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Sunday, April 01, 2007

It's All About Heresy

Interesting article in WND regarding yet another Anglican non-Christian getting paid by the Church of England (a state-established church) to pretend to be Christian.

This is really what the Anglican/Episcopalian uproar is all about - heresy. Relatively few Episcopalians actually reside in the United States - by now, probably less than two million - and there are some questions as to how lively the Anglicans in the UK really are. But there's no question that the Anglican church abroad (referred to as the "Global South") is vibrant, growing, apostolic and biblically-based. The Global South is also poor, and the churches of the US are rich, and the churches of the US especially are trying to use money to maintain some sort of supremacy.

According to the London Telegraph:
In a BBC Radio 4 show, Mr John, who is now Dean of St Albans, urges a revision of the traditional explanation, known as "penal substitution".

Christian theology has taught that because humans have sinned, God sent Christ as a substitute to suffer and die in our place.

"In other words, Jesus took the rap and we got forgiven as long as we said we believed in him," says Mr John. "This is repulsive as well as nonsensical. It makes God sound like a psychopath. If a human behaved like this we'd say that they were a monster."

Mr John argues that too many Christians go through their lives failing to realise that God is about "love and truth", not "wrath and punishment". He offers an alternative interpretation, suggesting that Christ was crucified so he could "share in the worst of grief and suffering that life can throw at us".
Heh. The "Christian theology" mentioned is based on the Gospel record of what Jesus himself said. The problem with The Right Reverend John's take is that it is not only unsupported in the Gospels but contradicted by the Gospels. This is exactly what is happening in the US church - the reformists are throwing the Bible out and starting over. It used to be that the Book of Common Prayer and the Creeds were the link connecting all these churches together. Schori - the new US Presiding Biship of the US Episcopalian church - is trying to substitute the UN's Millennium Development Goals as the unifying creed. They may be admirable goals, but they do not serve the same function. This is the March 19 address by Ian Douglas to the TEC Bishops:
...I do know that there are some pressing and emotional issues that might be on your hearts and minds at this time. I think particularly of the recent Communiqué from the Primates Meeting and consideration of the report from the Anglican Covenant Drafting Committee.

I am indebted, though, to the Presiding Bishop, the Planning Committee, and the College for Bishops Advisory Committee, for suggesting that you begin this meeting with a consideration of the big picture of what God is calling us to do and be in the world as Christians, rather than focusing immediately on the more inner-ecclesial squabbles and difficulties which seem to preoccupy so much of time as church leaders today.
...what we are considering today with respect to the Millennium Development Goals does in fact have everything to do with The Episcopal Church's response to the Primates' Communiqué and the developing Anglican Covenant. For if we do not ask the bigger question first, namely: What is the Church for? What is it that God's wants the Anglican Communion to be about in the world today? then we will never be able to solve our Anglican family difficulties. Keeping our eyes on the prize, keeping our eyes on God's mission, is the only way forward. And thanks be to God, the Millennium Development Goals can really help us here.
The chosen focus of that particular meeting was environmentalism. Because after all, feeding the hungry, visiting prisoners and comforting the sick might cause someone to ask the question "Shouldn't we be doing it rather than sitting here talking about it?" And most especially it brings up the awkward issues that Christian teaching has always been that the responsibility to others is based purely upon their needs, and cannot be predicated upon agreement with the donor's ideas, nor can this mandate be satisfied with an 0.7% line item in the budget. Environmentalism is comfortingly debatable and allows us to pass wonderful resolutions telling other people what to do or not to do, so this is obviously the best approach for a clack of TEC bishops.

Bishop Gene Robinson seems to share the same heresy as the Right Rev John, having famously announced that at his own Baptism, God said to him "You are my son, and I am well-pleased in you." Bishop Robinson went on to say that this is what God says to all of us. Good luck with finding THAT in the Gospels.

The theology of TEC has been reworked to get rid of individual sin and the necessity of repentance. Going back to Ian Douglas' address linked above:
It goes on. As Christians we affirm that because of God's love for the world and desire to be united with all of humanity, God took one final decisive step. In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God enters the world anew and takes the responsibility for God's mission directly upon himself.
The ultimate act of Jesus self-giving participation in God's mission is his sacrifice upon the cross and victory over death. The joining of Jesus' pain and suffering with our pain and suffering on the cross is where we are passionately connected with God, with one other, and with all creation. On the cross is where this new relationship, this right relationship, with God and each other is effected. In Jesus' resurrection three days after the agony of the cross, we are given the promise of restored life in him. This is what we mean by Jesus' atonement. As Martin Smith has described, Jesus' atonement is our at-one-ment: our at-one-ment with God, and our at-one-ment with each other.
See? The only sin the new theology recognizes is original sin. There's nothing wrong with what is said here, but it is incomplete. Devastatingly incomplete. It's airy, lovely and generous, but how does it connect to our daily experience of our own failures? How can any human being honestly confront his or her daily and constant failure to truly exercise charity, honesty, kindness and faithfulness to other human beings in this context? One can only do so by being delusional. This is a very dangerous and corrupt theology which will debar humans from grace and mercy rather than teach us to find them.

