Comments: covenant primer

Giles Fraser is wrong on two counts:

(1) The name of the table at which all believers in Jesus sit is 'Christianity' or 'the Church'. It is not 'anglicanism' or anything of that stable.

(2) It is dangerous to equate a claim to believe in Jesus with true Christianity. Anyone can do a roll-call of dodgy individuals who have used the 'Christian' badge for their own manipulative ends. And in any case the term 'believe in' is highly ambiguous, is an inexact translation from the Greek, & needs a lot of unpacking not to mention a knowledge of Greek for us to understand (as the Bishop of Durham does) what it means.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 12:42pm GMT

"It is dangerous to equate a claim to believe in Jesus with true Christianity."

It is, but the CEEC etc were not set up in judgement to assess who might use that title. As the parable of (eg) the wheat and the tares reminds us, that's God's business.

And I do find your "the term 'believe in' is highly ambiguous, is an inexact translation from the Greek, & needs a lot of unpacking not to mention a knowledge of Greek for us to understand (as the Bishop of Durham does) what it means" rather patronising. For my part I lament the fact that Coptic is no longer a compulsory part of NSM training....

Posted by mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 1:30pm GMT

Christopher Shell:

Having taken Giles to task over his use of words like "believe", perhaps, you would clarify your meaning of the term "True Christianity".

A suggestion: instead of focussing on stated beliefs to determine who is a "true christian", why not look for the results of sound belief, the so-called "fruits of the spirit" gentleness, kindness etc., in a person's thoughts and actions.

By this measure, some of the most vocal on either side of this debate would be found wanting.

Posted by Andrew Innes at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 2:24pm GMT

I'm amazed by this campaign to ditch almost 5 centuries of Anglican comprehensiveness and to remake Anglicanism as a confessional church. There is already a surplus of such confessional churches out there; the Augsburg Confession, the Westminster Confession, the Roman Catholic Magisterium. The Southern Baptists in the USA (once a denomination that was proudly anti-credal) have a set of doctrines with an enforcement arm so tough and thorough that it makes Rome look like liberal democracy; they routinely excommunicate entire congregations.
Is that really what we want? That's NOT why I converted to Episcopalianism 25 years ago; indeed, I wanted to be part of a church that did not require a doctrinal blood test for admission.

The Christian faith is not about a set of texts or propositions or doctrines. The Truth we proclaim is not a book, but a Person. To be Christian is to acknowlege a relationship to the Person of Jesus Christ. That's inevitably going to include a lot of people, the "dodgy" as well as the intellectually and spiritually athletic.
As far as I'm concerned, that's as it should be. The Church is a family, not a university or a club.

I think Baptism and the 2 Creeds we already have are sufficient confessions of faith. We don't need turnstiles or doormen at the Altar rail.

Posted by counterlight at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 2:32pm GMT

C. Shell states, "It is dangerous to equate a claim to believe in Jesus with true Christianity." While there might be some debate as to whether or not one believes enough about Jesus as the Christ and what that implies, centering faith in Jesus is for most Christians the basis of faith. What reformers on both side of all issues want to do is to determine degrees of completion as Christians--who is "more" Christian and who is "less" Christian, implying some kind of judgement. Fraser is absolutely dead on--leave judgement to God, embrace faith, and let each Christian determine how they might live into their faith within the contexts of their own lives and their chosen denominations. Anglicanism was, is, and always will be a place for those in varying degrees of incompletion who did, do, and always will gather together at Christ's invitation to the table.

Posted by Shawn+ at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 3:09pm GMT

Right on! Counterlight.

Posted by Andrew Innes at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 3:29pm GMT

"I think Baptism and the 2 Creeds we already have are sufficient confessions of faith. We don't need turnstiles or doormen at the Altar rail."

Thanks. I agree 100%.

In the US, the Missouri Lutheran Synod folks practice closed communion. To receive, you must be known to the pastor - I think your certificate of confirmation is your 'ticket.'

In days past, you would carry a small metal or cardboard pocket token that you would be asked to show before receiving communion. You can find these for sale on e-Bay.

I don't know what travelling MLS folks do - perhaps carry their confirmation certificates?

Can't be too careful about letting in the riff-raff, can you?

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 4:35pm GMT

Dr. Giles Fraser is spot on, as he was in an earlier Church Times article in which he called the new breed of 'fundigelicals' "Bible traffic wardens."

Good points, Counterlight!

Posted by John Henry at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 5:46pm GMT


I agree that Anglicanism - and the wider catholic Church - does not need total agreement on every theological point. But on Christ's role in salvation there can be no disagreement for the Church to have unity. Christ makes it vary clear that the Church's unity is solely based on our reconciled relationship with God (John 17:20-21).

In ECUSA, some of our leaders reject this basic tenant of faith and thus transform the Church from the body of Christ and into a philanthropic organization that has the trappings of ceremony. ++Schori is unfortunately part of this when she claims, "If we insist we know the one way to God, we're putting God in a very small box,"


I can't see how statements such as these square with Christ's claim that "I am the way, the truth and the life, No one comes to the Father, except through me." (John 14:5).

When our theology comes so elastic that we can't honestly state the creeds, openly contradict the creeds and Jesus's teachings we break fellowship with Christ and therefore with each other.

