Stephen Cope

What is truth?’ asked Pilate, though personally I doubt he was jesting. Jesus replied that he had come to bear witness to truth; earlier, he had promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples, who would lead them into all truth. But how far have we been led into that truth? And how much truth do we need to be led into?

As far as I can see, theologically there are two types of truth. The first type is what I term ‘necessary truth’. A necessary truth must be believed by all orthodox Christians. Thus, to be seasonal, the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ is a necessary truth, because it is required by any sane reading of Scripture, has been maintained by the Church Universal, and is enshrined in the creeds. It is absolutely

essential for any Christian to hold that Jesus Christ was born into this world, Son of God and son of Mary.

The second clear type of truth I term ‘unnecessary’. An unnecessary truth is something which definitely has a right answer, but to which the answer is either unknown or irrelevant. An example of this is the actual number of wise men who turned up from the East to worship Jesus. There is no question that a defined and precise number made the journey, but although the tradition has settled into speaking about ‘three’, influenced of course by the number of gifts they brought, the Scriptures are silent on the subject, as are the creeds. Whether we believe that there were three or thirty-three therefore does not define our Christianity.

It is certain that in the mind of God there is a correct answer to the questions ‘Could women be priests?’ and ‘Could women be bishops?’ But how necessary is the consequent truth? After all, most truths seem to fall between ‘necessary’ and ‘unnecessary’.

The Scriptures strongly imply that the answer to these questions is ‘no’. The tradition has clearly maintained ‘no’ in its ancient denominations. I agree, and therefore belong to Forward in Faith. But is the contrary teaching heretical, or merely schismatic? Or in other words, there are those who disagree with me, but will they go to hell for it?