Saturday, May 31, 2014


H/T: Anglican Unscripted and The Quinton Report

The above ad appeared in the Charleston City Paper, an alternative weekly.  The text reads:

The Virgin Mary Followed by Bloody Marys

The ad, run by the Church of the Holy Communion, an Episcopal Church parish in Charleston, South Carolina, then goes on to list several restaurants in the area (Hominy Grill, Fuel, Cafe Lana, & Five Loaves) along with mentioning Spoleto festival venues are nearby.  The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion bills itself as an “Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Church.”

George Conger, commenting on Anglican Unscripted (51 minutes into the video), rightly noted that the ad flaunts the worst aspects of "Gin and Lace" Anglo-Catholicism.  This ad may have an ephemeral attraction for socialite Charlestonians who want a little religious ritual before their Sunday brunch, but it doesn't do much to commend the real reason why the Church exists.  In fact, it sends exactly the wrong message.
[P.S., If you want to know what the real business of the Church is, read my previous post.]

The Power of One

The Church today would be a different kind of place if it were not for a short, dark-skinned, red-bearded, half hermit who single-handedly fought an empire for the truth of the Gospel.  For much of the fourth century, A.D., it was Athanasius contra mundum—“Athanasius against the world”—and Athanasius won.

One letter.  To some historians his was a battle not worth fighting.  His argument hung on the stroke of a pen, a single letter, one iota—the Greek letter “i.”  But embedded in that slender distinction was the essence of the Christian faith, and Athanasius would defend it with his life.  “We are contending,” he wrote, “for our all.”

Up to this point, the Church’s major threats had all come from outside—Roman emperors who sought to work their will on Christians who steadfastly maintained that Jesus is Lord and not Caesar, and Greek philosophers who presented questions that the Church, in time, developed the ability to answer.

Bishops, who led God’s people after the death of the apostles, and whose chief duty is to guard the deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, shed much ink—and much blood—defending the ideals and ideas of Christian faith against the heavy tide of a hostile and haughty world.

But by the early 300s, egos and ambitions had begun drawing battle lines within the Church.  Christians were fighting Christians over theological positions.  Most of the differences formed around explanations of the Trinity:  Did Christians worship one God, or three?  Was the Father greater than the Son and Spirit, or equal?

Then around 318 came an upstart church leader named Arius, asking the question to rattle all questions:  Was Jesus even God at all?

One word.  The distinction boiled down to a single word, distinguished by the single Greek iota we have just mentioned.  Was the Son of the same substance (homoousios) as the Father, or was he merely of a similar substance (homoiousios) as the Father?   It was a controversy that not only occupied the minds of scholars but also the marketplace banter of everyday folk.  It demanded the attention of the Emperor Constantine, who summoned bishops from East and West to an unprecedented gathering in the city of Nicea, in A.D. 325.

When their two month meeting had ended, the resulting creed accurately declared Jesus Christ to be “very God of very God, begotten not made, of one substance (homoousios) with the Father.  Arius was declared a heretic, deposed and disgraced, and everyone assumed that the matter was closed.

Yet the matter continued to confuse and divide.  Constantine, who, like many leaders, valued unity of their institutions over the truth of the Gospel, ordered the new bishop of Alexandria to reinstate Arius as a member in good standing, a sharer in the Church’s communion.

One man.   But the new bishop was a man named Athanasius, who promptly told the Emperor that he could forget it.  According to one story, Athanasius stopped the Emperor’s procession through the streets one day, grabbing the horses of the Emperor’s carriage by the reins—an act that could have gotten him instantly killed by the Emperor’s guards—in order to warn the great Constantine that these matters of the Christian faith were even greater than he was. ]

The consequences were that important, and this is why:
  • If the Son is a created being, not of the same substance as God, then the Son is not God.
  • If the Son is not God, then his birth in the person of Jesus is not the incarnation of God. 
  • If God is not truly incarnate in the person of Jesus, then his atoning death is worthless.
“For he alone,” Athanasius wrote, “being Word of the Father and above all, was able to re-create all, and was worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father.  For this purpose the incorruptible word of God entered our world.  The Word is God from God; for ‘the Word was God’” (John 1:1).

In other words, if Jesus is anything less than God—whether angel, or exalted teacher, or new age cosmic avatar, his death and resurrection cannot be the atoning sacrifice that breaks the curse of human sin.  We can say that Jesus is our Savior, but if the reality of Jesus as God incarnate does not undergird our faith, we are just engaging in wishful thinking.