Posted by Chris at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 6:24pm GMT

Counterlight: You are absolutely right. We have two profound doctrinal statements - the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed. Any attempt by innovators to add to this should be seriously questioned. What can they add to these creeds? WHy would they want to? Who are they drawing outside of the Church with these additions?

Secondly, we claim to be a part of universal or catholic Christianity. If we come up with a narrow sectarian statement (or any statement or creed or covenant) that is not approved by an ecumenical council of the church it seems to me that we will have given up on our catholicity. Are we really ready to do this and become yet one more sect with a special confession?

Anything more than the creeds is unwarranted and divisive. I personally will not sign on to anything more than the creeds and the baptismal covenant, no matter how well worded it may be. If only being able to agree to the creeds and the baptismal covenant means that I and others like me get kicked out - then so be it. I don't think that anyone, bishop, theologican or archbishop, has the authority to add anything to the creeds.

Posted by Dennis at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 6:28pm GMT

Thank you, counterlight.

Happy 2007 to all.

Posted by JayVinVermont at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 6:46pm GMT

'.. an inexact translation from the Greek, & needs a lot of unpacking not to mention a knowledge of Greek for us to understand (as the Bishop of Durham does) what it means.'
Christopher Shell

"Who then may be saved ?"

Posted by laurence at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 7:10pm GMT

'But on Christ's role in salvation there can be no disagreement for the Church..'

On the contrary, there is no agreed doctrine of atonement or salvation held by the Churches.

the Creeds baldly state

'crucified, dead and buried
...he rose......'

as if to say to us : 'make of this what you will. And by heaven that is what we have done! But fortuantely without trying to impose any one model or theory of salvation, or 'how it works'.

However, I have never quite understood, why those who go furthest in seeking to deify this Jewish itinerant preacher, Jesus, seem often, least disposed to heed his message. Hello ! Remember that ?

Posted by laurence at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 7:27pm GMT

Isn't it telling that if our evangelical friends like a passage of scripture (i.e. it fits with their view of what scripture really says) it is: 'very clear' (Chris). But if they don't it is 'highly ambiguous, is an inexact translation from the Greek, & needs a lot of unpacking not to mention a knowledge of Greek' (Shell). Its the "plain meaning of scripture" only when it pleases them.

Counterlight is of course correct. Moreover, it is significant that when the early church spoke of the word of God they didn't mean the Bible, they meant Jesus.

And of course 'Yes', Dr Shell: "Anyone can do a roll-call of dodgy individuals who have used the 'Christian' badge for their own manipulative ends". I agree entirely.

Posted by Giles Fraser at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 7:28pm GMT

++Katharine seems to believe that being a Christian means doing what Jesus told us to do rather than simply proclaiming one or another set of rigid "beliefs". The "covenantors" seem to care more about "right" beliefs than living a Christlike life. This takes us back to the mission discussion as discussed by Mark Harris among others - Can these two philosophies live together in one church? Or is the difference so great that there should be, for example, an Anglican Communion for pure believers and an Episcopal Communion for doers?

Posted by pseudopiskie at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 8:06pm GMT

Some of the arguments being made above are, in effect, arguments for no Covenant at all, or at least a Covenant that undermines one that would restrict. I doubt that this is the view of N. T. Wright, who may be Mr. Covenant but he might not be Mr Open Covenant. Giles Fraser may be a Mr. Open Covenant, although his claim about orthodoxy is one that won't stretch to Reform and company.

And some people are referring to two creeds and a baptism. Reform and company, and indeed Tom Wright, will want to know how you believe those creeds and what denials are involved (he wrote this himself, criticising denying Anglicans when attacking once fellow evangelicals). Plus, as seen here, they continue to wave the John 14:5 text as if from the words of Jesus, whereas some of us think that Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and more have their own valuable insights.

There was once a certain R. Williams who was tried for heresy and wasn't guilty, who said some four years on in 1868 that there was hardly any doctrine of the C of E that he did not teach, though had a sacred duty to avoid exaggerations and misinterpretations, and claimed after being dead a century "upon the hypothesis of the Church of England being properly conservable, my method was the most logically conservative."

This was a view contrasted with Leslie Stephen, who challenged the integrity of both ritualists and Broad Churchpeople, and wrote in (interestingly) Fraser's Magazine in 1870 a piece that said Broad Churchpeople were generally honourable people, and wondered if they believing that Christianity is in some sense the unltimate religion should continue with old formulae or "break with the old state of things and try a fresh start?"

Some people elsewhere are breaking the old state of things, so perhaps the inclusives should themselves try something of a fresh start, in a Covenant to undermine Covenants.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 8:24pm GMT

This is just too much fun. "Anyone can do a roll-call of dodgy individuals who have used the 'Christian' badge.."

Who knows, we might have prostitutes washing peoples feet with their hair and tears; lepers; perpetually menstruating women; eunuchs; tax collectors; samaritans; jews; gentiles; descendants of Ishmael and Isaac; easteners; the afflicted; the young; the old; angels; humans.

For heavens sake, it sounds like any soul in creation could sit at the table. What do they think they are doing?! Setting up someone with the authority over all of earth and heaven!

