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Is This A Serious Theological Dispute?
VirtueOnline-News ^ | 7/11/2005 | The Rev. Neil G. Lebhar

Posted on 07/11/2005 5:48:10 PM PDT by sionnsar

15. In order to protect the integrity and legitimate needs of groups in serious theological dispute with their diocesan bishop, or dioceses in dispute with their Provinces, we recommend that the Archbishop of Canterbury appoint, as a matter of urgency, a panel of reference to supervise the adequacy of pastoral provisions made by any churches for such members in line with the recommendation in the Primates' Statement of October 2003... (The Anglican Communion Primates' Meeting Communiqué, February 2005)

"We hereby request that you provide adequate alternative episcopal oversight for us so that we can continue with clear consciences in our ministries." Letter to the Rt. Rev. Dr. Samuel Johnson Howard from seven clergy representing six congregations in the diocese of Florida, delivered June 16, 2005.

In conversation with seven of us clergy meeting with him on June 16, 2005, The Rt. Rev. Dr. Samuel Johnson Howard asked if our request for alternative episcopal oversight (appended) was the result of a "serious theological dispute." This question goes to the heart of the matter, and I will address it shortly.

But there is a preliminary question to be addressed first. What integrity and legitimate needs of these congregations (see Communiqué above) are we seeking to have protected?

We believe that congregations and their priests are mutually called to serve Christ together in partnerships in ministry. Actions that threaten to separate a priest from a congregation are generally injurious a congregation and its ministry, unless these actions are related to new callings from God, illnesses or retirements, In the normal course of events, succeeding priests can be called for the good of those communities through processes rightly overseen by the diocesan bishop.

In the current situation facing our congregations, both the diocesan bishop and his canon have made it clear in multiple conversations that both the vicars' and rectors' positions are at risk because the congregations are not pledging to the diocesan budget. Most of our churches have given to diocesan ministries nevertheless. It has been made clear by the bishop and his canon that a "clock is ticking" toward moments when vicars could be dismissed, and parishes could be reduced to mission status. Rectors would then become vicars and would likewise be subject to dismissal by the bishop.

We believe that both priests and congregations need to be protected from these possibilities.

What are the serious theological issues in our dispute? As mentioned in the letter, we have two immediate and crucial concerns. We believe that these concerns are directly related to larger questions of orthodoxy, biblical authority and morality within the Episcopal Church which for the purpose of brevity cannot be enumerated here.

First of all, we regard the presence of V. G. Robinson at eucharist in the House of Bishops, and by extension the presence of those who consecrated him, as signs of the acceptance of immoral behavior by the majority of the bishops in the Episcopal Church. We base our concern largely on St. Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians concerning eucharistic discipline. Similar calls for leaders to rebuke and isolate notoriously immoral persons are found throughout the Scriptures and therefore appear in our Prayer Book rubrics as well.

To us it seems to be a straightforward discipline issue. According to 1 Corinthians 5, Christians must not receive at table with someone who is not only publicly immoral, but who also publicly represents a teaching that is false.1 St. Paul says that the presence at the rail of an individual who promotes sexual license has a destructive impact on the body of Christ.

Briefly outlined, the apostle argues that:

1. There is the false teaching at Corinth that the practice of sexual lifestyles forbidden in the Torah is commendable and consistent with Christian liberty.

2. There is one immoral man who exemplifies the "boast" of these teachers that Christians can ignore clear Scriptural prohibitions, in this case against incest.

3. That this man and the teaching are to be rejected by discipline ("expel him") and also by a refusal to associate or eat with him.

4. That not to enact discipline exposes the body of Christ to serious moral infection and allows for the spread of the yeast of immorality.

5. St. Paul warns those who wrongly think they may partake of the cup with the notorious, undisciplined, sexually immoral ones without being infected themselves.3

Our desire to see discipline at the rail regarding Mr. Robinson and his supporters has nothing to do with Donatism, nor likewise with Article XXVI, where the primary issue is the evil lifestyle of a particular minister, not heretical teaching (it is worth noting that the Article does commands discipline of such ministers.)2 We do not question the validity of the sacrament at the House of Bishops. Instead we question why any orthodox bishop representing his diocese at the House of Bishops would visibly link his diocese to immorality by receiving at a eucharist which manifests no Scriptural discipline. Many other archbishops throughout the Communion clearly understood this principle when they refused to be at eucharist with Bishop Griswold. But instead our bishop has publicly committed himself to remain at table with Mr. Robinson. We believe this action contradicts St. Paul's apostolic commands aimed at stemming the spread of immorality and false teaching. We continue to ask our bishop to cease receiving eucharist at the House of Bishops for the sake of his soul and ours.

