2007-09-13

T.E.C. TAC TOE: Who will win in "The Episcopal Church"?


I want to start out with a bit of honesty. I have hesitated finishing this article because I did not want to say anything negative about Christ Church leaving the Diocese of Dallas. But, I cannot help it. I feel shocked, saddened, and betrayed by the actions of Christ Church. I feel hurt, like a man whose friend flees when the fight gets too tough. I feel more hurt by them than anything New Hampshire or the national church has ever done, because what they did is more personal. CS Lewis says that the devil sends error into the world in twos, so that by avoiding one you fall into the other. Well, Christ Church has answered the heresy of the national church with schism, and last I checked neither is pleasing to Christ. May God have mercy on us all.

Before Christ Church went into schism; many people asked me what my take is on the crisis in the national church, and what I think our response should be. The words I emailed them then are even more appropriate now in light of recent events. And I want to begin by saying that I have real problems with many people on the "extremes" in the debate. In this debate, there are really four sides, not just two. Here are the key players:

THE REVISIONISTS: These are the folks who advocate a whole host of changes to the way we do Church, including blessing same-sex "marriages" and ordaining actively gay clergy. They do not believe in the Creed, nor that Jesus literally lived, died, and rose from the dead the way Scripture says He did. They do not believe Scripture is God's actual word to mankind, but rather some out-of-date man-made stories about God. They want to revise the faith and they want to shove this revision down everyone's throats by making them accept gay clergy, bad theology, and a whole host of "improvements" to the Christian faith.

THE SEPARATISTS: These are the folks who hold to an orthodox version of the faith (theBible is God's inspired word, and Jesus is God's Word made flesh, the second Person of the Trinity, who really rose from the dead). Yet, they push this orthodoxy in the direction of having a special club of only "pure" believers who are not tainted by any of the sins of the world or of the revisionists. They want to split from the Episcopal Church as soon as possible to create a "pure" Church, free from unrepentant sinners like the revisionists. These folks are very similar to the revisionists in this: they are not interested in dialogue or in fellowship with people who are not like them. They want everyone on their side, or they don't want to have anything to do with them.

THE COMPROMISERS: These folks may or may not have a particular stand on any of the issues. They may believe in Scripture, or not. They may want gay marriage, or not. The main thing is that they just want everyone to "get along". They want to hide their heads in the sand and pretend it is not happening. They tend to be upset with orthodox believers for making such a big deal about everything. Can't everyone just play nice?

THE ORTHODOX: These are folks who have an orthodox, Biblical, historical version of the Christian faith. They do not believe in the revisions of the revisionists, nor do they go along with the quick-to-jump-ship attitude of the separatists, nor do they believe we can pretend it all didn't happen like the compromisers. They think that the split of the Church is a very serious, very sad thing: like having a leg amputated. The orthodox genuinely love their revisionist brothers and sisters, and desperately want them to repent. They want to do everything humanly possible to save the Church from amputation, just as a surgeon wants to do everything possible to save the leg before amputating it. They are also not under the separatist delusion that we can create a "pure" Church by separating from the "impure". No matter how "pure" we try and make the Church, we will still have issues with sin. And if we try to be too "pure" we run the risk of becoming self-righteous Pharisees who are too afraid to reach out to the lost world to share Christ's Love (check Matthew 23 on that). Yet, the orthodox sadly realize that there is a very high possibility that the Church may be split - the better word is amputated - but they do not rejoice and get giddy about it like the separatists do.

Most people make this about the "Liberals" (which includes revisionists and compromisers) versus the "Conservatives" (which includes separatists and orthodox), but I think that is misleading. Both the labels conservative and liberal are so over-used and fuzzy that they have become meaningless. And, as I have shown, they represent people who are very different in what they want out of this Church conflict.

Also, you can see that the conflict is very deep and not as simple as people make it. The conflict is not just about New Hampshire ordaining gays (from one side), nor about "conservatives" being "homophobes" (from the other side). These things are just symptoms of a deeper problem. It is like a foundation problem in a house. When a house gets foundation problems, the first signs are cracks in the wall and doors that won't shut right. Yet, if we just patch the cracks and fix the doors, we will do nothing to actually fix the problem. We have to dig deep and fix the foundation.