Even worse, they might even quote biblical passages to justify their riff raffy interpretations.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 8:24pm GMT

Err, far be it from me to ask questions about sources' impeccability, but '' (insofar as it would load on Opera with popups disabled) seem to have a remarkable array of rather tendentious anti-liberal merchandise and general rightwing paranoia material advertised on it.

And I recall much discussion recently on the divine Word as the route to God. The assertion that +KJS is unorthodox probably indicates a lack of acquaintance with historic orthodoxy...

Posted by mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 8:41pm GMT

I am somewhat startled by the statements I occasionally read here from fellow Anglicans (I assume) that use the rhetoric that I associate with extreme fundamentalism. I wonder how much of this is associated with Scriptural inerrancy & a refusal to entertain any critical study of Sacred Scripture.

With all due respect, an example in this thread is the absolutism of "Christ makes it vary (sic) clear..." & which then goes on to cite John. I dearly love John's Gospel, but I would never make belief that the author of the Fourth Gospel transmits the ipsissima verba of our Lord a requirement for membership in the Church.

Posted by Prior Aelred at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 9:14pm GMT

Is there anyone left to defend the CCE? We have New Wine affiliated ministers wondering why their leadership have signed. We have evangelical bishops (of impeccable credentials) calling not only the timing but the content of the CCE into question. We have vicars under the authority of signatories standing up and saying 'I did not consent to this'. Even Reform members admit that they did not see the final article, but (unwisely) gave their consent to this pig-in-a-poke.

Is there anything right about it at all? As I sit here, contemplating my letter to my vicar, I'm left wondering what madness overtook them all. I'm trying to see his motives in a sympathetic light, trying to work out what terrible series of events precipitated such extreme and unwise action. But I can find no excuse, no possible reason to justify putting his name to the dog's breakfast that is the CCE.

The CCE has been destroyed utterly, attacked from all sides - liberal, mainstream, evangelical - and surely the signatories have taken a massive hit to their credibility. As for the drafters - I have to wonder if they're busy preparing an equally inept apology for this entirely self-inflicted wound.

Posted by Simon Morden at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 9:19pm GMT

Alleluia! We agree and are correct!

Fraser's comments are a perfect reflection of my beliefs in the matter. How we get others to agree is the point.

Posted by Davis d'Ambly at Saturday, 30 December 2006 at 9:50pm GMT

But, my friends!

Do you not realise?

Can you not see?

It is the Windsor Report wherein lies the salvation of the Anglican Communion!

So, comply or perish!

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 12:18am GMT

As I recall it was a busy week for announcements, pronouncements, covenant drafting, and table setting arrangements for the up coming Primate meeting. The timing for this appears to be a bit suspect.

Posted by Frank at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 2:10am GMT

Christ did indeed claim that "I am the way, the truth and the life, No one comes to the Father, except through me." (John 14:5).

He never did claim that no one comes to the Father, except through *us Christians.*

++Katharine recognizes that there is a meaningful distinction to be made between Christ and the institutional Church/es as the Body of Christ.

*Why is this so difficult?

Austin, TX

Posted by Oriscus at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 4:47am GMT

Re: doctrine of atonement.

TEC has a very explicit doctrine of atonement stated in the Articles of Religion:

XI. Of the Justification of Man.
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

XVIII. Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ.
They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.

XXXI. Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross.
The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.

Posted by Chris at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 6:38am GMT

A remark by Pluralist sparked an interesting idea. There needs to be a movie made about this whole mess, starring Hugh Grant. They can call it "Two Creeds and a Baptism."

Posted by Julian at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 1:34pm GMT

While repeating those passages that demand belief in Christ and baptism, drinking his blood, etc., we would do well to reflect on Matthew 31ff, the parable of the tares (I forget the citation) and follow the caution given in Romans 14.4 -- Why judgest thou another man's servant?
Columba Gilliss

Posted by Columba Gilliss at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 2:11pm GMT

T'...EC has a very explicit doctrine of atonement stated in the Articles of Religion:...'

TEC may have --the rest of us do not.

Posted by laurence at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 3:55pm GMT

We've had "covenanters" before. As I remember we treated them badly. Much rancour ensued. They eventually started to behave (quite on their own and due to shocks and modifications of their own making) and became the quite normal and affable membership of the Church of Scotland that we now know and love. We attend their fetes and members of the Womens' Institute occasionally wake up feeling wicked and come to one of our services with their Anglican pals. I'm all for 'under-reacting' to the perceived threat of the CEEC Covenant. They're quite obviously the most disorganized and disunited portion of Christ's body and won't amount to anything in the end. Courage!

Posted by Raspberry Rabbit at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 5:01pm GMT

If you leave policing in God's hands, then you are simply betting on Jesus as Risen Lord. That gives people the heebies-jeebies who have lately
awakened from their confessional self-contentment to find that Jesus is at work in places, inhabited by people they would not touch with a ten-foot pole for any number of conscientious reasons.

Indeed, is there any place, anywhere in our hurting world, occupied by any people, where Jesus is not at work? I can find many places with many people where we are hardly present, let alone working in any demonstrable way to make things better. But the good news must surely be that Jesus as Risen Lord ever precedes us. We are Shalom because Jesus is Shalom. We are Tikkun
because Jesus is Tikkun.

