Saint Albright, Stanway

January 26th, 1992

Iconoclasm

The Essex Man hasn't been getting too good a press recently, so I thought I'd cheer you all up by starting with someone from the next-door county, a Suffolk man whose dreadful deeds make anything Essex lads get up to nowadays look like a Vicarage Tea Party.

His name was William Dowsing. He was born at Laxfield about 1596 and at the height of his fame he was well known in these parts as "Smasher" Dowsing.

In December 1643 Dowsing was appointed to the office of Visitor of the Suffolk Churches by the Earl of Manchester, General of the associated counties of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincoln, Huntingdon, Cambridge and Hertford.

His job as visitor was to enter churches and demolish altars, remove candlesticks and deface pictures, statues and images and stained glass which might be described as "idolatrous or superstitious".

Since there weren't any official definitions of many of these terms Dowsing and his colleagues had an absolute field-day in this part of the world. Being a fanatic, he smashed anything which took his fancy.

Luckily for us he kept a diary of his smashings. Here are two typical entries.

Haverhill, January 6th: we broke down about 100 superstitious pictures, a picture of God and Christ; and diverse others very superstitious and we cut down a great stone cross on the top of the Church"

And on the same day, at Clare:

We broke down a 1000 pictures superstitious; I broke down 200; 3 of God and three of Christ and the Holy Lamb and three of the Holy Ghost like a dove, and the 12 Apostles carved in wood on the roof; and 20 cherubs we ordered to be taken down.

It's not difficult to imagine the distress which Dowsing caused to an ordinary devout local people as they saw the familiar ornaments in their Church being systematically smashed to pieces. Great Bromley and Manningtree were two local places which he "visited" in this way. Fortunately for us he didn't do his job very thoroughly and by the end of February 1644 after only two months the novelty was beginning to wear off and sheer physical exhaustion to take over. But for all that, the damage he did round here was immense.

But don't imagine that Dowsing was a 1-off event. From time to time since God became man in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ there have been two quite different religions each claiming to be the Christian Truth.

Our faith, the one you when I professed when we baptised and confirmed and which we assent to every time we say the Creed in church, states that God revealed himself perfectly and finally in the person our Lord Jesus Christ, warn of the Virgin Mary, at a certain date in history, in a certain place; that he was crucified, died, was buried, that he rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and will come to judge all men when the time appointed by the Father arrives.

Now this Religion doesn't change. Its truth so to speak are fixed. Which isn't to say that our understanding of them doesn't change or our way of putting them across to people. Our understanding can and should grow all the time; we should be constantly looking for new ways of explaining them to people just as, over the years, people added ornaments to the Church which expressed to their own generation that truth which gone revealed once and for all in Jesus Christ in terms that the men of their day could understand. So in that sense the Christian faith for us is "Always the same get ever new". The faith is given to one us to safeguard: we are its Ministers and Stewards in this generation. But whereas the job of guarding and faith involves seemed that in Teas passed on in tack from age to wage, a the actual job of passing it on involves making sharp that it has been properly understood. And this means using all the insights, images, technology and learning which are available to us.

This is one view of the faith. Another view has always existed alongside it. This is the notion that there are no fixed truths about God or the Church or morality. That all three in common with everything else are in a state of constant shade, so that for instance what was true or about God 50 years ago isn't necessarily true today; what was wrong and displeasing to God then may be right and pleasing to him nowadays.

I said that these two views have always existed side by side. Most of the time this second set of beliefs, the idea of a changing God a changing faith, and changing morality chooses to keep itself pretty well hidden. It only decides to come out into the open when enough people have grown slack about their practice of the true faith or allowed it to become boring or its stewards to become corrupt.

When that happens this alternative faith is able to present itself as something really new, exciting, relevant and powerful not least because it enables people like William Dowsing to have a free-for-all smashing down what past generations have built up and cherished.

These bust-ups have happened throughout the history of the Christian Church. They happened in the second century; they happened in the fourth century; and the tenth; they happened at the Reformation and him the form of William Dowsing in the 17th century. But the import fact for you and me is that they are happening again today.

Oh I don't mean that people are just smashing up church ornaments, though there is plenty of that and a fair amount of mindless vandalism going on.

What I'm talking about is a far more radical attempt, fronted up by certain bishops and leading theologians, to change the entire faith entrusted to us so that it fits more comfortably alongside the ideas of modern secular man.

For modern secular man wants to think he's "got it right" about himself and about God; indeed he doesn't want to think too much about God at all other than to believe that he's there and is generally well disposed towards Mankind and himself in particular. Modern secular man wants to believe that his feelings are reliable guide to belief and morality so that, not to put too fine a point on it, he can do pretty much what his feelings suggest to him at in a given moment.

In order to succeed, this alternative religion needs, little by little, to take over from the traditional. It gets its followers into positions of influence in the Church. It invents its own language and jargon. It tries to remove familiar landmarks. It moves or removes all the familiar moral goals and rules. It turns its back on the scriptures, and above all it openly despises ordinary people like you and me because we insist on standing firm to the faith we have been given, the faith once delivered to the Saints.

Do you think this is an exaggeration? I can promise you it isn't. Just look at some of the things which people like Archbishop George Carey, the Bishop of Durham and Dr Don Cupitt have been saying. Then look what has happened to the Anglican Church in America and New Zealand and see what they are teaching people to believe and you'll see what I mean.

So what is to be done about it? Well here is one very practical thing which is part of the reason I am here this morning.

On June 13th at Wembley Arena we are organising a Festival of Faith. This will take the form of the Eucharist at 1 P M.

Wembley Arena holds 12,000 people and we intend to fill it not only with people like you but with bishops from all over the world who are meeting to discuss how best to safeguard what God has entrusted to us.

You can play your part and express your support by being present on that occasion.

It will be a joyful act of Thanksgiving for the inestimable and priceless gift that God has given us. It will be a sign of our solidarity with the each other and of our determination to keep intact the treasure which has been put into my hands. And it will be a message to the William Dowsings of today that if they suppose them they can ever successfully replace the faith which Christians have believed and practised down the years with something more to the likings of modern man whether he be modern Essex man, modern Suffolk man or modern London man then they are quite mistaken.

Like the fanaticism which inspired William Dowsing, these nobble believes an speculations will soon begin to lose their shine and attraction for there are holders. No doubt then they will find something else to run after.

But the faith that we have been given, the faith that in Jesus Christ alone God has visited and redeemed his people will remain unchanged and unharmed. Some mothers will have had a our complacency shaken by what has been done in our midst but to have one security disturbed is always the first step towards Repentance.

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