How I Would Manage a B&B

I’ve been blogging quite a bit these past few days on issues around the Berkshire B&B which refused to let a room to a male couple. In the light of all the issues around discrimination on the grounds of orientation/behaviour and the right to freedom of expression, I thought it would be useful if I fully laid out my position. So here goes – what would Chez Ould look like if we turned it into a Christian B&B?

It would be a B&B that had no problem letting rooms to gay couples and straight couples (and anywhere in between) whether they were married, in a civil partnership or otherwise.

There. Did that surprise any of you? Let me explain the thinking behind that sentence. It seems to me that if Christians want to do business in a heathen world then they need to be prepared to do business with heathens. If Christians want to witness to heathens they need to have relationships with them in the first place. That means that we need to meet the unsaved where they are, not where we want them to be.

Now I understand that some Christians have genuine issues with allowing sex between those who are unmarried happening inside their home. I understand that. I agree with them entirely that sex outside of marriage (“fornication” if you want to get technical) is not how God has intended us to express ourselves relationally, but I am also quite aware that despite my views and pontifications on the subject its still going on. It’s going on up and down my street, throughout my town, all over my country. It’s what the heathens do. They don’t know any different because they don’t know God and his Word. While I’ll happily defend Christians who are being persecuted for their faith, and while I’m fascinated by the way that the current discrimination laws are badly worded because they have a hard job delineating what “orientation” actually means, at the end of the day I’m concerned that in our every day lives we are mission focussed.

So let’s say you turn up to Chez Ould. You would get a warm welcome and be taken up to your reasonably appointed room. If you had a little explore you would find a Gideon’s Bible in the draw of the table (with a note telling you that you can take it away if you want) together with a copy of Why Jesus or some other suitable literature. If you decided to go into the lounge you couldn’t help but notice the icon of the Risen Jesus as you came down the stairs (especially if you came down the stairs at the same time as Reuben who always says hello to Jesus as he passes him). Browsing the bookshelves you’d see a good mix of Tom Clancy, Catherine Cookson and some Christian books.

And hopefully it would have twigged – the owners of this B&B are Christians. Frankly it should have twigged when you looked at the website and there was a Bible quote on every page (Hebrews 13:2). And then as a guest you’re left with a choice – do you want to talk about it or not?

Some B&B guests will happily eat their breakfasts, pay their bill, say their thanks and goodbyes and vanish into the new day. Others will want to know more and might ask one or two questions. At this point as a guest you’ll get the answer to the question you asked, not because we rammed it down your throat or because we pre-approved you for the use of our beds, but rather because you want to know the answer. It might even be that there is something (someOne really) nudging you to ask the question.

So we get into a conversation about Jesus. You might ask some very simple questions (“What’s that about?”), you might ask some interesting questions (“If you’re Christians why did you let us two blokes share a bed?”), but they’ll be your questions. All I expect at this point is that you respect my views and life choices as much as I have respected yours. I don’t expect you to ask a provocative question about my views on sexual activity and then claim that my answer created an environment that was demeaning or insulting. I would expect the law at this point to protect me, not condemn me.

Wouldn’t it be an interesting world if Christians decided to love people that they came across in their line of work, regardless of whether we approved of everything they did or not? Wouldn’t it be an interesting world if we simply lived as Christians whose entire being had been changed by God (some of us quite dramatically) and in simply being living sacrifices we provoked the heathens to inquire about what was different in our lives?

Now that would be worthy of the front page of the Daily Mail don’t you think?

122 Comments on “How I Would Manage a B&B

  1. I understand your reasoning, but I'm not sure that I agree with you. I see a distinction between acknowledging sin in the world and acting accordingly (engaging with the world on the world's terms), and enabling sin to take place.

    Let me put it differently: Would Chez Ould have pay-to-view 'adult entertainment' in its bedrooms. After all, pornography would, presumably, be considered to be sin, yet it's "going on up and down my street, throughout my town, all over my country. It’s what the heathens do. They don’t know any different because they don’t know God and his Word." If Chez Ould would have adult channels, then your position is entirely consistent, and I'll shut up :)

    Extra-marital sex does happen, but does that mean that Chez Ould should provide a place that allows it to take place? It looks like Chez Ould has become an enabler of fornication, and may be seen as indicating that this is an acceptable lifestyle to the Christian. Chez Ould might also be used against other Christian groups 'That Chez Ould is a Christian B&B, and _they_ don't have any problem wih it.'

    I've never really thought about running a B&B, but Chez Hopeful might look at providing double beds for married couples only. Any other combination would result in twin rooms; how is the proprietor to know if they are a couple – they could be brothers, sisters, family, friends, etc,. for whom double beds would be inappropriate. If that were deemed to be illegal, then Chez Hopeful would sadly close it's doors.

    • Some great comments Hopeful. Let me respond.

      No, Chez Ould would not have pay-to-view entertainment, but then I doubt whether many B&Bs do! I take your point, but I think the difference is that by letting out rooms I'm not doing anything to promote sin, I'm just accepting that the people using my property are fallen. However, just because two people share a bed doesn't mean that they have sex in it (and that leads us to the challenging position as to whether we are comfortable with two people who aren't married sharing a bed per se). However, purchasing the pay-to-view movie is a definite sinful action.

      And to be honest, I would be quite OK about some Christian groups saying that Chez Ould was "an enabler of fornication" when I wasn't doing anything at all to promote it and if they cared to asked anybody could find out my moral stance. What next? Criticism for hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors?

      I think the position you outline in your final paragraph is the only one consistent with a moralistic letting policy (for want of a better expression). It's either only married couples sharing a bed and no-one else, or rank hypocrisy.

      • Would Chez Hopeful ask to see marriage certificates, or would you take their word for it? And, if you would take their word for it, why wouldn't you take the word of a same sex couple that they are brothers or sisters? In the case of apparently "proper and decent" married couples, wouldn't you need proof that neither of those married had walked out on a previous marriage to the detriment of a wronged spouse and children? Or doesn't that matter?

