What does the C of E think the ‘laity’ are for?

There continues to be some heated debate in the C of E about the respective roles of clergy and laity. On the one hand, research shows that the deployment of stipendiary ministry and leadership is a key to church growth, and so cutting clergy numbers runs counter to current stated strategy. On the other hand, much church growth in the past has come from lay leadership, and the same is true now.

I therefore am reposting this exploration of what the C of E appears to think the ‘laity’ are for. It is important to note from the outside that the term ‘laity’ derives from the Greek term laos, meaning ‘people’, and thus includes everyone, and not merely those who are not ordained. Just as a person does not stop being a deacon when ordained presbyter (sometimes called ‘priest’), and does not stop being either of this if ordained bishop, so none of the ordained cease to be members of the laity on ordination. So this exploration applies to everyone.

I have been contributing to the Church’s Renewal and Reform stream on developing lay leadership, and one of the questions that has come up is: ‘What does the Church of England actually believe about the laity and lay leadership?’ I am not referring here to what some have called ‘ecclesial lay leadership’, that is, the leadership of lay people within the gathered church at services, such as being a Reader, leading the intercessions, leading small groups and so on, important though these are. I am referring to the vision (if any) that the church as a whole has of the leadership that Christians exercise in their daily occupations by virtue of being baptised followers of Jesus in an unbaptised world. (This is rightly called ‘leadership’, since a leader is anyone that others are following, and we exercise leadership when we influence others and society around us to change in the light of our faith in Jesus.)

To know what ‘the Church of England believes’ officially (rather than asking what the collection of people who happen to identify as Anglican think at any particular time), you need to look at the canons and at the liturgy, since this is where the C of E articulates its doctrine. This would include looking at canons and liturgy relating to ordination, exploring what light that sheds on the whole people of God. But a key part of the liturgy is the Communion service, and particularly the final movement (following Gathering, Liturgy of the Word, and Liturgy of the Sacrament) of the Dismissal. The Latin for dismissal is the origin of the Roman Catholic term ‘Mass’, so this is not an insignificant part of the service; the goal of gathering together, hearing God’s word to us and receiving the tokens of his grace in the bread and wine are that we might be sent out into the world, equipped and transformed.

The end of the service in the Book of Common Prayer consists of the Lord’s Prayer, one of two quite long thanksgiving prayers said by the minister, the Gloria (deliberately placed here so that we do not offer anything to God before we have received from him), and the blessing. The ASB significantly revised this: the Gloria moved earlier; the Lord’s Prayer came before administration; and two new thanksgivings were introduced, a shorter one beginning ‘Almighty God, we thank you…’ said together, and a longer one ‘Father of all, we give you thanks…’ said by the president. Common Worship tweaked this by offering both prayers to be said congregationally, with the result that the second prayer is now used very much more often. If we want to know what the liturgy thinks Communion has done for us, and what we are now prepared to do as we leave the service, then we need to reflect on this prayer.

Father of all…

The prayer starts by addressing God as ‘father’, the distinctive Christian address following Jesus’ own distinctive practice, so striking that it is preserved in the NT in his ipsissimum verbum ‘Abba’ from Aramaic. Our experience of God as father is obtained for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection and delivered to us by the presence of the Spirit in our lives.

The qualified ‘of all’ draws on some of the ‘universalist’ language we find in places like 1 Cor 15.22: ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.’ But this can only be understood as referring to universal salvation by detaching it from all Paul’s other language about judgement and the need for a response to Jesus and reception of the Spirit of God. We should then read this as ‘We have experienced God as Father through Jesus by the Spirit…and that this experience is offered to all.’

Some would argue that, at this point, we need to take seriously the author’s intention. David Frost, who wrote the prayer, probably intended the phrase ‘Father of all’ to imply that all humanity are God’s children, whether they themselves believe it or not. But in the end, this phrase is derived from Scripture, and for the C of E, it is its scriptural context which needs to determine its meaning. God is, in principle, Father of all—but that fatherhood is not realised until people come to faith in Jesus and share his understanding of God as father.

…we give you thanks and praise, that when we were still far off you met us in your Son and brought us home.

This is a fascinating expression for several reasons. The first thing to note is that, where the first, shorter prayer makes explicit reference to Communion itself (‘we thank you for feeding us with the body and blood of your Son…’), this prayer moves straight past what we have actually been doing and focusses only on its theological significance—we have experienced meeting God.

But, even more interesting, it expresses this theology in terms parallel to the shape of the Eucharistic Prayer, using our understanding of salvation history. The ‘we’ who ‘were still far off’ is not the congregation gathered here, nor the particular people saying the prayer—after all, many of us had church backgrounds and might have had little sense of being ‘far off’ at any time in our lives. No, the ‘we’ here is the whole of humanity, and this is the story of God’s love for and action towards his world.

And this salvation story is expressed by borrowing the language from the parable of the prodigal son and the loving father in Luke 15.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15.20).

In receiving Communion, we have experience the running father, filled with compassion, throwing his arms around us and kissing us. And this is expressed in the kind of implicit Trinitarianism we find in all the gospels, but especially in John: in meeting Jesus, we meet God the Father, since Jesus is the presence of God tabernacled amongst us. (This sense of a theological narrative applying theologically to humanity, rather than biographically to individuals, also occurs in Paul’s account of sin in Romans 1 and his account of life without Christ in Romans 7.)

Dying and living, he declared your love, gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory.

The first phrase here is a reference less to Jesus’ earthly ministry (for which the prayer would say ‘living and dying’) and more a reference to his death and resurrection, as a complete act, something reflected in both Paul’s preaching in Acts and his theology in his letters. The triple phrase that follows combines the proclamation of good news, its significance, and its effective delivery to us. The language of ‘glory’ reflects the way John’s gospel talks of the cross, as the place of glorification of Jesus which reveals the glory of the Father.

May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;

There is an ambiguity here about ‘sharing the body’; does it mean the physical sharing of the bread we have just done, or does it (as most scholars now think about 1 Cor 11.29) refer to the participation in the body of Christ by all those who believe? The ‘living his risen life’ has echoes of Romans 6, where Paul argues that the movement into the water in baptism signifies our participation in Jesus’ death by the death of our ‘old’ self, and the movement out of the water signifies our participation in Jesus’ resurrection (‘from the waters of death’) so that the life we now live is that resurrection life of Jesus, in anticipation of the age to come. The movement from ‘sharing’ to ‘living’ has a parallel in Gal 5.25; if we have been given life by the Spirit/Jesus, let us walk by the Spirit/live Jesus’ resurrection life.

we who drink his cup bring life to others;

The parallel of the ‘cup’ to the ‘bread’ might suggest that both are references to Communion. But in the NT, to ‘drink a cup’ means to undergo an experience, particularly of suffering, as in Mark 10.38. So as we suffer because of our obedience to God, after the pattern of Jesus’ faithful testimony, we nevertheless offer the word of life to others.

we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.

This third saying within this group brings the work of the Spirit in parallel with all that has happened, in line with Anglican understanding of the ‘epiclesis’, the invitation of the Spirit in the Eucharistic Prayer, which is on the people and not the elements, and so that we might understand and receive aright. ‘Giving light to the world’ picks up on Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that we are a light, but the implication is that the light shines in the darkness, which is expressed in powerful binary contrasts throughout John’s gospel.

Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us, so we and all your children shall be free, and the whole earth live to praise your name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Following the pattern of the Eucharistic Prayers, we move from the past (what God has done in Christ for us and our reception of that), the present (what we face in the world as we go out) to the future—the ultimate future of the hope of Jesus’ return, and the universal elements we find throughout Scripture that the whole world will, in some sense, be redeemed and transformed.

This, then, is what the Church of England believes about the role of the ‘laity’, the people of God in the world. We have experienced the unique grace of the Fatherhood of God in Jesus by the Spirit, and we are to offer that to all. We live distinctive lives which proclaim not our goodness, but the grace of God, bringing light into dark places, demonstrating a shared life in a broken world. And we live in hope that God will complete his purposes, and that one day ‘the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever’ (Rev 11.15).

This is a high calling, and one that our practice has not always reflected. But is it one we actually understand? I was discussing this with a (lay) friend, who has been a lifelong Christian and a member of the C of E for 25 years. ‘Have you ever reflected on this prayer, or been taught about its meaning?’ I asked. ‘Not once’ was the reply. As Stanley Hauerwas argues, we do not need to invent new initiatives, or grasp new strategies, so much as learn to be what we are. This challenges each of our traditions—for evangelicals to use this liturgy, for Catholics to teach this liturgy (and not just assume it will do its work), and for liberals to believe this liturgy. Then, perhaps, the whole people of God might find what they need to be faithful witnesses in the world.

Father of all,
we give you thanks and praise,
that when we were still far off
you met us in your Son and brought us home.
Dying and living, he declared your love,
gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory.
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;
we who drink his cup bring life to others;
we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.
Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us,
so we and all your children shall be free,
and the whole earth live to praise your name;
through Christ our Lord.

