For readers who do not know, I am a former Episcopalian. My personal history of religious affiliation goes something like the following. I was baptized Catholic but raised in the Episcopal church until my teen years. From then I’d attend the Episcopal church on Sunday and then Calvary Chapel for “Bible study” on Friday evenings with their youth group. This was on account of a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the youth group at the Episcopal church voted that I should leave since I wanted to read the Bible and not have pizza parties and such. The youth directors agreed given that the kinds of questions I was asking really required a “professional” response. This was after I became exasperated with the whole approach of, let’s sit in a circle and go around the room asking what each person thinks such and so verse means “to me.” At the ripe old age of 13 I blurted out, “I don’t care what it means to me, I just want to know what it means!”
To sum up, I eventually ran into the Horton/Riddlebarger crowd when I was about 17 and then became Reformed for a number of years. I then moved towards a more high church Anglican view, returning to what I had been raised with, ending up in the then, Anglican Catholic Church (ACC). Fortunately I met my wife in the ACC, who was also a life long Anglican, though her family had left the Episcopal church (TEC) earlier than I did and joined the then forming ACC. After a few schisms in the ACC and/or theContinuing church movement and a deepening in my grasp of Christology through an exposure to the teaching of Maximus the Confessor, my wife and I were received into the Orthodox Church.
Recently, I was reminded once again why I am not an Episcopalian. The reminder doesn’t explain why I am Orthodox but it does I think point to something that is worth thinking about and discussing. So the reminder came in a post on another blog that I saw through the WordPress blog feature of Tag Surfer. It allows me to see other recent blog entries across WordPress with similar topics as my own.
The post was by an apostatized Baptist of sorts who returned to “Christianity” through the Episcopal church. The post was an expression of his thoughts on “reformulating” the doctrine of the Trinity. What the post was, was in fact not a reformulation, but more an expression of his rejection of the Trinity and an expression of its perceived uselessness. I didn’t take the post to be overtly hostile, (I am sure he’s a nice fellow) but it wasn’t something that amounted to Christian thinking on the subject and that’s the point. This post expresses the typical adoptionistic Christology found among classical Unitarians and contemporary liberals. Jesus is the man who was more open to the divine or “Spirit” and so is a means by which one is in contact with “God” or “Spirit” and so moved or inspired to “social justice.” The other posts on Hell and other doctrines pretty much fall into the typical liberal, that is Unitarian teaching.
It used to be the case that, say about twenty years ago, you could meet an Episcopalian and chances might have it that the person was a professing Christian in the historic sense of that term. They believed the Scriptures were divinely inspired, Christ rose from the dead and all the other theological goodies expressed in the Creed. Now given the exodus from TEC this is far less likely.
For the most part when I meet people who are professing Episcopalians now I don’t expect them to be professing Christians. I expect them to think that what they are professing is Christianity, but it isn’t. It is that “other religion” that is now dominant in TEC. And this post was a perfect example of what I mean. The terms are Christian, but the meaning of those terms is anything but. One could hear any given sermon in the Episcopal church using traditional terms and phrases with absolutely no Christian content whatsoever. The content now is poured into the wineskins of Christian terminology and rites from Left wing political causes and academic ideologies, which are usually in one form or another, just a repackaging of older Gnostic errors. (Just read the exchange in the comments after the post to see what I mean.) This is why there is a perceptible shift in the art work (and will continue to be) and what religious art work is from the figural to the symbolic in TEC. If the body doesn’t matter (since after all the incarnation and resurrection are “cultural symbols”) then any symbol is more or less just as good as any other, perhaps within a given range. The “other religion” expresses itself with a modification of older images.
So when I meet professing Episcopalians now and Christianity comes up, I usually don’t argue about this or that thing TEC is doing or said is Christian or not. The TEC is essentially now a Unitarian body. One can be a member in good standing, clergy or laity and deny just about every teaching of Christianity. Now I ask professing Episcopalians why should I think that the body you are a member of counts as Christian? What is distinctly Christian about it? Why think its Christian at all?
Moves to redefine don’t really count since the meaning of words are at least in part established by their historical usage, representative and authoritative sources. Regardless of what particular theory of meaning one endorses, one just can’t change the meaning of terms willy-nilly. To illustrate, I was once in a grad seminar with another grad student who was LDS. We were discussing some issue related to the doctrine of God relative to analytic philosophical theology. He was irked that such and so terms and views attached to them were privileged as Christian, whereas his weren’t. He expressed his view that his views were Christian as well. I interjected that they weren’t and he challenged my right to exclude his views under that term.
In our Epistemology seminar earlier that day, we had been discussing Contextualism, roughly being the thesis that the standards on knowledge change with the context. (I am not a Contextualist btw but the Zebra Mule is an inside joke for those who have the philosophical gnosis. ) So given a certain situation, the standards that you know something might be low, but if you happen to meet someone who expresses skeptical worries or doubts, the standards shift and become more difficult to meet and then you don’t know what you did. So I retorted to my LDS friend that suppose I profess to be a Contextualist in Epistemology, but I don’t think the standards on knowledge change or anything else associated with Contextualism. He responded that I wouldn’t be a Contextualist because that is not what the term means. And the meaning of the term is established by those who initiated the usage and how it is used by professional philosophers. Someone who used the term as I had proposed simply wouldn’t be a Contextualist and wouldn’t know not only what the term meant, but how natural languages work or they would be lying. Exactly.