Give the earliest believers credit. When the spirit fell upon the Gentiles, they acquiesced - to the huge point of setting aside circumcision and the keeping of the law that were the main traditional signs of the historic orthodox covenant with Yahweh.

If Shalom and Tikkun cannot engage us across our many differences, then I doubt that this highly touted new conservative realignment will do it. Oh I hear all the loud intellectual and emotional promises to the complete conservative contrary, but I just do not see peace and world service/healing innately flowing out from the realignment leaders and all their condemnations. In fact, so far, I really do not hear that anybody on the conservative sides of the realignment camps wishes to do free and open-ended service or healing – isn’t the main realignment message that modernity will just have to be burned down? Because it is rotten to the core?

Where is the peace-mongering then? Where is the love of healing our planet?

Lacking these fruits, what other goods will come from setting New Hampshire and Canterbury
and Westminster and Abuja, all against one another in the name of doctrine or confession?

Urged disinvitations to Lambeth meter: Conservatives = at least 2 so far (KJS & VGR at minimum). Progressives = 0 so far. Mixed middles = 0 so far. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, so knows his sheep, all of them, even those other ones who are not of your favorite
fold. Ah, lay conformed and divisive hands on that invitation to Eucharist and Baptism at your own spiritual peril. Alas. Lord have mercy.

Posted by drdanfee at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 5:04pm GMT

When used to follow evangelical doctrines we used to believe that one thing was sufficient for salvation, broadly summed up in John 3 v 16

"For God so loved the world that He sent His Son so that whoever believed on Him would not die but have everlasting life".

This now seems to have become somewhat overburdened with postcripts so as to read:

PS Conditions Apply - make sure you read the fine print for the offer to be valid

- believe in the Nicene and Apostolic Creeds
- subscribe to the 39 articles of faith (apart from the one that talks about predestination and election, which God has now decided doesn't apply anymore)
- believe in the theory of scrptural inerrency, verbal inspiration and infallibility
- give an undertaking to only beleve the interpretations of the Bible gven by acknowledged orthodox leaders
- only be part of a curch were everyone believes the above.

Differences of interpretation are however allowed over some subjects:

-pre, post and amillenaranism;
-pre, mid and post tribulationism;
-infant baptism and the mode of baptism;
-church government; predestination;
-free will;
-the efficacy of grace in the sacraments;
-observance of the Sabbath.

God has decided you can argue about these to your hearts content and still be allowed into heaven.

NB The list of subject you can argue about will be liable to change over time. God has entrusted the decision as to what you can argue about to a very special group of people called "evangelcals" (there will be many believers but only this group have access to the mind of God) and when canging the terms of salvation God will communicate His decision through them and them alone.


The craving for conformity of faith but the lack of any means to achieve it is a massive argument in favour of the Roman Catholic setup, which at least is intellectually coherent in its own terms.

Posted by Craig Nelson at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 5:05pm GMT

Even the articles of religion hardly close the case on atonement theology! And in CofE they are seen as of secondary, non-credal status, being documents which bear witness to the truth, but are not dogmatic statements of the faith....

Clutching at straws, I think, is the line I'm looking for

Posted by mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 5:32pm GMT

Article XI: I agree. Article XVIII: I agree. Article XXXI: I agree, but not with the implication that the sacrifice of the Mass is a repetition of Christ's sacrifice. But that doesn't equate with a bald interpretation that if one does not profess the Christian faith, one goes to Hell. That is for God to decide, not you or me. The Evangelical practice of asking a bishop to affirm the "Jesus is the only way to God" which really means "say everyone who isn't like us is going to Hell" and then claiming that any response that allows for nuance in the interpretation of "the way, the truth, the life" is a rejection of Christ's salvific acts is base politicising and manipulation and comes awfully close to false witness. Ask yourself, why is it so repulsive to some Evangelicals to suggest that God is so generous as to admit to His table those who do not believe as we do, to extend His salvation to those who do not recognize it, why is there such comfort in believing some people will go to Hell simply because they don't believe correctly? St. Photini didn't believe correctly, yet she was made into an Apostle to her people. More bluntly, why is it so important to you to be able to judge other people's faith?

Posted by Ford Elms at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 5:37pm GMT

"two Creeds"
Ilove the way we are down to two Creeds, now that of St.Athanasius has been dropped in embarrassment (though still printed in the BCP 1662 and still commanded to be recited on Wednesdays and Fridays).

My question

"How long will will you give the two that remain ?" !!

True religion is not dependent upon Creeds and indeed they may stiffle healthy spirituality, going by some of the comments here. If you believe something because it's in a Creed (rather than say, vice versa) can it be said that you truly BELEIVE it ?

I think Albert Schwitzer had it when he said, in his message to the youth of the world, "tell them that the real truths are what you feel deep down in your hearts".

And he lived out his faith in and by his life...

Posted by laurence at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 6:23pm GMT

laurence: "True religion is not dependent upon Creeds and indeed they may stifle healthy spirituality, going by some of the comments here. If you believe something because it's in a Creed (rather than say, vice versa) can it be said that you truly BELIEVE it ?"