This sense of the Church as the laity, dispersed in their various roles, is captured rather wonderfully by Dave Walker at cartoonchurch.com. I would add, though, that this is not a particularly distinctive view of the Church of England; I think most other denominations would share this understanding of who and what the church (and the laity) really are. But it is nice to confirm that this is the C of E’s actual view!

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158 thoughts on “What does the C of E think the ‘laity’ are for?”

  1. Yes. But interesting that you impliedly criticise the church for not teaching about the meaning of the liturgy. While sermons continue to be fairly strictly (and perhaps rightly) restricted to exegesis of the Bible, where/when do you suggest teaching about the liturgy should occur? Also, I was fairly shocked when reading J Packer’s “Knowing God” recently to discover his decisive statement that God is not the father of all. I think this would sound surprising to most people in most modern churches. (I would also refer everyone to the genealogy in Luke 1, “son of Adam son of God.”)

    • I think this assertion by Packer derives from his Calvinistic understanding of salvation. Perhaps what he meant is that God is Father of the Elect.

    • Penelope – so how did you find J Packer’s `Knowing God’? I remember once, back in 1985 someone invited me to read the book, I read it, it didn’t really make any impression on me at all, I thanked the person kindly and gave the book back to her. She was an Anglican (who worshipped at the St Thomas Anglican church out at Corstorphine). Maybe I was too young and immature at the time to appreciate it – and perhaps a re-reading might be worth it if the book gets enough `recommends’.

      As far as the `father’ business goes – I’m only going on what Geoff wrote below to get an idea of what Packer might have been thinking – and I think that J. Packer is *wrong* about the term `father’ being specifically Christian and suggesting that it is not a Jewish concept, since there are definitely references to it in the Old Testament (for example Psalm 68:5-6 father to the fatherless). Admittedly, it is clearly very well hidden in the OT – and one has to be a bit of a `harmoniser’ (trying to harmonise the theologies of the OT and NT) to be completely convinced by this.

      But there *is* a specifically *Christian* meaning to God as Father, which we get from (for example) Romans 8:14-17, where *by faith in him* we cry `Abba father’, that is faith in Jesus Christ, that he bore our sins on the cross at Calvary; we know that he died and descended into Hell to deal with our sins; we know by his resurrection that he *conquered* death and dealt with our sins fully; in His resurrection we know that our sins have been forgiven and that we are `more than conquerors’ in Him.

      For the use of `Abba father’ that we get from Romans 8:14-17, Paul explicitly refers to this and really is a specifically Christian meaning of the term `father’.

      So I suppose it depends on how Packer understood the word `father’; in one sense, God is the father of all creation and if Packer denies this, then he is wrong. But in another and much deeper sense there is a specifically Christian meaning – and if this is what Packer meant, then he is right and he is simply following Paul in Romans.

    • Yes, I would agree with Jock.

      All creation comes from God. However, in scripture ‘father’ is a term of relationship. God is not ‘father’, in this sense, with those who are estranged from him.

      The language of ‘father’ is not entirely absent in the OT, but in Jesus it has a new centrality; it characterises the intimate relationship of love and obedience of Jesus, and by the Spirit it also characterises our relationship with God because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, dealing with the power and penalty of sin (Rom 8.1).

      So, in this sense, God is father of those who are now his children through adoption into the family by the Spirit, sons and heirs, and brothers and sisters with Jesus and with one another.

      None of this is true of humanity as a whole outside faith.

      • Let’s look at it the other way round. Instead of asking whether God is father of all humans or just father of believers, let’s ask if all humans or only all believers are his children. You’ll find the same ambiguity. Paul told the Athenians that all people are his children (Acts 17:29), yet John 1:12-13 speaks of believers specifically as His children. Perhaps the point is that believers are in Christ who is God’s only begotten son?

        • The Father is revealed in a unique way in the NT since he is the Father of the Son and the Son is the image of the Father, This revelation of the Father is not given in the OT for the Son is not yet incarnate; his glory is not yet revealed and so the glory of the Father must also be hidden though OT revelation revealed much in Yahweh that was true of the Father,

    • Clearly as others have shown God is Father in the sense of being Creator but he is also Father in the sense of being the Redeemer. Perhaps we can add that as Father, God holds himself out to a prodigal creation of people and longs for them to come to him and know him as Father. He watches for that ‘return’ in each of us.

  2. A leader is a path finder, a guide to the way ahead, a leader is therefore a servant of the community that is moving forward, leadership is a subset of ministry. The problem is that we have made leaders into commanders and that’s the problem. So I agree that leadership is about vision and vocation and as such it is for the whole community to discern not just a few.
    But coming back to clergy. I think that their role is to equip and support members the body of Christ for their life as Christians in everyday life. Before I was ordained I spent most of my life either at home with family/flatmates, at work or in some kind of leisure activity. I came to church and the weekly Bible study, to pray and worship, but also to receive from God that which helped me live my life as a Christian in my life outside of the building the body of Christ. All of the clergy I knew in the churches I attended did their best to facilitate that. I think that they were able to do that because they were free from the constraints of employment and therefore had time live what they taught.
    Non ordained people also played a part in that but they were living with the constraints of time the clergy were not.

  3. “Father is the Christian name for God. You sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father.
    “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.
    “For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. “Father” is the Christian name for God.
    “Our understanding of Christianity can not be better than our grasp of adoption.”
    J.I. Packer, Knowing God

    • Adoption (as sons)

      Galatians 2:20-21

      Galatians 3:24-27

      Galatians 4:4-7

      Who is a “son of God?

      – anyone who has faith in Christ (v26)
      – Baptism (v27) is a sign of that faith- but it is through faith alone we are adopted by God into His family as His sons. We are seen as sons because we have “clothed”ourselves with Christ, God’s Son (v27).

      “Many take offence at using the masculine word “sons” to refer to all Christians, male and female.. But to translate it “children” would miss the meaning. In most ancient cultures, daughters could not inherit property. “Son” therefore meant “legal heir” – the one who would inherit everything the father had to give. The gospel tells us weare all sons -inheritors- in Christ.”

      Galatians 4:6
      We have an intimate relationship with the creator of the cosmos. We can cry out “Father” and, perhaps even more amazingly, “Abba”, which means “dad”, “papa”, “daddy”.
      We can rest totally assured of God’s fatherly love for us – it rests not on what we do, but who we are in His sight. And we can draw wonderfully near to God in prayer.”

      From, Galatians Gospel matters (The Good Book guide to Galatians) by Tim Keller

  4. You ask “What does the Church of England think the laity is for”, but that in turn raises the question: Who is the Church of England?

    One question I can answer: the liberal bishops think that the laity is there to pay them good money in order to have doubt about the scriptures ministered to them.

    Like hell. I mean that literally. Theological liberals should read the opening of James 3 about false teachers, and tremble.

    • Anton I think you are an abusive theological conservative and should read most of the New Teatament and tremble. There. How does it feel?

      • I know my views better than you do. I actually believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are in principle available to the church today – I am not a cessationist – and if they are not present then something has gone very wrong. But I also think that the charismatic movement is kidding itself 90% of the time. Am I a theological conservative?

        I think the main difference between us is how to read the Bible. I am not going to discuss hermeneutics; such discussions are a waste of time and I prefer to engage with specific verses as and when they come up in discussion and advocate for a particular understanding, for which I argue. I do not intend to hurt people’s feelings in this process but if that happens, why should I apologise? Throwing words like “abusive” around does not advance dialogue.

          • There is no valid third party in exegetical discussions except God, and he leaves us to dispute over his scriptures. Feel free to join in any such discussion over specific verses.

    • the liberal bishops think that the laity is there to pay them good money in order to have doubt about the scriptures ministered to them.

      I don’t think that’s true, inasmuch as the liberal bishops (a) are universalists, so don’t see any distinction between laity and non-Christians and (b) following on from that, see themselves not as shepherds of the flock (after all, they don’t think there’s any such thing as ‘the flock’ as distinct from the rest of the sheep, and they don’t think the sheep need shepherding as they will all end up in the right place anyway) but rather as a sort of spiritual NHS, which means they don’t want anyone to pay them money (and if you say ‘but in that case the church will go bust’ then, well, yes, exactly).

      Plus the laity tend to do things like own cars and vote to leave the EU and think that human beings come in just two sexes.

      So if anything the liberal bishops probably think the laity just get in the way of the Church’s mission of making political statements and doing nice services for their communities to validate people’s identities, and would, if they could figure out a way to do it, quite like to get rid of the laity entirely.

      Wasn’t there one liberal Anglican a couple of years ago who wrote an article saying that the Church of England could do its work just fine without any laity whatsoever? I keep trying to find that as I can never quite believe I didn’t imagine it, though I’m sure it was real.

      • The catchphrase of theological liberals when studying scripture is “Did God really say…?” Now, where have I heard that before?

          • Genesis 5:5 `Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died.’

            The crucial phrase here is `and then he died’; Scripture is saying emphatically and pointedly that the Serpent was wrong (unless, of course, you agree that Adam died, but Eve you’re trying to tell us that Eve didn’t).

            You know, this is a worse clanger than Christopher Shell under the previous post, trying to say that the parable of the Prodigal Son was an invention of Luke’s to put across the theology he believed that Jesus was trying to communicate – and wasn’t a reasonable rendering of a parable the Jesus actually told.

