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The Episcopal Church and Biblical Fundamentalism -- A Response
VirtueOnline-News ^ | 12/22/2005 | The Rev. Sam Pascoe

Posted on 12/22/2005 5:51:44 PM PST by sionnsar

[A response to "The Episcopal Church and Biblical Fundamentalism", posted a couple of days ago. --sionnsar]

Recently, a senior priest in the Diocese of Florida posted an article on the web titled "THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH AND BIBLICAL FUNDAMENTALISM." Posting something on the web is a little like nailing something on cathedral doors at the time of Luther, it is an invitation to discussion. Because I know and respect the priest who wrote this piece, I will assume he wanted to spark honest discussion.

A couple of weeks ago I read Chapter 8 of Dennis Maynard's book, "Those Episkopols" which deals with the subject of Fundamentalism in the Episcopal Church. It is timely and well done. His website is:

Maynard reminds us that we are very much a Bible-centered Church, but that we are not literalists or fundamentalists. We never have been, for if we were women would still be wearing hats, and be unable to speak in church, serve on vestries, and certainly they could not be ordained. Remarriage after divorce would be considered adultery, and Christians could not charge other Christians interest on loans. And, so on. The sum of it all is that we do not proof text the Bible, nor do we take every word or direction literally for our time.

I confess I have a problem when people use evocative terms like "literalists" and "fundamentalists" without defining them, especially when such people label others in the name of "tolerance." These terms (and others like "proof text") are very emotive and tend to come across like accusations. Such rhetoric does little to advance reasonable and charitable discourse among Christian brothers and sisters. In my experience, having been on both sides of the fence, the word "fundamentalist" tends to be used to describe anyone perceived to be more conservative (however defined) than the speaker. Similarly, a "literalist" is anyone perceived to take the Bible more literally than the speaker.

Ironically and instructively, the term "fundamentalist" was not coined by Sam Donaldson to describe right-wing religious fanatics. It was coined by concerned Christians at the beginning of the 20th century to describe themselves. They were people who proudly proclaimed the five "fundamentals" of the Christian faith, all of which were in doubt at the time: (1) the complete authority of the text of the Bible, (2) the virgin birth of Jesus, (3) the sacrificial atonement of Jesus on the cross, (4) the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and (5) the physical return of Jesus in glory to bring history to a close. By that definition, many people in Episcopal pews are "fundamentalists."

Biblical fundamentalism is not to be confused with cultural fundamentalism ("We don't smoke, dance, or chew or go with girls who do.") Anglicans have always been wary of such proscriptions about social behavior... unless, of course, it had to with serving the wrong wine at dinner, disliking jazz music, or appearing less than decorous at the club.

Later in his letter, the writer warns his readers to "beware" of such people as fundamentalists and literalists and proof-texters. Should we beware of people who promote the same morality the Judeo-Christian ethic has promoted for over 4,000 years? Should we beware of people who seek to be faithful to the text of sacred scripture? Shouldn't we rather beware of those who seeks to impose a novel and non-biblical morality on the church through legislation and convention? Shouldn't we rather beware of those who heal the wounds of the people lightly and who say "peace, peace" when there is no peace? The writer warns his readers to "beware" of those who claim they have a corner on the truth. The implication, of course, is that he already has a corner on the truth, so how dare anyone else make such a claim. It's just that his "truth claim" is that there is no truth.

In the end, I guess we are all "fundamentalists" about something... whether it is the authority of the Bible, or adherence to the rubrics, or the sanctity of the institutional church, or... the list goes on and on... What is the fixed point against which all else is measured? For me and my house, it is the sacred scriptures.

The writer drags out the old argument about women's role in the church–with the added twist of charging interest on loans. The writer's inference seems to be that being a woman is the same as choosing to live and promote a homosexual life-style. I know very few women, especially women priests, who would agree with this analogy. I know it particularly rankles my female associate.

It also raises the question of just how much of the Old Testament law is binding on Christians. This question was answered in the book of Acts (chapter 15) at the Council of Jerusalem. The early church decided that the requirements should be very simple. In fact, one of only three requirements was that converts should "abstain from . . . sexual immorality." St. Paul makes a similar case in First Corinthians (chapter 6). He tells his readers to "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." In other words, sexual sin is different from all other sins in that it is corrosive of the human person. It attacks the very image of God in us. That is why the penalty for sexual immorality was so high in the scriptures.