And my question to you laurence is, Why do you, as a fellow Christian, have to know what lies in the depth of my own personal heart? Why isn't what I profess, however dishonest it could & perhaps be, enough to satisfy my need, and your acceptance to come to one table?

I guess that much of this is who has the right to judge? Seems fairly simple.

Cynthia Gilliatt: Thank you for the mentioning of the various Lutheran denominations in the USA, I know of a friend, a member of ELCA that when she goes back to Wisconsin to her childhood parish, is not allowed to take communion in her old Wisconsin Synod church.

Is this what some in the AC would want?????

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 7:15pm GMT

There are some beautiful postings.

Chris. Thanks for reposting the articles. They apply to everyone. Jesus' actions and God's acceptance were unilaterally from God. No amount of endeavour makes us worthy enough.

I don't think there is a need for a new covenant. Back in the late 1990s I went through a series of prayers trying to work out where Jesus fitted into the big picture in terms of other prophets, buddhas etc. Everyone was squabbling over who was more special or who was higher than who. Eventually, I for God to show me what He intended for Jesus. God's intention is for Jesus to calm the waters, above all others

But that does not mean in the pax Roman authoritarian repressive domination way. It means in the "I am just so close to God that you can't get any closer without dying" kind of way. The advocate that acts as a screen to protect us from being burnt to a cinder for trying to fly too close to God.

Thus Jesus' original sacrifice still stands and another is not required. (If you have to do it more than once, there then becomes a debate about how often or how much sin it atones).

The "value add" is to affirm that the Daughter of Zion also consented to Jesus' actions and gave her blessings. In her acceptance; Jesus' actions and sacrifice rippled beyond the original Jewish people to the gentiles and the afflicted and thus all humanity. See Isaiah 49 and 42:1-12.

This also explains unexpected response of the gentiles when Jesus first started his ministry. Remember Jesus first told the disciples to go only to the Jews (Matthew 10:5); but inclusively expanded as waves of Gentiles positively responded.

Thus there is no need for a new covenant. There is simply a need to return to the INTENT of the original convenant (before it became corrupted by pax Roman authoritative bureaucratese).

Those who want to create a tighter legal framework are entitled to do so. They can form a sect of whatever size of whoever wants to be part of their creed.

There will remain a riff raffy broad tent that may or may not continue to have the right to use the words Anglican Communion to identify their diverse flotilla of believers.

Both sets will be covered by Jesus' sacrifice.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 9:07pm GMT

'The craving for conformity of faith but the lack of any means to achieve it is a massive argument in favour of the Roman Catholic setup, which at least is intellectually coherent in its own terms.'
by: Craig Nelson

The RC denomination tries to use various forms of intimidation and bullying 'to achieve' 'conformity of faith', where & when it can. These days this mainly leaves non-office holding church members free to believe and practice, according to conscience, at least in the West. So you will find plenty of theological liberalism & openness, and small families(!) in the West.

However, RC secular clergy and (to a lesser degree) Religious can be put under pressure -- e.g. threatened with relocation to a less pleasant post, parish or institution--or at worst sacked with loss of home and livelihood. (No 'parson's freehold') Though religious orders are often able to protect their members, if Rome is determined to get you, you can be hounded out --as in the appalling case of (Sister) Lavinia Byrne, driven out of the IBVM, after a lifetime, because of her book exploring the possibility of the ordination of women.

None the less I have known and do know RC charismatics, Evangelicals (with their own RC Evangelical organisation), and humanists, non-realists / Sea of Faith among clergy and lay members.
But forcing people to comply, to shut up and keep quiet is hardly ethical, spiritual , or a great witness to truth seekers.

I understand the General Synod of the C ofE is, at this moment, dismantling parson's freehold, after which anglican clergy will be at the mercy of individual bishops. It should be resisted -meanwhile join AMICUS without delay !

Posted by laurence at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 10:39pm GMT

'And my question to you laurence is, Why do you, as a fellow Christian, have to know what lies in the depth of my own personal heart? Why isn't what I profess, however dishonest it could & perhaps be, enough to satisfy my need, and your acceptance to come to one table?'

cbfh hi there. I don't need to in the least. I think there's been a misunderstanding --me being unclear.

I was arguing against using creeds to intrude into people's souls, or to judge. I don't myself go for creeds much at all. In fact I am not able to subscribe to them (is subscribe the right word) and o not myself, recite them, any longer. I think they're probably best sung to show that they are, devotional, poetry, - and not a list of statements being affirmed or ticked off. As see them as theology --or better still poetry. I wouldn't regard a person's beliefs as 'dishonest' as for me it's not about that. Yes, it is about the needs or spirituality of you, me or any individual.

Basically I'm with Schweitzer, and for that matter the Enlightenment.

I hope I've made better sense. : - )

Happy New Year !

Posted by laurence at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 10:54pm GMT

It still seems to me that the task of winnowing the chaff, of sorting out the tares belongs to God alone.

When we've taken on that task ourselves, at best we've made terrible mistakes; at worst we've committed terrible crimes.

Posted by counterlight at Sunday, 31 December 2006 at 11:27pm GMT

Happy new year ! May 2007 bring peace and good.
May we be its channels...........

