Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Letter That Reveals the Heretical Theology of the Liberal Protestant Sects That Used to Be Anglican

The following is the text of a pastoral letter to The Episcopal Church issued by Katherine Jefferts Schori on Pentecost. My comments are in [red and square brackets].

Pentecost continues!

Pentecost is most fundamentally a continuing gift of the Spirit, rather than a limitation or quenching of that Spirit. [This assertion is central to her theology. It means that new truth is delivered in contradiction to the Scriptures by the Spirit.]

The recent statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury about the struggles within the Anglican Communion seems to equate Pentecost with a single understanding of gospel realities. [A single understanding: as in one Gospel rooted in one Lord Jesus Christ. That is unacceptable to the sectarians.] Those who received the gift of the Spirit on that day all heard good news. The crowd reported, "in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power" (Acts 2:11).

The Spirit does seem to be saying to many within The Episcopal Church that gay and lesbian persons are God's good creation, that an aspect of good creation is the possibility of lifelong, faithful partnership, and that such persons may indeed be good and healthy exemplars of gifted leadership within the Church, as baptized leaders and ordained ones. [The question is: "Which spirit is saying this, the Spirit of Jesus Christ or the spirit of Antichrist (I John 4:1-3)? We must test the Spirits with reference to Jesus Christ and His apostles.] The Spirit also seems to be saying the same thing in other parts of the Anglican Communion, and among some of our Christian partners, including Lutheran churches in North America and Europe, the Old Catholic churches of Europe, and a number of others. [But only in liberal circles, not in orthodox ones. What does this tell us?]

That growing awareness does not deny the reality that many Anglicans and not a few Episcopalians still fervently hold traditional views about human sexuality. [So does this mean they are wrong, Schori and co. are wrong or that the Spirit talks out of both sides of his mouth like a lying Spirit? Or is Schori and co. listening the the Spirit of Antichrist?] This Episcopal Church is a broad and inclusive enough tent to hold that variety. [But the Christian Church as defined in the NT is not.] The willingness to live in tension is a hallmark of Anglicanism, beginning from its roots in Celtic Christianity pushing up against Roman Christianity in the centuries of the first millennium. That diversity in community was solidified in the Elizabethan Settlement, which really marks the beginning of Anglican Christianity as a distinct movement. Above all, it recognizes that the Spirit may be speaking to all of us, in ways that do not at present seem to cohere or agree. It also recognizes what Jesus says about the Spirit to his followers, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come" (John 16:12-13). [Again, she elaborates on what her view of Pentecost means; she holds that the truth the Spirit is foretold as declaring is not the apostolic witness to Jesus Christ recorded in the inspired New Testament writings, but rather, new teachings known by experience that contradict the NT.]

The Episcopal Church has spent nearly 50 years listening to and for the Spirit in these matters. [Again, which spirit?] While it is clear that not all within this Church have heard the same message, the current developments do represent a widening understanding. [Ah, the old faith in progress - an implication that everyone will eventually swing around to our way of thinking: a touching bit of naivete.] Our canons reflected this shift as long ago as 1985, when sexual orientation was first protected from discrimination in access to the ordination process. At the request of other bodies in the Anglican Communion, this Church held an effective moratorium on the election and consecration of a partnered gay or lesbian priest as bishop from 2003 to 2010. When a diocese elected such a person in late 2009, the ensuing consent process indicated that a majority of the laity, clergy, and bishops responsible for validating that election agreed that there was no substantive bar to the consecration. [Note the narrative - this is a never ending story. Anyone who thinks it ends with approving of homosexuality is dreaming. There is no end, ever.]

The Episcopal Church recognizes that these decisions are problematic to a number of other Anglicans. We have not made these decisions lightly. We recognize that the Spirit has not been widely heard in the same way in other parts of the Communion. In all humility, we recognize that we may be wrong, yet we have proceeded in the belief that the Spirit permeates our decisions. [Let the sheer audacity of this passive-aggressive statement sink in for a moment. It is one thing to fall into temptation and sin. It is quite spectacularly different to sin and approve of sin while calling this the work of the Holy Spirit. This is as bad as the Jewish religious leaders observing the healing miracles of the Lord Jesus and calling it the work of Beelzebub, which is described as the unforgivable sin in Mark 3:29-30]

We also recognize that the attempts to impose a singular understanding in such matters represent the same kind of cultural excesses practiced by many of our colonial forebears in their missionizing activity. [Here she equates a sin expressly condemned in Scripture repeatedly and obviously wrong from natural law to cultural practices that are morally neutral and not addressed in Scripture.] Native Hawaiians were forced to abandon their traditional dress in favor of missionaries' standards of modesty. Native Americans were forced to abandon many of their cultural practices, even though they were fully congruent with orthodox Christianity, because the missionaries did not understand or consider those practices exemplary of the Spirit. The uniformity imposed at the Synod of Whitby did similar violence to a developing, contextual Christianity in the British Isles. In their search for uniformity, our forebears in the faith have repeatedly done much spiritual violence in the name of Christianity.

