Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more

Prayers of Love and Faith

16 December 2023

"Prayers of Love and Faith" are prayers of blessing for same-sex couples and have now been commended for use by the House of Bishops. Discussions have been going on for a very long time, with strongly-held views on both sides of the argument. But the battle is not yet won, because there have been strong objections from conservative evangelicals on the grounds that such changes will fundamentally change the received tradition, the ancient Anglican heritage. The objectors make the point that these changes risk causing a schism in the Church of England.

These are strange times we're in. The "received tradition" of the Church of England is under threat and noticeable tensions already exist between conventional and progressive Christians. I grew up in what to me was the conventional evangelical Church of England. It's only within the last twenty years or so that I have switched first from Anglicanism to Methodism and now to the United Reformed Church, trying to get away from convention and "received tradition". That term fills me with dread. It smacks of hanging on by the skin of your teeth to something which is going to crumble any minute. And the stronger the challenge of new thinking, the more precarious becomes that tradition.

Nero's violin comes to mind - the legend that while Rome was burning, Nero was fiddling. In the Church as in government at the moment, there are too many distractions for real progress to take place. But it's so demanding, this continual search for theological correctness. Jesus never demanded that of those he met and those people thought he shouldn't have met. And the real cause of all this angst is the legacy of Constantine, that all Christians should be of one mind. No argument, no debate. Just take it and believe it.

So we have a creed that most people couldn't explain in simple words. We have a tradition, which means that certain aspects of the faith (that some would call truths) really shouldn't be challenged. And we have bishops who have the power to make sure that what's been the tradition so far must be kept undisturbed.

But we must remember that the received tradition is ancient. We are preserving forms of words and aspects of faith that took shape in the 1500s under Henry VIII and his break from Rome. Then came the Reformation, then the Enlightenment, then the Industrial Revolution, and now the Electronic Revolution and Artificial Intelligence. Somewhere in all this, some brave souls have tried to look afresh at the received tradition without feeling guilty, and have made a great deal of sense by re-interpreting the ancient texts (which themselves are often translations) and questioning some of those ancient beliefs, against the background of science and the fact that we might not be alone in the cosmos.

Tradition is not static, is not unchangeable, is not just religious habit. Tradition alone will numb the spirit of adventure, inhibit our search for what makes faith-sense in this modern age, and inevitably come into conflict with those who disagree with us. Faith is a journey of discovery, knowing that the journey will make us open our eyes and our minds to what we find. And perhaps our hearts as well.


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