In the early days of Christianity, believers often paid the cost of discipleship with their lives. Estimates are that 700,000 people died in the Roman Colosseum, where Christians were slaughtered for amusement at midday. Followers of Jesus adopted Chi Rho as a christogram to symbolize their faith in Christ. When choosing a graphical symbol for this blog the decision was pretty easy.
Depending upon where you live and your circumstances, life for a contemporary Christian can be quite comfortable. While persecution of the Christian church is very real, in my corner of the world our faith is seldom called into the midday arena. But I had dinner recently with the Reverend John Yates, whose faith was tested, and who paid a great price for his beliefs.
Without going down rabbit trails, the crux of the matter is a highly publicized dispute between the Episcopal Church and several Virginia congregations who took issue with the “intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world.” The breakaway congregations felt that Episcopal leadership was acquiescing to contemporary culture instead of holding true to the Christian faith. At the Chapel we have a Woodwardism (sayings attributable to Dick Woodward) that applies here: “Is the Church a thermostat or a thermometer?” In other words, is the Church telling us what the temperature is, or is the Church setting the temperature?
The decision to leave (quoted below from a 2007 Washington Post article) resulted in the Diocese filing a lawsuit to regain the buildings and assets of the breakaway congregations. The lawsuit dragged on for years, and cost millions of dollars in legal fees. The court decided first in favor of the congregations, then reversed itself in favor of the Diocese. John Yates’ The Falls Church congregation will have a final on-site service then vacate the premises on May 13, 2012. They will then meet in rented facilities while they work out a long-term plan for their church house.
My purpose in blogging about this issue is not to cast stones at the Episcopal leadership, or to inflame anyone. I just find it encouraging that in an age of stupendous cultural compromise there are believers willing to die on mountains for their faith. How exciting for John Yates’ congregation. I envy them in a way because church will be more expensive and less comfortable for quite some time, but what a privilege to know that your leadership is up to the task. God bless. Chi Rho.
Why We Left the Episcopal Church
By The Rev. John Yates and Os Guinness
The Washington PostMonday, January 8, 2007
When even President Gerald Ford’s funeral at Washington National Cathedral is not exempt from comment about the crisis in the Episcopal Church, we believe it is time to set the record straight as to why our church and so many others around the country have severed ties with the Episcopal Church. Fundamental to a liberal view of freedom is the right of a person or group to define themselves, to speak for themselves and to not be dehumanized by the definitions and distortions of others. This right we request even of those who differ from us.
The core issue in why we left is not women’s leadership. It is not “Episcopalians against equality,” as the headline on a recent Post op-ed by Harold Meyerson put it. It is not a “leftward” drift in the church. It is not even primarily ethical — though the ordination of a practicing homosexual as bishop was the flash point that showed how far the repudiation of Christian orthodoxy had gone.
The core issue for us is theological: the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world. It is thus a matter of faithfulness to the lordship of Jesus, whom we worship and follow. The American Episcopal Church no longer believes the historic, orthodox Christian faith common to all believers. Some leaders expressly deny the central articles of the faith — saying that traditional theism is “dead,” the incarnation is “nonsense,” the resurrection of Jesus is a fiction, the understanding of the cross is “a barbarous idea,” the Bible is “pure propaganda” and so on. Others simply say the creed as poetry or with their fingers crossed.
It would be easy to parody the “Alice in Wonderland” surrealism of Episcopal leaders openly denying what their faith once believed, celebrating what Christians have gone to the stake to resist — and still staying on as leaders. But this is a serious matter.
First, Episcopal revisionism abandons the fidelity of faith. The Hebrew scriptures link matters of truth to a relationship with God. They speak of apostasy as adultery — a form of betrayal as treacherous as a husband cheating on his wife.
Second, Episcopal revisionism negates the authority of faith. The “sola scriptura” (“by the scriptures alone”) doctrine of the Reformation church has been abandoned for the “sola cultura” (by the culture alone) way of the modern church. No longer under authority, the Episcopal Church today is either its own authority or finds its authority in the shifting winds of intellectual and social fashion — which is to say it has no authority.
Third, Episcopal revisionism severs the continuity of faith. Cutting itself off from the universal faith that spans the centuries and the continents, it becomes culturally captive to one culture and one time. While professing tolerance and inclusiveness, certain Episcopal attitudes toward fellow believers around the world, who make up a majority of the Anglican family, have been arrogant and even racist.