            In both cases, it looks like sacrilege – with roughly the same effect as if someone broke wind with savage ferocity, while receiving a knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen.

            Actually, what you wrote is reminiscent of some loony satanic theology from the middle ages which my dad sometimes reads for a laugh. He found an Oxford Companion to something-or-other (connected with religion) which contained a song, the words of which indicate that Eve did a great thing by eating the apple, because the song-writer seemed to think that otherwise she and Adam wouldn’t have produced any offspring – and hence we have Eve to thank for our existence ……

            So there is some weird and wacky theology around – and when you drop clangers like the one you did, just for a laugh, just to see the reaction – you should be aware that there do exist people who actually believe things that aren’t a million miles from it.

          • Jock

            It really wasn’t for a laugh. Adam and Eve died because they weren’t created to be immortal. Eating the fruit gave them the knowledge to see that eating from the tree of life would give them immortality (in common with other ANE creation myths), so God quickly put a stop to that. The serpent is, in fact, right.

          • Penelope – well, that isn’t what Paul says in Romans, where he points out that death entered through sin. Romans 5:12 ` Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin,…’

            This is one verse in a long and involved theological argument. Its meaning is quite clear; Adam *was* created to be immortal, but death entered through his sin. Instead of immortality, he got 930 years (which is rather a long time – but still finite) and we see, as Genesis and Exodus progress the lifespans get shorter and shorter until eventually (Psalms) it seems to be `three score years and ten’.

          • Penelope I fear for you saying things like that. The narrative is clearly intended to show Adam, Eve and the Serpent were all in the wrong – hence the divine judgement. The Serpent is said to be subtle/wily. It presented a half truth to Adam and Eve. It questioned whether God had really objected to them eating from the tree, It suggested God was denying them eating every tree. It failed to point out the consequences of disobedience. It said that contrary to what God had said they would not die. They did die. They died spiritually and ultimately physically. They die because of sin not because of bodily constitution which apparently was at least potentially immortal with only sin destroying this possibility.

            But again, Penelope, the bigger issue here is your own eternal destiny, When we say God was wrong and the serpent right we have sided with Satan against God.

          • Jock

            Read the text carefully. Adam wasn’t created to be immortal. He had the chance to grasp immortality by eating from the tree of life, but, presumably, because of his disobedience (or, because as God had said, he may become like one of “us”, i.e. a god), God threw him out of Eden. True, Eve did then conceive and the cycle of birth and death began.


            Yes, Adam was potentially immortal. But when God saw that he now knew good from evil and was able to grasp that immortality, they put a stop to it. So, the serpent was (partly) right. The couple did not die – at least not for 990 years! I’m not siding with the serpent, just observing that this narrative is often read quite badly. Maybe because many Christians identify the serpent with Satan or the Devil, when there is nothing in the text or context to justify this interpretation.

          • Penelope – I see – you’re an extreme Calvinist. You say Adam wasn’t born for immortality; the Scripture says that death came through sin, you are therefore implying that it was God’s *intention* that Adam sin …..

            (Shome mishtake shurely).

            So Judas Iscariot was a fine Christian gentleman, who has been greatly misunderstood for generations – and we have something similar with the Serpent.

            Actually, I see the Serpent as the first Pentecostalist preacher – and Eve as the first person to get taken in by a crackpot teacher talking nonsense. I think it was Barth who pointed out that Eve, listening to a sermon about the commandments of God was the first religious act of worship recorded in Scripture.

          • John, Jock

            Penelope began if you read Gen 2 attentively, and that is a core issue, both for Eve and for you, responding to Penelope.

            The only words of the Serpent’s that were wrong, factually, were “You will not really die”. Eve’s reply showed that she had not been fully attentive to what (Adam said) God had said and had not understood the ambiguity of “You will not really die … because you will be like God [understand: immortal]”.

            Penelope clarified: “Adam and Eve died because they weren’t created to be immortal. Eating the fruit gave them the knowledge to see that eating from the tree of life would give them immortality.” This seems to me true and unobjectionable if “created to be immortal” was just intended to mean “created immortal” – I’m sure she would accept that God ultimately intended to grant immortality to human beings, through another tree of life (I Pet 2:24). She did not say “God was wrong”.

            They died spiritually. One comes across this idea in theological discourse. Can you explain what it means? ‘Spiritual death’ is not a phrase in the Bible, and outside theological circles, to die simply means to cease to be alive.

            All this is predicated on the understanding that Adam and Eve were created by God, the first human beings and the ancestors of all human beings. Few Christians believe that, and perhaps you and Jock might rather direct your predilection for sniffing out error (and expressing concerns about the eternal destiny of the perceived heretics, as you have done also in my case in the past) against them?

            In any case, as Peter Reiss said, “our primary ministry is in the wider world”, not in the blogosphere.

          • Steven Robinson – any disagreements with you have basically been on things which are way above my IQ – namely – the Trinity – and I intend to come back to you on this (if you are willing) at some future time when the topic of the post is more conducive to it.

            I do happen to believe that Adam was a real person. There is one and only one reason that I believe this – it is because I cannot make sense of Romans 5 without it. Other than that – I am not at all sure that Adam and Eve were the physical ancestors of *all* human beings (for example – when Cain married someone, whom did he marry? If it wasn’t a human being, then what? It is very difficult to see that the author of Genesis 2 intended us to infer that it was someone descended from Adam and Eve).

            But that issue is irrelevant to what Genesis 2 is supposed to be teaching us – where it is clear and plain that death was *not in the picture* until sin entered. That is the clear and plain meaning that Paul draws in Romans 5.

            There is one issue of importance that Penelope is pointing to, which is the Tree of Life. It seems to me that the intention to sin had already been expressed *before* Adam ate the forbidden fruit. He was supposed to be tending the *whole* garden of Eden – so he was supposed to eat the fruit of the tree of life, but, by the time of the fall, he still had not eaten the fruit of the tree of life.

            It shows (at the very least) that he wasn’t putting his back into the job that God had given him.

            So there is an issue here, but I feel that Penelope’s solution (a) mitigates against the context and (b) against huge swathes of Christian theology (given in Romans 5 – which I feel is absolutely central).

          • Jock

            Another reason to believe Adam and Eve were real not mythological figures is the genealogies. At some point a mythological figure is going to have to beget a flesh-and-blood one, which is impossible.

            If you read Genesis carefully you might decide that Adam and Eve are to be found somewhere up the family tree of all humans, not that they are our *sole* ancestors…

          • At some point a mythological figure is going to have to beget a flesh-and-blood one, which is impossible.

            Actually it is possible if the ‘mythological’ figure is actually an amalgamation of several flesh-and-blood historical figures; it just means that one of them did the begetting (or indeed, if the mythological figure is an amalgamation of several generations of the same family, possibly that they all did and it’s just that several generations have been compressed into one figure due to oral transmission of history).

          • Anton – thanks – yes – Adam Lay y bounden makes sense (I just looked it up on wikipedia) – looks like precisely the sort of thing my dad thought was good-for-a-laugh one Christmas!

            Also – yes – I guess that’s what I was pointing to – I can’t see how the author of Genesis was trying to communicate that Adam and Eve were the *sole* ancestors.

            Steven Robinson – yes – I am painfully aware that this is the `blogosphere’ and contributing here does not bring the Word of God to the outside world, where it is needed. What are *your* proposed solutions to proclaiming the Word where it is really needed? Any (constructive) suggestions?

            For the interaction with Penelope – I do think that her suggestion that Adam and Eve weren’t created to be immortal is – at the very least – somewhat unusual – and somewhere like this isn’t a bad place to discuss such things.

          • Anton

            The serpent is … a serpent. It lost its wings and/or legs as a consequence of the temptation.

          • Penelope

            I’m not sure how independent moral awareness gave insight they should eat the tree of life. There is no suggestion this idea crossed their minds. The tree of life was always available to eat. (They chose the tree based on personal responsibility rather than that which was eternal life by pure grace). God stopped them eating the tree because living forever in a sinful state was not desirable. My view remains that they died spiritually upon eating. Understanding the serpent to be Satan arises from the analogy of faith. Satan is called ‘that old serpent the devil”.

          • Steven

            Does not God’s judgement on the serpent reveal it lied. The serpent’s opening leading question about ‘any tree’ suggests a lying intent. As you say ‘You will not surely die’ was a contradiction of God and was wrong in one of a few ways a) both died spiritually that day b) they began to die -mortality became their bodily experience c) ‘day’ has a wider range.

            I’m not sure if other options are available. Both a and b seem to be true though b perhaps fits better with the judgement pronounced.

            Spiritual death I take it is implied in ‘dead in trespasses and sins’. Eph 2
            Death other than physical death is used too of the Christian’s death to sin.

            Satan did not promise that they would be immortal but that like God they would understand good and evil. In this he spoke truth. His lies seem often to have the subtlety of being as ‘truthful’ as possible while selling a lie. Steven, I respect your abilities but fear you have swallowed a soul destroying lie in your Arian view of Christ. To deny him eternity is to deny him deity.

