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December 10, 2012


Why 815 and General Convention Are Irrelevant

In response to a recent post about 815’s latest outrages on Christian principles and charity, a commenter posed this question:

You wrote, “In other words, for ordinary Episcopalians, local is everything; national (so long as it remains corrupted) is nothing.” As one who has departed, I felt like my understanding of catholicity wouldn’t allow me to make an assertion like that. No matter how hard I tried, I still kept coming back to the notion that how could I have an ‘Episcopal Church Welcomes You’ sign in front of our building, and the other parish in town had one as well, yet I knew that we were preaching, teaching, and proclaiming two different versions of the Gospel. However, as St. Paul says, there aren’t two! It would be very easy to say that the local congregation is everything, and weave a cocoon around ourselves, and do our own thing, Yet, I kept being confronted by the universal nature of the church and her teachings, and I kept being confronted by that. Can you flesh that out for me, and how you’ve reconciled that in your mind?

We start with the observation that the Church’s national leadership is corrupt—and by “corrupt”, I do not mean that they are accepting bribes, or committing high crimes and misdemeanors in office. Rather, I mean that they are corrupt as Christians: they continually do and say things that emphatically are not Christian. (Suing fellow Christians; treating the Resurrection as allegorical and spiritual, rather than physical; preaching religious pluralism; supporting abortion—the list could go on and on.)

And this corruption extends not just to the leadership at 815 Second Avenue; it permeates the House of Bishops and the entire General Convention, as well. The House of Bishops is corrupt, because after selecting the Presiding Bishop, it has given her free rein and refused to curb her petty despotism—to say nothing of its sanctioning same-sex blessings and now marriages, in open violation of the rubrics and canons. And General Convention shows its increasing corruption with the legislation it sees fit to enact at each new session. It also has allowed the Presiding Bishop’s litigation agenda to run amok, while funding it willingly out of Church trust funds and other monies it is robbing from mission work.

Not only is our Church’s national leadership corrupt (un-Christian), but now it is studying how to reorganize its cumbersome machinery (designed long ago to keep the Church from easily becoming corrupt—after all, it preserved the Church for 160 years), so that it can practice its corruption more efficiently. And all the while, the Church’s numbers are in a steady decline. Truly, the proposal to “reorganize” this mess is fully akin to rearranging the deck chairs on Titanic— after she struck the iceberg.

For local Episcopalians in their local pews, who do not run for office or attend conventions, all of what I describe is irrelevant to their lives. It is irrelevant because first, it is politics, and the Church should not be political; moreover, it all takes place mostly far away, and at a functional level of which most Episcopalians are barely aware, let alone concern themselves about. But it is irrelevant mostly because it has become wholly corrupt and un-Christian.

The corruption in the national leadership is analogous to a parasite in the body. It feeds off the body, and robs it of nutrition, but its continued existence is wholly dependent on the body’s continuing to function as it has in the past. Moreover, the parasite often fools the body’s immune system (think HIV) because it cloaks itself to look like just another natural part of the body. Our bishops wear miters and rochets just like any Anglican bishop; they speak the liturgy and say the prayers, so that when they are performing as bishops in church services they are indistinguishable from orthodox bishops.

But when they speak out on their own—whether from the pulpit or a press conference, it does not matter—they show their true colors. And when they take and fully support actions inside and outside the Church which are not Christian, then we may certainly know them for what they are.

Thus most Episcopalians that I know deal with the dysfunction created by these contradictory roles by focusing on the liturgical one, and by ignoring the one that is un-Christian. It is not good for Christians to dwell on things that are un-Christian, and we instinctively shun doing so.

Moreover, non-Christians cannot alter or pervert the Christian Church catholic no matter what they do, or how much sin they commit. The body of Christ is not sullied by sin; the teachings of two thousand years do not suddenly become immaterial. My Church remains my Church, because Jesus Christ, and not puny mortal man, is at its head. All of us who are in the Church are sinners just as much as those who try to lead it astray, and it is enough for us to focus on rectifying our own lives without putting others to right. In the final days, they will have to defend themselves to the Only One who matters.