Posted by laurence at Monday, 1 January 2007 at 12:35am GMT

laurence-Sorry, upon repeated reading of your letter, I must confess to reacting somewhat harshly and inaccurately.

I must confess to leaving out the word 'only' in reciting the Nicene and Apostle's Creeds. Suspect I do not do this when singing, as I've got notes taking precedent over personal theology.

Thanks for the clarification, all the best for 2007!

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Monday, 1 January 2007 at 1:37pm GMT

hello there cbfh thanks for message, much appreciated --these things can just 'get' us sometimes, i know. I think its various things including 'the instability of the signifier' and what have you.

I don't know which country you are based in-but I often hear Cathedral Evensong , radio 3 Wednesdays, and am delighted when once in a while they intone /chant the Apostles' Creed (rahter just say it). I'm surprised how infrequently it is sung, as in my tiny village church as a lad --very low it was too-- this Creed was chanted at MP and EP every Sunday, and the organ did some wonderful stuff 'behind' the singing which gave me goose bumps a well choir boy (not too hellish, hopefully!) -ah ! nostalgia !

Yes, if I visit a Church, synagogue,temple or whatever I like to join in and if stuff is sung its so much more enjoyable and moving. I guesss i think that singing can redeem just about anything ! I seem to feel the validity of an act of worship on its own terms -- I find the opening of the Ark and bring ing forth of the Torah scrolls awesome and then the singing of the Shema and the wonderful high note on ''Echad"- "One". But i don't feel i have to be jewish tosing any of it. Enuff of my ramblings! ---

all the best, to you too, for 2007

Posted by laurence at Monday, 1 January 2007 at 8:06pm GMT

Hi laurence, yes, thanks to my relatively new foray into DSL, I get BBC 3 Evensongs as well here in bushworld.

I sing Wednesday evensongs at the Cathedral in northeast Ohio and Sunday services as lead tenor at a large church with its men/boy choir about 35 miles south, in another large Ohio city. Yes, it's nice chanting the AP in the very low Diocese of Ohio.

And I also agree, it's wonderful singing the High Holy Days when home (my job takes me away for months) in the synagogues, wonderful indulgance in the minor keys (Aeolian mode), and they pay well too!

All the best..

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 3:23am GMT

On TEC and the Articles of Religion, it is probably worth while to note that they appear in the section "Historical Documents" and so aren't necessarily "The Teaching of TEC" per se.


Posted by Jon at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 6:20am GMT

I suppose the question your average church musician would have to ask about this covenant is "how on earth are we to sing this....???!!"

Remarkably technocratic theologically AND in expression. Perhaps this was brought to us by the sponsors of the ASB (of blessed memory). Both defy any real attempts at poetic/musical expression.

Perhaps the test of anything emanating from the covenant discussions ought to be "could we sing it (together)?"

Posted by kieran crichton at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 9:46am GMT

Oh, sorry - I meant the proposed covenant, not Giles Fraser's article. Getting the threads mixed up!

Posted by kieran crichton at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 9:47am GMT

hello cboifh
thanks for message.

Glad you get to hear it out there in 'bush world' --sounds great!

Yes, the church whre we intoned the Apostles' Creed was low church too. I think we and the vicar did sing everything that could be sung !

Glad you get to sing shul as well--thats really something else. You'll know what i meant about the Shema and hitting that note on Echad -tear jerking. Yes, those minor keys !
I love the way MP and EP ars so like schul services -not surprising really i guess. Your job must keep you busy.

Do you ever get round to reading people like Isaac Luria and the Besht (Baal Shem Tov) I wonder ? I love those hasidic tales of their doings and always with a nice moral ! Very practical sp(irituality) unlike the christian stuff, which is usually i find opaque and needs some processing! Which synagogue is it btw ? (In UK we have Union synagogues, headed by Chief Rabbi Jonathon Sachs. And Reform Synagogues of GB(graced by Lionel Blue & Julia Neuberg); Liberal (with Jonathan Romaine; Maaereti; and the hasids of Golders Green and Couch End.-- to name but the main players.

Any enough already !

All the best to you,


Posted by laurence at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 11:26am GMT

"how on earth are we to sing this....???!!" (Covenant)

What a good idea.

We believe in having bishops:
Just so long as they agree with us,
Otherwise we'll become all funny
And hold on to all our money.

(Sorry, that's the other covenant)

Posted by Pluralist at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 2:44pm GMT

Several points arising here:
PLAIN MEANING: There are plenty of Bible words and concepts that can be easily understood, and transfer more or less one-to-one semantically into our own language and culture. However, if one wanted to pick an example of a phrase that does not transfer, 'pisteuo eis' (which I assume is what is meant by 'believe in') would be a prime candidate. Why?
a- From the English point of view, one has to distinguish believing IN, THAT, and even ON (in older translations);
b- Confusingly enough none of these properly translates the exact term, which means 'INTO';
c- In English, 'believe in' means 'believe in the existence of', which is not what we require here. As James says 'Even the demons believe, and tremble'. Surely this obvious point needs to be made;
d- The terms 'trust' and' 'commit' need to be brought into play, but there may be no proper English equivalent to 'pisteuo';
e- The unwary reader may not realise that 'pisteuo' is the verb from the noun for faith.
As to 'Who then can be saved?', I am sure that the criteria for being/becoming a Christian can be simply expressed and simply carried out as well. Just that they are not best expressed by 'believing in Jesus'. Whereas Greek 'pisteuein eis Iesoun' may express it very well.