          • A tentative view I expressed to Penelope. There wee two significant trees in the garden – thee tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Can we call these the tree of grace and the tree of responsibility. Adam and Eve (acting irresponsibly) chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It led out the promise of moral knowledge independent of God. Upon eating Adam and Eve moved from a child-like innocence to having moral judgement. Immediately they are aware of their nakedness and hide from God.

            It was never a period of moral testing that would lead to eternal life; eternal life lay in a tree. Eternal life was always a divine gift. The tree of life resides now in a person. Jesus has life in himself and grants it to all who eat of him.

          • The dialogue that the serpent had with Adam and Eve was quite profound. It would seem to me from reading this that God’s intention was that they were not to know the concept of good as well as not knowing the concept of evil.
            Knowing one necessarily implies knowledge of the other, giving then self-referential powers over their actions and making them like God in respect to whom the source and origin of all right judgement, is ultimately reserved.

          • John

            Gen 3.27 implies that only after opening their eyes to good and evil did God think Adam and Eve might eat of the fruit of immortality.

            One of the problems with this narrative is that Adam and Eve only become moral beings after eating the fruit; to become fully human they had to ‘fall’.

          • One of the problems with this narrative is that Adam and Eve only become moral beings after eating the fruit

            That’s not true. They have moral agency before eating the fruit, as evidenced by the fact that they are able to choose to eat it.

          • Yes, but was the original plan for Adam and Eve -not to be moral beings?
            Is knowing Good and Evil and being moral, making us less or more than fully human in God’s eyes?

            And in the resurrection, will we know longer know Good and Evil?

          • Satan, adversary, of God.
            Is he a human invention, a none entity?
            Insiduous in bringing doubt over the Goodness of God.
            Eating, feeding sustaining. The whole of humanity continues to gorge from the tree of good and evil, right and wrong, law, morals,
            motives philosophyy the meaning of life (without God) which is and culminates in death while seeking to establish the sovereign self in relativity.
            The battle is not against flesh and blood but the principalities, powers in the heavenly realms.
            Does the CoE Clergy, leadership believe in the Devil?

          • And just who is the “father of lies… a liar from the beginning”.?
            John 8:43-45

            Careful, longitudinal, whole – biblical theology of redemption reveals.

          • Penelope

            The serpent might have lost its legs but also its voice. I’ve yet to hear one speak.

            It tempted Adam and Eve, just as Satan tempted Jesus.

          • Well, donkeys don’t usually talk, at least in my experience. But the Hebrew Bible is full of odd events.

          • I’m slightly amused by the implication that liberlas play fast and loose with scripture, by reading things into the text. Some of you are clearly reading the figure of Satan into the serpent when there is no textual warrant for this.
            It is perfectly possible to believe in Satan, the Father of Lies, the Devil etc. without confusing Them with a talking serpent.

          • But Penelope – you’re not a liberal – you’re an extreme Calvinist. This is the only way I can understand your assertion that Adam and Eve were never intended for immorality, since death only came through sin – so you are saying that in the creative act, God intended (or foreordained, or predestined) Adam and Eve to sin.

          • Chris Bishop – I think you’re asking good questions here – which I cannot answer – but I think they do point to the `so much more’s of Romans 5 – where we are not just restored to what Adam was before the fall, but to something that is immeasurably better.

          • I’m slightly amused by the implication that liberlas play fast and loose with scripture, by reading things into the text.

            Liberals usually play fast and loose with scripture by reading things out of the text, don’t they? Rather than reading things in.

          • Penelope

            The New Testament is full of ‘odd events’ too – a baby born to a virgin, a man coming back from the dead. Are you suggesting that odd events should be disbelieved in the Hebrew scriptures but believed in the New Testament? Or disbelieved in both Testaments?

          • Chris

            I assume in time Adam and Eve would have been given moral judgement, Jesus has this and we were always intended to mirror Jesus.

            Sometimes people say Jesus’ humanity was like Adam’s. I don’t think this is so. From the beginning Jesus had moral awareness. The distinctiveness/advance in Christ’s humanity is that he hoped righteousness and hated iniquity. His humanity is holy. It is this holy humanity/nature we receive when born again… divine life in our humanity. Just now we still have our old humanity (in conflict with the new) which causes us to sin but in heaven we will have only a holy humanity. We shall never be able to sin again (or want to); we shall have moral awareness that loathes sin. Adam and Eve h gained moral awareness through loving sin.

          • Anton

            In mythology, there was a talking serpent, Adam, Eve, and a garden of Eden.
            So, no I don’t actually believe in a talking serpent any more than I believe in Medusa.
            But mythology is full of the supernatural. And a talking serpent doesn’t have to be anything more than a talking serpent.

          • Thank you, Penelope. What then do you think it symbolises or is an allegory for? Do you believe that God created man with no design flaw and that something bad then happened?

            I hope you believe that Jesus of Nazareth was one flesh-and-blood person who was biologically born of a virgin and who physically came back to life having been dead…?

          • Penelope – thank you – your reply to Anton was very informative.

            From this I infer that you consider the Holy Scripture – and indeed the God expounded in Scripture in exactly the same way as you do with pagan religions.

            The key point here is that you take the view that the serpent called out God, indicated that God was wrong – and that the serpent was right.

            If we consider pagan religions then, well, this is more-or-less what happens quite a lot of the time; their gods are not infallible; their gods use deception – and it seems to me that, for you, the God expounded in the book of Genesis ought to be taken in the same way.

            This (of course) is wholly at odds with the way that the Old Testament (and also the New Testament) actually present God.

          • Anton

            It’s a talking serpent. It *needn’t* symbolise anything. Do mythological figures always symbolise something? But it probably does symbolise temptation, the human tendency to ignore God’s precepts.

            The difference between much of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is that the former is mythology and the latter history. This doesn’t make one more true or untrue than the other. But it is the difference between, say, Odysseus and Plato.

          • Penelope – well, I’d strongly disagree with that – having read the whole Hebrew bible many times over. In fact, I’d say that the authors of the Hebrew bible were fully aware of the Mesopotamian myths when they wrote their account – and one of the primary functions was a polemic against them – that the Hebrew God was qualitatively different from that.

            But perhaps we should engage on that on a different occasion – when Ian Paul puts up something more conducive to that discussion (since I think we’ve strayed way off the topic of Ian’s thought provoking post).

          • What are *your* proposed solutions to proclaiming the Word where it is really needed? Any (constructive) suggestions?
            This of course presupposes that one knows the Word that is to be proclaimed, and that there are not also other forms of service.

            I think I would start with the question, what is God calling me to do by way of service, without presupposing what that might be. Where do your passions lie (apart from theological disputation on the web, which is unlikely to be something that is very fruitful or going to be commended at the end of life)?

            Being a good Trinitarian, you believe in the Holy Spirit and therefore know that a major office of the Spirit is to guide us into work that pleases God. God has prepared good works for each individual which he has simply to step into, as it were (Eph 2:10). Scripturally, the expectation is that the earnest disciple will seek to do the Father’s will and will know what it is. If in fact a disciple finds himself at a loss to know how he can be fruitful (a common enough situation) that could be an indication, so far as God is concerned, that he does not yet know God well enough (I am referring to heart knowledge rather than intellectual knowledge), and that that should be his priority.

          • The difference between much of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is that the former is mythology and the latter history.

            That is not the view that believing Jews have ever taken of it; it is a view that began among Jews in the 17th century (see conservative rabbi Marvin Antelman’s book “To eliminate the Opiate”, which shows also that German liberal theology of the New Testament actually began here); and in particular it is not the view that Jesus Christ took of it.

            What are your grounds for this assertion, please? Both contain the supernatural in abundance. Surely not that the Old Testament is a few centuries older?

          • Jock

            Yes, I agree with you, and disagree with you on this! Perhaps this is not the right place,
            But, yes the Genesis creation myths are a direct counter to surrounding creation myths but they are also forged out that context. Like much of the HB they are mythology and they are not monotheistic. Perhaps better to say that the communities which produced them weren’t. There are other bits of creation myth caught in the HB which are much more redolent of Mespotamian myth.

          • Steve Robinson – a good answer!

            You’re probably right that these blog discussions aren’t necessarily so useful – but (after all) you participate in them – so you can’t believe that they are a total waste of time. I personally have found some of what *you* wrote quite interesting – so I hope you don’t turn your back on it.

            It took several iterations for me to understand where Penelope was coming from on the serpent business – and it *still* strikes me as weird and wacky that `the serpent called out God – and the serpent was right’, but I think I see where it comes from now – so I don’t think the interaction was a waste of time.

            It was through Ian Paul’s blog – and, in particular the contribution of Simon Ponsonby (pointing to the Lowestoft Revival of 1921) that I understood exactly how my grandfather came to faith – so I don’t write it off in the way that you do.

            As far as `knowing God’ goes – I think that all this sounds weird and mystical. For myself, I know that Jesus was crucified for my sins; he dealt with my sin and conquered death on my behalf and that I am `in Him’. I can’t really say I know God – and I’d say that this is a gift that God bestows on people. He requires us to press on, to keep believing in Him and to live accordingly – which I’m sure we’re all trying to do.

