A clergyman who denies the resurrection of Jesus was a real event has been appointed as Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
His role is to act as an ambassador to the Holy See for the whole of the Anglican Communion in general and for the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular.
One of the characteristics the Holy See might have looked for in an Anglican, was although there are some differences in our understanding of the role of the Bishop of Rome, there ought to be complete harmony over the essentials of the faith and belief in the creeds of the Church.
But not this time. Justin Welby has been called on to think again and preside over the appointment of someone whose views are less of a slight to the integrity of the Holy See. After all, much of the energy that drove the secession of the Church of England in the first place was a determination to believe and practice the faith as it was encountered in reading the Gospels. It is odd, to say the least to appoint to this office a man who cannot take the New Testament at face value.
The Gospels are very clear about how tactile the resurrected Jesus was. Thomas poked his wounds in the Upper Room; the disciples fed him at the Lake side; bread was broken at Emmaus. No one at the time put the experiences of Jesus down to an overheated imagination or a ‘spiritual’ personal experience.
I have long wondered why this denial of the early records of the Church appeals to a certain kind of Anglican. I think it has something to do with pride. It is as if they were saying “I am most impressed with this Jesus figure, but my mind can’t or won’t stretch that far as taking the records literally , so instead of asking my mind to accommodate itself to the records, I will re-interpret the records to accommodate the sophistications of my mind”.
The new interim director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, whose role it is to represent the Archbishop of Canterbury is one of those people for whom both the creeds of the Church and the witness and experience of the Gospels have to take second place to his intellectual preferences and the inflexibility of his imagination.
“The resurrection of Jesus ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality. It is important for Christians to be set free from the idea that the Resurrection was an extraordinary physical event which restored to life Jesus’ earthly body.
……The Gospel accounts are not historical records as we understand them. They are symbolic images of the breaking through of the resurrection spirit into human lives.”
So opines the Very Rev’d Dr John Shepherd.
There is so much wrong with this, that it needs a little unpacking. One of the most fascinating things about God breaking into the world in the coming of Christ as the Eternal Word and Son of God, is how ‘physical’ it all was. The feeding of the 5,000 is described as a physical event. The spiritualisers respond by saying it didn’t really happen (physically), it was more a matter of people being inspired to share their picnics. This spiritualising doesn’t really work with the changing of water into wine or the resurrecting of Lazarus after days of being dead and entombed however.
But it’s what happens when the reality the Gospel accounts describe collides with the prejudices or preferences of the human ego and will. Where they differ, reality (as the Gospels describe it) takes second place to whimsy. The universe that God made is changed to reflect the terms and conditions of the individual.
It only takes a moment’s reflection to see that this is a mixture of idolatry at one end of the scale or wiful egotism at the other. But either way, it isn’t faith, it’s ‘make believe on my terms.’
This matters for several reasons. The first because it is a collision between ego and God, and God loses. The second because if the Gospels are deficient in the reality they describe at that point, where else can they be readjusted?
Did Jesus really bear the judgement for our sins instead of us? Is the Holy Spirit more of an inspiring idea and less of a Person with whom we cooperate and by Whom we are changed?
This is the point where the slippery slope begins and once over, it is not obvious how one stops the fall.
Justin Welby is not so much an intellectual as his predecessor was, he is a more practical man, he is a ‘fixer’. But his fixing of the faith is as flawed as Dr Shepherd’s re-interpretation of the Gospel account.
Politically Shepherd’s appointment ought to be a great embarrassment to Welby. IF he is the committed HTB trained evangelical he has claimed to be, he will ask for Shepherd’s resignation. But already we know that won’t happen. Lambeth Palace have dug in claiming that “all due diligence” was followed in his appointment. But there may be other reasons why Welby won’t act.
He is in the middle of a process of getting the Church of England to shift its allegiance over its understanding of sexuality and sexual practice from the ones the Gospels insist on to the one that contemporary culture insists on.
The Bible is very clear about sex and sexuality. Our new identity is in Christ, not in the shifting apprehension of our gender. Sexual intimacy is restricted to man and a woman for the purposes of co-creation, having children, and not to be used as an instrument of emotional and sexual affirmation between same sex partners. We were made to inhabit the categories of ‘man and woman’ and not use chemicals and surgery to mask the mental discomfort and disability of gender dysphoria.
But for Welby and his progressive fellow travellers, Jesus has been re-imagined from Lord and Saviour into guide and therapist. Instead of wanting us to be holy, Welby’s Jesus wants us to be happy.
Professor John Finnis, a professor of Law and Philosophy at Oxford (and has attracted the rage of the secularists at Oxford who want him sacked because of the way he has described intellectual and historical objections to homosexual practice). He is an intellectual Roman Catholic and he has written about the way in which Aristotle, Plato and Virgil criticise homosexuality as an ethical option because it promotes the pleasure principle beyond duty, children, self-sacrifice and social cohesion.
Whatever Christ came to teach and model, it was not the pleasure principle; nor was even the triumph of romantic and sexual love. At the heart of Christianity is the practice of the death of the ego, the principle of self-sacrifice, the denial of the pleasure principle; holiness not happiness; saviour not therapist.
But the Most Rev’d Justin Welby, like the Very Rev’d John Shepherd has chosen to subjugate the teaching of the New Testament to the preferences of personal and political culture.
So no, he won’t back down overt the appointment of Shepherd as Director of the Anglican Centre at Rome and he won’t back down over prioritising the romantic, sexual and pleasure principle over the Christian virtues of chastity, self-restraint and self-sacrifice.
Increasingly Anglicans are waking up to the reality that it is not just the Director of the Anglican Centre at Rome who has given up orthodox Christianity for heterodoxy; it is the Archbishop of Canterbury and most of the college of bishops he has seen appointed.
It used to be called heresy. Christians down the ages have chosen to give up their lives rather than betray the faith and reconstruct a Jesus in their own image.
The Church of England under Justin Welby isn’t practising orthodox historic Christianity; it is not teaching and living the faith once delivered and practiced by the saints. In answer to the contemporary jingle WWJD – what would Jesus do? the answer is NWWD – not what Welby did.