Today is, of course, the enthronement of Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s also the anniversary of the day (March 21, 1556) when his famous predecessor, Thomas Cranmer, was martyred under Queen Mary for holding to Biblical, Protestant belief.
Cranmer had famously recanted his protestant beliefs while imprisoned but on his last day the crowds who gathered for his execution were witness to a remarkable resurgence in his spirits and steadfastness. As he stood before the congregation in St Mary’s Oxford, having listened to a Romanist sermon from Dr. Pole, he spoke boldly and clearly:
“And now forasmuch as I am come to the last end of my life, whereupon hangeth all my life past, and all my life to come, either to live with my master Christ for ever in joy, or else to be in pain for ever with the wicked in hell, and I see before mine eyes presently, either heaven ready to receive me, or else hell ready to swallow me up; I shall therefore declare unto you my very faith how I believe, without any color of dissimulation: for now is no time to dissemble, whatsoever I have said or written in times past.
“First, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, etc. And I believe every article of the Catholic faith, every word and sentence taught by our Savior Jesus Christ, His apostles and prophets, in the New and Old Testament.
“And now I come to the great thing which so much troubleth my conscience, more than any thing that ever I did or said in my whole life, and that is the setting abroad of a writing contrary to the truth, which now here I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be; and that is, all such bills or papers which I have written or signed with my hand since my degradation, wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand hath offended, writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished; for when I come to the fire it shall first be burned.
“And as for the pope, I refuse him as Christ’s enemy, and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine.”
It was a remarkable moment, where Cranmer returned to the zeal for orthodoxy that had so saturated much of his work. Not least in the standard that he held out for ministers of the Church of England and particularly for bishops.
The Archebisshoppe. Wil you then faithfully exercise your selfe in the said holy scriptures, and call upon god by prayer for the true understanding of the same, so as ye may be able by them to teache and exhorte with wholesome doctrine, and to withstande and convince the gainsaiers?
Aunswere. I wyll so doe, by the helpe of God.
The Archebisshoppe. Be you ready with al faithful diligence, to banishe and drive away al erronious and straunge doctryne, contrary to god’s worde, and both privately and openly to call upon, and encourage other to the same?
Aunswere. I am ready, the lord beyng my helper.
These charges have not changed substantively since then, although there has been some dilution of quantity. Even Common Worship’s service of consecration, however, has this,
Will you teach the doctrine of Christ as the Church of England has received it, will you refute error, and will you hand on entire the faith that is entrusted to you?
Ordinand By the help of God, I will.
The refutation of error, of course, always brings with it charges of disunity and unnecessary hostility. It takes a brave man to speak out against heresy in any climate but Cranmer was prepared to do it even when it took him to his death.
So what of Welby? He faces enormous problems in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion caused by the ongoing heretical positions of those who insist on the blessing and affirmation of same-sex activity. That issue over human sexuality is, of course, a symptom of an even deeper rejection of Scriptural authority amongst wholesale parts of the USA and Canada and in the Church of England itself.
Welby is famously committed to “reconciliation” but, sadly, this has led to his endorsement of “reconciliation” with heretics without their prior repentance. Most notably he recently promoted the “reconciliation” of Rev. Tory Baucum, Rector of Truro Church in Virginia and Bishop Shannon Johnston of the TEC diocese of Viriginia. Truro Church was one which was sued by the Diocese of Virginia under Johnston’s predecessor, Bishop Lee, while Johnston was part of the diocesan leadership. Johnston has since not recanted any of those views (not least the promotion of same-sex relationships) which he also held at the time and yet despite this Baucum pursued “reconciliation” with him and ++Welby affirmed them both in this process.
And so as ++Welby is enthroned today the crisis is upon him. He simply cannot have “reconciliation” with heretics – at least there are large segments of the Communion who will not accept it. Following on from today’s celebrations he has scheduled a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, but many have said clearly that they will not attend such a meeting if the Primates of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) are present. ++Welby’s predecessor Williams did nothing about their heresy and so the faithful in the Communion took the decision themselves to do something; to not turn up. Since there has been no shift with ++Welby the outcome will still be the same.
So what should ++Welby do? Well the answer, surely, is in Cranmer’s words…
…banishe and drive away al erronious and straunge doctryne, contrary to god’s worde, and both privately and openly to call upon, and encourage other to the same
This comes, of course, with a call to repentance and then and only then to reconciliation. If TEC and the ACC were to step back from their position and repent of it they would find a most astonishing and gracious reconciliation opened up to them. But repentance comes first.
The pressing question for the Communion and therefore for ++Welby is simply this – will he pursue real reconciliation in line with the legacy that he has stepped into? If he will then surely there is still hope for the unity of the Communion. If not then he will be the Archbishop of Canterbury who truly presides over our final fracturing.
Driving away heresy will lead to great opposition for ++Welby. It took Cranmer to the stake almost 450 years ago. We ought to pray that ++Welby has the courage to do it.