    • I think a more accurate 'adult entertainment' analogy would be this: suppose the B&B provides a TV and DVD player in each room — should you try to stop people from bringing and watching their own porn? (Similarly, the room includes a bed, which guests could use for various purposes, including sleeping and married sex.)

  2. Perhaps the real clue to this debate is to be rather less concerned with sex and a bit more concerned with the whole of peoples lives. Focussing on sex (as we have done ad nauseam) just makes the Church look stupid.

    But you are right to pick up on the question of hypocrisy. Jesus spends a lot of time commenting about the sin of hypocrisy in the Gospel……hardly any time commenting about sexual sin. If it really is such a 'deal breaker', why doesn't the Lord talk about it rather more? But hypocrisy…that really is a deal breaker if you read the Gospel it seems. (And of course if we judge on the question of hypocrisy being the bigger sin, TEC would be in the inner ring of any Covenant, and the C of E would be way out on the wings…..)

      • No, I think it means you are giving undue weight to a couple of quite unclear passages of scripture, and neglecting some of the weightier matters of the law. Oh gosh, didn't someone else say that?

  3. What about your son Peter? What if your son wants to stay in the same bedroom as his girlfriend when they visit? That's a common question that Christians face.


  4. Is sex not part of people's whole life?

    Why is sex such an issue? I would sugest that it's not the church that has brought up the subject, but that the world (for want of a better way of putting it) that has raised it. The church has responded because the Bible has something to say about it. There are plenty of things I'd rather talk about, but one of the main issues in Britain today is sex and sexuality.

    As for whether Jesus says anything about it, you seem to be suggesting that we rank what Jesus says in order of volume. I don't recall Jesus saying much about murder, for example. So should we take less account of knive and gun crime in Britain as a result? When the church is asked for an opinion on murders, should we just shrug and encourage people to look at the whole of people's lives?

    • No. But the fact that Jesus says so much about hypocrisy makes one think it was a bit more of an important challenge from him than sex…..

        • No. we prioritise on the basis of scripture, tradition AND reason and experience. I think you'll find polygamy in some parts of tradition and some parts of OT scripture. But reason and experience tells us it's not a very good idea…

          • What if my reason and experience says otherwise? What if my reason and experience says its OK to have sex with a child? What then Andrew? What authority are you going to pull out of the bag to trump that?

            • Please produce your reasons for doing so and we can refer it to the relevant authorities.
              It's not about MY, it's about the Church. And you will be aware that different churches have different traditions. Some ordain women, some do not. We live with both 'traditions' having debated and approved them. If you want to bring YOUR traditions for debate and approval, please do so…..

                • Produce your reasons from your experience and reason Peter. Then we can debate it. We can test it with our church, just as TEC have done, for example.
                  You seem to want to have hypocrisy more than you want a particular purity about sexual ethics.

                    • Clearly the relevant authority would depend on the issue you want to bring from your experience and reason. None of the authorities you quote above have much to do with polygamy, child abuse or the running of a B&B – the things you have so far mentioned here.

                    • Who are the relevant authorities Andrew. Will you stop side-stepping the issue? What about the links I gave you? Are they relevant authorities in the issue of human sexuality?

                    • Peter I think it is you who are side stepping. You talked about things you wanted to bring from your reason and experience. I said bring them and lets test them against the relevant authorities. The relevant authorities will obviously be different depending upon the issue as I've clearly explained above.
                      The links you gave are mostly discussion documents and position papers. It would seem that bishops are higher authorities than these as they choose to ignore them….

                    • No. I'm questioning how authoritative they are and pointing out that bishops question that as well by their actions.
                      Perhaps you can now address my question…..

                    • So you don't think that General Synod statements, ACC statements, Primates' statements, Lambeth resolutions and House of Bishops teaching documents aren't authoritative?

                      So what is authoritative? What ever you wake up in the morning and decide?

                    • Perhaps you could address the point I put. Let me repeat it for you. I'm questioning how authoritative they are and pointing out that bishops question that as well by their actions.
                      It is not a question of authoritative or not authoritative. It is a question of HOW authoritative. And the answer appears to 'not very' based on the actions of many bishops in the C of E and the Anglican Communion.
                      Peter things are not always black or white…..

                    • So things are authoritative based only on whether everybody agrees?

                      Go Marcion! Go Arius! Go Müntzer! Go Joseph Smith! Go Mary Baker Eddy! Go "Judge Rutherford"! After all, who are we to say that since they reject orthodoxy that makes them wrong?

                      You really are lost in a quagmire of relativism aren't you

                    • I think if you were to personally feel it is acceptable to have sex with a child or engage in Polygamy, the secular authorities might have something to say about it!

                    • Who said they were authoritative based on everybody agreeing? you asked if the statements were authoritative..I answered you. Clearly the things you appeal to are not very authoritative.

                    • Peter it's been a day and you can't bring me the issues you want to bring from reason and experience. Your problem is that you need everything to be black and white and life isn't like that.
                      If General Synod decisions are authoritative, (and they were clear long ago that there are no theological objections to the ordination of women) how come we have two integrities around that issue? How come we have many bishops like James Jones?

                    • It is not an argument. I am just making the point that if you are willing to argue the case for sex with a child this is breaking the law ( rightly in my opinion) and wheras some Church authorities have turned a blind eye to this practice, the law of the land does not.

  5. Any B&B with Tom Clancy novels available is, in my view, an excellent establishment!

    I think I agree with you Peter. I find 1 Corinthians 5:12 striking: "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?" I don't think this means we never preach against sin – far from it! – but I think we have to realise that the heathen do as the heathen do. Let's call them to Jesus first.

  6. As my parents run a Christian Guest House within their home, I think I have some insight into this situation. They describe it explicitly as a Christian guest house and they advertise only in Christian media. They do have a sign outside the property and occasionally they get passing trade, sometimes Christians, sometimes not. They also have a note with the tariff by the front door which states that as a Christian guest house they do not offer double rooms to unmarried couples.( This has never distinguished between heterosexual and homosexual couples). They have never knowingly given an unmarried couple a double rooms, and on the occasions when it has happened they make sure they pray through the rooms after the guests have gone.
    But they set up their guest house to minister specifically to Christians, especially those in full time ministry who need times of refreshment and space to recuperate physically, emotionally and spiritually. So therefore it is important to them that they keep it a holy space, so to speak, and part of that is preventing sexual sin taking place ( as much as it is in their capacity to do so). Also it is their home, and ours when we were younger, and it is not something they wish to expose themselves or us to.
    The double room policy has never been an issue, maybe because the guest house is overtly Christian. Apart from this one policy the welcome they extend and the service they provide is the same for the guests no matter what their faith.

