IN Christians "doing their own thing" are not necessarily rebels against the Church as a whole, though they may think they are.
This is one of the surprising observations in a study of how Christians believe, published yesterday by the Doctrine Commission of the Church Of England.
The report, Believing in the Church*. is the result of five years work by the commission under the chairman of the Bishop of Winchester, Dr John Taylor.
"Believing has come to be regarded as such an interior and personal activity that it makes no more sense to say We believe then to say We are dreaming', the commission says in the introduction to the report.
This extreme individualism was partly due to historical pressures on western man. Religion, morality, recreation and the arts used to he collective experiences, but one by one they had each become "a realm of private opinion and preference".
But, the commission says, believing is a much more "corporateactivity than people realised. In learning a language a child unconsciously accepted a large number of beliefs and a specific view of the world.
The study of the body of knowledge shared by a community also showed "how cabined and confined, if not actually predetermined, the independent thinker actually is.
"The freely ranging mind can function only in relation to a social consensus which has already provided a system of assumptions, a vocabulary of thought and an apparatus of symbols, all of them taken for granted."
However, there is no attempt in the report to deny the freedom of the
1111.11++IdULO. 3i-1111C 01 those who had explored outside the institutional church had contributed richly to the shape of Christian belief. it says.
The report is to be debated in the General Synod of the Church of England next year and the House of Bishops is to consider how its insights might be shared by the Church as a whole.
It raises a number of questions where action could be taken. Should, for instance. the Church impose restrictions on individual freedom if a person accepts a teaching office in the Church.
The report also emphasises the significance of the Christian story, which is less open to misinterpretation than some areas of doctrine, and there is a plea for a greater understanding of this by Christian teachers.
Canon John Baker, the Bishopdesignate of Salisbury. suggests that it
may be time for a fresh ,ittempt to produce a statement of what the Church believed.
The present report is more of an analysis of how the Church believes. It follows a report by an earlier commission. Christian Believing. published in 1976. which gave prominence to individualism in Christian belief.
The Doctrine Commission which produced the latest report has been succeeded by a new commission, mainly with the same members, with an enhanced role in the Church of England.
Issues of immediate concern to the Church arc to be referred to the commission, which reports directly to the House of Bishops, the bishops have a particular responsibility for the guardianship of doctrine.