Absence of graciousness
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
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
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
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.