Skip to comments.Should One Remain an Episcopalian? - A Personal Testimony
Posted on 11/06/2005 5:54:10 PM PST by sionnsar
This is news to me, but perhaps not to some of you: that the Rev. Robert Sanders, one of the better theologians in Anglicanism, has left ECUSA and joined the AMiA:
Should One Remain an Episcopalian? - A Personal TestimonyThis is indeed newsworthy, and I thank Virtue Online for allowing us to reprint this.
by The Rev. Robert J. Sanders, Ph.D.
EXCLUSIVE TO VIRTUEONLINE
Should we, or should we not, remain in the Episcopal Church (ECUSA)? That is a question that I have faced for some years. I finally decided I could not remain in eucharistic fellowship with an apostate ECUSA. As a result, I have joined the Anglican Mission in America. This was a serious decision, and I believe I must explain why I took this step.
To summarize, I believe it is an ethical issue, that is, an issue of obedience to God and his revealed will. Above all, God has revealed himself in Scripture, and that was the basis of my decision. Further, the revelation in Scripture is reinforced by the tradition of the Church, the Prayer Book, and the Anglican understanding of the Church and the Episcopate. When all of these came together as one, I came to believe that I must be obedient and leave the Episcopal Church.
I did not leave because I was unhappy with the Episcopal Church, or didn't like the people, or because I felt "led," as if the Holy Spirit were leading me apart from Scripture. Subjective feelings like these are not God's revelation and they can lead you anywhere. It is the objective content of revelation -- Scripture, tradition, Anglican discipline, the ordination vows, and the witness of the Spirit to these objective criteria, that require the faithful to break eucharistic fellowship with those who publicly abandon the faith. Such decisions are made in faith. To that end I have spent considerable time and energy over the last thirty years seeking God's will in the face of an apostate Church, and this is what I would like to share with you in this essay.
I first became aware that something was wrong with the Episcopal Church when I went to seminary in 1973. Some of my professors taught a theology and a way of interpreting Scripture that denied the miraculous, including the fact that Jesus bodily rose from the dead. I could see at once that this teaching would seriously undermine the power of the gospel. I decided to get to the bottom of it and in 1979 went to graduate school and earned a Ph.D. in systematic theology. While in graduate school, I discovered that a powerful false teaching had invaded the churches since the early 1800's. Only in recent decades has it made its way into the Episcopal Church.
This false teaching does not deny the authority of Scripture, or Creeds, or Prayer Book. Rather its partisans revise them from a perspective alien to the Christian faith. Among other things a number of revisionists deny the miraculous, including the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection. Others accept the miraculous, but conceive of God in mystical categories and thereby deny God the Word as the concrete, objective, verbal, and eternal revelation of God. If these revisions are accepted, it will be the end of the church.After leaving graduate school I continued to study. By the early 1990's, I began to realize that major portions of the leadership of the Episcopal Church had been swept away by revisionist teaching. I was then the rector of a church in Kansas.
I began to write articles in the diocesan newspaper and become a founding member of the American Anglican Council in the Diocese of Kansas. I also began to publish essays on the internet. As time went on, I set up my own web page (www.rsanders.org) and have received responses from readers all over the country and even abroad. Among other things, my essays documented in detail the apostasy of the Episcopal Church.
For example, I wrote essays on such topics as the Presiding Bishop's public statements, a hermeneutic put out by the Diocese of New York, the ethics of Timothy Sedgwick an ethicist at Virginia Seminary, one of the books of the New Church's Teaching Series, the House of Bishop's Pastoral Study on Human Sexuality, and much, much more. All of this is on my web page (www.rsanders.org). In writing these essays, I chose the strongest arguments of those who disagreed with me. I also wrote foundational essays, examining theologians such as Athanasius, Hooker, Schleiermacher, and Barth.