    • Hi Hannah,

      Thanks for sharing. FWIW, I think that given that your parents are explicitly advertising their B&B as a Christian guest house and that they are effectively using it as a retreat centre for Christian leaders, I think their policy makes sense. I especially appreciate that they understand that the standard is marriage and not heterosexual sex (which unfortunately is what is often put across in these cases).

      I guess what I'm trying to grapple with is how Christians should interact with heathens when the majority of their business is with non-Christians. That's then down to a missional decision. I think if we're deliberately trying to reach out to everybody for our business (and our witness) then we have to accept everybody as they come. If however we decide our guests have to maintain a particular sexual standard, that should be abundantly clear on booking.

  7. Hannah I find the notion that a room has to be prayed in SPECIFICALLY becasue 'sexual sin' may have taken place in it really rather laughable. So, what if a married couple had been in a room and one of them had been angry with the other and treated them unjustly; or both of the married people had been hypocrites in the room. Would your parents have still prayed through the rooms? Don't you think God's just a bit bigger than all of this petty self righteous judgmentalism? Quite astonishing…….

      • No, just rather sensible. The Canon has simply pointed out how sexual sin trumps all the rest in some Christians' minds.


        • Actually, all the rooms get prayed through, usually during the cleaning process, but in the situation that I outlined above the prayer maybe more specific. I'm sorry that you find my parents praying for their guests and their lives "petty self-righteous judgementalism". I'll keep my comments to myself in future.

          • As far as I'm concerned, I would happily welcome more comments from you in the future. I think Andrew's problem is that you and your parents dare to believe what the Bible says about what a powerful spiritual thing godly sex is.

            • No I believe that wholeheartedly Peter. My problem is Hannah and her parents seem to (based on her first post) want do open windows into peoples' souls and make a value judgement based on one issue alone. If they wish to pray for all their guests and their lives without making such judgements then I'm delighted.

        • Actually, the Canon made some assumptions from Hannah's post. Nowhere in her post did she say that the parents didn't pray at other occasions for their guests (as it would appear they do). The non-judgmental Canon then described Hannah's parents as petty and self-righteous based on that assumption. The Canon has been far from kind towards them, far from loving, and very judgmental. The irony is that these are the exact traits that he would want them to have towards others.

          Dare I suggest that if the Canon is saying one thing, yet doing another, it might come across as the very thing he seems so concerned with in his first post?

          • Hopeful ordinand it would help you to read all of all of the post – especially my last when I say "if they wish to pray for all their guests and their lives without making such judgements then I'm delighted." What Hannah actually said was: "in the situation that I outlined above the prayer maybe more specific" . and "They have never knowingly given an unmarried couple a double rooms, and on the occasions when it has happened they make sure they pray through the rooms after the guests have gone." It is pretty clear, and as Sue has said it begs all kinds of questions. How on earth do they even know such a couple have been having sex do you think?

            • And thus you sidestep the issue I raised – that of the irony (at the very least) of you being judgemental about other people being judgemental. If you truly want us all to be non-judgemental and accepting of other viewpoints then you, too, need to be accepting and non-judgemental about it. That means not describing other as 'petty' and 'self-righteous' when they don't conform to your ideas!

              • Jesus was very judgemental about the judgemental – he called them whited sepulchres, blind guides, brood of vipers. He pointed out that poor widows gave more than the rich and that a sinful woman might be a better person than the pure and upright Pharisee.
                He did of course also tell us to watch out for the plank in our own eyes – but I don't think we have a saccharine saviour who was alway "awfully, awfully tactful when he saw others judging ( sexual sin in particular.)

                I think Andrew does well ; Christ isn't a bad role model you know…

                • With Christ as a role model, I assume Andrew would say to the woman caught in adultery 'Go now and leave your life of sin.' (John 8:11) rather than, 'ignore those people, they're just petty and self-righteous'?

                  Sure, Jesus would have some strong things to say about the religious leaders of the day (those who brought the woman), but he was quite clear that what she was doing was sinful. Jesus covered the sinfulness of her accusers and her own sinfulness – their sin did not excuse hers.

                  • We are all sinful Hopeful Ordinand but you neatly bring me back to my original point here: why the obsession with matters sexual. Hope you had a good Holy Week and have a blessed Easter

                    • For some reason you seem to be avoiding my point. Let me clear and unambiguous about it:

                      Firstly, I find your approach to Hannah's parent verging on the hypocritical. For someone who seems to advocate acceptance an non-judgementalism, you come across as very intolerant and judgemental.

                      Secondly, I don't see an obsession with 'matters sexual' merely a response to first the media coverage, and second as part of the ongoing debate in the comments on this blog post. Let me ask (if you don't mind indulging one further question on matters sexual), do you, like Jesus, see sexual relations outside marriage to be sinful?

                    • Hi hopeful Ordinand. I don't think anyone has avoided your point. Both I and also Sue have been entirely clear: there are some unmarried couples where the relationship undoubtedly exhibits more love and commitment than many married couples.
                      As sue said, the "tick box" approach to the complex things that are human relationships doesn't work- "yours is sinful", "yours passes the test". We are all fallible sinners and not God and we should stop acting as though we are.
                      I think we've 'done' this subject now. Have a blessed and happy Easter!

                    • Canon Andrew asks why be obsessed with sex? Easy. Because sex matters.

                      I have noticed that the longer any given discussion on Christianity involving at least one atheist or agnostic continues, the probability that one of the contributors will refer to that religion’s alleged “obsession” with sex (often coupled with the suggestion that a Creator God responsible for a vast and infinitely complex cosmos is unlikely to care a great deal about what consenting adults do with their genitals) approaches one. This is a charge that is repeated with somewhat tedious regularity by critics of traditional religion both within and without the churches.

