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OXFORD, England (ChurchMilitant.com) - An internationally renowned Anglican bishop is fending off a barrage of fierce criticism leveled against him by global Protestant evangelical leaders after he was received into full communion in the Catholic Church.
Anyone who holds to Scripture as "the supreme rule of faith" and the need for "apostolic Tradition to understand and interpret it … can count me as friend," former bishop of Rochester Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali told Church Militant in an exclusive interview Tuesday.
"The pope cannot change the apostolic teaching of the Church," the former bishop said in response to evangelicals who accused him of joining a Church headed by a liberal pontiff.
The former member of Britain's House of Lords, who will be ordained a priest Oct. 30 by archbishop of Westminster Cdl. Vincent Nichols, is being attacked by his former evangelical allies for "betraying the Reformation" and Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Noting that "no one is as respected and revered in the whole of the Anglican Communion" as Dr. Nazir-Ali, Canon Chuck Collins, director for the Center for Reformation Anglicanism, accused Catholics of believing in "salvation by increments — salvation by sanctification."
Anglican bishop Felix Orji called it "disappointing that a bishop of his [Nazir-Ali's] stature has left a bad example for struggling souls because the Roman Catholic Church has serious theological flaws especially in the areas of soteriology and Mariology."
Orji, who leads a breakaway Nigerian diocese from his cathedral in El Paso, Texas, conceded that "conservative Anglicanism is so compromised theologically that good men like Bp. Nazir-Ali feel compelled to leave Anglicanism altogether."
"For years," Nazir-Ali, "had been considered a steady, measured and capable hand in providing intellectual defense" to Protestant distinctives, the English Churchman noted. "Now, he pivots and walks away to teach the opposite. We should hope and pray that he comes to a better mind and recants," the journal's editorial maintained.
Observing his Protestant detractors were "uninformed" as to Catholic teaching, Nazir-Ali said: "In the joint Lutheran-Catholic Declaration on Justification, the Catholic Church commits itself to the following: 'Justification takes place by grace alone through faith alone, the person is justified apart from works (Romans 3:28).'"
The joint declaration was signed by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), Lutheran World Federation, World Methodist Council, Anglican Communion and World Communion of Reformed Churches in March 2019.
The Council of Trent (1547) solemly declared: "If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema."
In comments to Church Militant, former Queen's chaplain Dr. Gavin Ashenden noted "the great joy of reconciliation with the Catholic Church has been regrettably matched by a lamentation from evangelical Protestants who until now professed such admiration for Nazir-Ali's clarity of theological thought and spiritual authenticity."
"It is sad that they have suddenly turned on Michael with a welter of instantaneous disrespect," said Ashenden, a former bishop who came home to Rome in January 2020.
Ashenden, who has led over 24 Protestants to the Catholic Church in the 12 months following his conversion, added:
Given the Lutheran-Catholic agreement on justification, it is tragic that Michael's critics have descended to personal abuse. It is a poor reflection of a commitment to purported biblical integrity and shows a regretful unwillingness to adapt their behavior to the demands of Scripture.
Meanwhile, in a Daily Mail column explaining why he left the Church of England, Nazir-Ali slammed Anglicanism as "splintered, a loose collection of churches, many of whom have conflicting interpretations of Christianity."
"Even when the Church manages to agree on things, these decisions don't seem to carry much weight — people go off and do it their own way," Nazir-Ali wrote, alluding to his own project of Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), which despite its own moratorium has refused to discipline member churches ordaining women bishops.
Church Militant asked Dr. Nazir-Ali if he repudiated his former stance on ordaining women as priests. "I accept that the practice of Jesus, of the Apostles and of the Church has been to restrict Holy Orders to men," he replied.
Pakistani-born Nazir-Ali, a champion of persecuted Christians in Islamic countries, has joined the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, created by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 to allow Anglicans to join the Catholic Church while retaining much of their patrimony.
Mary Ann Mueller, reporter for Anglican media Virtue Online, has listed over 22 Anglican bishops from the United States, England and Australia who have converted to Catholicism since 2000. Last month, Jonathan Goodall, bishop of Ebbsfleet, England, swam the Tiber, Church Militant reported.
Church Militant's full interview with Dr. Nazir-Ali follows.
Church Militant: High-profile evangelicals like theologian Os Guinness are accusing you of betraying the Reformation. "If only you had understood the truth of 'justification by faith' you would not have left for Rome," they say. How would you respond?
Michael Nazir-Ali: In the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the Catholic Church commits itself to the following: "Justification takes place by grace alone through faith alone, the person is justified apart from works (Romans 3:28)."
