Comments: Opinion - 3 December 2016

I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr Tomlinson at Shipton Bellinger and Appleshaw - a very charming man. His death is a grave loss to the diocese of Winchester, and devastating to the people of Shipton, Thruxton, Kimpton, Appleshaw and Fyfield. He was a man who did not merely confine himself to the church community (as so many clergy seem to do), but immersed himself in almost every aspect of local life. I have only encountered a tiny handful of clergy who have succeeded in making themselves the glue of the entirety of the communities they serve to such an extent. That devotion was, evidently, reciprocated.

I would urge the publication on this site of the message in his last benefice newsletter - written from the hospice - only a few days before his passing, in which he enjoined his parishes to 'go for it!'

Posted by Froghole at Saturday, 3 December 2016 at 11:36am GMT

Re The Provost of Glasgow: - “The theology doesn’t matter that much.”

The theology does matter and in the long run improving the presentation and truthfulness of the theology is more important than growing a church, any church. Why does no CofE synod or minister refute the recitation of the Nicene creed (say AD 325) in the liturgy? Is not the function of a church simply to help us all to come to terms with the nature of existence in our own ways, which will always be different. Why the pressure for proclaiming Christ via a pseudo-human monoculture (virgin birth and/or physical resurrection) when everyone and everything around us is constantly exposing fresh facets of existential fascination? Why perjure ourselves with obeisance to hypocrisy in proclaiming a poetic yet archaic and unhelpful creed? Is not perseverance in antiquarianism part of the reason for any diminution in numbers of fellow worshippers? Why not cultivate a church of enquiry as the norm and recycle the creed?

Posted by Paul Edelin at Saturday, 3 December 2016 at 12:23pm GMT

I think pieces like that one show Kelvin at his best. Natural, practical and with a certain humour. It also shows him living what he preaches. A really nice piece.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 3 December 2016 at 1:21pm GMT

@ Paul Edelin: if you don't believe in the fundamental truths of Christianity as laid out in the creeds, why do you even care what the Church does? The primary function of the Church is to preach the Gospel, and without the Resurrection there is no Good News to be found in it. Besides which you are misrepresenting Fr Kelvin's words - he's not saying the theology doesn't matter in general, it's specifically with regard to music and its impact on the life of the congregation. Most people simply don't parse the words of what they're singing all that carefully, and are happy to sing the odd thing they have doubts about. I've sung, for example "This the truth sent from above" while still having doubts about the line "woman was made with man to dwell".

Posted by Jo at Sunday, 4 December 2016 at 6:43am GMT

A blue Advent? In Australia, blue-tongued lizards can be seen in gardens, garages and various other places at this time of the year. I have been known to use blue ribbon while wrapping presents. And as a Christmas dessert blueberries on pavlova are yum. So, let's go for it. A blue Advent.

Posted by Pam at Sunday, 4 December 2016 at 7:35am GMT

"The primary function of the Church is to preach the Gospel, and without the Resurrection there is no Good News to be found in it."

Those who hold to liberal theology would disagree, Jo. Jesus' life, proclamation, and the effect on his followers transcends the mythical clock wrapped around him by first century magical cosmology. Bultmann's kerygma, dig it.

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 4 December 2016 at 1:39pm GMT

Interesting to see the various views on the primary function of the church. For me it is encouraging worship of the Lord our God and I feel Kelvin was advancing practical ways such worship can be encouraged.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 4 December 2016 at 3:03pm GMT

My intention was merely to use the alluring bait of Kelvin Holdsworth’s pleasant subheading as a means to bring up the subject of the creed. Is there a way to more politely raise a topic on TA? If so, I apologise for my ignorance.

Having said that, I do regard the perpetual public declaration of a very difficult creed set out in an over-confident rigmarole that I personally find awkward to justify “in toto”, as a dogmatic convention that is rather unappetising on a weekly basis.

I simply wonder why no one discusses the current liturgy as a possible cause of the seeming deficiency in CofE crowd appeal.

Posted by Paul Edelin at Sunday, 4 December 2016 at 6:47pm GMT

A great many people seem to think that things they personally dislike or disagree with are the cause of low church attendance. Given that in many churches, such as in the Church of Scotland, the creeds are not in regular liturgical use and there seems to be no discernible resultant uptick in attendance I'm not convinced the argument holds any water. If anything, recently reported research suggests that the CofE's LACK of certainty about anything may be more of a problem.

