on Saturday, 28 November 2015 at 10.59 am by Peter Owen
categorised as Opinion
Richard Beck Owning Your Protestantism: We Follow Our Conscience, Not the Bible
Peter Ormerod The Guardian We need the Church of England more than ever. That’s why we need it to die
Frank Cranmer Law & Religion UK The end of banns in England?
Lizzie Lowrie Saltwater and Honey The Mug
On Richard Beck, firstly I am inclined to think that Luther and other 16th Century protestants *did* seek to put the Bible before all else – the conscience they sought to assert was the conscientious right to assert the Bible their way. So the Protestant ethos was predominantly submission to Biblical authority, not exercise of individual conscience to override the Bible if they saw fit. Secondly, Richard seems to be asserting the need for a group to achieve consensus, and some kind of agreement on uniform faith. I’d argue that that isn’t where we are at today in the Anglican… Read more »
Thanks for the link to the Richard Beck article. Most interesting. The comments below the original article are interesting as well. Especially interesting is the Q & A with Jurgen Moltmann on the issue of sexuality and divisiveness in the church. I’ve snipped out an abridged version below; but folks will find the whole exchange ( text/audio) if they scroll down to comments, intriguing. J.M. “Because the church is about the Gospel and not about sex. And we believe in the justification of human beings by faith alone, and not by faith and heterosexuality or whatever….I don’t know why this… Read more »
I like Riuchard Beck’s contribution to this thread. He asserts the primacy of the individual Christian conscience over bibliolatry. However, the human conscience is not just primary for Evangelicals. It extends are far as the Roman Catholic Church – with this recent response of Pope Francis to a Lutheran woman whose husband is a Roman Catholic. When visiting the Lutheran community in Rome, the Pope was asked: “Why is it that I, a Lutheran Christan, cannot receive the Holy Communion at the Catholic Mass with my husband? The Pope’s answer, though qualified by the statement that he was not competent… Read more »
I’m guessing Richard Beck has not met many Sydney Anglicans. Or other members of GAFCON. It’s such a sweeping statement to make about Protestants. Leadership (i.e. clergy/elders) can effect subtle, but powerful, influence on a congregation. What of those who may not share particular viewpoints? Conscience is important but I know I need the Bible to guide me. Hermeneutics is individual. But congregations operate as groups. Nice to be able to read comments on Richard’s blog.
My conscience is in continual need of education. The question is, to what source do I turn to educate it, and what is it that makes that source specifically Christian?
@ Tim Chesterton, “My conscience is in continual need of education.” Concisely put, and with good questions. Classically, conscience is that interior personal voice that compels us to do good and avoid evil. It both precedes action and then judges action. As your questions imply, formation of conscience for the Christian requires the formation of faith. However, and I suggest this goes to the point being made in Beck’s article, it’s not simply a matter of reading what’s in the bible. Conscience leads to taking a decision. Decisions pertain to an object. So, I am attentive to religious counsel; but… Read more »
IN considering the supreme importance of conscience it might be well to recall Newman’s definition, which does indeed differ markedly from the common contemporary meaning: “[N]ow let us see what is the notion of conscience in this day in the popular mind. There, no more than in the intellectual world, does “conscience” retain the old, true, Catholic meaning of the word. There too the idea, the presence of a Moral Governor is far away from the use of it, frequent and emphatic as that use of it is. When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean… Read more »
“Luther and other 16th Century protestants *did* seek to put the Bible before all else – the conscience they sought to assert was the conscientious right to assert the Bible their way.” — Susannah Clark
Ms. Clark, this is using one’s conscience, according to how one interprets the Bible. Biblical authority according to one’s own conscience.
For me, the emphasis in your opening sentence ought to be on the last two words. Biblical authority “their way”.
If that is not acting on one’s conscience, I don’t know what is.
As Pastor John Robinson of the Pilgrim Fathers said in his farewell address in 1620:
“If God reveal any thing to you, by any other instrument of his,be as ready to receive it,as ever you were to receive any truth by my ministry; for I am verily persuaded, I am very confident, that the Lord has more truth, yet to break out of his holy word.”
“…I am very confident, that the Lord has more truth, yet to break out of his holy word.”