I was only one of a number of writers who clearly documented the false teaching, heresy, and apostasy found among a goodly number of priests, bishops, and seminary professors within the Episcopal Church. At the same time, I attempted to settle my differences with the revisionists. While in Kansas, I and others met with the bishop when he began to embrace the revisionist teaching.
There were also clergy conferences where I sought to engage my fellow clergy, and when I came to the Diocese of Florida, I met with Bishop Howard. I also wrote the Bishop of New York, responding to an invitation of a theological committee to engage in dialogue. At no point, ever, did I have any sustained engagement with those who disagreed with me. They simply did not want to talk. They were quite apt at producing trivial arguments, but once they encountered someone who could make sense of Scripture, tradition, and have reasoning powers, they simply walked away.
All my individual efforts at resolving these differences failed. Finally, about the year 2001, it became clear to me that one aspect of revisionist teaching is that language, logic, Scripture, words, doctrine, are not persuasive. Revisionists tend to believe that God is a mystical unknown and that language and doctrine are secondary. One of my most important analyses of this understanding was eventually published in Christianity Today.
The results of that insight, that doctrine and language are secondary, ultimately means that "dialogue" is impossible with revisionists. All we can do with them is share feelings and opinions. At that point I realized that my differences with revisionists could not be resolved. We live in two completely different worlds, theoretically and practically.
As I made these individual efforts, larger corporate efforts at resolution were being carried out by a number of organizations within and without the Episcopal Church. These also failed. The breaking point occurred when the Episcopal Church approved the consecration of a practicing homosexual to the episcopate at the General Convention in 2003.
This action was contrary to Scripture as interpreted by the Church for nearly two thousand years, against ECUSA's own canons, against the pleas of a number of bodies within ECUSA, opposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, by the Anglican primates, by the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered at Lambeth in 1998, and by all ECUSA's significant ecumenical partners. ECUSA was told that the elevation of Bishop elect Robinson to the episcopate would tear the fabric of the Anglican Communion at the deepest level, and it did. Since then, events have moved swiftly. The world-wide Anglican Communion called for a commission, the Windsor Commission. This commission "invited" ECUSA to refrain from further Episcopal consecrations of practicing homosexuals and to express regret for breaking the bonds of affection that hold the Anglican Communion together.
This was a step in the right direction, but the Windsor Report did not get at the real problem. It treated the symptom, the consecration of Episcopal Bishop Robinson, but not the disease -- the widespread acceptance of false teaching within ECUSA. The primates then met, asking that ECUSA not send members to the Anglican Consultative Council, the body which regularly considers issues facing the Anglican Communion.
Most significantly, at the primates meeting, a portion of the primates did not share Holy Eucharist with Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. As of now, the majority of Anglican provinces throughout the world are now in broken or impaired communion with ECUSA.
All of this raises a question: What are Christians called to do in the face of unrepentant and public false teaching and immorality? The answer is very, very clear. Christians are called to withdraw from eucharistic fellowship. Scripture, the teachings of the Church Universal, and Anglican formularies, including the Book of Common Prayer, forbid the faithful from entering into fellowship with those who notoriously undermine the gospel by their teaching or immoral example. Among many biblical references, "If anyone comes to you bringing a different doctrine, you must not receive him in your house or even give him a greeting. To greet him would make you a partner in his wicked work." (II John, 10-11. Also Mt. 8:17, I Cor. 5:11-13, Gal. 1:8, 2 Thess. 3:6, Rev. 2:20) The tradition of the Church is equally clear.
A major portion of the work of early councils was to identify false teaching and immorality and discipline those who promoted such things. That discipline was exclusion from fellowship, above all, exclusion from the Holy Eucharist.
The Windsor Report alludes to the same when it states in the context of "Sacramental Commitments," that each province shall "enjoin its members to eucharistic sharing in a fellows church in accordance with the canonical discipline of that host church" (Windsor Report, p. 67). The purpose of eucharistic discipline is to enable repentance on the part of those in error and to protect the faithful from their teaching and example. As such, discipline is an act of love, it reflects being responsible for others. A church without discipline is prey to every imaginable false doctrine and sinful behavior and it callously leaves in sin those who go astray.
