The Church of England: The Bible Firmly Shut

On top of the imposing pulpit at Lancaster Priory is a Bible mounted by the St Edward’s crown. This represents the monarchy and the machinery of the British state. Our Protestant culture and constitution rests upon the Bible. The Church of England is the state church, established by law. This is the official interpretation.

I was there this week, wandering about, watching the staff prepare for a wedding. The symbol atop the pulpit is rather more meaningful, I thought, and a fitting picture of current Anglicanism.

The crown is not just resting upon the Bible, its weight keeps it shut. The St Edward’s Crown is so heavy, the Queen has only worn it once, at her Coronation, 64 years ago today. All the official photographs show her wearing the second, lighter crown, the Imperial State, clad with diamonds and jewels. It’s definitely the former that sits upon the closed Bible at Lancaster.

The Church of England has the Bible, but it is weighed shut by the heaviness of tradition, the state or the latest trends. For example, I read a recent sermon of the Vicar of Lancaster’s, the Revd Chris Newlands. He refers to the raising of Lazarus, in John’s gospel, and suggests that the application of this amazing miracle of ‘coming out of the tomb’ is for LGBTQ people ‘to come out’. This church has the Bible, but it’s weighted shut by the vicar’s determination to dance to the prevailing wind. This is a sermon which successive governments and all good liberals could heartily endorse.

Similarly, if the Church of England must alter is form of worship, it must receive the approval of Parliament. The Prime Minister selects its archbishops and it is in many areas just a social service, bereft of spiritual power. Yes, it has the Bible, but its weighted down, firmly shut. There are also so many other important books beloved by Anglicans- prayer books, lectionaries, tomes of cannon law- that the Bible could be mistaken for just one of a number of significant items in the library. 

There are many Anglican parishes in which scripture is open and cherished, and many Congregational chapels that pay lip service and nothing more. Yet I thank God, at Martin Top, the Bible has no crown weighing it down, pushing closed its living pages and lively oracles.