As for classing me with the evangelicals, I agree that 'evangelical' is one of many adjectives that describe what a Christian is; but it is important to avoid taking sides in 'party politics' if we are to be even handed.

To leave the exact meaning of 'Christian' fuzzy is at best naive and at worst dangerous. But above all it is suspicious. Why don't the same people leave the exact meaning (or range of meanings) of 'platonist' or 'humanist' etc equally open? If not subscribing to humptydumptyism, they would need to clarify what they do in fact mean. Surely it is going to seem to some that the meaing is *deliberately* being left open in order that all sorts of people can claim to be Christian. How would this charge be evaded?

Posted by Christopher Shell at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 5:24pm GMT

Re Andrew Innes's first point, anyone would think that life was an essay question of this nature: 'Please attempt doctrine or ethics but not both'. Everyone knows (??) that doctrine and ethics is a both/and matter. In any case, some people have both and others have neither, so they cannot be mutually exclusive.

So which people portray them as mutually exclusive? I'd guess the ethicists who *want* to avoid doctrine and the doctrine-specialists who *want* to avoide ethics. But our wants have nothing to do with the matter.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 5:30pm GMT

I have some sympathy with some of Dr Shell's comments, but I think he's left two areas rather unguarded. His assertion that many terms can be translated with semantic near-exactitude is a reasonable one, subject to the usual checks and balances, but it's the difficult ones which are always the fun ones to deal with. Hence the discussion about the meaning of 'arsenokoitai' 'mocheia' and the rest. So if we are to nuance 'believe in' by referring to pisteuein' (fair do's I think, though 'have faith in' seems to do about 99% of it for me), we have to permit the finessing of other words which we may think clear-cut but where there may indeed be some semantic doubt. In other words, 'Plain meaning' scripture may exist, but the interesting bits are often more murky and give employment to theologians and clergy.

I think the 'humanist' and 'platonist' examples are actually good illustrations of wide-ranging nouns which invite further elaboration ('secular humanist' for example) in much the same way as 'Christian' does. Being a humanist probably demands that one opposes unnecessary cruelty (whiule, as Terry Pratchett saith, leaving open the possibility of being in favour of necessary cruelty), but under that humanist banner march many different manifestations....

Posted by mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 8:48pm GMT

Pluralist, here's my twist on your ditty (from the bishops' perspective).

We believe in having parishioners:
Just so long as they agree with us,
Otherwise we'll become all funny
And hang on to all their money.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Tuesday, 2 January 2007 at 9:00pm GMT

Yes a much better ditty. Or second verse, with a slightly varying chorus then.

We will sign with man o' Abuja
Then we're able for good to lose ya
And as such we've 'come all funny
And he'll want his cut of money

I've known many religious humanists, who believe in (really do believe *in*) God; humanists were around at the Renaissance, and only later on did they become secular, and not all secular ones are atheist (because secular has various meanings - it includes sacred), and some aren't as human centred as others.

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 3 January 2007 at 1:15am GMT

Perhaps there's a new G & S opera in this - remember the quote from the Anna Russell sketch? To create new G & S operas she had evolved a "vitamin pill, which, if you use it, you may put your opera where you like..."

Maybe this would simplify the whole argument over the covenant idea altogether: turn it into an opera with a snappy title and lots of typical-topical patter songs, a madrigal or two, and a production modelled on the ideas behind the original staging directions. The main characters leave the stage before the chorus begins to sing. The chorus remains static (and mostly silent) whenever a main character sings.

Come to think of it, maybe it's been this way all along.

Posted by kieran crichton at Wednesday, 3 January 2007 at 10:47am GMT

Hi David R

I suppose that re the Greek terms for homosexual practice (andéor adultery etc), the semantic discussion is very worthwhile for translators, but the range of possible meanings is (by some distance) sufficiently circumscribed to exclude any positive attitude to any homosexual activity. Goodness knows it would be nigh impossible even to squeeze a neutral attitude out of our texts, so a positive attitude is a no-hoper. There are various detailed options available, but none within that range - that would be almost tantamount to inserting the word NOT (or OUK) at the end of every pauline sentence, thus making him say the very reverse of what he says.

I dont think the textual issue (however clear-cut)is the crucial one anyway. A text can demonstrate what a writer thinks, but not whether (s)he is correct. That is why our primary recourse shouold be to statistics and not texts.