While I have sympathy with those who aren't convinced by the core beliefs of the Christian faith, and I welcome the fact that some people of that conviction still get something out of attending church, I really don't see that the church should pretend not to believe what it believes in order to accommodate them.

Posted by Jo at Sunday, 4 December 2016 at 7:50pm GMT

The Apostles' Creed is used in some churches not only at Morning and Evening Prayer but also at the Holy Communion in place of the Nicene, and that is some improvement. Its poetic,mostly mythological, metaphorical character is better indicated when it is sung rather than said. Yet in that creed, the whole life and teaching and ministry of our Lord is represented only by a comma between "Mary" and "suffered". (Nowadays, I myself usually do not join in singing or saying the Creeds while recognising how much they are valued by many.) Fortunately, some of our churches are unofficially using much simpler, easily understood forms at Holy Communion in which one can join without any mental gymnastics.

Creeds, of course, are surely not essential in our liturgies. They were not used in that way until thousands of years after the time of Jesus.
And I suggest that the Apostles' Creed (let alone the Nicene) should not be used at services intended to provide for the vast majority of those who identify as C.of E. or Anglican, on the "fringe", half-believing, agnostic,or seeking - i.e. at e.g. Evensong and the much neglected Morning Prayer.

One alternative in my own work on liturgical revision has been to use as the optional creed the Old Testament commands to love God and neighbour adding the words of Jesus, "on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" and finally his often not noticed words in St Luke 10.37, "Do this, and you shall live". Thereby, here and now, we "inherit eternal life" (10.25). Jesus and those two Commandments and e.g. the prophet Micah (6.8) surely trump all the creeds of all the Councils.

Posted by John Bunyan at Sunday, 4 December 2016 at 9:49pm GMT

Jo, unless you believe in ancient cosmology, with heaven literally above the sky, you don't hold to the so-called core belief of Jesus ascending into heaven. Oh sure, you can read it metaphorically, 'cause unlike the flawed men who penned it, you must. No-one has "authentic" beliefs, 'cause with the increase in knowledge, it's impossible to hold to the ancient worldview. Choice is between different updates.

That's the point of liberalism: our paradigm is, inescapably, different from the ancients', and it's not arrogance to accept this, and adjust our beliefs accordingly. I see no reason why theology, alone among the disciplines, must be frozen in aspic; and no reason to view selective magical thinking as a superior brand of Christianity.

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 4 December 2016 at 11:09pm GMT

Re the creed(s), just do what Canada has done with morning and evening prayer, allow the Hear O Israel as an option to the creed.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 5 December 2016 at 12:57am GMT

The greatest risk in Christianity is if believers come to revere either the crucifixion or the cross, ie to revere torture inflicted upon our Lord. The Nicene Creed spends a lot of time emphasising Jesus as God from God etc, Our salvation route was entire the moment Jesus was conceived (arguably sooner) and Jesus taught us we access that route by following him. Nothing in His teaching suggested his crucifixion or resurrection matters to that salvation: it is His creation which is the greatest miracle of all. His death at the hands of Pilate was evil's failed attempt to discredit that salvation route and the importance of the resurrection is that Jesus demonstrated that attempt failed.

The absolute central importance of the Nicene Creed is the emphasis it puts on the creation of Jesus while quickly passing over his crucifixion and resurrection. Indeed the Nicene states clearly that He came down from heaven for our salvation and refuses to link salvation to the resurrection. Jeffrey John said, "And anyway, why should God forgive us through punishing someone else? It was worse than illogical, it was insane. It made God sound like a psychopath."

The mystical bits in the Nicene Creed such as Light from Light are the absolute essence of salvation and our shared announcement of that mystery is the central feature of liturgy, even more important I think than the Eucharist.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 5 December 2016 at 8:31am GMT

"For Ian, this analogy was pertinent. Metastatic Cancer feeds off testosterone; and when it can’t find it, it makes its own. So the illness that claimed Ian was a perfect fit for Newbigin’s analogy. Obsessed with growth, the church produces compensatory hormones and then continues to feeds off itself, until it is finally self-consumed." - Professor Martyn Percy -

This reflection on the life of a pastor-priest reflects what might be the reality of a ministry of outstanding pastoral care.

