Thursday, January 29, 2015

Episcopal Apostasy and the Decline of Christianity in the West

The generation that is alive right now is witnessing the apostasy of mainline Christianity in the West.  Every Christian tradition has an element--and in many instances a controlling element--that denies "the faith once delivered to the saints"--Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists--every Protestant tradition has been affected.

Roman Catholics are not immune either.  The radical theologies and skeptical approaches to Scripture that are taught in RC universities and seminaries (and embraced enthusiastically in some religious orders and clergy circles) are identical to those taught in their Protestant counterparts.  I have had Roman Catholic friends answer this assertion by saying, "Yes, but we have the Magisterium to protect us."  Frankly, that contention is laughable.  No authority of the Papacy or the Magisterium can long withstand the undermining of orthodoxy that is occurring in their institutions of higher learning.

But none of these traditions has gone as far in excluding and persecuting its faithful remnant as has occurred (and is still occurring) in the Anglican Communion--in particular in the Episcopal Church.

In light of developments in the Episcopal Church, I have had to ask myself, "Did my wife and I err in becoming Anglicans 29 years ago?  Was I wrong to serve as an Episcopal priest for 24 years?"  No, the Anglican expression of Christianity is still the finest expression of Christianity I know.   Recently, in teaching a Confirmation class in the parish, I made the point that Anglicanism does not have a faith of its own.  Rather it seeks to be a container for conveying biblical, apostolic, and catholic Christianity to all generations.  Anglicanism retains catholic faith and order; but, in purifying itself of the erroneous accretions of the middle ages, it is a Reformed Catholicism.

The Episcopal Church, in common with the other churches of the West, first began to go astray when it became a worldly church.  Others who have chronicled the departure of the Episcopal Church from orthodoxy have looked at the strange case of Bishop James Pike (and the Episcopal Church's failure to discipline the heretical bishop) as a turning point.

About the time my wife and I were looking at the Episcopal Church, Bishop John Shelby Spong was just finding his voice as a skeptic.  Spong went on to have an influential, though unfaithful, career.  Someone who wears a purple shirt while denying everything Christianity has always believed will always find a receptive audience, especially in the media.  It is a theological "man bites dog" story--or was before it became so commonplace.

Someone might say that before becoming an Anglican, I should have looked at the examples of Pike and Spong and the Episcopal Church's failure to deal with them the way a pilot looks for stress cracks in the airframe of an airplane.  But the attraction of a Church that still officially held an orthodox faith, together with the preciousness of the sacraments and the beauty of an ancient liturgy, was too strong.

Then, too, there were spiritual and theological giants in Anglicanism, some of whom became my very faithful mentors: John Stott, J.I. Packer, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, and John Rodgers, along with bishops like Fitz Allison, John Howe, and Alex Dickson who convinced me there was still a place for a biblically faithful Christian in the Episcopal Church.  Later I met other US bishops:  Edward MacBurney (who ordained me deacon and priest), Donald Parsons, Keith Ackerman, John David Schofield, and Jack Iker--bishops of great faithfulness who provided sound leadership.

While on the faculty of Trinity School for Ministry I had the privilege of meeting a number of overseas bishops and primates (Maurice Sinclair, Peter Jensen, Greg Venables, Peter Akinola, Henry Luke Orombi--and of teaching some who are now bishops in the Global South--John Ruchyhana, Tito Zavala, Ben Kwashi.  In becoming an Anglican, I had been adopted into a good family.

But not all was well in the family.  John Shelby Spong continued to popularize the kind of skepticism one finds in liberal religious studies courses for college undergraduates, or (as Rowan Williams once said of Spong) to "ask the sort of questions that might be posed by a bright sixth former" (a senior in high school).  It is instructive to be reminded of Spong's Twelve Theses and Rowan Williams' response.

Even more troubling than Spong's militant skepticism was the Episcopal Church's complete failure to do anything about it.  During his episcopate, Spong also engaged in an aggressive campaign of ordaining gays, lesbians, and skeptics who shared his theological agenda, who went on to occupy positions of influence around the Church.  I said long ago that if one could undo all the ordinations by John Shelby Spong and about three-fourths of the ordinations by Paul Moore of New York, the liberalizing trend in the Episcopal Church could have been neutralized.

