On the question of what is permissible in church

The Daily Telegraph has a story about a church in London which has been hosting an Islamic prayer service. There are more details here, presumably written by the person who shot the video.

First point: do not believe everything that you read (or see or hear!) in the newspapers (I speak with authority).

That being said, unless the video is demonstrated to be a forgery, I think this is a serious breach of ordination vows – specifically the declaration made at ordination and then repeated at each new appointment that “in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon”. I believe that there are other elements of Canon Law that are relevant.

I believe that our words matter, and when ‘Allahu Akhbar’ is chanted in a church, then this is a quite straightforward example of blasphemy – it is a profaning of Christian worship – and sacrilege – a profaning of the place of Christian worship. To argue otherwise is to indulge in syncretistic nonsense of the worst sort. The different faiths, whilst they have all sorts of family resemblances, are not simply different paths up the same mountain. It matters that Jesus was crucified, and to preach Christ crucified is to say that Jesus was killed, which the Koran explicitly denies.

I can see all sorts of arguments for pursuing peace, hospitality and friendly co-operation with those of non-Christian faiths and no faith at all. What I cannot see an argument for is abandoning our own distinctive identity, with all that binds it together.

4 thoughts on “On the question of what is permissible in church

  1. The priest simply acted as a host, though, surely? He did not lead worship and did not contravene his ordination or other Canonical vows.
    I think that there is a proper space for Christians to be generous in providing opportunities for others to gather in their buildings: indeed, I would regard it, in our context, as being a proper hospitality which speaks of gospel welcome.
    Essentially, apropos your final paragraph, I cannot see, here, an abandonment “of our distinctive identity, with all that binds it together”… Rather, I see a pursuit of “peace, hospitality and friendly co-operation” with those of non-Christian faith”.

  2. Whilst I don’t know I disagree with your substantive point, I question the appeal to the canons regarding the authorised forms of service.

    As an example, if a Baptist congregation (or Methodist, or any other Christian congregation for that matter) were to use an Anglican Church for a short period of time (perhaps whilst their building was being refurbished etc.), for their service in the building, there is no compulsion to use an Anglican order of service. Furthermore, if under their own rules the parish priest can take part in the service, there is no compulsion in Church of England canons that it must then be according to our approved forms of service. (And nor would we expect it to be, I assume).

    This largely applies to an LEP too, in that in many cases some services are designated as Anglican, and some as the partner, and bound by the corresponding rules, though the clergy can take part, in an appropriate manner in either.

    Clearly, what appears to have happened in this case is not exactly the same. We could draw the line at Christianity, or Trinitarianism, or wherever, but the point still applies – this was not an Church of England act of worship, and therefore was not bound by the Canons of the Church of England in its content.

    However, as I said, I think there is a genuine issue here. But it lies in the likes of Canon F15 (Of Churches not to be profaned) than in the canons covering worship.

  3. Sam, I won’t tell you why you’re wrong, but I will ask a question. If the church had hosted a Jewish prayer service, would it have been “a profaning of Christian worship – and sacrilege – a profaning of the place of Christian worship”?

  4. Hi all, thanks for the comments. I’m going to write a longer post setting out my views more explicitly – I plan to respond to your points there, but please shout if I miss something!

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