By David W. Virtue in Virginia
A number of evangelical Episcopal theologians, clergy and laity believe that if they leave The Episcopal Church the conservative voice will be lost forever.
Meeting at Virginia Theological Seminary recently, host Dean Ian Markham said that VTS is a school that connects the dots and the dots are connected. "It is important that TEC has a clear stance of disclosure on issues of revelation and authority which we develop and worship or the narrative of the Christian gospel could get lost. VTS is to the right of center. We always teach students to take scripture seriously and to go and live in that light and witness to that light. We are a school that is Trinitarian, incarnational and we love the Lord Jesus."
The Rev. Mario Gonzalez, rector of St. Matthews Church in Richmond, VA told hearers, "We are the group that is staying in The Episcopal Church."
The Rev. Dr. Bob Pritchard, VTS Professor of Church History said he was discouraged and embarrassed about his church. "I am discouraged and embarrassed by our divisions. I get more phone calls about litigation than about evangelism. I am embarrassed by being in gatherings where those who should be our companions in the gospel are being turned into enemies. I am embarrassed that more money is spent in litigation than in overseas ministry."
Pritchard said he was further embarrassed by the theological discourse in TEC in which complicated questions are reduced to slogans. "We equate niceness with holiness, we know someone and they are nice, so we assume the best about them. I am embarrassed that we are losing sight of the central core gospel, the discovery that we are not really sinners and we talk about our innate goodness and don't look to the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation. The culture of TEC is not preaching the gospel and preaching holiness."
The historian likened it to Elijah who cried out "I alone remain. He gets new directions for his life and moves on. In a crisis it is a time to wait, pray and listen. Remaining faithful is essential for carrying on the unity in the lord. We need to keep prophets in TEC with both encouragement and voice."
The Rev. Philip Wainwright, parish priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh who has chosen to stay in TEC, said there was no Plan B. "Many have thought they were the only ones left. It is true we are a floundering church, a church struggling over decisive issues. I was called to remain faithful. It seems clear to me that leaving exacerbates and waters down the voice of orthodoxy."
Wainwright said he spoke against the Diocese of Pittsburgh leaving The Episcopal Church. Evangelicals staying need to make themselves known to each other, he said.
"We do not have the ability to discipline the unorthodox. Bishops can only be disciplined by a majority of other bishops, and orthodox bishops are in the minority. Clergy can only be disciplined by the bishops, and most unorthodox clergy have an unorthodox bishop. Lay persons can only be disciplined by their parish clergy, most of whom are unorthodox. As long as we are in the minority, we have no power to do whatever scripture says should be done in this situation. The question for us is not how leaders should deal with the unorthodox, but how we orthodox should respond to unorthodox leaders."
The theologian priest cited numerous passages of Scripture to support staying in TEC.
"Jesus' words in Matthew 7:21-23, 'Lord, Lord, without doing His will, suggest that such persons will not be cast out of the until the final judgment - 'on that day' He makes the same point even more forcefully in Mt. 24:11-14, 24, 31. A famous verse in Revelation, 18:4 actually describes this happening on the Day of Judgment."
Wainwright said Jesus' command in Mt. 10:14 to 'shake the dust off your feet' is a sign for those who reject His message entirely and is not applicable in this situation.
"The parable of the wheat and the tares (Mt. 13) suggests that even in the church, the weeds and tares grow up together until the last judgment.
"Matthew 15:13 says that it's God, not man, who is to root up the plants He has not planted - 'Let them alone', is the conclusion.
"In John's gospel the image of pruning the vine (chapter 15) is also one that refers to the end times, when the pruned branches will be thrown into the fire and burned. It is God who is the vinedresser and does the pruning, and there is no suggestion here that this work is delegated to the church.
"In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira are two of the baptized who lie to the church. Peter's response is to confront them with the lie. No further act was necessary because of God's own intervention.
"In Acts 8, Simon Magus is a baptized man who thinks that the Holy Spirit is for sale. Peter calls on him to repent. It is not clear whether Simon repents or not, there is no record of any further action.
"In Acts 15, we find the first description of what orthodox Christian leaders should do when others are teaching falsehood. The 'Judaizers', Christians (they are described as 'believers' in v. 5) who begin got teach that Gentiles must become Jews in order to become Christians. The church considers this false teaching but no action is reported as being taken against those who had upheld the false teaching. In 21:17ff, we can see that false teaching may not only still be flourishing in the church, but dominant in it; James warns Paul that Jewish believers are 'all zealous for the law.'