Our second dispute concerns the insistence that we give to a diocesan budget that funds the national ministry of ECUSA which in turn regularly promotes false teaching. As recently as last month, our Presiding Bishop and others, funded by the giving of our diocese and others, made a case at the Anglican Consultative Council against the accepted Scriptural teaching of the Communion. We believe that Ephesians 5:5-7 prohibits us from partnering with such teachers, and that funding is a form of partnership. The principle that breaking partnership means not giving or receiving funds was recently acted upon by the Anglican Church of Kenya 4 at great cost. Several other Anglican Provinces have already acted similarly. We concur with their actions.

In conclusion, we deeply regret that we have had to request alternative episcopal oversight, but for the sake of Scriptural faithfulness, for solidarity with the majority of Anglicans, and for the protection of our congregations' ministries, we believe we cannot do otherwise.

1 1 Cor 6:9-10 "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

2 Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.

Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty, by just judgment be deposed.

3. 1 Cor 10:12 "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!"

4 "Anglicans Spurn Gay Church Cash," Derek Otieno, The Nation, LONDON (6/9/2005), "The Anglican Church of Kenya has rejected funding from the American Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion reported in London yesterday...Lambeth Palace, the headquarters of the church, said in its website that Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi was willing "to do without the money" to remind the Episcopal Church of its mission "to preach the Great Commission"...What kind of Gospel are they preaching now, saying there should be unions of people of the same sex?" the Archbishop asked.


June 12, 2005

The Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida
325 Market Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202

Dear Bishop Howard,

Grace and peace to you in Christ Jesus.

We as clergy and leaders of several congregations have made a difficult decision in this difficult time. We hereby request that you provide adequate alternative episcopal oversight for us so that we can continue with clear consciences in our ministries.

Our diocesan convention strongly endorsed the recommendations of the Windsor Report, among which was one for alternative oversight (Sections 150 & 151). The Primates' Communiqué likewise recognizes the principle of alternative oversight (Paragraph 15). We base our request on these two documents.

We have two concerns that provide the basis of our request. First, as we have shared with you in the past, we concur with the many Primates who believe that Scripture prohibits believers being at table with V. Gene Robinson and Bishop Griswold. This is based on our obedience to St. Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 5 and, as such, is consistent with the ordination vows. We believe that your public commitment to remain at the Holy Table with them ties us as priests and congregations to the "yeast" of immorality and false teaching in an unacceptable way. We are convinced that this is a salvation issue, for we believe the consecration and ministry of V. Gene Robinson repudiates traditional teachings about repentance, grace, sanctification, holiness and discipline regarding the sacraments.

We also represent congregations whose leadership bodies have decided that they cannot financially pledge to this diocese at this time because the diocesan budget, with your encouragement, includes support of the programs of our national church, especially those connected to the office of the Presiding Bishop. We believe that it is poor stewardship to give resources to national ministries that have been exercised in ways that directly damage our bonds of affection with the Anglican Communion.

Not only did Bishop Griswold consecrate V. Gene Robinson, but he has hired staff personally committed to an agenda opposed to the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 including at least one staff member who is a self-declared lesbian priest. Scripture commands us not to partner in such ministries. (Ephesians 5:7)

For our diocese to provide for ECUSA programs that have drifted away from the Scriptures and sometimes the gospel itself (for example, a pagan liturgy was hosted on the Episcopal Church website), we perceive to be disobedient to St. Paul's command. Many of our Anglican Communion partners are now likewise demonstrating the state of impaired fellowship by refusing to receive funds from our national church.

The oversight we request, again in the words of the Windsor Report, "must be sufficient to provide a credible degree of security on the part of the alienated community" (Section 151). We assume this security would include assurances that non-pledging parishes would not face a change in their parish status, nor vicars in their employment. None of the applicable canons appear to be mandatory in their application.

Based on the above, we ask that you grant to another bishop oversight over us which in addition to confirmation includes clergy discipline, employment and succession. Needless to say, we ask for a bishop who is not at table with Mr. Robinson and Bishop Griswold, and whose diocesan budget does not include giving to the national programs. We ask that this episcopal oversight be in place until after this diocese has a chance to make decisions for its future in the Anglican Communion following Lambeth 2008. If the Episcopal Church leadership truly repents as you and we hope, we can then move forward again together.

We wish to both remain in the Anglican Communion and continue our ministries in good conscience. We believe that adequate alternative episcopal oversight makes both possible. We commit ourselves to attempt reconciliation with you and other diocesan leaders once the period of the oversight has satisfactorily begun, as recommended by the Windsor Report.

We ask that you respond within a month of receiving this request so that we can move forward together in creating this oversight.

We sincerely regret that we have to make this request, and hope for a long-term resolution that does not damage our ministries or yours. You remain in our prayers in this difficult season.

Sincerely in Christ,

Neil Lebhar is the rector at the Church of the Redeemer in Jacksonville, Florida.

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant
[I'm sure all the Anglicans on this list will immediately recognize item #2 as being from the 39 Articles of Religion, #26 to be exact. --sionnsar]
1 posted on 07/11/2005 5:48:12 PM PDT by sionnsar
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