But this raises a question: Who should carry out the discipline? Who should decide when teaching is false or behavior immoral? Normally, and in accord with the tradition, it is the bishops. The Episcopal Prayer Book, for example, calls bishops to "guard the faith, unity, and discipline" of the Church" (BCP p. 517). The word "faith" in this context does not mean a subjective attitude of trust in God, although that is required. Rather, it means the objective revelation of Jesus Christ given in Scripture and formulated in doctrine.
This can be clearly seen in Anglican Prayer books prior to the American 1979 Prayer book. For example, the 1662 Prayer Book, in its consecration service for bishops, asks the elected bishop if he would be "ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine."
The 1928 Prayer Book states the same. Faithfulness to doctrine and discipline of those who betray doctrine is a duty of the church, especially bishops. In the case of ECUSA, however, the bishops themselves are the problem. Bishop Spong, for example, is notorious for his false teaching. Among other things he denies a theistic God, ridicules the Christian doctrine of the atonement, denies Jesus' bodily resurrection, claims that Paul was a repressed homosexual, and asserts that Jesus was illegitimate since Mary got pregnant out of wedlock. He teaches these things publicly.
Although bishops promised in their ordination vows to defend the faith and exercise discipline against false teachers, Spong has not been stripped of his episcopate by the House of Bishops, much less excluded from communion.
What ECUSA bishops would not do, other bishops in the Anglican Communion have now done. A number of them have already withdrawn from eucharistic fellowship with ECUSA. But that poses a question: Where do we as Christians stand? Do we stand with Scripture, with the majority of the Anglican Communion, the tradition of the universal church, the teaching of Anglican formularies, and the consensus of Christendom today, or do we stand with ECUSA and its apostate teaching? By "stand" I mean, are we or are we not in eucharistic fellowship with ECUSA?
At once a question emerges: What does it mean to be in eucharistic fellowship with a Church such as ECUSA? Or, is it not the case that communion is an individual communion with Jesus and not with other people? No, communion is not simply an individual matter. We take it as the body of Christ, and as the body of Christ, we as a body are responsible for the health of the body and each of its members.
To share communion with unrepentant revisionists is to say Amen to their errors. Of course, all people are sinners. Only sinners come to the Eucharist. But Scripture and tradition calls the church to discipline those who are public in their sin, those who publicly proclaim their errors as Christian truth or valid Christian behavior.
But this raises a further question. Can I take communion in an Episcopal Church if my priest is a godly person or my Bishop orthodox? In other words, just because some Episcopalians are revisionists does not mean that one should avoid all Episcopal Eucharists. Let me address this more fully.In the Anglican tradition bishops express the unity of the Church. Here are some quotations from the Windsor Report:
The unity of the Communion is both expressed and put into effect among other things through the episcopate (p. 30).
It has always been maintained within Anglicanism that a bishop is more than simply the local chief pastor. Bishops represent the universal Church to the local and vice versa. This is why individual churches have developed ways of confirming the election of bishops, signifying their acceptability to the wider Church (p. 31).
Each minister, especially a bishop, shall be a visible sign of unity and shall maintain communion within each church and between it, the See of Canterbury and all other Communion Churches (p. 67).
The text, The Study of Anglicanism, edited by Sykes and Booty, sets forth a similar view, "The habitual Anglican appeal to continuity and antiquity, however, suggests further that, at the level of order, it is the bishop in whom the unity of the Church in one place and time with the Church in other places and times is, as a matter of fact, represented and effected" (pp. 300-01).
Anglicanism is a reformed Catholicism. As a reform movement, Anglicanism returned to the theology and practice to the Church of the first few centuries. Anglicans retained the ministry of the Episcopate because the episcopal ministry of oversight and discipline characterized the church for centuries prior to the Reformation.
