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Editorial: Necessary for These Times

Necessary for These Times

The last editorial generated much discussion about its opinion that the Caleb Clergy Stream was not suited for purpose.  Some cheered whilst others jeered. We still maintain that it is a manifestly bad idea; however might there be a way of making it redeemable?

The Caleb Stream Project is a proposal to recruit, train, and ordain sufficient retired people to fill the current shortage of 8,000 parochial clergy.  These clergy would be recruited primarily from the ranks of retired business executive, managers, head-teachers and police officers.  Considering the comfortable pensions from these professions, housing and stipend would not be required; these clergy would be self-funded and live locally.  Some might have already served as church wardens or as PCC members, and would have some understanding of the rhythm of parish life.

One year’s training would supplant the full process of formation, training and reflection, including academic study. There would be no curacy before taking on full duties.  Such preparation is surely insufficient for parish ministry.

The solution previously mentioned and furthered developed here is to follow the wisdom of an earlier era; a wisdom that could be workable and bring benefit to all concerned.

We look back to the genius of the English Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement.  In those days, there were plenty of congregations needing clergy, but like our parishes today, they didn’t simply need warm bodies reading services from the Book of Common Prayer.  Fundamentally, they needed men who could exegete the Scriptures and apply them to the circumstances of everyday living.  Then as now, clergy with such abilities were in short supply.

The solution then was to provide ready-made sermons, which taught the Scriptures and clarified the Reformed doctrine of the Church of England, and to require that these sermons (The Homilies) be read by those not possessed of a licence to preach the Word.

The First and Second Books of Homilies were primarily composed by two leading lights of the English Reformation, namely Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishop John Jewel of Salisbury.  That the Homilies contain ‘godly and wholesome Doctrine’ is explicitly stated in Article XXXV, where the individual sermons are listed also:

“The second Book of Homilies … doth contain a godly and wholesome Doctrine, and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth; and therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the Ministers, diligently and distinctly, that that may be understanded by the people.” Article XXXV

Canon A5 of the Church of England affirms the Articles in their affirmation of the Homilies. These sermons explain the doctrine of the Church to this day, and are not of mere antiquarian interest.

What if the Church today took Article XXXV seriously? What if the General Synod declared the Homilies to be ‘necessary for these times’?

What if all prospective Caleb Clergy were required pass a test on the official Formularies of the Church before turning them loose in pulpits? Until such time that they achieve a sufficient standard, the only sermons they would be allowed to deliver would be from the Book of Homilies.  

Such a test would also require a faithful reading and understanding of Scripture, in line with how the Articles expect the Bible to be understood and taught. A special task would be to demonstrate a practical understanding of the following principles: 

  • From Article VI, that whatsoever is not read in the Bible or proved thereby, is not to be required as an article of the faith, or thought necessary to salvation.
  • From Article VII, that the Old Testament is not contrary to the New, for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ.
  • From Article XX, one place of Scripture is not to be expounded in a way that is repugnant to another Scripture.

What would be the positive impact of such a programme?  It would ensure that people in the pews would not be tortured with the latest notions of theological innovators.  Rather, they would hear the Word of God faithfully expounded and applied to daily life.  What a blessing to our Church and to our Nation!

Who knows? Maybe the senior clergy promoting the Caleb scheme might even be moved to stand with the candidates and demonstrate the same theological competency in light of our Formularies?