2008-05-24

Oh, for another Athanasius!

In light of the constant whining and nay-saying and power-politicking in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church right now, I just wanted to say:

May we be blessed with a horde of modern day Athanasiuses (Athanasius', Athanasii, what IS the plural of Athanasius anyway???).

When good ol' Ath was confronted with a Christendom "that woke up one day to find itself Arian", he did not create a new denomination... Or spout self-fulfilling prophesies about how it was inevitable that the Arians were going to take over the Church... Or say the Church as we know it is bankrupt and must be abandoned... blah, blah, blah.

Instead, he stood for the Truth of Christ loudly and proudly and did not back down. Though exiled five times, and abused in many ways: He did not back down.

He stayed IN the Church and STOOD for orthodoxy (note: Orthodoxy in the "keeping the main thing the main thing" sense, not in the "upholding the greatness of the 1950's Anglo-catholic movement" sense).

His orthodoxy was distinctly Creedal and Christocentric, and he did not let anything distract him from upholding that. He knew Who the Core issue was, and he stayed there.

And, by standing firm on the bedrock of Christ, he won the day.

Too often we make Christ our MASCOT and not our Lord. We do this in subtle ways. Often implicitly, we think and say things like:

"Well sure, Christ is of utmost importance, but the REAL issue here is whether we will have gay bishops"

or

"Well sure, Christ is the main thing, but we REALLY need to worry about who gets the property in this deal."

or even

"Well sure, Christ is our Lord, but we simply MUST restore the Church to its pristine status in the [insert favorite era of Church here]"

I hate to say it, but in all of these ways of thinking, Christ is NOT the main thing. The main thing is a secondary issue, and Christ is raised up as a mascot to validate that secondary issue. Both the Left and the Right does this.

But in the end, I think all heresies and schisms are ultimately Christological. Certainly the first seven Councils were! And at the root of it, I think THIS era in our Church's life is Christological as well. For, if Christ is truly Lord and God, and we truly receive and begin to live into his Lordship, things will change.

But, if someone has not been converted- deeply converted- to the Lordship of Christ, then it does not matter what type of ideological or political coercion you hurl at them: They will not change. They will probably retrench themselves instead.

I think ultimately that what we are dealing with is a whole bunch of partially converted, or unconverted people, on BOTH sides of this debate. Yes, BOTH sides.

Because just as surely as denying the historicity, divinity, and resurrection of Christ are signs that a person is not converted, SO ALSO being filled with fear and hate are signs of not being converted. In fact, all of that can be read out of the five chapters of the letter of first John. That one little letter says that those who "deny" that Jesus is the Christ and has come in the flesh are "antichrist". But it also says that those who hate their brother and who are filled with fear cannot be filled with the Love of God.

On the revisionist side, I see plenty of denying the identity and Lordship of Christ. I see plenty of hatred for the "right" as well. On the conservative side, I see fear, doom-talk, and outright hatred for those on the "left".

Perhaps if we worked harder at mission- at converting people and families and neighborhoods where we actually live and minister- perhaps if more people were genuinely converted to the Lordship of the Risen Christ, then this whole thing would look different.

But both sides have abandoned mission for power politics. Instead of focusing on our local parishes and our local dioceses, we are consumed with a power lust to make ALL dioceses and ALL parishes act the way WE think they should act. We have abandoned the one thing we CAN influence (local mission) for the thing we CANNOT do anything about (the entire communion).

Both sides have crucified their Jesus-mascot on the cross of power-politics. Pretty much what happened to Jesus the first go-round, isn't it?

My advice: Get back to the main thing. Get back to Christology. Get back to the local mission of converting ourselves, our parishes, our neighborhoods, and our cities to Jesus Christ.

Be Athanasius.

Because if we do that, the cultural "battle" over the Anglican Church will take care of itself. Wasn't it Gamaliel who said "If this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them-- in that case you may even be found fighting against God!" (Acts 5:38-39)

Those who are not doing God's will, will atrophy and die off over time. Those who are doing God's will, will convert people and bring them to follow Jesus, who in turn will bring others to follow Jesus, who in turn will grow, and grow, and grow.

And all of that can be done regardless of whether the "left" or the "right" take over the Episcopal Church (or the Anglican Communion). All of THAT can be done regardless of whether all of our property is taken away, or we keep it.

That can be done because we still have our bishop, Christ's vicar. We still have the ordered ministry. We still have sacramental means of grace. We still have God's Word in text and in flesh. We still have the local Body working together for mission.

And if you think you need property, or even pomp and circumstance, to accomplish mission: Ask the Chinese Catholic Church. They seem to have survived and thrived in the last 50 years, despite systematic persecution. Ask the Russian Orthodox Church, who has at least survived after 80 years of systematic persecution. Both are Apostolic and sacramental.

My Lord and God, Jesus Christ: Please raise up Athanasiuses for our age! Please convert all of our whiners and nay-sayers into Apostles. Please convert us again, O Lord, that we may convert the world to you. Amen+
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