Sunday, March 30, 2008

My love / hate relationship with megachurches

For nine years before I became an Episcopal priest, I was a Baptist minister, serving part of that time on the staff of Bellevue Baptist Church, in Memphis, Tennessee, which was then one of the largest congregations in the United States. The late Dr. Adrian Rogers was the senior pastor under whose ministry I was licensed and ordained. Adrian Rogers died a little over two years ago, but you can still hear his broadcasts on Christian radio stations in many cities; and his ministry continues at Love Worth Finding. I will always be indebted for what I learned during those years at Bellevue.

Many people I know today speak derisively of "megachurches" and attribute their tremendous growth to gimmics and shallow preaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truly great megachurches have reached their present size through: (1) articulate, relevant, biblically faithful preaching; (2) effective ministries for children and youth; (3) small groups to help men and women grow in personal discipleship. Congregations of any size could benefit from doing these things.

It is not that megachurches are perfect. Far from it. Being relatively close to the Chicago area, it has been easy to follow developments at one of the best known megachurches in America: Willow Creek, where, occasionally, I have benefitted greatly from the exceptional preaching of two teaching pastors: Gene Appel and Mike Breaux. In November 2007, Willow Creek announced that Mike Breaux would be leaving to become a teaching pastor at Heartland Community Church, which has two campuses in Rockford, Illinois, and one in Madison, Wisconsin. This was a natural and logical step, since Mike Breaux had been close to the folks at Heartland for quite some time.

In January 2008, Willow Creek announced that Gene Appel and Randy Frazee would be leaving Willow Creek to pursue other opportunities. Randy Frazee, who had only been at Willow Creek for 2 years, is becoming Senior Pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, where Max Lucado has had a remarkable ministry for many years. Gene Appel resigned from Willow Creek without indicating where he would move next. The announcement of their departure should have been made by Senior Pastor Bill Hybels; instead it was made (as another commentator noted) by a relatively little known and seldom seen elder. This past Wednesday night, I was at Willow Creek for Gene Appel's last time to teach there. Again, a group of elders prayed for Gene and said farewell. Bill Hybels was nowhere to be seen.

Another megachurch pastor I know had a showdown with his elders last year and barely survived a vote by his congregation to remove the entire pastoral leadership of the church. He spoke about sitting with his wife in a quiet corner of a restaurant for a long time one afternoon, trying to work through the pain of ministering in "this thing called the church."

One very large thing for which I would fault megachurches is their tendency to treat people--expecially pastoral staff and their gifts--as mere commodities to be used when they are helpful and discarded when they cease to be so.

While still living in Memphis, my wife and I were drawn to Calvary Episcopal Church. It was a startling and intriguing contrast to see the way they valued people. This was a historic, prestigious, "old-money" kind of parish, yet their loving outreach and genuine inclusion made everyone feel welcome. A farm family from the outskirts of Memphis was as much a part of the congregation as some of Memphis' wealthiest families. A child with Down's Syndrome was loved and embraced by the whole congregation. The parish welcomed street people who would have been escorted off the premises by security guards at the Baptist church where I had served.

But guess what: this church wasn't perfect either. A radical view of inclusion led some to condone the sin along with loving the sinner. A cultural experience of Christianity supplanted a serious pursuit of true discipleship and personal holiness.

So, amidst all this imperfection, where is the Church to be found? Some think the answer is in Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy. While there is much that I respect in both of these traditions, there are problems also that are too numerous to deal with here.

In a sense, the Church is to be found in all these imperfect places: in megachurches that preach the Word but value numbers more highly than individuals, in parishes that love people but fail to obey Scripture, in churches that struggle with the Leaven of the Pharisees (dead ritualism), in churches that struggle with the Leaven of the Sadducees (unbelief and liberalism), and in churches that display none of these traits but are the victims of the collective imperfections of their all-too-human members. In all these places, the Church is imperfect because it is composed of imperfect people. If I had a congregation of 10,000 people, and they were all just like me, it would still be an imperfect church (wow--would it ever!), because I am imperfect!