In saying this, I do not propose that we orthodox weave a cocoon around ourselves, or remain silent and pretend that nothing bad is going on around us. Our duties are clear: we do not aid or support their apostasy in the slightest manner; we call them out for it at every opportunity, and let them know that we know the falsehoods that belie their actions. In doing those things, we keep Christ’s Church alive at the local level, as only we can. And we set the example for others to follow, if they would be Christians. The horrific examples which the non-Christians are setting are deterrents, not attractions, to those who have not yet been won to Christ—that is why the numbers continue to decline in most Western Protestant denominations, and in ECUSA most of all.

So fight the good fight, I say. Be neither discouraged nor ashamed, for we have the blessed Paul on our side:

[I]t is already the hour for us to awake from sleep, for our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers. The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light.


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17 comments

Actually, 815 and the GC are irreverent, not irrelevantwink

[1] Posted by B. Hunter on 12-10-2012 at 11:57 AM · [top]

Partly correct, B. Hunter: they are actually both at the same time—and the one is the consequence of the other.

[2] Posted by A. S. Haley on 12-10-2012 at 12:24 PM · [top]

This corruption…permeates the HOB.
How true indeed.  Yesterday I was conversing with a fellow parishoner who keeps up with things and he informed me that our diocesan was on the council of advice that considered the Bp. Lawrence abandonment matter.  However he did not actually vote because he was “ill” and did not attend the meeting.
Now, I don’t know if he was ill or not but with the current environment one can understand being conveniently absent if one determined to not create a public record on something as controversial as voting one’s colleague abandoned communion when you know perfectly well that no such thing occurred.
I said understand , not condone, because if that if in fact, the abscence was a mere convenience, I would rather the bishop voted and recorded his true conscience.  However, given the climate for purging the dissenters now so activly being pursued in TEC, common sense leads toward the conclusion that a bishop just might abstain by absence in order to preserve ones standing in the church.
These are the times in which we now live…

[3] Posted by aacswfl1 on 12-10-2012 at 01:52 PM · [top]

This clearly points to the fact that most Episcopalians who are still left in TEC care far more about things that they SEE in church on Sunday morning than the things that they DON’T see in church.  They’re more concerned about what goes on within the four walls of their sanctuary than the actions of their diocese or national Church.  For them, their local parish church IS the Church, and that’s unfortunate.  It’s what keeps them smug, comfortable, and innocent of any error…..at least in THEIR eyes.

[4] Posted by cennydd13 on 12-10-2012 at 02:03 PM · [top]

I really appreciate your raising this question here because it’s so important.

I’ve profited much from Curmudgeonly analysis, so I’m very grateful to have a conservative lawyer who’s been around the block to light a torch deep behind TEC lines.  And yes, dwelling on the un-Christian is not good.  The bonds of dysfunction,  aka “trauma bonding,” often draw people much closer together than they realize.

But I want to offer a cautionary note.  If you ever need pastoral care, spiritual direction, priestly advice, or reliable theological education, then 815 and GC corruption become very relevant.  If you ever have a problem with the TEC, then 815 and GC corruption become very relevant.

In my case, I ignored 815 madness and sailed beneath the radar for year with no problems and all my spiritual growth coming from contact with conservative Catholics.  But then I had an unexpected life event that painfully but thankfully brought me much closer to the Gospel, and I needed to talk to a priest.  Long story short: I got a lot of comfort but some bad advice and reverse moral encouragement that was basically secular psychotherapy but applied by someone without the proper training or clinical boundaries that devolved into sexual harassment and psychological abuse.  Unfortunately, my mostly orthodox rector had just been replaced by a flagrantly incompetent interim and my bishop was an arch-revisionist.  Guess how successful my complaints were?

