Comments: opinion on the eve of Advent

It is also most unlikely that disestablishment will bring about any revival in church life. The history of the Irish and Welsh churches since disestablishment has been one of almost unremitting demographic decline and, in the Irish case, of almost total political marginalisation within the Republic. The fate of the Church of Sweden since 2000 has been similarly dispiriting. There is no reason to suppose that the Church of England, freed from the moorings of the state, and the need to preserve some pretence of a public front, should not dissolve into warring factions, should not undergo a profound financial crisis, and become irremediably marginal to the public.

It might be argued - very tentatively - that the virtue of establishment is that it provides a spectre of legitimacy to the idea that the parish church has a corporate function; that it is a place where the local community can gather in an official or semi-official capacity, as a corporate community, before God or, if you will, simply the wider public. It therefore gives a formal underpinning to the mission of the Church of England. Yes, this might be a monstrous presumption in an age of demographic pluralism, but it keeps alive an almost mystical, atavistic notion of the Church as a "gathered under" community, especially in those many thousands of parishes where the church building is the repository of the memory of its particular place.

One other point needs to be made - because I have not seen it raised elsewhere. Of course, the notion of having bishops in Parliament is absurd, but we must remember that they are by far the oldest part of our legislature, which - as is known - is one of the oldest in the world. There were bishops in the royal councils or witenagemotes from the seventh century; they were in the curia regis and magnum concilium; they were in the House of Lords from the very beginning. Yes, there was the hiatus of the Civil War, Commonwealth and Protectorate, until 1661-2 - but it could be argued that their eviction in 1642 was illegitimate, as many lay peers voted under some duress. Their survival has been almost a miracle of historical continuity, and the retention of some/any of them might well be justified on antiquarian grounds alone (though antiquarianism is evidently not the best basis for the formation of public policy...).

Posted by Froghole at Saturday, 1 December 2012 at 1:22pm GMT

If the only thing that is keeping the Church of England from collapse is Establishment, It doesn't say much for the power of Anglicanism as a way of Christian discipleship.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Saturday, 1 December 2012 at 10:12pm GMT

The James Tabor piece was an interesting read, thanks for that. Had never put together the chronology gaps in my mind before, nor realized how isolated Paul was from all the others.

Posted by Randal Oulton at Saturday, 1 December 2012 at 10:53pm GMT

Terrific article by James Tabor. Well written.
If I may, I would argue that St. Paul is the Father of Christianity.
Jesus didn't found Christianity. He didn't worship himself, and gave mixed signals as to whether others should worship him.
The earliest followers were pursuing a form of Messiah Judaism.
St. Paul changed all that.
His epistles predate the Gospels by 20 years or more.
I'm not sure that St. Paul can conclusively be said to have believed in a Trinity.
I would argue that St. Paul himself, if you read the epistles carefully, may not have believed Jesus was divine -- keeping in mind that our current New Testament/Christian Scriptures underwent some editing.
The Gospel of St. John in its fantastic opening -- Hello, Dorothy, we're not in the Synoptic Gospels anymore -- certainly seems to be based on the divinity of Jesus and therefore, arguably, the Trinity.
But I think St. Paul saw Jesus as the Great High Priest, the Priest of Priests, raised up by God, to serve God by aiding humanity.

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Saturday, 1 December 2012 at 11:33pm GMT

Don't share others' enthusiasm for Tabor's relentless self-puffing (check out his blog). Most Anglo-Saxon NT scholars are engaged in this relentless self-promotion, and it is deeply distasteful, especially of course in the case of believers (which Tabor, to do him justice, is not). I'm afraid it's all about selling books.

Posted by John at Sunday, 2 December 2012 at 9:30am GMT

Tabor's question about why the Creeds seem to skip over Our Lord's life, going from birth to Passion, puzzles me. I thought that the Creeds were written in response to specific heresies. Wouldn't the lack of a defense of that life be because no heretical group was denying his life, his existence?

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Sunday, 2 December 2012 at 1:48pm GMT

I should just say that for all good or all ill (more likely a mixture o' the two) I am resolutely against disestablishment of the Church of England.

Of course in matters such as gender equality, divorce and the performing (or not) of same sex unions the relationship may get pulled out of shape and contorted. I think the establishment of the C of E shall endure as long as the unreformed House of Lords (not quite till the end of time or maybe even as long as England exists but many many years in any case).

Posted by Craig Nelson at Sunday, 2 December 2012 at 7:25pm GMT
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