Sunday, August 24, 2008

David Virtue Gets It Wrong – Way Wrong!

David Virtue wrote a series of observations/rants about what horrifies him about the Episcopal Church (can you imagine making what horrifies you about the Episcopal Church your life's work?). I noted that his reference to "Mrs. Schori" was a slight beneath the dignity of anyone in any church. In response to his hand wringing about all the money being spent on the lawsuits over property, I noted that the Episcopal Church is bound to protect its ownership of its property and, as countless others have seen, if those leaving the Episcopal Church would be civil and decent enough not to take property that does not belong to them there would not be the occasion for lawsuits.

I noted as well that there is no ownership of church property by those who make charitable gifts to the church, either through pledged support or capital gifts. If David Virtue had supported the church financially at any time over the past two decades he would have known that, as Church Treasurers have to note in their parish giving statements that nothing of value, other than spiritual value, was provided in exchange for the contribution to the church. Thus, if you claim a tax deduction for your pledges or capital gifts and then claim the property belongs, in part, to you – you can count on receiving free meals at a Federal facility or paying a large fine and penalty for violation of Federal law.

One of the first to respond was Cennydd, from Los Banos, California in the breakaway group John David Schofield engineered out of the Episcopal Church:

Re: Virtue Article - Orthodox Parishes Win In VA -- Schori Will Attempt to Depose Bp. Duncan.

TBWSalinas, David isn't the only one to refer to your "Presiding Bishop" as "Mrs Schori." And we are perfectly within our rights in doing so, since we do not believe that she is a validly-ordained member of the clergy. Yes, The Episcopal Church claims that she is, since your Church ordains women. This diocese does not, a fact of which I am sure you are well aware.

The lawsuits you mentioned....every single one of them....were brought against faithful orthodox Anglican Christians who want nothing more than to remain in the spiritual homes which they paid for and have maintained, where they were married, where their children and grandchildren were baptized, confirmed, and married, and yes, even buried from. The Episcopal Church filed those lawsuits; no one else did, and you know it!

In most cases, the dioceses and the Church have not contributed a dime to the purchase and upkeep of these properties; the people themselves having contributed gladly and with no thought that they would ever be sued in court simply for wanting to remain in their church properties....again for which they paid.

You will no doubt say that "faithful Episcopalians" also want to remain in their church homes, and you'd be right. I was once a faithful Episcopalian, and I never dreamed that I would one day leave the parish in which I had spent so many years of my adult life.

But when the Church I once loved decided to begin ordaining women to the priesthood and to do nothing to discipline +John Spong and +James Pike for their heresies (Pike got his hand slapped and was told to not do it again), and when they consecrated your present leader as Presiding Bishop....a woman who openly stated the "there is more than one way to God than through Jesus," when Jesus Himself said "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He who hath seen Me hath seen the Father,"I knew that I had to make a decision. You know by my avatar what decision I made.

Yes, the lawsuits can stop, and they should! It has been said that Christians don't sue Christians. Certainly, Christian churches don't, but The Episcopal Church has chosen to ignore that message, and have diminished themselves in the eyes of the rest of Christendom. It is a proven fact! The issues of ordaining known non-celibate homosexual persons and of same-sex "marriage" are merely "presenting issues." The real issue is one of remaining faithful to 2000 years of teachings of the Church through Holy Scripture.

The Episcopal Church was once a great and highly-respected part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Sadly, by its own actions, it is no longer.

I hope the IRS does not see your response, Cennydd. They believe that when you donate money to the church, you give up control over it -- otherwise no tax deduction. When the dissidents assert, as you seem to, that you have bought and paid for the parish churches you are stealing from TEC you are violating federal law and every principle of Christian Stewardship.

Please don't try to fool me into believing that you believe all of "2000 years of teaching of the church. . ." If you read early church history you are aware that there were many theologies and ethics for a long time -- and little of early Christian ethics and understanding of the church's place in culture survived very long -- but then you may be in favor of the subjugation of women, the institution of slavery and approval of polygamy -- and what about women having their heads covered in church, etc., etc..