– Pastor John Robinson, via Jeremy –
And, is that not the whole point about the biblical inerrancy crowd? They seem to have no expectation of the Holy Spirit bringong further revelation of the deeper meanings residing in the Scriptures (than those already discerned by conservative fundamentalists).
There seems to be a tednency, there, to major on the Old Testament style shibboleths rather than the liberating freedom of Christ in the Gospels.
Perhaps it’s impertinent for a non-Protestant Anglican (tautology? or oxymoron?) to comment, but it seems to me that conscience is not merely an individual faculty but primarily a collective one. If we are suspicious of our own fallible intuitions, we will want to test them against those of other Christians, and ultimately against the whole ekklesia, past and present. So yes, conscience is partly about ‘consensus’ – or, better, about community. If the Protestant ideal of conscience has always been the lone individual boldly following his/her God-given insight, the Catholic one has been a mode of experience formed in a… Read more »
Re Peter Ormerod, “But at the heart of this story is a telling irony. The cinemas bracket the Lord’s Prayer alongside political advertising and fear it may cause offence; the church’s leaders disagree. In this dispute, the cinemas are quite right, for the Lord’s Prayer is indeed deeply political and offensive to many. As the activist Symon Hill writes, it is a ‘prayer for the overthrow of all existing social conditions ‘ ”.
In this dispute, the cinemas are quite right, for the Lord’s Prayer is indeed deeply political and offensive to many. As the activist Symon Hill writes, it is a ‘prayer for the overthrow of all existing social conditions ‘ ”.
That’s as may be; but have no fear of this, for the church has done its job so well that I see little danger that cinema patrons will read the Lord’s Prayer as anything other than hackneyed greeting-card sentiments.
@ rjb, “…conscience is not merely an individual faculty but primarily a collective one.” Only if one uses the term “conscience” in an equivocal sense. The use of the term “primarily” further muddies the waters. The heart of conscientious objection is when individuals dissent from the stated policy of the community or society. So, it is probably important to distinguish between conscience in the classical psychological sense, the sense in which it is used in Christian anthropology, and the more recent sociological sense in which you deploy the term in the compound notion of ” collective conscience”. The thrust of… Read more »
Conscience–and lack thereof–is formed through social construction. RJB is correct.
An ‘individualized conscience’ is a legacy of 19th century German idealism.
‘Natural Law’ in St Thomas is a subset of the doctrine of creation as revealed in Holy Scripture.
Russell Hittinger has done a good job reminding liberal Catholics of this reality.
@ Daniel Berry, “the church has done its job so well that I see little danger that cinema patrons will read the Lord’s Prayer as anything other than hackneyed greeting-card sentiments” Lol! Your view is probably dead on as well. This controversy is very interesting to a Canadian. For example, the CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster, which carries advertising, would not entertain running an ad like the Lord’s Prayer, given its stated advertising policy. See bullet four in the very brief CBC policy statement wherein religion and cigarette smoking are treated with equal disdain. http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/reporting-to-canadians/acts-and-policies/programming/advertising-standards/1-3-11/ Question: What is the policy of… Read more »
@ C Seitz, “Conscience–and lack thereof–is formed through social construction. RJB is correct.” Actually neither you nor rjb is correct in that you both are wedging a false dichotomy. There are several problems with your statement. I’ll mention just two related ones. It is important not to confuse but rather make the distinction between the personal and the merely private. Additionally, it is important to consider the relationship between conversion which is personal and the social group, whether or not to belong, or whether to belong to the social group in the same way. Instance Bernard Lonergan’s treatment of the… Read more »
@ Rod Gillis: I don’t know the answer to your question. Full disclosure: I’m a New Yorker. However, I believe that the UK is only slightly ahead of us in the indifference most people feel toward religion – no matter how many people in the US claim to be churchgoers. The difference between us and the Brits is that the Brits have outgrown their fear of being known not to give a rat’s behind about the church, whereas, in the US, for complex reasons, that charade continues.
“Conscience–and lack thereof–is formed through social construction. RJB is correct.” What if the Bible itself is a social construct? Is compassion a social construct? I don’t believe so. I don’t believe in a socially constructed compassion. I believe in compassion that bursts and flares and where necessary defies social construct. And I believe compassion is the heart of God and the heart of conscience and the heart of what we find in the person of Jesus. In short, I don’t believe ‘conscience’ – which flickers and emanates from the divine compassion – is socially constructed at all. Conscience is what… Read more »
Lonergan? Glad to know he has any readership still.