But in the midst of all these imperfect places filled with imperfect people, the Holy Spirit indwells a people who are Christ's body on earth. And, despite our feet of clay, he calls us, and loves us, and bids us to serve him. What a glorious mystery!

"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine, He who pastures his flock among the lilies." (Song of Solomon 6:3)

"To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:5-6)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A hierarchical church?

In light of my recent posts speaking up for Bishops William Cox and Edward MacBurney, someone wrote asking if I was perhaps putting myself and the seminary I represent in the crosshairs of the liberal establishment.  Specifically he asked if The Episcopal Church had any control over Nashotah House's property?  Does the Dennis Canon apply to seminaries?

No, I replied, the Dennis Canon only applies to the real and personal property of "any Parish, Mission, or Congregation."  But that started me thinking.  What if, at some future General Convention, someone introduced a new canon stating that the property of all seminaries that had historically served the Episcopal Church would, from that time forward, be held in trust for the Episcopal Church.  Would that make it so?  Could the Episcopal Church do that?

No, it could not.   In the first place, the seminaries have been founded, chartered, and incorporated as free-standing institutions.  The Episcopal Church has never asserted ownership of the seminaries.

Let's take another example: There are Elks' Clubs all over the United States.  They own club houses, often with facilities for dining and dancing.  Some local clubs own golf courses and other extensive facilities.  Suppose, at a national convention of Elks, they introduced a constitutional change stating that, henceforth, all of the properties of the local Elks' lodges would be owned by and held in trust for the national organization.  Would that fly legally?   I don't think so!

Why does the Episcopal Church assert control over local church properties?  First of all, in many cases local parishes have not incorporated as separate entities.  They have operated under the corporate status, tax exempt status, etc. of the diocese in which they reside and the larger Episcopal Church.

Secondly, and more importantly, in court arguments, the Episcopal Church has asserted that it is a "hierarchical church."   Presbyteries of the PCUSA have also been known to assert the same argument, though not always successfully

More specifically, with regard to property issues, some national church bodies, such as the Episcopal Church, have asserted that they are hierarchical churches, like the Roman Catholic Church.

Oh, really?  When did you ever see a Roman Catholic diocese hold a convention and elect a bishop?  Do Roman Catholic dioceses elect deputies and send them to a convention every three years where they can vote to do anything from changing the shape of the liturgy to approving same sex marriages?  The General Convention of the Episcopal Church could even change the Creed if they so desired.   I can envision someone responding that there are some things about the Episcopal Church that would never change; but they are speaking out of mere sentimentality, not with a view to legal or constitutional reality.  The fact is that there is nothing that inheres in the nature of the Episcopal Church, and there is no hierarchical authority (as in the Papacy) to see that it does.

Parenthetically, this is why there is all the fuss about the prospect of an Anglican Covenant.  For the first time in the history of the Anglican Communion, there might actually come into being a document with the authority to bind Communion members to standards of Anglican doctrine and identity.  And the very same people who are resisting the idea of an Anglican Covenant are the same ones who want to claim that the Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church!

No, what you have in the case of the Episcopal Church is a representative democracy, where every aspect of its constitutional and canonical structure comes from the consent of the membership and can be changed if the membership so chooses.

It is argued that "The Dennis Canon codifies the existing trust relationship the Episcopal Church has long had regarding property held by its parishes."   Try telling that to the members of King's Chapel, Boston (and other colonial churches), or Mariner's Church, Detroit; or St. Mary's Church, Los Angeles.  (There are other examples, but you get the point.)

The reality is that the Episcopal Church and its various dioceses enjoyed a maternal relationship with its parishes that had the appearance of ownership because no one in the parishes ever wanted it to be otherwise.  And just about the time the Episcopal Church was beginning to make changes that would alienate a portion of its members, some clever canonical lawyers, with the acquiescence of members who trusted their church, exercised the power of a majority to expropriate the property of congregations.

