Friday, November 03, 2006

David Davies Penarth: Welsh Disestablishment 6

In the arguments that swirled around the Disestablishment Question in Wales, the most potent weapon in the hands of the Church in Wales was history. While in Ireland the Established Church had been demonstrably alien, having never claimed the loyalty of the majority of the Irish people, the Church in Wales had contained the majority of the people in Wales for most of the eighteenth century. Church apologists like Alfred George Edwards, brother of Dean Edwards and Bishop of St. Asaph, pointed out that: '... until the rise of Methodism in Wales the other nonconforming bodies were numerically and numerically insignificant.' And, Edwards, added '... the early Welsh Methodists were deeply attached to the Church, and that Welsh Calvinistic Methodism only dates from the year 1811.' (Alfred George Edwards, A Hand Book on Welsh Church Defence (Denbigh, 1894), p.24 & pp.26-7.) More, they could point back to the days of St. David, for they had the buildings and the tradition (the Bishop of Llandaff in the Reformation era served Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I).

David Davies, minister of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Penarth (pictured), and a writer of popular books on Welsh Church history, was not one to take such things lying down, however. In his book The Ancient Celtic Church of Wales: Where is it? Davies presented a very different picture of early Welsh Christianity, a picture of a church free of hierarchy and closer to the Congregational, nonconformist model than the Episcopal model. He argued that the Welsh Church had never known an Archbishop, except possibly as primus inter pares, selected from among the ranks of the Welsh Bishops. According to David Davies, the early welsh Churches were independent of one another, except in the case of church-plants (Ancient Celtic Church, p.19), while Celtic Bishops were said to be merely officials attached to monasteries and varying according to the dictates of abbots, perhaps as many as 138 existing at one time! Indeed, relying on a quotation from Basil Jones, Bishop of St. David's, he suggested that the lists of Welsh Bishops might have been '"faked up," and even invented, by ecclesiasts in the interest of traditional clericalism and episcopacy!' (Ancient Celtic Church, p.20).

This ancient and democratic church, Davies asserted, had been extinguished whem Wales was conquered by England. More, the history of the Church in Wales after the English conquest revealed that church as the enemy of all things Welsh. In conclusion, he declared:

'I repeat that the spirit of the Celtic Church still lives in the Nonconformists of Wales. It is the self-reliant spirit of that grand old Church, which was essentially democratic in constitution and politity, which was essentially democratic in constitution and polity, and which never would brook interference on the part ofPope, Archbishop, or State, in matters of religious creed and practice, that reasserts itself to-day in the Free Churches and institutions of our land, and demands that the possessions which have been diverted to utterly alien purposes shall be restored to the people. It demands that they shall be devoted to the best interests of the whole Welsh nation, without regard to narrow prejudices or irritating bigotries, whether religious, social, or political, devoted to those purposes of philanthropy, truth, and justice, which shall unitedly lead up to the highest ends and noblest issues of our corporate life, and ultimately find their consummation in that "righteousness that exalteth a nation."' (Ancient Celtic Church, p.109.)

While Davies' account was not allowed to stand for long, with two Church Defence books, each more than twice the size of Deavies' work, its arguments served to give Nonconformists greater confidence in their cause. Whatever the justice of these treatments, it must be admitted that Davies' picture of the ancient Welsh Church was not accurate, owing more to Davies' belief that Nonconformity was closer to scriptural Christianity, and thus closer to ancient Welsh Christianity. In fact, while the Christianity of Acts shows no evidence of the Episcopal model, Celtic Christianity, which had fellowship with the Coptic Church, was at least as sacramental as the Churches on the Continent. And it was certainly monastic. Having assumed his conclusion, David Davies went on to select evidence and interpret that evidence in such a way as to support his conclusions.

In arguing with those who hold to tradition, evangelicals should go back to the Scriptures, rather than trying to invent their own accounts of history. By all means, let falsehoods be corrected, but Davies went further, creating his own past and exposing himself to the charge of deliberately twisting the facts.



Post a Comment

<< Home