Mission statements have been popular for many types of organization for several decades. There is however often a big gap between that which is promised in the statement and that which is delivered on the ground!
In old-line or main-line churches and denominations there is often also a vast difference between the original statements of Faith of these churches, which are often still in place in a legal sense, and what we may call the practical theology which guides the agenda and work of the denomination at national and local levels. Take the large Lutheran Church known as the ELCA for example. While the Catechisms and Confessions of Faith from Lutheran Germany in the sixteenth century are still in place, their doctrine has little practical relevance and is little found in the life of this Church today. Instead, what tends to dominate is what may be termed a practical theology which is progressive and which embraces much of the human rights agenda of modern society. Lip service only seems to be paid to the Catechisms of Luther, the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord.
The Episcopal Church (ECUSA) is in full fellowship with the ELCA. Yet, unlike the ELCA, it has not kept its original sixteenth-century statements, standards, and formularies of Faith. It set them aside and effectively abandoned them in 1979 when it adopted a new Prayer Book, wherein is a new set of services for ordination and a new Outline of Faith. (These three effectively replaced the traditional Book of Common Prayer, Ordinal & Thirty-Nine Articles.)
The new doctrine of the new standards of 1979 may be described as “vaguely liberal catholic with a strong ecumenical flavor” and it contrasts with the distinctive Reformed Catholicism of the traditional Anglican formularies. Even so, the agenda and activity of the ECUSA is guided only minimally by the new standards of the 1979 formularies; rather, like the ELCA but in much more pronounced way, the general guide is an aggressive, progressive practical theology. This rejoices to absorb much of the secular themes of rights and liberties, mental health and personal happiness, social justice and peace of western society. It sees God as revealing divine meaning and purpose in the movements of society and in human experience, and it makes biblical norms subservient to these modern insights.
Both the leadership of the ELCA and the ECUSA, but more so in the latter than the former, tend to conflate “God is Love” with “all love is of God,” which assertion and belief effectively deny the very basis of the traditional doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation of the Son of God, at the same time as opening the door wide to modern developments and innovations in sexuality. (Of course, there are congregations in both ECUSA and ELCA -- again more in the latter than former -- which seek to preserve some of their heritage; but, in each case they represent a minority and seem to have no major voice in the councils of the denomination.)
Bearing in mind that much of the life of the ECUSA is guided by an unwritten but generally accepted, aggressive, progressive, practical theology, it is nevertheless still useful to note the differences between the Faith as officially confessed before 1979 and after 1979. In other words, it is useful in order to get perspective by contrasting the “Confession of Faith” known as “The Thirty-Nine Articles” adopted by the [P]ECUSA in 1801 and “The Outline of Faith” adopted as its replacement in 1979. It may be observed and claimed that it would have been much more difficult for the modern, aggressive, progressive, practical theology to dominate the ECUSA since the 1970s if the new Prayer Book, Ordinal and Outline of Faith had not been in place. The reason for saying this is simple. The modern practical theology is so radically different to the theology of Reformed Catholicism in the traditional Book of Common Prayer, Ordinal and Articles that laity would have been much more conscious of the massive changes that were occurring. In contrast, the “vague liberal catholic theology with an ecumenical flavor” of the 1979 standards presents an easier context in which to live by a new, progressive practical theology of human rights, universal peace and justice, and self-fulfillment!
What does seem as clear as the distinction between day and night is that there can be no renewal of the ECUSA in true godliness and no recovery of genuine evangelical and catholic Faith, while the 1979 standards are in place and while the progressive practical theology effectively guides the leadership at national, diocesan and parish levels. BUT who is prepared to challenge this DUO?
I intend to offer several short studies contrasting the doctrines of the pre-1979 Confession of Faith with those of the post-1979 Confession.
October 10, 2005 email@example.com