And now ‘compassion’ is ‘conscience’.
“My conscience is in continual need of education. The question is, to what source do I turn to educate it, and what is it that makes that source specifically Christian?”
Whatever I, or anyone else says in response to that question, Tim, YOUR conscience will decide for you. Which is precisely as it should be/as God made you to decide.
@ csetiz “Lonergan? Glad to know he has any readership still.” Funny you should say that. See: The Journal of Moral Theology Vol. 4, no. 1 2015. Natural Law in a Digital Age by Nadia Delicata. Footnote # 5 references Russell Hittinger. Footnote # 7 references Bernard Lonergan (Insight). @ Daniel Berry “The difference between us and the Brits is that the Brits have outgrown their fear of being known not to give a rat’s behind about the church, whereas, in the US, for complex reasons, that charade continues.” Hilarious. As a guy who grew up on the streets of… Read more »
@Rod Gillis – the BBC does not run ads in the UK. On the question of Luther – he very plainly rated some Biblical books/passages above others. For instance he resolved any conflict between The Epistle of James and the doctrine of justification by faith as he understood it by giving a clear priority to justification by faith. What most of us who believe in the equality of same gender relationships are doing is to prioritise in the same way, believing that the theology that ‘it is not good for people to be alone’ and that Christ is come to… Read more »
Responses to my question about conscience (which was a genuine one, and in no way designed to elicit any particular answer) would seem to indicate two truths about the general TA consensus:
1. When it comes to the right private interpretation of scripture, whatever we may say about catholic beliefs, most people here seem to be radical protestants.
2. Not only radical protestants, but in fact, almost Quaker, with a firm belief in the ‘inner light’ that will guide each individual believer, whatever anyone else might say.
JCF: ‘Whatever I, or anyone else says in response to that question, Tim, YOUR conscience will decide for you. Which is precisely as it should be/as God made you to decide.’
I don’t have quite that degree of confidence in the reliability of my own conscience, JCF. I know from past experience that I’m pretty good at self-deception when I’ve got a vested interest in the issue, whatever it might be.
Tim, I think it’s impossible to believe something just because we’re told to believe it. Genuine belief requires intellectual and emotional assent, otherwise it’s just acceptance. Once you have understood the deep equality of all human beings, you can no longer follow a church that tells you that some races are favoured by God and that others are inferior, for example. At the most, you can say that you “ought” to believe it because your church teaches you to believe it. But your heart will not be able to follow that belief and there will be a tension inside you.… Read more »
Christopher, if you can show me an example of ‘conscience’ that is not driven and infused by compassion, then I suspect I may be able to show you the difference between ‘conscience’ and ‘belief in certain facts’. Of course conscience is compassion. If I feel I have to support a gay couple’s request to marry, so their lives are not diminished, then that is compassionate conscience. If I believe I should not steal, because of the harm that does somebody else, then that is compassionate conscience. If I am opposed to nuclear weapons because of their potential to devastate lives… Read more »
When someone steals a watch and later it is said that her ‘conscience pricked’ her, leading her to return it, at issue is how ‘conscience’ may be said to prick one person and not another.
Trying to make ‘compassion’ move into this space strikes me as a confusing category mistake.
Re: Lonergan. Glad someone is still footnoting him somewhere. I thought he had pretty much fallen off the grid of those few who found him insightful in his day.
