Saturday, August 15, 2009

Questioning the unquestioned

Conflict within TEC is tearing the church apart, giving it negative publicity, anguish for many members on both sides, and enriching lawyers at the expense of ministry. My friends in the LCMS are 5-15 years behind on the same paths, except that instead of “815” they have “LCMS Inc.” and without the Dennis Canon, they won’t waste money on the lawyers.

The controversy has also been tremendously emotionally draining for me and many other Anglicans who find themselves searching for Schism I parishes, escaping with Schism II parishes, sitting in fence-sitting parishes, or trapped behind enemy lines.

However, this controversy has brought retrospection and self-examination for all of us. I (and many other Anglicans) have spent much of the past decade examining and articulating our faith and the reasons that we believe what we believe.

This calls to mind the famous quote by Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In addition to its philosophical, educational and personal growth implications, it also provides a rationale for Christian apologetics.

This epiphany was prompted by reading a couple of postings recently by Schism II ex-Episcopalians. The Schism I folks all went through this 30 years ago, but at the time most of us were not paying attention (perhaps because our local priest or bishop was still doctrinally sound).

One is last month’s open letter by the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, archbishop of ACNA. An excerpt:
The North American poet, Robert Frost, once wrote: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the road less traveled by. That has made all the difference.” For Anglican Christians, for the Instruments of Unity (Communion), for interdependent Provinces, for ordinary believers, there is a choice to be made. The choice is between two religions, two roads, two cities, two sets of conflicting values and behaviors. In Deuteronomy, chapter 30, Moses sets the choice as between blessing and curse, life and death. For contemporary Anglicanism the present choice is this stark.
Another example comes from G.W. Barry, a former St. Edwards (San Jose) parishioner, posting on the Bay Area ACNA discussion forums:
The New Testament letters Paul wrote to Timothy have been the most helpful to me throughout this process. I urge you to pick up your bible and prayerfully read his relatively short but challenging message. The values we model matter – they matter to our children, and they matter to the community at large. Timothy is warned about false teachers and urged to uphold his faith in Christ.

Paul also discusses the qualifications of a church leader and he lists specific criteria. There is also a rather sobering admonition regarding those who would “quibble over the meaning of words,” (I Tim 6:4) and those who “spend their time arguing and talking foolishness.” (I Tim 1:6) It is not mine to interpret it for you in light of this controversy, but I have God’s promise that He will use those inspired words just as Paul told Timothy He would: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.” 2 Tim 3:16.

“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers to tell them whatever they want to hear” 2 Tim. 4:3
She concludes:
I have been reminded that we are not to judge, rather, we are to love one another as Christ loves us. At the risk of quibbling over the meaning of words, context is important here. There are two meanings for the word “judge”, one is to condemn someone for a behavior, and the other is to “discern” or to make a choice between options. I believe we are called to judge in the sense that we need to discern what it means to remain faithful and choose to stand firm in our faith, and what is essentially false teaching. For me, that meant letting go of a church that is drifting into territory I discern to be forbidden.
Did people write (or read) letters like this before they had to make difficult choices? Having to define your faith — in order to shop for a doctrinally sound parish — is far more time consuming than just spending a hour a week in the nearest PECUSA franchise, as most of us did 15 years ago.

It might even force a few Anglicans to (gasp!) actually read their Bibles. A cradle CoE friend of mine is very active in Bible Study Fellowship. For at least two years, he has (gently) been nudging me to join a BSF class. This year, it may actually work.

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