It is worth considering the technical definitions of two terms I have just used:
Acquiescence is the term used to describe an act of a person in knowingly standing by without raising any objection to infringement of his rights, when someone else is unknowingly and honestly putting in his resources under the impression that the said rights actually belong to him. Consequently, the person whose rights are infringed cannot anymore make a claim against the infringer or succeed in an injunction suit due to his conduct.

Expropriation is the act of taking possession of an item of property from its owner in exchange for little or no compensation and irrespective of the wishes of the original owner. The term is used to both refer to acts by a government or by any group of people.

Now what is my point?  Am I stating that congregations should violate the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church?  No.  My view is that the Dennis Canon is a legally enacted injustice and ought to be changed by legal or democratic means, or overruled by the courts acting on the basis of neutral principles.  What are neutral principles?  "Neutral principles" means that the trust laws of a particular state ought to apply to churches the same as any other entity.  That is to say, a church is not exempt from the trust laws that apply to other corporate entities just because it is a church.  To do otherwise, it seems to me, is to give preferential treatment on the basis of religion--to "establish a religion," in violation of the First Amendment.

In other words, to refer again to my analogy of the Elks' clubs, if it would violate the trust laws of a given state for the Elks' clubs to expropriate the properties of its local chapters by an article adopted by a national convention, then, under neutral principles, a national church organization should not be able to get away with it either.

Further, it seems to me, in the interest of fairness, that a church that claims the freedom to change something as fundamentally Christian as the definition of marriage ought to admit that it is sailing off into a Brave New World and have the grace and humility to release amicably those congregations and dioceses that cannot, in all Christian conscience, go there.  And church leaders who are so fundamentally anarchic as to throw off the constraint of historic Christian teaching ought to drop the pretense that they have an authority that is, in any sense, hierarchical.

Monday, March 17, 2008

On being joyful

Robroy made a comment about this blog on Stand Firm: "I love Dean Munday. If you read his blog regularly, one can tell that despite all the troubles and travails, he remains joyful."

Thank you, Robroy, for your kind words. As the title, "To All the World," and the tag line from Mark 16:15, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation," indicate, I started this blog to deal with the mission of the Church in the world. Occasionally, the purpose of this blog has been overshadowed by events in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Those interruptions have not been entirely off-topic, since these developments have an effect on the mission of the Church in the world. For instance, consider this news from last week, "815 Ends Missionary Stipends, Travel Reimbursement." Matt Kennedy, writing on the Stand Firm blog, rightly characterized this development in his title, "All is Well™…or…"Let’s Cut back on Outreach so we Can File More Lawsuits." I couldn't have said it better myself.

In the midst of the turmoil last week over the deposition of Bps. John David Schofield and William J. Cox and the threatened deposition of Bishop Robert Duncan, the news could have been overlooked regarding the Presiding Litigator's intention to depose Bishop Edward MacBurney. I wrote these words to the House of Bishops/House of Deputies listserv in response to another Deputy who said that he believed the words of the PB calling for compassion toward Bps. Cox and Schofield were sincere:
You wrote, "I believe that the call of our Presiding Bishop to be compassionate toward these two bishops is genuine..." Let me state emphatically that I do not believe this to be the case. Bishop Cox had already been received into another province. He should have been spared this action. The PB was informed that Betty Cox is suffering from Alzheimer's disease and that the action against Bishop Cox was causing her severe mental distress. The PB was informed of this publicly by Kendall Harmon at the clergy day during her trip to the Diocese of South Carolina. [You can watch the video of Kendall Harmon speaking to the Presiding Bishop about Bishop Cox here. It is approximately 7:00 minutes into Part 5 of the series.] Bishop Cox has said that the PB never contacted him except for the letters pertaining to his deposition. If she did not show compassion toward Bishop Cox prior to his deposition, what reason is there to believe that she will do so now?

Today [3/13/08] it became public that charges are being brought against the Rt. Rev. Edward MacBurney for his visit to a non-Episcopal church in San Diego. (Bishop MacBurney is the bishop who ordained me to the diaconate and priesthood.) The Diocese of Quincy informed 815 some time ago that the MacBurneys are dealing with a son who is in hospice care with terminal cancer. If the PB wanted to demonstrate compassion, she could have waited until later to deal with this (if it had to be done at all).

