they knew all the details or were doing something equivalent to predicting the results of next week’s lottery draw. Yes, if by prophecy we understand the prophets’ teaching to contain a theological richness of which they themselves were not fully aware.
There was, to borrow Ricoeur’s term, a divine “surplus” in the messianic prophecies which became fully apparent only in light of the first Christians’ encounter with God in Christ. The fact that we recognise this only in retrospect is no argument against the messianic prophecies as prophecies of Jesus, since, to paraphrase Kierkegaard: life must be lived forwards, but it can only be understood backwards.
The prophets’ insights into God’s providential action in their own age provided the resources that enabled the New Testament writers to recognise and articulate God’s providential action in Jesus of Nazareth. In providing such resources, the Old Testament prophets genuinely prophesied the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
DAVID R. LAW
Professor of Christian Thought and Philosophical Theology
School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
Samuel Alexander Building
University of Manchester
Manchester M13 9PL
Exceptional decision to post consecrated bread
From the Revd Christopher Miles
Sir, — You report (News, 18/25 December) that a former Bishop of Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd Robert Paterson, has criticised parish priests’ sending consecrated wafers by post to parishioners during lockdown as uncanonical. Albeit I am a retired parish priest, I admit to such a practice. Exceptional circumstances demand exceptional measures.
The Bishop puts forward a number of good principles related to holy communion, such as the corporate nature of the service. As an RAF veteran myself, I agreed in 2018 to support a housebound RAF veteran, John, in his nineties, and until lockdown had been visiting him monthly, including, in December 2019, a shortened communion service, in which, to emphasise the corporate nature of such a service, I also partook of the consecrated bread and wine (after him).
About the time of the first lockdown in March 2020, John went into a care home. Even his daughter, as his next of kin, was not permitted to visit him. There was no way in which I or any other priest could visit him. I asked John whether he would like me to send him a brief order of service with a wafer, for Easter. He was enthusiastic before and very appreciative after. I did the same before Christmas, but as John died (of Covid-19) just before Christmas, I do not know whether he made use of the service.
I am not familiar with the canons of our Church, but I do recall that our Founder was critical of the over-zealous way in which some leading religious leaders of his day applied the law. What is one to do in such present circumstances? Limit one’s pastoral ministry to a prayer over the phone? I submit that exceptional circumstances demand exceptional measures.
2 Spa Close, Hadlow
Tonbridge TN11 0JX
Another misinterpretation of Charles Wesley
From Dr Ruth Grayson
Sir, — The Revd Dr John Bunyan (Letters, 1 January) is as mistaken in his interpretation of Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn “Lo! he comes with clouds descending” as were the authors of the Church of England report of November 2019 on the origins of Christian anti-Semitism.
It is staggering to read that people in such positions of influence in the Church can take excerpts from scripture completely out of context and use their own interpretations to influence the future course of Christian doctrine.
The reference in that hymn to Christ’s crucifixion cannot be interpreted as in any way anti-Semitic. Yes, it was the Romans, not the Jews, who actually nailed Jesus to the cross. Wesley’s words, however, are a direct reference to Revelation 1.7, in which all the peoples of the earth — with our collective guilt — will one day come face to face with our Lord. We are all, especially at this time of year, waiting to see the “true Messiah”.
In light of the current trend towards political correctness in Western Christianity, it might be highly convenient if passages in scripture which could be misinterpreted by certain lobbyists were simply expunged from the Bible.
This would help expedite the process, already sadly so manifest in so many ways, of “dumbing down” our faith in a misguided attempt to make it uncontroversial and acceptable to all. It is worth considering whether this trend may itself be hastening the decline of the Church in its present form.
25 Whitfield Road
Sheffield S10 4GJ
From Mr Peter Hulse
Sir, — The Revd Dr John Bunyan suggests that familiar Advent hymns may offend our Jewish brothers and sisters. He may well be right; but Advent is surely a suitable time for us to remember a key difference between Christianity and Judaism: we believe that the Messiah has come, and they do not. Anyway, these hymns have some good tunes, and I look forward to being allowed to sing them again.
