The report in The Sunday Telegraph that senior Anglican leaders are wanting to involve representatives of non-Christian faiths in the coronation of the next monarch for the first time in British history will come as no suprise to probably most Christian Today readers.
After all, Prince Charles in his famous 1994 interview with Jonathan
Dimbleby expressed his preference to be a defender of faith in general
rather than just the Protestant Christian faith his mother promised to
defend in 1953.
However, the issues raised by the involvement of non-Christian
religious leaders in the coronation service at Westminster Abbey are
significant both for the monarchy and for the Church by law established.
The Telegraph report insists that "there is no question of a
multi-faith service in which all gods are considered equal. The sacred
central acts of the coronation must remain intact, and the service
entirely Christian – but within that framework it should be possible to
'recognise' other faiths, perhaps by allowing their representatives to
take part in symbolic acts, such as the lighting of candles."
Despite these off-the-record assurances from senior Anglican clerics,
it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that such representatives
would be invited to say prayers or give readings from their scriptures.
That is already happening in services conducted by Anglican clergy.
The public perception of the national Church is that it has a very
flexible set of beliefs. That perception, understandable given the
unlawful conduct of some clergy, is in fact wrong.
The spiritual convictions of the Church of England are clearly set
out in its 39 Articles of Religion. Because they are enshrined in the
Canons (rules) of the Church of England, these beliefs as they impact on
the ministry of frontline clergy are part of the law of the land.
Article 18 of the 39 Articles has significant bearing on the Church
of England's inter-faith relations. It is entitled 'Of Obtaining eternal
salvation only by the Name of Christ'. Despite the 16th century
language and punctuation, the Article is quite intelligible as to how
Anglicans are to understand the spiritual status of non-Christian
Article 18 declares that "they also are to be had accursed (anathema)
that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect
which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according
to that Law, and the light of Nature. For holy scripture doth set out
unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved".
So, on the question of whether people can be saved by observing their
non-Christian religion, the Church of England is a sign post and not a
weathercock. Its official, public doctrine issues a categorical 'no' to
A service that gives the impression that people can be saved by a
non-Christian religion is clearly ruled out by our 39 Articles.
it is not being a 'swivel-eyed loon' to suggest that the coronation of
the next Supreme Governor of the Church of England should be faithful to
its stated beliefs about the supremacy and uniqueness of the Lord Jesus