Following on… To me, forgiveness is one of the supreme examples of conscience, and driven by compassion, and the compassionate nature of God. To me, conscience is not some arid and dispassionate assertion of facts (which I have to confess, I think academic theology can sometimes seem, but not always)… it is the Spirit of God somehow at work in our actual lived lives, making difficult calls, and insistent demands on our hearts, but inciting compassion. Again and again, Jesus homes in on forgiveness, and the very life of Jesus lived on earth, appears to be a disclosure of the… Read more »
“…the bible itself is socially constructed by the religious communities that generated it… groups of fallible men and women, writing fallible ideas, like my own fallible ideas.” Fortunately this isn’t the view the Bible has of itself. But of course that could mean it is wrong about that as well! It does make it a rather odd thing to pay the Bible so much attention in our worship, and in the hands of the long history of interpretation where it is viewed so centrally, on the terms of its own deliverances. This is probably one good reason why Christians are… Read more »
Erika, you said, ‘I don’t think there is a single person who can truly believe what their conscience tells them to be wrong.’ And yet other people’s consciences tell them that the same belief is right. And unless God is hopelessly confused, at least one of them is wrong. See, I don’t really see how you can avoid basing your position on the idea that conscience is infallible. I don’t think my conscience is infallible. I have changed my mind on some things over the years. I expect to do so again. So I repeat my original question (and emphasize… Read more »
@ Rosemary Hannah, tks for the BBC clarification. Your point about Luther’s use of NT texts is a helpful reminder that a particular focus of a great thinker needs to be contextualized within their entire outlook. Notice where Beck says, “Luther famously declared: ‘To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.’ ” Aquinas, and subsequent ‘Thomisms’ would agree with that as generalization–even if the goal is conscience informed by revelation. But that does not resolve all the problems. Beck further notes, “That’s Protestantism. The elevation of the individual’s conscience over the magisterium (teaching authority) of the church.” However,even in… Read more »
Very interesting discussion. Conscience is complicated. It certainly contains elements of compassion, but probably other elements as well. Christopher, I don’t think conscience can be separated from other elements. I’m thinking about the example of Selma, Alabama, and the two marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. The first one was quite brutal but did not move the dial on legal justice for African Americans. It motivated those already sympathetic to help out on a second effort. The second one was also brutal, but it was broadcast on live national television – one TV network cut into “Judgement at… Read more »
Tim, yes, in clear-cut human right questions there can only be one right answer. Which one? Well, seeing that both sides use the Bible to defend their position, using Scripture alone as your guide seems to me to be as shaky as trusting your own instinct. Of course you can rely on Scripture and other sources to make your decision, but you will still not have 100% certainty. I don’t think I have said that my conscience is infallible. But neither is anyone’s interpretation of Scripture. The question was what we “believe”, not what “truth” is. I have no idea… Read more »
“Fortunately this isn’t the view the Bible has of itself.”
How can a collection of books (noting in passing that Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Coptic all have different sized collections) possibly exhibit anything as anthropomorphic as a view of itself?
Great discussion. Rick Allen’s reference to Newman was very thought-provoking and pertinent. My conscience lets me know how very often I am weak, devious, thoughtless and unloving. And I am a repeat offender. Thank God for grace.
Hi again Erika. You said, ‘Well, seeing that both sides use the Bible to defend their position, using Scripture alone as your guide seems to me to be as shaky as trusting your own instinct.’ Interesting observation. I think I have a good idea of which controversy you are referring to when you say ‘Both sides…’ (although I think you agree with me that there are more than two). But the phrase ‘using the Bible’ (I’d italicize ‘using’ if this comment platform let me) was a little jarring for me. Not that I dispute that the Bible has indeed been… Read more »
“And now ‘compassion’ is ‘conscience’.? Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, Strange as that may sound, Christopher Seitz, one only has to examine how people today respond to requests for financial contributions to charities, to understand how one’s consicence is affected by compassion. But then, there is such a thing as selective compassion. For instance, American Republican Fundamentalists feeling the need to prop up African Churches that support the extermination of LGBT people, and their supporters and families. Like it or not, God has given each one of us the gift of free-will – a precious freedom that ought not be… Read more »
apropos Fr Andrew’s point…
Indeed: in fact, how can a collection of books whose cultural context encompasses the entire Levant, and whose composition (oral and written) cutting, pasting, editing, reworking and fighting over which spanned at least a millennium and a half be said to have a view of itself?
“How can a collection of books … possibly exhibit anything as anthropomorphic (sic) as a view of itself?”
That this seems odd to you speaks volumes.
Do you genuinely mean you have no familiarity with texts like Romans 15:4f; 2 Timothy 3:14f; 2 Peter 16f; Rev 22:18f? The list could go on.
Cranmer based his famous collect on the first of these (Almighty God who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning…).”
It is clear that ships are passing in the night. Such basic understandings the tradition has assumed are now so many ‘anthropomorphisms.’
