Skip to comments.Are the Orthodox in ECUSA Ready to Follow Through?
Posted on 05/25/2006 4:56:21 PM PDT by sionnsar
Special to VirtueOnline
It has been three years of anxiety, prayer, study, speculation, and tentative planning since the General Convention of ECUSA in 2003 took dramatic leaps away from orthodox, traditional, and biblical faith as Episcopalians have known it since the formation of the American church just after the Revolutionary War.
In the three years there has been an exodus of congregations, clergy, and laity from ECUSA, all orthodox traditional Episcopalians. Among the reasons that have been given for the exodus from the church, the formation of the Anglican Communion Network, and realignments with overseas dioceses and provinces has been the claim that it is necessary to remain faithful to scripture and the Gospel as they have been received in the church and lived in harmony with for centuries since the Reformation in England.
No other set of circumstances and events have tested the commitment of Episcopalians to scripture, the traditions, the creeds of the church, etc. as what have recent developments in ECUSA over the last several decades and that have now come to fruition. What will be the decision of the orthodox in ECUSA who remain within the Church and the Network and the Communion [though alliances with overseas bishops and archbishops] should the General Convention 2006 not make a significant turn back to Anglican orthodoxy and classical Christian faith?
Will there be a large mass exodus of nearly all the remaining orthodox Episcopalians left in ECUSA? Will they mean what they have said for three years [and often longer] about the need to remain faithful to scripture and traditional Christian morality? Will they choose to faithfully serve God without compromise on theology, ethics, and issues like ordination, marriage, divorce, remarriage, abortion, and human sexuality?
What will the leaders and members of the Network actually do if faced with the possible fact that ECUSA is going to stay the course, albeit slowly or quickly, toward revision and redefinition of Christianity such that in time the "faith" as taught and practiced in ECUSA will look nothing like the faith Episcopalians once knew and which other orthodox groups, such as earlier Anglican break away groups, the Orthodox Churches of the East, and the Roman Catholic Church of the West will go on to maintain?
Will orthodox Episcopalians see the handwriting on the wall as once did Belshazzar [Daniel 5] and who had to call the prophet Daniel to interpret the judgment of God? Will they follow the great saints of Anglicanism, Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Parker, Baxter, Herbert, Laud, Hopkins, Moore, Chase, Kemper, and numerous others who took real stands to remain faithful to orthodoxy as they understood it in their eras and refuse to compromise with darkness and disbelief, with apostasy and heresy, even if it should be required to take this stand it means leaving behind institutions, buildings and other properties, lived memories in places that have chosen to leave the Christian faith?
Will they risk status in a dying institution in order to begin in more rugged and new settings but in those new settings knowing the freedom to cease the fight with those who have chosen to "walk apart" and the joyous return to proclaiming the gospel, evangelizing those who still need to come to Jesus Christ, and being what the church is meant to be as a community of the baptized gathered around the truly living and risen Lord?
Or will the allure of known places and spaces, of comfort zones, and the perks and status that come with being part of a once noble and national denomination hold the orthodox so that they will feel the need to justify compromise with untruth and lies, with immorality and false witness, and attempt to carry out the chimera of waging a war still to recover the apostate church for orthodoxy? Will they be lead to put what scripture balances as unity with morality into a false relationship and value and place unity over truth and morality and the light of the Gospel? Will they remain yet to find that having compromised they will find themselves unable to carry out the discipline that the Apostle to the Gentiles says is necessary in the community in order to maintain true unity? Without real accountability and real discipline, what is the realistic hope, apart from being wrongly presumptuous of God and hoping for a miracle, of being able to be effective in witness to the faith in a ever increasing more hostile environment as will necessarily be the case given the extreme gulf that exists between those who hold to the inheritance of the traditional faith and those who are so intent on completely refashioning the faith in the image of a surrounding culture that is merely returning to the old paganism that was known in the Mediterranean lands before the arrival of the first Christian missionaries? Can Christians really live with actual paganism reigning in what once was a church? Even in the first four centuries of the church, paganism did not reign within the church, but that is what is being invited in by so many today, by those who are in the ascendancy in ECUSA, and will be the result if something is not done to stop the trend, which is becoming a torrent.
The struggle of the present moment is not between competing interpretations of Christianity, but between Christianity and the return to the paganism of the Greco-Roman empire. What is required by the revelation received from God in Jesus and transmitted to the church through the apostles by means of their traditions and the scriptures in such a setting?