            But `knowing God’ sounds like a level of mysticism that could be dangerous.

          • Jock

            Most of us feel we do not know God as we should. But surely you do not mean you do not know God in any way experientially. Do you not know him to some extent as you know your father or perhaps your wife. Its that sense of loving he loves you. Knowing you can depend upon him. Knowing his nature. It is delighting in him. Beginning to discover he is your chief delight or he alone is good. Knowing he is to be feared. Knowing he treats us gently. Knowing he will not tolerate high-handed sin.

            This is not mystical it is the practical… just the stuff of relationships. Read ‘Knowing God’ it may help you in this area.

          • John – the problem with an expression such as `knowing God’ is that I don’t really know what it means – and I do not find this expression in Scripture. Would you say that Job knew God? If so, I’d say that the way in which he `knew’ God was pretty shakey until the very end of the book of Job – and even then it’s difficult to see the sense in which he knew God.

            Knowing God is clearly qualitatively very different from knowing a human being.

            We know *about* God; we know what he requires of us, we know the attributes of God and how he looks after us, but I would hardly describe that as `knowing God’. Moses knew God in some sense, as did Elijah, but even though they met him, they still did not see his face. They knew what He required of them – and they were zealous about pursuing this – the sense in which they knew God still isn’t clear to me.

          • Penelope

            Let those rabbis be introduced to Rabbi Antelman.

            You write: the Genesis creation myths are a direct counter to surrounding creation myths but they are also forged out that context. Like much of the H[ebrew ]B[ible] they are mythology and they are not monotheistic.

            You believe that parts of Genesis are not monotheistic? Are you?

          • Jock

            Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. Jn 17:3

            I think with a little thought I could come up with a lot of verses about experientially knowing God. Paul’s aspiration was ‘that I may know him…’. Phil 3

            I think there is a real correspondence between knowing a person and knowing God. God is a person. He is our Father and wishes to be known by us as Father, Jesus fulfils many relationships with his people. The point is that Christianity is about a relationship.

            We were thinking in the prodigal post about the elder brother. He really had a very truncated relationship with his Father. It was all about obedience without any intimacy.

            I suggest Jock you try some relation building exercises. Tell the Lord you love him. Tell him why you love him. Think of what you admire in him and tell him. Tell him he comes first in your life. Tell him you want to know him more. Then perhaps tell yourself the lord loves you and that you are of supreme value to him. Remind yourself he holds you in the palm of your hand and praise him this is true.

            Mary in Jn 12 did what she did not because she should but because she loved Jesus. It is this relational love we need to learn. Jesus says… if you love me…. We should not be shy of love. It is not a soft thing it is the most powerful and most positive emotion we can feel.

            Packer says, “How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is simple but demanding. It is that we turn each Truth that we learn about God into a matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.”

            I might add to that ‘and obedience to God’.

            New covenant life is knowing God.

            33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jer 31

            23 This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, 24 but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they understand and know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. Jer 9

            And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, Col 1:9

            The OT says it is they who know their God who do exploits. Dan 11:32

            Of course this is a lifetime of learning.

            But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Pet 3:18

            I’m sure you’re overstating your own position Jock. Here’s a text to encourage us.

            Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” Hos 6:3

          • Anton

            Not parts of Genesis. The whole of the Hebrew Bible until (parts of) Isaiah.
            This isn’t even contentious.

          • Penelope – this may not be contentious among scholars, but your average Christian `Jock Molesworth’, who is not a bible scholar and reads it for himself, will take the view that the OT is monotheistic – and this is the view that I take.

            Certainly, he won’t take the view that God uses deception, that the serpent can call out God (who wasn’t exactly straight with Adam and Eve) and that the serpent is right.

            Your average plain-man `Jock Molesworth’ does see other spiritual forces, but clearly the OT teaches monotheism, in the sense that there is one God who created absolutely everything – and His relation to the other beings is explained quite clearly, for example, at the beginning of the book of Job – in the transaction between God and Satan, where Satan’s power is strictly limited within the confines of what God permits.

            This is very different from the pagan systems of deities – you don’t get something like Brunnhilde taking her own line against Wotan.

            Of course, if one is a scholar, with a mission to trash Scripture (while stating that one does not have an agenda and that one is simply applying logic to the texts), then one will take all the bits and pieces throughout (for example Dagon worship) to draw out the false message that the OT writers were not monotheistic.

            Your average Christian `Jock Molesworth (not a scholar)’ who sits in the pew will take the view that the authors were well aware of the pagan religions around, and their writings, and that the OT that you allude to was intended as a polemic against them.

            Of course, clever bible scholars take a different view.

          • John Thomson, Steve Robinson

            Steve – I’d like to know what you mean by `know God’ and whether your definition matches up with John Thomson’s.

            John – I pointed out that I trust in Christ for my ultimate salvation, through the crucifixion and resurrection, wherein Christ dealt with my sins and in his resurrection I know that my sins have been fully dealt with, He conquered death on my behalf, so we are `more than conquerors’ in Him. Following this, I trust in Him for my salvation and do my God given best to live a godly life.

            I don’t understand the term `knowing God’, but clearly, from your response, this isn’t good enough for you and you mean something else.

            But – John – I’d say that your idea of prayer is very sharply opposed to mine, since I would never boast to God about how much I love him (unless you want prayer to degenerate into some cheap and cheesy pop song. I actually prefer Johnny Rotten’s version of that song).

            We are told how to pray in the Lord’s prayer; the opening and most important petitions have nothing to do with self and nothing to do with boasting to God about how well we are doing in the love department. We pray that his name be hallowed, that his kingdom come, that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

            In this context, right now, I pray without ceasing for the situation in the Ukraine – and I feel as if the whole business represents a total failure in unanswered prayer.

            I also find your emphasis on self and on how well I am doing in prayer somewhat dangerous – and I now recall why I didn’t like Packer’s book all those years ago (when I was 18 years old and very much uneducated in Christian things).

            This actually looks to me like the beginnings of Wimberism and Charismatic tendency creeping in (love of God becomes a work, which is rewarded by the Holy Spirit doing weird and wacky things).

          • Penelope

            Scholars were apostate in Jesus’ time too – see what the four canonical gospels have to say about scribes and teachers of the law, and also the later verses of 1 Corinthians 1. I have thousands of hours of Christian reading and writing behind me, self-taught but I seek out discussion too, for I am a professional scholar in the sciences and I know what genuine learning involves.

            In Christian theology, unlike in mathematics, there are plenty of corrupt traditions – Catholic and protestant can’t both be right, for instance. So there is no reason for me to trust the scholarly tradition which you advocate. The Old Testament mentions plenty of pagan gods and there was a large amount of syncretism by the Israelites before the exile – exactly as predicted in the Pentateuch if they did not drive out the Canaanites. (See The Books of Moses Revisited by Paul Lawrence, 2011, for a scholarly explanation of the authenticity of the Pentateuch as having been written during the Exodus.) But the OT was written from start to finish by believers in one supreme Creator God.

            I asked you two questions: was the OT monotheistic and are you?

          • Dear Jock

            It really isn’t true that scholarship is inimical to faith. If it were, Ian wouldn’t be hosting this blog and Christopher Shell and Jonathan Tallon wouldn’t be posting here.
            In all the years I have studied the Bible and theology I have never been taught by anyone who wasn’t a Christian. There are, of course, atheist scholars but their aim is not to trash the material they are studying any more than classicists would trash the works of Homer, Herodotus or Sophocles.
            And, the Hebrew Bible being polytheistic in parts does not preclude the ‘developments’ into monotheism which are now the norms in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

          • Anton

            I think you have answered your own question. Yes, there were lots of other God’s besides El/YWHW whom the Israelites/Judahites were warned not to worship. That they clearly did is the reason for a lot of the polemic in the HB and for the probability that, until Isaiah, the cult wasn’t monotheistic. Indeed, the first Commandment assumes the existence of other gods.
            As for your other question: what is the relevance of my being a monotheist to this discussion? I am a Christian, so you may infer that I am. But this has absolutely no bearing on historical scholarship. Ancient peoples believed in many gods. So what?

          • Penelope

            The OT is no more polytheistic than I am being if I write that “Yahweh is the Creator of all things but some people wrongly worship false gods instead of him”.

            Thank you for the personal clarification. This is relevant because there is no spectators’ gallery in discussions of religion, contrary to the conceit of secular persons. They too have a faith, just not a theistic one – they believe ardently in the truth of certain things that they cannot prove from anything else.

          • Just a couple of quick observations here.

            Any discussion of polytheism needs to distinguish between monotheism (only one god exists) and henotheism (only one god is to be worshipped). Noting that Scripture is not ‘monotheistic’ in this sense does not demonstrate it is polytheistic. And we need to distinguish between what Scripture describes and what it prescribes. I cannot think of anywhere the OT suggests that it is fine to worship many other gods alongside Yahweh, which is what polytheism would mean.

