Friday, April 23, 2010

Priests crossing the line

And here at the outset I must deal with an unpleasant business. It seems to the layman that in the Church of England we often hear from our priests doctrine which is not Anglican Christianity. It may depart from Anglican Christianity in either of two ways: (1) It may be so ‘broad’ or ‘liberal’ or ‘modern’ that it in fact excludes any real Supernaturalism and thus ceases to be Christian at all. (2) It may, on the other hand, be Roman. It is not, of course, for me to define to you what Anglican Christianity is—I am your pupil, not your teacher. But I insist that wherever you draw the lines, bounding lines must exist, beyond which your doctrine will cease either to be Anglican or to be Christian: and I suggest also that the lines come a great deal sooner than many modern priests think.darth-vader-priests2 I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men.

C.S. Lewis, "Christian Apologetics" (1945) included in God in the Dock (Eerdmans, 1970) 89-90. This paper was read to an assembly of Anglican priests and youth leaders at the ‘Carmarthen Conference for Youth Leaders and Junior ‘clergy’ of the Church in Wales at Carmarthen.


  1. I have always been curious about boundaries, How they are established and why. For the most part there has to be an agreement among us to where they are. Some ideas or territories are easier to define than others and those areas where the boundaries are unclear cause dispute and uncertainty. Dispute and uncertainty cause stress. In totalitarian societies this is not a problem, at least for the elite. Because Anglicans do not have to park their brains at the door, they will think of all sorts of ideas that may not fit your boundaries or those of CS Lewis. Unfortunately, this may be stressful for you and others, but if you want your church to be vibrant and evolve Then you must allow the boundaries to be stretched and modified from time to time. Pure nationalism has been tried in the past and it doesn't seem to work. Chad H

  2. At what point have I or C.S. Lewis suggested parking your brain at the door? If you take the time to read Lewis, I'm sure you will find that he encourages Christians to think and use their minds rather than park them at the door. The whole point of this blog is to engage in a daily reading from Lewis to give the brain a jolt and think more about our faith and life as Christians.

    I encourage Christians to be disciples -- what are disciples? -- the word literally means learners. This is how we grow as believers, we learn, we change, we become more like Christ.

    Lewis was discussing the specific boundary of Anglican priesthood. It is defined, just as being a Cabinet minister in the government is defined as well as being a professional hockey player. If a priest comes to the point of no longer believing in a personal God, for example, then a line has been crossed and that priest should resign as a matter of honesty.

    I found this paragraph from Lewis to be as relevant today as when he wrote it. It is not about resisting change, as you seem to suggest. It is about saying that if one desires to be a priest, they are boundaries which if crossed should mean your resignation, just as a Cabinet minister must resign for abusing power or a hockey player must resign if their baseball schedule interferes with their game.

    New ideas are certainly welcome in the church and among priests, especially in terms of how we stay vibrant and evolve, in our expressions of the faith, but changing your mind about the reality of the death and crucifixion of Jesus is not on the table, for example.

    For 2000 years the creeds have defined what all Christians in all places believe. If one does not wish to believe, there is such freedom. But if one is a priest, then by definition, resignation would be required.

    Lewis was speaking (writing) to priests about being honest about their beliefs, whether they are within the boundaries or not. To be fair to Lewis, I don't think our discussion about this writing has much to do with totalitarianism, the evolution of ideas in the church or pure nationalism -- that sounds more like the Tea Party movement in the U.S. (For the record, Lewis is rather against pure nationalism.)

    Anyhow, here we are today in a fracturing church where many priests have gone over to the dark side but still pretend they have not crossed a boundary because they are reformers. Yeah, ok, maybe they've just the crossed the line.