Friday, August 20, 2004

REPENTANCE: Who needs to repent in North American Episcopalianism/ Anglicanism?

A discussion and prayer starter

Not a few Episcopalians/Anglicans have said to me recently, in speech or in writing:
ECUSA will never repent whatever the Archbishop’s Commission states when it
reports in October 2004.

Apparently they mean that the majority in the General Convention will not be detracted by anyone or anything from its onward (or downward!) move into exploring more and more of the “treasures of worldliness & secularism” through calling wickedness and immorality and heresy “innovations”. Further, they distance themselves from this current journey of the ECUSA and see themselves as against it and not in any way responsible for it.

But are they (are we) right to distance themselves/ourselves from the increasing apostasy of the ECUSA and other provinces of the Anglican Communion – e.g. the Anglican Church of Canada? Are we right to stand over against the apostasy and see ourselves without any blame for it or any share in it?

What I think is singularly missing from the tremendous amount of things said and done by a minority within ECUSA in protest against the election and consecration of Gene Robinson, “the “gay” canon, as a bishop in ECUSA, is a deep sense of not only shame but also sorrow and guilt before God for this [and related events].


Anglicans/Episcopalians are one group or branch or jurisdiction or part of the world-wide Church of God. In North America they are not a major group but a mid-sized national group and however much they differ amongst themselves they are one basic family. Especially is this so within the ECUSA where each and every diocese and each and every parish therein, however much it protests against General Convention policy, is a part of the whole. In a family the joy of one affects all and likewise the sin and pain of one affects all. In fact, the family is responsible for each member and thus all are affected for good or ill by what any one member does. And any one member is both affected and influenced by others and also affects and influences others.

In an ecclesial unit, which uses the metaphor of household, family and body, to describe itself, there is likewise mutual responsibility and guilt. And this is so whether we like it or not. Each diocese within the ECUSA and each parish within each diocese is part of a unit where the general rules that govern a family also govern it. Thus each parish and each member therein bears some responsibility for the decisions and actions of the General Convention in 2003. To have voted against Gene Robinson’s elevation does not absolve one from the fact of its having happened. For, by common consent, the ECUSA family has been moving for several decades along the path towards this decision by loosening the ties of the Episcopal Church to the content of God’s Word written, to sacred Tradition and to the classic Anglican Formularies, and at the same time absorbing the secular and liberal spirit of American society. The so-called “orthodox” dioceses and parishes of today were in favor of, and often did not protest against, earlier decisions of the family to innovate in questionable areas. They did little or nothing to discourage the habit of rebellion against or neglect of God’s holy law. Thus instead of calling upon the ECUSA to repent, they need first to repent before God for their contribution to and participation in the present state of the ECUSA.

“Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips and I live in the midst of a people of unclean lips!”

The prophets of Israel proclaimed God’s word against the apostasy of their times but they did not see themselves as apart from and not involved in the guilt and the judgment of the covenant people of God. Though they did not go a whoring after other gods themselves they suffered with their people the judgment of God. Likewise the Psalmists often feel the pain of the whole and confess it.

Take an example or two.

The so-called “orthodox” of today have encouraged the rejection of the Ten Commandments by telling one big lie every time they pick up the official ECUSA Prayer Book. The General Convention decided – against all the evidence of history and literature, Anglican tradition and canon law – to call a book of alternative services, THE Book of Common Prayer. It did so as an act of autonomy and defiance, seeing itself as freed from the constraints of Anglican history from 1549 - 1976. This assertion & title was a lie and it has been told a million times since. “Thou shalt not bear false witness…” Dishonesty is part of the ECUSA spirit shared by all.

The so-called “orthodox” of today have encouraged the entrance into and the overwhelming of the ECUSA by the divorce culture of America. They have allowed divorced and remarried persons to have pastoral positions, lay and ordained, as though this is a good thing and according to God’s holy law. They have encouraged talk of marriage as “a relationship” and have not generally been guided by the clear purposes of marriage as set forth in the Preface to the marriage service in the BCP of 1662 and in the Canadian edition of 1962. In general they have encouraged the idea that one major purpose of sex is for enjoyment, self-enhancement and for mutual experience, satisfaction and friendship. From here it is not far to “gay commitment”.

And so one could go on and talk about the acceptance of the human rights talk and agenda, the acceptance of women’s ordination and the making of it a compulsory doctrine, inclusive language for God, the adoption of “dynamic equivalency” principles of translation for Bible and for liturgical materials, and other things. All these innovations have served to loosen the ties of the Church to the holy and righteous Lord and to his moral law, and to the Word of God written, read and meditated thereon.

So, all the members of the ECUSA share in the guilt before God for the acceptance in 2003 of the radical sex agenda promoted by the LesBiGay lobby. To make the acceptance of Gene Robinson as a bishop to be a unique sin and to be unconnected with the previous innovations from World War II, and particularly from the 1960s, onwards is to avoid family membership and responsibility and it is to run away from the shared guilt and judgment. It is to adopt a very developed view of individualism and to destroy all notions of inter-dependency and inter-relatedness. It is also to adopt a kind of dangerous triumphalism.

What surely needs to be more evident in the mindset, attitude and behavior of the protestors within and without the ECUSA about the present state of ECUSA is Repentance. Tears need to be apparent than laughter. They need to study the way the Prophets of Israel and Judah saw themselves in relation to the covenant people of God and also how the apostle Paul saw himself in relation to the same people, the Jews (Romans 9-11 etc).

And those who have officially departed from ECUSA membership must also bear the pain of guilt as well. They have left this family and they have also left behind their participation in its life and its failings. Further, if they look carefully at their new form of Anglicanism they will probably see – if their eyes are open – that it too is marred by sin and unfaithfulness and so repentance is most appropriate as a way of being before the holy God.

Writing from England, I do not stand above or apart from this situation wherein God’s judgment and chastisement is upon the Anglican Way in the West.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon August 20 2004

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