Mar 22, 2024

Baldwin of Forde


It was time to choose a new Archbishop of Canterbury to lead the church in England. King Henry II supported Baldwin of Forde (1125-1190) for the position while neighboring monks put forward three other suitable candidates. The bishops assigned to the job of electing a new archbishop sided with the king in 1184 AD and chose Baldwin. If you’re already suspicious of how this drama will play out, you’re onto something! Monastic life in 12th-century England had become relatively lax and luxurious. Baldwin wanted to recover the earlier spiritual rigors of monastic life and attempted to impose stricter control on local monasteries. The conflict escalated when Baldwin dispossessed the monks of revenue generated by the monasteries. Things turned ugly when he attempted to establish a collegiate chapel staffed by priests and not monks. The papacy in Rome sided with the monks, while the king backed the archbishop. The conflict resulted in hundreds of letters exchanged between various factions and a 15-year legal dispute. It’s challenging to sort out, as many conflicts plague churches. Even minor disputes, fueled by anxiety, can erupt into big arguments. The more intense the conflict, the more irrational the dispute becomes. Perhaps you have witnessed or been negatively impacted by church strife. It’s instructive that Jesus prayed for unity among his followers before he endured the cross (John 17). While Baldwin is not without fault in this 12th-century church feud, his prayer is spot on:

Preserve me, Lord, from the sin which I fear so much: contempt for your love. May I never sin against the Holy Spirit who is love and union, harmony and peace. May I never be separated from your Spirit, from the unity of your peace, by committing the sin which can never be forgiven, neither here nor in the world to come. Keep me, O Lord, among my brothers and kinsfolk that I may proclaim your peace. Keep me among those who preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Baldwin of Forde, Spiritual Tractates: Volumes One and Two

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.