If I were asked to describe the central message of Christianity, no matter what words I used, I would speak of the death and resurrection of Jesus. If then asked to explain how this related to me, I would go on to detail personal faith in Christ as the necessary step for salvation. That is, to be right with God, you must come to faith in his Son who died for your sin.
These few statements, among others, are considered by the Christian Church to be orthodox. Whatever else we believe or practice, we all agree on these. That is why we must now conclude the Episcopal Church in America is an apostate religion.
The big talking point from the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. was the lifting of the moratorium on homosexual candidates for ministry, but slipping under the radar was an even bigger problem for it dealt not with a particular sinful practice, but the entire church’s doctrinal position as it relates the gospel.
At her opening address to the convention, Presiding Bishop and Primate, Katharine Jefferts Schori, in the midst of welcoming delegates, turned to what she described as ‘the great Western heresy’.
Now, any number of things spring to mind as possible candidates, but knowing this is the Episcopal Church we are talking about, I imagined it was going to have something to do with greed, poverty or global warming.
Jefferts Schori eventually got on to those items, but they were not the great heresy of the western Church. In her own words;
The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of use [sic] alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being.
The complete address can be read here.
Salvation of the individual anathema
The only thing we can be thankful for is that Jefferts Schori has made the position of the Episcopal Church clear. Its doctrinal position is that no one can be right with God as an individual and personal salvation is simply not on offer.
The consequences of taking this position are spiritually catastrophic. You simply cannot be a Christian and not believe in a personal relationship with Jesus resulting in personal salvation. This is a different gospel.
This is all quite simply the natural consequence of the ‘social welfare’ gospel pushed to its logical conclusion. The Episcopal Church is basically a spiritual version of what America has become. Both have abandoned God’s rule, rubbed out his law and established their own standard in its place.
One thing comes into clear focus as you listen to Jefferts Schori speak; Episcopal Christianity is all about relationships here on earth and looking after creation (at least they still believe in creation!)
Tolerance without obedience
Interaction between members of the body has become the primary operating principle. It is far more important than, say, obedience to God. Obedience to God is OK up to a point, but it has the recurring problem of offending people and we can’t have that.
So when someone walks into Church and says, ‘I am gay. Can I be a Bishop please?’, we don’t ask God for a ruling, we make a collective decision based on what makes everyone feel happy. After all, God wants us to be happy and so we do that at all cost.
And when we discover lots of people are not happy about these decisions, we tell them to get over it. Woe betide anybody who pulls out the Bible and starts quoting it. What good is the Bible in a situation like this? The Bible is simply the record of religious history and because we are the modern thinkers, we may safely disregard the thoughts of previous generations when they conflict with ours.
With an operating principle like this, the Episcopal Church manages to keep in step with the world. It picks up the climate change debate and gears the Church towards the solution. ‘We are here to look after creation' it will cry. It listens to the sexual debate and offers ‘blessing’ to everyone no matter how debauched their behaviour. 'We are here to love one another' will be the refrain. And so it goes on.
But it cannot listen to correction. When it hears Christians denouncing unorthodox doctrine they are simply marginalised as fundamentalists who refuse to keep up to date. When it reads Jesus saying, ‘Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me’ (John 14:21), the application is taken only in reference to treatment of other human beings, not in relation to God himself whose primary concern is the sin problem.
In fact, one wonders if the Episcopal Church really believes in personal sin at all. Why would you need to if there is no personal faith and no personal salvation? It is becoming difficult to define exactly what the Episcopal Church stands for.
The awful reality of God’s judgement
It’s a great tragedy when someone you love is on a path of self-destruction. It is devastating when you try to offer help but they refuse to take your advice and continue with their life of destruction. The solution seems obvious, but the person steadfastly refuses to change.
I have a friend whose mother once had surgery for a smoking related illness. She had smoked herself almost to death despite the pleadings of her family to quit the habit. She had the surgery and lit up a smoke the day she left the hospital. In the end the family could only shrug their shoulders in the knowledge they had tried, but ultimately could do nothing to prevent the inevitable. It was a sad funeral.
I feel we are at this point with the Episcopal Church. No one can say the issues have not been clearly set out nor the debates cut short. It is obvious what this Church stands for and we have no option now than to allow it to walk the path it is determined to walk. It is obvious, however, just how broad this path is.
If I understand the thrust of Romans 1 properly, I think God is in the business of allowing people to feel the full weight of their own sin at times, especially when they steadfastly refuse to repent.
Recently a group of faithful, Godly, Bible believing Christians in the Episcopal Church stood up, walked out and started a new fellowship; the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). This too may well be part of God’s plan to allow the Episcopal Church to suffer its own fate.
That does not mean they will be destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah style. It would not surprise me if they go on from strength to strength humanly speaking. But God’s judgement on them may well be to allow them to wallow in the snare of their own deception.
It is part of the punishment. Just as God's blessing is bestowed on those who honour him, so does his wrath fall upon those who do not and this wrath sometimes comes in the form of your own sinful lifestyle. And who would you have to blame if it did? You chose it.
Where to from here?
I feel downcast enough to predict this is not the last we will hear from the Episcopal Church. I confess I am running out ideas as to where they will go from here, but I am sure God is calling upon his Church to make a stand.
It is a stand of no compromise. A stand of conviction based on the revealed word of God and a life of obedience to him based on a relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ, who died for his Church that it might have eternal life.
And should the Episcopal Church, or any other, continue to refuse to heed the warnings given either by word or deed from this point onwards, at least they will be without excuse.