This one's a bit of a rant. I basically blame the church for everything that's gone wrong.
LUBH 10 - with you is my contention O priest
Good morning and welcome. Nice to see you all again. The quotation which I am using is from the Book of Hosea Chapter 4 one of my favourite passages and I am going to read it out to you because it sets the context for what I am going to be talking about. It's called 'God accuses Israel'. And this is from the revised standard version rather than from the version that we have from our pew Bibles for reasons that will be clear. "Hear the word of the Lord O people of Israel for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty and no knowledge of God in the land, swearing, lying and murder and stealing and adultery break out, bloodshed follows bloodshed, therefore the land mourns and all who live in it languish, together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing." So what I said before about ecological crises and so on, links into faithfulness, righteousness, that the wider environment is giving feedback on the moral state of the people.
And it goes on "Let no-one contend and let none accuse - for with you is my contention O priest, you shall stumble by day, the prophet also shall stumble with you by night and I will destroy your mother," which is Israel or the church, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me and since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children, the more they increased, the more they sinned against me, they changed their glory into shame, they feed on the sin of my people, they are greedy for their iniquity and it shall be like people, like priest. I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds."
In other words all these things that are going wrong, it's the priest's fault. It's because the people who have custody of the knowledge of God and whose duty it is to teach that knowledge of God and to train people in God's ways - they have failed. So that's the theme for this morning. I hope you excuse me if it becomes a little bit of a rant. Hopefully my spleen will last long enough to keep us going to half past ten but I might run out, anyhow....
"My people perish for lack of knowledge." I have been talking about idolatry a lot, that idolatry is when we get our priorities wrong. That we give too much importance to things which aren't that important and we don't give enough importance to that which is most important - which is the love of God and the love of neighbour. These two sides of the same coin. And the role of the religious authorities is precisely to teach people about what is important and what is not important, because this is what leads to life. This is the task of the religious teacher. To enable the life of the faithful. It is not simply about filling heads with words. It's about changing the shape of the lived out faith in order that the life itself is fruitful, and the church, small c, has manifestly failed.
What I am going to do this morning is basically go through and hopefully criticise every church I can think of (!) with a marginal exception which I will come to at the end. But pretty much every church I think is failing in this regard, so I am going to go through some of the criticisms, but at the heart of it is a sense that theological renewal is required. "Come let us return to the Lord", is, if you like, the overriding theme.
And so I want to go through, what I call the priestly idolatries, where the priests, where the religious teachers get it wrong. And I'm going to begin with the question of control and some of you will have heard me in my sermons talk about the difference between a castle and the sun. Because the castle is a walled fortress, it's built to protect something, and if the walls aren't there to protect it, then whatever it is inside, whether its treasure or children or whatever, then that is vulnerable and can be taken away by all those people who are coming to attack it.
On the other hand, the sun is in itself its own protection. The idea that we might protect the sun by building a wall around it is absurd. Now what is Christian faith? Is it something that we have to protect or is the Son of God actually the rising sun and Christ is able to protect himself? God will not leave himself without witnesses. So underlying this is a sense of fear. That unless the church acts to protect and control things which might appear to criticise it, then the faith will crumble. I think its actually driven by a lack of faith, this sense of needing to control outcomes, particularly to control thinking. Not to assert the truth, I'm not saying that asserting the truth is wrong, not at all, what I'm saying is the idea that you have to clamp down on people who disagree with you and forbid them from speaking - that is what is driven by fear, and as I say it is rooted in a lack of faith.
Now I am sure there are many more people more experienced with working with wood than I am but I can't get this image out of my head, and it may not be accurate, I'll look to any carpenters who might be here. If you place a plank of wood in a vice and just continue to increase the pressure on it will it splinter in the end? And will it start to just break up? I don't know where I've got this image from but if that's true, that's what I'm trying to get at. This sense of control and restricting what can be said, leads to splintering, and historically this has driven the reform movements, because there comes a point in conscience when you cannot accept the overriding control of an authority, when you are called by conscience to speak out for truth. And so you get this splintering process in the church, as an image does that make sense? That this desire to control is restricting and squeezing the church and causing it to splinter. And of course the classic image of this is the Spanish Inquisition. Torquemada and his pains. But it is still going on, you still get theologians in a Catholic church for example who are forbidden to speak, who are forbidden to speak as Catholic theologians, Hans Kung, Leonardo Boff, for example. One of my tutors when I was training was a former Catholic nun, who was effectively kicked out of her Order because she was arguing for women priests. You may have heard her on Radio Four, Lavinia Byrne. So it's still happening.