"In Acts 20, Paul is speaking to the Ephesian elders and at first expresses no confidence that all the elders are up to the standard required, only that if they are not, it's not Paul's fault, because has done the required teaching. He later admits that some will teach falsely. No action is recommended against them, only care not to become one of them.
"Romans 12:19 reminds Christians to leave punishment to God and overcome evil with good, a point which Paul will make again. In 13:13, Paul reminds the Christians of Rome that sexual immorality is not acceptable, but does not suggest any sanction against those who need this teaching. In 16:17, when people are wrongly adding to Christ's teaching, fellowship is broken with them to the extent that they are to be avoided."
Wainwright points to Paul's letters to Timothy as conclusive. False teachers are ordered to stop but no sanction accompanies this. Paul commands Timothy to 'have nothing to do with' false teachings 4:7, and to teach the truth instead (4:6) and to show them they are wrong and to rebuke them.
Wainwright says that Paul's second letter to Timothy was caused by Timothy's discouragement that there is still so much false teaching and immorality in the church. The whole tenor of this second letter is that faithlessness in the church is to be expected, and he mustn't let it stop him teaching the truth. The image in 2:20ff of the great house with vessels of varying degrees of nobility confirms the picture of a mixed church.
"The letter to Titus takes the same line. An overseer must be able to refute those who contradict him. He is to exhort and rebuke with authority and when someone won't listen, he is to warn him twice, and then have nothing to do with him.
"I Peter exhorts the leaders to tend the flock "as examples". II Peter says that heresy and sexual immorality can be expected to be rife in the churches and while encouraging leaders not to follow their example there is no sanction against the immoral or the heretical."
Wainwright notes that Diotrephes the false teacher is the only person in the NT described as putting someone out of the church. Likewise in Jude, it is the heretics who set up divisions, the faithful who work at convincing.
"In Revelation, there are false teachers in Ephesus, whom the faithful are commended for 'enduring patiently', 2:3 the faithful are rebuked for allowing their love to grow cold. In Pergamum there are false teachers, and the faithful are called to repentance as a result. In Thyatria, were sexual immorality is an issue, the faithful are rebuked for their 'toleration' or 'forgiveness' of one its promoters, but are given no other burden than holding fast to what they have. (2:24ff)."
Wainwright said that in Rev. 18:4, is the famous verse used by the 16th Century Anglican reformers to justify separation from the Roman church and other to justify separation from the Anglican Church, but neither can be justified by the context, which is the final judgment. It is the end of history, as Jesus had said in Matthew's account, that the faithful will be taken out of the mixed church in order that the unfaithful may be punished.
The evangelical priest said the thought most often used of heresy and immorality understood in the NT is "avoidance" a practice the orthodox should adopt at Diocesan meetings. "The recommended procedure doesn't seem to be any different in all cases; it's avoid them, not cast them out, even in the case of the immoral brother in Corinth.
Wainwright concluded his remarks by saying that the orthodox are to deal with the less-than-orthodox by being examples of faithfulness, by clearly pointing out to the former the error of their ways, and by limiting their personal fellowship with them in the hope that this will bring them round. "The constant exhortations to the faithful not to be drawn down the same path suggest that ecclesiastical fellowship was not broken, and in all the examples this level of fellowship seems to have been maintained. There is no suggestion anywhere that any of this would be different if the unorthodox were in the position of overseers, i.e. bishops."
"Separation and division, therefore, is not the scriptural response, and we must assume that the biblical thing to do is to stay together. A PECUSA parish leaving PECUSA is not exercising discipline; it is leaving a problem that it does not know how to deal with."
Other speakers said The Episcopal Church can be reformed. The Church of England in the 17th century was full of unbiblical elements. Congregationalists and Baptists broke away from it. Many faithful Christians stayed in the CofE. By the first half of the 18th Century the CofE was caught up in a huge revival. There is no church God cannot reform. The heart of the gospel is embraced in Anglicanism.
"We need to go on with faithful and godly expository preaching," said Wainwright. The old evangelical tradition is to be faithful in ministry in the local church year after year. The local church is where the real action is. We need a new fellowship of witness."
