There is a lot of media attention at the moment about the appointment of The Rev Dr John Shepherd as the interim director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. The holder of the position essentially acts as an ambassador of the Anglican Communion to the Holy See - so it is a position of significant importance, and the holder of the post needs to be someone that can represent the official position of the Anglican church in ecumenical dialogue. This should be a person that can be supported by the broad spectrum of Anglican churchmanship - and also by the Vatican.
The problem is that Dr Shepherd is not such a person. Now I want to be clear I do not know Dr Shepherd personally, I do not make judgements about his general character as a man. I'm sure he is a perfectly nice guy - I can however make a judgement, based on his publicly espoused beliefs, that he should not be in this post, and in my opinion, that he should not be in Holy Orders.
Why? Because as reported in multiple places Dr Shepherd does not believe in the most fundamental of Christian doctrines - that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact he has preached this openly - during an Easter service of all places! He has also shared his view in op-ed pieces in the West Australian Newspaper. Why does that matter? Because as St Paul makes it clear in his first letter to the Corinthians:
.... if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. ... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Scripture then is clear - the resurrection of Jesus is absolutely fundamental to the Christian faith - and without that resurrection, the Christian faith is simply a waste of time.
So that raises some problems for Dr Shepherd. If he rejects the resurrection, he then declares Christianity and its teaching - as St Paul says useless - and the scriptures to be false.
How then can he even be in holy orders? Surely if he no longer believes the faith he vowed to uphold at his ordination (assuming he believed it then) he should stand down. Yet he doesn't stand down and instead he is rewarded for his blatant heresy, by being put into a high profile representative role.
This of course tells us a couple of things - the process for appointing someone to this significant role is very flawed, and there is also a fundamental problem within the Anglican Communion and within the Anglican Church of Australia which allows clergy who are openly espousing views in direct contradiction to their vows of ordination to not only get away with it, but get promoted into positions of authority and major significance. Dr Shepherd should not have been the Dean of Perth, and he certainly shouldn't be director of the Anglican Centre..
This is not an isolated incident, we have seen this previously with clergy in the Australian church. Rod Bower in Gosford, who as David Ould has reported, openly says Jesus didn't die for our sins, and that there is no such thing as heaven or hell, and also that God isn't a divine being was rather than being disciplined for heresy, made an Archdeacon. I could point to many more.
I have no doubt that there are many Anglican (and other) clergy out there who over time may come to have views contrary to the position of the church. Over non fundamental things this isn't really a problem, but when we find ourselves with clergy who stand up in church each Sunday and recite the Nicene Creed with their fingers crossed because they don't actually believe it, that is unacceptable.
It is unacceptable because it shows an incredible lack of integrity on behalf of the church leadership which stands by and lets these people lie to their congregations, to their colleagues and to the wider society they serve when in leadership roles. It also shows an incredible lack of integrity from those who are happy to continue to stand in front of their congregation each week, and take the stipend (salary) which is paid for through their donations, while not actually believing in, or upholding the faith they vowed to uphold when they were ordained.
To be clear, I am not asking for clergy to be perfect, and I am not asking for everyone to believe and behave identically - The Anglican tradition is broad, and we have room for evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics and Charismatics alike. I understand that there are areas within the Christian faith which are more grey than black and white, and that we can agree to disagree on those, without compromising our faith or the Gospel message. But when an ordained man or woman no longer believes in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, when they can no longer honestly recite the creeds of the church, they need to stand down - and if they won't, then the church leadership needs to deal with it - by removing them from ministry.
The Diocese of Grafton has just held their Synod, and during the proceedings the following motion was put forward:
1) reaffirms its commitment to the authorised standard of worship and doctrine of the Anglican Church of Australia as set out in the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia;
2) reaffirms its belief in the doctrine of Christ set out in the Articles of Religion: particularly his bodily resurrection from the dead, that salvation is found in Christ alone and that his death pays the penalty for the sins of the whole world;
3) calls on the Bishop of the Diocese or Administrator to discipline any licensed minister in the Diocese of Grafton who declares doctrine contrary to the Constitution.
This motion was eventually withdrawn due to a vote forcing that withdrawal. Apparently asking that clergy uphold their vows of ordination is a bridge too far for the synod of Grafton.
The question I have to ask is what do the good people who were present at that Synod think their church teaches?
You see The Constitution of The Anglican Church of Australia does in fact make it clear that the doctrine of the church is is defined by the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. They in turn (along with Scripture) make it clear that salvation is indeed found in no other than Jesus.
See Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia - Ruling Principles:
This Church, being derived from the Church of England, retains and approves the doctrine and principles of the Church of England embodied in the Book of Common Prayer together with the Form and Manner of Making Ordaining and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests and Deacons and in the Articles of Religion sometimes called the Thirty-nine Articles but has plenary authority at its own discretion to make statements as to the faith ritual ceremonial or discipline of this Church and to order its forms of worship and rules of discipline and to alter or revise such statements, forms and rules, provided that all such statements, forms, rules or alteration or revision thereof are consistent with the Fundamental Declarations contained herein and are made as prescribed by this Constitution. Provided, and it is hereby further declared, that the above-named Book of Common Prayer, together with the Thirty-nine Articles, be regarded as the authorised standard of worship and doctrine in this Church, and no alteration in or permitted variations from the services or Articles therein contained shall contravene any principle of doctrine or worship laid down in such standard.
That same doctrine also makes it clear that Jesus' death was a payment for sin and was substitutionary - hence we read in the prayer of consecration in The Book of Common Prayer:
"...who of thy tender mercy didst give thine
Then there is the fact that clergy at their ordination give their assent to these very same articles and also vow to minister the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Australia. That same doctrine that we have just established is found in the 39 articles and book of common prayer.:
Will you faithfully and humbly minister the doctrine, sacraments and discipline of Christ, as he has commanded and as this Church has received them?
Bishops likewise make the same commitment - and they also vow to correct teaching that is contrary to that doctrine.
The faux outrage expressed by many about this motion speaks volumes. It tells us that there are many many clergy who have walked away from the doctrine and faith of the Anglican Church, which they vowed to uphold.
Now there will be many comments about how the 39 Articles were a product of their time and should be rightly understood as a historical document etc etc.. The problem is however that the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia does not make that distinction - in fact it declares that the articles and the Book of Common Prayer are THE standard for doctrine.
Yes there are different ways to interpret the articles and the theology of the book of common prayer - You can certainly take a Calvinistic interpretation, you can also lean more towards an Anglo-Catholic interpretation. What you cannot do (with any integrity) is claim that they simply don't matter. What you cannot do is claim they allow for a complete re-interpretation of what has been orthodox Christian belief about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I could go on - but I think C.S. Lewis puts it much more articulately than I could.
It is your duty to to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalises the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of the other. -- Christian Apologetics, C. S. Lewis, Easter 1945
Fr Daryl is an Anglican priest living in regional New South Wales Australia. Learn more on the About page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my church or any other organisation I am affiliated with.