In the news last week, The Right Reverend Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, formerly Bishop of Rochester (among several high profile roles in the Anglican Communion), has converted to Roman Catholicism (albeit specifically into the Anglican Ordinariate).*
The Tablet carries the story here. The tone and content of Dr Nazir-Ali's testimony is respectful of his Anglican heritage.
"I believe that the Anglican desire to adhere to apostolic, patristic and conciliar teaching can now best be maintained in the Ordinariate. Provisions there to safeguard legitimate Anglican patrimony are very encouraging and, I believe, that such patrimony in its Liturgy, approaches to biblical study, pastoral commitment to the community, methods of moral theology and much else besides has a great deal to offer the wider Church. ...
Ministry in the Church of Pakistan, in the Middle East generally, in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion remains precious to me and I see this as a further step in the ministry of our common Lord and of his people. At this time, I ask for prayers as I continue to pray for all parts of the Church."
On the other hand, some of what others are saying is, well, just not so:
"Headlines broke Thursday which rocked the Anglican world down to its core."
That's from an article by Mary Ann Mueller, here. Not all Anglicans have heard of Dr Nazir-Ali; it's a while ago since he was a Diocesan Bishop; most Anglicans are not about to be turned towards Rome because another Anglican - even a bishop - has made that personal decision for themselves. The core of Anglicanism is not that rockable really.
I find myself in response thinking about and reflecting on the following:
(1) Whether or not there are any wider ramifications for global Anglicanism, this is a personal decision for Dr Nazir-Ali in the context of his own journey of faith and engagement in the church of God. We can and should only wish him well as he seeks the heart of God, the mind of Christ and the life of the Spirit. Ditto for any convert from Canterbury to Rome, whether high or low profile. And vice versa!
(2) There may be things to think about - some observers likely will say, “There jolly well are a lot of things to think about.”
For instance, is something wrong with (say) the Church of England / the Anglican Communion / GAFCON that no form of Anglicanism could hold Dr Nazir-Ali back from stepping forward into (on his own testimony) the Anglican patrimony within the Roman Catholic Church as the best way to be Anglican?
(And if there is something(s) wrong, can it(they) be fixed?
An intriguing question to ask, given Dr Nazir-Ali’s well-known theological, ethical and missiological conservatism, is Why even GAFCON (with which he has had something to do) has not provided a pathway for remaining rather than going?)
My own response to whether this conversion highlights what is wrong with global and local Anglicanism is:
- Of course it does. If all was well he would not be converting.
- It doesn’t take a high profile conversion to tell us all is not well. (I could share my correspondence with you, that would also tell you our faults, foibles and failings :).)
- The question (to me) is: am I content to be in this church rather than another, given no church is perfect? (My answer: I am so content. If you haven't left for Rome/Constantinople/Geneva it may be your answer too.)
(3) What does it mean to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus: and does it mean I should be in a particular church because only in that church is it possible to be correctly aligned as a Christian with God’s will for the church?
I find that being a Christian, faithful to the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of the apostles, is hard work but it benefits from other Christians with their understandings and examples to inspire me, to challenge me, to correct me and to guide me. And those other Christians have anchored their discipleship into a variety of settings (denominations). Some of my favourite Christians are Catholic ... Baptist ... Methodist ... etc. And many Anglicans :).
I also find myself thinking (in reflection since the news last week) that I am pretty sure my accountability to God on the day of judgment will have heaps to do with how my life has grown and developed closer and closer to the life of Christ, become more and more open to the fullness of God in Christ developing in me than to which church I belonged, what doctrines I believed with correct precision and whether I was perfectly nurtured through an exquisitely balanced ministry of word and (correct) Sacrament.
Put another way: the challenges I find in the church of God to which I have been called and in which I have been planted are not resolvable by "finally" admitting that Anglican polity and teaching would be perfected through conversion to (in the instance being considered) Rome. Rather, looking at my diary this week and thinking somewhat guiltily about the emails I am yet to respond to, all issues before me are resolvable in the life of the Spirit, through the teaching of Christ, and opening our hearts to the love of the Father. More simply: human nature is not perfected through church polity and doctrine but through the work of God.
(4) Not that Damian Thompson is himself an infallible pope among Catholic journalists but he is well informed and has nice if acerbic turns of phrases and so it is somewhat ironic that this week he writes an article headed Is the Pope a Protestant? which includes the line
"Pope Francis is presiding over the Anglicanisation of the Catholic Church."
(In the end I don't think such critics of Francis have any empathy for the church adapting to a changing world).
(5) A (Catholic) Twitter buddy here talked about Dr Nazir-Ali coming "home to Rome." What I am trying to say above is that if any earthly city is a spiritual home for me and my understanding of being Christian, it is ... Jerusalem!!
(Added later) (6) I see now that Dr Nazir-Ali has written something of an apologia in the Daily Mail (here). Frankly I find this begging some questions, about the advantages of Catholicism v Anglicanism. Sure Anglicanism has faults, but Catholicism’s claim is not that it has none. Take one Anglican fault adduced in the article: some kind of diffidence in moral leadership on the international stage. Has Dr Nazir-Ali not heard of the internal Catholic critique of the deal Pope Francis did with China re the appointment of Catholic bishops there?
So, I wish Dr Nazir-Ali well and do not think the core of Anglicanism today is thereby rocked by his conversion.
*For those new to these things, the lack of recognition by Rome of Anglican ministry orders means Dr Nazir-Ali is received into the church as a layperson but reports say he will soon be ordained as a (Roman Catholic) deacon-then-priest. As a married man the future Fr Nazir-Ali will not be eligible to become a bishop.
Incidentally, also in Anglican news this week, here , is Forward in Faith North America railing against the recent move of the Anglican Church of Kenya to ordain a woman to the episcopate:
"While the Anglican Church in Kenya currently maintains an orthodox understanding of the Gospel, it should be noted that every province that has adopted women into the episcopate has, in time, yielded to the pressures of the culture and left Biblical morality.
Listen to the words of Saint Paul to Timothy, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Lastly, your Grace, for the sake of the Gospel and our unity in Christ we call upon the Anglican Church in Kenya to refrain from further actions of division and to repent of your actions which have directly harmed your brother and sister Anglican Christians around the world."
What is very interesting here is that (effectively) within GAFCON is recognition that not all Anglicans think alike, not all Anglicans have the same definition of "orthodox" and not all Anglicans are agreed on what "directly harms" a fellow Anglican!