Vancouver Island BC
24th April 2002
The Anglican Atheist
The other day I found myself conducting the funeral of someone whom I had got to know quite well over the past few years.
He'd been ill for some months so his death wasn't too much of a surprise to anyone. What did surprise me somewhat was that he should specifically have asked his executors that I should conduct the funeral.
In the same document where he made this request he had added:
"if asked, I should say that I'm an atheist and but an Anglican atheist.
Well of course one does one's best under these circumstances, and in some ways his honesty made it easier. All too often nowadays one hears sermons which are nothing more than a catalogue of the dear departed's virtues and the conclusion being drawn that somehow he or she had earned God's favour because they were such nice people. With that sort of parody of our faith, the faith once delivered to the Saints, which we have been entrusted to safeguard we can have no dealings.
But the phrase "an Anglican atheist" has a different ring to it. It suggests someone who can see the point of believing but is, for some reason, incapable of doing so, and Catholic theology at least has always recognised that there is a difference between such a person and someone who hasn't given the matter a moment's thought.
So what do we preach? Well like and Paul and the first Christians we should be preaching "Jesus and the Resurrection". And quite frankly unless we preach Jesus and the Resurrection we shall be wasting everyone's time, which is precisely what most of what is preached and passes as "religion" today is precisely that -- a waste of time.
For example a lot is said in today's Church about the need for people to be unselfish; about caring for others; about world poverty; about justice; about peace and many other worthy causes. The fact is that unless our reason for espousing them stems from the beliefs that "Jesus is Lord" and "he is risen" they will carry no kind of weight. Weightlessness is the affliction of our time.
Of course it would be a good thing if people were more just, more unselfish, more caring and and more peaceable -- the truth is that such things can only happen on a long-term basis when people acknowledge the Lordship of Christ and start living as those who have been raised to the new life with him.
For in the last analysis unless we acknowledge that without Christ we are as good as dead in God's eyes there can be no consistent agreement -- except by coincidence -- about what life on this earth is all about.
Oh yes. Here and there you will get groups of people who share a common vision and purpose; but unless they are already you united in one single living body by a common faith they will sooner or later fragment or disintegrate. That's the inevitable fate of all human organisations which were not created by God.
But the Church, which was created by God is the risen body of Christ on earth and outlives them all. In any given age or place it may fall into decay or disrepute, especially if it rewrites the fundamental message of Jesus and the Resurrection as people like bishops Jack Spong and Richard Holloway profess.
But wherever, and whenever that happens the decay in one place is matched by a new growth elsewhere.
So never lose heart. Those who die in Christ will be raised from the dead with him to the glory of God the Father. And an Anglican atheist who has striven to believe but never quite made it may well be surprised to discover that he has become part of God's resurrected people in Christ while those whole supposed that they were righteous in God's eyes because of anything they have done or refrain from doing, most certainly will not.
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