The gospels began to be written down not long after the first Easter, when certainly the first disciples were still alive. Now here’s what I find truly impressive: the gospels do not flinch from telling us that the disciples were cowards. They let Jesus down, Peter particularly denied him with curses and they ran away. Yet in the end, they are changed by our Lord’s resurrection and they came back and preached, taught and worked miracles just as he predicted they would. They gave their lives as the first Christian martyrs. But they did not spin the gospel narrative to show themselves up in a good light. Just think of that: it’s another good reason for trusting the reliability of the gospels, if you still think such reasons are required.
Compare and contrast the old and the new. Some modern disciples of Christ, prominent leaders of the church, have denied him and traduced the gospel for forty years. But, unlike the first disciples, they have not come back to make good. Certainly none has been martyred. One only thinks the pity is that, having done such damage to the church, they did not imitate the first disciples on Maundy Thursday and run away and stay away. Instead they have hung around, clinging to their mitres, their palaces and their vast and effete synodical bureaucracy. And the result of all their doings has undermined the gospel and the church.
I want to spell out exactly how the leaders of our church have failed us for two generations and what we must do to repair the damage. First they have failed by sidelining to the point of destruction our sacred texts in English, principally The King James Bible and The Common Book of Prayer….They have done this partly because of their slavish attachment to modernity, as if it were an item of their faith that today always knows better than yesterday. They have also invented new and ugly forms of services, rather as many modern architects design ugly building because they despise the past and are envious of their elders and betters. Unable to produce anything themselves which is other than ugly and already crumbling with obsolescence before the foundations are finished, they wish only to pull down and destroy the good that has gone before.
The modern services don’t do what they are meant to do. The period of liturgical revision, really vandalism, has seen the biggest desertion of the pews in all church history. And why? Because the new services are not memorable. There is nothing of the beauty of holiness in them. They are really vapid and useless. When we hear the words of a traditional service or read the English Bible, we are drawn into a vast intimacy of the presence of God. The new services are banal. They are the equivalent of theological junk food.
It needs to be said also that the new services have destroyed the splendour of the Anglican tradition of worship and spirituality another way. The failed new words don’t fit the marvellous old tunes. So they have to provide us with some failed new tunes as well. Once I had to attend a Chrism Mass in Bloomsbury and the tune for the revamped Gloria in Excelsis was bad enough to win the Eurovision Song Contest. There is no such thing as noble truth in ignoble words. And there is no such thing either as spiritual uplift in dumbed down musical doggerel, the twang of the liturgical guitar, the choir replaced by the song group who only know three musical chords.
Lex orandi lex credendi. How we pray reveals what we believe. The new liturgists accuse people like me of merely liking what is beautiful. It says something about them doesn’t it that they should think a taste for beauty is a defect? But when you change the words you inevitably change the meaning of what is being said. And the new services have emasculated and undermined Christian truth. This is because they don’t face the facts of life. Anything not nice, like sin and judgment, has been fairly thoroughly expunged. This is to offer a lying vision of human nature.
We need to know that we are sinners under judgment, for only then can we kneel down and receive the glorious gospel of God’s forgiveness. One wants to ask these failed leadership charlatans and incompetents, these euphemising bourgeois, why they jump up and down and throw their arms in the air so much. What is their to be joyful about? If we were not mired in sin, why should Christ bother to come and save us? The modern theologians fail to understand human psychology. They underplay human wickedness with the result that they are bound also to underplay redemption. They may pipe but I will not dance to their tune. No evil, no death, no worms, no vile bodies, so all their talk of salvation is worthless, for all their banana-split smiles and hideous backslapping.
So what is to be done? We are a generation in chaos, a decadent civilisation under judgment. There are four things we must do if we want to avoid destruction. We must recover intellectual rigour. We must understand what manner of people we are: not rather nice people actually who have no need of the Saviour; but sinners under judgment. We must recover moral seriousness and return to the laws which God set down under Moses. That is, we must stop regarding men and women as mere consumers of sensations and thrills, any thrill will do. This is the pig philosophy which destroys the dignity of mankind made in the image of God.
We must turn again to the beauty of holiness. Words and music that reveal the world charged with the grandeur of God. We must stop trivialising holy things. And most importantly of all, we must ask God to make us desire him. St Augustine said that best way to understand how much God loves us is to think of erotic love between a man and his wife. We must ask God to kindle in us an intensity of affection and desire for him that will transform our lives. We don’t adore God naturally. We must beg him to make us desire him.
All this is not for the hierarchy to do. They have failed. They are apostate. They can’t do it. We must do it, the traditional laity. We who used to be called the holy common folk of God.
(This article was written by Peter Mullen Church of England retired. The article appeared in the ‘Salisbury Review” Spring 2015, Vol 33, No 3. It is reproduced with permission).