            I don’t know that the claim that ‘most Bible scholars are Christians’ unless you qualify that. I have been taught by many ‘Christian’ scholars, who would also say they were not Trinitarian, were universalist, and did not think Scripture was in any real way authoritative. I think that is rather straining the meaning of ‘Christian’.

          • Hi Ian

            I think henotheism is a rather problematic term. It’s not that parts of the HB condone polytheism so much as they take it entirely for granted. It’s there in the first Commandment and in the council of the gods. It’s much more clearly condemned retrospectively in post exilic rhetoric. I don’t agree with Anton’s dating of the Pentateuch.
            You must have been taught by more unorthodox people than I. Douglas Campbell , Francis Watson, Colin Gunton, Murray Rae, Judith Lieu, Eddie Adams, Steve Holmes, David Horrell, Louise Lawrence, Morwenna Ludlow, Susannah Cornwall.

          • Anton,

            Yes, except that you and I don’t believe that the false gods exist.
            The ancient Israelites and Judahites did. And so did their God El/YHWH.

          • Penelope

            Allow me to clarify that I do not believe the parts of the Pentateuch depicting Moses’ death were written by Moses, and some parts slightly later (eg the stones are still there to this day). I reject the idea that much of the Law was given after prophets complained that it was being broken and if you want to know why, read Paul Lawrence’s scholarly book.

            I believe that Satan exists and is a false god; also a master of disguise and deception.

          • Anton

            I don’t believe Moses wrote *any* of the Pentateuch.
            Indeed, I think Moses is a mythological figure.
            I believe much of the Law was codified post exile.
            But in any case, the Ten Commandments are not monotheistic.

          • Well you differ from Jesus in your view of the OT, Penelope. Does that not worry you? And please would you address an earlier question: why do you believe the NT is factual but the OT mythological?

          • Yep – Luke 9:30 – Jesus was actually talking to Moses. Do we take the view that Jesus was *also* a mythological character?

            Or perhaps Peter, John and James said, `oh look! Jesus thinks he’s talking to Moses! Perhaps its time to put a straight jacket on him and throw him in the loony bin’

            Alternatively, the transfiguration might all have been a construct in Luke’s head to help him put across some theology that he would have liked Jesus to have taught (had Jesus been real).

            Am I real? How about Penelope? Ian Paul? Anton?

            `The Germans are disputing it. Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics, Kant via the categorical imperative is holding that ontologically it exists only in the imagination, and Marx is claiming it was offside.’

          • Goodness – we are back to the question of what is the bible and who was Jesus. Now there is a surprise…..
            “This quarrel over the messianic status of Jesus within first-century Judaism had profound effects on Christianity and prompted it towards a fateful turning point that switched the emphasis from following the way of Jesus to believing things about Jesus. Gradually a Christian came to be thought of not as one who lives and acts in a certain way, but as one who holds certain convictions or theories. The trouble with religious convictions or beliefs is that, since we can rarely prove or disprove them, we get anxious about them and start quarrelling with people whose convictions or theories differ from our own.”

          • Who is the quotation from? It helps actual discussion if you can attribute.

            Whoever it is, this comment is based on a false dichotomy. Central to the gospels narratives, and the turning point in the Synoptics, is the question Jesus asks ‘Who do you say that I am?’. And for Paul, much earlier than the writing of the gospels, the central marker of Christian identity was the declaration ‘Jesus is Lord’.

            If the first Christians lived and acted in a certain way, then it flowed from that belief and that confession. To claim otherwise flies in the face of all the evidence of the NT and of history.

          • Andrew Godsall’s quote is from former bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway who, according to his Wikipedia entry, now takes an agnostic worldvieww.

            Jesus lived a sinless life. The quote is correct in its implication that we should follow him and do likewise, but it is impossible without divine help. And you only get divine help if you believe in him.

            Is this going to turn into a Reformation-type discussion about justification?

          • Central to the Gospels are the words ‘Follow me’.
            Of course we don’t do that without divine help, but as Jesus is divine then the help is implicit. The dichotomy isn’t false at all. It is contained within the person of Jesus Christ. Human and divine.
            Yes – of course Jesus is Lord. And that’s why we do the following. Right action is more important than particular Protestant beliefs.

          • Anton

            I think I said *much* of the HB is mythology. Not all of it, of course. Some is poetry, proverbs and axioms, history. The NT is theology – some, like Richard Burridge call the Gospels *bios* – not sure I agree. The epistles are exhortation and pastoral care. Revelation is apocalyptic – mythological.
            I don’t know *better* than Jesus. But I do know stuff he didn’t, as do you. Otherwise, he wasn’t human and the Incarnation is a con trick.

          • But I do know stuff he didn’t, as do you. Otherwise, he wasn’t human and the Incarnation is a con trick.

            No you don’t. Because if you could know stuff that Jesus doesn’t know then He wouldn’t be God, and our hope is vain because we have placed our trust in a mere mortal man.

  5. The `general theory’ outlined by Ian Paul here is one that I fully subscribe to. Unfortunately, I think it is great general theory, with the only problem being that it doesn’t actually work – basically because he has outline the way I endeavour to order my life, but I think I can safely say that there is not one single person in the whole world who has been influenced in a positive way to come to Christ through my own witness.

    This is where it all breaks down ……

    Also, I do remember one church in England that I attended where they were pleased with the church growth that was taking place, but they noted that this was through `conservative evangelicals’ coming to town and their church had a good reputation in this regard. They weren’t seeing new converts.

    We press on and we endeavour; I do get the impression that we’re going through a phase where God is hiding his face.

  6. Ian

    Thank you. For once I will try to be eirinic and say that this is one of my favourite prayers.
    The Father coming out to meet us, even though we do not deserve it (as in the imagery of the Prodigal Father) is also one of my favourite images of God.
    If only we, the laos, could live this prayer.

      • And, I agree that liturgy should be taught in sermons. In my experience (apart from AC Chuches), liturgy is poorly understood. One of the best sermons I have heard (from someone who wasn’t normally a notable preacher) was on the theology of the Eucharist in its liturgical context. This only works if the clergy understand the liturgy!

    • That’s an interesting point, Penelope – your reference to the Prodigal Father. It is rare to find that. I’m aware of some who have been startled at the very idea.
      You will be aware that, “The Prodigal God -Recovering the heart of the Christian Faith” is the title of a book on the parable in Luke 15, by Timothy Keller.
      It opens with – prodigal – adjective. 1. Recklessly extravagant 2. Having spent everything.

      While you are hardly likely to follow through on a recommendation from me it is a book I’ve bought to give away!
      It is described as challenging and inspiring for believers and curious outsiders. It is based, I understand, on a (lengthy? 139 pages) series of sermons, so it is not in the format of a commentary. I have a spare copy, which could be sent via Ian, if he is willing and you would care to read it, if you have not already done so. It wasn’t too expensive in 2009.

      • Thank you Geoff. At present my reading pile is tottering, so forgive me if I decline your kind offer. But yes, I believe God’s love is prodigal; it is richly spent in Christ.

  7. I find the language ‘clergy and laity’ problematic. It creates a sharper divide than the NT seems to warrant. Elders and deacons seem to be the ‘works’ the NT commends. Thereafter a variety of gifting.

    • John – I think a better question might have been `What does the C. of E. think the clergy are for?’

      For that matter – what do any of us think the `clergy’ are for?

      • Ministering the sacraments to the plebs is the traditional answer. I can find no license for an officer class in Christ’s church in the New Testament, and Rev 1:6 and 1 Peter 2:9 make clear that all Christians are priests of God. I gladly accept, though, that many ordained priests are committed Christians who advance his kingdom.

    • Hi John, regarding your comment above re eating from the 2 trees, I think you have it exactly right. Adam & Eve were like innocent children, and eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented their choice to determine their own morality rather than following God’s leading. Which of course we all do to an extent. And only God has eternal life within Himself, humans were never immortal.


  8. I would agree that clergy laity is not a helpful primary divide. We are all the people of God and some within that group have been ordained and a group within that group have been granted a stipend. I happen to be in that last group but I am primarily part of the people of God, by God’s grace and mercy.
    Thank you for reminding us that for all of us our primary ministry is in the wider world, not for an hour on Sunday morning. It is so easy to think Christian faith is about what happens in our buildings. Some are called and gifted in enabling worship by the gathered to happen, which is both an end in itself AND the invigorating of us all to be salt, light etc out there. As the ordained are a small subset of the people of God, so church buildings are a tiny part of the world and time spent in them only a small part of the time we have in the week. I happen to think ordained people, buildings to meet in, and time when we gather are all important, but only in this wider setting.

    With regards the terminology Father, I think there is a further important theological element to the centrality of Father Son in the New Testament. The predominant view in the worldviews of the time was that the male generated seed, and a male son was a more perfect representation of the Father than a daughter. Women were deemed either fertile or infertile depending on whether they could grow the seed implanted in them. [This is a bit simplistic and it was not an unquestioned viewpoint, but it was dominant.]. This is not to deny the relational intimacy element – Abba, Father – but for that worldview it helps affirm Jesus as the full image of God, as found particularly in John and Hebrews. Like begets like.
    Paige duBois – Sowing the Body – provides a much fuller treatment of this area from a Classicist’s viewpoint.

