January 29, 2013

Two Very Different Episcopalianisms Meet in Charleston

Sign outside the rump diocese meeting (Photo Credit: IRD/Bart Gingerich)

Sign outside the rump diocese meeting (Photo Credit: IRD/Bart Gingerich)

By Bart Gingerich (@BJGingerich)

Last week, orthodox Christians convened at the historical St. Philip’s Church to participate in theological discussions at the Mere Anglicanism Conference. Most of the attendees expressed support for the Diocese of South Carolina under Bishop Mark Lawrence, which has been forced out of the Episcopal Church through heavy-handed persecution against traditional Christians within the denomination. Ironically, revisionist Episcopalians met only eight blocks away to reorganize the rump diocese loyal to the national Episcopal Church, USA under Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori.

Mere Anglicanism started off on January 24th with a traditional evensong from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer with the Rev. Dr. Leander Harding of Trinity School of Ministry acting as officiant. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Paul Barnett lectured the next morning on five epiphanies that convinced him of the historicity of Christ. The former Anglican Bishop of North Sydney emphasized the powerful manuscript evidence, the archaeological-geographical credibility of the Biblical record, the multiple attestations to miracles, and the existence of external hostile sources. He likewise excoriated the textual skepticism and deconstructionism that dominates many seminaries today. “The health in the seminary influences the health of the ministers, and the health in the ministers influences the health in the churches,” he surmised.

The impressive scholarship continued with Dr. Allen P. Ross of Beeson Divinity School, who exposited Zechariah’s concept of holiness, its role in God’s people, and its accomplishment through Christ. The Old Testament and Hebrew professor observed, “God requires holiness from people who serve Him and promises deliverance from unrighteousness.” Quoting Anglican divine Lancelot Andrewes, Ross advised, “It is not our task to tell people what they want to hear; we must tell them what in some sad future time they would wish they had heard.”

The Rt. Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali taught the audience about the “unique and universal Christ.” In this informative lecture, the former Bishop of Rochester noted that Christ’s divinity is under cultural attack. He mounted a defense of the principle of substitution within Christian atonement theory, which frequently comes under assault in nearly all theological circles. Nazir-Ali reported that imams in Islamist societies now translate and distribute revisionist biblical scholarship undercutting biblical accounts of the supernatural in order to discredit Christianity. Bishop Nazir-Ali also critiqued the Insider Movement, a missiological theory proposing Christian converts “follow Jesus in the context of another faith.” The Pakistani native worried about a “loss and crisis of integrity.”

That evening, conference attendees celebrated Eucharist led by Bishop Mark Lawrence, with Bishop Barnett preaching on the conversion of St. Paul. The Australian church leader emphasized the importance of the apostle’s theological and evangelistic vision, especially in a 21st-century context.

The Rev. Dr. David Wenham, who teaches New Testament at Trinity College in Bristol, explored St. Paul’s witness to Christ. He defended the Pauline teaching regarding Jesus from critics who desire to push a wedge between the Gospels and the more “dogmatic” epistles. In Wenham’s view, such a project is truly vain from a scholarly point of view. Wenham and Barnett both affirmed the reliability of Pauline epistles; they criticized accusations that St. Paul “reinvented” early Christianity into a heavy orthodox dogmatism so hated by liberal seminarians. As Bishop C. Fitzsimmons Allison summarized in one of his conference comments, Christianity in America faces a crisis of trust and love. Instead of cultivating devotion through and affection for God’s Word, theologians now often look at biblical texts with suspicion and clinically sterile distance.

Finally, the Mere Anglicanism crowd enjoyed a riveting presentation by noted author Eric Metaxas, who recounted the social witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany. Metaxas hoped that Christians would continue to offer a bold religious witness in the public square, especially in the spheres of traditional marriage, abortion, and religious liberty.

Meanwhile up the street, disaffected Episcopal South Carolinians met at Grace Episcopal Church to cast their lot in with the fast-declining national denomination (TEC). A sign outside the parish was labeled the Diocesan Convention for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, replete with the diocesan shield blanked out with “image not available.” A South Carolina court ruled in favor of the departing diocese, forbidding TEC loyalists from using the seal and name of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. In her opening remarks to the Friday evening meet-and-greet, Presiding Bishop Schori was careful to avoid any legally problematic language, gingerly calling the convention an “occasion.” Obviously, the TEC weekend proceedings focused on policy rather than theology.

The next day, TEC loyalists celebrated a choral Rite II Eucharist with Schori serving as celebrant and preacher. She marched into the sanctuary to a particularly defiant rendition of Highland Cathedral. In her controversial sermon, she likened Bishop Lawrence and his colleagues to terrorists and mass murderers. The attendance at the official convention Communion was about 2/3 the size of the Mere Anglicanism crowd at its height. The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenburg was instated as bishop of the rump diocese. When Presiding Bishop Schori brought the meeting to order, she called quorum by what seems to be sheer force of will. While the Diocese of South Carolina under Lawrence had 71 parishes and missions; only 9 parishes, 10 missions, and 8 “continuing” parishes (disaffected shadow congregations) attended the convention.