Werner Elert, in his Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries, (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1966), describes how the unity of the Church was realized in the Eucharist and that eucharistic fellowship required a prior doctrinal and moral unity. "The early church was never in doubt that unity in doctrine is a prerequisite of altar fellowship.
No one who taught false doctrine might receive Holy Communion in an orthodox congregation" (p. 108). Further, he details how local Christians entered into fellowship with Christians from other times and places through the office of the bishop. "For better or worse the churches were involved in the lot of their bishops. They were received into fellowship with them, and with them they were excluded" (p. 139).
Although unity was realized in the office of the bishop, that unity was conditional. There could be no unity with heretical bishops, nor could orthodox bishops be in eucharistic fellowship with heretical bishops. As the above quotations make clear, Anglicanism affirms this understanding of the Episcopate.
What does it mean in practice that Anglican bishops represent and effect the unity of the church? Episcopal bishops, for example, meet regularly as a House of Bishops. There they celebrate the Eucharist together and thereby represent their local congregations to the Episcopal Church as a whole.
Once every ten years, Anglican bishops throughout the world are invited to Lambeth. There they eucharistically represent their dioceses and local congregations to the whole of the Anglican communion. Conversely, when bishops celebrate the Eucharist at a local church in their diocese, they represent the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion to the local church in the sharing of the Eucharist. The Christian faith is an incarnational religion.
All relations have a physical representation. The bishop, the Eucharist, make it physically possible for local Christians to be in eucharistic fellowship with Christians in other dioceses throughout the Anglican world. This is, from everything I have ever studied, is the Anglican understanding of the Eucharist and the Episcopate.
From the foregoing it follows that if a local bishop is in eucharistic fellowship with the House of Bishops, then those who locally celebrate Eucharist with their local bishop are in eucharistic fellowship with the House of Bishops. In the spring of 2004, shortly after Bishop Howard was elected bishop of Florida, I wrote him, virtually begging him not to take Holy Eucharist with the apostate bishops at the House of Bishops meeting. I knew I could not be in fellowship with him if he was in fellowship with them. Shortly after writing Bishop Howard, I met with him.
At that time, he was unwilling to tell me one way or another if he took communion with the other Episcopal bishops. Later, that fall, he mentioned at a clergy conference that he was in eucharistic fellowship with the House of Bishops.
By the spring of 2005, most visible at the diocesan convention in May, it was clear that Bishop Howard was determined to stay in ECUSA, to remain in eucharistic fellowship with heretical and immoral bishops, and to keep the Diocese of Florida within the Episcopal Church.
I could not follow him. To follow him would put me in eucharistic fellowship with a church which has abandoned the faith. Further, as these events unfolded it became clear that revisionists were now considering the Eucharist as a feast of radical inclusion. This first came to my attention around the year 2000 when I attended a baptism in the Diocese of Arkansas.
When talking to one of the participants who took communion at the baptism, I learned that she was a Buddhist and that the rector encouraged those of other faiths to participate in the Eucharist. In the spring of 2005, at a Day of Conversation in the Diocese of Florida, one of the speakers, Peter Moore, former dean of Trinity, described how the House of Bishops had recently invited a guest speaker to take communion with them and he had done so. The guest speaker was of another faith, not a Christian.
Many other examples, as well as statements to the same effect, could be supplied. In other words, for revisionists, Eucharist is a rite of creation, that fact that all come from the womb, rather than a rite celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Or, to put it another way, the Eucharistic rite celebrating Jesus Christ as Lord is subverted to the pagan perspective that salvation flows from creation rather than the Lord Jesus.
As a result, revisionists welcome the orthodox at their Eucharistic feasts. The presence of the orthodox side by side with them at the altar rail confirms their belief that we are all one regardless. In the end, this perspective denies Jesus Christ as Lord, for it honors other powers, faiths, and orientations from the womb, rather than the saving grace of Jesus Christ the one and only Lord. When the orthodox participate in this, regardless of their professed beliefs, they proclaim the truth of this pantheistic and insidious doctrine.
