Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Holy uncertainty!

There seems to be nothing more despised in modern Western Society as being certain or convicted in your belief. As soon as you say that you believe in God, and then go on to defend that belief, you tend to get labelled as a bigot or fundamentalist. Of course, it's interesting how certain people can be that you actually are a bigot or fundamentalist, but that's not really my concern here.

If I say that I believe that homosexuals cannot receive the sacrament of Holy Matrimony and then support my argument, all well and good. The trouble is that, in so doing, I necessarily show why I believe that the opposite view is false and therefore go against the opinion of many in Society. Andrew Brown of The Guardian says that being a loud orthodox member of the Roman Catholic Church is why many are leaving, and that this orthodoxy is corrosive. He says that no church is immune.
The Church of England has its own version of this argument, which goes back to the unbelieving Bishop of Durham, a figure of legendary horror to evangelicals. This man, identified by historians as the Right Rev David Jenkins, was widely supposed to believe nothing at all of traditional Christianity, despite being the fifth most senior bishop in the hierarchy. He certainly did not believe in the virgin birth, nor in the bodily resurrection. Neither, of course, do most churchgoers. It was an article of faith among conservatives, though, that churchgoers required a bishop who would believe all the things they could not themselves suppose were true, and he was succeeded by a succession of men of unimpeachable orthodoxy. Under their stewardship, church attendance in the diocese declined by 36% in 20 years. Andrew Brown.
The first thing that I would say to this is that the Church of England (as far as I know) still holds the Catholic Creeds. If anyone in the CofE from the Archbishop of Canterbury up to the person in the pew says these creeds and denies the virgin birth or bodily resurrection, then they are either paying lip-service in the liturgy or they are crossing their fingers, or they are on autopilot and not engaging with what they are saying. In each case, there is  a question of the quality of their honesty and sincerity. Now the person in the pew is often regarded (somewhat patronizingly by the clergy) as the least theologically educated. That is not true, and many members of the laity have thought sincerely about their theology. They do have a Christian duty to inform their conscience and to play some part in teaching the Christian Faith to their families, especially when it comes to instructing the ignorant about the Christian Faith. Clergy have a vocation to teach the Christian Faith.

For deacons, the promises run as follows
IT appertaineth to the Office of a Deacon, in the Church where he shall be appointed to serve, to assist the Priest in Divine Service, and specially when he ministereth the holy Communion, and to help him in the distribution thereof; and to read Holy Scriptures and Homilies in the Church; and to instruct the youth in the Catechism; in the absence of the Priest to baptize infants; and to preach, if he be admitted thereto by the Bishop.

WILL you apply all your diligence to frame and fashion your own lives, and the lives of your families, according to the Doctrine of Christ; and to make both yourselves and them, as much as in you lieth, wholesome examples of the flock of Christ. (BCP of 1662)
For priests and priests:
WILL you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations, as well to the sick as to the whole, within your Cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given? (BCP of 1662)
In Common Worship, we read that for deacons and priests:
Archdeacon: They have duly taken the oath of allegiance to the Sovereign and the oath of canonical obedience to the Bishop. They have affirmed and declared their belief in 'the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness'. (Common Worship)
For bishops, the affirmation in Common Worship reads:
I, AB, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.
It is clear that Clergy in the Church of England both past and present are expected to say the creeds and believe in what they contain. This includes the virgin birth ("born of the Virgin Mary")  and bodily resurrection ("the Resurrection of the Body"). It's sad to say that if Bishop David Jenkins really meant what he said when he denied these doctrines, then he could only have been a heretic in need of instruction. My point is this: if you say that you believe something, then actually believe it. Don't be dishonest with yourself, or with the community to which you're bound to believe it. Of course, we're all hypocrites and heretics in some way or other, and it takes the grace of God to convince us of that. We just have to allow Him to correct us, accept His correction and work at living our belief in Him more sincerely.

Of course, it isn't your personal belief that puts other people's back up, it's when "you try and force your beliefs on them." What does this mean?