So that's one, the first one, this desire to control. Let's move on. Now Luther was someone I think who had a specific call by God to pursue the truth. Now I don't have any arguments with Luther at all. I have lots of arguments with what the Catholic church did in response, because they reacted in terms of control and wanting to restrict dissent, rather than being concerned with what is the truth in a situation. So I am not arguing with Luther, but I think all sorts of things followed from Luther's example, and one of the good teachings which Rowan Williams gives is that prophecy has costs. If you are going to go against the church in order to pursue and argue for what you are compelled to believe is the truth, then you should expect to have painful consequences. It's not a pain free option.
That certainly applied to Luther who for a long time was in fear of his life, but I think what has happened in the Protestant churches, and it can be seen most clearly in the States, but ego, individual choice has been confused with the call of conscience. And so this sense that prophecy, when you are compelled by God to argue for something, against what the wider church might accept, and this is a painful process - this has simply become another leisure option. "I'm not prepared to have someone disagree with me. I am going to club together with the like minded and we are going to have yet another church." This is what I am trying to criticise. Protestantism is reduced to self-indulgence. There is no sense of the claim of God on the life. It's simply "this is what I choose to believe and no-one's got any right to criticise me, because my choices are inviolate". And what you've got there is an idolatry of the ego. You know the individual choice is the end point in the process of discernment. I am the master of my world, it's also a form of worshipping the world and this phrase is actually from Taoism, the ten thousand things. It refers to the infinite number of different things in the world, but what you have got is more that ten thousand Protestant denominations in the United States alone. This is absurd. This is the ego run rampant. God has a claim upon you; the wider body of believers has a claim upon people.
OK, next heresy: Erastinism, which is the technical name for subsuming the church beneath the State. This is a particularly Anglican problem, but it is also something that applies to the Orthodox in different ways. Christendom, it's the idea that the State and the church overlap or are identical. It particularly comes from a reformer in the sixteenth century who said, the church doesn't have the right to punish people, it should delegate the right to punish to the State. So the church abandons things like excommunication. That's the origin, but effectively what it means now is that the interests of the church are subordinate to the interests of the State. And there are sources in Scripture for this, 'be subject to the higher powers'. I sometimes feel when I'm taking for example the Civic Service I'm wondering what's going on? That this Sunday morning is given over to an institutional, a governmental process. Now if you actually look at the Civic Service text, it's actually very, very good, I just wonder how far what is being said is believed and being acted on. And what it is of course, you don't actually pick a fight about it because it would cause too much fuss, and causing a fuss is very un-English, so we don't do that.
But the other side of it is someone like President Bush saying in his state of the Union address a few years ago, that the United States is the light of the world! This is heresy! This is absolute idolatry, and this is from someone who professes explicitly that his guiding light is Jesus Christ. You know that is the logical end point of confusing the State and the church. I don't think we are quite there when we are doing the Civic Service, but you know it's in that ball park.
Next heresy: the academy. One of the major ones which definitely makes me angry. Theology is not an academic subject. It is not something which accepts the norms and the authorities which are accepted in the academy. And in one sense the origin of everything that has gone wrong with the church in the last thousand years is that theology got shifted from the cloister, from the Eucharistic community, into the academy. It got divorced from the practice of Christian life and worship and this happened in the Middle Ages, around 1100, the rise of Scholasticism, a change in the way that theology was understood, the way it changed the way that God was understood, and suddenly you have this very abstract understanding of the faith coming in, which has all sorts of barbarous consequences. I've gone into this in other sessions before, I am sure that I will go into it again, but atheism for example is the direct consequence of theology forgetting what it is there for. That the defence of the belief in God didn't rest in Scripture or revelation, but rested on academic, philosophical proofs. And this process went on over centuries and culminates in secularism and atheism. The idea that this is just an abstract sense of what you can believe. This is where things really started to go wrong. And of course what it has meant is that theology and the teaching of theology has been absorbed by modernism, by the philosophical agenda arising in the seventeenth century. And the sense that theology or faith is a thing about private preference, that theology is all well and good but keep it to yourself. You know, what I was saying about Qutb last week, I've got a lot of sympathy with some of the things he says.