Exactly, Father Andrew. The Bible can’t have a view of itself, because the Bible isn’t a living, sapient being. The authors of the Bible – a multiplicity of people, in different ages, writing for multiple religious communities – may have had views about the writings. So might the religious communities themselves, and their successors. However, the concept that ‘the Bible is true because the Bible says it is true’ needs to be handled with great caution. And that is before one even starts on what we mean by ‘true’. Are the creation myths ‘true’? And in what sense? Was Noah’s… Read more »
“@ cseitz “Lonergan? Glad to know he has any readership still.” Funny you should say that. See: The Journal of Moral Theology Vol. 4, no. 1 2015. Natural Law in a Digital Age by Nadia Delicata. Footnote # 5 references Russell Hittinger. Footnote # 7 references Bernard Lonergan (Insight).”
Rod, as Prof. Seitz teaches in the Toronto School of Theology, one of whose member colleges includes a Lonergan Research Institute, I suspect he has his tongue firmly in cheek on this one!
Christopher, please try to believe that I am not getting at you, and indeed this is Anglicans thinking and discussing together, across an interface and sharing that reflects big challenges for the Communion as a whole. You write: ” ‘How can a collection of books … possibly exhibit anything as anthropomorphic (sic) as a view of itself?’ That this seems odd to you speaks volumes.” It does not seem odd. It simply seems open to challenge and de-construction. It was not the bible that ‘had a view of itself’. It couldn’t have. It was the authors who had views, but… Read more »
(part 2… continuing…) Which brings me to your last point: “It is clear that ships are passing in the night.” To me that is defeatism, and sectarianism, and contrary to this gift of grace in Anglicanism, and its inclusive instincts. We are not some Protestant sect. Cranmer himself was more than that. To me the real challenge in our time is not ‘Which group within our Communion is right?’ It is not ‘What should be our uniform belief?’ It is – as always – the challenge of grace. The grace to find our radical unity in the radical Jesus –… Read more »
Tim, apologies for sloppy language! I think that in every dispute, not just in the same sex discussion, people of all shades of opinion draw from Scripture to either inform their belief or to affirm it. It’s a trite observation to say that the bible has been used in defence of slavery, racism and misogyny. I don’t want to state that as a purely “your way wrong, my way right” question, either, because all of the above were once genuinely questioned and assessed by deeply moral people on all sides. It’s only in retrospect that one particular view has come… Read more »
@ Susannah Clark: Thanks for doing your homework.
I especially like the part where Samuel hacked the king of the Amorites to pieces (out of zeal for the Lord, don’tcha’ know) for being, well, king of the Amorites. But I also like the part where Saul’s god got angry with Saul because, although Saul had followed the god’s commandment to slay every man, woman, child and infant among the Philistines, he spared the livestock. This made the god so angry that he took the kingship away from Saul.
And some people call stories of such barbarity “holy writ.”
‘Do you genuinely mean you have no familiarity with texts like Romans 15:4f;…’ Of course I have the familiarity: what I don’t have is a conservative interpretation of them. I don’t believe in magic books. A handful of cherry-picked verses do not make an inanimate object like a book self-aware to the point where it can have a view of other books. I’d say that the writers of Romans, 2 Tim etc. and even Cranmer were self aware; I’d say they thought scriptures (which for the NT writers probably means the Septuagint) inspired by God: but to go from there… Read more »
Interesting debate, one is left with the impression then that conscience is the final arbiter of truth. For those arguing for greater inclusion in the sexual debate (that any discussion of TA must ultimately become about) then they have no more moral case than those opposed, since ultimately truth is only relative and morality merely a inner construct.
If I believe the bible says one thing or another and my conscience confirms that, surely then that is my truth and others must accept it, even if their own says differently?
Geoff–I prefer my Aquinas ‘neat’ and not mixed with Heidegger and Kant. But Aquinas will continue to cast long shadows of constructive influence all the same, in spite of ‘transcendental’ efforts to modernize him.
Susannah– you confuse ‘truth’ with lack of fallibility and/or congruence with your own fallible thoughts. “The word of God is living and active sharper than any two edged sword.”
The NT constantly adverts to the special character of prophets and apostles, whose privileged accounts are lamps unto their feet.
But of course one can reject this position. As you do.