Saturday 18 November 2017

Archbishop Welby is going to Heaven

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, caused a minor stir recently when he said the following in an interview with Alastair Campbell published in GQ magazine.[1]

Campbell: 'Will you go to Heaven?'
Welby: 'Yes.'
Campbell: 'Will I go to Heaven?'
Welby: 'That's up to you.'

Although Archbishop Welby’s answers sound arrogant to Orthodox ears, they are entirely consistent with his beliefs and not just personal conceit. Welby also categorically states in the same interview that he believes in the Virgin Birth and the Divinity of Christ so he is not a liberal in the Anglican sense.

Welby’s background in the Evangelical parish Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) could explain his certainty that he is going to Heaven. HTB became famous in the 1990s for embracing the ‘Toronto Blessing’ and events there made the UK and international press:

The youthful throng buzzes with anticipation more common at a rock concert or a rugby match. After the usual scripture readings, prayers, and singing, the chairs are cleared away. Curate Nicky Gumbel prays that the Holy Spirit will come upon the congregation. Soon, a woman begins laughing. Others gradually join her with hearty belly laughs. A young worshipper falls to the floor, hands twitching. Another falls, then another and another. Within half an hour, there are bodies everywhere as supplicants sob, shake, roar like lions, and strangest of all, laugh uncontrollably.[2]

Alpha Course literature no longer mentions the Toronto Blessing, but earlier editions of the talks that accompany the course mentioned it specifically:

Ellie Mumford told us a little bit of what she had seen in Toronto then she said ‘Now we’ll invite the Holy Spirit to come’ and the moment she said that, one of the people there was thrown, literally, across the room and was lying on the floor, just howling and laughing … making the most incredible noise … [3]

This behaviour resembles the actions of those possessed by demons that we read about in the Gospels:  

And one of the multitude answered and said, Teacher, I have brought unto you my son, who has a dumb spirit; And wherever he takes him, he throws him down: and he foams, and gnashes with his teeth, and wastes away: and I spoke to your disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. He answered him, and said, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you? Bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, immediately the spirit convulsed him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming (Matt. 9:17-20).

At Pentecost, the apostles did not bark like dogs, roar like lions or writhe on the ground. On the contrary, as we hear in the service for Pentecost, ‘each one of them there present heard spoken his native tongue’. In other words, the apostles were given the gift of speaking foreign languages. 

We don’t have time in this article to discuss the Alpha Course in great detail, but the Course, and the worship at HTB are rooted in the so-called Faith Movement. This movement promotes many heretical beliefs, one of which, ‘faith in faith’, is outlined below by the Baptist pastor Dr. Nick Needham:

‘Faith’ is an independent spiritual force, a basic law of the universe. God Himself is a ‘faith God’: He created the universe by His faith. This involved God in visualising the universe in His imagination, and then speaking it into existence with ‘faith-filled words’—saying ‘Let it be’ and believing that it would be. Man also can use the same power and create his own reality. This involves visualising what you want, and then speaking it into existence with faith in your creative words (‘Positive confession’—sometimes called ‘Name it and claim it’).[4]

According to the above theory, people can ‘create’ reality by wishing it into existence. Followers of the Alpha Course, for example, invite Jesus into their life and this becomes a reality because they have ‘named it and claimed it’. This theory also explains why follows of the Alpha Course believe that they will go to Heaven.

The Alpha Course has also been criticized by Reformed Protestants for promoting ‘easy believism’ – the belief that one needs to accept Christ as Saviour but not necessarily as Lord. In other words, ‘easy believers’ can continue their lives without obeying Christ’s commandments as long as they accept Christ as Saviour. In similar fashion, the Alpha Course ignores Christ’s role as Judge and Lord in order to promote a more accessible Jesus. HTB’s own magazine describes the course as ‘fun and unthreatening - just like our Lord Himself!’ [5]

We have only quoted a small part of Welby’s interview, but it is clear that the idea he is putting forward here is not Orthodox. We cannot be saved simply by telling ourselves we are. Nor can people can save themselves solely by their own actions. This idea was condemned by the Orthodox Church in the fifth century – it is called the heresy of Pelagianism.

People who are convinced that they are going to Heaven are forgetting that we will be judged by God for our deeds on earth as Saint Paul teaches: ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad’ (2.Cor. 5:10).

Christ is the Judge of All and Almighty God. Christ Himself says: ‘As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me (John 5:30) ‘And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me' (John 8:16).

We preach Christ as Saviour and Lord Who, when He comes again in glory, will reveal the hidden things of darkness and make manifest the counsels of our hearts (cf. 1. Cor. 4:5). Christ teaches:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity (Matt. 7: 22-23).

Even though Christ is a Just Judge, the chances of us entering the Kingdom of Heaven are far from certain. Even St. Paul did not dare to say that he was already saved or going to heaven: ‘Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own’ (Phil. 3:12). In a similar vein, St. Paul likens our Christian life to an athletic race: ‘Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain (1. Cor. 9:24).

We must repent of our sins and struggle to run the race well, but we cannot earn salvation by our works. It is for reason that the Church describes our spiritual life as cooperation with the Holy Spirit. This cooperation between our works on earth and grace is called synergy. St. Paul uses the word ‘synergy’ in this context when he says: ‘We are fellow workers (synergoi) with God’ (1. Cor. 3:9).  

Salvation is not solely up to us, because as Christ says: ‘Without me ye can do nothing’ (John 15:5). However, our contribution is indispensable because, as St. James the Apostle teaches, ‘Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:17).

Our personal salvation is therefore not assured unless we continue to ‘fight the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life’ (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12). Who among us can say that we are fighting this good fight as well as we should? Who among us can say that we have no sin? We cannot, therefore, declare that we will go to Heaven.

We are all sinners and we must repent, acknowledging how far we away from even beginning to keep Christ’s commandments. It is for this reason, that time and again in the services of the Orthodox Church we ask for the mercy of God. For example, in the Orthodox funeral service we chant:

I am an image of Thine ineffable glory even though I bear the wounds of sin; take compassion on Thy creature, O Master, and cleanse me by Thy loving-kindness; and grant me the desired fatherland, making me again a dweller of Paradise.

We cannot, like Archbishop Welby, say that we are going to Heaven. We acknowledge that we are sinners, but we trust in the mercy and love of God ‘Who desires that all men be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).

[2] Richard Ostling, 'Laughing for the Lord'. Time Magazine. Aug 15, 1994.
[3] Talk 9 Edition 1 (2000)
[5] Alpha News Feb 1997

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