But theology is rotten. Fortunately this is starting to be understood, but things like how you train priests, how you train the clergy, you are not going to get faithful ministers if you train them in academic criticism of the Bible. This might sound like a really obvious thing, but the way in which clergy are trained in the Church of England, and also in many other denominations, is through the academic study of texts. I think there is only one theological college in England which does it properly and that's Mirfield. Has anyone heard of Mirfield? The community of the resurrection. And their emphasis - they don't have lots of teams of cleaners and cooking people, working for the students to make sure they can concentrate on the academic study of the text, they have the students looking after each other, they clean their own rooms, they actually live out a life of service. That is what is shaping them to be priests.
The worship of science is one of the outflows from this. Science in particular has a particular method of gaining truth. And of course fundamentalism is wholly shaped and determined by this worship of science, that scientific forms of truth are the only forms of truth worth having, and if you look into the origins of fundamentalism, in America, the end of the nineteenth century the beginning of the twentieth, it's very explicit - they defend their views by saying this is the scientific approach to the Bible. Aaaagggh! It's worshipping science and we are not here to worship science.
And of course it drives liberalism. The idea that he is a very nice man, a good human teacher, let's try and follow his teaching, but in practice we can ignore it. Fundamentalism and liberalism are Siamese twins, they are both entirely shaped by modernist philosophy, by the worship of a scientific method. You know, anathema, plague on both their houses.
Some ways in which these priestly idolatries take form. Bread and circuses. This is one of the American churches, the nature of it. That you come to church to be entertained, to be stimulated, to be told if you follow these teachings then you'll be successful. I'm sure you're familiar with lots and lots of examples, but you know the idea that you send in your donation and that will mean that your broken leg will be healed or your problems with debt with be sorted out. You know tele-evangelism. But the idea that there's something that is different from the world at the heart of worship, so rather than the forms of worship simply replicating what you get elsewhere, there might be something distinct and different and odd, strange, that what you do in church is not meant to simply reflect and reinforce the habits of the world, but is meant to challenge them. The idea that you might need to stretch your attention span in worship, the idea that "Oh, if I'm not going to be stimulated, oh dear, church might be boring!" And of course what happens if you are bored, it means that you have got time to think and actually thinking and may be even listening, having a time of silence in worship. The thought that God might be wanting to say something directly to someone in the congregation, not mediated by someone pontificating up at the front, or ranting.
The world is obsessed with sex, I think that is pretty unarguable and the churches have got caught up in it. Look at what Jesus teaches, how much time does Jesus spend ranting and raving about the sexual habits of the people he comes into contact with? Look at the story of the woman at the well, the Samaritan woman. Jesus is almost flirting with her, if you look at the context of it and the language he uses. But he's challenging her and she is still the first evangelist. He's not really all that worried about her sexual history, he's looking for an acknowledgement from her of who he is which sets her free, and she goes and spreads the good news. This [picture] is the consecration of Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, which is almost certainly going to divide the Anglican communion, might even end up dividing the Church of England. It's because we have got caught up in the world's agenda. The world is obsessed with sex, Jesus wasn't. If you look at how much time he spends teaching about sexuality and associated matters, it's really not very much, he says nothing explicit about homosexuality, for example, and yet this has become the defining issue for the Christian church. And people outside the Christian church think, well what is it that Christians think is important, they're obsessed about what goes on in people's bedrooms.
I think Rowan's wonderful, but I thought this was a good picture, the idea that we have to be nice to everyone. The idea that we can't actually stand up and assert the truths of our faith because that would give offence. Happy holidays, happy wintertime. Who was it, I think there was someone who was telling me about the Christmas cards where they found it impossible to get a Christmas card that actually had a Christian message inside it, they were going through some of the shops in Colchester. And the church is colluding with this.