The writer continues.... Reading this chapter [in Maynard's book] reminded me of my seminary days when our New Testament professor told us that we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, but not the words of God and that the scripture is inspired by God, not dictated by God. It is also important for us to remember that the Church gave us the Bible. That is, it was the Church in counsel in the fourth century that determined which writings and books would be included as scripture. Also, it was the Church of England that gave us the Bible in English in the seventeenth century. Since the Bible is the Church's Book the Church not only has the right, but the responsibility to study and interpret it in every age, and for every age.

Phrases such as "Word but not words" and "inspired, not dictated" sound very thoughtful until one tries to figure out what they really mean. It's as if someone says "Listen carefully to what I say, but not the words I use." What can that mean? God used words. Part of what make us human is the ability to use words. The ability to formulate and use words represents the pinnacle of human communication.

That is why the ancient Hebrew and Greek understandings of the power of words were much richer and deeper than our own. God spoke into that context. Unfortunately, the writer is correct in a sense. The Episcopal Church has always claimed a very high view of Scripture but recently it has begun to act very differently. For example, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek (mostly). One would think that a knowledge of these two languages would be an essential tool for any biblical interpreter. Yet, when I was a student, the Episcopal seminary I attended required only 6 weeks of study in each language. Six weeks!!! Because The Bible is The Book I knew I would spend the rest of my life preaching on, I used all my elective hours to study Greek and Hebrew. As a result, I was the only student in the seminary, not just in my class, but in the entire seminary (!) who chose to voluntarily take three full years and Greek and three full years of Hebrew. The only one!!!

I agree with the writer, "the Church not only has the right, but the responsibility to study and interpret it in every age, and for every age." It's a shame the Episcopal Church does not see fit to equip its clergy for that task. Maybe there is a lesson here for future generations. If Bible interpretation is a key task of the church, maybe the church ought to equip its leaders to do that.

Again, the writer brings out the old saw that "the Church gave us the Bible." I think that line would come as a shock to the biblical writers, especially the Old Testament writers. One would be hard-pressed to find in any of the writers of the New Testament (let alone the Old) the notion that the Church had created the sacred text. The Church "received" the writings of the Apostles as authoritative, the Church did not make them authoritative (this is the language of the church fathers as they reflected on the biblical texts–"receive").

The Church does not make Jesus Lord when it receives Him as Lord. He already is Lord. He would be Lord whether the Church received Him as such or not. It is the same with the sacred texts. They are authoritative whether the Church receives them or not. The Church's role is to submit to the authority of the Author, not to grant such authority. To say that the Church gave us the Bible is not faith, it is arrogance.... damnable arrogance.

As a Protestant church, and ECUSA was ready to go to court recently and spend a bunch of money to defend the word "Protestant" in its title (it is, after all, the official name of the Episcopal Church). This is critical because, as Protestant Christians, Anglicans believe that biblical authority is more important than institutional loyalty, the bible is more important than any denominational hierarchy. To paraphrase the writer, "biblical authority trumps institutional loyalty every time."

The writer makes the ironic observation that the English Bible "was the Church of England that gave us the Bible in English in the seventeenth century." He ignores the fact that it was the English Church that hunted down Tyndale like a dog and had him killed precisely for translating the Bible into English. It was the Church of England under Elizabeth that had people imprisoned and killed for "prophesying" (having small group Bible studies). Why was the English Church willing to kill Tyndale for giving the people the bible? Why was the Church of England willing to have people imprisoned and killed for studying the Bible on their own? Because such activities threatened the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Ironic, isn't it.

The writer continues: We need to remember that our Christian faith is not in a book, but in the Person of Jesus Christ. The Bible points to Jesus whom St. John identifies as the Word of God: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." (John 1:14). One of the most important things Jesus said to the disciples who would become the first Fathers of the Church was this: "I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things to come." (John 16:12-13)

True. Our faith is in a person, Jesus Christ. It is not in a book. We are Christians, not Biblians. Fair enough. Therefore, it is also fair to ask, "What was Jesus' view of the Bible?" Of course, what we call the New Testament was not written at the time of Jesus' earthly ministry, but what we call the Old Testament was. How did Jesus view the text? Ironically, one could say, he was a "fundamentalist." In Matthew 5:18, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." In this and many other passages, Jesus expresses a very high view of the authority of the written words of scripture.

Further, how would we know about Jesus "the Word" except through the words of scripture. The sum total of what we know about Jesus apart from the text of scripture is less than a paragraph. We learn that Jesus is "the Word" in the text, not through a vision. Of course, the Holy Spirit enables us to call Him Lord, and to recognize Him as the Word, but the Holy Spirit starts and ends with the words of the text.

