Anglican Church,  David Simons,  False Religion

Hiding in a Shell

I met a woman who asked me why, being a Brit, I am not an Anglican. Never mind what I told her, the more interesting question is why she is an Anglican. She began by expressing her anger towards the decision on Bishops, blaming anti-women sentiment. I mentioned that I hoped scripture might have something to do with it. And that’s when things became interesting. Here are her views:

All human beings go to heaven, really bad human beings go to heaven but only after heavenly re-education, God does not discriminate against anyone or any religious belief, one can be a Buddhist and a Christian (this is how she described herself), Jesus is not God but is a good man,  the Bible is not remotely infallible or inerrant, God is “found within” every human being, God does not judge, there is no hell, there is no need of the atoning sacrifice of Christ for sin.

Just what, I wonder, makes her an Anglican?

I shared the good news of Jesus, of course. I asked her if she thought that there was evil bad enough to be discriminated against and asked her why, if she was allowed to judge and discriminate, wasn’t God? I told her that she and I were evil enough to deserve hell and that Christ paid the price for sin, that he took the wrath of the Father in our place. But I was sure she had heard this before. In church. Why hadn’t she seen her own church’s view? For example, on Jesus Christ, the second article of religion of the Anglican Church says:

The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men (Article II of The Articles of Religion)

It seems that Christian belief is not only disappearing from the public square, but, and more troublingly,  it is fading from inside the church. Jake Wallis Simons entitles a blog post, “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in the Church of England.” He suggests that many, rejecting any divine authority, disbelieving any real personal God, nevertheless believe in the staying course of an outmoded religious institution like the church. This, he says, is a very English thing to do. He writes:

The Englishman’s faith has long been vague, compromising and weak; but it is that very vagueness and weakness that constitutes its strength. It is the very anathema of fanaticism, and the epitome of good-natured tolerance. The Englishman may not be “faithful” to the Church’s “creeds” all of the time, but his life drifts along in general compliance with its more sensible teachings, and he pops in to church now and then. Thus it has been for decades, even centuries.

A church of the kind Simons refers to is, from the perspective of those who actually believe the gospel, an empty shell. It has the appearance of everything Christian, but there is nothing inside. It is important to say that not all Anglican churches are empty shells and not all Englishmen relate to the church in the way Simons suggests.

However, Simons is correct in suggesting that such a situation is not new. The Apostle Paul, in one of his lists of vices, mentions those who hide in a shell as those who deny the power of what they pretend to be:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:1-5).

Paul implies that a content-less religiosity is not merely a neutral position; it is sin. Hostility to God is not necessarily all out, public war on religion, but the use of it to avoid its content. It is having the form without the heart and, consequently, it is self-deception.

Even though a shell is not much to live in, to many unbelievers who dwell there, it is a (be it false) sanctuary, a place to hide from God. It is like hiding from the enemy so close that you think he will not see you. The trouble is that God always sees. As David puts it, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Ps 139:7-8). 

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.