But Spong did his worst, and no one lifted a finger to stop him.  It would have been too radical, too tacky, too shocking to actually try a bishop for heresy!  Genteel Episcopalians just didn't do such things!  Walter Righter was brought up on charges for ordaining a gay man on Spong's behalf, and the court for the trial of a bishop determined that "no core doctrine" had been violated.  Soon there was a cadre of "me too" bishops, following the new agenda of ordaining skeptics, gays, and lesbians.

All of this was compounded by the radical theologies and liberal social agenda that were being taught in the seminaries.  Fast forward twenty years, and these inmates are now running the Episcopal asylum.

Trinity School for Ministry was founded in 1975 as a counterweight--and the orthodox stream of clergy being trained at Trinity did a commendable and sometimes courageous job of promoting biblical orthodoxy and spiritual renewal in American Anglicanism.

When I moved from the faculty of Trinity to become Dean and President of Nashotah House in 2001, my aim was not to make Nashotah into "Trinity West" (as I was sometimes accused of doing); but I did want Nashotah House to be similarly countercultural with regard to the prevailing liberal culture of the Episcopal Church and to be vigorously orthodox in promoting a biblical and spiritual renewal of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Episcopal Church.  Thanks be to God for the transformation that occurred and for several classes of orthodox clergy who graduated during my ten years as Dean and President!

However, all the while, the rot continued to spread throughout the Episcopal Church.  I was a deputy to five General Conventions from 1994 to 2006 and watched the Church change before my eyes.  Another religion was taking over the Episcopal Church.

This religion denies that God has existed eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  That the eternal Son became incarnate through being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  That Jesus' existence as the eternal Son shows that God's plan of redemption for humankind was inherent in the Triune nature of God from before the world was created.  That Jesus suffered and died in our place for our sins on the Cross.  That he rose bodily from the tomb on the third day, thus securing our own bodily resurrection at the last day to live with him forever.

This subversive religion that took over the Episcopal Church cannot abide those who hold the biblical, apostolic, and catholic faith of the Church and must inevitably drive out and persecute those who hold it faithfully.  It is in the nature of things and has happened everywhere true Christianity has existed alongside another religion or competing ideology.

My last General Convention as a deputy was in July 2006, the convention where Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Presiding Bishop.  As has been reported in numerous places, even before she was invested as Presiding Bishop, she ordered Bishop Peter Lee to renege on agreements with the cluster of northern Virginia parishes to leave TEc with their property.   Then came the Connecticut Six parishes.  Then came a hundred other parishes and five whole dioceses:  Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy, San Joaquin, and now South Carolina.

The Episcopal Church, though it is faced with an imminent demographic implosion, has spent tens of millions of dollars that should have been spent on mission suing departing faithful Anglicans.  TEc has spent countless more dollars in an effort to co-opt Global South provinces and dioceses into following its apostate agenda.

So, while those who know me well know that I am not an "angry person," as the term is sometimes used, I am angry.  I am angry that another religion has been allowed to take over a church that was once a wonderful spiritual home.  I am angry that almost every faithful bishop and dozens of clergy that I know have been marginalized, excluded, and finally driven out, sued, and deposed.  I am angry that a church that talks about giving to the poor will spend millions of dollars to deprive faithful Christians of their places of worship--places that TEc does not need and cannot use.

I am angry that naive bishops and clergy who are Episcopal Church careerists stubbornly refuse to recognize or do not care that there is a spiritual war going on.  I am angry that these same bishops and careerists play nicely with the Episcopal Church's leadership as if nothing is wrong.

Do we wonder why Christianity is in decline in the West and why so much of society now holds biblical Christianity in contempt?  A large part of the answer is the skepticism engendered by liberal religious leaders.

