Saturday, July 18, 2009

Reaction to Jefferts Schori's Condemnation of Individual Salvation

In her recent speech to the opening of the Episcopal Church's General Convention, the Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori made a statement calling individual salavation a "heresy." She said: ""The individualistic focus on reciting a personal formula about Jesus Christ as Savior is a heresy."

David Virtue of Virtue Online, that idefatigable chronicler of all things Episcopalian, called her statement "dead wrong." He writes:

"Her ridiculing of personal salvation in favor of social amelioration through Millennium Development Goals is little more than a rehash of the Social Gospel of the Sixties that has seen a massive hemorrhaging of mainline denominations in America.

Jefferts Schori is on the wrong side of history. Her, and the church's understanding of mission - to save the world for God - is arrogance and hubris. No one human being, organization or ministry has that capacity. God alone has the power to save the world. Jesus himself admitted that the poor would always be with us.We are called to be obedient to The Great Commission, "to go into all the world and preach the gospel" of God's grace, inviting people into his kingdom based on the very (and personal) call to repentance."

Al Mohler admits that in certain contexts her words could be interpreted in a positive sense:

"Interestingly, the bishop's comments could, in other contexts, have been directed at a legitimate concern more commonly known among evangelicals. A good number of American evangelicals press a simple formula often known as the "sinner's prayer" as an instrument of demonstrating conversion. The use of such a formula can be a way of reinforcing a convert's understanding of the Gospel and of assisting a convert to articulate the Gospel in a way that makes sense and expresses the new convert's faith.

On the other hand, the sinner's prayer can be used in a mechanistic and manipulative way in order to insinuate --- if not outright to declare -- that the repeating of these words in itself constitutes the experience of salvation. Had the Presiding Bishop been concerned about evangelistic excesses and confusions in her church, her concern might have been both timely and legitimate. Regrettably, this bishop has made clear that her concern is something altogether different."

It seems to me that Mohler is right to be skeptical that her words were directed at "evangelistic excesses" in the Episcopal Church. "Evangelistic excesses" may be a fault to be discerned in say the independent, fundamental, Bible church movement or even the Southern Baptist Convention, but it is rather far-fetched to imagine that it is a big problem for Episcopalians! Mohler goes on to write:

"Indeed, her assertion of heresy was directed to the very idea of individual conversion to faith in Christ -- the faith that has always and everywhere defined authentic Christianity. In her address, she made her views clear: "I said that this crisis has several elements related to that heretical and individualistic understanding. We’ve touched on one – how we keep this earth, meant to be a gift to all God’s creatures. The financial condition of the nations right now is another element. The sins of a few have wreaked havoc with the lives of many, as greed and dishonesty have destroyed livelihoods, educational possibilities, care for the aged, and multiple forms of creativity – and that’s just the aftermath of Ponzi schemes for which a handful will go to jail."

Don't miss this -- the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church openly lamented a focus on evangelization that would seek conversions for such a focus would divert the attention of her church from ecological, economic, and other political imperatives. This was the main thrust of her address, with this central theme indicative of her larger episcopal agenda."

Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, took a slightly more irenic line in an article for Christianity Today online but it is important to see that he understood Jefferts Schori's words in exactly the same way as Virtue and Mohler did. Under the heading of "The Heresy of Individualism?" he begins:

"In her opening address to the Episcopal Church's recent General Convention, the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the church's presiding bishop, made a special point of denouncing what she labeled "the great Western heresy"—the teaching, in her words, "that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God." This "individualist focus," she declared, "is a form of idolatry."

There is good news and bad news here. The good news is that the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop is not afraid to denounce heresy. The bad news is that we evangelicals turn out to be the heretics she is denouncing."

Mouw is willing to meet Jefferts Schori half-way and admits that individual salvation is not enough:

"We never say that an individual's very personal relationship to God is not important. What we do say is that individual salvation is not enough."

But he ends by saying:

"Call that "individualism" if you want. But for us not only is it not heresy, it is at the heart of what it means to affirm the gospel of Jesus Christ."

1 comment:

Scott said...

I found several things very troubling in the presiding bishop's address. First, that salvation in Jesus Christ would be termed "individualistic." If I am not mistaken, Christianity IS about salvation in Jesus Christ and out of that salvation and union with Christ flows our love and concern for the world. Second, the choice of the word Ubuntu with its humanistic overtones again emphasizes that humanity is number one, not God. Why not use koinaneia? Isn't that about community and mutual caring but also about being embedded in belief in Christ? Third, her comment that: "We Christians often think the only important part of the Jerusalem story is Calvary, and,yes, suffering and killing in that place still seem to be the loudest news." I thought Calvary WAS the good news, that Jesus Christ died for our sins so we could be reconciled to God and have everlasting life. Did I miss something here? Isn't the first commandment to love God with all our heart, all our mind and all our strength. And then does it not follow that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Doesn't our love for humanity flow out of our love for God. Doesn't our love of God's creation flow out of our love of God. I am very confused. Where is the Christian message in this?