                      Is the criticism fair, I ask myself? “Obsession” is clearly a piece of unhelpful hyperbole, but might there be some substance to the charge that Christianity’s doctrines on matters sexual are overbearing, intrusive, and disproportionate?

                      Let us allow that the vast majority of religious traditions surround sexual relations with taboos, restrictions and prohibitions. Is this necessarily a bad thing? In his incisive and prescient work Orthodoxy, GK Chesterton suggested that “the modern critics of religious authority are like men who should attack the police without ever having heard of burglars” (p.20). I think this comparison is similarly apt when it comes to the critics of religious doctrines on sex. The strictures of, say, the Catholic Church, are often discussed as if they have been plucked out of thin air in a fit of spiteful Puritanism, a massive over-reaction to a relatively unimportant facet of human existence. It as if the church had developed a vast edifice of dogma on how believers ought to tie their shoelaces, or whether they ought to prefer tennis to football.

                      But here’s the thing: sex is not remotely analogous to shoe-tying or sporting preferences. It is patently very important indeed to a great number of human beings. How could any religion worth its salt not be interested in sex? To quote Chesterton again:

                      “All healthy men, ancient and modern, Western and Eastern, hold that there is in sex a fury that we cannot afford to inflame; and that a certain mystery must attach to the instinct if it is to continue delicate and sane”.

                      Sex is awesome. Sex hurts. Sex unites and divides. Sex creates human beings. Few things are more deeply wounding than sexual infidelity. What is one of the worst kinds of child abuse? Sex abuse. What causes more sadness, insecurity, confusion and loneliness? What causes more joy and wonder and happiness and contentment?

                      To say that sex is an important facet of human existence is a mere platitude. It is barely more controversial to say that any ethical system that fails to provide some meaningful account of sexual desire and sexual acts is gravely deficient.

                    • Interesting comments Niall and thank you for them. I think it's more a question of proportion – not that we have NO interest in matters sexual, but that we have in an interest in proportion to other matters. What does the Lord require? asked the prophet. Was the answer ' do the right things with your genitals?'. No. It was 'do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God.'

                  • I can't speak for Andrew, but I don't think I have ever condoned adultery and I consider it a very serious matter, it involves breaking one of the ten commandments. I avoid it in my own life and would encourage anyone who is a Christian to do likewise.

                    Having said that, I do have Christian friends whose marriages have broken down because they met someone else or just because they "fell out of love". Some of those have remarried and are now with a new spouse. I must admit that I accept and do not "judge" these people, I think they are answerable to God not to me and it is his job to convict them of sin.

                    I guess you know people in similar situations – do you regularly urge them to leave their life of sin and either return to a former partner or remain celibate?

  8. I do think praying through the rooms to cleanse them of sexual sin is a bit strange. Almost like an exorcism? How would the owners know that a married couple weren't having "sinful" sex – say the husband was sexually abusive to his wife? I have met unmarried couples where the relationship undoubtedly exhibits more love and commitment than many married couples. Speaking of the "son wanting to spend the night with his girlfriend " situation – a couple I knew had that rule, but a decade up the road, after their children had produced several grandchildren, and were bringing them up in a stable family unit, they decided such a rule seemed petty.
    I don't like the "tick box" approach to the complex things that are human relationships- "yours is sinful", "yours passes the test" – and we don't know because we are all fallible sinners and not God and we should stop acting as though we are.

    • Very well put Sue. The tick box approach simply does not work. Human relationships are infinitely more complex than the B&B scenario here seems to allow.

  9. Canon Godsall, Peter is right, you need to be more careful with sidestepping issues, a lot of this stuff is beginning to look silly.

  10. Andrew and Tom

    Please read what Hannah has written before criticising her parent’s approach. She said they pray through the rooms after an unmarried couple has slept there. She did not say they ONLY pray in rooms when sexual sin has taken place. You have made their own assumptions around what Hannah said. Think back to your lessons on set theory in school and you’ll figure it out! :-)

    I personally think that her parent’s approach is very wise. Whenever my wife and I have moved into a new house we have anointed every room and prayed over it, and we’ll pray in a house or a room if we sense an evil presence. We shouldn’t be surprised that we need to do this as Christians, as we are in a spiritual battle! Ephesians 6:12.

  11. >>>Canon Godsall, Peter is right, you need to be more careful with sidestepping issues, a lot of this stuff is beginning to look silly.<<>>we prioritise on the basis of scripture, tradition AND reason and experience.<<< I thought that the Anglican approach was a balance of scripture, tradition and reason, although as I am not an Anglican I am open to correction.

    Andrew, I see that many of your posts now mention experience. Perhaps you have realised that there is no other way to justify your position? The problem of course is that, as we are fallen people, our experience is very often a faulty guide to what is right. I really do recommend this recent article on the Fulcrum site by Alister McGrath on 'Why Doctrine Matters' at

  12. Hi Philip
    It is not a question of justifying a position, but engaging in debate. I assume that's what commenting is about. Clearly I am not from the conservative evangelical tradition but the great strength of the Anglican Church is the variety of tradition within it. I know some find that frustrating.
    And surely experience has always had a part. Otherwise we'd still all assume we lived on a flat earth. Experience has told us otherwise. The C of E website recognises when it says:
    "Anglicans uphold the Catholic and Apostolic faith. Following the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Churches are committed to the proclamation of the good news of the Gospel to the whole creation. In practice this is based on the revelation contained in Holy Scripture and the Catholic creeds, and is interpreted in light of Christian tradition, scholarship, reason and experience."

  13. Sue

    >>>I do think praying through the rooms to cleanse them of sexual sin is a bit strange. Almost like an exorcism?<<<

    Why should you be surprised? This is a thoroughly biblical action. Jesus himself sent out the apostles to deliver people from evil spirits (Mark 6:7) and they delivered many people from spiritual oppression (Mark 6:13). Jesus also tells us that we will do even greater things, if we only have faith.