Naturally, Athansius’ defiance did not win him any friends at the imperial palace.  Constantine’s opinion of the young bishop took such a turn for the worse that he banished him to the uttermost western part of the Empire, sending him from Egypt to Gaul (modern France) in the dead of winter.  It was the first of five exiles he would endure throughout his 45 years as bishop, as he resisted imperial pressure for the sake of the Gospel.

Several emperors came and went during Athanasius’ lifetime, and he would be allowed to return—always to the delight of the people of Alexandria.  But then imperial pressure would heat up again, Athanasius would take his place in the fire, and no one who flinched from the truth of the Gospel would be allowed a moment’s rest in his presence.

Athanasius recognized that the Incarnation is a mystery.  No one could fully understand it.  But there are those whose pride, arrogance, and self-interest would not allow them to believe.  And Athanasius would not keep silent while they robbed God of his power and the Gospel of its truth.  “We take divine Scripture and set it up as a light upon its candlestick, saying: 'very Son of the Father, natural and genuine, proper to His essence, very and only Word of God is He…'  But let them learn that ‘the Word became flesh;’ and let us, retaining the general scope of the faith, acknowledge that what they interpret wrongly has a right interpretation.”

Other bishops, fearing a church split on their hands, pressed the compromise of the homoiousios—that Christ was of similar, and not the same, substance as the Father.  The change in the Greek word was so small—just one letter—that one would hardly notice it, a change in pronunciation so small that those reciting the creed could ignore it.  But to Athanasius it was the difference between life and death.

“God Himself made the decision to take on flesh and to become man and to undergo the death of the Cross, that by faith in Him, all who believe may obtain salvation….  Only so is our salvation fully realized and guaranteed.”

He would die, in 373, before the fruit of his labor could be seen.  But, in 381, bishops at the Council of Constantinople would uphold the doctrine of the deity of Christ that Athanasius taught.  The Nicene Creed would survive as the accepted understanding of the Trinity and of the Person of Christ.  The Church would go on, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to proclaim a pure Gospel to this day—because of the power of one letter, one word, and one man to demonstrate that the truth matters.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bishop Peter Beckwith to serve in Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes

The Anglican Church in North America's Diocese of the Great Lakes has announced at their Diocesan Synod that Bishop Peter Beckwith has signed the Jerusalem Declaration and will be serving as an assisting bishop in the Diocese.  Bishop Beckwith was Bishop of the Episcopal Church Diocese of Springfield from 1992-2010.

During his time as Bishop of Springfield, Beckwith referred to himself as “a faithful Christian in the Episcopal Church.”  However, his effort to be faithful to the biblical and apostolic Gospel meant that his vision for the Church differed markedly from that of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

In a June 30, 2006 pastoral letter, Bishop Beckwith described the Epjscopal Church as having “adopted a Gnostic theology and a New Age spirituality.”  At the same time, the Diocese of Springfield’s standing committee issued a statement declaring Jefferts Schori “to be outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy and the clear parameters of the Christian faith, as understood from an Anglican perspective” and made an unsuccessful request for direct oversight from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In March 2013, Beckwith was one of nine Episcopal bishops forced by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori to undergo a process of "conciliation" after they signed amicus curiae briefs in support of the Diocese of Fort Worth and the Diocese of Quincy in their legal efforts to separate from the Episcopal Church.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

UPPER SOUTH CAROLINA: Bishop Waldo Permits Congregations to Perform Same-Sex Blessings

I would love only to blog about the good news—I really would—like the growth of Christianity in China or the number of Muslims in countries beyond the reach of any Gospel witness who are becoming followers of Jesus through dreams and visions.  But in the western world—where even historic, formerly mainline churches are becoming post-Christian—the news often isn't good.

This evening I read the news that the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina is now permitting congregations to perform same-sex blessings.  (The full document is here.)  This really wasn't much of a surprise.  Sarah Hey at Stand Firm (who lives in that diocese) has blogged her pessimism regarding the "Bishop’s Task Force on Unity" (a task force of three conservatives and eight liberals) that was appointed to study the question of same-sex blessings.  Fr. Bradley Wilson's decision to resign from the Task Force, in April 2013 (because it appeared the bishop had already made up his mind to do same sex blessings) proved to be prescient. 