Any way, sorry to grind my axe, but the lessons I learned are that the Church is also like a hospital, and as a sinner, sometimes I need a good doctor.  Since I haven’t been to seminary, I have to be much more cautious than I’d realized about picking my doctors.

So my questions for Mr. H are these: how do you avoid soaking up bad teaching or culture while remaining in TEC?  Where do you go for spiritual nourishment or pastoral care?  Is all of your advice above contingent on having an orthodox rector and having a fully formed adult faith?  How do you avoid missing out on possibly important but TEC long forgotten practices like fasting?

[5] Posted by The Plantagenets on 12-10-2012 at 02:14 PM · [top]

cennydd13 (#4), perhaps you did not read the entire post. I wrote that orthodox Episcopalians should not place themselves into a cocoon, or ignore what is going on around them outside their local parishes, and that as Christians they were subject to certain duties to denounce and reject apostasy at all levels—no one in today’s ECUSA has the luxury of feeling “smug, comfortable, and innocent of any error.” (I also wrote that we were sinners, just like the apostates whom we oppose.) This is a spiritual struggle for dominance, cennydd13, and for those of us in the thick of the battle, it is no easy path. Your support and prayers would be most appreciated.

[6] Posted by A. S. Haley on 12-10-2012 at 07:38 PM · [top]

The Plantagenets (#5), let me do my best to to answer your questions.

1. How do you avoid soaking up bad teaching or culture while remaining in TEC?

By rejecting it out of hand, and by teaching and writing the truth whenever I can.

2. Where do you go for spiritual nourishment or pastoral care?

I am fortunate to have a number of valuable resources—starting with my current rector, and continuing with several retired clergy in my diocese who have chosen to locate in our vicinity. It was one of those retired priests who encouraged me most strongly to begin my blogging career.

3. Is all of your advice above contingent on having an orthodox rector and having a fully formed adult faith?

No, but it is imperative for all those who do not have an orthodox rector to seek out a retired member of the clergy who is still orthodox, or other such resource in the battle: do not try this at home, i.e., do not try to go into battle on your own. As for your faith, you will know it when you have it, because you will understand what Paul is talking about when he says to “put on the weapons [armor] of light.” Again, do not try to go into this battle with anything less than the “armor of light.”

4. How do you avoid missing out on possibly important but TEC long forgotten practices like fasting?

Fasting is part of any serious spiritual discipline; my wife and I regularly fast each Advent, and each Lent. But today’s ECUSA holds absolutely nothing for us that we could ever “miss out on”; instead traditional methods of Bible study, daily prayer and meditation, lectio divina and the like, emphasizing the Church’s catholic and Anglican heritage, are what will today provide endless nourishment. To take just one example of how to derive benefit from the riches of one’s Anglican heritage: have you ever thought of forming a small prayer group of two or three like-minded faithful, and meeting regularly to say the morning and/or evening prayer service from the 1662 BCP? Or of forming a compline choir and singing that service once a month in a darkened, candlelit nave—regardless of what your rector may think? Such beautiful liturgies, rooted in the faith of our fathers, have a power to them which I find overcomes even the most revisionist of Episcopalians—and at the same time, reaches out to those who are still undecided.

[7] Posted by A. S. Haley on 12-10-2012 at 08:12 PM · [top]

#4 For them, their local parish IS the church, and that is unfortunate.”

Why?  How do you define church? What is your ecclesiology?
In reality wherever people gather in faithfulness to worship the Lord, there the church is…we have a home fellowship that gathers regularly, we break bread together, pray together, learn together and worship the Lord together…see Acts 2:42.
The reason we gather is that we are determined to continue to assist our TEC parish remain orthodox and catholic as long a possible.  A true church may actually be a smaller unit than a parish.

[8] Posted by aacswfl1 on 12-10-2012 at 08:37 PM · [top]

#7.  ASH, thank you for your kind response and answers.

[9] Posted by The Plantagenets on 12-11-2012 at 01:05 AM · [top]

Dear Curmudgeon,

I wish you all the best.

