Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The "H" Word: Heresy

As many of my readers know, I've pretty much "come out of the closet" as an Evangelical Anglican. I have been attending a conservative, Biblical Anglican Church on a weekly basis for the past five years in addition to 16 years at Lake Murray Community Church (Evangelical Free denomination). So five years ago I first stepped into Christ the King Episcopal in Alpine, a medium-sized town halfway between our small mountain town and the San Diego suburbs. The priest, Rev. Keith Acker, had a Biblical understanding of individual salvation, of our process of sanctification in the Holy Spirit as we seek to follow Christ, of the inerrancy of the Scriptures and their primacy in our Christian theology and doctrine. My only concern about attending the church was the liberal bent of The Episcopal Church (TEC) in general, but San Diego's bishop was a conservative, and all was well.

The Episcopal Church (TEC) had definitely stamped themselves outside of my belief system when they elected Gene Robinson as Bishop and dragged the entire Episcopal Church into severe conflict. But TEC has often been on the front lines of controversy: birth control, abortion, female priests, etc., and now a practicing homosexual bishop. (I'm not trying to start an argument here; I'm just laying out the background of the controversy.) But Christ the King has always been the most conservative church in the very conservative San Diego Diocese, and the San Diego Bishop respected their conservative bent. Although TEC allowed female priests in 1976, the Bishop never brought a woman priest to the Alpine Congregation to celebrate Communion, according to their wishes. He allowed weekday services to use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer rather than the more modern (doctrinally as well as wording) 1979 Book of Common Prayer. All was well. For the moment.

Then the San Diego Diocese was presented with a new bishop. A new liberal bishop -- one who immediately brought a woman to celebrate Communion in Alpine, one who insisted on having full support of Gene Robinson as Bishop, one who did not allow the 1928 prayer book. Father Acker's congregation was the first of nine San Diego Anglican Churches to leave the San Diego Diocese of the Episcopal Church in December of 2005. You may read the story here: Realignment of San Diego Anglican Churches. He gave up the keys to the church without argument and led the majority of the Christ the King congregation into meeting at Alpine Elementary School rather than the beautiful little church building in which they had formerly worshipped. And thus Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity was born. Now a Reformed Episcopal Church, a denomination that started in 1876 when TEC made its first liberal, unBiblical moves, Father Acker continues to work with evangelical zeal at the local and national level in restoring Biblical values to Anglican parishes.

All of that history will allow my readers to sense my outrage at the statements of TEC's Presiding Bishop (also a woman) just this week at the General Convention. David Tierney of San Diego Anglicans alerted us to her statements via Twitter this morning, as reported by Robert Munday of Nashotah House, a conservative Anglican seminary in Wisconsin:

And then in a cold, calm, defiant and defining voice she [the Presiding Bishop] said, "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 us 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. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention."

Now, to give the Presiding Bishop the benefit of the doubt, ... what she may have meant is: "It is wrong for us to concentrate solely on the individual aspects of salvation. As a Church we are called to life in community, and at this General Convention we are going to concentrate on what we do as a Church together. That is why we have chosen 'Ubuntu' as our theme."

...But that is not what the Presiding Bishop said. She used the "H" word--a rarity for a contemporary Episcopalian--and she appeared to aim the word squarely at those who believe in the necessity of an individual confession of Jesus Christ as Lord for salvation.

...So either the Presiding Bishop is being provocative, ... or else the biblical illiteracy that has long been the bane of Episcopalians has now become a requirement for continued membership.

And General Convention is only just beginning.

So apparently, according to The Episcopal Church, it is now heretical to have a personal, individual relationship with God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I agree very much with Rev. Munday above regarding the "biblical illiteracy" of TEC which is very ironic because it was the Scriptures themselves that drew me to Anglican worship in the first place.

What I value most about liturgical worship is the emphasis upon the Scriptures, and not only reading them but praying them. When I attend Morning Prayer and Holy Eucharist each Friday morning, we read aloud (really, pray aloud) several Psalms (the entire book of Psalms is printed in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, divided into morning and evening readings for thirty days so that the entire Psalter is read/prayed each month), plus an Old Testment and New Testament reading in Morning Prayer -- besides all of the Scripture we pray from the Prayer Book itself which is 85% Scripture. And in the Communion service, we read/pray first an Epistle selection, then a Gospel selection, which are provided in the prayer book for each week of the year, and those readings are again in addition to the Scripture we read and pray as part of the service. So within an hour, we are reading/praying five Scripture selections, plus the services themselves which are mostly Scripture.

And after each Scripture reading, we either pray the Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, who was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen) or the priest states, "The Word of the Lord" and the congregation replies, "Thanks be to God!" So we thank and glorify God for His Word each time we read and pray it. Before the priest reads the Gospel selection each week, the congregation says, "Glory be to Thee, O Lord" and after the reading, we say, "Praise be to Thee, O Christ." So God's Word truly is central to Anglican worship, even if the TEC ignores it.

God's Word is personal, personal on an individual level as well as a corporate level. It seems as though TEC is only interested in a social gospel, not the kind that changes us from the inside out, conforming us into His image, teaching us how to love Him, love others, and become personally involved in their lives for His glory. He calls us as His children to a relationship with Him, one that the Anglican Church, or at least the conservative branch of it, has preached since its inception in 37 AD. But TEC seems quite eager to abandon personal relationship -- calling it "heresy" and "idolatry" while the Scriptures are quite clear that God loves us individually and personally -- after all, "the hairs of our heads are numbered" -- which seems pretty darn personal and individual to me!

Last week I attended the Diocese of the West Synod at Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, and I truly enjoyed worshipping with them at Evensong. The speaker, Father Foos, spoke about reaching youth in a truly evangelical manner. If he weren't wearing a "dress" I would have felt as if I were at a Campus Crusade meeting. There is a definite evangelical branch to the Anglican Church, one that TEC would do well to emulate. It's just sad that they are preaching a social gospel and not just ignoring but villifying the personal relationship with Jesus that all of God's children, all the world, so desperately needs.

All I can do is pray the Prayer for the Church from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
O Gracious Father, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church; that thou wouldest be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in
any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, establish it;
where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for
the sake of Him who died and rose again, and ever liveth to make
intercession for us, Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.


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