Monday, 25 May 2009

Hermeneutics as a Cloak for Unbelief

Some time ago I drafted but did not publish a post on an Anglican bishop who clearly does not believe in God and yet remains a bishop of the church, a "successor to the Apostles"; in the end it seemed to me uncharitable to publicise the woes of a communion that has so obviously lost its way when I know many faithful Christians who remain in it, albeit with pain and often under protest. But since yet another such creature - an unbelieving Anglican bishop - is presently visiting this fair land and publicising his own "agnosticism" regarding the central tenets of the Christian faith, my scruples seem not to apply in this case. So let us, dear readers, consider but one example of how hermeneutics (being the science of interpretation, named after the Greek god Hermes, the messenger of the gods who also serves as the patron of poets and literature, amongst other things) may serve as a cloak that hides unbelief.

Richard Holloway is the erstwhile Bishop of Edinburgh in the Episcopal Church of Scotland, the Scottish branch of Anglicanism. He is currently in Australia as a guest speaker at the Sydney Writers Festival, as reported on the 20th of May in the Sydney Morning Herald (click on title to view article). In that article, Holloway confesses agnosticism but explains how he "still has his pilot's license" (sic!) and preaches, baptises and presides at holy communion. The interviewing journalist - and Australian journalists are not known for their knowledge of or sympathy to Christianity - suspects something may be awry at this point, and wonders whether this "raises the thorny question of how an agnostic, unconvinced about the divinity of Jesus, can consecrate the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. Surely, it becomes a mere gesture?". (Now, there are doctrinal assertions intended to provide assurance to the innocent laity who are victims of such anomalous situations, but since such are not our main subject of inquiry here, let us pass on to the bishop's answer). The unbelieving -sorry, agnostic - bishop helpfully explains that "It very much depends on the interpretation you put on it", and he then proceeds to deconstruct - sorry, interpret - the Lord's Supper, solemnly instituted by our Lord on the night when he was betrayed as a memorial meal and a means of communion with his body given and blood shed for us, into some sort of mystery rite by which "members of the family" identify with each other.

This sort of statement, my friends, while it presents a veneer of piety, is nothing more than an example of hermeneutics functioning as a cloak for unbelief. The bishop, remember, does not believe in - sorry, is agnostic about - the divinity of Christ, and therefore does not believe that by communing with the body of Christ under the form of bread in the sacrament of the altar communicants mysteriously but truly become one in that body, as the apostle taught. The bishop's explanation is mere cant by which he is able to fool or placate whoever it is to whom he must answer and so retain his position and privileges in the church after he has ceased to believe its creed. It reminds me of the Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide who, whilst I sojourned in that city, would appear on the TV news each year on Easter Sunday and blabber on about how "we need a resurrection of community spirit in this city" without once mentioning the resurrection of Christ - no doubt because he didn't believe in the divinity of Christ either.

These wolves in shepherd's clothing, denying the 'vertical', ontological realities of the Christian faith, are left with nothing but wistful nostalgia for the 'horizontal' community values and spirit which the realities they deny once gave birth to, along with the insane illusion that they can somehow conjure them up by appealing to the "better side of human nature". "Mainstream" Anglicanism, if there is such a thing anymore, while it continues to tolerate the likes of Holloway, Spong and Robinson in its midst, risks becoming a middle-class, neo-Gnostic sect which has hollowed out the core of Christian belief and substituted a secularised socialistic creed in its stead.

Oh, and did I mention that in the Olympian pantheon Hermes is also the patron of miscreants, thieves and liars?

May the good Anglicans of Sydney, along with all other orthodox, Bible-believing Christians in that city, take heed of the apostle's warning:
"...many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works" (2 John 1:7-11, ESV)

(Newer readers of Evangelical Lutheran who may be puzzled by the passion displayed in this post may be helped by knowing that I was baptised in the Church of England, which fact, I suppose, makes it my mother church, though I have long since ceased living under her roof.)


Mercurius Aulicus said...

Your earlier quotation from Charles Porterfield Krauth comes to mind (

This is what happens when there is insufficient attention paid to correct doctrine.

Acroamaticus said...

Yes, indeed, that quote is relevant (and I will post more of Krauth in the future, d.v.).
As you will be aware, MCB, the Church of England has, from its inauspicious beginnings under Henry VIII, and more especially from the time of the Elizabethan Settlement, striven to be an inclusive national church, an aim which has necessitated a certain doctrinal haziness.
However, granting that weakness, the C of E may have remained a Church of the Reformation but for two afflictions it has never quite recovered from, viz. the Latitudinarianism of the 17th &
18th centuries and the Oxford Movement of the 19th C, which in its origins was a reaction to Latitudinarianism, but which itself largely succumbed to liberalism after the publication of 'Lux mundi' in 1889.
For that reason, the only earthly hope for the C of E, in my opinion, is that its Evangelicals discover the Road to Wittenberg!

Acroamaticus said...

The Road to Wittenberg, via old St Louis, Missouri, that is.