WHAT’S GOING ON
BY GRAHAM CAMPBELL
IT WAS WELL INTO a warm and humid afternoon at York as I sat and listened to the conclusion of the excellent, amicable and constructive debate on Youth A Part.
The motion asked the Synod to welcome the report (including its vision and challenge), recommend it for consideration throughout the church, and take action on the recommendations. It asked that members encourage a response in their dioceses. In addition to the main motion there were three amendments which, in essence, asked Synod not just to recommend the report to the Church, but to remind the Church at the same time of the importance of preaching the Gospel to young people and, once converted, of training them in the life of the Church. Suddenly my daydream turned to a nightmare – could I be hearing correctly?
The Bishop of Ripon, in his reply to the debate, was urging Synod to reject these amendments, emphasising the preaching of the Gospel, as they would take away the thrust of the Report, and that these themes were already covered in the report on pages 36 to 38. I was confused – I was under the misapprehension that evangelism and the preaching of the Gospel was one of the main purposes of the Church. Had I missed a report from the Doctrine Commission supplanting the Great Commission of Matthew 28?
My mind recalled the episode of Yes, Prime Minister where Jim Hacker is entertaining an old friend, now the Israeli ambassador, who mentions a problem in a neighbouring Arab state which would impact on Israel. He is surprised when Jim Hacker confesses ignorance. Jim Hacker gets the Foreign Office brief, looks carefully through it before exclaiming, “Here it is on page 169 – I’m not expected to read that far, so I normally would not be aware of the problem, but they put it in to cover themselves just in case I find out.” Yes, the call to evangelise young people is on page 36, which isn’t the most prominent place, hence the amendments.
I believe that in taking the Bishop’s advice, and rejecting all three amendments, Synod lost an opportunity to emphasise the value of the report in the evangelistic work of the Church. I wondered if the members of Synod are little different from the MPs of a century ago of whom Gilbert and Sullivan wrote: “Where in that House MPs divide / If they’ve a brain and cerebellum, too / They’ve got to leave that brain behind / And vote just as their leaders tell ‘em to.” (Iolanthe Act II Scene I) I am delighted that Synod accepted this excellent and practical report and recommended it to the Church. But I regret that Synod rejected all three amendments, any one of which would have emphasised and endorsed the Church’s commitment to the Decade of Evangelism.
The next day Synod gathered in York Minister for a service of Holy Communion, and it was with wry amusement that I joined members of Synod in singing the opening hymn, “We have a gospel to proclaim”, and the closing hymn – yes, you’ve guessed it – “Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim”. In between the Archbishop of Canterbury celebrated the Eucharist and the Archbishop of York preached an excellent and thought-provoking sermon, for which he deserved the ecclesiastical equivalent of the VC for bravery in preaching to a congregation which included his fellow Archbishop, fifty or so ordinary bishops, about two hundred clergy and the same number of some of the most doctrinally and theologically educated laity in the country.
After lunch, Synod debated The Mystery of Salvation and in spite of Andrew Dow’s valiant attempt to persuade Synod that Hell does still exist (see his article in Synod Spectator), Synod duly took note of the report. So apparently the official doctrine now on the ultimate fate of the unsaved is that they are in a state of “total non-being”, in contrast to the old-fashioned view of Jesus that they are in Hell, a place of torment. Jesus’ description can be found in Matthew 5.22, 28-29, Matthew 25.41-46 and Luke 16.19-31, to mention just a few references.
This view of the fate of non-believers may make it more difficult to evangelise those outside the church, as many of them expect death to be “total non-being” anyway. It is, therefore, harder to convict them of their need to “take up the cross and follow Christ”, if death means the end of life full stop, and not the beginning of “a fate worse than death”. Of course, if we fail to convert them in this life, there is the possibility of their being saved through some “eschatological revelation, or by other means” (page 181), after their period of total non-being. This could be interpreted as taking the urgency out of the need to evangelise them. Anyway, why bother if God will come up with a long term solution after all? Of course, during these debates the members of Synod might not have had their minds completely on the matter under discussion since I expect the ordained half were thinking about their pensions measure and the laity were wondering if their tenure of the churchwarden’s office was to be limited to six years, both items being down for debate the following day. If these comments irritate the reader, let that person (using a suitable non-gender specific word) remember the old saying that “a text out of context is often a pretext.”
Graham Campbell was in York with his wife Rosemary who represents the Diocese of Chester on the General Synod