    The Bible is very clear that we are primarily in a spiritual battle, and all battles against sin are won firstly in the spirit. So the prayers of Hannah's parents are very much in line with both Jesus' directions and the need to give spiritual battle.

    • Indeed Phillip. However people in a loving relationship who are living together are not demon possessed! Nor are the rooms they sleep in contaminated in some way by their presence. Married and single people staying in the rooms are also sinners and may do "sinful" things in them – sexual and otherwise.

      You are quite free to differ, if you so wish and people are free to engage in what they see as a "spiritual battle " against sexual contamination by the unwedded if they wish – especially in their own home. I shall persist in thinking the action rather strange.
      My recent post Fulcrum tips the balance

      • I am with you completely on this Sue. Nowhere could we possibly read that loving sexual relationships inside or outside of marriage were a mark of possession by evil spirits. And neither do I see any evidence of a spiritual battle in this particular scenario.
        Where is the bible clear that we are 'primarily' in a spiritual battle? Isn't the bible is clear that Jesus has won the battle for us?

        • St Paul, who even most revisionists would accept appears after Jesus' earthly life, speaks of our battle being against powers and principalities, amongst other references to spiritual warfare. Jesus has conquered sin and death, but until He comes again, the earth is still full of sin and evil.

          • And St Paul expected that Jesus would return in his lifetime…. St Paul was not infallible. As the wonderful John Bell once said, some evangelicals have a tendency to see St Paul as the saviour and Jesus as a minor prophet. We need to resist the idea that St Paul was always right.

            • Interesting set of statements. Any chance you could clarify which bits of the Bible you consider to be true, and which bits not? Otherwise there is the danger that we might use some bits of it to support a Christian position – just to be told that it's one of the bits you consider to be incorrect!

              • Hopeful Ordinand I think you are trying to see the bible as a very different type of literature to that which it actually is. It's salvation history. The right question is not 'is it true or false' but 'what did they believe then that made them write what they did'? We have 2000 more years experience of God since Paul. Our world view is different.

                • Should our different world-view (which I'm not in disagreement about) allow us to revise our understanding of God and salvation from that of the Bible?

                  I would agree that we should understand the context of the original author as part of understanding the text, but you seem to be saying that we should re-interpret the underlying Gospel message based on twenty-first century thinking. Your comments about St Paul seem to support this line of thought. You say that St Paul was not infallible (which as a human he clearly wasn't), are you also saying that his contribution to the New Testament is equally fallible?

                  If that is the case, then I assume you would consider that the Gospels are also fallible works of literature, as that would seem to be the logical conclusion. Either way, your salvation history is now dependant on the reader's experience, not on God's divine word – sola scriptura no longer!

                  • Hopeful Ordinand I still think you are trying to impose something like science on literature. The bible aims to communicate the deepest possible truths. It only has human language to do it with. It is bound to be limited. And the bible is more like art than science. We don't ask 'is a piece of music, or a poem, or a piece of art fallible or infallible?' We ask – does it lead it us to some deeper disclosure – does it makes us go 'wow'? The bible is that kind of thing.
                    But it is also like a recording, and all recordings distort the original. It's like playing a 78 rpm record. It's bound to be a distortion of the original. And the original is something that we can experience. It's about a relationship with God. And we can have that now – just like those who wrote the bible did. But describing it is always going to be limited.

                    • I'll take that as a yes, as I couldn't see an actual answer in what you put, and yes seems closest from your response.

                      I think you're trying to remove God from the Bible. If the Bible truly is 'God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.' (2 Timothy 3:16), then it can't simply be 'art', and it can't be a distortion of the original – otherwise it wouldn't be useful for any of what Paul says it is!

                      If the Bible is a distorted original, how can we know what to believe? The certainty of Christian faith would seem impossible if there's no authentic basis for it. Am I missing something in what you are saying, because it looks like you're saying I can trust the Bible to tell me about God's plan for salvation as much as I can trust 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' to tell me about the Crimean War.

                    • Hopeful Ordinand can I suggest you read what I put a little more carefully and slowly?
                      Firstly, you are asking 'yes or no' answers to questions that are much more profound and nuanced. They don't have 'yes or no' answers, much as you might like them to have.
                      Secondly, I explained that the bible was seeking to witness to the most profound and deep truths that we have – it is doing so with human language which is necessarily limited. It is therefore bound itself to be limited.
                      You don't need to make Paul into your saviour and please don't worship a book. Have a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The bible witnesses to others who have made that relationship.
                      You speak about the 'certainty' of christian faith. 'Certainty' and 'faith' are opposites. Faith is about a relationship, not a scientific equation.

                    • I would be most grateful if you could point me to the places where I began my idolatry of Paul and a book. The worship of idols is not to be taken lightly, and I would appreciate knowing how I can avoid it in the future.

                      If faith and certainty are opposite (which I would dispute), how can the writer to the Hebrews say, 'Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.' (Hebrews 11:1)?

                      Christianity is all about being in a right relationship with God, and the certainty that that can be the case. If we cannot be certain about what we believe, then on what is our hope based?

                    • I'm sure that God became one of us. I'm sure that because of that I CAN have a right relationship with God I'm sure that my redeemer lives. All that that's enough certainty for me. And I know that through tradition and personal experience; and the bible writers knew it that way as well. But that does NOT mean that words can adequately describe it all. They are limited.
                      So – does the bible help me to have a deeper relationship with God? Certainly. Is it limited? Certainly. Does that render it useless? Certainly not. It just means it isn't everything…….you are going on asking the wrong question about the bible. Don't make it the kind of idol that has to be right or wrong….

                    • I'm going to make an assumption that you are a Canon of the Church of England (as I don't know). You seem to be dangerously close to moving away from Article VI, by saying that we need tradition and personal experience to understand salvation; you have certainly moved away from the basis of the Protestant Reformation.

                      Clearly we're not going to agree here, I don't want to go round and round in discussion here (and comment widths are getting narrower and narrower), and you never actually answer any of my questions. Additionally, I'm not a massive fan of being accused of idolatry, so I'm going to bow out at this point.

