Tweeting the truth in love: Justin Welby affirms an unpalatable article of faith


We have a blogging, vlogging and tweeting Archbishop of Canterbury. He’s on Flickr, too. Justin Welby has fathomed that the medium is the message: the social network is the evangelion; the soundbite is the beatitude. And if the message has no virality, it’s a paragraph of Koine Greek. It is good to have a blogging, vlogging and tweeting Archbishop of Canterbury who’s also on Flickr, unless you happen to be the Archbishop’s Director of Communications, for whom it must sometimes be a cause of great consternation – if not trichotillomaniacal grief – that her boss occasionally wanders off up Cranmer’s Tower and spontaneously tweets whatever’s on his mind, without the requisite filtering for a potential gaffe or spinning for popular consumption. We must pray fervently for Ailsa Anderson.

Yesterday, Justin Welby tweeted: “When we are not at peace with God through Jesus Christ, we cannot be peacemakers – or bringers of justice – in the world.” Gosh, there’s an unpalatable truth in an age of Hickian universalism and religious relativity, in which all spiritual, moral, social and cultural development must be expressed in the common currency of multifaith shared understanding. There is no space in the postmodern paradigm for fundamentalist uniqueness or substantive conviction, except, of course, for the absolutised fundamental conviction that there can be no space for fundamentalist uniqueness or substantive conviction. This is the principle by which all morality must now be evaluated, and soteriology assessed.

By tweeting “When we are not at peace with God through Jesus Christ, we cannot be peacemakers – or bringers of justice – in the world”, Justin Welby proclaims that there is no peace except that which may be found through reconciliation with God in Jesus Christ; and that there is no true justice in the world except that which derives from the Bible. It is an unpalatable article of faith: Article XIII, to be precise:

XIII. Of Works before Justification
Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

Is this the most useful title for this Article? Is grace ever given before justification? Doesn’t Romans 13 state that ‘all powers are ordained of God‘; that ‘rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil; and that the ruler ‘is the minister of God to thee for good‘? If the non-believing ruler may minister goodness and restrain evil, might they not be peacemakers or bringers of justice? Is Justin Welby just plain wrong?

Well, we must remember that archbishops of Canterbury do not speak ex cathedra, and they are certainly not infallible ex Twittedra. And yet..

On this matter Justin Welby is absolutely correct: The truth is that no good work can precede the grace of God, since without that grace it cannot be performed. But good works may precede justification, and actually do precede it, for grace is given before justification, so that we might perform those things by which we arrive at justification.

On the day of Pentecost, after the address of the Apostle Peter to the gathered crowds, we read: ‘Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?‘ (Acts 2:37). Here was the grace of God at work: the grace of compunction was granted. But Peter’s reply demonstrates that even those who had thus received grace were not yet justified: ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost’ (v38).

Good works done before justification by Jesus and regeneration by the Holy Spirit are pleasing to God – but not all of them. Peace may be pursued and proclaimed, but it may not be true peace (Jer 6:14). Jesus is the true peacemaker (Jn 14:27). Justice may be sought and dispensed, but it may not be true justice (Ex 21:23-5). Jesus dispenses true justice (Lk 18:1-8) It is only those good works which precede the action of God’s grace in the heart of man which are pleasing to God.

The Scholastics (the ‘School-authors’ of this Article) were inclined toward the semi-Pelagian error on the question of God’s grace: that is, that man might be entitled to receive initial grace as a reward for works done in his own strength; that the exercise of his natural faculties was an incremental transition toward grace which might merit God’s reward, but that God would be bound to reward it even greater if it were wholly dependent on the Holy Spirit.

God is no man’s debtor: salvation is not a man-made event. But grace is sometimes given before justification. The good that is done in the pursuit of peace and toward justice – but without knowledge of Christ and the aid of the Holy Spirit – has merit. God looks with favour upon the good works of men who are outside the Covenant because grace is manifestly at work outside the Church and may influence men before they are justified. But it is not initiative of salvation. As the Archbishop of Canterbury rightly says: “When we are not at peace with God through Jesus Christ, we cannot be peacemakers – or bringers of justice – in the world.” True peacemaking is an act of divine grace through Jesus Christ. True justice is ascribed to God and mediated through Jesus Christ.

We have in Justin Welby an Archbishop of Canterbury who believes the fundamental articles of faith. Scoff, if you like. Dismiss him, if it makes you feel better. But he blogs an illustrious theology of reconciliation; vlogs a pastoral heart of peace; and tweets profound truths. He doesn’t look too bad on Flickr, either.