When the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church gives an interview to Time magazine and denies that Jesus is the only way to the Father, how can we expect the world to believe those Christians who say that he is?  If the Dean of an Episcopal seminary says, "Abortion is a blessing!" and Episcopal parishes support abortion providers, how can we expect the world to believe those Christians who say that all life is sacred from conception until natural death?  When the recently deceased Marcus Borg can be made a canon theologian, what confidence does it inspire in biblical authority?  One could go down a whole list of theological and social issues where there is a divergence between biblically faithful Christians and liberal elites whose denial of biblical truth undermines the Christian witness.

If denominational leaders and "reputable scholars" (reputable according to whom?) undermine confidence in the authority of Scripture and deny cardinal beliefs of historic Christianity, how can we expect the world to believe?  The reason why the Church is supposed to have faithful leaders is not only to lead the Church in being faithful but to be articulate in presenting the truth of the Christian faith to the world.  This is why orthodox seminaries that do not compromise or equivocate are so important.  If Christianity spoke with a united voice, it could influence the culture and answer its challenges.  Instead the uncertain trumpet of the Church's own leadership has brought the faith into disrepute.

God desires something better for his people--"that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:14-16).


Undergroundpewster said...

Having been a part of this mess for twice as long as you, I agree that it is apostasy and that we have been unsuccessful in stemming the rising tide of apostasy in TEc. The implosion is for the most part unrecognized by the partcipants, or it is lauded as a necessary pruning of dead limbs from the tree (to paraphrase the P.B.). It does cause a type of anger in many of us, and I like to think that I am primarily angry at myself for having done too little, and believe me, it has been very little. You have done plenty, and you have probably saved a number of priests from apostasy through your efforts. I hate to give up because I know there are lots of otherwise good people in TEc under the influence of false teachers. I dread the day when I have to shake the dust from my feet. "If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace." "Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet." Matthew 10:13-14

TJ McMahon said...

The revisionists in TEC are only beginning to "live into" the irrationality of their beliefs and actions. At the very root of the life of the Church is the "core belief" that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and then, on the third day, rose bodily from the dead.
That proposition is either a) true or b) not true.
If it is true, then Jesus is indeed "very God of very God" and therefore, our belief and worship of Him is the logical outcome of that recognition.
It the proposition is not true- if the Resurrection is some sort of gestalt on the part of the Disciples, or He wasn't really quite dead when put in the tomb, or the Romans put the wrong guy up on the cross, or (include your favorite resurrection heresy here)then He is not the son of God, or not anymore so than the rest of us (ala KGT Forrester).

Essentially, any Episcopalian who has had a modicum of education, who becomes a "believer" in modern TEC ideology, will shortly come to the conclusion that there is no need to attend or belong to a church, since there are no eternal consequences to not doing so, and at best, if there is a god at all, it is some sort of benevolent being without much concern about day to day stuff, and we should just have fun in whatever way we define that, and just be good people.

The person coming to that conclusion will soon realize that the United Way and Red Cross are vastly more efficient ways to distribute charity than TEC. I mean, I very much doubt that the Red Cross has a full time administrator on staff per every 62 blood donors or every 150 monetary contributors.
Yes, there will always be some folks who go to church because they like the liturgy and music, it is a respectable way to spend a Sunday morning, and they can feel confident that at least 1.7 percent of their tithe goes to help poor folks in far away parts of the world. But there are very few parishes where people of that ilk are enough to keep the heat on and the roof fixed, not to mention paying a rector and the "asking" to the diocese (the diocese is only "asking," but in many places, if you don't pay up, you will soon be a mission with a supply priest stopping in a couple times a month).
Most of the Episcopalians I know nowadays are still their because they are attached to the real estate, and are praying that God comes to their aid, replaces the bishop and usually the rector with someone who actually believes the Gospel. They don't make trouble, they just complain behind the back of the clergy and diocese. But those folks children are, for the most part, already gone. No one new is coming to replace them.
The logical outcome of TEC's progrom to drive out orthodox Christians is that there will be no orthodox Christians left. At that point, TEC may realize that those folks that they have been touting as "loyal Episcopalians" are the ones who only attend on Easter and Christmas, mostly for the music and family tradition, who will throw a few bucks in the plate on the odd days they are there, and otherwise send notes that they have made major contributions to their favorite causes, in the name of the parish.