Question and Answer January 1998
Surely clergy who do not believe the creed ought not to be employed by the Church of England?
The simple answer is 'Yes' and it is perfectly clear that a number of clergy are taking their money under false colours. Most (though by no means all) of the clergy have the freehold, which means that they can stay in their job until they are 65 at least. No-one can shift them unless they are convicted either in a secular or a church court of some kind of moral failure.
There has never (as far as I am aware) been a case in which a person has been successfully accused of heresy or unbelief. One of the problems is that the Bishop or, more usually, the Archdeacon has to start proceedings in a church court (which is the only place where heresy could be considered) and most archdeacons and bishops appear to be in favour of allowing heretical clergy to continue. It is interesting to note, for example, that in the Canadian and United States Churches it would seem that the only real cause for doctrinal naughtiness is holding the traditional view of a male-led ministry! So it is likely to be difficult to get rid of unbelievers from the ministry.
But the matter is further complicated by the fact that a great deal is held to depend on interpretation. Many clergy hold that we are not bound by the plain and ordinary sense of scripture. It needs to be reinterpreted for today. One serious example of this is the fact that many scholars think that Jesus' words recorded in the Fourth Gospel were not really spoken by Him. He did not say 'No one comes to the Father but by Me' and therefore we can hold that there are many ways to God through a variety of religions. Now, once you go down that path, you will feel free to sit very lightly to the creeds. If Jesus was not really the second person of the Trinity but simply a specially inspired man, the creeds are plain wrong or at least badly dated and need to be reinterpreted. Since this is a view held by a number of serious theologians, it is easy for the clergy to claim to have a place in the C of E in spite of changing the plain words of the creed.
Let us take one straightforward example, namely the belief in the Return of our Lord. Now that is plainly taught in Scripture. It is plainly part of the creeds and yet thousands of members of the Church of England reject it and indeed our liturgical scholars more or less threw it out in the ASB and Advent became merely 'getting ready for Christmas'. Of course, all this is very sad but it does explain the answer to our question. And you and I must hold very firmly to the creeds and indeed to the plain sense of the inspired scriptures.
John Pearce, Bury St Edmunds
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