Right some rampant heresies (heresies are always rampant). (cartoon of man frightened by Christians) But how true is that? You know, if you look at what Jesus does it is sinners who flock to him because he doesn't take offence, he loves them and we as the body of Christ, "you must not be like that, you must change before you come in". No, you come in and that changes you. OK heresy, strictly called donatism, you can think of it as the 'pure church heresy'. You know this is one that was established around the time of Augustine, because this was one of his struggles when he was a Bishop. The idea that it is only the pure who can gather together, think of the parable of the wheat and the tares. When Jesus says, "No don't separate out the wheat from tares that will happen at the harvest." And yet you get church groups that say, "No, no, no we're going to do that, we are going to separate the wheat from the tares, we're the good people, and we don't want anything to do with those horrible sinners out there." It's a heresy. But that's what drives the sense that people who are vulnerable and wounded and confused, and may well be mired in sin in an obvious way, can't come in and be welcomed in the church which is for the sinners in less obvious ways. And the idea that the church doesn't have sinners crammed to the brim, that we are not sinners, this is a stupid, crazy idea! We are all sinners. We will remain sinners until the day we die, we do good things from grace. You know it's God's grace goes before us to allow us to do the good works he has set out for us to walk in.
Next heresy. This is not in your sheet, because I realised that I had forgotten about it before printing it. Gnosticism. The idea that salvation comes from knowledge. That if you know the right things then you are saved, and you can think of this as being the password theory of salvation. If you say Abracadabra, if you say "Jesus Christ is Lord", then you shall be saved. No. It's a bit more than that. What Paul says for example in Romans, it is not simply that if you confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord, but if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you shall be saved. And it's not belief in the sense of the academic, the knowledge thing, its that if you believe something in your heart then you will live differently. The heart is what motivates people, if your motivations are changed radically by accepting the truth of the Resurrection, then you will live differently. I'll come back to this. But Christianity is not Gnosticism, it's not just about things that go into your head, it's about the whole shape of a life, it's something embodied, that's the whole point of the incarnation, it's embodied, it's lived out.
Next rampant heresy - docetism which is that Jesus only appeared to be human, he wasn't really one of us, he was really more like Superman. Superman is the alien from another planet who has got lots of wonderful powers and he will save us. And of course if you believe this you don't have to do anything, because Jesus is going to do it all. Because you know he is different to us, he wasn't actually human in the way that we're human and therefore we can't possibly do the things he did, despite the fact that he says we can. We will do even greater things than he did. The idea that Jesus is so distinct from us that there is no point trying to follow in his footsteps, because he is so wonderful and almighty and different, radically undermines the practice of Christian faith. It's the flip side of liberalism which is saying that Jesus is just human and there is nothing divine about him. And so you know we can packet him up with all the other great worthies like Gandhi and what have you, but actually we will just get on with what we want to do.
Next heresy. I've ranted about the left behind theories before which is this American sequence of popular novels. Well they've made a video game and part of the video game, there's an extract from it, it's after the rapture when all the faithful have gone up, but you have been left behind, (gasp!) but you've discovered the truth because you've got access to this video left behind by your caring, pastor neighbour. So you know what the truth is and your task in the left behind video game is to go round killing all the heretics. This is called dispensationalism. There is lots of advice in St Paul saying don't follow the doctrines of men, this is a doctrine invented by someone called John Nelson Derby in 1830's, doesn't exist before then. And yet this is very, very prevalent amongst Protestant groups, not just in the States, although that's where it mainly is, it's very culturally influential, you know, the occupant of the White House believes this stuff.
Jesus says, John 17, his prayer is not to take the faithful out of the world. What's the point in all the language about salt, and yeast and being embedded in the world to change the world, to do Christ's work in the world, if all that's gonna happen is we are taken out of the world to avoid any of the suffering that Jesus is engaged with? Heresies.
Wrath. Remember the three strands that idolatry is turning away from the living God and giving too much importance to things which aren't that important, it's a distortion of the understanding and wrath is the consequence of this. Wrath is what happens when grace doesn't intervene. And just as from Hosea, it says, "I reject you from being a priest to me, I reject your children, the more they increased, I also will forget your children." But this is a process just within the Church of England about the decline, radical decline, by the end of the century there will be 80,000 members of the Church of England. I don't actually believe that will happen, but this is where we are headed, this is the consequence of centuries of neglect.