The same is true for Episcopalians who profess that their church is a Christian body or that they are professing Christian. Once we define the terms, it becomes obvious that there is semantic legerdemain going on. The only major difference between their position and classical Unitarianism is one of prettier accoutrements. (And of course, even this is ceasing to be true. )
I think it is important to push this issue of Christian identity for a variety of reasons. People who profess to be Christians in this context need to be confronted with the idol that they have created and the deception that they have suffered, whether they are complicit in it or not. Apologetically they are accustomed to arguing from the other direction, that such and so view can be interpreted differently. But the position that they unwittingly have put themselves in is a position where there is nothing distinctively Christian at all about their position. Anything they profess usually along moral lines can be professed by some other secular ideology or some other non-Christian tradition such as Judaism, Islam, Shintoism, etc. The same is true with respect to the place of Jesus. Jesus is just a figure of sorts and its just a fluke that he functions in that way, since it was more or less a fluke that he ended up being more open to “Spirit” than the other men of his time since. Its simply parochial. Other cultural have their figures and Episcopalians in western culture have theirs.
The employment of the Nicene Creed and various Christian rites and symbols doesn’t imply that the body is Christian since liberals have argued that they mean something else and have imbued them with a different meaning in order to make them more “inclusive.” One can deny all of their Christian content and use them and be a member in good standing. But that is the hidden problem with inclusivity. Eventually the inclusivity is so exclusive of the established meaning that eventually the terms no longer retain their previously established meaning and no longer imply anything Christian. There is no reason then to take such bodies as Christian. Under such conditions, why couldn’t a member of the church of Satan be an Episcopalian?
Sooner or later reasonable people figure out that they can believe everything in such a view without being a member of said “church” and can sleep in on Sunday morning, giving their cash to other organizations. They can then use their own time in ways that they find aesthetically “fulfilling.” Why after all should I maintain the pretence of Christianity every Sunday by watching people use terms, objects and rites from long past and I am going to give money to this? What’s the point? This is supposed to give my life “meaning?” They can use the time in other ways and give money to established charities or causes that lack the wasteful bureaucratic structures of “815.” (Let the reader of That Hideous Strength understand.)
And this is one reason why more liberal bodies decline. They eventually become so inclusive like contemporary Unitarian bodies that they become socialization groups for the extremely idiosyncratic (freaks) and lose practically all cohesion. Such bodies do not make converts and they don’t have significant reproductive output. (It is not like Gay “weddings” will improve this.) This is why theologically liberal movements are parasitic on traditional bodies. They cannot go out and create a liturgy and produce a socially cohesive body of people with a view of the world that binds people together in a deep commitment from scratch. They are expressions of a lack. Frankly, I wish such persons would just be more honest about rejecting Christianity and go on down to their local Unitarian church and save us all a lot of trouble and heartache. What they do strikes me as seriously disingenuous.
The problem for those few in TEC who still in fact profess Christian doctrines is more serious. Sometimes there are pockets of resistance and people comfort themselves with the idea that at this parish, we are professing Christian. That may be true. Your rector may be perfectly orthodox in terms of the virgin birth, the resurrection and so forth. The question is then, with whom does he commune?
At the parish in TEC where I was raised, I was prepared for confirmation by the priest who is still rector there. We spent a good amount of time on the person of Christ and the Trinity in the context of the Arian controversy. And the priest there of course depicted Athanasius in such glowing terms that I was deeply attracted to the saint. Athanasius was my teenage hero. As I grew older and more theologically aware and educated, the problem of remaining in TEC became more acute in light of my familiarity and esteem for Athanasius. He not only refused to commune with open heretics but considered doing so to make one complicit in the heresy.
This principle is not limited to the tradition of the Eastern Christianity but has a long history in English Christianity as well, both prior to and after the Reformation.(Not to ignore its Biblical foundation.) Even if you are a professing Christian in such a body to remain in communion with open heretics makes you complicit with their heresy and immorality. If you don’t agree, you are either on the side of the “revisionists” (Scripture is more direct with the term “apostates.”) or you are living in denial.
Consequently, you need to make a choice and a very hard one. Please do not mistake my writing here for opportunism. I’ve been where these people have been. I know how hard it is to leave a tradition that had so much good to offer. The experience is very similar to experiencing the death of a family member. When I finally gave up the ghost on Anglicanism, I sat in a parking lot and cried my brains out for a few hours. People in that situation need to make a choice and in order to do that, they have to leave Anglicanism (whatever they thought it was) behind.
This of course assumes that there are no viable Anglican alternatives. I don’t take the Continuing churches to be so. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in them at various levels. They repeat the same kinds of problems that led to the issues in TEC to begin with or they are so small that they are sectarian and in some cases personality cults. They consequently attract former clergy who are not beyond reproach. This does not imply that all or most of the clergy in such bodies are such, but the percentages in my experience tend to be higher.
The choices are essentially these. You can go to a more conservative Lutheran body such as the LCMS if you’re inclined towards Lutheranism. But of course the LCMS is going through it own liturgical identity crisis right now. (Happy Clappy or a Liturgy?-The Happy Clappers seem to be winning.) That leaves untouched the more serious distinctive theological claims made by Lutheranism. Much the same can be said of the Presbyterians.
Then its either Rome or Orthodoxy. I am not going to lay out the argument for one over the other here. I’ve done that before. What is important as I have noted before is that once you make a decision, you choose to be what you convert to. It does you no good to be a disgruntled Episcopalian in the Catholic or Orthodox Church. You have to leave one behind and embrace an option. And this means you sincerely need to be convinced that you would have made the same decision even if here had been no problems in TEC. This will help give you some stability and peace wherever you end up. And that will be good for you and all those around you.