Wednesday, September 1, 2010

C. S. Lewis on the Clergy

Any number of times on this blog, I've expressed my inability to fully understand why someone would want to worship in a church whose liturgies and creedal statements affirm tenets of Christian faith which he/she rejects. I once put it like this:

If someone says she has to hold her nose to say the Creed, that she doesn't believe that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine or that he was really raised from the dead, or that God is three persons in one essence, or that Scripture is anything more than a merely human artifact, etc., etc. - well, at some point the question must be asked: why would such a person want to worship in a tradition whose history and Prayer Book liturgies affirm all of the things she denies? Why would such a person voluntarily promise to continue in teaching which she rejects or even finds offensive?

All Episcopalians, lay and ordained, have made a vow in the Baptismal Covenant to live within the boundaries of orthodox teaching. So it's a serious matter for laypersons to espouse heterodox or heretical views as though they are equal to the faith of the Church. But I am particularly befuddled when Episcopal clergy become free-thinking innovators. For clergy have not only promised to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship in the first of the Baptismal Covenant vows; they have also promised to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church in their ordinations.

Of course, not everyone shares my inability to grasp (much less embrace or even celebrate) such deviations from conforming to the doctrinal norms among the clergy. But in my Internet travels today, I was pleased to discover an Anglican from the not-so-distant past who shares my concerns and expresses them far better than I have. Here's what C. S. Lewis once wrote about and to the clergy:

It is your duty to to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of the other.

I think that Lewis is right: at bottom, it all comes down to honesty and integrity.

4 comments:

Peter Carey+ said...

Beautifully said!

Peter Carey+

BillyD said...

I share your puzzlement. If you want to be a UU, for example, there are plenty of UU venues out there already available; it's not necessary to change the Church for you to be in a faith community you can support.

I used the UUs only as a matter of convenience. I think the same is true of those who want to be RC.

plsdeacon said...

I agree with this. One part I have a problem with is people who call themselves "creedally orthodox" but do not believe in either the resurrection, the virgin birth, the Trinity, or the full divinity and humanity of Jesus. I also find it odd that there are people who claim orthodoxy, but will not believe that the moral statements of the Old and New Testatments are inspired by the Holy Spirit (who "spake by the prophets").
If you don't believe the whole creed, you are not "creedally orthodox." To say you are "creedally orthdox except..." is to say you are not creedally orthodox.

Anonymous said...

Honesty?? No way, oh that would be so *politically incorrect* would it not?? Sometimes it take a layman like CS Lewis to point out what some clergy have forgotten.