Friday, August 04, 2006

Episcopalians, the 80% - can they be saved from perdition?

It is a rough estimate; but four-fifths of the present membership of the Episcopal Church seems intent on staying within its membership. It sees no compelling reason even to consider leaving. In that there is a crisis in the whole Anglican family, caused primarily by the exploits of the USA Church, and in that 20% of the membership is seeking to distance itself from the rest of the Church and align with Anglicans overseas, some conservatives are surprised - even shocked - that the 80% remain content and stationary. They actually believe that by appropriate means and ways some of them can be persuaded to see the light and depart (but depart to where?).

Here we may begin to ask why the 80% are staying with their local church and with ECUSA. I offer the following as a starter…

At the practical level, various reasons can be cited -- e.g., familiar turf, family always gone here, plan on being buried here and daughter married here, good for one’s standing in neighborhood to be on vestry, and so on. These are real factors!

At the social and political level, various reasons can be cited – e.g., what the Episcopal Church stands for in terms of civil rights, human rights, and pursuit of human dignity – the fullness of American freedom for all without regard to sex, gender, age, ethnicity, orientation, education etc – is what many people think is what has to be (reluctantly or enthusiastically) embraced by all people in the USA who intend to get on in life today. Whether they like it or not they think that the best investment is to go with these human rights and human dignity developments. So they see no reason to criticize the acceptance of these cultural and social developments by the ECUSA.

Then at the religious level, it must be borne in mind that for basically two generations the basic message of many local Episcopal Churches via symbolism, word and music has been this: (a) God is love and all loving action in the world is of God and reveals God. Jesus is only rightly understood when he is seen as the exemplar of love, especially in the way he treated and mixed with the marginalized and outcasts. (b) Holy Eucharist is God’s way of affirming everyone just as they are, and of encouraging them to go into life to be what he has made them to be, loving persons serving others.

So – from the viewpoint of basic biblical teaching – it appears to be the case that there has been little teaching of and experience in most of the ECUSA of what C S Lewis called “Mere Christianity” and what John Stott calls “Basic Christianity” and which the major Churches used to call the teaching of the Catechism – the Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer (how to pray, to believe and to live for God). There has been no God who judges and punishes sin and who in himself is the Holy, Righteous and Majestic One. There has been only Christ the martyr and not Christ who offers the atoning sacrifice, expiation and propitiation for the sins of the world. The message of human rights, human dignity and human self-worth have conspired to cause man to cease to be a sinner before the holy LORD and instead to be a person who freely chooses to co-operate with God in the salvation of the world. Marriage after divorce is common place for clergy and laity as a human right and for the pursuit of happiness and abortion is seen as part of the right to choose for oneself what makes one happy.

So what can we make of this. Here is one thought to ponder.

In the last resort, people can only see that the ECUSA has erred, and erred grievously, if they have been given by God a renewed mind (see Romans 12:1-2). For it is only from the perspective of a known and felt biblical mindset that anyone can see through the dense fog created by rights’ talk, human self-worth talk and therapy and into what God requires of his Church and all her members.

Much in the ECUSA from its liturgy to its political stances is so fashioned that its aim (no doubt devised by the Prince of the devils) is to keep people from hearing and being moved by the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:15-17). To liberate the 80% is a challenge indeed; and must of necessity require the full power of the Gospel and a pure Liturgy to be used to respond to that Gospel proclamation. How to cause the 80% to be encountered by Mere Christianity or Basic Christianity is thus the real challenge for those who believe that a rescue operation is required.

Finally, a rescue operation cannot work in the ECUSA if it uses the means which have been in place since the 1970s to cause the downward spiral into apostasy of this Church e.g. “the baptismal covenant” and “An outline of the Faith”! It will need to take from the great Anglican store other means and adapt them for this work of reclaiming lost souls.

Peter Toon

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