Fourth, Episcopal revisionism destroys the credibility of faith. There is so little that is distinctively Christian left in the theology of some Episcopal leaders, such as the former bishop of Newark, that a skeptic can say, as Oscar Wilde said to a cleric of his time, “I not only follow you, I precede you.” It is no accident that orthodox churches are growing and that almost all the great converts to the Christian faith in the past century, such as G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, have been attracted to full-blooded orthodoxy, not to revisionism. The prospect for the Episcopal Church, already evident in many dioceses, is inevitable withering and decline.
Fifth, Episcopal revisionism obliterates the very identity of faith. When the great truths of the Bible and the creeds are abandoned and there is no limit to what can be believed in their place, then the point is reached when there is little identifiably Christian in Episcopal revisionism. Would that Episcopal leaders showed the same zeal for their faith that they do for their property. If the present decline continues, all that will remain of a once strong church will be empty buildings, kept going by the finances, though not the faith, of the fathers.
These are the outrages we protest. These are the infidelities that drive us to separate. These are the real issues to be debated. We remain Anglicans but leave the Episcopal Church because the Episcopal Church first left the historic faith. Like our spiritual forebears in the Reformation, “Here we stand. So help us God. We can do no other.”
The Rev. John Yates is rector and Os Guinness is a parishioner of The Falls Church, one of several Virginia churches that voted last month to sever ties with the Episcopal Church
May 22nd, 2012 at 1:17 am
I meant to respond earlier, but frankly, the last ten or so years in the Episcopal Church has been so discouraging that I did not know what to say at first.
I grew up Episcopalian in the 60’s and 70’s, but I did not feel terribly welcome in the church after coming to personal faith in Jesus during high school. Much of the tension I experienced centered around some of the issues raised by your letter from John Yates and Os Guinness. However, I always considered myself an “Episcopalian in Exile”, thinking that the core principles as expressed in the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles would some day be the catalyst to renewal in the American Episcopal church. In many ways, though the tradition surely has its quirks and a sacramentalist bent that irks more non-liturgical folks, traditional Episcopal/Anglicanism shares much of Williamsburg Community Chapel’s emphasis of “agreeing to disagree” in minor doctrinal matters while in principle upholding the central tenets of biblical faith.
During the 90’s, things looked a little brighter in the denomination: a renewed emphasis on evangelism, various healing ministries and ecumenical progress with Lutherans were very promising. Sure, there were vocal extreme figures like the then current Bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong, but I was still hopeful that the church leadership would listen to mature/moderate evangelical voices of British Anglicans such as J.I. Packer, John R. W. Stott, Alister McGrath and N. T. Wright.
Unfortunately, the current rift in the American church is really disheartening. I know that many revisionists in the denomination look upon evangelicals as hopelessly anti-modern fundamentalists, but what really blew me away is when the Diocese of Northern Virginia decided to actually sue congregations like the Falls Church over use of the buildings as worship spaces. I would have thought that the “liberality” of the ECUSA would have taken the “higher ground” and allowed the conservative evangelicals congregations to leave peaceably with the properties that God entrusted to them…. or least allow them some other gracious way to leave the denomination and be placed under the authority of the worldwide Anglican communion. But, no. It isn’t enough to allow for disagreement and part ways nicely. We have the denominational leadership actively going after these traditionally-orthodox communities to get the money associated with these church properties — all under the cloak of “open-mindedness”. Perhaps I am misinformed, but I am trying really hard to figure out how this all fits under the notion of Christian charity. If someone can help me, I would really appreciate it. I still love everything that the Episcopal church taught me about Christ as I was growing up, but I find myself deeply troubled now.
May 25th, 2012 at 5:35 pm
John Yates was quoted in an interesting post on the Gospel Coalition blog yesterday.
“Do I have regrets?” Yates asked in an editorial recently published in the Washington Post. “Yes, a few. I regret that so much ink has been spilled over a few social issues (important as they are) instead of on the deeper theological issue of how we understand and obey the will of God. And I wish we could have communicated more successfully that none of us is without sin. We all need the Savior.”
See http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/05/24/the-costly-faithfulness-of-the-falls-church/ for the full post.
July 22nd, 2012 at 7:41 am
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