Friday, February 16, 2007

Where are we going and what's up with the handbasket?

a minor rant...

I am part of a small Episcopal church in the Los Angeles area and being "orthodox" in my faith --which means I believe the Bible, I believe Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and The Life and no one comes to the Father but through Him, and if He wants to widen that gate, I have no problem with it, but I become very nervous when people purporting to speak for Him widen the gate-- I have watched with interest the activities of TEC (The Episcopal Church, a part of the Anglican communion worldwide) and was amazed when a practicing homosexual was elected bishop in New Hampshire (2003) and then shocked when the House of Bishops confirmed him to that position in 2004 after Lambeth 1998 confirmed Biblical standards for sexual activity (basically that God blesses sexual relations within the constraints of Holy Matrimony, which is by definition a man and a woman: two adults, one of each sex; if one is not called to marriage one is to live a celibate life) and our Presiding Bishop agreed. So the action of both the Diocese of New Hampshire and the subsequent appoval by the House of Bishops were out of line with Resolution 1.10.

Personally I don't care what one's sexual proclivities are, as long as one is dealing with consenting adult humans; I'd prefer that the Bible be a little more "forward thinking" in its view of human sexuality. I was greatly distressed when I really came face-to-face with the fact that the scriptures have an opinion (a very negative one, *sigh*) on sex outside of marriage; that cut deeply into my personal behavior, so in my early twenties I had to decide whether I was simply going to pay lip-service to an empty gospel or if I was going to actually try to live as it exhorts us to live. I chose the latter: with greatest reluctance I asked my lover to move out and I became celibate (until I married, but that's a whole other rant). One thing I can tell you for sure: the Bible isn't politically correct.

I grew up in a small Methodist church in Hollywood; I was quite used to ministers who didn't actually believe the Bible. And, for reasons too long and arcane to go into here, neither did I - but I came around and realized that Christianity is not a buffet where you can take what you like and leave the rest; thus I began the long and arduous process of armwrestling with God (cut to the chase: He wins). So the experience of taking my faith more seriously than the people who are being paid to promote and protect that faith is par for the course - but I wish it was otherwise.

I think of Paul, who wrote: "I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me. For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully." (2 Corinthians 11:1-4)

I am encouraged that there is some small outrage in America as TEC preaches an increasingly different gospel; I am more encouraged that the largest provinces within the Anglican communion are orthodox in their belief and their outrage is wonderful and righteous. I hope that a way will be made for orthodox Anglicans within TEC to join in pronouncing the gospel of Christ, to walk with believers and bishops who are more concerned with being faithful ministers of the Word and Sacraments than they are concerned with being politically correct. I wait prayerfully and patiently.

So I watch the current gathering of the Primates (the 38 highest leaders of the Anglican communion worldwide) in Tanzania and pray that truth is not compromised to political expediency, that they would rejoice to see the plumbline of the LORD in the hand of Zerubabbel.

The response of the Anglican communion to the actions of TEC was assembled as the Windsor Report and it seeks certain acts of reconciliation for TEC to continue walking in communion with the rest of Anglicans worldwide (to avoid schism, currently a precipice over which we dangle); specifically it calls for The Episcopal Church as a corporate body to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of The Episcopal Church to remain within the Communion; that the bishops who took part in Gene Robinson’s episcopal consecration, pending such expression of regret, should be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion; and that The Episcopal Church be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges; likewise it called for a moratorium on all such public Rites (the blessing of same-sex unions), and recommend that bishops who have authorised such rites in the United States and Canada be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorisation. Pending such expression of regret, it recommends that such bishops be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion.

So - after TEC (now under 1 million members) vastly oversteps its authority as a member of the Anglican communion and thus attempts to compel all the other parts of the Anglican communion (over 77 million members) to accept TEC's position on human sexuality (rather than Lambeth's position in 1998, with which TEC agreed), TEC has been called to make nice and stop consecrating same-sex unions and ordaining practicing homosexuals as priests. TEC hasn't stopped the behaviors and the "making nice" part has been, imho, disingenuous.

I am embarassed by the arrogance of the American church. Instead of repentance, "we did wrong and we are sorry; we will not do it again," a carefully choreographed tap-dance was offered, a 'we regret you took offense' kind of sleight of hand. Essentially, 'what's wrong with you backward people that you can't see that we Americans know better than you? Stop being offended and get with the program! You know it's going to happen sooner or later.' A churchly equivalent of "lie back and think of England--"

There is such narcissism in the American church: it's all about us, about our rights and privileges and how dare anyone ask that we not exercise a freedom for the sake of a brother or sister in Christ. Never mind that those brothers and sisters are living in very different cultures, bumping up against Sharia law, and being linked with the excesses of TEC literally threatens lives.

I think of Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:1-12 mourning: "Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren. Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything."

"Why not rather be wronged?" If the Episcopal church is right in all of this, why not take the genuine moral high ground and give parishes freedom to leave, taking their property (which they have purchased, improved, and maintained throughout the years) with them? Why act with such violence as to sue individual vestry members? This is not the behavior of a God-fearing, freedom-embracing church, but rather the behavior of a group bound and determined to go their own way, outraged and offended when someone holds to Biblical standards and calls them on dancing down the slippery slope.

Paul grieved when he saw the churches he mid-wifed straying from the gospel of Christ. Paul was shocked when the Corinthians had become so inclusive as to embrace a man living with his father's wife; he set them straight and exhorted them to chuck the fellow out, to "hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 5:5) and then in the next book Paul instructs them to receive the repentant brother back into the church community, lest "such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow." (2 Corinthians 2:7)

The church is supposed to challenge us in our sin, not simply commiserate and say, "yeah, it's hard to live a righteous life." YES, it IS hard to live a righteous life - but we are called to make every effort.

If we do not hold to Biblical standards, what standards embrace? On what basis do we reject scripture and replace it with our own contemporary opinions? This is the church of what's happening now, riding the crest of the current trend and the current wave and about to smash into the eternal rocks on the shoreline.

The new Presiding Bishop Katharine Schori refuses to "waver in her stand for justice and inclusion of all people in the body of Christ.”

Has she missed the point that the gospel of Christ is a gospel of grace, not justice? Is she actually asking for justice rather than grace? I hope not. Believe me, none of us want justice if we're offered mercy. Has she forgotten that Jesus doesn't preach an inclusive gospel? He says, "
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'" (Matthew 7:21-23; emphasis in the original).

On what basis do we receive the grace of God? By the atonement; by the perfect and precious Blood of Jesus, God incarnate, poured out for our sake. I know that there are many universalists who believe in Jesus (and I don't think believing that everyone will be saved is the unforgivable sin) but the Bible appears to teach otherwise. We stand on very dangerous ground when we rewrite scripture and widen the very gates that Jesus Himself described as "narrow" - it may be, at that point, that we've stopped standing within the gates at all. The broad way leads to a very different place.