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IRELAND: Anglican Canon Taken to Task over Doctrine of Original Sin

IRELAND: Anglican Canon Taken to Task over Doctrine of Original Sin
"Clergy have an obligation to hold and teach those things they've taken an oath to do"

By David W. Virtue DD
March 17, 2014

A leading Anglican cleric in the Church of Ireland who questioned the Doctrine of Original Sin http://tinyurl.com/m5g2sul has gotten a push back by fellow Irish clergymen who say he has an obligation to uphold the church's teaching on the subject and cannot plead "further enlightenment" when the church's Constitution and 39 Articles forbid it.

In his column Rehabilitating Eve in the March 7 issue of the Church of Ireland Gazette, the Rev. Stephen Neill questioned the doctrine of Original Sin and actually blamed God and commends Eve for her actions.

Referring to Original Sin as "one of the biggest elephants in the room in Christian and especially Protestant theology," the Rev. Canon Stephen Neill describes the doctrine as a "distortion of the divine human relationship and, indeed, the relationship between humanity and the rest of Creation." He described people who believe in it as being "defensive" and "elevating it to the level of Scripture rather than interpretation."

On the subject of God's handiwork in creation which God called "good", Neill asked, "Is God's Creation so terribly marred by the sin of Adam and Eve that what was fundamentally good only a couple of chapters earlier has become fundamentally flawed?"

The Rev. Christopher Pierce of Ballymore Rectory in Co. Donegal wrote a letter to the Church of Ireland Gazette expressing his "discomfort and dissatisfaction with the theology that underpins" Neill's remarks.

"[Neill] took a signed and sworn oath to teach as an ordained minister in the Church of Ireland the doctrinal understanding that includes the Declaration of 1870 and assent to the 39 Articles specifically Article IX which sets forth the sworn doctrinal understanding of our Church in regard to Original Sin.

"Whether it is comfortable or not, clergy have an obligation to hold and teach those things they've taken an oath to do. Nothing less is satisfactory," wrote Pierce.

The Rev. Dr. Alan McCann, the Rectory in Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim took Neill to task saying that what he believes is neatly summed up by Richard Niebuhr in The Kingdom of God in America: "a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."

McCann accused Neill of having an "innovative interpretation of Genesis 3" saying he denies Article 9 of the 39 Articles, and denies the teaching of the Church Catholic concerning "the doctrines of original sin and the substitutionary atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross for the same."

McCann finished his letter by saying that unlike Canon Neill he "will continue to teach the doctrines of original sin and the substitutionary atonement of Christ."

Canon Neill responded to his critics saying he was not trying to undermine the doctrine of Original Sin, but rather to question some more extreme interpretations of that doctrine which have a very pessimistic outlook on the human condition.

He described the 39 Articles of Religion as "evolutionary" and therefore open to discussion. "I fully accept that the discipline of the Church requires my assent to these formularies as currently received, but I do not think that it requires me to close my mind to the possibility of further enlightenment."

Neill said that what he wrote was an expression of 'faith seeking understanding'.

VOL believes that his views are the thin end of the wedge which seeks to water down fundamental doctrines like Original Sin to make them more palatable to post-Christian minds.


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