C. S. Lewis once and often observed that a return to paganism in the general surrounding culture would help to renew and return the church to its original apostolic zeal. We are living in the era where that rise of paganism is occurring and it is coming to America just as much as it has come and is getting deeply planted in Europe. But Lewis would not have suggested it was right to take paganism into the church and try to live alongside it and merely give paganism a "Christian" patina so as to be able to justify living in compromise alongside it and behave as if paganism was only a slightly aberrant form of the Christian faith. Such behavior, I am sure Lewis would agree, would not serve to renew and reawaken the church to its essential and core mission, its raison d'etre. To be strong in the faith the church has to not compromise its basic beliefs and identity and has to live an appropriate distance apart from the culture and forces that would only serve to undermine its living authentically in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In contrast, in the growing secularism and paganism of Europe and the West generally John Paul II of the Roman Catholic Church rightly called for a new evangelization and this is being picked up and advanced by his successor, Benedict XVI, who is especially equipped as theologian and teacher to help speak the Gospel anew in the culture of the West.
The return of the culture to paganism actually gives authentic Christianity its greatest opportunity in a long time to work to genuinely evangelize the world. But the church and Christians that will be able to do this have to be willing to let go of trappings that have become for them: that is those in the Episcopal Church - empty, hollow outward remainders which merely serve to remind one what once was inside the trappings of liturgy and mission.
For sometime yet the Episcopal Church will undoubtedly have the outward trappings of the once glorious and holy faith that was catholic and evangelical as Anglican Christians once knew it and lived it, the buildings and vestments meant for the worship of Almighty God, the music and prayers that were meant to offer praise and thanksgiving to Jesus Christ as he truly was asked to be present in the midst of the people, etc. But what good are the trappings without the power that is meant to animate them to their proper purpose and relationship to God and to the People of God? So others have the outward signs while denying the real power that is meant to accompany them.
The apostles recognized that it is very possible for once people of faith to make shipwreck of their faith. And where those who make shipwreck of their faith and indicate no desire to return, what were the instructions of the apostles in such a case?
Yes, if those who have made shipwreck of their faith are repentant and desire to return, they are to be welcomed back, warmly and lovingly; but if they are not? Do Christians have the energy to spend on such entrenched and adamant situations until such time those in that situation indicate they are ready to move back toward the faith?
What does this expenditure of energy do to the energy that is to be expended on those that still need to hear the Good News of God in Jesus Christ and are free to come to him upon hearing the Good News without the sophisticated package of supposed Gnostic and other enlightened theological conceit?
The hardest thing for God to reach with any of us is the ego if we have grown to be conceited in our theological wisdom and understanding so that we can stand independently from the rest of the community of faith and decide in our little group what is the way the faith needs to be improved, rewritten, in light of one's subjective point of view and experiences. Thus, even the conservative, supposed orthodox Christian, the one seeking to be faithful to the tradition that has come down from the apostles, has to also approach their faith with great humility and genuinely rely on the guidance and help of God in the Holy Spirit.
One has to test the spirits and insure the spirit is merely one's own ego. Yet, God is intent on reaching the masses of people who are without such barriers and who are well apt to embrace Jesus' Good News if it's presented to them.
So what will happen if the worst does occur at General Convention 2006 and there is no real significant turn to go back to classical Christian orthodoxy as Anglican and Episcopalian Christians have understood it?
Staying in such a circumstance could well mean a kind of unintended resignation to the new agenda, for a defeated minority staying within a depressed and hostile environment will only likely become more ingrown, defensive, self-righteous, and finally ineffective. Lived Christian history has taught us this lesson with some regularity over the course of the last two thousand years.
While it is sad to think the Episcopal Church as it once was as possibly coming to an end, and that is something legitimately to grieve about, there is also the hope and new life that comes with being free from all the old unhelpful constraints that got built up over the past, particularly in an environment where - as is the case in Anglicanism - it has always been difficult since its inception at the Reformation under Henry and Elizabeth for the Anglican community to give itself a cohesive, comprehensible, clear and workable identity. To be shed of that encumbrance is not necessarily a bad thing.
In a few weeks we shall begin to know the outcome and the directions American Episcopalians and worldwide Anglicans will be taking as a result of the upcoming critical General Convention, the only institution in ECUSA that can really decide the course the church charts for itself as its future. Christians everywhere need to keep our Anglican and Episcopal brothers and sisters in prayer during this crucial time.
© 2006, Bruce A. Flickinger
---For over thirty years Bruce Flickinger worshipped, lived and served Jesus Christ within the Episcopal Church, and twenty-seven of those years as an ordained priest committed to Christian discipleship, teaching the Scripture, evangelism and the renewal of the church. He began as an Anglican evangelical but recently moved to the Roman Catholic Church. He still has a high regard for all Anglican Christians and Anglican Christianity. Flickinger lives with his spouse and two adult children in Jacksonville, Florida.
This is perfect!
Lewis was very clear that a critic does not have the right to put words in an author's mouth that he never said. A critic has a responsibility to report what an author said, and not make up things that he might have said, or deny the things he did say.
Do I want to see paganism taken into the church? No
Does the author have right on his side to put thoughts in a dead man's mind? No
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