Principle and practice – The great dilemma

Principle and practice – The great dilemma

There comes a time in every organisation, when you must stop, take stock of where you are, review your strategy in the light of your goals, and act upon your conclusions.

This has been happening in the life of our Church in recent years with such events as, the Coleraine Assembly, Twenty-Twenty Vision, and more recently, Get a Life.

In any organisation such a review can be painful.  It challenges us to examine our core values and take such decisions, which often involve change, in order to achieve our goals.

As I see it, this is precisely what is required from the Orange Order, if it is to survive the third century of its existence.  The questions which need to be addressed in such a review are: – Does the Orange Institution of today reflect the core values of the founding fathers of the Institution at the end of the eighteenth century, let alone the core values seen in the life of William the Third?  Is the public image of the Institution in keeping with its publicly stated aims?  Does the Institution, in its public manifestation, display its “principle concern” as being “the maintenance of the Protestant and Reformed Religion”?

The Rev. Dr. Fred. C. Gibson, Superintendent of “The Irish Mission” of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, wrote a pamphlet in the 1950’s entitled Orangeism Its Religious Origin, Its Scriptural Basis, Its Protestant Principles.  In it he stated:

While the Orange Order, generally, has been closely associated with the political party which has been loyal to the Protestant Succession to the Throne, and the maintaining of the union between Great Britain and Ireland, nevertheless there is something more fundamental in the order than this, and that is the adherence to the principles of Protestantism.

If the Orange Order is to survive it must go back to the core values of its founding fathers.  This language should not be strange to an organisation whose membership is pledged “to support and defend. . . the Protestant Religion”.  What the Orange Institution needs is a REFORMATION in the same pattern as the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.  The burning desire of the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century was to get back to the simplicity of New Testament Christianity – the Christianity of the Apostles.  The only authentic record of Christianity in the days of the Apostles is to be found in the Bible – Word of God.  The watchword of the Reformers was therefore Sola Scriptura – The Scriptures Alone.  The scriptures alone are to be the guiding principle in the life of the church and the individual.  This is expressed in the Qualifications of an Orangeman – “he should honour and diligently study the Holy Scriptures and make them the rule of his faith and practice“.

Once those core values of brotherhood, religious piety, civic awareness, civil and religious liberty and tolerance are re-affirmed they must be seen in practice.  Affirmation, even public affirmation is not enough.  Jesus did not say: – ‘by their statements you will recognise them’, but, “By their FRUIT”.  [Actions speak louder than words]

The high ideals of the Orange Order are often expressed:-

We must all endeavour to disarm suspicion and antagonism.  This can best be done by setting a good example in our daily lives, by living up to the high principles of the Order so that every section of the community will be compelled to admit that there is something in the Orange Society that elevates a man and raises him above the average of humanity.  Something that makes him a better man morally, socially and intellectually.

The real challenge therefore facing the Order is the huge credibility gap which exists between the high moral standards expressed in the Qualifications, and other documents, and the public expression of those standards by some of the membership.  The real dilemma facing the Order is that its public behaviour in recent years is not the expression of its standards.

In an article, in the bicentenary publication (1995), STEADFAST for FAITH and FREEDOM, the Executive Officer of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, George Patton wrote, “Once Orangemen allow themselves to betray Biblical Protestantism they deny their raison d’être“.  Ten years on, is the credibility gap between principle and practice such, that the betrayal has now taken place?

Rev. Brian Kennaway