  9. Well, right now, what are the clergy and laity for? The answer is quite clear: praying for the Ukraine (irrespective of which category you are in). I trust that everybody is doing this.

    I’m wondering how we’re supposed to explain to your average Ukrainian that God is our Father.

      • Penelope – very difficult to see the presence of God right now – although I think that some of Moltmann’s `The Crucified God’ helps. Still, it probably all looks very theoretical to someone in Mariupol – even if they do have Dostoyevski’s understanding.

        • Jock,
          Maybe it is you who have the problem of it being too theoretical, compared to those who are living through this, to whom it becomes a living, real faith and a hope of substance.
          I’m presently reading The Brothers Karamazov, and have been for a good while, as a slow reader. I don’t know how you can look to attribute the wholee faith of a people group to the influence of Dostoevsky, and his contrasting characters
          of differing beliefs and behaviours on whole people groups of Ukraine and Russia?

          • Geoff – well, I for one never suggested that an entire population had read Dostoevsky! But when Penelope wrote `orthodox’ I have to admit that my whole understanding of the orthodox mind-set comes from what I read in Dostoevsky’s books – and I think it does give a reliable presentation of the orthodox mind-set – at least those who are serious about their faith.

            I’d thoroughly recommend The Brothers Karamazov – if you don’t find it too heavy going, I’d encourage you to finish it – and then to re-read it.

            When it comes to the question of theodicy, in the face of events such as what is happening in Mariupol right now, this is precisely what Dostoevsky is dealing with – Ivan Karamazov’s rejection of the faith and the reasons he gives – and it heavily influenced Jurgen Moltmann in his `The Crucified God’.

            (Yes yes – I know that Moltmann is supposed to be a rude word because he’s into `liberation theology’, but if you don’t swallow it hook line and sinker, he does have some really good things to say that are very useful, also for those of us who fall into the `conservative evangelical’ camp – about the second person of the Trinity and his presence in suffering).

          • And what is the problem with liberation theology? Sounds like a vast generalisation by someone who has never read any!

          • Andrew Godsall – problem with `liberation theology’ is that it misses some important things.

            I pointed out that I was referring to Moltmann’s `The Crucified God’ – so what I was referring to was quite clear and well defined – so I don’t really understand `sounds like a vast generalisation’ (read Moltmann – I’d strongly recommend it if you haven’t) `to someone who has never read any’ (well, from what you’ve indicated about your own theology, I think that Moltmann’s `The Crucified God’ might be right up your street – and might actually indicate that there is a good intersection, lurking in the background, between my faith and yours – despite everything that we have disagreed on in the past on here).

            I’ll give one point that I remember from his book to illustrate where the problem lies, but at the same time a very important insight which we should take on board. He writes about the Negro spiritual, `Were you there when they crucified my Lord’ and he points to the response, `Yes, we the black slaves where there participating in his suffering and shame.’

            While this is a good and powerful image, Moltmann also points out (and not in a critical way) that there is absolutely nothing there about accepting that one is a sinner, seeing the crucifixion and resurrection as Jesus dealing with *our* sins.

            The problem (of course) is that, as a Christian, I see Jesus dealing with *my* sin head on in his crucifixion and I see that through his resurrection he has conquered sin and death – *my* sin and the death that *I* by rights should have died – and that we are in *this* sense `more than conquerors’ in Him. That is what it means to be a Christian; Christians are people who apply this individually to themselves.

            This bit seems to be missing (or at the very least played down).

            Nevertheless, there is a *lot* of good stuff in that book, which certainly shaped my own understanding – and I’d strongly recommend it to you.

          • The obsession with sin doesn’t work I’m afraid Jock. I don’t believe that Christ was about that. That is more the Gospel of Paul.
            The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that true love conquers all – including sin. The way of Christ is the way of true love. The way of true love would never have allowed the black slavery in the first place.

          • Andrew—seriously? What gospels are you reading?

            Summary of Jesus’ preaching: ‘The kingdom of God is at hand; REPENT and believe…’

            ‘The Son of Man has come to call sinners to repentance’

            ‘I have come to seek and save the lost’

            If this is the gospel of Paul, it is because he heard it from Jesus.

          • Ian: what Jock said was this:
            “The problem (of course) is that, as a Christian, I see Jesus dealing with *my* sin head on in his crucifixion and I see that through his resurrection he has conquered sin and death – *my* sin and the death that *I* by rights should have died – and that we are in *this* sense `more than conquerors’ in Him. That is what it means to be a Christian; Christians are people who apply this individually to themselves.”

            None of *that* appears in what you have said. That is an interpretation of Paul. And it is a very individualised one.

            What you are quoting in summary is indeed the Gospel. People ‘repent’ by ‘turning’ to the way of true love.
            People are lost because they have not known love.

          • Andrew – sorry – I’m at a loss to see which part of what you quoted from me is at odds with what Ian said. Also, I’m at a loss to see how it is at odds with what you say, that `true love conquers all’. You don’t seem to like Paul (or at least my understanding of Paul); may I point out to you that Romans 5 (at least as I understand it) is all about God’s love for us?

            Christ opens our eyes to our need to repent; through Christ we can repent. Is that not true love?

            Yes – you mention something that is trivially self evident – that the way of true love would never have permitted black slavery in the first place. We all know that.

            What prevented the way of true love? It was the radical evil that lives within those who were responsible for enslaving others.

            But don’t you think we have to be very careful to avoid picturing ourselves as being without sin of our own? We did not force anybody into slavery; we also condemn absolutely those who did. We do not participate in that particular sin. But do you object to Paul saying `all have sinned’? or `the wages of sin is death’?

            Do you object when I say that Jesus dealt with *my* sin in his crucifixion and resurrection? I’m genuinely at a loss here to understand where your objection lies.

            I’d say that the supreme act of Love that Christ made towards me was dealing with my sin, bringing me to the point of repentance.

            I have, in my time, seen some really satanic nonsense that exists and we have to be careful of. For example, I remember (as a tourist) visiting a church in Bergen (Norway), where I saw just how degenerate the Lutheran church in Norway had become. At the front of the church, they had a bucket containing some stones and a cross, inviting us to take a stone, representing `your burden’ and moving it to the foot of the cross. Note the key word that is missing `sin’. Not `the burden of your sin’, but instead `your burden’ – and, on closer examination, I saw clearly their theology, which can be described as: oh we are the innocent victims of a nasty, cruel world, but we are invited to lay our burden, which is the result of being an innocent victim of a nasty cruel world at the foot of the cross, feel some good holy vibes and get a nice warm tingling sensation of some sort of `inner peace’.

            That (sadly) seems to be what Nordic Lutheranism has degenerated into.

            I do fully understand that `I am a sinner’ can be misused and lead to problems. For example, I remember back in 1989 when I really was the innocent victim of bad people perpetrating bad things. Of course, I knew that I had not done anything within that particular situation to deserve the opprobrium I was receiving, but at the back of my mind I was thinking to myself `I am a sinner; I must have done something truly awful in some other part of my life (I can’t really think what it could have been – but I do know that in and of myself I am fundamentally evil) and God is punishing me. Perhaps I can figure things out and try to make amends ….’

            In this sense, the black slaves really were the *innocent* victims; they had done absolutely nothing to deserve this – and Jesus, in his crucifixion and suffering on the cross really was standing right there with them – so here Moltmann is right.

            At the same time, there is a very serious problem if this is taken as an alternative to the basis of Christian faith, which is: I am a repentant, forgiven sinner ; my forgiveness comes through the crucifixion and resurrection, where I see Christ dealing with my sin and in his resurrection I see that he has dealt with my sin and conquered death on my behalf.

            Andrew – clearly you don’t like something about this – but I haven’t understood what it is.

          • Jock – it’s the doctrine of total depravity. I think that is an evil invention and it has and does cause untold damage to people and the very name of Jesus Christ.

          • Andrew – I confess that I do not know what the `doctrine of Total Depravity’ actually is.

            I also think that you are using generalisations because you feel that there is something very wrong, but you can’t really put your finger on it.

            That’s OK – I usually find that the intuitive (gut) feeling that something doesn’t add up and is very wrong comes l-o-n-g before working out why.

            But I wonder if your `doctrine of total depravity’ which you don’t like is basically the `wretched man’ of Romans 7? When I heard it preached on for the first time, my (inward ) response was `yes! that’s me!!’.

            You’re absolutely right that it didn’t help later on – as I pointed out in the post.

            There are lots of doctrines which are correct when understood in the right way and used in the right way – and which become poison, dangerous and wrong when used in the wrong way and understood and applied in the wrong way.

            But `the doctrine of total depravity’ looks like `generalised nonsense’ to me.

          • Worth researching it a bit Jock. It’s one of the five main points of Calvinism. I reject it totally! It’s totally depraved!

          • Andrew – if it’s all the same with you, I won’t bother checking it out, because I prefer not to waste time on the `empty philosophies of men’. The TULIP business was something invented long after John Calvin was dead and buried – and looks to me like a trivialising summary, which is basically wheeled out by his detractors.