We do not seek to impose our understanding on others. [This is about as dishonest a statement as I have heard in a long time. Of course, they are trying to do that. For example, they want to teach schoolchildren that homosexuality is right even if their parents believe the opposite. For them "tolerance" means "Believe our way or suffer the consequences."] We do earnestly hope for continued dialogue with those who disagree, for we believe that the Spirit is always calling us to greater understanding. [Endless dialogue about whether sin is sin is a sign of a weak and spiritually bankrupt Church.]

We live in great concern that colonial attitudes continue, particularly in attempts to impose a single understanding across widely varying contexts and cultures. We note that the cultural contexts in which The Episcopal Church's decisions have generated the greatest objection and reaction are also often the same contexts where women are barred from full ordained leadership, including the Church of England. [It sounds unintentionally humorous for a rich American Church to be complaining of "colonialism" at the hands of British Anglican institutions they have basically bought and paid for!]

As Episcopalians, we note the troubling push toward centralized authority exemplified in many of the statements of the recent Pentecost letter. [This is hypocritical. She is in favor of centralized authority as long as it is centralized in her office.] Anglicanism as a body began in the repudiation of the control of the Bishop of Rome within an otherwise sovereign nation. [Is she saying that nation states are higher authorities in religion than international Christian institutions?] Similar concerns over self-determination in the face of colonial control led the Scottish Episcopal Church to consecrate Samuel Seabury for The Episcopal Church in the nascent United States – and so began the Anglican Communion.

We have been repeatedly assured that the Anglican Covenant is not an instrument of control, yet we note that the fourth section seems to be just that to Anglicans in many parts of the Communion. So much so, that there are voices calling for stronger sanctions in that fourth section, as well as voices repudiating it as un-Anglican in nature. Unitary control does not characterize Anglicanism; rather, diversity in fellowship and communion does.

We are distressed at the apparent imposition of sanctions on some parts of the Communion. We note that these seem to be limited to those which "have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion." We are further distressed that such sanctions do not, apparently, apply to those parts of the Communion that continue to hold one view in public and exhibit other behaviors in private. Why is there no sanction on those who continue with a double standard? [This is an effective shot at the Church of England for tolerating homosexual activity among its clergy.] In our context bowing to anxiety by ignoring that sort of double-mindedness is usually termed a "failure of nerve." Through many decades of wrestling with our own discomfort about recognizing the full humanity of persons who seem to differ from us, we continue to work at open and transparent communication as well as congruence between word and behavior. We openly admit our failure to achieve perfection!

The baptismal covenant prayed in this Church for more than 30 years calls us to respect the dignity of all other persons and charges us with ongoing labor toward a holy society of justice and peace. That fundamental understanding of Christian vocation underlies our hearing of the Spirit in this context and around these issues of human sexuality. That same understanding of Christian vocation encourages us to hold our convictions with sufficient humility that we can affirm the image of God in the person who disagrees with us. We believe that the Body of Christ is only found when such diversity is welcomed with abundant and radical hospitality. [So diversity in ethics is hereby elevated to one of the marks of the Church. I don't think Paul's Churches would qualify as real "churches" in her theology.]

As a Church of many nations, languages, and peoples, we will continue to seek every opportunity to increase our partnership in God's mission for a healed creation and holy community. We look forward to the ongoing growth in partnership possible in the Listening Process, Continuing Indaba, Bible in the Life of the Church, Theological Education in the Anglican Communion, and the myriad of less formal and more local partnerships across the Communion – efforts in mission and ministry that inform and transform individuals and communities toward the vision of the Gospel – a healed world, loving God and neighbor, in the love and friendship shown us in God Incarnate.

May God's peace dwell in your hearts,

There is no mention of God the Father or the name "Jesus Christ" in this letter. In sum it represents a revival of the Montanist sect. The Church of Jesus Christ has seen these sects come and go and you can be sure that The Episcopal Church, like the Unification Church, the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormans, will fade eventually while the true Church of the Prophets and Apostles will endure until our Lord returns.


bleusmon said...

"We have not made these decisions lightly."

Father Z has often pointed out this crowd apparently believes that establishing that they "struggle" with these new "revelations" of the "spirit" that the rest of us see as heretical, or at least, idiotic, then such a struggle is sufficient justification - in their own minds, of course.

David said...

Thanks for this Craig. I found myself laughing so hard when she mentioned Anglican's roots in something called "Celtic Christianity" and spoke of Whitby squashing contextual Theology that I really struggled to read much of it when I first saw it.
Ideally people would have too much faithfulness to the Gospel to write stuff like this, but failing that, surely intellectual pride ought interfere with the writing of such absolute twaddle? At least she's consistent, her incapacity to read the bible coherently is mapped by her incapacity to read any respectable scholarship on "Celtic Christianity" and Whitby in adequate ways.
You've had a go at Rowan a few times, but surely when you read this woman you can develop a wee bit of sympathy for the bushy eyebrow'd one?

Craig Carter said...

I have sympathy for anyone who has to deal with this woman. But here is the thing: it would be a lot easier to have more respect for Williams if he did not let this twerp give him the finger as she pulls out her checkbook and then do nothing about it. If he has no self-respect, at least he should show the office more respect and call a heretic a heretic as Archbishop of Canterbury. He is sitting in St. Anselm's chair for heaven's sake (!) and he is letting a Montanist prophetess pose as an Anglican to the spiritual detriment of millions.