Isn't it odd that the women who were the only followers of Jesus who remained faithful through his crucifixion, who were the first witnesses to the Resurrection and leaders in the early church are branded by you and some others as unfit or unqualified for priestly or episcopal ministry in the church of Jesus Christ. So much for Jesus' witness regarding the place of women in his living and dying.

Cennydd, I believe your vision of the mission and identity of the church lacks the compassion, generosity, vision and witness of Jesus Christ. And those who agree with your understanding of John 14.6 are a marginal group, with few Biblical scholars to back them up. Jesus seems to disagree with you. Paul, even in Romans, disagrees with you. The Roman Catholic Church disagrees with you. You have made what you see as correct belief a substitute for faith -- and in the process have turned faith into a work, losing any sense of Grace. What you have is salvation by works -- that has been declared a heresy over and over again.

I wish you well in your brand of Christianity. I wish for you the joy and peace that is the Christian Gospel -- but to gain that you are going to have to let go of Christianity as a Country Club for the guys -- and straight guys only, at that.

Thomas B. Woodward

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A Communion Sidetracked by a Morality of Works

In the church as in life, how easily we get sidetracked. Nowhere is that more evident than with our current struggles within the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion.

It seems clear to me that a good part of our problem throughout the church stems from treating Christianity as a moral code. People in all parts of our church are struggling with different moral codes -- and identifying them with the Christian gospel. This was a major error of the Eames Commission, reflecting the notion that Christianity is a set of rules and regulations to which one gives assent rather than a response in faith to the revelation in Jesus Christ. This error then led to an enormous amount of mischief and grief.

The Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Church is not alone with this misconception. Here is a brief excerpt from Jacques Ellul's book The Subversion of Christianity: "When I say that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is against morality, I am not trying to say that it replaces one form of morality with another. . . Revelation is an attack on all morality, as is wonderfully shown by the parables of the kingdom of heaven, that of the prodigal son, that of the talents, that of the eleventh-hour laborers, that of the unfaithful steward, and many others. In all the parables the person who serves as an example has not lived a moral life. The one who is rejected is the one who has lived a moral life. Naturally this does not mean that we are counseled to become robbers, murderers, adulterers, etc. On the contrary, the behavior to which we are summoned surpasses morality, all morality, which is shown to be an obstacle to encounter with God." p. 71

What we now have before us is a morality of works, a litmus test replacing the grace and love of God. However, the parables of Jesus are subversive -- often as with the parables of the Leaven, Mustard Seed and Prodigal Son they subvert the authority of the purity code. They also subvert the kinds of divisions in this church around human sexuality. We are not talking about Paul's distinctions between sarx (flesh) and the Spirit. We are falsely labeling some spiritual relationships as though they were sarx (the way of identifying ourselves with the world), thus undercutting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

While we humans seem to have a penchant for the security of rules and proscriptions, Jesus refused to give into that penchant. Instead he spoke of human qualities in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), as Paul did of the marks of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5. In what we have in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks in hyperbole and metaphor, but not with rules and regulations.

As Christians, we are not governed by rules and proscriptions. We are governed by a Vision and a Life lived and given. As Paul notes, we work out the details in fear and trembling, but always in the context of trust and acceptance. That is the opposite of deciding the future of our Communion on the basis of a morality rooted elsewhere than in that Life. Living morally as a Christian is full of doubt and discernment and struggle --and absolutist versions of Christian morality detract from that vocation and eventually subvert and destroy it.

Put simply: our moralities are responses to the revelation of God through Jesus Christ, but they are not that revelation.

We have become so enthralled with the argumentative possibilities in defending our favorite morality or in attacking others' that in arguing about morality we really have come to believe that we are dealing with revelation and the content of our faith (relationship) in God. Not so.