[10] Posted by MichaelA on 12-11-2012 at 02:54 AM · [top]

Well said.  As one of the last orthodox priests in my diocese it can be discouraging at times.  Most discouraging is the question of what happens to my parish when I retire or die.  One of those two things is certain to happen unless Christ returns first.  At the same time I feel a deep sense of vocation to stay where I am and build this parish. 
For those who are not Christians, the label Episcopalian is completely irrelevant.  Just ask your next waiter what he thinks of the Episcopal Church and you will probably get a blank stare.  So, I am not so worried about the brand being detrimental to building this parish. 
For me, the greatest hurt comes from the friendly fire of those who have left.  It’s interesting that I can have good fellowship with the notoriously exclusive Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor, and the CMA pastor, and several Assemblies of God pastors, but the rectors in the local ACNA parishes will have nothing to do with me.  Instead, they discourage other pastors from having any fellowship with me, and regularly try to talk members of my parish into leaving for their parishes.  I sort of get their “concern” for the members who have stayed.  For the life of me, I cannot understand why they speak ill of me to other orthodox Christian pastors who have no desire to be part of the internal struggles of Anglicanism in the US

[11] Posted by observer145 on 12-12-2012 at 03:38 PM · [top]

#10 As one who left a DGA split for DSC, I am considered to have missed the point by both sides of my former parish. The ACNA folks cannot understand how I can be a Christian and remain in TEC (where DSC was until recently) and the TEC folks cannot understand why I am not loving and inclusive. I agree that all of this is irrelevant to everyone else.

[12] Posted by Pb on 12-12-2012 at 04:55 PM · [top]

Pb, I understand. I got tired of hearing how the Dio SC *should* go ACNA when it became cleat that we were not staying in TEC. Teccies now look at me as if I some vulgar pagan…... sigh. Truthfully, this just reminds me of how my grandmother would say that Episcopalians are really congregationalists at heart. I think there is a kernel of truth in that- if one’s parish is “good” (whatever that means to the person) then both 815 and GC become very unimportant.

[13] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 12-12-2012 at 05:22 PM · [top]

observer145, if you are one of the last orthodox priests in your diocese, then you can hardly blame other Anglicans if they do not easily realise that you are different to the masses of other priests in your diocese.  Its unfortunate, but just one of those hard truths of life. 

I do hope they are able to grasp the truth about you and be more gracious to you.

[14] Posted by MichaelA on 12-12-2012 at 08:05 PM · [top]

MichaelA, my experience with those sorts of incidents is that the clergy who departed know quite well that the priest in question is orthodox.

They simply believe that it is intrinsically immoral to stay within TEC.

There are plenty of people like that in ACNA—although fortunately there are more who are not.

If I were the priest in question I would simply say “their loss—next?” and move on.  You don’t want to hang out with people like that anyway, and thank God you have companionship with the Missouri Synod and others.  It does become interesting when these sorts of people demand loudly why you have not joined ACNA when perhaps one reason might be that one doesn’t want to be in a church with those sorts of people.

Churches—both local and national—are often about fellowship and being with people with whom one has an affinity and common values.  That’s one reason why people make certain church decisions.

Obviously—at least in that locale—the TEC priest doesn’t need to be in ACNA even were he to depart TEC.

[15] Posted by Sarah on 12-12-2012 at 08:34 PM · [top]

6.  You do have my prayers and support.

[16] Posted by cennydd13 on 12-12-2012 at 10:46 PM · [top]

re 8 “What is your ecclesiology?” at far remove from the congregationalist view that starts with the individual, some might find useful the Catholic view as expressed in, say, Communionis Notio.

At any rate, just as an aid to conversation among folks who attach different meanings to ‘local church’, I think it helpful to use a word like ‘parish’ rather than ‘church’ whenever suitable. However, that in itself may be a perspective too Catholic for some?

[17] Posted by tdunbar on 12-13-2012 at 03:22 AM · [top]

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