Anglican Futures: Mere Christianity: the Body & Gender Identity

What follows is an answer I recently gave to someone asking what the Christian tradition believes concerning the body and gender identity, and whether it matters. For orthodox Anglicans, the focus on the creeds in what follows is important for three reasons. First, it shows that this is not an eccentric position: it’s mere Christianity, the universal church’s common theological inheritance. Secondly, Article VIII and the liturgies of the Prayer Book recognise the Creeds as true, authoritative and important confessions of orthodox Christian faith, because they can be proved from Scripture. Thirdly, the Church of England’s pastoral guidance on the welcome of transgender persons encourages using the authorised liturgy for Affirmation of Baptismal Faith to mark someone’s new self-identification. In the light of what follows, this can be seen to be a startling abuse and denial of our baptismal confession, the Apostles’ Creed.

The human body is centrally important to the Christian faith. Orthodox Christian theology regards the human person as a psychosomatic (integrated soul-body) unity, according to God’s design in both creation and salvation. The importance of the body can be seen clearly in the Bible, which has binding authority for Christian belief and practice. It is also clearly reflected in Christianity’s major creeds and theological texts. This can be seen in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, which are theological summaries of the Bible’s central teaching, and whose doctrines are accepted by every Christian tradition.[1]

The Creeds reflect the Bible’s affirmation of the original goodness of creation as the good craftsmanship of a good God (Genesis 1). This includes the embodied reality of humanity, made in God’s image as male and female (Genesis 1:26-27). This understanding of humans as sexually dimorphic (as a species, male and female, and as individuals male or female) image-bearers of God is at the heart of historic Christian anthropology.[2]

Following reference to creation, the Creeds then focus attention on the central realities of the Christian gospel: First, Christ’s taking on of human flesh in the incarnation, in which human nature (body and soul) is dignified in its personal union with God’s Son. Then, Christ’s sufferings in human flesh under Pontius Pilate, his death by crucifixion, his burial, and his bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day. Significantly, the Gospels emphasise that Christ’s tomb was empty, and that Christ therefore rose with the same body he had before he died, a body that still bore the marks of the nails with which he was crucified, and the spear with which his side was pierced. Thirdly, both the Bible and the Creeds treat Christ’s resurrection as the certain promise of the bodily resurrection of all people for judgement, and Christian believers for embodied eternal life. 

These beliefs lie at the core of the Christian faith. Public confession of them, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, is required for baptism: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried…on the third day he rose again…I believe in…the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come”.

Used with permission. The authors of all Anglican Futures articles are kept anonymous.