After reading the Revd Clatworthy’s reply to Archbishop Williams, Ivan Aquilina points out the importance of graciousness in debate and the need to reclaim the original meaning of ‘dogma’ and other terms
As I was thinking about the Reflections of Archbishop Williams on the decisions taken by The Episcopal Church, I came across a reply to that reflection from the Revd Jonathan Clatworthy, General Secretary of the Modern Churchpeoples Union.
Although I passionately disagree with the author, I accept that he holds his conclusions with integrity and declares them after mature reflection. The reason I am writing about his piece is not about his wrongly formed arguments but because he would not allow that those of us who disagree with him are also doing it, like him, out of good faith and obedience to Scripture, Reason and Tradition. In other words, he seems to be writing from a judgemental pedestal from which those who do not tow his line are condemned.
Presentation of truth
In just a few sentences labelled as a summary of his paper, the Revd Clatworthy dismisses both Archbishop Williams and Bishop Wright with words like: dogma, impose, seek to suppress, holding uninformed positions, not expressing Anglican views of the church^ proposing innovations and, in the following paragraphs, authoritarianism. Some of these words continue to appear in the rest of the document as the response to a psalm.
There is an urgent need, firstly, to reclaim language and, secondly, to urge for graciousness and respect without which no debate is healthy.
The word ‘dogma’ in the Revd Clatworthy s article is used to mean an arrogant declaration of opinion. In the Church, however, the word dogma means the positive presentation of truth as found in divine revelation. Departing from Hebrews 1.1, the Church understands that the progressive character of Gods revelation has culminated in Christ.
In Christ, God has spoken his final and unsurpassable word. Jesus is the fullness of revelation. Jesus revealed to the Apostles all that ‘he has heard from the Father’ [John 15.15].
Embodiment of Scripture
After Ascension, the supreme work of the Holy Spirit is to recall Christ’s words to the Twelve [John 14.26]. Our response is the acceptance of this truthful word of Christ (words and actions) and conforming ourselves to him in obedience which brings peace and joy. So dogma is a word charged with the work of the Spirit that offers to the disciples the possibility of living free and faithful in Christ.
Dogmatic formulations are guarantees of freedom in truth, of living what Christ, the fullness of revelation, is constantly calling us to. As this was left to the Twelve, therefore it belongs to the college of bishops of the Church of God, as their successors, not only to guard the faith but to proclaim it (this goes against the suggestion of the Revd Clatworthy that prefers a show of hands from all the baptized and maybe beyond).
The faith proclaimed and held by everyone, everywhere and down the ages is dogma; it is the liberating way of life that unites us with the divine life.. Dogma is the embodiment of Scripture, Reason and Tradition put together. Dogma protects us from individual or corporate opinions that want to add their own flavour to the Word of God. The Gospel is not for sale.
There are other words like authority that are being used negatively but the above, I think, is enough of an example to encourage us to reclaim important language and definitions. This was already pointed out many . times and lately in Fr Anderson’s piece in September’s ND.
A word about graciousness: in the July 2007 Synod Aiden Hargreaves-Smith gave a short but insightful contribution to the debate. During his intervention, he said he felt forced from the life of the church, labelled ‘extremist’ simply for being traditionalist. How true and how ungracious of those who do that.
In his article, the Revd Clatworthy defines those of us who work under the Act of Synod as Anglicans who dedicate their efforts to condemning other Anglicans. Those of us working under the Act of Synod dedicate our efforts to preach Christ, to love him and to serve him in those around us.
We are passionate about Christ and enthralled by his truth and that is why, out of that obedience to Christ alone, we cannot accept the innovations of those who change what Christ said and did.
Integrity and service
For the Revd Clatworthy it seems that people like me should not have a place in the Church of England which, according to him, is led by an Archbishop who in his quoted reflection reveals ‘ignorance of the theological arguments…’ I believe that debate is healthy but only one that is gracious and respectful. Such debate starts from the recognition that both parties start from a position of integrity and service to the Word of God.
Reclaiming language and being gracious are vital in our day-to-day life. These stem out supremely from a solid, loving and obedient relationship with Christ who is the Way to the Truth that leads to Life.