The writer makes this very point by immediately quoting the text of scripture! Just after saying that Episcopalians don't "proof text," he does just that. It's unavoidable. I have heard this particular clergyman give very compelling sermons about tithing. On that subject, he comes across like a bible-thumping fundamentalist.... those texts about giving to the church are to be taken literally. But, when it comes to texts about sexuality, well, for some reason seems to be a different matter.... or is it?

The writer refers to one of Jesus' promises about the Holy Spirit from the Gospel of John. "I have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now." Point well taken. How do Christians know what they know. This discipline is called "epistemology." As Anglicans we place a high value on tradition and reason as keys to unlocking scripture. The first person to clearly articulate this "three-legged stool" of scripture, tradition, and reason was theologian and pastor Richard Hooker in the 17th century. But we need to be clear about this three-legged stool. All the legs are not equal. One thing Hooker was clear about was that scripture was and must remain the first and most fundamental leg. If scripture was clear about something, tradition and reason were only to be used to clarify how truth was lived out in the church. Tradition and reason were not tools to deconstruct scripture or twist it or explain it away or supercede it... they were to serve it.

In this, Hooker followed closely the foundational Anglican truth that the text of Scripture is our supreme authority. The foundational document of the Anglican Communion is the Articles of Religion. These articles have been found in every edition of the Book of Common Prayer since they were finalized in the 16th century. Every ordained person promises to uphold them as the true doctrine of the church. What do the Articles say about the text of Scripture?

"XX. Of the Authority of the Church. The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation."

Thus, the official doctrinal statement of the Anglican Church states clearly that "it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written." That is pretty clear. What is most significant in this article are not the powers which the articles retained to the church, but those powers which it disclaimed. "It is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written." One wonders if many of the clerics and/or bishops of the Episcopal church have read this article lately. "God's word written" is the final test for any doctrine or dogma propounded by the church.

Nor is the church able to hide behind supposed ambiguities in the text for the church may not "so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another." In other words, the church is not free to say that Christians are free to ignore one part of Scripture because it is contradicted by another part. While it is legitimate to use the "rule of faith" (i.e. Scripture interprets Scripture) and to use a more clear passage of Scripture to illumine another that is less clear, it is not correct to set two passages in opposition to one another. Unfortunately, this is done far too often in far too many pulpits. This article is a caution against such an act.

The church is the "witness and keeper of holy writ," neither creators nor redactors of it. Perhaps the church so often fails to understand the text of Scripture because it first fails to stand under it.

The writer continues: As important the authority of Scripture is, the authority of the Holy Spirit of God, who is still working his purpose out for the Church and the World, trumps it every time!

Again, a high- and spiritual-sounding phrase, "the authority of the Holy Spirit....trumps [the authority of Scripture] every time." But what does it mean? What can it mean? It obviously begs the question, "How do we know when the Holy Spirit is speaking?" The Anglican Church's answer is (a) when it accords with the "word of God written" (Cranmer) and when it accords with first with the text of scripture, the traditions of the church, and sanctified reason (Hooker). Otherwise, high-sounding phrases simply mean "What we passed at the last convention by 51%" or "What makes me feel good." God does not speak every time the Episcopal Church, or any church, takes a vote. As Article XXI of the Articles of Religion reminds us, "... when [Church Councils] be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God."

Apparently the idea that people would claim the Holy Spirit as the ultimate trump card in their arguments did not catch Jesus or the Apostles by surprise. Jesus gave the test of how to know who to trust. In anther passage about the Holy Spirit Jesus said this (John 14) "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. . . . If you love me, you will obey what I command.. . . Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."

We know the Holy Spirit is speaking when it accords with obedience to Jesus' commands.

But, I have heard it argued, Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. It was those crazy, homophobic, primitive apostles who wrote about that. Christians, especially we sophisticated Anglican Christians, only have to listen to the words of Jesus (there is that simplistic notion of "words" rearing its ugly head again....sorry).

What did Jesus have to say about the authority of those who would follow Him? In Luke 10:16 Jesus said to His disciples, "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." St. Paul also anticipated this problem. In his letter to the Christians in Thessalonica he wrote, "For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit."

St. Paul seems to indicate there will always be a temptation to reject certain teachings as merely man-made, especially when it comes to impure living. We need to be careful or affirming our own preferences.

