Skip to comments.Reform and be renewed from within? Or depart to be Reformed & Renewed outside?
Posted on 10/13/2005 5:40:00 PM PDT by sionnsar
A meditation starter from Peter Toon
Pressing questions facing many concerned Episcopalians include: Is it possible or probable that there will be, by divine providence and through internal and external ecclesial pressures, a genuine reform and renewal within the Episcopal Church of the USA during 2006 7? Is internal renewal a possibility or a pipe-dream? Is a U-turn by the ECUSA worth working for?
To provide some food for thought as a preparation for answering these questions I offer the following.
The Pilgrim and Puritans of old England left the National Church of England in the seventeenth century in order to set up a reformed and renewed Church in New England. They saw no possibility of achieving their godly aims in the land of their birth but hoped to do so in the land of their adoption. They were schismatics but filled with holy drive and godly ideals. What they began now exists in a variety of forms!
In the countries of Europe that they left behind, there had been, a century or less before, a reform and renewal that had been primarily to establish national and provincial Churches. That is, individual countries, cantons, provinces and cities had thrown off the allegiance to the Bishop of Rome and Roman Catholic worship, doctrine and discipline and had adopted a form of Christian Religion that was generally called Protestant (based on the idea of a protest on behalf of the Scriptures and the worship, doctrine and discipline of the Early Church) or Reformed Catholicism. However, there were those in these who were not satisfied with the reforms and they sought to create congregations that were free of any relation to the State or the Monarch. People call them radical reformers or Anabaptists.
So we see what sociologists call the church type [i.e., the National Churches] and the sect type [i.e., the nonconformists of varied kinds] of the Christian Religion arising in old Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth century.
Over in the USA, after Independence from Great Britain, there emerged many different forms of the Christian Religion as individual States in the East set themselves free from direct association with one particular form of the Church. The distinction between church and sect, useful for old Europe is not useful for the vibrant USA scene, and has been replaced by denomination in the USA, for there is no established Church and instead much emphasis on the separation of Church and State! In theory also all religious groups are equal.
So with the planting of a vast array of denominations in and across the USA in the 19th & 20th centuries, there is little or no perception that the Church of the One Jesus Christ is truly One Church (except as invisible with its members, the elect, known only unto God and joined together in his mind in Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit). So to exit one denomination and create another, to exit one and join another, to try out a variety of denominations week by week, are all real possibilities in the USA and are available every week. This movement in and out and across is, however, easier for laity than clergy for obvious reasons accreditation, pension plans, health insurance and the like.
Now to the Episcopal Church.
The Protestant Episcopal Church saw one small schism in the 19th century which led to the creation of the Reformed Episcopal Church, which is still around and growing slowly in the 21st century. Since World War II, as pressures from culture and society have mounted, there have been a growing number of secessions from the Episcopal Church e.g., during the civil rights & Vietnam War period; in 1977 and since then with the advent of womens ordination and the imposition of the new, liberal prayer book; in the late 1990s over the failure of the leadership of bishops; after 2003 with the acceptance of innovations in sexuality, and so on. These schisms of the last fifty years or so have led to many different expressions of Episcopalian or Anglicanism! And some of these jurisdictions and groups have themselves experienced schism.
It is reasonable to claim that the NORMAL American way of seeking to create the form of Christian religion that is seen as correct or preferred is to start from scratch. That is, to separate from others, to gather people together, to obtain property and to set up what is desired and sought for. And, in doing so to believe and to claim that one is led by heaven and is establishing the real and true form of the body of Christ, the church.
So, given the reality of the power of centrifugal forces within American religion aiding and abetting the making of schism normal and acceptable, and, further, given the fact that the old-line or main-line progressive liberal denominations of the USA (e.g. Congregationalist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian) have never yet shown any capacity for real signs of internal reform and renewal (but have seen thousands of their members exit to create new churches), the odds against reform and renewal in the ECUSA are at best massive! Further, each week there are whole or parts of Episcopal congregations exiting in order to create new congregations, usually under the patronage of some far-away bishop. The stream is flowing and seems not to be drying up.
Only the extreme optimist would think that the ECUSA will reform itself. However, let us not forget that with God the Father all things are possible, said Jesus. Possible but not probable in this case, we may reverently add!
Hey, this is exactly what we discussed last night in my Wed. evening bible study class, with partial reference to what is going on in ECUSA and what may very well occur in our denonmination PCUSA (which is only a couple of small steps behind ECUSA in the development of apostasy).
We concluded that Christians have an obligation to flee "churches" that are no longer faithful to Jesus and His Word, and not to support them in any way.
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