In our Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) work, we were told again and again by the highest authorities that the Catholic Church now regards this doctrine as a "measure or touchstone for the Christian faith. No teaching may contradict this criterion." The declaration says it "is an indispensable criterion that constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ."
Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Paul of Tarsus, tells us that Luther's translation of Romans 3:28: "We hold that a man is justified by faith alone and not by works of the law" was correct and goes on to translate Galatians 5:6 as 'faith working through love' in a way that would have satisfied even Tyndale! I have discussed the whole issue in my Peter Toon Memorial lecture published by Latimer.
CM: Your critics also say your "conversion" (a term you are reluctant to use) is motivated more by the failure of Anglicanism to hold fast to sound doctrine and practice, rather than it is by a realization of the great truths of the Catholic Church — like transubstantiation, Mary, etc. They say you have not been particularly forthcoming about the great truths of the Catholic Church which you have now embraced fully. Are they right?
MNA: The great truths of the Catholic Church are set out in the Catechism, which is framed in the context of the Nicene Creed, the sacraments, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. On the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, this is what we in ARCIC affirmed together: "Before the Eucharistic Prayer, to the question 'What is this?,' the believer answers 'it is bread.' After the Eucharistic Prayer to the same question he answers: 'It is truly the Body of Christ, the Bread of Life.'"
In the light of affirmation, the Holy See declared that no further discussion was required on that point. I discuss my understanding of the Eucharist in a succession of my books: Citizens and Exiles (1998), Shapes of the Church to Come (2001) and The Unique and Universal Christ (2008).
CM: You were responsible for the Rochester Report on the ordination of women bishops. Did you favor this position at that time as chair of the commission producing the report? You also ordained women to the priesthood. In the light of the civil war within Catholicism and the German bishops' synod, among others campaigning for women deacons and priests, would they find you an ally or an opponent? In other words, do you now categorically repudiate the ordination of women to the priesthood?
MNA: The Rochester Report is widely regarded as producing all the serious arguments for and against ordaining women to the episcopate. It was never meaningfully discussed because the activists did not want to discuss theology and ecclesiology. They had already made up their minds.
What struck me was the Vatican and the Catholic bishops of England and Wales saying we could not claim to share the apostolic ministry with them and the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian churches and yet plan to make this change unilaterally.
I accept that the practice of Jesus, of the Apostles and of the Church has been to restrict Holy Orders to men.
As Orthodox women have noted, however, there have always been honored ministries open to women such as evangelists, confessors, teachers, religious, spiritual directors, medical and spiritual healers and "deaconessses" — to which we could add lectors, cantors, pastoral workers, chaplains, etc.
I believe the question we should be asking is "To what ministries is God calling men and women?" and then make provision for them, whilst respecting the universal Tradition and the teaching of the Magisterium.
CM: Your ordination is being processed at top speed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) while many other Anglican priests must wait a long time to be ordained as Catholic priests. Is this jumping the line?
MNA: I am not, of course, responsible for my ordination processes. But I can say it has been in the pipeline for about six months, during which I have been given time by the CDF itself and senior bishops and priests. I have made a retreat and been given a substantial reading list.
My age and previous experience on ARCIC and International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) and work with various dicasteries such as the CDF, PCPCU and Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue may also have been a factor.
CM: Please tell us about your personal meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. And when did you last meet Pope Francis in person?
MNA: I have known both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI quite well. As I told you, Pope Benedict recognized me as someone who 'knew some Catholic theology!' I had a private audience with Pope Francis around five or six years ago and met him many times at meetings and conferences. I was also in Rome in June.
CM: With the state the Catholic Church is in and with Pope Francis said to be adopting a liberal left-wing agenda, are you jumping out of the frying pan into the fire?
MNA: The Pope cannot change the apostolic teaching of the Church. He can only define it, as we said in ARCIC's report on authority in the Church, in accordance with Scripture and apostolic Tradition.
The body of the Church's teaching is in the ecumenical councils, the Fathers and Sacred Doctors, in the Catechism and in the encyclicals. It is this clear body of teaching and framework of authority that is so different from the Anglican Communion. The archbishop of Canterbury's recent comment illustrates this well.
CM: Knowing how synods were often a Trojan Horse to introduce heterodoxy in the Church of England, what advice would you give us on Pope Francis' Synod on Synodality and an approach that seems to imitate the worst of Anglicanism?
MNA: Synods have also been bodies where orthodoxy has been defined! Consultative gatherings are one thing, but matters of faith, worship and morals should be firmly in the hands of the authentic and apostolic teachers gathered in council with their head or acting together in some other way.