Crookham Common Road
Berkshire RG7 4TD
From Dr Jane Clements
Sir, — What a shame that the Revd Dr John Bunyan was required to draw our attention to the anti-Judaic words of one of our most prolific Advent hymns! Even after years of education on the subject, the work of the Council of Christians and Jews and the publication of God’s Unfailing Word, churches and cathedrals still insist on including the offensive lines. Indeed, I note that this year marks the 20th anniversary of my first letter in the Church Times on this subject.
Sometimes this perpetuation is through ignorance, but, unfortunately, it is also through the belief that well-known words cannot be altered (although, of course, they frequently are) or that “we don’t mean the words offensively anyway.”
This really is not good enough. Let us, at last, through adoption of a few theologically sound alterations, ensure that, in the words of the choristers’ prayer, “what we sing with our lips, we may believe in our hearts”.
4 Church Street
Bicester OX26 6AZ
Parish giving falls short, but still more managers
From Mr John Radford
Sir, — I was shocked to read of the £40-million shortfall in Parish Share during the pandemic (News, 1 January). Even more shocking was to read the appointment (by one of the dioceses mentioned in the story) of two associate archdeacons (Gazette, same issue), which, I assume, are full-time posts. If this is the case, here is yet another example of the proliferation of senior management posts in the Church while the number of beneficed clergy continues to decline.
Wimborne St Giles
Dorset BH21 5LZ
Voters and Europe
From the Revd Brian Adams
Sir, — Your leader comment “Voters’ voices” (1 January) insults the intelligence of the British people. I write as one who voted Remain in the 2016 Referendum. Whatever may be the truth about the gerrymandering and skulduggery leading up to the 2019 General Election, the Government gained a thumping majority for its Brexit policy.
There are two issues that have been largely overlooked in all these discussions. First, at its inception, the European Union rejected the proposal that it should assert its Christian basis and voted to be secular. Second, the declared policy of the EU is that it should move towards “ever greater union”.
May it be that in the four decades that we have been members of the EEC and then the EU, the British people have become aware that this is not the path that they want to tread and so voted “out”. Trade is trade, and where there is a will there is a way to agree terms, by negotiation, but this is not where the heart of the nation resides.
18 Hayes End Manor
South Petherton TA13 5BE
Hunting with hounds
From the Revd Robert Payne
Sir, — Fox-hunting (Letters, 18/25 December and 1 January) is a difficult issue. Indeed, there are two issues: killing foxes and trail-hunting.
I believe that creation needs stewarding (Genesis), not abusing. Predators need controlling. Foxes spread rabies, kill lambs and small ground animals, and eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds. I am told that on a substantial estate locally — managed by the RSPB with little predator control — there is little balance of nature, with some species simply non-existent.
Hunting is probably the best method of controlling foxes. Snaring is cruel, and trapping, poisoning, or vaccinating is impractical or indiscriminate. The old and sick are either taken instantly or get away cleanly. The healthy escape largely, and only small numbers of foxes are taken in any area.
As hunting has been banned, farmers use rifles, but too often foxes are injured and die lingering deaths.
Now that hunting is illegal, trail-hunting is the norm. This is much enjoyed and observed, but the difficulty is that, when hounds get several fields away, they sometimes “cross” on to the scent of a real fox and hunt this. Usually the huntsman can bring them back, but not always.
Huge swaths of rural Britain are undergirded by hunting. This brings the community together, and supports local welfare. People enjoy riding and following hounds that are hunting. It is both an art and a science. Most country people are very law-abiding. But the ban has so upset people that they are tempted to break the law, which is what generally happens when a law is judged to be bad.
The real loser is the fox, whose numbers are going down much faster than before, not to mention the increased suffering. This is why hunting has escalated in popularity since the ban.
Many rural Christian churchgoers are involved in hunting — looking after hounds, liverying horses, and providing hospitality to visitors; so, if trail-hunting is banned on land owned by the Church of England, they will be disinclined to support their churches financially. This would be another blow in an already difficult time.
The Old Courthouse Cottage
6 Clun Road, Aston on Clun
Shropshire SY7 8EW