Recently fifteen bishops including four members of the Anglican Communion Institute declared their loyalty to The Episcopal Church and the inherent authority of a Bishop. They argued that the changing face of Anglicanism in North America and what looked like a power grab by Episcopal leaders in New York demanded that they address the issue of the historic episcopacy, "as a matter of faithfulness to our apostolic vocation and our Constitution."
"The traditional doctrine and worship and the historic polity of the Church are in grave peril. For this reason, we emphasize that The Episcopal Church consists of autonomous, but interdependent, dioceses not subject to any metropolitical power or hierarchical control. The Ecclesiastical Authorities in our dioceses are the Bishops and Standing Committees; no one else may act in or speak on behalf of the dioceses or of The Episcopal Church within the dioceses. We intend to exercise our episcopal authority to remain constituent members of the Anglican Communion and will continue to speak out on these issues as necessary."
The following bishops signed this document:
The Right Reverend James M. Adams, Jr.
Bishop of Western Kansas
The Right Reverend Peter H. Beckwith
Bishop of Springfield
The Right Reverend William C. Frey
Assisting Bishop of Rio Grande;
Retired Bishop of Colorado
The Right Reverend Alden M. Hathaway
Retired Bishop of Pittsburgh
The Right Reverend John W. Howe
Bishop of Central Florida
The Right Reverend Russell E. Jacobus
Bishop of Fond du Lac
The Right Reverend Paul E. Lambert
Bishop Suffragan of Dallas
The Right Reverend Mark J. Lawrence
Bishop of South Carolina
The Right Reverend Edward S. Little II
Bishop of Northern Indiana
The Right Reverend William H. Love
Bishop of Albany
The Right Reverend D. Bruce MacPherson
Bishop of Western Louisiana
The Right Reverend Edward L. Salmon, Jr.
Retired Bishop of South Carolina
The Right Reverend Michael G. Smith
Bishop of North Dakota
The Right Reverend James M. Stanton
Bishop of Dallas
The Right Reverend Don A. Wimberly
Bishop of Texas
Also Endorsed By:
The Reverend Canon Professor Christopher Seitz
The Reverend Dr. Philip Turner
The Reverend Dr. Ephraim Radner (The Anglican Communion Institute, Inc.)
Following the bishops declaration a number of rectors' declared their support for the Bishops' Statement on the Polity of the Episcopal Church.
They concluded that the authority of the Episcopal Church resides at the diocesan level. They said that the structure of the church is "that of a voluntary association of equal dioceses." They also affirmed that the Constitution and Canons of the Church made no provision for either a central hierarchy or a Presiding Bishop with metropolitan authority. General Convention is a representation of dioceses and not communicants, with only an administrative role for the convention leadership, the voting members of the leadership themselves drawn from the diocesan deputations. In addition, the ordinal does not contain any language acknowledging or committing to submit to any metropolitan or central hierarchal authority.
They also argued for the adoption of the Covenant by parishes in their dioceses. "Such grace will allow these parishes and clergy to obey their consciences and calling to be members of the Anglican Communion and the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."
The following priests signed this statement:
The Rev. Dr. Charles Alley Rector,
St. Matthew's Episcopal Church
The Rev. John D. Badders, Jr. Rector,
St. John's Episcopal Church
The Rev. Phyllis Bartle Rector,
St. Jude's Episcopal Church
Orange City, Florida
The Rev. Milton E. Black, Jr. Rector,
Church of the Good Shepherd Corpus Christi, Texas
The Rev. Christopher Andrew Bowhay Rector,
St. Thomas' Episcopal Church Houston, Texas
The Rev. William J. Cavanaugh Rector,
Church of the Epiphany Richardson, Texas
The Very Reverend Anthony Clark Dean,
St. Luke's Cathedral Orlando, Florida
The Rev. Joseph N. Davis Rector,
Church of the Resurrection Franklin, Tennessee
