Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Michael Nazir-Ali on mainline decline

This started as a blog comment. Sybok left me this:

Interesting interview with Pakistani Church of England bishop about Anglicanism's future.

Thanks for this! Bishop Nazir-Ali is one of the Church of England's leading lights, an honest conservative Protestant.
VOL: On the global scene it is being said that Christianity, the world’s first global religion, will devolve over time into two forces – the Roman Catholic Church and Pentecostalism. Liberalism will die out having run its course. Do you think this is an accurate picture? If so, where will Anglicanism fit into this picture?

NAZIR-ALI: I think that is true. I would also add a certain kind of conservative evangelicalism will survive - the Tim Kellers of this world. The mainline protestant denominations will do their Cheshire-cat act. What will survive may be an orthodox form of Anglicanism which is allied to Pentecostalism, conservative Anglicans or the Ordinariates. I can’t see mainline protestant denominations surviving. They will not be influential.

Pentecostalism does not have a global voice but it is bringing about transformation on the ground. Sociologist David Martin, perhaps the greatest living British sociologist of religion, says that when people are converted they change personally, in the family and at work. A new cycle of virtue brings about socio-economic change. In Latin America Pentecostalism is doing what Liberation Theology failed to do.

VOL: Do you have any misgivings about Pentecostalism?

NAZIR-ALI: Within the Christian world, my fear about Pentecostalism is that there can be a lack of biblical depth.
I've met David Virtue; he lives in my area. An Anglican Evangelical (from New Zealand) who accepts long accepted women's ordination, he holds a strict-constructionist view of his church's teaching like some American Continuers, which I respect but of course don't agree with. Basically, that Cranmer's and Hooker's "godly reformed Catholic doctrine" wasn't a made-up religion just to give the King of England what he wanted but somehow from God, a return to the Bible and the early church. (So the true faith had been mute for a millennium, until Henry VIII's schism? No sale.) Such blame Anglo-Catholics for undermining that, being disloyal to Anglicanism by being would-be Catholics, and for their methods of "interpreting" the Anglican formularies such as the frankly anti-Catholic Articles of Religion, which Newman "deconstructed" as an intellectual exercise in his Tract XC (in which he nearly did the impossible: reconciled much of it with Catholic doctrine; it got him hounded out of Anglicanism). Newman was no Modernist (as indeed none of the Tractarians were); still, his method was unnervingly like the Modernists' approach to scripture and doctrine, so I think I understand Virtue's misgivings.

I understand that "development of doctrine" isn't part of our doctrine but it makes sense; no problem because the church's doctrine is irreformable; it can't be changed by a Pope or a vote.

Newman was a great man; too conservative for the Anglicans, who were built on sand and who started losing their faith at the "Enlightenment," but too "liberal" for his brother Catholics (ultamontanism isn't the same as the teachings of the church). Still, he got the cardinal's hat: he was truly of the church.
Many of us from "across the pond" believe he (Nazir-Ali) should have been the next Archbishop of Canterbury following in the footsteps of George Carey, but it was not to be. A scurrilous secular press did him in and Dr. Rowan Williams, an Affirming Catholic, took the helm.
"Affirming Catholic" is what I call liberal high church. Dr. Williams used to be an Anglo-Catholic but switched on women's ordination and is on board with gay marriage; still, more liturgically conservative, more learned, and more orthodox than Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Most English people don't go to church anymore; it's like the elite in America's Northeast but even more skeptical (agnostic, not our wimpy "spiritual, not religious"). I think the few churchgoers are Polish guest workers going to Mass outnumbering the remaining English Evangelicals at some C of E parishes. The Anglican membership roll still outnumbers the Catholic one (20 and 10%, respectively) but practicing Catholics in terms of Sunday attendance outnumber practicing Anglicans.

I understand that in the years between Catholic emancipation and the Sixties, English Catholic churchmen being honest would say they didn't want to see the C of E just go away and be replaced by unbelief or hostility to religion, as Newman wrote once. "We can't replace it": Catholics didn't have the numbers and resources to. Better to make the best of an infrastructure that was at least Christian and even still resembled the church more than most other Protestants did.


  1. IMHO Pentecostalism provides perfect proof of the axiom, "God has no grandchildren." One generation jumps in with both feet; the next (or the one after) can't get away fast enough.

    As a veteran of the charismatic renewal, I can see a place for the charismatic gifts. But the Protestant Pentecostalism so prevalent now -- especially in its Prosperity Gospel iterations -- is seriously bizarre.

    I have good Pentecostal friends and neighbors, and I used to attend a ladies' Bible Study at the home of one of them. It eventually freaked me out so badly I had to stop attending. I don't have time to go into details, but suffice it to say it got very weird. And it was typical Word-of-Faith stuff. I cannot see something like that sustaining itself across the generations.

    1. I hear you. I have no idea of Pentecostalism's power among conservative Protestants but charismatic Catholicism seems to be waning in America. They seem to be the group here besides traditionalists and conservatives who still practice the faith. The whole thing has its weaknesses (there is danger of heresy and the demonic slipping in through the enthusiasm: it can be "enthusiasm" in Ronnie Knox's sense), but since the Catholic charismatics re-Catholicized in the '90s, and the Catholic liberals, friendly with them since the '70s, "broke up with" them when their origins in conservative Protestantism and their agreement with Catholic doctrine made them incompatible, it's nice to see them the few times a year I'm at the new Mass, when they do the orans position at the Our Father. As long as they don't interrupt my Mass with glossolalia, I say they're welcome at it. I understand they're one of the few energetic groups in the church in Europe, trads being the other, much like here. And the European version, while exuberant (Italians and Hispanics who go to church often love it), is rather "tame"; none of the excesses of American Pentecostalism. The movement's good points: devotion to the Holy Spirit and witnessing that miracles are possible.

      Pentecostalism (such as the Assemblies of God), in existence for just over 100 years, thinks it's the true faith; charismatics are the Sixties ecumenical version.

  2. Two comments:

    1. David Virtue changed his mind about 5 years ago on the subject of WO; he now opposes it as regards the episcopate and presbyterate, but still favors it as regards the diaconate. He has hardly "shouted" his new stance on the matter, but he told it to me personally at out last meeting about 4 or 5 years ago..

    2. Nazir-Ali was bred up a Catholic; one or both of his parents were Muslims who became Catholics. I have read two explanations of his (undergraduate) conversion to Anglicanism: one, that he had an evangelical "conversion experience;" the other, that he wanted to be ordained, but also to marry, and so became an Anglican. He was once a firm supporter of WO, but has admitted privately (to, among others, a person who told me) that he had come to think it "a mistake" (although not necessarily "an error").

    1. 1. Good to hear!

      2. I remember around the time he became prominent (when he became the Bishop of Rochester?) hearing that somehow he'd passed through the church; didn't know he's an ex-Catholic. Good to hear regarding him changing his mind on WO too.

  3. Interestingly Nazir-Ali will be the keynote speaker at the next plenary session of the UK Ordinariate in October. Despite being on the evangelical wing he's been practically the only CofE bishop to be rather friendly towards the Ordinariate(s) since it's inception. In the catholic wing, with the exception of Lindsay Urwin, the bishop's have either studiously ignored it or been just short of outright hostile.


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