While Schori’s tone has proven harsh, the future interaction between the original South Carolina diocese and the liberal rump remains uncertain. Some supporters of Lawrence’s diocese express the famous South Carolinian fighting spirit, referring the rump as the “Vichy diocese” and wearing “bonnie blue” crosses in solidarity. Nevertheless, many on-the-ground observers foresee an unfortunate but civil divorce between the diocese and TEC.

15 Responses to Two Very Different Episcopalianisms Meet in Charleston

  1. Trey Medley says:

    Love Allen Ross. It was a joy (and sometimes a nightmare) to learn Hebrew under the man.

  2. Ray Bannister says:

    Obviously there are problems in nomenclature. What if the old, liberal group took the name Episcopagan? It was coined by Ann Coulter, but, heck, if the shoe fits… they already have an environmental liturgy. Given the recent push for transgender equality, they might ransack ancient Greek mythology and put Hermaphroditus in their saints calendar. Just a thought.

  3. Brian says:

    I think Bishop Lawrence finally overplayed his hand. Local courts may uphold his seizure of church property, but in nearly every case the Episcopal Church has won in higher courts. He should know that Bishop Katherine expects bishops of the church to be either ‘in’ or ‘out’—not like Bishop Lawrence who seeks to undermine the national church from within. There is always room for disagreement in TEC, but not for guerilla warfare against the overwhelming majority. I hope Bishop Lawrence feels his troubles were worth it. And to think it is all over the issue of inclusivity in the church. I am sure he knows LGBT clergy who are effective ministers of the Gospel. Nobody says he has to ordain them or marry anyone who he doesn’t want to. Why he wants to make obsure Biblical references over sexuality the basis for a break with his church is beyond me. His ‘my way (he would dubiously say God’s way) or the highway’ is going to turn out bad for everyone. What a pity!

    • Sorry, Brian. South Carolina courts have been the friendliest in the country to folks like Bishop Lawrence and his diocese as they seek to get out from under the tyranny of more-and-more pagan denominations. TEC doesn’t stand a chance, unless they can somehow federalize the suits, and even then are more likely than not to run into an attitude of deference to state courts on what is patently not a federal issue.

      The rest of your comment is strictly “Through the Looking Glass” stuff, so I’ll leave it to someone else to take on the craziness.

    • Chris says:

      There is NO room for disagreement on doctrinal matters in the TEC. Schori has seen to this. What Kool-Aid are you drinking?

      • Tim Vernon says:

        You got that right. She has the “my way or the highway” routine down pat. However, since these are Episcopalians, they’re probably drinking sherry (from Spain, not California) instead of Kool-Aid. But either way, the rule is, conform to what the Presiding B says and don’t give a hang whether it’s Christian or not. I think her b-nosers definitely regard her as more authoritative than God.

        It’s funny how feminists talk about women having “different leadership styles,” but you’ll notice that most women in leadership positions (Exhibit A, Presiding B) are just as hardnosed and domineering as any man could be, or worse. She probably trod on a lot of good people on her way up the ladder, so naturally she’s peeved bigtime over this secession movement.

    • Jeremy Baines says:

      If those “obscure biblical references over sexuality” are so “obscure,” why did Christians for 2000 years make them part of official teaching? Most people who use language correctly know that “obscure” would mean something like “vague” or “unclear,” but the verses you refer to are extremely clear. If by “obscure” you meant “trivial,” well, again, why did Christians for 2000 years think they were NOT trivial?

      “I am sure he knows LGBT clergy who are effective ministers of the gospel.” Why are you sure of that? If he knew people in that category ,he probably wouldn’t have taken the steps toward secession. I’m guessing that as a bishop he probably knows much more about the clergy than the naive laity do. Gossip makes the round quickly in denominational bureaucracies. If Father Bob is doing it with teenage boys, his congregation may not know it, but the bishop inevitably does, and unlike the other bishops, Lawrence wouldn’t just shrug his shoulders over trashy behavior. I think it’s pretty well known what the Episcopal hierarchy has been like for 50 years, they’re just a little more open about it now, except they now pretend that gay pastor is in a “committed” relationship, which we know is BS.

      I wish Bishop Lawrence the best. Good to see Episcopalians who act like Christians. I pray there were will be more schisms in all the mainlines, and that the ACNA will quickly pass the Episcopagans in membership. The goal is faith, not the maintenance of Gothic wedding chapels for gay couples. The Episc will eventually go out with a whimper, a footnote in the history of American religions. “What fellowship has light with darkness?” to quote Paul.