'Obsession with growth' in an organism like the Church could be fatal - like cancer. This is a preoccupation for organisations & corporations - not for the Body of Christ, an organism.

It seems like Father Ian, like his Master, was prepared to absorb his parishioners' pains. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 5 December 2016 at 9:21am GMT

I accept a physical ascension. I don't believe that requires a particular conception of the physical location of heaven. In the same way I believe in a physical resurrection while not subscribing to a particular mechanism for how it happened. Indeed, while you can impute a particular cosmology from the ascension, there is nothing about a physical ascension that requires such a cosmology. Neither does one have to consider the description of the ascension as metaphorical - it simply represents what the witnesses of the event saw, necessarily coloured by their understanding of reality.

Posted by Jo at Monday, 5 December 2016 at 9:50am GMT

The death of Jesus - the stripping bare and the stigma and the surrendered giving of himself, to God and human beings and the world - is in my view absolutely fundamental.

'Unless you die...'

Jesus said "I have a baptism to undergo" by which he meant his death and resurrection.

And he told his disciples that they, too must undergo that baptism.

Death to self is a fundamental spiritual principle, the gateway to life, to love, to service.

I don't think we can 'shortcut' that journey. It is something we follow, day by day by day.

It's a spiritual principle pre-figured again and again in the Old Testament.

We need to be stripped bare. We need to face down stigma. We need to get to the raw surrendered givenness of faith.

The way of the Cross is central to Christianity, and the ultimate expression of God's givenness to us. Jesus was prepared to go the whole way, to pour out his life blood, and to go through with this givenness to the point of no turning back.

It is the epic heart of Christianity.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Monday, 5 December 2016 at 11:02am GMT

For me, saying the Nicene Creed together at a Sunday Eucharist is mostly a song of unity. We all (more or less!) say---yes, singing it would be preferable---these ancient words together, while at the same time, we can be sure that each and every one of us believes/disbelieves them in their own unique way.

The intellectual content of the Creed? There will NOT be a test! Accept what you like, leave the rest...

Posted by JCF at Monday, 5 December 2016 at 11:56am GMT

"Accept what you like, leave the rest..."

Reading the comments above, it sounds like Anglicanism is becoming the newest consumeristic religious 'organisation/enterprise.' Individuals gather and each one as an individual confects what is happening, as they prefer/choose/click on. Liturgy is the ephemera of consumers' exercise of choice and purchase. Cyber conceptuality the over-arcing framework -- all being OK because 'liturgy has always been such' -- a further assertion of choice-ism.

Posted by cseitz at Monday, 5 December 2016 at 4:35pm GMT

"The absolute central importance of the Nicene Creed is the emphasis it puts on the creation of Jesus" - Kate (5 December 2016 at 8:31am)

Errr. Kate, is not the whole point of Jesus that He is uncreated? Did you mean the Incarnation of Jesus?

Posted by John U.K. at Monday, 5 December 2016 at 6:05pm GMT

I once questioned the credal statement; "I believe in the resurrection of the body" - until I came to realise, along with Saint Paul, that there is a spiritual as well as a physical body. What is of the flesh is flesh, and what is of the spirit is spiritual. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 35ff gives a pretty good description of the evolution involved. As (also) for the rest of the Creed: "I'm a believer!"

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 5 December 2016 at 8:16pm GMT

Feast of St Nicolas today: Santa helped prepare the Nicene Creed.

Posted by John Roch at Tuesday, 6 December 2016 at 8:28pm GMT

But what if these last few hundred years have seen us lock-stepped in
to a myopic literalism, its iron hands gouging our eyes,
kicking and screaming out of us each word of its heartless faith-blinded screed “Can’t be measured, can’t exist”?

What if that faithless, fearful, ill logicality we now serve unfeeling
has its poisoned roots in all-too-really repressed trauma,
the cruel trick of a broken mind that suffered, incapable of knowing,
the pain of conception, birth and growth, soaking from the start
a human misery of inveterate sin and inconsolable shame?

What if our proudly-worn quirks and paste-jewelled identities
turn out to be no more than the neutered, twisted screams
of this hurting, cold, abandoned child?