I was ordained to the priesthood in January, 1977. My ordination service was from the 1928 Prayer Book. At that time, I was asked if I believed that "Holy Scriptures contain all Doctrine required as necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ." I replied, "I am so persuaded, and have so determined, by God's grace." Then I promised to
... minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church hath received the same, ..."
... be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word; ...
... be diligent in Prayers, and in reading the Holy Scriptures, and in such studies as help to the knowledge of the same, laying aside the study of the world and the flesh ...
I tried to do these things. In the end, the promises to study and obey Scripture, to banish from the Church all strange doctrine, and to minister doctrine, sacraments, and discipline as received by the Church from the Lord, drove me to break eucharistic fellowship with ECUSA. I am still in fellowship with those Episcopal priests who are not in eucharistic fellowship with the Episcopal House of Bishops, and I did not renounce my ordination as a priest. I was ordained a priest of the universal church, not merely a priest of the Episcopal Church.
I simply broke eucharistic fellowship with my episcopal bishop and put myself under the authority of an orthodox bishop, an AMiA bishop. AMiA bishops are Anglicans, but they are not in fellowship with the Episcopal House of Bishops. Thirty-five years in the Episcopal Church came to an end.
Where could I go?
I could not go to Rome because I do not accept a number of Roman doctrines such as the infallibility of the pope and the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary.
I could not join a number of Protestant bodies, or even independent churches, because many of them do not appreciate the wonder of the liturgy, the importance of the creeds, and the great theological tradition of the church. Eastern Orthodoxy was a an attractive alternative, but I love Anglicanism.
I think it a wonderful church. Among American Anglican churches, two seemed particularly attractive, the Network or Anglican Mission in America (AMiA). The Network is a group of church and bishops who are working within ECUSA, but outside eucharistic fellowship (as far as I know).
The network was essentially formed after the 2003 General Convention, partly in response to the consecration of Episcopal Bishop Robinson and partly in response to theological errors. I chose AMiA for a number of reasons.
Above all, I chose AMiA because AMiA is gospel driven, mission minded, and doctrinally sound. Its bishops are church planters, it organization streamlined for mission, and it began as a mission outreach of the dioceses of Rwanda and Singapore. As such, it is vitally connected to the mission-minded exploding churches of the greater Anglican Communion. Further, and this to my mind is critical, AMiA began before the consecration of Bishop Robinson.
It clearly recognizes that Bishop Robinson is a symptom of a deeper disease, widespread false teaching within ECUSA. It is possible, though highly unlikely, that ECUSA, at its next General Convention in June of 2006, might repent of its errors in regard to homosexual unions. Then where do we stand? AMiA will stand where it has always stood, for orthodox teaching.
I am convinced that AMiA is addressing the disease, not the symptom. Immorality is serious, yet its basis is false teaching and that cannot be ignored. Werner Elert describes the ancient church's attitude on the matter in these words, "This involves and understanding of the church according to which orthodox doctrine is an essential criterion of the church. Heretical doctrine is apostasy and the worst of all sins" (p. 108)
Further, it is highly probable that ECUSA, at its convention in June, 2006, will take actions that decisively separate ECUSA from the wider Anglican Communion, and once that happens, the orthodox primates will recognize only one Anglican Church in North America. AMiA is working to join with other Anglican bodies in Common Cause.
I favor Common Cause, a confederation of orthodox Anglican churches in North America. At the same time, as a member of AMiA, I can work for the theological integrity of Common Cause because AMiA has already paved the way by its own theological requirements. In short, I believe that AMiA will be a key player in the formation of a renewed Anglicanism in North America.
Although the struggle to responsibly face a multitude of "erroneous and strange doctrines" consumed some of my energy these past thirty-five years, my primary focus was my family and my efforts to discover how God would like to form a local church.