  4. Gia says:

    Come across the Tiber to Rome. We like your vestments, many of your beautiful prayers and especially your kickin’ music. Come home, Anglicans! Happy to have you back in the fold …

  5. Carol McRee says:

    Brian. You must be from a different state as the highest court in SC has already decided a landmark case about church property. Even the chancellor for this new entity in SC recognizes that this legal maneuver is going to be an uphill battle for them. Mr. Tisdale has consented to not contesting the injunction that the Diocese has against them. So, perhaps their strategy is not as fool proof as they once thought. Guerilla warfare against the majority? Huh? How is that since the majority of the diocese supports him and the Anglican faith which TEC has abandoned in many small steps over the past few decades. But now the charade is up.

    Ray. I love the name “Episcopagan” to describe them. I have used the term since 1990s to describe such people. I had no idea Ann Coulter had coined the phrase.

    • Ray Bannister says:

      Carol, I don’t know if Coulter coined “Episcopagan,” I just know I encountered it for the first time in one of her books. Whoever coined it, it’s appropriate, and one person on this blog said she’s an Episcopalian but isn’t offended by “Episcopagan.” Pretty revealing, isn’t it?

  6. Rebecca Alford says:

    It is entertaining that you feel the need to be so pious and vicious in your attacks on TEC and personally towards those Episcopalians who wish to continue with TEC. Why do you feel the need to do that? Does it make you feel superior? Lying and twisting stories and misquoting others is undoubtedly a sign of such insecurity in your own views to the point of needing to distort the truth to make your statement more dramatic and extreme, simply for the sake of inciting animosity and divisiveness. We are moving forward with joy and love and inclusivity and will continue to “walk in love as Christ loved us”. Personally, I have found more honest and heartfelt devotion and palpable signs of God’s love within our current worshipping group than I have ever felt before. It is a welcome deliverance from negativity and underlying bigotry and hypocrisy. Believe whatever you feel the need to believe. Honestly, your attacks, spying ventures and lies only serve to diminish the sincerity of your mission. The Continuing Episcopalians in South Carolina do not seek nor require your approval or acceptance. We will continue to pray for you, not because we seek to change your views or the way in which your worship, but simply because we choose to love and pray for all of God’s people, even those that don’t love us back.

    • Alex Soderberg says:

      It cracks me up the way liberals try to psychoanalyze the opponent, since they aren’t capable of rational argument. Anyone who opposes their agenda must be “insecure,” plus they usually throw in the buzzwords – hate-filled, racist, sexist, homophobic, bigot, hypocrite, etc. They might as well be parrots instead of people, although parrots at least have agreeable personalities.

      Actually, Righteous Defender of the Episcopagans, Bishop Lawrence and his followers aren’t the “divisive” ones. Your high-testosterone Presiding Bishop and her liberal cronies created the division, turning the denomination to the religion of Political Correctness and away from anything remotely resembling Christianity. Apparently all that “joy and love and inclusivity” you find so adorable isn’t filling everyone’s need, because the TEC is LOSING members very steadily – not just individual members and churches but (did you notice?) entire dioceses. you can believe the departing ones are bigots or homophobes or whatever liberal cliches you care to throw out, but the fact is, they hold to this antiquated notion that a church ought to be a fellowship of Christians instead of some weird combination of Democratic political caucus and support group for sexual minorities. If that combination suits your definition of church, well, enjoy it while the denomination still exists. Why don’t you and your loving and inclusive and joyous pals do some brainstorming and figure out why “inclusive” groups get smaller instead of bigger?

      I like your line “believe whatever you feel the need to believe.” Gosh, that’s very generous of you, considering all the names you used to refer to people who don’t share your view of the church. Maybe what they “feel the need to believe” is Christianity, not that insipid politicized religion of posing as “concerned and compassionate” by siding with every goofball political cause that comes along. It’s pretty obvious that people flee liberal churches because they aren’t finding God there. If you think Christians are all those horrible things that you called them, certainly you don’t belong in the same denomination, so I guess this split makes everyone happy doesn’t it?

      Schiori in her purple clown gown must be going for the record: see what Presiding Bishop can cause the biggest decrease in membership. Someone ought to tell her that if she wishes to be taken seriously, dressing like a harlequin probably isn’t a good idea.

      • Ray Bannister says:

        You’re talking about these goofy clergy robes that look like the losing entries in a kindergarten art contest? The liberal clergy seem to love those, makes them the center of attention. “Wonder what Father John will wear this week?”

  7. cindy says:

    Wow. Disgusting hate mongering. I really hope Jesus takes note of your writings. It would seem the Gospel has been sidelined.

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