Tuesday, September 1, 2009

God Told Me to Do This! I'm a Prophet!

How does the Church know God's will? This has been a problem throughout church history. In every century charismatic leaders and groups have risen up to make claims about what God is telling me (or us) to do even though it is something forbidden by Scripture and unwarranted by Tradition. In every century the Church has had to exercise discretion and pray for wisdom in how to deal with such claims.

For example, the Church has been told that:
  • Christians should exterminate all Jews
  • The OT is not Christian Scripture and should be thrown out of our Bible
  • The world will end on a certain date so all property should be liquidated and all money given to the poor
  • Jesus is not one with the Father, but is the highest created being
  • All religions are equal and all lead to the same God
  • Adolf Hitler is God's providential provision for the renewal of the German nation
The list is endless: from the Montanists of the 2nd century to the German Christians of the 20th century. Many of these leaders and groups, from the Cathars to the rebels at Munster in the 16th century to the Branch Davidians and the People's Temple of Jim Jones have come to violent ends. Others have formed into cults and sects such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormans, the Unification Church, the Unitarian-Universalist Association and the Unity School. Many of them insist to this day that they or their founders have received special revelation from God that is post-biblical and therefore of higher authority than the orthodox interpretation of Scripture handed down from the Fathers.

Which brings us to the latest news from the Anglican Church of Canada.

Virue Online reports that the Diocese of Niagra has decided to follow New Westminster, BC and become the second diocese in Canada to bless same-sex unions.

"Prior to giving his approval for same-sex blessings to be offered, Bishop Bird said he had commissioned the writing of theological papers to help the diocese "reflect further." These papers were also shared with two dioceses of the Anglican province of Tanzania to explain how the diocese believes "God is calling us to move in this direction."

In explanation for why he was taking this step, Bishop Bird said:

"I believe that we've done our work of discernment," said the diocesan bishop of Niagara, Michael Bird, when asked what made him decide to go ahead despite repeated calls for a moratorium on same-sex blessings. He noted that the votes on the matter had both resulted in an "overwhelming" majority at two successive diocesan synods - 2004 and 2008 - and had not been acted upon until now.

Bishop Bird said he also felt compelled to move forward after the diocese developed a new vision for its ministry that included a commitment to prophetic social justice-making. "What's become clear as we have worked through that discernment process...is that for that work of justice-making to have integrity, we needed to bring this piece around same-sex blessings to a conclusion."

Well, I guess that clears that up. They did their work of "discernment" and felt "compelled" to "move forward." They developed a new vision for ministry; Matthew 28:18-20 now apparently having gone out of date. "God is telling us to move in this direction." Its funny that God never thought to mention that to the Apostle Paul or to St. Irenaeus or to St. Gregory of Nyssa or to St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas, not to mention Thomas Cramner, Martin Luther or John Calvin. And John Wesley apparently failed to get the memo, as well as Jonathan Edwards and John Henry Cardinal Newman and Pope John Paul II, and Eastern Orthodoxy is apparently totally out of the loop. But that is a prophet's life for you - lonely and completely out of touch with his times, persecuted and hated by the world, totally out of sync with the Zeitgeist. [Wait a second . . . in tension with the Church Catholic yes, but in tension with the spirit of the age? How about a dim reflection of the spirit of the age?]

The key words here are "prophetic" and "new" as in "new vision." Bishop Bird believes they are being "prophetic" and that "God is calling us to move in this direction." So they think that old-fashioned conservatives like me (and the rest of the Christian Church) are not in tune with the Spirit and out of God's will. They think God has revealed new truth to them that not all of us have been willing to receive yet. They think they are on the cutting edge of church history and that all the rest of us are destined to follow along after a time lag or else simply wither up and die. [Note: The Roman Catholic Church has grown by about 30% since the publication of Humanae Vitae while Western liberals have declined. Just saying . . .]

By an interesting coincidence, the September issue of The Anglican Journal contains some dramatic statistics for the Anglican Church of Canada. Here is a report from the Anglican Essentials blog:

"One of life’s little mysteries is that the Anglican Journal is still delivered to my door for me to peruse and inwardly digest. There is an interesting number mentioned in the September edition’s editorial – I can’t point to it because it isn’t online yet. The editorial states that there are now around 325,000 people in Canada that attend an ACoC church twice or more per month; hitherto, I had only seen the 2001 figure of 658,000 quoted.

In 1961, 1.3 million people attended an ACoC church; that means the average yearly number of those exiting the ACoC is around 20,300 people. If we assume a constant number of people exiting per year, we end up with no-one left by the year 2025.

It could be argued that the rate of decline is a better measure and that might be slowing; there isn’t much reason to believe this though, since attendance was halved between 1961 and 2001 – 40 years – and halved again between 2001 and 2009 – 8 years."

Later in the this article it is stated that the Average Sunday Attendance for 2001 was only 162,138. If this shocking number is correct, then the implosion of the Anglican Church of Canada is further advanced than anyone would have thought possible. As the blog post and the comments on it, however, make clear, ACC statisitics are muddled and confused. Maybe no one knows where they actually stand today. This letter to the Anglican Journal may reflect the thinking of more than one isolated person and, if so, there may be a reluctance to publish statistics that damn the leadership and the theology and the policies of the liberal regime that dominates the ACC today.

There is always one stat, however, that will always be kept because the bank keeps it - giving. It will be interesting to see in the next ten years what happens in terms of chuch closures, property sales and program cuts. I think it is highly likely that within 10 years the Anglican Church of Canada will merge with the United Church of Canada and it is not totally unlikely that they will be joined by the Lutherans and Presbyterians. I think it is likely because (a) their theologies are becoming more similar as the ACC becomes less and less distinctively Anglican and (b) finances will dictate either this or austerity and Anglicans aren't used to poverty. The resulting new religion (note, not "denomination") will likely be smaller than the United Church alone was at the beginning of the 1960's. At some point the decline will bottom out as they only ones left are the true believers in the new religion.

Religious realignment is happening in Canada. The Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics will keep Christianity alive in this country, while the liberal Protestants will assume their place among the sects, cults and new religions. That is where the new prophets with their new revelations always end up - unless they self-destruct completely first.

1 comment:

UUFreespirit said...

Unitarian-Universalists? You've got to be kidding!