The Very Rev. Canon Richard C. Doscher, Sr. Rector,
St. Alfred's Episcopal Church Palm Harbor, Florida
The Rev. Mifflin Dove, Jr. Rector,
St. Paul's Episcopal Church Katy, Texas
The Rev. Robert G. Eaton Rector,
St. John Episcopal Church Tulare, California
The Rev. Theodore W. Edwards, Jr. Rector,
St. George's Episcopal Church Bradenton, Florida
The Rev. Richard H. Elwood Rector,
St. Barnabas Episcopal Church Fredericksburg, Texas
The Rev. Frank E. Fuller Rector,
St. Mark's Episcopal Church Beaumont, Texas
The Rev. Ronald E. Greiser, Jr. Rector,
St. John's Episcopal Church Portsmouth, Virginia
The Rev. Laurens A. Hall Rector,
St. John the Divine Houston, Texas
The Rev. John F. Hardie Rector,
St. Mark's Episcopal Church Corpus Christi, Texas
The Rev. Theodore E. Hervey, Jr. Rector,
Epiphany Episcopal Church Bertram, Texas
The Rev. John M. Himes, OSF Rector,
Trinity Episcopal Church Marshall, Texas
The Rev. Charles L. Holt Rector,
St. Peter's Episcopal Church Lake Mary, Florida
The Rev. Robert Horowitz Rector,
Church of the Redeemer Greenville, South Carolina
The Rev. Thomas S. Hotchkiss Rector,
Church of The Advent Nashville, Tennessee
The Rev. Robert T. Jennings Rector,
St. Francis in the Fields Harrods Creek, South Carolina
The Rev. Bennett G. Jones, II Rector,
St. Paul Episcopal Church Munster, Indiana
The Rev. Timothy Jones Senior Associate Rector, St. George's Episcopal Church Nashville, Tennessee
The Rev. Jerome A. Kramer Rector,
Church of the Annunciation New Orleans, Louisiana
The Rev. Gerald W. Krumenacker, Jr. Rector,
Christ Church Dallas, Texas
The Rev. Ronald James LeBlanc Priest-in-Charge,
Church of the Incarnation Lafayette, Louisiana
The Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr. Rector,
St. Martin's Episcopal Church Houston, Texas
The Rev. John S. Liebler Rector,
St. Andrew's Church and Academy Fort Pierce, Florida
The Rev. Ramiro E. Lopez, Jr. Rector,
St. George Episcopal Church San Antonio, Texas
The Rev. Daniel H. Martins Rector,
St. Anne's Episcopal Church Warsaw, Indiana
The Very Rev. Dr. Jean McCurdy Meade Rector,
Mount Olivet Episcopal Church New Orleans, Louisiana
The Rev. Mark A. Michael Rector,
Saint Paul's Episcopal Church Sharpsburg, Maryland
The Rev. Ian Montgomery Retired Rector,
St. Thomas Church Menasha, Wisconsin
The Rev. Joel J. Morsch Rector,
Christ Church Bradenton, Florida
The Rev. Elizabeth L. Myers Rector,
St. Francis of Assisi Lake Placid, Florida
The Rev. David G. Newhart Rector,
St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church Sebastian, Florida
The Rev. John Newton Rector,
Messiah Episcopal Church Saint Paul, Minnesota
The Very Rev. Timothy C. Nunez Rector,
St. Mary's Episcopal Church Belleview, Florida
The Rev. Robert P. Price Rector,
St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church Houston, Texas
The Rev. Dr. Darrel D. Proffitt Rector,
Church of the Holy Apostles Katy, Texas
The Rev. Fredrick Arthur Robinson Rector,
The Church of the Redeemer Sarasota, Florida
The Rev. Mark Seitz Rector,
St. Matthew's Episcopal Church Wheeling, West Virginia
The Rev. John Thomas Sheehan Rector,
The Church of Our Redeemer Aldie, Virginia
The Rev. Dr. Jerry Smith Rector,
St. Bartholomew's Parish Nashville, Tennessee
The Rev. Leigh Spruill Rector,
St. George's Episcopal Church Nashville, Tennessee
The Very Rev. Canon Harold L. Trott, SSC Vicar,
Church of Our Saviour Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Rev. Eric W. Turner, Sr. Rector,
St. John's Episcopal Church Melbourne, Florida
The Rev. Guido Verbeck Rector,
St. Paul's Episcopal Church Shreveport, Louisiana
The Very Rev. Dr. Edward A. Weiss, OSB, APC Rector,
Church of Our Saviour Okeechobee, Florida
The Rev. John T. Wells Rector,
Episcopal Church Of The Holy Spirit Waco, Texas
The Rev. Ted Welty Interim Rector,
Christ Episcopal Church Tyler, Texas
The Rev. Stockton Williams, Jr. Rector,
St. Peter's Episcopal Church
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth A. Wolfe Rector,
The Parish of Christ Church
The Rev. Michael Wyckoff Rector,
St. Luke's on the Lake