The foundation is cracked in the Episcopal Church. Trying to make the walls pretty won't fix anything. Part of the Church is trying to build on Christ and His Word, which is the only true foundation (the orthodox position, cf. 1Cor 3). Part of the Church is trying to build on political correctness and the fashions of this Age (the Revisionist position). Part of the Church wants to build on just getting along and playing nice (the Compromise position). And part of the Church wants to build on the foundation of Christ, but they don't want anything to do with the old building. They want to dig up the foundation of Christ and move it to a new location (the Separatist position). As a result, the house of faith is getting cracks all over the place, and may implode before all is said and done.

I will be completely honest: There is a reason why the position of certain parishes is so confusing when they say things like "we are still under the bishop but we are not part of the Episcopal Church". It is because they don't make sense, and I think their logic is flawed. They have made the logically contradictory statement that they are in communion with the bishop, but they are separate from the Episcopal Church. Now, the bishop is still in communion with the bishops of the Episcopal Church, even if he is not happy with many of them right now. It is impossible to say you are in communion with the whole and not the part. It is like saying "I am connected with my finger, but not with my arm". It is literal nonsense to say you are in communion with the bishop but not with the Episcopal Church.

Furthermore, it undermines the leadership of the bishop to make such a nonsense statement. We say that the bishop is truly our "head pastor" in the Diocese (and that is what he is- see the prayer book and the Bible when it speaks of "overseers"). If he is the head pastor, then we must wait on HIM to make decisions about what other head pastors and dioceses we are in communion with or not in communion with. He is the one who has the God-given responsibility and authority to make such decisions, not us, and not our priests, no matter how popular they are. And our bishop is a good man and has a lot more wisdom than most priests I know. He will navigate our diocese in the right direction, and that is his job to do so. Not ours. Our job is to evangelize and serve the towns we live in, and let him worry about the national and international stuff. If we would spend as much time in MISSION to our communities as we do GRIPING about the Episcopal Church, imagine the impact we would have!

Yet, some of our local pastors and vestries have taken it upon themselves to make the bishop's decision for him by saying nonsense like "we are in communion with our bishop, but not the Episcopal Church". If they want to do that, they might as well become non-denominational Congregationalists, because that is how they make decisions. If they truly believe that the bishop is not their head pastor, then they should be honest with how they run their church, and join the Southern Baptist convention. But, if they are Anglicans, then they confess that the Church is a unified organism called the Body of Christ. Furthermore, they confess that Christ has ordained bishops to structure this Body like a spine structures our own physical bodies (and we have a bishop who actually has a spine!). Anglicans confess this bishop is our head pastor. He is our "overseer", for that is what "bishop" means in Greek.

I choose to be orthodox and stand with the bishop, and I choose not to be revisionist, separatist, or a compromiser. I choose to dwell in the ruins of the Church with my bishop if that is where he leads us, because I trust him and I have sworn to follow his lead as my head pastor. And if revisionist dioceses will not agree to walk together with the Anglican Communion by acting on the Windsor Report, and agreeing to any Anglican Covenants that may arise from the Report, then I will follow our bishop in the process of sadly severing our connection with those dioceses. But, in the meantime, I will pray it will not come to that.

As far as Christ Church and the separatists are concerned, I will say this:

Too often we confuse big churches, and big attendance, and precise doctrinal statements with faithfulness to the Risen Christ. We forget that often faithfulness to Christ means being called to rebuild the ruins (like Ezra and Nehemiah in the Bible), rather than jumping ship. We forget that all of the prophets of the Bible, including Jesus, preached renewal from within God's people, rather than leaving God's people to go start another tribe. What should that tell us today as God's people?

Between the twin evils of heresy and schism, I trust the bishop. If and when he calls us to amputate the Episcopal Church, I will follow him. If and when he calls us to rebuild the ruins, I will follow him. And if he calls us to wait and have patience, I will follow him. And in the meantime, I will be faithful to the mission Christ has given me in the community I am in, and I will trust the bishop to deal with the national and international situation. There are many priests and parishes who exemplify this, and who are focusing on bringing their towns to know Christ, while allowing the bishop to do his job. May we do the same.

[This article was originally published in 2006 by my old parish (Apostles in Coppell TX), and by my Diocese (Dallas)]
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.