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By David W. Virtue, DD
October 17, 2021

Social media lit up like a neon sign last week when Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican Bishop of Rochester announced he is leaving for Rome.

We have not seen such a high-profile defection since Ronald Knox left for Rome. Famed British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge also made his way across the Tiber in his later years, at the urging of his good friend Lord (Frank) Longford, Britain's leading lay Roman Catholic at the time. (I knew both men).

As Reform scholar Chuck Collins observed, perhaps no one is as respected and revered in the whole of the Anglican Communion as the Bishop of Rochester. Bishop Nazir-Ali was one of the founders of the GAFCON movement uniting Bible-believing Anglicans worldwide. He was the runner-up for the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, for heaven's sake!

The primary doctrinal difference that separates Anglicans, indeed all Protestants from Rome is "justification," says Collins.

"For me it is the heart of what I believe as a Christian and as an Anglican how Roman Catholics answer the most basic human question, "Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?" (Job 4:17), is my biggest hurdle to becoming one of them."

"Catholics basically believe in salvation by increments - salvation by sanctification. They teach that forgiveness of sins is based on inherent righteousness and that justification is a process by which a person is actually and morally made righteous through the infused righteousness of God available in the sacraments. Protestants, on the other hand, understand that we are never righteous enough, not innately and not in this lifetime, therefore our salvation depends on Christ's righteousness credited to our account (justification by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone). Thomas Cranmer wrote that "Justification precedes a right heart" because, like the other 16th century reformers, he saw salvation as the extrinsic righteousness of Christ received by faith, not as an intrinsic righteousness infused by grace."

Dr. Os Guinness, social critic and author of The Magna Carta of Humanity, had this to say regarding Nazir Ali's defection; "Having known and admired Michael since our graduate student days at Oxford and Cambridge, his defection to Rome leaves me profoundly sad, and sad for him, too.

"Institutionally, the switch makes great sense. Again and again, I alternate between sorrow and outrage over the lamentable weakness, compromise, idiocy and rank unfaithfulness of so many of our Anglican leaders in England, from the top down. Rome is a far more prestigious liner to sail in than the battered barque of Lambeth, and doubtless close friendships and congenial Common Rooms have played a key part in the decision.

"But in terms of the Gospel itself, the switch makes no sense, and I hate to think that ecclesiastical factors outweighed theological factors at the end of the day. If the Gospel is true in the sense, I have heard Michael proclaim down the years, it would still have been true if the whole world had abandoned the faith and he was left the sole survivor of the shipwreck of all the world's churches, Rome and Canterbury included. That is the faith that he is calling into question through this switch. The humblest West African church in the land, still faithful to the Gospel, would have been a better destination."

The defection of Nazir Ali will hardly affect the church adversely as it is a part of a widening winnowing process, removing those who are unstable in their theological conviction, and it will serve as a confirmation of those who will remain firm. How can Rome be the Home for any authentic adherent of the Augustinian 16th century Reformation where the doctrine of grace regained its bold and beautiful clarity?" asks the Rev. Roger Salter, a frequent VOL writer on historical and theological issues.

"There is no refuge in regarding ecclesiastical institutions in themselves as being in any way secure harbors of spiritual safety and peace, guarded by sea walls of infallible interpretation of divine truth. The magisterium of Rome [official teaching of the Pope] is an accumulation of humanly gathered, piles of impure sand that provides no valid protection for the anxious and vacillating soul. There is no superior refuge for the saint in the Church of Rome with all its known errors, accretions of superstition, and vast ethical irregularities. It is, like any other contemporary denomination, struggling -- riddled with imperfect doctrine, and with more enormous moral irregularity than even the Anglican Communion, in its current form, can amass."

Anglican theologian and ACNA priest the Rev. Dr. Gerry McDermott had this to say: “The conversion of Michael Nazir-Ali to the Roman communion was the second earthquake for orthodox Anglicans within a matter of weeks. The first was the consecration of two females to the episcopacy in Kenya, the second by the Kenyan archbishop himself. The Kenyan events showed, as Yeats put it, that the “centre cannot hold.” They demonstrated that Gafcon has not kept its own commitments, and that discipline from within might not be coming. As several observers have noted, it is a false dichotomy to opine that this is a second-order or non-salvific matter. For the Fathers (to whom Anglicans ought give special attention) salvation comes through Word and sacrament, and there are no genuine sacraments if apostolic order is compromised.

“Nazir-Ali is a great man and theologian. If he had been chosen to be Archbishop of Canterbury instead of Williams or Welby, we might have been spared these earthquakes. The fact that he was an evangelical and not Anglo-Catholic signals the appeal of a communion where at least one foundation of “the centre” is holding—apostolic ministry. Many despairing Anglican clergy, even evangelicals, will be tempted to follow him.

“But there is no safe harbor these days. Rome is as deeply divided as Anglicanism between the progressives and the orthodox. And the present pope not only betrays his own persecuted Church (in China, for example) but embraces a range of heresies including universalism. Eastern Orthodoxy’s theologians also wallow in the latter heresy, which as Michael McClymond has shown in The Devil’s Redemption corrupts every other Christian dogma.

“The Church has faced many dark moments in its long history. Today is different but no darker than many previous eras. Today as then, the faithful need to gather with other faithful and continue to walk by faith and not by sight. Orthodox Anglicans should gather with like-minded Anglicans and explore the rich sacramental and theological resources available to them in their own catholic tradition. They would do well to start with Hooker or the Caroline divines or E.L. Mascall.

“Gathering with the like-minded in the midst of the contrary-minded in your own communion is the same thing they would need to do if they were to swim the Tiber or the Bosporus.”

Theologically trained psychologist, Dr. Bruce Atkinson, observed that the RCC attracts some protestant Christians (even high-level ordained clergy) because they have been deceived by what I call "churcholatry"... that is, they accede to the false authority of a church organization in this world... above and beyond the true authority of Holy Writ. They want to trust in a this-world institution and human leaders instead of in the Lord and His eternal Word. It is that simple."

ACNA priest, The Very Rev. Robert Munday said he was shocked by the news and had this to say; "[His conversion] surprises me because Bp. Nazir-Ali did have a great respect for the English Reformers and Richard Hooker. I don't see how anyone once enlightened to the biblical truth about salvation by grace through faith can swim the Tiber. If the Reformation had not happened and if Anglicanism did not exist, then, under God, we would have to start it now; because even if the leadership and institutions of Anglicanism fail, Anglicanism, or something like it, is always a viable option wherever people understand biblical truth."

"If Anglicanism didn't exist, it would need to be invented. If the English Reformation hadn't happened, we would need to have one now, because the Catholic and Reformed principles for which Anglicans' stand is a vital and authentic expression of essential Christianity," writes Munday.

There is widespread pressure for Christian unity today, but it will not be built on the shoulders of Rome or Canterbury, only on Holy Scripture to which the Reformers and the myriads who followed them gave their lives.

To read more click here: https://virtueonline.org/michael-nazir-alis-catholic-conversion-causes-waves-anglican-world
And here: https://virtueonline.org/islamic-scholar-who-defends-persecuted-christians-be-ordained-priest

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