Nevertheless, when I read the news this evening, it hit me like a punch in the gut.   This is South Carolina, after all, where same-sex unions are not recognized legally and probably one of the least likely states ever to do so.  The Dean of the 4000-member Trinity Cathedral, in Columbia, the Very Rev. Timothy Jones, has issued a letter stating that he will not authorize the blessing of same-sex relationships in his congregation, but remains committed to “respectful conversation.”  The rector of the almost-equally-large Christ Church, in Greenville, the Rev. Harrison McLeod, had written to his congregation almost a year ago, saying that Bp. Waldo's approval of same sex unions in the Diocese looked to be inevitable, but that he will not authorize the blessing of same-sex relationships in his congregation either.

So in a state where the legalization of same sex unions is highly unlikely, and in a diocese where two of the largest congregations in the entire Episcopal Church have said they will not bless same-sex unions, and where performing same-sex blessings is not likely to play well except to a relatively small number of activists on the issue, Bp. Waldo approves them anyway.  So why did this happen?  And for whom?

The significance of this action is that it puts the Diocese of Upper South Carolina on record as buying into the Episcopal Church's idolatry and slavish submission to the zeitgeist.  And, however seldom the newly approved rite will be used, it gives Bishop Waldo the satisfaction that he has accomplished something that is apparently essential to his own theology and sense of justice.

I am very familiar with the justice arguments put forward by those who favor same-sex blessings--that if even one couple receives this blessing, justice has been accomplished, and it is an advance for the gospel (their gospel, that is).  For the moment, my concern is not the merits of the debate, per se.  My concern is for what this says about the tenability of orthodox Christianity in the Episcopal Church.

How many dioceses in the Episcopal Church currently do not bless same-sex relationships?  I have not done a tally, but I suspect there are fewer than 20 out of 99 domestic U.S. dioceses that have not authorized the blessing of same sex relationships, and several of these simply have not declared their position yet.  I think it is an accurate assessment that, apart from three or four notable exceptions, there is not a diocese in the Episcopal Church that is more than one episcopal election away from blessing same sex unions.

To those who have been paying attention to the course of the Episcopal Church over the past few decades, this will not come as news.  But for a great many pew-sitters, the implications of this are huge.  First, the reality shifted from "General Convention does a lot of crazy things, but it never amounts to anything" to "Some dioceses may be doing this, but this diocese never will.  Now, all that many Episcopalians can do is say hopefully, "the Bishop may approve same sex blessings, but this parish will never do them."

However, in a Church where orthodoxy is increasingly the exception instead of the rule, and where the training of new clergy is increasingly heterodox, the fact remains that any diocese in the Episcopal Church could only be one bishop election away (and any parish only one rector search away) from doing what the Diocese of Upper South Carolina now has done.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross"

Working on a sermon for this Sunday, I was once again struck by this precious truth regarding the work of Christ for our salvation from the Epistle lesson (1 Peter 2:24): 
He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Over the years I have been surprised and saddened at the number of learned individuals and clergy whose educations had taught them to hold the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ for our sins in disdain.

It seems that the denials I have encountered are from individuals who find it hard to believe that God has a righteous indignation (wrath) toward our sins that needs to be assuaged; and that there is a justice in God that needs atonement in order to forgive our sins.

But what do verses such as these say to us?
For Christ also suffered [died] once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit... (1 Peter 3:18).
It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:24-25).
 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
What do the redemptive analogies of the Passover Lamb (Exodus 12) and the Scapegoat (Leviticus 16:9-10) teach us?  That, like the Passover Lamb and the Scape goat, Christ took the penalty for our sins that we might live.

Make no mistake, the substitutionary death of Christ for our sins is the heart of the Gospel message, and if it is not the heart of your theology and your personal beliefs, you are in big trouble.
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4).
This is our only hope.  And if you are one of those who has been led to think differently about the meaning of Christ's death and your salvation, then what more can I say other than to suggest respectfully that it is not too late to think again?

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Schori's Visit and the Pax Nashotah

(H/T Virtue Online)

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting on Thursday's visit of Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, to Nashotah House Theological Seminary.

While reporting that "The Episcopal Church... is among the more liberal of the 39 provinces in the Worldwide Anglican Communion..." and that "the Anglo-Catholic Nashotah House is one of the more conservative Episcopal seminaries," religion editor, Annysa Johnson, went on to say that,"...the seminary works to nurture an ethos — something it calls Pax Nashotah — in which individuals with theologically diverse views live and work respectfully together."