These matters were my real priority, and when I made the decision to leave ECUSA, I chose to plant a church in accordance with my best understanding of how to be the church in the present age.
That church is Christ the King of Jacksonville, Florida (http://christtheking.clearwire.net). Finally, returning to my principal theme: my decision to leave ECUSA was not a subjective decision. It is the objective content of revelation -- Scripture, the tradition of the Church universal, the Anglican understanding of the Church and discipline, the ordination vows, and the witness of the Spirit to these objective criteria, that require the faithful to break eucharistic fellowship with those who publicly abandon the faith.
--The Rev. Robert J. Sanders, Ph.D. is VirtueOnline's resident theologian. He recently left the Episcopal Church and started Christ the King in Jacksonville, Florida with the Anglican Mission in America. This story may be forwarded and reprinted with full credit to www.virtueonline.org.
Marking for later read.
"He doesn't mention the Continuing churches as one of the alternatives he's considered, but as a member of one such (APCK) we don't have the "communion issues" he notes for ECUSA. --sionnsar]"
You lost me on this one, friend! What do you mean?
As for the article, well he's quite right. The people are carried along with their bishops unless they can arrange for the removal of the bishops. If a bishop is a heretic, one has to come under a bishop who isn't.
"Eastern Orthodoxy was a an attractive alternative, but I love Anglicanism."
I wish he had said what it is about "Anglicanism" that he finds so lovable. Is it its "Catholicism", its "evangelicalism", its compromises, its liturgy, its music? Of course, if I really understood the various types of Anglicanism out there, I'd probably be able to answer my own question.
I guess the bottom line is, if this priest feels he is in The Church, and out of a heretical sect, then good for him! He did the right thing and it clearly was difficult for him to do.
I could not go to Rome ...
I could not join a number of Protestant bodies ...
Eastern Orthodoxy was a an attractive alternative, but I love Anglicanism.
Wow. This speaks to heart of many a heartbroken Episcopalian.
This priest expresses my exact feelings and thoughts about the ECUSA. I wish I lived in Jacksonville so I could attend Christ the King. I did attend Christ the King in Campbell CA before it became part of the Anglican Mission but I felt uncomfortable because they had no Episcopal oversight. I would like to return someday (when I'm in the area) to see the difference it made.
As an aside, Prince Charles attended a church today that I still call my church home, even though it is in the ECUSA. I know the priest who celebrated the mass and gave the sermon and I have been excited about it. What an opportunity Fr. Yhomas Brindley of St Columba, Inverness CA was given today to witness to the future head of the Church of England! Wish I could have seen it, but I'm in Montana now. with no choice of orthodox church within 200 miles. If I could, I would choose the Orthodox Church at this stage.
St. Columba -- a beautiful church.
Finish reading later.
I certainly understand the author's love for Anglicanism. Even though I had only been Anglican for about 7 years when I made the move to Orthodoxy, I thought that my heart would break at what I saw myself as losing.
For me, the aura and aesthetic of Anglicanism was what I loved the most, so I knew that ultimately this was not a reason to stay in that world.
The problem with being in the various Continuing Anglican bodies is that each is so small. We see in Orthodoxy that when a given small "jurisdiction" essentially cuts themselves off from the influence of the greater Orthodox world, funny things start to happen, because the influence of individual personalities and idiosyncracies can start to come into play to a greater extent.
Numbers alone are not a reason to be in one church body rather than another. If so, we would shut down our small Orthodox parish (the only one for a couple hundred miles), and all become Protestants!
I rather mean to point out that there are particular dangers to any situation, and this is one of the dangers that Continuing Anglicans potentially face. Believe me, I've seen it in action.
Heart-wrenching article, all in all.
You are very correct in this, and I believe that at least the larger of the Continuing churches recognize it. My bishop assures me that there are ongoing discussions between the Continuing churches -- though there is little visible action. It's difficult to rejoin the churches split by political shenanigans soon after '77.
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