                    • Hopeful Ordinand, you can find out exactly who I am pretty easily. Sola Scriptura (which you proclaimed a few posts ago) is idolatry (or more strictly bibliolatry) I believe.
                      As to the articles – you need to apply the same line to them as you would to scripture – what dod they believe THEN that made them write the way they did?
                      The Protestant reformation was needed at the time – but it wasn't and isn't all good is it? Have you ever experienced any Eastern Orthodoxy?
                      I think I've answered all your questions – but do feel free to come back with any you don't think I have….Happy easter!

                    • So, assuming you match with Google, as a Canon of the Church of England (The Reformed Religion!) you feel able to minimize Canons A2 and A5. In addition you see the basis of the reformation as idolatrous. Why are you in the Church of England?

                    • Dear Hopeful Ordinand – do you want to put your faith in words and canons of an organised religious organisation or in a person called Jesus Christ? I don't have any problems with Canons A2 and A5 and have, of course, publicly assented to them under oath on a number of occasions. The C of E is rather broader than you seem to allow…..

                    • My faith is in Christ alone, by faith alone and by grace alone in order that I might give glory to God alone. I know this by scripture alone.

                      That is not the same as being part of the Church of England. As I'm sure you know, the CofE is a reformed religion, formulated and governed by Canon Law (which make reference to the 39 articles and the creeds).

                      You seem to confuse 'faith' with being a member of an organisation! The organization has rules and regulations, as any organisation does – by joining, you choose to follow them.

                    • With respect Hopeful Ordinand, I think you are the one confused by that important distinction.
                      it might help you to understand the breadth of the C of E better if you were to read Stephen Neill's excellent book called 'Anglicanism' and to study the case of Edward King….I think that will give your comments and accusations a little more breadth and historical perspective! Best of luck!

                    • Apart from being patronising, are you saying that there is no distinction between being a member of the Church of England, and a Christian?

                      I really am going to stop feeding the troll now.

                    • No, I'm saying that the Church of England is one limited way of expressing the Christian faith and that it is good to be aware of the limitations.

                    • By scripture alone..I've kept pondering your statement here and am concerned. What about worship? The sacraments? Prayer? The operation of the Holy Spirit in your life and in the lives of others, past and present? These things are not part of your faith? They don't lead you to faith? Sola Scriptura really will not do….

                    • Where do we get our understanding worship? The Bible. Where are the sacraments described? The Bible. Where do we learn about how to pray? The Bible. Where do we learn about the action and work of the Holy Spirit? The Bible.

                      Sola Scriptura is the principle that we need nothing other than the Bible to tell us about God – it is the only source of Christian doctrine. The Bible is accessible to all, and does not need anyone else to interpret it for us (like tradition). The five 'solas' ( summarise the basis of the Protestant Reformation (of which the CofE is a consequence).

                    • But the Christian faith is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, not the bible. We encounter him in worship, the sacraments, prayer, the action of the holy spirit….the bible simply bears witness to these things at various limited points in history and describes them in limited ways.

                    • I don't have a relationship with the Bible! The Bible tells me how I can have a relationship with God.

                      Where do you get your idea of Jesus and God from, if not the Bible? Even if you say that it's from your experience, did that experience come ex nihilo, or did the Bible tell you that the experience was possible?

                    • God and Jesus are not 'ideas' but persons. We have a relationship with them directly. The bible tells us about other peoples experiences and we learn from that.

                    • OK, one last go at getting you to answer a question.

                      How did you know that you could have a relationship with God and Jesus?

                    • By being a member of the church…..and experiencing it for myself.

                    • The Bible had no part in you knowing that a relationship with God was possible? Not even as part of the basis of the church?

                    • Of course the bible has a part. But it isn't all there is…..and which came first, the Church or the New Testament? The Church shaped the scriptures, not the other way around.

                    • The Church wrote the bible! The church is the body of Christ! I should say they go together really…

                    • I have a feeling that's a pre-reformation position, although I'm not sure it's even a RC position – if the church wrote the Bible, then the church defines it, while the RC position is the the church interprets it (through the Magisterium) which is part of the basis of the reformation.

                      I would have said that God wrote the Bible (did the church write the OT and NT?). The Bible is God's agent for the benefit of his people – 2 Tim 3:16 springs to mind.

                      If the church wrote the Bible, how can I have any confidence that what it tells me has any purpose. I might as well choose to 'experience' Harry Potter or the Famous Five, as I do God, I could go and be a Jedi – they are an organised religion with writings (and films!) and I can 'experience' worship, and a body of people. What's the difference.

                      [I don't know about your browser, but I'm suffering severe width issues on the comments.]

                    • I IIt's just an Orthodoxposition really. And of courseit's the NT that the Churchwrote – not the Jewishscriputres.

                    • [Actually a reply to the very, very narrow comment in this section]

                      If you hold an Orthodox position, why are you a canon of a reformed church? There seems to be somewhat of a mismatch here. Even allowing for the breadth of the Church of England, it seems that you hold a difficult position. I don't know which form of word were used at your ordination, but The Book of Common Prayer puts it like this:

                      'Do you unfeignedly believe all the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament?'

                      I don't see how you can agree to that, given what you've said.

                      Common Worship puts it slightly differently:

                      '…They have affirmed and declared their belief in ‘the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness’.'

                    • I can't resist chipping in here.

                      It is quite possible to believe the scriptures without holding a narrow literalist view of them or believing that "God wrote them." Now, you know as well as I do that God did not physically write the scriptures, they were written by human beings( surely you cannot think otherwise!) What you mean is that those who wrote the scripture were inspired by God (and that those who decided which writings would be considered God's word were also inspired by God?)

                      Now, to me, human beings, even when they are inspired by God, are not infallible, nor simply passive conduits of God's words. Those who wrote the bible were bound by their own times and historical context, their own world view and knowledge. The bible contains the most amazing perceptions of God, beautiful writing, poetry, myth, history, theology and revealed truth. I do not believe it is "inerrant" because I do not believe any human being is infallible or inerrant. I have the utmost reverence for scripture, but it must be interpreted in the light of context, reason, prayer, our knowledge and humanity.