What is going on right now is a cold, calculated show of force; and no amount of dressing it up with language about compassion is going to change that reality. Those who for decades spoke of tolerance, compassion, and inclusion are now running the Episcopal Church; and it is turning out just like George Orwell's Animal Farm.

I didn't sound very joyful when I wrote those words, though, in a very real sense, I still have joy, even when I contemplate all that is going on in the Episcopal Church right now.

Imagine what will happen when, as a result of depositions, there are about a dozen "former Episcopal" bishops in the United States. I predict that, if this keeps up, there are a number of retired bishops (who I could name, but won't) who will be moved to throw in their lot and join the bishops who are being deposed. I think it will have the effect of bringing into existence precisely the alternative Anglican jurisdiction in the United States the Presiding Bishop would like to avoid. There is a term for this: It is known as "the Law of Unintended Consequences."

The Law of Unintended Consequences states that the unintended consequences of an action will overwhelm the intended ones. That part of the Church's history that is summed up by the famous adage, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" is a prime example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Why does that happen? Why does persecution bring about the very thing the persecutors are seeking to destroy? Because there lives in every true Christian a joy that cannot be overwhelmed by circumstances, that sees in those circumstances the predicted opposition of "the world" to God's truth and God's people, and that knows that, whatever may befall us, God reigns and God will triumph!

Remember Jesus' words, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).

In the midst of the crisis in Anglicanism right now, on January 21, 2008, I began another blog: Anglican Revivalist. Just as this blog, To All the World, was started to promote world missions, Anglican Revivalist was started to concentrate on those resources that will promote revival in the Church.

Regarding the beginnings of an alternative Anglican presence in North America, I, along with many others, have tried to advise various Episcopal leaders to follow the advice given by Gamaliel, regarding the early Christians, in Acts 5:38-39, "'For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.'" They haven't listened.

Persecution cannot stop the Church. The immorality, heresy, and apostasy of those who do not really know Christ cannot stop the Church. Only sin, lethargy, discouragement, and unfaithfulness in the lives of God's people can retard the mission of the Church. That is why revival through the power of God's Holy Spirit is the essential, continual need of the Church.

What was the response of the Apostles after the outcome of their trial (in which Gamaliel had spoken)? "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 5:41-42).

And so it should be with us.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Railroaded! (updated)

The blogosphere is buzzing with stories and comments indicating that the deposition of the Rt. Rev. John David Schofield and the Rt. Rev. William J. Cox (about whom I wrote in my last post) may have been out of order; that is, the vote did not actually comply with the requirements of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.

I am going to reproduce the most salient comments I have run across because this story needs to be documented as many places as possible. The most thoughtful thread on the subject is the one at Stand Firm entitled, Let’s Get to the Procedural Bottom of This.

Canon IV.9. states that there are requirements that must be met before one even gets to the point of a vote on deposition of a bishop. The first of these requirements is that a Review Committee of the House of Bishops must conclude that there are grounds for the deposition. Next, the Presiding Bishop must get the consent of the three most senior bishops with jurisdiction (i.e., active diocesan bishops). According to a report in The Living Church, "One of the three senior bishops with jurisdiction confirmed to The Living Church that his consent to inhibit Bishop Cox was never sought."

This, by itself, is sufficient to indicate that the deposition of Bishop Cox is null and void. I do not know whether the consent of the three most senior bishops was sought in the case of Bishop Schofield; but I have seen no reports to indicate that it was; and such a request of the three most senior bishops would have been a newsworthy event if it occurred.

The question as to whether the vote to depose Bishops Cox and Schofield was legal hinges on Article 1(2) of the Constitution, Canon I.2.4(4), Canon III.12.8(d), and Canon IV.9.

Section 1 of Canon IV.9 states that once the three senior bishops have given consent, the Presiding Bishop shall inhibit the bishop in question “…until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon.” Section 2 contains the requirements for the actual deposition. If the inhibited bishop does not recant, “…it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to present the matter to the House of Bishops at the next regular or special meeting of the House. If the House, by a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote, shall give its consent, the Presiding Bishop shall depose the Bishop from the Ministry.”

Section 2 of IV.9 also sets forth what constitutes consent by the House of Bishops. Specifically it declares that the consent must be “…by a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote.” What does this phrase mean? Some have suggested that it means simply a majority of bishops at the meeting in question. However, Canon III.12.8(d) makes clear what language is employed when a simple majority of those present is required, and that language is “by a majority of those present.” Article 1(2) of the Constitution specifies what “the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote” means when it states:
Each Bishop of this Church having jurisdiction, every Bishop Coadjutor, every Suffragan Bishop, every Assistant Bishop, and every Bishop who by reason of advanced age or bodily infirmity, or who, under an election to an office created by the General Convention, or for reasons of mission strategy determined by action of the General Convention or the House of Bishops, has resigned a jurisdiction, shall have a seat and a vote in the House of Bishops.

Article 1(2) also specifies the quorum necessary for House of Bishops meetings as “[a] majority of all Bishops entitled to vote, exclusive of Bishops who have resigned their jurisdiction or positions, shall be necessary to constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.”

Commenter "jamesw," writing on the Stand Firm blog, cites these same portions of the Constitutions and Canons and then does some very helpful math to show that "it would take 148 votes of consent for a valid deposition. This number was clearly NOT achieved if the Living Church’s figure of 131 attendees [present at the time the vote was taken] is correct."

Then on the Stand Firm thread Commenter "Chancellor" adds this very helpful history of the applicable Canon:
A little history may be helpful here. From White and Dykman (1981 ed.), Vol. II, pp. 1079-80 (with emphases added):
The first canonical enactment on the subject of the “Abandonment of the Communion of the Church by a Bishop” was Canon 1 of 1853, which read as follows:
In all cases where a Bishop, Presbyter or Deacon of this Church . . . has abandoned her Communion . . . either by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of this Church, or by a formal admission into any religious body not in Communion with the same: such Bishop, Presbyter or Deacon . . . shall thereupon be pronounced deposed; . . . and if a Bishop, by the Presiding Bishop, with the consent of the majority of the Members of the House of Bishops . . . .

This canon was enacted to meet the case of Bishop Ives of North Carolina, who, on December 22, 1852, renounced the communion of the Protestant Episcopal Church and submitted himself to the authority of the Church of Rome. No canon on this subject had before been enacted, as there had been no need thereof . . . .

It was recognized that the canon, hastily enacted to meet an emergency, was far from perfect . . . . In the revision of the canons by [the] Convention [of 1859], Canon 1 of 1853 was made Title II, Canon 8, and amended to read as follows:
If any Bishop . . . abandon the Communion of this Church, either by an open renunciation of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this Church, or by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same, it shall be the duty of the Standing Committee of the Diocese to make certificate of the fact to the Senior Bishop . . .

Notice shall then be given to said Bishop . . . that unless he shall, within six months, make declaration that the facts alleged in said certificate are false, he will be deposed from the Ministry of this Church.

And if said declaration be not made within six months as aforesaid, it shall be the duty of the Senior Bishop with the consent of the majority of the House of Bishops, to depose from the Ministry the Bishop so certified as abandoning . . . .

It has thus been the case ever since the first version of the “abandonment” canon was adopted that a majority of the House of Bishops was required to consent to the deposition of a Bishop.

"Chancellor" continues in another comment:

Continuing with the history of the Abandonment Canon from White and Dykman (1981 ed.), Vol. II, pp. 1080-82 (with emphases added):
[The] Convention [of 1874], confronted by the renunciation of the communion of the Church by another bishop, and realizing certain defects in the canon, amended Title II, Canon 8, to read as follows:
If any Bishop . . . abandon the Communion of this Church, either by an open renunciation of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this Church, or by a formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same, or otherwise, it shall be the duty of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of said Bishop to make certificate of the fact to the Presiding Bishop . . .; and the Presiding Bishop with the consent of the three Bishops next in seniority, shall then suspend said Bishop from the exercise of his office and Ministry until such time as the House of Bishops shall consent or refuse to consent to his deposition . . .
Notice shall then be given to said Bishop . . . that unless he shall, within six months, make declaration that the facts alleged in said certificate are false, and shall demand a trial, he will be deposed from the Ministry. And if such declaration be not made within six months, . . . it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to convene the House of Bishops, and if a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled at the time to seats in the House of Bishops, shall at such meeting give their consent, the said Presiding Bishop . . . shall proceed to depose from the Ministry the Bishop so certified as abandoning . . .

On November 10, 1873, Bishop Cummings, Assistant Bishop of Kentucky, addressed a letter to the Presiding Bishop, declaring his renunciation of the ministry of this Church. The Presiding Bishop, without calling a meeting of the House of Bishops, obtained the written consent of a majority of the bishops entitled to seats in the House of Bishops, and then proceeded to depose the said Bishop Cummings on June 24, 1874, and pronounced and recorded said deposition in the presence of two bishops. It was questioned whether the consent of the bishops so obtained was regular . . .
In order to remove any doubt as to the canonical deposition of Bishop Cummings, when the House met in General Convention a few months later, [a resolution was passed] by that house [consenting to, ratifying and confirming the deposition] . . .

Thus the changes made by the 1874 Convention were to remedy the defects in the previous version of 1859 (quoted in my previous post) that were shown up by the case of Bishop Cummings.

The sequence of abandonment---certification---suspension (inhibition)---period to deny abandonment---convening House of Bishops to vote on deposition if no denial, has been followed in the changes to this canon made ever since. Moreover, the requirement for a full majority of those entitled to vote in the House of Bishops to consent to the deposition before it can take effect has been maintained consistently since the first version of the canon was enacted in 1853. In 1904, the 1874 language was changed from “a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled at the time to seats in the House of Bishops” to read as it does at present: “a majority of of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote”, and has remained the same ever since.

Thus [Presiding Bishop's Chancellor] David Booth Beers is all wet. An historical analysis of the canons easily puts to rest the meaning of the phrase “a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote”: it means a majority of all the Bishops then having seats in the House and entitled to vote on matters coming before it. It has meant that ever since the first version of the canon was adopted in 1853.

Even commenters on the liberal side of the aisle have commented that the vote AND the subsequent of the legality of the vote by the PB's Chancellor David Booth Beers is to be discounted. D.C. Toedt, on his blog, Questioning Christian, had this to say:
I'm sorry, but I don't think Mr. Beers' present-and-voting rationale is at all persuasive. Article I.2 of the Episcopal Church constitution specifies which bishops are "entitled to vote" at meetings of the House of Bishops:
Sec. 2. Each Bishop of this Church having jurisdiction, every Bishop Coadjutor, every Suffragan Bishop, every Assistant Bishop, and every Bishop who by reason of advanced age or bodily infirmity, or who, under an election to an office created by the General Convention, or for reasons of mission strategy determined by action of the General Convention or the House of Bishops, has resigned a jurisdiction, shall have a seat and a vote in the House of Bishops.

A majority of all Bishops entitled to vote, exclusive of Bishops who have resigned their jurisdiction or positions, shall be necessary to constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.

This alone suggests pretty strongly that the Schofield deposition could not proceed by a vote of merely a majority of those present at the meeting.

Read the whole thread, including the updates, at Questioning Christian. It is very informative.

One final comment on my part: Accepting the opinion of the Chancellor to the Presiding Bishop, David Booth Beers, as to the validity of this vote is like letting the attorney for the prosecution serve as the judge, jury, and appeals court judge in this matter. Bishops Cox and Schofield are godly men who are more focused on God's mission in their lives than on fighting with bureacrats in a corrupt and dying ecclesiastical structure. They may well choose not to fight this matter, and that is their prerogative. I personally believe that, if they do not fight, others ought to do so as a simple matter of justice (which is why I have taken the time to document the salient points here). Because, as I think of what has been done to these fine men, one term stands out in my mind: "RAILROADED!"


UPDATE: I wholeheartedly endorse Sarah Hey's proposal Episcopal Flagplanters: An Action Idea Regarding the Non-Canonical Actions of the HOB. TEC's leadership will only be accountable if we hold them to accountability.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Rt. Rev. William J. Cox, a Bishop in Christ's one holy catholic and apostolic Church

When I became Dean of Nashotah House, I learned that it was the custom of the House to have a fall retreat. The Reverend Richard Cornish Martin led the retreat in October of my first academic year, having been invited by my predecessor. Fr. Martin, sometime rector of Advent, Boston, and St. Paul's K Street, Washington, DC, and a Trustee of Nashotah House, led an superb retreat for our seminary community.

As I began to think and pray about who I would invite to lead the first retreat for which I would have responsibility, one name came immediately to mind: Bishop Cox!

The Rt. Rev. William J. Cox was Suffragan Bishop of Maryland from 1972-1980, when he resigned to become Assistant Bishop of Oklahoma, the position in which he served until his retirement in 1988. I first heard Bishop Cox as a Lenten series speaker at Calvary Church, Memphis, nearly 30 years ago. Calvary was a moderate to liberal Episcopal parish—some might say it was an unlikely place for someone as well known as Bishops Cox was in Episcopal "renewal" circles to be preaching. But that was Bishop Cox—he would preach the Gospel wherever he could gain a hearing. Winsome, endearing, compelling—he continues to be much-loved by Episcopalians across the theological spectrum.

While a bishop in both Maryland and Oklahoma, Bishop Cox became a much sought-after speaker, preacher, and conductor of retreats. He and his wife Betty were active in Episcopal Renewal Ministies (now Acts 29), the Order of St. Luke; and Bishop Cox also served as Chaplain to the Brotherhood of St. Andrew.

Stocky, bald, wearing round glasses with his eyes appearing large through lenses as thick as Coke bottle bottoms, it is easy to imagine one is talking with the Apostle Paul when speaking with Bishop Cox. His voice is both warm and rich, and conveys genuine love and appreciation for everyone with whom he speaks. If an article were ever written explaining what it means to be a godly bishop, it would be incomplete if it were not illustrated by the example of Bishop Cox.

Even though technically in retirement, Bishop Cox has continued an active ministry. Now age 87, he has been the Episcopal Church's oldest living bishop. It is so hard to envision him as anything but a bishop that one is surprised to hear of his early military service and that he became a civilian pilot after he was in his sixties.

Today, the Episcopal Church's House of Bishop, acting on the recommendation of Presiding Bishop ☠ Katharine Jefferts Schori, voted to depose Bishop William Cox.

What had Bishop Cox done that led to his deposition? In June 2005, Bishop Cox ordained two priests and a deacon at Christ Church in Overland Park, Kansas, after he was asked to do so by the Primate of Uganda, the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi. The following month, Bishop Cox returned to Christ Church and led a service of confirmation.

In April 2005, Christ Church agreed to pay the Diocese of Kansas $1 million over the next 10 years as part of a separation agreement which allowed the congregation to retain its property, and for the clergy to be relieved of their canonical obligations to The Episcopal Church. Christ Church and its clergy subsequently affiliated with the Province of Uganda.

It is important to note that Bishop Cox did not perform acts in any congregation of the Diocese of Kansas without the Bishop of Kansas' permission. He minstered to a congregation that had left the Diocese of Kansas and had been received into the Province of Uganda. Bishop Cox, as an Anglican Bishop, ministered at the request of an overseas Anglican bishop (in this case the Archbishop and Primate of Uganda) to a congregation that was under his jurisdiction.

In 2006, two bishops—the Rt. Rev. Dean Wolfe, Bishop of Kansas and the Rt. Rev. Robert Moody, Bishop of Oklahoma—presented then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold with charges that Bishop Cox had violated the Canons of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Griswold forwarded the charges to the Title IV [disciplinary] Review Committee, which determined that there were sufficient grounds to proceed to trial.

Concerned that his presentment trial would be a financial and public relations disaster for The Episcopal Church, retired Bishop William J. Cox informed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on March 29, 2007 that he had left The Episcopal Church and had been received into the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, by Archbishop Gregory Venables.

“I don’t want a fight amongst Christians,” Bishop Cox told The Living Church on 3/30/07. “I don’t hold a grudge against [Oklahoma] Bishop [Robert] Moody or [Kansas] Bishop [Dean] Wolfe for bringing charges against me.

“At the request of another Anglican primate, I tried to minister to Episcopalians who had been made outcasts by their church,” he said. “This is not the same church in which I was ordained.” [Many of us who have been ordained a lot less longer than Bishop Cox can say "Amen" to that!]

“I would hope this transfer [to the Southern Cone] will enable me to be of service to congregations in this country that have already affiliated with the Southern Cone, but that decision will be up Archbishop [Gregory] Venables."

Bishop Cox is now listed as Acting Provincial Assistant Bishop of the Southern Cone, and he remains a bishop in Christ's one holy catholic and apostolic Church. He has earned the undying love and admiration of many, many of God's people—and our prayers will continue to be with him. God bless you, Bishop Cox!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Video: "The Global Church"

"Could it be that to drink from the cup of western theology is to drink from a poisoned chalice?"

Oscar Muriu, pastor of Nairobi Chapel in Kenya, had this and many other things of interest to say (with particular reference to Anglicans) when he addressed 25,000 students at InterVarsity's Urbana Conference 2006.

Muriu's church has the goal of planting 300 new churches by the year 2020--churches not just in the Global South, but in places like Sydney, London, New York, and Los Angeles. Why? Because it is time to "re-evangelize" the West.
Watch the video.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Future Lies in the Past

Why evangelicals are connecting with the early church as they move into the 21st century.

Last spring, something was stirring under the white steeple of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

A motley group of young and clean-cut, goateed and pierced, white-haired and bespectacled filled the center's Barrows Auditorium. They joined their voices to sing of "the saints who nobly fought of old" and "mystic communion with those whose rest is won." A speaker walked an attentive crowd through prayers from the 5th-century Gelasian Sacramentary, recommending its forms as templates for worship in today's Protestant churches. Another speaker highlighted the pastoral strengths of the medieval fourfold hermeneutic. Yet another gleefully passed on the news that Liberty University had observed the liturgical season of Lent. The t-word—that old Protestant nemesis, tradition—echoed through the halls.

Just what was going on in this veritable shrine to pragmatic evangelistic methods and no-nonsense, back-to-the-Bible Protestant conservatism? Had Catholics taken over?

No, this was the 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference, whose theme was "The Ancient Faith for the Church's Future." Here, the words spoken 15 years ago by Drew University theologian and CT senior editor Thomas Oden rang true: "The sons and daughters of modernity are rediscovering the neglected beauty of classical Christian teaching. It is a moment of joy, of beholding anew what had been nearly forgotten, of hugging a lost child."

[Read the entire story here.]

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Videos by David Short and J.I. Packer on Anglican Realignment

To continue the thread begun yesterday about the Rev. Dr. J.I. Packer being threatened with suspension from the ministry by the ersatz bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, I ran across this series of videos created by the Church of St. John's, Shaunessey, featuring the rector, the Rev. David Short, and Dr. Packer giving a very thorough overview of the issues involved in the decision by St. John's parish to seek oversight from another Anglican province. Needless to say, both gentlemen put their case in eloquent and compelling terms.

Due to the fact that YouTube currently limits videos to 10 minutes, the original presentation is divided into 10 parts. The index to all 10 parts is here. To watch the videos in sequence you'll need to begin with section 1/10 in the lower right hand corner.