The term "Pax Nashotah" was coined in a very complimentary blog reflection by Bishop Dan Martins after a May 2009 visit to Nashotah House.  (He updated his impressions in similarly laudatory terms following another visit in 2010.)  Bp. Martins later became an alumni trustee and, following Bishop Ed Salmon's move from Chairman of the Board to become Dean and President, Martins became the next Chairman of Nashotah House's Board.

Since I was the Dean and President under whom the Pax Nashotah that Bishop Martins observed came to be a reality, let me offer the following clarification:

The climate we were blessed to have at Nashotah House during those years (the Pax Nashotah) was never intended to be an ethos, as the Journal Sentinel reports, "in which individuals with theologically diverse views live and work respectfully together."

The climate in Anglicanism in those years was (and continues to be) one in which many who remained in the Episcopal Church sometimes demonized those who had left, beginning with the departures of the Dioceses of San Joaquin and Quincy in 2008, followed by the Dioceses of Fort Worth and Pittsburgh in 2009.  (More recently, Katharine Jefferts Schori herself has been accused of doing precisely this in a sermon preached in South Carolina.)  Departing Anglicans, for their part, have also demonized those who have remained in the Episcopal Church.

The "Pax Nashotah" that came to exist during the latter half of my deanship at Nashotah House was was one in which Anglicans of different jurisdictions could live, work, and worship together respectfully, not in spite of "theologically diverse views," but precisely because they shared a unity in Christian faith and teaching.

The students who enrolled at the House represented a variety of jurisdictions, together with students from dioceses of the Episcopal Church who were looking for the orthodox education that Nashotah House offered.  We were seeking to be, first and foremost, an orthodox Christian institution, one where ecclesiastical affiliations or jurisdictions did not matter.  We were there to become the best servants we could be for Jesus and His Church.  We would leave the matter of the jurisdiction where we were called to serve up to Him.

It is the theological unity that undergirded the Pax Nashotah that has been challenged by the current administration's decision to invite Katharine Jefferts Schori (and a procession of bishops whose views approach Jefferts Schori's in varying degrees) to preach at the House.  This is the subtle but significant shift that has taken place:  The position of Nashotah House has shifted from jurisdictions not mattering as long as we all agree in the truth to theological differences not mattering as long as we can all get along.  

You can read Katharine Jefferts Schori's sermon at Nashotah House on the Episcopal Church website.  Although her reference to Jesus is supported by Scripture references in a footnote, the reference to "Wisdom and her prophet" sounds more Gnostic than Christian.  This won't surprise anyone who has been paying attention.  Jefferts Schori's theology is exactly what a modern-day Gnostic would believe.  Her denial of Jesus as the only way to the Father and her views regarding salvation are ones with which a Gnostic would agree.  Her claim that St. Paul of Tarsus' curing of a demon-possessed slave girl as described in the Bible was  "depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness" is precisely what a modern-day Gnostic or Neo-Pagan would say about it. 

The message should be clear:  Any orthodox Christian seeking to work in the Episcopal Church today needs to have a game plan for reforming it or at least for maintaining orthodoxy in the spheres in which he or she ministers--knowing that it will be in the face of enormous challenges, even (or perhaps especially) from the Episcopal Church's top leadership. 

When the initial controversy erupted surrounding the invitation of Katharine Jefferts Schori's to preach at Nashotah House, Bp. Martins reportedly said that there had been lots of heretics in the pulpit at Nashotah House during his three years as a seminarian.  That is undoubtedly true for Nashotah House at that time, and that was precisely the kind of ethos from which we were intentionally moving away during my deanship. 

There is no point in cataloging here once again the numerous errors that have become part and parcel of current Episcopal Church teaching.  There is no point listing once again the errors that have characterized Katharine Jefferts Schori's own preaching and teaching.  There is no point enumerating Jefferts Schori's depositions and lawsuits against faithful Anglicans, including Nashotah House trustees, alumni, and supporters.  The current administration of Nashotah House has shown it doesn't care. 

The new agenda seems to be that a relationship with the Episcopal Church, even with its heretical leadership, is paramount.  But what is to be gained from this relationship?  A few more students from dioceses of the Episcopal Church whose influence will move the seminary in a more heterodox direction?  A little more money?  What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?  It is the soul of Nashotah House that is at stake in the invitation to Katharine Jefferts Schori and the direction of the House that this invitation represents.