I am not English, nor Anglican, but the story of the conversion of the former Anglican bishop Michael Nazir-Ali Catholicism struck me. He isn’t the first Evangelical Anglican to become a Roman Catholic, and he likely won’t be the last.
It is based on a tradition which has important antecedents such as the conversion in Rome of John henry newman (1801-1890) and many others. However, Nazir-Ali was a well-known Evangelical Anglican who belonged to the “evangelical” family and was a respected voice in this world.
Transitions like this have personal motivations that ultimately only the Lord knows and of which the person (s) involved are aware. This is to say that speculation is irrelevant. What is on the contrary possible – and even necessary – is to reflect on the public and theological issues involved.
Here are a few remarks that may make us think. The commentator, the famous evangelical thinker Guinness bone in a recent maintenance said: “Institutionally the change makes a lot of sense… Rome is a much more prestigious liner to sail than the battered barque of Lambeth”. However, “in terms of the Gospel itself, change makes no sense, and I hate to think of this ecclesiastical factors prevailed over theological factors at the end of the day. ”And again:“ the humblest West African church in the country, still faithful to the Gospel, would have been a better destination ”.
In the same article, the Rev. Roger salter added more food for thought: “How can Rome be the home of any genuine adherent to the Augustinian Reformation of the sixteenth century where the doctrine of grace regained its bold and beautiful clarity?” … Rome is as deeply divided as Anglicanism between Progressives and Orthodox. And the current pope not only betrays his own persecuted Church (in China, for example), but embraces a whole range of heresies, including universalism.
These comments highlight important points and point to at least two main flaws. Let me briefly detail them.
Bishop Nazir-Ali’s concerns about the path the Anglican Church has taken on some key doctrinal and moral issues have led him to view Rome as a much safer place to identify with. The image of Rome was seen as a traditional, stable and authoritative institution with an aura of doctrinal and moral integrity.
As often happens in similar stories, given its dogmatic and hierarchical “Roman” structure, Rome is seen as a haven of peace in the turmoil of our time, a bulwark against liberal and secularizing forces, and a better place to find refuge and support. The question is whether Monsignor Nazir-Ali is aware of the developments in Roman Catholicism under the papacy of Francis, which are the result of trends emerging from Vatican II. They relate not only to the “uncertain teaching” of the present Pope, but belong to well-established currents of contemporary Catholicism.
One example will suffice. In terms of sound universalist tendencies, since John Paul II and even more under Francis, Rome encourages common prayer with Muslims since according to Vatican II they “adore with us the one and merciful God” (Lumen gentium 16). We are “all brothers” (to quote the title of the last papal encyclical) after all, not only with Muslims but with all of humanity. Roman Catholicism rethought the language of “brotherhood and brotherhood” replacing its spiritual meaning (i.e. belonging to the same family as believers in Christ) with a biological meaning (i.e. belonging to the same human species). This replacement has immense theological, soteriological and missiological connotations. This is another way of saying that we are all children of God, we are all saved by following our different religious paths, and we Christians no longer need to seek conversions to Christ among people of other religions.
Pope Francis regularly asks Muslims pray for him because we are all “children of God” and said atheists go to heaven because, after all, they are good people. Although biblically untenable, these “politically correct” positions can be heard in the Anglican Church but also at the highest level of Roman Catholic teaching authority.
In many ways, indeed, the doctrinal and moral confusion that made the Church of England unbearable for Bishop Nazir-Ali is very similar to that which Roman Catholicism has been going through since Vatican II. This the confusion is even more evident today, given the many moral and financial scandals who showed the failings and failures of the Roman Catholic system.
As it is “Roman”, that is to say centered on a hierarchical structure which gives an idea of stability, Rome is also “Catholic”, that is to say a sponge capable of “updating” and to develop to adapt to changing situations. Has Bishop Nazir-Ali fallen prey to a myopic, selective and ultimately idealized vision of Rome – a kind of wishful thinking in times of personal crisis? Did he really grasp the current reality of Roman Catholicism as a whole before embracing it?
There is another – and perhaps more important – point to make. Rome is no better than Lambeth, and not just in terms of unstable and unreliable doctrinal and moral standards. Rome is no better place because it has created a theological system that is not tied to Scripture alone, nor to Christ alone and to faith alone.. In other words, Rome does not embrace the biblical gospel as it was rediscovered during the Protestant Reformation, although it does contain elements of a “conservative” religious culture which nonetheless rapidly evolves into a position. more pluralistic and inclusive.
As an evangelical, Bishop Nazir-Ali should have had sufficient spiritual awareness to see what is at stake with Roman Catholicism from a doctrinal point of view. How can a Church, like the Roman Catholic Church, which is dogmatically committed to salvation by faith and works, an augmented canon of Scripture, the intercession of Saints and Mary, a host of devotions and fallacious practices, Eucharistic adoration, papal infallibility, the dogmas of the immaculate conception and bodily assumption of Mary, and so on be a better place for a Christian concerned with Bible truth and the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Despite some areas of apparent and formal agreement (e.g. the Nicene Creed), there are even deeper disagreements with Rome. The vocabulary of Nicaea is the same: God the Father, Jesus Christ, salvation, Holy Spirit, virgin Mary, church, a holy apostolic catholic church, baptism, remission of sins, but if the words are shared, one cannot to say the same of their theological meaning. When a Roman Catholic refers to the “virgin Mary”, to “salvation”, to “the church”, etc., they mean things which are far from simple biblical teaching.. The recent “Catholic” movements in Roman Catholic doctrine and practice (eg, historical-critical readings of Scripture and universalism in salvation) make the difference even more distinct.
Article 2016 Is the Reformation over? A declaration of evangelical convictions, signed by dozens of evangelical world leaders, says it well: “The problems that gave birth to the Reformation five hundred years ago are still alive and well in the 21st century for the whole church. As we welcome any opportunity to clarify them, evangelicals, along with reformers, affirm the fundamental beliefs that our final authority is the Bible and that we are saved by faith alone. Rome does not share these convictions.
Now is not the time to cross the Tiber. Across the river, reality is different from what it appears to be and, more importantly, it is marred by its core commitments. Ours is the time to continue supporting the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t know if Lambeth is the best place for a believer to find his spiritual home, but certainly Rome is worse.
Leonardo of Chirico is an evangelical pastor in Rome (Italy). He is a theologian and specialist in Roman Catholicism. He blogs on VaticanFiles.com.