                    • Nice to see it's not just a two way discussion :)

                      I understand your point, and it's another tangent to wander off on (I wonder if the ever shrinking response area is a hint from Peter…). I suspect we'll end up in a discussion about levels of errancy and inerrancy, and whether a sovereign God can overrule/use errant people to complete inerrant tasks.

                      In the context of the ongoing discussion, I'm trying to understand a position that sees the Bible as being no more important that the church (and I'd say that, by implication, sees it as subservient as the text is lesser than the author) and has no real impact on the understanding of faith – as that comes from a relationship – can agree to the those statements.

                      That turned out to be a bit more rambling than I intended, so I'll try to clarify. Andrew has said that the church shapes/has shaped/has written the Bible; the ordination service seems to require the ordinand to agree that the church is shaped by the Bible (and the creeds, etc.). I don't see that the two statements can be held together.

                      [I really am trying to understand, I'm not just trying to be awkward!]

                    • I don't see you as trying to be awkward Hopeful Ordinand. I don't know what stage of the vocational exploration process you are at but any DDO (and I was one once) will encourage you to explore such things because you will have to explore such things in Initial Ministerial Education and for the rest of your life.
                      I don't see any problem with the ordination vows. (Not sure anyone uses the BCP nowadays for ordinations). The scriptures are, of course, a unique revelation of the Christian faith. Who said they were not? But it is quite orthodox to assert that the early Church shaped the scriptures. They are the product of the earliest Christian communities and that is why they are so valuable to us. But they are a record of the relationships between God and his people. That relationship didn't finish when the canon of scripture was fixed. And God has not stopped speaking. So scripture is unique – but it is not the only thing or the last word. You have to know Christ through the sacraments, through prayer, through worship AS WELL as. You have to be part of the communion of Saints. I've said these things go hand in hand with scripture – not that they replace it.
                      And note that the creeds don't ask us to affirm our faith in scripture. But they do ask us to affirm our faith in the Church and the communion of Saints. Which is not to say we DON'T believe in the bible. But Sue puts very well what our approach to scripture needs to be.
                      Hope this helps…..
                      Oh and be clear what is meant by 'historic formularies'……they are historic. We affirm that they are historic. but we keep asking – 'what did they believe then that made them write as they do…..?' And history moves along…..we keep writing it…

                    • I think I understand more of your position. I still think that you are in a difficult position with regard to the ordination vows. Whether you pick BCP, ASB, or CW, they all seem to want the candidate to affirm that faith is shaped by Scripture, not the other way round. You position seems to be that the Christian faith determined the content of the Bible. To my mind, that has two problems.

                      Firstly, the whole process become cyclical – faith determines scripture determines faith.

                      Secondly, the definition of faith become a chronological issue. The substance of faith of the early church is now different to the faith of the modern church, if revelation is continuing. That means we can't stand with 'the great cloud of witnesses', as we witness to two different things.

                      My brain wants to do a 'Spanish Inquisition' and include a third.

                    • Just to cover a couple of minor things. The creeds don't ask us to affirm our faith in the Scriptures, because they are designed to be a synopsis of faith taken from the Scriptures, hence 'revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds'; similarly with the reference to the historic formularies they 'bear witness' to the Bible.

                      The point being that the Bible is the authority they refer to and rely on, and nothing else. The Nicene Creed, for example, refers to Jesus rising again 'in accordance with the Scriptures'.

                    • Hopeful ordinand you seem to be fixed on a 16C Protestant understanding of the Church. The C of E has that as one of its strands – but only one. It is a reformed catholic church. Reading something like the Stephen Neill book i referred to earlier will help with a broader understanding. And as one catholic website puts it: "There was no canon of scripture in the early Church; there was no Bible. The Bible is the book of the Church; she is not the Church of the Bible."
                      Fixed canons of the Old and New Testaments, hence the Bible, were not known much before the end of the 2nd and early 3rd century. The Creeds and the Scriptures were being discerned at the same time.
                      As a DDO the most significant question I put to hopeful ordinands was: tell me about your relationship with Jesus. If you just quote the bible at me I'd be a bit troubled. Are you telling me you don't discern Christ in worship, in prayer, in the sacraments, in the work of the holy spirt in your life and the life of others? In the life of God's world?

                    • I do have a C16 protestant view of the Bible, rather than the church – although, clearly, I see the my view of the Bible determines my view of the church. This is the same view that the CofE has about itself. IT might be worth looking at the CofE web page about The Book of Common Prayer ( This page is clear that the doctrine of the Church of England comes from BCP, 39 articles and the Ordinal.

                      It might also be worth looking at the background paper to a motion to the Feb 2010 General Synod ( This is a note from the Theological Consultant to the House of Bishops about the Church of England's official view of Scripture.

                      It's clear from both these sources that the official CofE postion is Bible -> Formularies + Canons -> Church of England.

  14. Andrew

    Thanks for the statement from the CofE website – I stand corrected! Although I think that we discovered that the earth is round through ‘scholarship’ and ‘reason’ rather than ‘experience’.

    And I think that the liberal emphasis on experience points to one of the greatest problems with liberal theology, which is why I pointed to the Alister McGrath article.

    Conservative theology leans heavily on scripture as a revelation of God’s truth, within which we use tradition, scholarship and reason to apply this truth to our current age.

    Liberal theology leans heavily on experience as a revelation of personal truth, within which we use tradition, scholarship, reason and general biblical principles to illuminate our experience and find truth for our current age.

    As with all things, first principles are important. Where you start from determines where you will end up!

  15. I'm new here and I agree with Peter's analysis. Indeed if I were ever to own a B&B I might have been tempted to deny access to people I didn't like and as a result of his article I now understand why that would be wrong.

    However, I don't really think this is the point with the Berkshire B&B that is in trouble. The point, I think, is the freedom to be wrong. It may be the Christian thing to do to be open to all comers, just as Jesus made a point of hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors. But why should the law enforce that? Virtue that is mandated ceases to be virtue.

    The proper way to correct the behaviour of an insufficiently enlightened B&B owner is not to call the police but through reasoned argument backed up by the bible, as with Peter's article.