And finance, this is specifically a Church of England one, you are familiar with the problems of finance and why individual clergy have more and more parishes to look after, etc, etc. But it is more than that, in that the assumptions and processes of what the church is there for and having to be shaped by the heresies and so forth that I have been describing, destroy the life of the Minister. This is a chap called Ted Haggard who was one of the most prominent evangelical leaders in the United States and one or two of you might have heard that he was involved in a scandal at the end of last year, a sexual scandal and of course he has been kicked out and excluded from his church community, you know "we can't have sinners here". But what is it that drove this clearly incredibly gifted and talented man to deny his dark side to such a degree that it ended up overwhelming him? It's the whole theology that sin is unacceptable and if you are a sinner, you can't actually share your sin with your fellow Christians and that you have got to keep up appearances, you have got to be pure. Which seems so contrary to the Gospel, it's amazing that this is actually understood by the external culture as an example of the Gospel. It is completely reversed.
Are none exempt? Are all the churches awful? Virtually, but there is one, one example. You may recall at the end of last year, the autumn of last year the school shooting in America and the Amish, this is a picture from the funeral of one of the children. And they seem to actually be living out a Christian faith. And when the father of one of the murdered children said that they forgave the person who did the shooting, that was one of the clearest Christian witnesses we've seen for a very long time. And they could only have done that because they have been trained and formed in the faith. You know, the Anabaptist communities, people like the Mennonites, I have one or two theological disagreements with them, but they have much more to teach the wider church body than the wider church body has to teach them about actually living out the faith, about having lives which are formed in contra-distinction to the culture. But actually the faith matters, that the faith makes a difference, that you can't just be completely absorbed in the culture most of the time, without noticing that your claim that Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth makes a difference to what you choose to do.
Where do we go from here? Read Scripture. It might seem like a really silly, obvious thing to say. But I mean actually read it, read it like a book, don't just read little extracts with a commentary. Don't just read the passages selected for church on a Sunday morning, you know, read whole gobbets of it, read it like a novel. I think we have got so caught up with individual trees, that we have lost sight of the shape of the wood. And what God is actually doing which the story of the Bible tells, that God is acting to redeem his people whom he loves from all the forms of slavery which destroy their lives, and that Jesus is the pinnacle of that process, which is why Jesus saves. It is a very concrete, this worldly faith.
If you look at what happens in the Exodus for example. There is a type, that is such a clear instance of what God's agenda is, there are people suffering in slavery, they are economically oppressed, they haven't got enough to eat and this offends God and he sends someone to redeem them. He sends Moses and says, "Let my people go." And the people are led through the wilderness into the Promised Land. It is very this worldly. It's not that Moses went along and said "Hey, change what you think, you know, carry on being slaves but that doesn't really matter, it is only what is going on in your head that matters." You know, "Confess Yahweh as the only God and then you will be alright." It's much more practical and dynamic and physical than that, it makes a difference. It wasn't simply acknowledge Yahweh as your God, think of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are prefaced by "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Eygpt, so trust me." Then "Have no other God's before me, then ... and all the list of the things which allows a communal life to flourish. The first five of which are religious commands. It's the second half which is fairly intuitively obvious, ones which we can understand and get a handle on and still ignore, by and large. Covet your neighbour's wealth and so on. But it's the first few which are the foundational ones. Only have the Lord your God as the one you worship and it's the Living God, it's not the God of the philosophers. It's the Living God who acts to stop slavery, in all its forms.
But of course, the trouble with just reading Scripture, although I think it is absolutely essential is that you might end up bringing in worldly assumptions into how you read it willy nilly. And so it is worth spending quite a lot of time listening to the testimony of the early Church. Don't just assume that the Holy Spirit came down with Luther. The Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost and was active in the decisions of the church. You know it's not that Jesus went up on Ascension Day and then there was this gap of fourteen hundred years, the church was real, God was present, God was guiding the decisions and choices. For example the Creed. The Creed has non-Scriptural bits in it, it's called the Doctrine of the Trinity, but this is rather important, it gives a key for how to read Scripture which has been anointed by the Church community and hallowed over time and if these sorts of things are discarded, it's very short steps to the worldliness and the ego domination which I was criticising earlier. But no "my view is the crucial view". The idea that, it seems absurd to be arguing for this, but the idea that the first few hundred years of the church, they might actually have learnt something about who Jesus was that's worth hanging on to. And the practices that they adopted, like for example, the emphasis on the Eucharist. The idea that this was guided by the Spirit, that the Spirit was present at Pentecost and afterwards and they broke bread together on the first day of the week. These things are not accidents.