The writer continues: It is therefore unfortunate and sad that the Episcopal Church is tearing itself apart over texts related to homosexuality at a time when we are discovering that homosexuality, with some exceptions, is unlikely a choice (who would choose to be homosexual), rather a given. And, if that is true we need to listen to the WORD more than the words of scripture. Jesus prayed that we all be ONE, not "right." The question is how does the contemporary Church determine the correct way forward on current issues?

Science is teaching us new things all the time. Does it replace morality or excuse behavior? The writer raises an interesting question, "Who would choose to be homosexual?" If one reads the literature coming out of the homosexual movement, they propose that a great many people would and, indeed, should make that choice. Type that question into Google and this is one of the first "hits" you get: Their answer: "Can you ask a more homophobic question? I cannot think of one." In the eyes of at least this pro-gay web-site, the writer of the piece I am critiquing is a homophobe. Since I personally know the writer, I know he is certainly not a homophobe. He is a very loving person and very, very far from a homophobe. But, it does make the point that homophobia is in the eye of the beholder.

Yes, Jesus did pray, earnestly, that we all be one. But that raises two questions: "One in what?" and "Did Jesus really not care if we are right?" Second question first.

Maybe if we replace "right" with "righteous" we can find an answer. Did Jesus say anything about His disciples being "righteous"? It seems he did. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." . . . . " "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." etc.

Jesus cares that his followers be "one," but he also cares that we be right-eous.

What does the "one-ness" look like and on what is the one-ness based? The Anglican answer to those questions has always been a commitment to common doctrine, discipline, and worship. One-ness is not a vague feeling of fellowship. It is lived out in the real world of decisions and actions. By its provocative, unilateral, arrogant, unrepentant, and prideful actions at the 2003 General Convention the Episcopal Church, in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury "tore the fabric of the communion at the deepest level."

Yes, Jesus prayed that we be one. It is not we–and I include myself in this group–fundamentalists who created the schism. We believe what we were ordained to believe. We believe what the church has believed and taught for 2000 years. We are not the ones who have brought division.

The writer continues: Finally, we need to beware of those {clergy or lay} who would use the Bible to bring division to the Body of Christ...or to suggest in any way that they have cornered the God market. We do not need to split apart; rather we need to stand together with our differences humbly before God who calls us to be one and to love one another.

I didn't know there was a "God market." Is that a place where people shop for a God of their choice, one who suits their fancies, affirms their preferences, blesses their behaviors, and asks only that they not ask hard questions? Actually, there is such a place. At you can take a questionnaire about what you already believe. Based on what you already believe, it will tell you what you are. It takes away all the messy, uncomfortable stuff about changing our lives and our beliefs to conform to some Truth greater than ourselves. Maybe we should replace all our formularies, articles, catechisms, doctrines, disciplines, and worship with this questionnaire. Then we could wait until everyone has finished the questionnaires and put their pencils down. Then we could proclaim them all Episcopalians. It would sure be easier than confronting the hard truth that everything is not true. As gay bishop V. Gene Robinson said, "Just simply to say that it goes against tradition and the teaching of the church and scripture does not necessarily make it wrong. We worship a living God, and that living God leads us into truth." But, of course, how do we know when God is speaking? The Anglican answer has always been, when it accords with the text of Scripture.

It seems appropriate to close with a quote from the famous lesbian author Camille Paglia. I offer it to you now in the spirit of our mutual search for truth and justice. She writes: "As an open lesbian, I say that . . . . the objections [to our lifestyle] of conservative Christian ministers who believe the Bible are well founded. People on the left have got to accept that it is not simply bigotry that causes believing Christians to object to this kind of element in our popular culture."

If Camille Paglia can see it and say it, why is it so hard for us?

God bless us everyone.
Sam Pascoe

The Rev. Sam Pascoe is rector of Grace Church, Jacksonville, Florida.

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 12/22/2005 5:51:47 PM PST by sionnsar
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To: ahadams2; AnalogReigns; Uriah_lost; Condor 63; Fractal Trader; Zero Sum; anselmcantuar; Agrarian; ..
Traditional Anglican ping, continued in memory of its founder Arlin Adams.

FReepmail sionnsar if you want on or off this moderately high-volume ping list (typically 3-9 pings/day).
This list is pinged by sionnsar, Huber and newheart.

Resource for Traditional Anglicans:

Humor: The Anglican Blue (by Huber)

Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

2 posted on 12/22/2005 5:52:35 PM PST by sionnsar (†† || To Libs: Celebrate MY diversity, eh! || Iran Azadi 2006)
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To: sionnsar

But for the music, it was Epicopalianism that led me to Judaism.

3 posted on 12/23/2005 7:59:05 AM PST by onedoug
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