Then what if God actually did squeeze into our painful clothes
and start to speak the familiar language of our human history,
picking us up, and fixing us close to His heart?

Why, then, adjust our wine into bottle-branded plastic water?
Even now there’s word of bread appearing out of nothing,
real doughs raised for me and
all the hungry and
all the hungry-hearted?

And what if, refusing to sneer it away with the wave of an ever-withering hand,
we take up that Creed like a picnic basket of barley-golden treasures,
kneel down in wonder, munch in peace, and dare to learn,
through the many ups and downs of a rollercoaster ride of doubted doubts,
how historical truth speaks metaphysical reality?

Could it be that the shadows, symbols and similes cast all around us fall and lengthen because that man Jesus Christ,
so impolitely raised,
stands physical, even now, heart, soul, mind and strength,
before each sun in the universe He breathed alive?

What if blinded Bultmann looks on, and (miracle!) sees
Jesus – laughing heartily, those Hands split wide open still –
and hears Him speak – no man-made god, but God made Man.

Give me Jesus Christ, begotten always of God and born of woman kind,
outscrabbling the devil, striking off his every cancered cell,
sense-restoring, death-draining,
cruelly killed and coldly buried
raised in glory to touching tears of recognition and growingly raucous, shameless joy
reigning now, due back any time
to enforce, in full, with grace long paid for,
visibly bruised with rapturous, glorious scars – his, and ours –
that far-sighted and
quite obnoxiously literal
law of love.

Posted by GavnaB at Wednesday, 7 December 2016 at 1:56am GMT

That is gorgeous use of language, and overspill of feeling - visceral, tangible, present. Loved it.

What I'd appreciate, from you or someone else, is what you are trying to say... about literalism for example... in simple terms.

Obviously that's me being a bit literal myself, trying to tie down, to extract from the beauty and flow, and maybe I'm bad for wanting to pin down meaning with logic as well as receiving it imaginatively with feeling.

For the rest, the poetry breaks upon the shores of my consciousness, churns, draws back, returns again, and touches me with a physicality.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Wednesday, 7 December 2016 at 11:12am GMT

"Errr. Kate, is not the whole point of Jesus that He is uncreated? Did you mean the Incarnation of Jesus?"

John, I probably did ... until you made me think about it. Now I am not sure.

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 8 December 2016 at 1:56am GMT

Thanks Susannah. Had to think to reply; the ‘poetry’ was gush in response to the exchanges above.

Some people seem to think that science literally disproves Jesus’ miracles and resurrection (it can’t), or that science will explain everything (it won’t) or that scientists spend all their time doubting everything (they don’t) and therefore we should doubt everything too, including, consciously or unconsciously, anything vaguely supernatural (so far unexplained) in regard to Christian Faith. We shouldn’t – because we miss out on so much.

Questions, exploring, thinking, learning and growing over time is all fine, essential, even; but cultivating unbelief – especially when prized and practised as a virtue and a marker of niceness and humility – is the theological equivalent of the Circle Line – endlessly going round and round and round, looking at, and thinking about, all those interesting locations as they pass us by, but never arriving anywhere.

Some people cling to simplistic labels and seem to think they define us very literally, and fundamentalistically. Our generation particularly loves literal labels around sexuality – gay, straight and all the rest. In fact sexuality does not appear out of a vacuum but out of human hearts which may have gone through inordinate pain from the moment of conception and frequently thereafter. Few of us venture to look into this, so painful is it – but get in touch with it, and our literal labels start to crumble. (Check out the unabridged work of Frank Lake, for example.)

All this is probably all tied into several centuries of enlightenment rationalism thinking, One day the penny dropped when I read CS Lewis saying that the whole point of seeing through anything is to rest our gaze on something beyond it. And that something is – literally – God revealed in Jesus Christ.

That is a literalism others reject and even ridicule. Where I once struggled with the creeds, I now fully accept them, after going on a walk which involved junking unbelief – and taking hold of what those historical statements really mean: life and real love to the full. John’s letters link God and love and literal belief in Jesus very closely; now, so do I.

Didn’t they change the Circle Line a few years ago, and put in a final destination? Somewhere to arrive revealed at last!

And so even the Circle Line becomes a metaphor for Christmas and a dizzy world going round and…

Posted by GavnaB at Friday, 9 December 2016 at 7:47pm GMT
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.