Open your eyes to the world. Don't assume that God has stopped being active. Jesus says we will be led into all truth. There are some things that he couldn't tell us, God is still speaking, God is still alive, he might be saying something to you outside of Scripture, outside of the church fathers and so forth, by looking at the world which Jesus loves, the world which Jesus gave his life to save. But of course this is all very traditional Anglican theology. The inheritance that the Church of England has in terms of its theological bias if you like, is very healthy. A large part of the problem, the last hundred years or so, is that it has been forgotten. It is still being forgotten and denied. This whole process with the argument about gay clergy, and the agenda is being pushed in that argument are thoroughly denying traditional Anglicanism. Say more about that later on.
Right. Living in the Kingdom which is the answer to wrath. To actually change the way that we live and what does the Lord require of you, to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly before your God. That's Micah. But how about this one? "Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who do ...." I'll stop the sentence there, I'm sure you can fill in the rest. Those who do, which isn't to argue for works righteousness, which is this obsession of the Western Church since the time of the reformation, grace comes first, grace is the fount of it. But the idea that someone's life can be transformed by grace but wholly on the inside and that the outer life has no discernible difference from the world, that seems more contrary to Scripture than anything else you can think of. The idea that you can go to Scripture and get this very late Western ideology that faith is just a matter of mental assent to something is crazy. I mean going through the Psalms, the Lord loves the righteous, they are the ones who will stand before him. Look at Revelation, at the end of time people will be judged according to their deeds.
Faith is a doing. You know there is an inner transformation driven by faith. But we have confused this inner transformation of the heart with some sort of mental agreement, and you can understand what Christianity says and you can mentally agree to it, but you can agree to it in exactly the same way as you would agree with quantum physicists saying that there are such things as quarks. Yes I believe you. I accept there are such things as quarks, and then you just get on with your life. The Gospel is not that sort of information, the Gospel is something to transform the heart and if we lose sight of that that there are practical fruits which Christ is calling us to life by, then we have lost the most essential thing.
Now, see if I can jump to the .... jump forward a bit, there is a quotation I want to share with you. Because this is I think the heart of it. The phrase "a community saturated with God". That's what the Church, any church is called to be. Something where this understanding, this awareness of what it means to live before God, that it is living differently, is at the heart of what the Church is called to be. That is what makes the Church the Body of Christ. That we live differently, that we embody something distinct from the values of the world. And this phrase, I've now forgotten, he said it was a Scottish Minister in the late nineteenth century just before a period of revival. The Gospel is incredibly contagious. And if the Gospel is allowed to transform a life, that life is the most effective witness that we have got that is possible. It's not words that will spread the Gospel, it's life. It's when people see Christians having something attractive, and thinking I would like some of that.
Because people are aware of truth in their bones, people are wounded and suffering, if they see something which is healthy, they will move towards it. We can't stop the Gospel from spreading. Christ: "the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church" and so on. But what we can do is prevent ourselves from being part of the process, and this is what the Church of England seems to have been committed to for a long time. What do we need to do? Concentrate on Christ. OK but that may seem like really obvious but you know, get to know him, read the Gospel. Read a whole Gospel at one sitting. You know it won't take you very long, read the Gospel of Mark, it will take you about an hour and a half, but you will get much more of a flavour of the sort of man he was and how he was divine by doing that than just by breaking up into one paragraph or two paragraphs at a time. The bits which the Church emphasises on a Sunday morning, get to know him. Get tuned in to his priorities because they will teach us what our priorities should be. And of course he came saying, this is a new covenant, it's not the old one which we seemed as a church to struggle so very, very hard not to go along with. We preferred the old covenant it was easier. Give us some rules and then we will shuffle along according to the rules, and we don't have to think about it very much, we don't have to do very much, it is much less hard work, we don't have to think for ourselves.