Secondly, I think one would have to have a lot of faith (or naivete) not to consider the very live possibility that people are liable to widen the definition of Christian for their own convenience.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Wednesday, 3 January 2007 at 1:33pm GMT

[Pirates of Penzance]

We have the very up to date model Anglican Covenant
We did it first because we know the rest of you haven't one yet
And then we see this Bishop Wright, who says its not much logical
It fails to be much Anglican, it's far too congregational

We're very well acquainted, too, with matters theological
Although we skew it all to be both simple and so doctrinal
With Bishop Wright we're hopping mad and neither are we amused
With splits both ways among us folks we call ourselves evangeli-accuse

Its sure is going wrong and then we fall about into the news
Its sure is going wrong and then we fall about into the news
Its sure is going wrong and then we fall about into the bad news

He's very good at accusing us of being much unbiblical
Of power-play schismatical simply being too inimical
He says on matters ecclesias'al, doctrinal, and aspirant
We never had an up to date model Anglican Covenant

But we don't care, we're irritable, attacking and militant
We've still the very disruptive model Anglican Covenant

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 3 January 2007 at 3:19pm GMT

Thank you pluralist. I await breathlessly for your contribution to Monday evening's experimental worship. Shall I arrange for the necessary scenery to be painted:-))?

Posted by mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Wednesday, 3 January 2007 at 5:47pm GMT

"I dont think the textual issue (however clear-cut)is the crucial one anyway.A text can demonstrate what a writer thinks, but not whether (s)he is correct."

That's an interesting observation. Would you like to unpack that further? Where does that take 'authority of Scripture'? It's very structuralist and all that:-)

Posted by mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Wednesday, 3 January 2007 at 5:54pm GMT


I would love to play the game using statistics and empirical evidence.

I would love to see some of the people who told me I wasn't allowed to use that to support my claims now insist that we play by those rules.
I wonder how they would justify the hyperbole shifting from demanding that everything MUST come from scripture?

Plus if we start using statitistics, we will have to do surveys. We will then have to look at the questions asked. We will then realise that the surveys did not answer all the questions, and we will have to do more surveys and ask more questions to clarify what was found in the previous survey. But then some of the results will have changed, so we will have to ask more questions to work out why they changed and how much they changed.

The one good thing about all those surveys is we will have to ask people questions, and they will have to think how they will answer. If we ask for answers to questions they hadn't considered, then they will have to consider those issues to be able to give an answer.

I think that would be very satisfactory, all sorts of people will start thinking about all sorts of biblical questions and debates that mediocre priests try to stay away from because they don't know how to handle them. Unless of course, one tries to do a statistics game using select groups or non persons.

Goody. We can then start analysing who we are talking to, and identify who has been left out.

It think playing by statistics would be fun! Who wants to play too?

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Wednesday, 3 January 2007 at 9:11pm GMT


I am the model of the modern vicar general...?

Posted by k1eranc at Thursday, 4 January 2007 at 12:37am GMT

Shall I arrange for the necessary scenery to be painted:-))?

You do know I'm doing the sermon. That was the decision of the group.

You also know who are doing the music - far riskier. Don't worry - I might paint something ahead of the sermon myself. Transformed life or new life or some chap and real presence. I know what to do, it'll be a nice surprise. I'll try and let you folks at Thinking Anglicans look at that too, if my phone is fully restored (in a week?) and I can upload via the dial up accounts.

Posted by Pluralist at Thursday, 4 January 2007 at 1:02am GMT

Where do I get my tickets?

Why not hire 'the CAmpallen Commodores' for the Chorus ?

Posted by laurence at Thursday, 4 January 2007 at 7:49pm GMT


Use of stats is hazardous but is unfortunately the best option open to us. All the other options are more hazardous still because they allow people to be selective and to use 'spin'. That is what scholarship exists for . It is meant to be the uniting of even-handed truth-seekers in a common enterprise.

How I long for the day when people's eyes stop glazing over when the statistical facts of the harvest of 1960s liberalism are put before them.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Friday, 5 January 2007 at 12:57pm GMT

Where do I get my tickets?

I don't know - they might be sealing the doors.

Posted by Pluralist at Monday, 8 January 2007 at 3:27am GMT

Dr Shell ("the statistical facts of the harvest of 1960s liberalism are put before them.") remember that 'post hoc' is not necessarily 'propter hoc' and to maintain that the decline in religious belief/practice etc is linked with a particular school of 1960's theology needs hard evidence which (so far as I am aware) is lacking.

Far more significant sociological phenomena are at work in the 60's that JAT Robinson and John Allegro — New social mobility with the expansion of higher education in the UK; the arrival of reliable contraception; the beginnings of a change in the perception of the role of women; an increasing mistrust of authority, particularly in response to things like the Vietnam war. How anyone can screen those factors out in surveying non-conservative church decline (since those people who are unaffected by the above phenomena will tend towards conservative religion) to leave only the alchemical dream of a grand theory of liberal corruption I don't quite understand.

Posted by mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Monday, 8 January 2007 at 11:37am GMT


Very refreshing analysis. A dose of sanity form some of the truly mad posts here.

Posted by laurence at Monday, 8 January 2007 at 1:26pm GMT

"an increasing mistrust of authority"

In my experience, this is a huge factor in declining Church attendance. Every anti-Church/anti-Christian argument given to me by my friends contains an element of this, stemming from ample evidence of misuse of that trust by the Institutional Church. It amazes me that so many Conservatives are unable to appreciate the very valid basis for this mistrust. We are also trapped by our inability to understand that there is a difference between speaking with authority and being authoritarian.

Posted by Ford elms at Monday, 8 January 2007 at 4:32pm GMT
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