  16. Wow, this thread is still running? I dropped out before the Easter weekend as I couldn't post comments for some reason. Let's see if my access is back on …..

  17. I seem to have (finally) got the intensedebate thingy working so I'm back commenting on EFO

    I am fascinated by this long exchange between HO and Andrew (which is getting increasingly impossible to read so I'm posting a new comment). For me, your exchange is essentially about how we discern truth as Christians. Please feel free to correct m as I attempt to summarise your views.

  18. Ultimate truth does not exist this side of heaven. It existed in Jesus Christ. Our relationship with him is THE thing about the Christian faith. It's always going to be flawed this side of heaven, because we are human. But you have to have a relationship with a person, and not a collection of books. The books simply witness to others who have had that relationship and are therefore a uniquely valuable guide.

  19. Andrew

    I agree with you that our relationship with Jesus is THE thing about the Christian faith, and that, by implication, we know Him through prayer and the experience of the Holy Spirit. I also understand what you mean by saying that 'ultimate truth does not exist this side of heaven'. However this idea comes perilously close to saying that we cannot know truth here on earth, which i why I posted my longer comment.

    And if you are correct that 'ultimate truth does not exist this side of heaven' then we really are in a sorry state! How do we know what is true? How can we have certainty, well, really and ultimately about anything!

    And that, I am afraid, is the fundamental problem with the low view of scripture, namely that it is as you put it a 'witness to others who have had that relationship and are therefore a uniquely valuable guide'. If the Bible is not God's true and inspired word to us then we are forced inevitably back to experience as the main way to discern truth. And surely a quick review of C20 history suggests that our experience is a very faulty guide!

    • Philip, I think Paul had it right when he said that we see things through a glass darkly, didn't he? That's what I mean when I say ultimate truth does not exist this side of heaven, EXCEPT in Jesus Christ – and that our relationship with him is of paramount importance.
      So – do you know Christ in the sacraments? Do you know him in worship? in prayer? In the action of the holy spirit in your life? In the life of the church? In the life of the world?
      Nowhere do I take a low view of scripture. It uniquely reveals the faith of the early church. That's a high view and a very orthodox view.

  20. Andrew

    I understand what you mean about ultimate truth, which is the Word in Christ and that we will only know Him in full when we are in heaven. I also agree wholeheartedly with Paul’s profound and beautiful scripture on ‘viewing through a glass darkly’. It should keep us all humble! I also know Christ through all th aspects that you mention, although probably with a different emphasis to you (I am low church, reformed and charismatic, after all :-)).

    From the CofE website, as the first point under ‘What it means to be an Anglican’: We view the Old and New Testaments ‘as containing all things necessary for salvation’ and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith’. That seems to me to be a statement that the scriptures are true. If you believe that the scriptures are ‘simply witness to others who have had that relationship (with Christ)and are therefore a uniquely valuable guide’, I maintain that this is a low view of scripture.

    The most important question for me in this exchange (including HO and Sue’s commments) is ‘Can we know truth as Christians? And if we can, what is it?’ Surely if we ‘do not believe it (the Bible) is “inerrant” because (we) do not believe any human being is infallible or inerrant’ (Sue’s words that you supported), then we are only left with human experience as every other method of discernement of the truth is through that experience. And I think that puts us in a very bleak place!

  21. Well let me assure you Philip that I don't feel at all in a bleak place!
    Yes, the scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation, and as the C of E website goes on 'In practice this is based on the revelation contained in Holy Scripture and the Catholic creeds, and is interpreted in light of Christian tradition, scholarship, reason and experience.'
    Perhaps this is a more helpful way of moving forward – the scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation (i.e refer to all those things) BUT it is not the scriptures that save you – it is the relationshp with Jesus Christ that saves you. That's where I think you have a rather odd view of scripture actually. You seem to see the scriptures as being something that will save you. I don't. i see them as witnessing to the thing that will save us – the relationship with God which has ultimate truth in Jesus Christ.
    So – yes we can know the truth as christians – but only in a provisional way. As St Paul says – we perceive it through a glass darkly. It's provisional.

  22. Thank you Hopeful Ordinand. I can't get your links to work, but I think this has gone as far as it can on here.

  23. So having just spent an hour or so reading all these comments I do think it's great that this debate, with civility and care on all sides, is something that seems very rare on most Anglican web sites these days – which is a credit to all commentators and to Peter for hosting it!

    My own 5-cents-worth: I see no conflict between "the church shaping the scriptures" and "the scripture shaping the church" – from my lay perspective, this seems to me an ongoing process that continues to this day. So (to pick the contentious issue sparking the top of the thread) the "conservative evangelical" position on homosexuality is clearly and explicitly shaped by the scriptures – just as is, say, the "liberal" position on social welfare. But the scriptures themselves, the translations we use, the concordances and interpretations and reading guides, are also still in the process of being shaped by the church – and evangelicals are doing this shaping as much (or more so) than "liberals" – the best contemporary example being Eugene H. Peterson's "The Message" paraphrase, which has been adopted by some Alpha/conservative/evangelical parishes at least.

    As regards the big question: "what can we know that is true?" well again I think you're both right (and also that this doesn't help that much. It's hard to be a Christian without believing in God (or perhaps without "believing in God") – at least, it's hard to be an Anglican without being willing to say the creed and Lord's prayer most Sundays. Now, as the ABC said not so long ago "The question 'Is there a God?'" is *not* the same kind of question as 'Is it raining outside?'" – and one mode of being Anglican involves turning up on Sunday and saying the creed anyway, whether or not one "feels emotionally" or "believes intellectually" that God is listening. Again, consider Mother Teresa who apparently spent much of her life in "nothing but emptiness and darkness".

    So there are some things (in some ways, different perhaps according to our own lights) we can all agree on as true, or at least, as working hypotheses, if you like, for the Christian life: to pray, to attend worship, to act and to believe as if God existed. And there are some things we all agree as false, or that are evil, like child sexual abuse and genocide and hating poor people. The difficulty comes, of course, in precisely those areas where we don't agree: homosexuality being the presenting issue.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.