Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why People Don't Leave the Episcopal Church

The dissidents are sure that if you only knew what was going on in the Episcopal Church you would flee.  They just don't get it and probably won't, which is probably a good thing.
Why People Don't Leave the Episcopal Church

by Thad Stevens

There are some people who won't ever leave the Episcopal Church. For example, they may have ancestors buried in the church yard and just can't bear the thought of going anywhere else no matter what. Some joined the Church for its bricks and mortar, so they're going to stay with them. And there are many in the Episcopal Church who actually believe the doctrines that it now espouses (however foolish that may be). But many–perhaps even the majority–of those currently attending the Episcopal Church disagree with its new doctrines and yet they continue attending.

This is perplexing to Evangelicals in the Common Cause Partnership, for whom doctrinal purity is the highest priority. However, despite multiple reports of its demise, Broad Church Anglicanism–reformed catholicism–is still very much alive in the Episcopal Church (even in Virginia, despite the peculiarities of 'Virginia Churchmanship') and they will keep attending until they are given an alternative that is sufficiently better in their eyes. Just being marginally better isn't sufficient to motivate most people to change their Church and being better in doctrine won't offset deficiencies in worship. Therefore, to effectively reach Episcopalians, the message needs to emphasize worship and the Sacraments, not doctrinal purity.

Most Common Cause parishes don't compare favorably with neighboring Episcopal parishes in worship and the Sacraments. In most cases, the problem isn't due to size or limited financial resources, but to attitude–'snake-belly' low services and sloppy celebrations of the Eucharist don't appeal to most Episcopalians. Aesthetics are also important: the appearance of the sanctuary or other worship site can often be improved without spending a lot of money. Music can easily be adapted to be like that of neighboring Episcopal or Roman Catholic parishes. But neither of these will be effective without a change in attitude regarding the Real Presence. It is often said in marketing that "enthusiasm sells," but "sincerity convinces."

One of the early messages from Common Cause that's still being communicated is that the Episcopal Church no longer believes in the authority of Scripture. That's true and it's highly effective with Evangelicals, especially when we point out that the hierarchy of the Episcopal Church have publicly denied the uniqueness of salvation through Jesus Christ, which makes His sacrifice on the Cross unnecessary and denies that He is the Only-Begotten Son of God, which is a denial of the Faith upon which Christ built His Church (see Mt 16:16-18).

But that message needs to be adapted for Episcopalians. Most Episcopalians stay because they don't think the Episcopal Church's heresy affects their parish, so Common Cause needs to point out that if the Episcopal Church is hierarchical–as it maintains in its law suits–heresy 'flows downhill', so the hierarchy's heresy makes the Sacraments in all of its parishes of questionable validity.

We shouldn't argue that the Sacraments in every Episcopal parish are not valid, but there's no reason to assume that they are valid. Just as it would be presumptuous of us to say the Holy Spirit won't make the Sacraments valid because of their heresy, it is presumptuous of Episcopalians to assume the Holy Spirit will make them into the Body and Blood of Christ despite their heresy.

When the Glory of the Lord departed from the Temple, God left by degrees. He would have stayed if they had repented, but when they didn't He departed (Ezekiel 10:8-22). To put it in the vernacular, at some point God says "Enough is enough" and leaves. Has that happened to the Episcopal Church yet–has the Light been turned off? Episcopalians can no longer assume the Sacraments in their parish are valid, so there's no good reason for staying. And that's a message that reformed catholics can understand.



Fr. Daniel Weir said...

I disagree with Mr. Stevens's assertion "that the Episcopal Church no longer believes in the authority of Scripture." What is true is that members of the Episcopal Church have differing ways of interpreting Scripture, something which seems to bother many evangelicals. Having affirmed at both my ordinations that "I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation" and not having lied then nor changed my convictions, I reject the idea that simply because I disagree with others about interpretation I have rejected the authority of Scripture. Furthermore, I would suggest that Luther was right when he said that the Bible is the cradle in which we find the Incarnate Word. Jesus is the Truth; the Scriptures can only bear witness to the truth. Seeing the Bible as the Truth is, I believe, idolatry.

Fr Craig said...

Fr Daniel is right on point. I believe deeply in the authority of Scripture, but I can't take it literally. The authority I recognize flows from the birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jr. said...

there are several things wrong with the letter. I think the idea of the idolatry of scripture is something thing that we haven't pointed out enough.

Thanks for the notes