That's not the gospel. Final quotation from Hosea again. "A people without understanding shall come to ruin." I came across the original Learning Church leaflet when this process was begun, getting on for three years ago now and I was quoting that passage and in a sense this is precisely my agenda in these Saturday mornings that we actually understand the faith a little bit more deeply, to avoid precisely this ruin which is coming down upon us. But the church needs to be renewed, and it needs to be transformed by the renewing of its mind, it has become mentally lost, not just the Church of England, but theologically, the understanding of what theology is has by and large been lost for centuries and this is at the heart of what needs to change.
[Question about academic view of this]
I think that within the academy a lot of this is really starting to be absorbed. I've talked about this chap called Alasdair MacIntyre and I think that the session after this one which I think is in three weeks, will be looking at the virtues, because I think it would be fair to say that theologians are discovering that they have so lost touch with living faith that it doesn't make any sense to what they are doing any more. And for other reasons, theology is being forced back into the church because the academy has become, if you like, its coming into its own. So theology is being replaced by religious studies and inter-cultural context and this sort of stuff. And real theology is coming back where it belongs, being controlled by the church. Theology properly understood is simply prayer, the one who prays is a theologian and it's not an elitist activity. Theology is about getting to know Jesus better, that's all theology is. There are a number of influential threads which are driving us forward. Rowan I think could be very sympathetic to 99% of what I've said today, he's certainly written to that effect. And I think the problems are by and large, western. They are not the Church around the world, and to some extent the Eastern church is exempt from the criticism, except for the one about being subordinated to the state, but their understanding of theology was never academic. But no, I think God is acting to change these things but it is not yet fully accepted - is that an answer?
I think that on the second point I would be quite happy if we substituted all the language of salvation for the language of abundant life because I think that one of the problems is that whereas Jesus was very concerned about something very day to day, immediate and now, eternal life if you like is something that we share in while we are alive, it's a form of life. When Zacchaeus, when he says, "Salvation has come to this house," it's because Zacchaeus has changed the way he lives. It is not something about what is going to happen to him when he dies, so I think, I take the point that the language of salvation is a very, if you like evangelical emphasis and it can be translated into something which is also wholly in tune with Jesus' agenda but I think if we started talking about abundant life or eternal life as something in terms of how we exist day to day, then I'm wholly in favour of that. But I don't agree with the first one I'm afraid, the thing about heresy - I mean heresy originally means choice, I think that if you don't assert that truth is ultimately something independent of our own decisions, you have lost the most essential thing about the faith.
Now having said that I think you should never really talk about heresy without also the caveat "I could be wrong". And I think it's having that caveat of "I could be wrong" which prevents the thing about control, which is where I started, because I think you can have a teaching authority and you can have a sense that the church has understood this to be the truth for two thousand years and you can therefore have people choosing to believe something different and that's heresy. I think that is the most important step back from - because you are a heretic we are going to exclude you, we are going to hurt you, verbally, physically, whatever, and I think asserting the truth but acknowledging that my grasp of the truth is imperfect, but asserting that the truth is something to be defended and it isn't simply a matter of individual choice I think is essential. I think if truth becomes a matter of choice then we should give up, I would give up, there are much easier ways to live. It's the sense that the truth has a claim on us and we only have partial grasps on it but we can journey deeper into the truth and that we can be transformed by the truth as we live deeper within it.
The whole point about it as I understand it is that it is not an opinion, is to say that it is an opinion is to take the academic approach. I think to be a Christian is to be committed to a path. It is actually to say there are no other paths which help you up the mountain to a certain degree, but I can't see any way in which you can avoid being detached from something which is life transforming and therefore you don't transform your life, if you are not committed to something being true. Because you can't live by it unless you are committed to it, unless you actually say this is the way I am going to walk, even though I could be wrong, but I am going to walk like this and you don't commit to something in that way, that very concrete way unless you believe it to be true and true independently of your choice. It is not like choosing wallpaper or something, it is much, much too important for that and I just think psychologically you can't say that any other choice is any other just as good.