            I’d gently point out to you that Jurgen Moltmann could probably be described as `Calvinist’, in the sense that his work probably would not have been possible without Calvin in the background

            (and I get the impression that he probably isn’t very impressed with the Total Depravity idea either).

            Besides, we’re clearly not totally depraved here. As Ian Paul pointed out (towards the bottom) we have approximately 150 comments here and none of them are about sex. So clearly we’re not obsessed with George Best’s favourite subject.

          • The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that true love conquers all

            No no you’re confusing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Gospel of Lennon and McCartney. Don’t worry, you’re not the first.

    • Jock,
      What are you praying for? And who to?
      It may give hints of the Father heart of God!
      Maybe explanation is not what is required, but a pastoral approach to suffering.
      The church to which I belong is taking part in a Passion For Life outreach.
      Part of preparation was viewing a video by Jeremy Marshall, a cancer patient living with terminal cancer, taking us through how suffering in life can lead to fruitful engagement with those who are suffering. Knowing Jesus knows what it is like to suffer, through to death and resurrection brings him hope and solace.

  10. A very interesting discussion for those of us who read Ian’s posts and who are not members of the CofE (or any other branch of Anglicanism).

    I attend a Baptist Church where there is no clerical/lay divide. We see ourselves as a local, immediate and living representation of the two main images of the church in the NT- bride (intimacy, relational) and body (interconnected, gifting). We view all believers as being ordained – that is, being called by God to be part of His church. We are called not to function but to being and to grace directed giftings. All are part of the body whose head is Christ – not a priest, bishop or hierarchy. Just as we participate in eucharist, mass, Lord’s Table, Supper or Communion so we all participate in Christ the same level.

    Our various works reflect our giftings – we are not recognized by God for what we do but for who we are. Created in God’s image brings a great leveling where our call is the same – bring in, build up, send out or preach the gospel, build up the saints, reach the lost – whichever you prefer. Names and title are immaterial as is function – it’s our responsibility and our joy to use our gifts to proclaim Christ and bring about the Kingdom of God.

    Each is the servant of all – which is why at communion, the servers are served last by others. We don’t partake first to reflect any assumed status.

    Anything that brings distinction brings division. We’re human so it’s not (yet) perfect but it feels rather different than an artificial construct of those one side of the table and those the other.

    • Steve, I do feel that you’ve painted the grass on the other side a too lurid shade of green. I’m fortunate enough to attend a small Baptist church with many of the characteristics you describe. However, I know of Baptist churches where the minister/lay divide is just as clear, and there is a hierarchy as clear cut as any priest or bishop in the CofE. In the end it comes down to the character and humility of the leadership – those who become church leaders for their own ends and power are, unfortunately, universal across all denominations.

      My best definition of church leadership is that the minister should aim to be redundant in five years – having trained the ‘laity’ to do his job for him….

      • “My best definition of church leadership is that the minister should aim to be redundant in five years – having trained the ‘laity’ to do his job for him….”

        Jon you seem to think ‘ministers’ are only male. Not true in the C of E. or the Baptist church.

        Your definition is one that I was told about 35 years ago. I have never found it to be true. Firstly, there should always be new members of the church to teach. That is a prime task of ministry. Secondly, the C of E, along with the majority of denominations has quite a different landscape to that of 35 years ago when I was being ordained. The tasks are different. The shape of leadership is different.
        The servant quality of leadership can never be redundant. Service of others is always needed. It is always needing to be modelled. It is a profession.

        • Andrew, I agree with you in part…..

          I am totally in favour of female leaders, clergy or lay. My slip of the keys. I’d note that the Baptist Church came to this conclusion decades before the CofE. But of course, unfortunately a lot of individual churches didn’t. It is still sometime difficult for a trained female minister to find a church.

          Secondly, why are the clergy necessarily the teachers? Do I detect a clergy / lay divide here? New Christians are often better taught and mentored by lay members.

          And as for the landscape – what has changed? Throughout all denominations there remains a tendency for a pyramid structure with a powerful man at the top.

          But I agree totally about servant leadership. I wish more leaders would get it!

          • Jon these are helpful points and thank you.
            I agree that laity can teach. Often much better teachers than clergy. The divide I was trying to make was between those trained and gifted and those not. I think teaching is a specific gift but also needs specific training. Not that many laity are theologically trained but we do invest heavily in training those in ministry – lay and ordained – to teach theology. An Alpha course isn’t sufficient.

            Secondly the landscape. I was thinking of things like secularisation, sectarianism, patterns of work, lack of numbers, the parish system in the CofE – which is breaking down – and the growth of other religious movements in the UK. Interfaith dialogue is a most important area. It was barely beginning to be recognised 35 years ago.

            Those things are all about ministry rather than clergy but do need regulating so I’d want to put some kind of safeguards in place.

    • Weddings, funerals, a cushy life for bishops, endless claptrap about social issues that were controversial 30 years ago. And a bit of Jesus talk.

      • Weddings, funerals, a cushy life for bishops, endless claptrap about social issues that were controversial 30 years ago. And a bit of Jesus talk.

        No, that’s what they think the C of E is there to do. But what is it for? What is the end, the purpose, the aim that it does these things towards?

        Your answer is like answering the question ‘what is the Navy for?’ with ‘to sail ships.’

          • The C of E has the same purpose as the Church catholic: it is a sign and symbol of the kingdom of God.

            That’s what it is. That’s like saying, ‘the Navy is a fighting force of ships and their crews’.

            But what is it for? What is its purpose? If it were a tool, what job would it be intended to do?

          • It’s purpose is exactly as I have said: To point to and sign the way for the kingdom of God.

          • It’s purpose is exactly as I have said: To point to and sign the way for the kingdom of God.

            Ah, finally! Yes, that’s a purpose. So the C of E thinks the purpose of the C of E is to point people to the kingdom of God?

            That, presumably, then, should guide what the C of E does.

          • Not ‘finally’ at all. It’s what I said all along and what I have always said.

            The C of E is no different to the Church catholic in its purpose.

          • In which case it’s a total failure (at least in the UK). It isn’t growing, it isn’t inspiring, it’s just a cultural place to go for those born into a church going family.

          • Joe I suspect that from what you say here and earlier in this comment thread you don’t actually have much experience of the Church of England.

          • Come off it Ian. You really believe that bishops have cushy lives, that the CofE is just a cultural place to go for those born into a church going family and is just about weddings and funerals? If you do think that then you must have been asleep during every GS and AC meeting in the last 30 years! Numbers of CofE occasional offices have plummeted in the last 30 years as other options have become freely available, and the idea that people go to the C of E because they had parents who did is just a joke. It no longer happens.

          • It is very odd the way you massively project things on other people. No, I don’t necessarily believe those things.

            What I said was that your comment was a patronising put-down. Which it was. If you could engage in the content of what other people say, that would be great, and in line with comments policy.

          • I am completely engaging with Joe’s two comments. They are inaccurate, as I have shown, and with which you have agreed. It’s patronising to say otherwise.

          • Not ‘finally’ at all. It’s what I said all along and what I have always said.

            It’s not what you wrote in your first two messages in this thread. Hence ‘finally’ — third time lucky.

  11. A member of the clergy asking what the laity are for is rather like a senior army officer asking what the infantry are for. Such an officer is a fool; one who is going to be defeated.

    Let the reader understand.

  12. A member of the clergy asking what the laity are for is rather like a senior army officer asking what the infantry are for.

    Not sure that’s a great analogy. Officers are there to command the infantry; but clergy are there to serve the laity.

      • I get the impression clergy think they are leading the laity, that is their service?

        I fear some do have that impression yes.

        (What their service is supposed to be is to teach the laity)

    • Commanding is occasionally part of ‘leading’, no? 😉 The analogy is imperfect, as all are, but you know what I meant.

      However we choose to define the roles of clergy, the fact remains that every believer has a duty to be an active disciple, to pursue holiness and to be part of the great commission. To do this we need to be taught, trained and enabled to do these things. I don’t think this is really something anyone here objects to.

      However, a lot of time when ‘clergy roles’ are spoken about it is as if these are not actually expected of the people of God as a whole, but only of a small elite part of it. And this is worrying.

      We can’t delegate mission, evangelism and leadership ‘upwards’, expecting our own involvement to merely be passive. Even if this isn’t the espoused theology of a given ecclesiology, it is often the operant one; a congregation along for the ride in the vision and charisma of it’s leader, and I agree with the artciles’ premise that the CofE should be more explicit in articualting this.

      Especially when the liturgy for such an idea is solid and useful.

      • “Even if this isn’t the espoused theology of a given ecclesiology, it is often the operant one; a congregation along for the ride in the vision and charisma of it’s leader, and I agree with the artciles’ premise that the CofE should be more explicit in articulating this.”

        This should have been two sentences. I am not suggesting the CofE should be more explicit about passive involvement. 😉

    • Just because there are 123 about something other than sex/sexuality, doesn’t mean they’re on topic or in any way related to the article… 😉

      • Just because there are 123 about something other than sex/sexuality, doesn’t mean they’re on topic or in any way related to the article…

        Baby steps.


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