An English Clergyman Who Saw the Light

The interesting case of

An English Clergyman Who Saw the Light

"A sympathetic study of traditional Jewish religion can reveal the extent to which the modern English Christian gives a meaning to the words of the New Testament different from that which was in the minds of the Jewish writers. Greek was the language they used to convey the universal Christian message, but their mode of thinking was to a large extent Hebraic. For a full understanding it is necessary for the modern Christian not only to study the Greek text, but to sense the Hebraic idea which the Jewish writers sought to convey in Greek words. I cannot claim to have become very skilled in this, but made enough progress to discover how greatly I had misinterpreted the Bible in the past. Like all ordained Christian ministers I had spoken dogmatically, authoritatively from the pulpit, which no one may occupy without licence from a Bishop; and much of what I had said had been misleading, because my own mind was incapable of giving a correct interpretation of the book I was authorised to expound. For me the realization of this fact made nonsense of the distinction between clergy and laity, and was the main cause of my relinquishment of my orders.

"In describing my own intellectual deficiencies, and the process by which I discovered my inability to grasp the meaning of the Bible across the vast linguistic gulf separating me from its Jewish writers, I can surely claim to write with first-hand knowledge. From what I know of the clergy in general I see no reason for supposing that I was peculiar in suffering from this particular deficiency. In fact, the authority of the Protestant ministry as a whole, the claim to be able to understand the Bible and expound it as the word of God, is in my view a vast confidence trick. I am not accusing the clergy of being fraudulent, or even insincere. The confidence trick is collective; individually those who engage in it are deceived by it, just as when I began to expound the Bible from pulpits, I was fully confident that I was able give a correct interpretation.

"Some may believe that the rite of ordination itself bestows divine grace sufficient to overcome any liability to mislead a congregation through an incorrect interpretation. If this view is held, however, it must be reconciled with the indisputable fact that the Christian ministry as a whole has produced a large number of different, and often irreconcilable versions of the Christian faith, all supposed to have been derived from the same biblical record.... Any claim that training and ordination produce the only authentic Christian teaching is fraudulent.

"The thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England state specifically in no uncertain terms that true Christian doctrine is derived not from the Church's councils and traditions, but from the Bible alone. Anglo-catholics believe the very opposite; consequently when one of them after induction to a benefice reads the Articles publicly, and declares his assent to them, he virtually commits perjury. It is, however, legalized perjury."

David Watson, Christian Myth and Spiritual Reality, London: Victor Gollanz, 1967, pp. 28-30.


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