By Matt Cresswell
May 23, 2011
SACRIFICING THE Bible‘s place in society will cause moral decay, the Bishop of London has warned. Speaking at a symposium on the Bible in the House of Lords this week, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres said that “culture and civilisation” were founded on scripture.
“The economy and politics must have ground beneath them,” he said. “In Britain that ground has been biblical since our earliest days – and you do not sacrifice that without sacrificing much of what has been built upon that ground.”
He went on to say that “concepts of dignity and tolerance” will be very difficult to sustain without a solid Christian grounding. He added: “Although it has become difficult to use the language of the Bible in this country, it will become more and more obvious that these values and these principles will be unsustainable without the Christian ground.”
The Bishop also defended the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s decision to chose the King James Version of the Bible, despite criticism that it is too archaic.
“At the royal wedding the couple chose traditional words, and none of the commentators remarked on it. But the following week the church press was full of commentators deploring the use of fusty words. But we need to remember that the couple who chose those words were both born in 1982.”
Also at the event was Lady Butler-Sloss, past President of the Family Division and First Lady Justice of Appeal, who said the Bible had greatly influenced her as a judge. She paid particular homage to the King James Version, describing it as the “most wonderful book that one could ever read”.
Film director Norman Stone, fresh from producing the film, King James Bible: The Book that Changed the World, said: “Yes, it is great literature, yes it has steered nations, and yes, it has those wonderful phrases: ‘the skin of your teeth’, and ‘the salt of the earth’. But I’ll tell you how the Bible really changed the world: individual by individual, heart by heart, it changes you, it changes me – it changes the world. It still speaks
It is good that the 750th Anniversary of the KJV Bible has been celebrated by the Bishop of London in the House of Lords recently. In bringing this article from the ‘Church of England Newspaper’ in the U.K. (not an official organ of the C.of E.) the ‘virtueonline’ web-site chooses, interestingly, to title it’s heading for the article: “Ignoring the Bible will cause moral decay, says the Bishop of London”. What the good Bishop actually said was this: “Sacrificing the Bible’s place in society will cause moral decay”. I think people might agree that the word ‘sacrificing’ is somewhat more destructive that ‘ignoring’ – even though the latter action does have a negative effect, as far as Christian education is concerned.
What His Lordship was actually doing, in his celebration of the place of the Bible in society – in the context of the Upper House of Parliament in England – was reminding their august Lord/Lady-ships of the foundations of the English parliamentary system – certainly from the time of King James onwards. The State in England is still intrinsically (and legally) bound to the Church of England, through the Statutes of the Realm and the Sovereign.
The King James version of the Bible was brought into use at a time of upheaval in both Church and State, and was no doubt seen as a unifying emblem in an era of change. I was brought up on the King James Bible, from my beginnings in a Church of England primary school, through the preparations for the rite of Confirmation, and subsequent membership of mu local parish church, as choirboy, server and on the local parish Church Council. The language of the KJV, in my experience, was similar to the language of that redoubtable Englishman, William Shakespeare, whose works were part of my later formation in the theatre.
However, in latter days – beginning with a period living in the Fiji Islands, where the appearance of the ‘Good News for Modern Man‘ caused quite a stir among the indigenous people – one grew used to the publication of a succession of interpretive versions of the scriptures, each of them claiming some superiority over its predecessors – whether by language or theological perspective. My own favourite, so far, is the New Jerusalem Bible, authored by scholarly theologians from different denominational backgrounds. The language, though accessible to most in today’s world, admittedly does not retain the stark beauty of the KJV, but the interpretation of the intention of the writers has, to my mind, made the scriptures much more amenable to the ethos of today’s world.
I have sometimes been accused by my more conservative confreres of being dismissive of the scriptures. However, this is manifestly untrue – careful as I am to follow the lectionary readings set forth for the Seasons of the Church’s Year, quite apart from personal reflection on passages suggested to me for the preaching of homilies or sermons. The Eucharistic Liturgy of our tradition includes three distinctive readings for Sundays, usually one from the O.T., an Epistle and a Gospel Reading of the Day. On ferial weekdays, there are always two Readings at the Eucharist – one from the Old and one from the New Testament. The Sunday Sermon, and the weekday homilies, usually are concerned with reflection on the scriptures of the day. So anyone who accuses Anglo-Catholics of neglecting the scriptures cannot be familiar with the tradition of Daily Mass in Anglican catholic parishes.
Bishops Chartres was right to point out the importance of the Bible as a ‘guide-book’ in how to live one’s life in today’s world. But one must read it with intelligence and the real desire to come to grips with what, through the Bible, the Holy Spirit might be saying to the Church today – in today’s world, not only to the world of bygone days. It may well be found – by the attentive reader – that the scriptures might be revealing something new about the love and mercy of God that has been neglected in past generations.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch