Wisconsin this time of year is the kind of place God had in mind when he created the Garden of Eden. My wife and some friends (one of them a visiting professor in our DMin program at Nashotah House) and I had a leisurely dinner (2 1/2 hours) at a restaurant on one of our local lakes. Sipping red wine and sparkling water, enjoying the lake view and and a beautiful sunset in perfect (not near-perfect--absolutely perfect!) weather, engaging in stimulating conversation over delectable food--one of the finest evenings I have had in a long time.
Then I came home, switched on the computer and saw that the General Convention had begun this evening, and that the Episcopal Church (or at least its leadership) had done something that they hadn't been able to do in all the General Conventions I attended as a deputy. They finally defined heresy.
Or at least the Presiding Bishop did. The defining moment came in an opening address, which the Rev. Philip Ashey, reports as follows:
Then the Presiding Bishop of TEC took the stand. She spoke about the crisis facing The Episcopal Church. “Crisis is always a remarkable opportunity,” she said. Speaking from her own experience as a pilot, she said it is a time to “aviate, navigate, and then communicate,” in that order. Always keep the plane flying through the crisis—even when you are not sure where you are.
She described the essential crisis within the Gospels as Jesus’ decision to set his face toward Jerusalem, and likened the decisions of this 76th General Convention to that decision to set one’s face toward Jerusalem.
And then in a cold, calm, defiant and defining voice she said, "The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy - that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It's caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention."
Now, to give the Presiding Bishop the benefit of the doubt (See, I really am feeling good this evening!), what she may have meant is: "It is wrong for us to concentrate solely on the individual aspects of salvation. As a Church we are called to life in community, and at this General Convention we are going to concentrate on what we do as a Church together. That is why we have chosen 'Ubuntu' as our theme."
For those who haven't kept up with the choice of this year's theme for General Convention, one way of defining "Ubuntu" is this quotation from Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity.
We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
Okay, perhaps the Presiding Bishop is talking about "the Social Gospel" updated for the 21st century.
But that is not what the Presiding Bishop said. She used the "H" word--a rarity for a contemporary Episcopalian--and she appeared to aim the word squarely at those who believe in the necessity of an individual confession of Jesus Christ as Lord for salvation.
This, of course, would seem to run contrary to the following passage of Scripture as well as several others:
But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:8-17)
(This passage, incidentally, sets out not only the means by which individuals are saved, but also the Church's message as it does mission.)
So either the Presiding Bishop is being provocative (Google the words "mother Jesus" to see a long list of entries about a previous example of the same), or else the biblical illiteracy that has long been the bane of Episcopalians has now become a requirement for continued membership.
And General Convention is only just beginning.