David said...

That's a fair comment. I often remind my students about a sermon Augustine gave where he told his flock that he would have to answer personally for them before God on judgement day! Now that's pressure. But knowing this, how seriously would Augustine have prayed, read scripture and listened to the voices of the past in order to discern how to proceed theologically?
I remember, when I worked in Colorado, e-mailing +Chaput about an issue in the parish I was in, there was an issue (kneeling at certain times during the Mass) that was causing division and I felt that in the interests of unity maybe some episcopal directives ought be waived. His grace told me in no uncertain terms that the issue wasn't unity, the issue was faithfulness! He set me straight pretty quickly :)
So yes, Rowan should be thinking that faithfulness to the Gospel is his only job, not making people happy.

Craig Carter said...

One other comment: is it not possible to make unity into an idol? I mean that is not the first thing to be said and, after all, we Baptists don't exactly have a stellar record or maintaining the unity of the faith. But, as important as outward, institutional unity is, can the desire for unity and inclusion not be taken so far as to create a situation where souls are placed at risk by the toleration of heresy? I think so. We must not divide Christ, but dividing from a heretic is not dividing Christ.

BTW, I got to shake Archbishop Chaput's hand a few months ago and it was an honor. He is a man of great integrity and a friend of Evangelicals.

David said...

I agree Craig on every count (especially on AB Chaput!)

There is a battle of questionable pneumatologies at work in Rowan's dealings with Katherine JS. He seems to think that the Spirit can be discerned by a quasi democratic 'mood of the communion' and she has no discernibly Christian pneumatology at all.

For me her position is a reminder of the wisdom of the Filioque. The Filioque is not just an assertion that God is as God reveals Himself in revelation (and so the Spirit proceeds from the Son as it does within the economy of salvation) it also serves the pastoral and ecclesiological purpose of warding off the kind of "loose canon" Holy Spirit that Katherine JS seems to believe in, cut off from the Son. One of Bernard's problems with Abelard was that Abelard, in establishing the Oratory of the Paraclete was speaking of/imagining the Spirit distinct from the Father and the Word. The Spirit, as Bernard asserted, has no word apart from the Word. Katherine JS, invoking a spiritual force that I think the Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa as much as Augustine) would have seen as demonic, has wholly broken with the Holy Spirit as Christians have known Him. She imagines it as an idol divorced from the Father and the Son and wholly distinct from the Holy Spirit as it has lived, breathed and moved in the history of the Church.

Rowan too has a big pneumatological problem in his focus on unity. In conflating the Spirit with the collective will of the communion he is forced into holding either (a) that the Spirit has always seen homosexual sexual relations as morally indistinguishable from heterosexual ones and, therefore, that every Christian who has ever lived throughout history has wickedly refused this urging of the Spirit or (b) that the Holy Spirit has changed his mind and, through the urgings of the 21st century secular media, has finally seen sense! So either every Christian who has ever lived before us has been wicked and wrong or the Holy Spirit was!

It's such a mess.

Craig Carter said...

It seems to me that both Schori and Williams view the Spirit as known in our human experience. Both wish to avoid any sort of pneumatology that is based on a fixed entity, like the witness of the prophets and apostles to the Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ, i.e. Scripture, or the living magisterium of the Church in continuity with Scripture and the history of Church teaching over 20 centuries (the Papacy).

Schori favors interpreting the prophetic experience of individuals as the definition of what the Spirit is saying (which is a theological accommodation to modern progressivism) and this leads inexorably to new doctrine and the splitting of the Church into smaller and smaller sects. Williams sees that this is wrong and strives mightily to stave off division by seeking a collective will to stay institutionally united despite holding contradictory theological positions on fundamental issues. The problem is that Williams' view of unity just papers over Schori's contradictory theology and ethics and, in a backhanded way, actually endorses (and even institutionalizes) it.

Until Williams is willing to either (1) accept Scripture as the definitive standard of what the Spirit is saying or (2) accept some sort of ecumenical council to make a ruling on the proper interpretation of Scripture in the light of Tradition, he is stuck with the diversity and contradiction caused by Schori and co. and the best he can do is fudge.

If he were willing to accept conciliar authority, there would be hope of settling the crisis. But a council would come up with something like Lambeth 1:10, so "settling" would mean vast tracts of Western Anglcanism being excluded from the Communion. He simply lacks the imagination to see how this could possibly lead to unity and the failure here is a lack of faithfulness.

I believe that with proper leadership, the majority of believing Christians left in Western Anglicanism could have rallied around Canterbury and in untiy with the global South formed a Gospel-preaching Church that would have (finally) fulfilled Anglican's historic destiny to be a bridge between Rome and Evangelical Protestantism. Instead, it appears that the See of Canterbury will be dragged down to the level of a Unitarian-Universalist massage club and will be humiliated under the stern hand of Divine judgment. History will not judge Williams kindly. Schori will not even be remembered except as a footnote.