Well, I have just said that, if you claim to be a member of the clergy, then you must believe what the Church says that it teaches. I believe what the Church teaches, therefore I have just made a statement about something I believe that you must also believe. Likewise, I do not believe in the marriage of homosexuals in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony primarily because the Catholic Church teaches that two folk of the same sex cannot enter into a sacramental union. If I say that, and you claim to be a member of the Catholic Church, then again, I am saying that you must believe the same. Is it a true coercion?

Likewise, the Law says that a woman is a man, yet when that "man" falls pregnant (as is his/her right) I cannot take seriously the law's statement. In that sense, the Law has forced the beliefs of the lawmakers on me in that, if I press the case that this man is actually a woman, I can be found liable under the Law. Likewise, if I fail to recognise lawful civil union as being marriage then, as is being shown in the courts, I become a transgressor of the Law.

What Andrew Brown seems to want is for Christians to become much less certain about their beliefs so as to function better in Society. Uncertainty for many these days, builds a little give into the system, a little slack into everyday life whereby one can say one thing, but not really mean it. That way one can say "I am a devout Catholic" and "I believe in Gay Marriage" without too much cognitive dissonance. The trouble is that this undermines the very Truth the the Lord Jesus would have us speak.

We hear Him speak to the Church of Laodicia:
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write ; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest * , I am rich, and increased with goods , and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich ; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed , and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear ; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see . As many as I love , I rebuke and chasten : be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold , I stand at the door, and knock : if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame , and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Apocalypse iii.14-end)
We are not meant to compromise on our beliefs, not one jot. We are to take up our cross and follow Christ by living the faith that He gives us. It is painful and hard, but it is not a faith of "trolls" deliberately provoking folk in order to produce a negative reaction and then cry "Persecution!" This is a faith of confronting injustice and hatred caused by the Devil in our midst. Rather than seeing Man as the Devil, we need eyes to see the Devil walking about seeking whom he might devour. We can only do this when we know what God and Evil truly are. The doctrine of Uncertainty prevents the clarity of sight and thus enables diabolical agents to do diabolical things undisturbed.

Often we look at what politicians do and think them evil or wicked for doing so. The equality of marriage between same-sex couples with that of opposite sex couples is rooted in am idea of justice whereby, in legal terms, one can ensure provision for a life-partner in the event of death, or make end-of-life decisions, et c. There is a nobility there, a care for the fact that there are people out there who have a genuine love for someone of the same sex and have made some form of life-long commitment to that someone. What we cannot do is enter into that relationship and understand it in the same terms as the couple. The only thing that the Church can do is offer up for sanctification that which it knows can be sanctified and pass over that which cannot,.trusting that God will know what is truly sanctifiable.

The Church indeed has a lot of uncertainty built into it, and necessarily so. We can be certain that, following the Catholic Faith, Christ is really present in the Host. We can be certain that the Catholic Creeds present truth and that this truth can neither be infallibly be proved true or false by human means. We can be certain that when we repent of our sins from the heart, we will be forgiven by God. However, the Church cannot see into the human mind and know the state of a person's soul - that can only be revealed by consent in the Sacrament of Confession. The Church cannot know what God knows, but must be faithful to what she has received.

St Paul writes to St Titus in chapters 2 and 3.
In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed , having no evil thing to say of you... 
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates , to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived , serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared , Not by works of righteousness which we have done , but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This gives the Church the pattern about how to be certain in the Faith she has received, but how to conduct herself in a secular society which may not hold those beliefs. We must remember that we are only as moral as any other human being. We possess a certainty of our Salvation which rests on the conviction that we have in the Faith. We have to acknowledge our uncertainty about things we cannot know, that are not revealed to us by God, and not pretend that we know them. We certainly have to acknowledge uncertainty but if we truly believe, then we have to love what we believe wholeheartedly and accept the limitations it puts on us. Limitation is the essence of Religion and it is a wonderful thing to live within one's limitations if we actually accept them.

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