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Look What They’ve Done To Our Lord…

In the beginning, twelve apostles followed Christ and changed the world. There was neither Jew nor Greek, there was neither slave nor free, there was no male and female, for they were all one in Christ Jesus. They followed the ten commandments, bearing in mind ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’


That is Christianity in a nutshell. The early Christians did not need a Covenant with each other to tell them what Christianity was – they had it from the source. Inevitably, over the centuries that followed, human institutions sprang up, each with a slightly different understanding of the small print, and some so fixated on the minutiae of ecclesial procedure that there was a danger of losing sight of the wood for the sake of the trees.


A tiny illustration – Gaudete  (and Laetare) Sundays. I spent the first 62 years of my Christian life in complete ignorance of these, in company with most of my fellow mid-candle members of the Church of England, including all of my local congregation. Then, out of the blue, a pink candle appeared in our Advent wreath, with no explanation. The flower ladies were outraged and regarded this as an unforgiveable innovation by the vicar- ‘everyone’ knows church candles are white (well, cream). He then took great delight in explaining his liturgical justification, making the congregation feel both ignorant and rebellious. It was hard to escape the feeling that the delight was in the symbol, rather than in what it symbolised, and this reinforcement of clerical one-upmanship.

The simple church of the top illustration has been transmogrified into the ornate, coral-encrusted structure of the lower picture. Like Ariel’s song:

Full fathom five our Saviour lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
    Die-hards hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell.

But ( to get to my point!) we have an opportunity to begin the process of de-scaling, cleaning and polishing this edifice that is the Church of England. Before the end of this month, General Synod will have voted on whether to appoint women as bishops. This is a momentous decision and I pray that the vote will be in favour.

I am of course by no means the only one calling for us to follow the teachings of Galatians – on this occasion I am in the company of Bishop Stephen Cottrell on the specific point:

And the Archbishop of Canterbury has wisely seemed to ask, if he cannot have the Covenant,  for raising women to the espiscopate to be the great achievement of his tenure. Bishop John Inge and Bishop Pete Broadbent have also recorded youtube videos, as have Mark Russell and Rebecca Swinson of the Archbishops’ Council.


The photographs are by Stephan Kerkhofs, via Shutterstock

5 comments on this post:

Bernard Randall said...

I’m no expert on coral, but your top picture appears to be largely dead coral skeleton, whereas the second is a vibrant, diverse, living community of coral and fish (and doubtless much more besides).

Is that the analogy you wished to draw?

I know which Church I’d rather be part of.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for commenting – I see from your blog that you have just written on the same topic, drawing rather different conclusions. I like your rubric:

“Because I hold the general principle that anyone who starts talking about God had better remember that God is infinite. And we are finite. Which means that we will never be able fully to grasp everything about God. We need to recognize the vastness of our own uncertainty.”

This is part of the difficulty we are both in, I think. Neither of us knows exactly what God wants. And I think we both had the difficulty in writing our posts that we wanted to to offer a fresh perspective. The problem with any metaphor is that each reader will see something different, and most metaphors do not bear being pushed to their logical extreme.

I agree that the colourful picture is an embellished version of the first, just as Catholicism is an embellished version of early Christianity. As a liberal Catholic, I admire the embellishments myself. However, I draw a distinction between the basic structure (you may be right that the plain coral is dead, I had intended to portray it at an earlier stage before the fish and plants had attached themselves) and the later accretions. In church terms, the eucharist is central to the structure of the whole edifice, gorgeous vestments are not. To me, the discussion about raising women to the episcopate is not like a discussion about the eucharist, it is like a discussion about vestments.

Of course, I could be wrong…:)

UKViewer said...


Thank you for increasing my education. I too was ignorant until I read this post about Gaudete (and Laetare) Sundays.

However, I’m not ignorant about the layers of stuff applied over the original message that Jesus brought to us. I’m not sure whether I blame men, or just a lust for power over others that both men and women share, albeit, it’s much more developed in men (or so it seems).

The message is that we’ve waited 2000 years to long for the ministry of women to be recognised exactly as it was by Jesus in his lifetime and to a lesser extent in Acts and Paul’s letters.

We really need to get our act together before we become an irrelevant anachronism and footnote in history.

I just hope that members of General Synod are listening.

01 November 2012 18:28
01 November 2012 15:46
01 November 2012 13:54
Charley Farns-Barns said...

One hesitates to correct Dame Laura on such a fundamental matter but surely she’s wrong to sum up Christianity as “Love God and love your neighbour”. Was that not a summation of the OT i.e. “On these two commandments hang all the Law an the prophets”?

Jesus asks so much more of us, that terrible and difficult extra of loving our enemies.
Thus at Matthew 5:43-48(from the NIV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.
And a practical example is given in the parable of The Good Samaritan.

I suggest to you that without these additions to the rule of “love God and your neighbour” we are far from being Christian.
Regards, Charley F-B.

02 November 2012 07:00
Lay Anglicana said...

The bible is a thick old book, isn’t it, and I don’t really want to bandy words with you. But I got the quotation from Mark chapter 12, backed up by Luke 10.27. Of course Christianity asks more of us than this, particularly in the detailed interpretation of it, but I believe that loving your enemies is included in the overall instruction to love your neighbours (who may include your enemies) as yourself.

02 November 2012 21:06

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