Thursday, May 03, 2007

Departing from EGYPT—in heart as well as body

Or, Why is it that those who claim that The Episcopal Church is apostate and have left its membership so love and delight in its Liturgies?

The Israelites were glad to get away from Egypt when they remembered the servitude and indignity they endured there. In their best moments they told how the LORD (YHWH) delivered them from that land in order to establish a covenant with them and place them as his adopted people in the land of promise under his protection and blessing. Yet—as the narrative in the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) makes clear—sometimes, too often, they looked back to their life in Egypt and remembered things about it, as if living there did constitute for them truly a good life. The hearts of many of the first generation, though they had left Egypt in body and were physically distant, still pined for what they had left behind.

The parallels are only minimal but they offer insight if we place alongside the Exodus from Egypt what we may call the "Exodus" from The Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. in recent times. For the exiting Episcopalians, who seek temporary relations with overseas bishops in order to be free of their former overlords and CEOs, there is promise of a covenant (the proposed Anglican Covenant described in The Windsor Report of 2004) and of a settled future in the land to be prepared for them by the Primates of the Global South. But until the Covenant is given from the heights of Lambeth, and until the land is made ready and the present unsavory settlers dismissed by the same Primates, the exiting Episcopalians are seemingly in no man's land. They are going round in circles in the desert, waiting for the heavenly green light, again from Lambeth, to allow them to go into a guaranteed and sure future in the land flowing with the milk of the Word and the honey of the Sacraments. So it is natural that, being still human beings and (as all of us) sinners, they frequently look back longingly to what they left behind in their respectable parishes and sure comforts of The Episcopal Church.

However, one aspect of the experience of the exiting Episcopalians, which is strange and hard to fathom, is their seemingly total dedication to the liturgies and forms of worship that they knew within The Episcopal Church. They let go of million dollar buildings and local social prestige, but they hang on for their very lives to the 1979 Prayer Book. This is strange indeed!

Let us try to understand. On the one hand they proclaim that they left this old-line American denomination because it is essentially apostate as an institution, and they see this apostasy demonstrated primarily in its commitment to sexual immorality. In general terms, they say that this Church refuses to submit to Jesus as Lord and does not acknowledge the authority of Scripture. And, by classic evangelical and biblical theological principles they are apparently right about The Episcopal Church as an institution for they are fully supported in this assertion by the massive Province of Nigeria.

Yet, as we have noted, while stating that the Church is apostate they are simultaneously wedded to its Liturgy; and concerning this The Episcopal Church states, Lex orandi, Lex credendi (= the law of praying is the law of believing) . In other words, the theology espoused by The Episcopal Church is set forth in its Liturgy (for it abandoned and rejected in 1979 the traditional Formularies of the Anglican Way) and thus to use its Liturgy is to proclaim its theology. What is that theology? Well, it is summarized for us in "An Outline of Faith or Catechism" within the 1979 Prayer Book. [At this point, we need to know that the House of Bishops rejected in 1976 the original Catechism that had been prepared for the new Prayer Book because it did not truly reflect the content of the Rite II Services, that is, it was not based on "the law of praying" as it now existed in this Church in the new services!] Anyone with understanding of the history of doctrine and of the classic Anglican Formularies, who studies the new Catechism along with the theological content of the Rite II (God is "You") services, will surely conclude that the doctrine of the 1979 book is innovative in every basic area from the identity of God and the Holy Trinity to the Sacraments and to the matter of salvation, as well as marriage (see for more detail Tarsitano & Toon, Neither Orthodoxy Nor a Formulary, 2004, from ). In fact, the content is a kind of "Catholic" expression of much that was in vogue in the late 1960s and is given a certain credibility by structures and forms taken from documents known from the Early Church and from principles adopted from the current Liturgical Movement and what happened in the Second Vatican Council.

So why would "the orthodox" who are exiting use what was created in order to banish traditional "orthodoxy" from the Church and replace it with a liturgical form of progressive liberalism (remember that the progressive liberals have always delighted in this Prayer Book and especially its Baptismal Service!)? Why do not the exiters want to go back to what was in place before the creation of the 1979 innovative Liturgy? Why are the exiters so opposed to the classic forms of Common Prayer of The Anglican Way – even when rendered into contemporary English?

If pressed, they will no doubt provide their own answers; but, working from the parallels with the exiting from Egypt, it may be suggested that one part of a complex answer may well be that they actually love more in the apostate Church and religion than they admit even to themselves! That is, though they certainly do not want homosexually active bishops and clergy, they are content with the basic Episcopalian lex orandi as their lex credendi for it enables them to live more easily in the land of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the land now wherein human rights has become the basis of moral order and where the immanence of God is celebrated as if he were not primarily gloriously transcendent! In other words the 1979 Liturgy is where they are and where they intend to stay—in a comfort zone.

Let us hope that the Exiters prove me totally wrong.

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