Nor is this what Jesus said. He said there were conditions for profiting from the get-out-of-jail-free card offered for us. He says it in the Lord's Prayer (Matthew):
12 "Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors,"
"For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Matthew 7:
12 ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
21 Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” 23Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”
Matthew 5, beginning a series of terrifying commands:
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,* not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks* one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you make of Jesus, he was certainly attempting to awake in us a consciousness of our full debts and our great lacks in mercy to one another. Matthew 10 debunks the "at-one-ment" theology.

Jesus at least speaks to our reality. Mark 7:
20And he said, ‘It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’
So much for the "Jesus thought casual sex was just all right" theology. Not that he places more weight on that then avarice, theft, murder, envy and slander. Oh, and Jesus was certainly Jewish and thought that Jews had more claim on him than Gentiles. Mark 7:
...a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 28But she answered him, ‘Sir,* even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ 29Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.
Why is that? In Matthew 10 when Jesus sends out the disciples to heal and cast out demons, he tells them not to go to the Gentile towns, because there is not enough time. Why is that? In the above passage, Jesus tells the woman that her daughter is healed BECAUSE she acknowledged the prior right of the Jews. Why is that? Could it be that those who have already tried to live by the law DO have a better right to mercy? See also Matthew 8 and the story of the centurion's servant, plus the extra details in Luke 7.

Christianity can never let go of the Jewish concept of righteousness, the Jewish concept of human guilt (famous, even today), the Jewish recognition of the cross-generational consequences of sin , the Jewish recognition of cause and effect, and the Jewish acceptance of a human responsibility to seek out those causes and prevent those effects. It can never do so even though this causes pain to the individual. Whenever we try to destroy the concept of sin, we destroy the ability of the sinner to accept forgiveness, because the sinner will not forgive others for their abuses without the consciousness of the his or her own abuses.

We don't willingly whack our own hands with a hammer more than once, because it hurts us. The command to love our neighbors as ourselves requires that we take our neighbors' needs as seriously as we take our own, and that includes taking our neighbors' pain as seriously as our own. "Be careful with that!" is not a cold, mean thing to say. Hammers have their proper uses, but misapplied they do a lot of damage. The same is true for sex! Unconsciousness of our misdeeds is not the answer. To follow Jesus is to become fully aware of our debts to others, to repent, to atone, to forgive others, and to receive both mercy and a grace-given capacity to transcend the bitter web of cause and effect that prevents us from following the law.

Kill off the concept of sin, and you build a wall against mercy. Because it's not that "Jesus took the rap and we got forgiven as long as we said we believed in him," - it's not that at all. It's whether we do believe in him. You cannnot say you believe until you are willing to act on your belief, and that is Jesus' command to us. To hear and to do is his definition of belief. It's not a mental "I believe" - it's an acting out of what we mentally say we believe. What do you say to the man who tries to sell you a stock which he says is going to double in value? Don't you ask him how much money he has in the stock? If he doesn't have any, do you accept his sales pitch as being sincere?

And Jesus places faith - acting in hope of something in which we can feel no real mental assurance - far higher than acting due to a fixed belief. Alternatively, Jesus always condemns harshly those who have the mental assurance but who do not follow through with actions based on that mental assurance or who twist the laws in order to assuage the discrepancy between their actions and their stated beliefs. He had no quarrel with the words of the Pharisees or scribes, but harshly reproved the fact that they did not act on what they taught, and in some cases, had evolved a set of excuses for not doing so.

Whatever else Jesus was, he was an excellent psychologist. "Your faith has made you whole" is a very acute statement. To assume and act on hope and then to see the results will certainly build a far more integrated psyche than to walk around saying you believe in the God of Moses while ignoring the laws of that God.

Now back to the new fundamental unifying Gospel of TEC, as set forth by the UN in the Millennium Development Goals. Certainly taking care of each other - feeding the poor, healing the sick, etc - is a fundamental requirement of the Judeo-Christian cosmology. Therefore we ought to do it, and it is surely not enough to announce that we will do it with 0.7% of our resources and then congratulate ourselves for our wondrous deeds of compassion.

Just as surely, we cannot eradicate human suffering without taking seriously the bad things humans do which produce suffering, which is why studying, teaching and feeding have always gone hand in hand.

If you find yourself in a boat and one of the passengers is gleefully smashing holes in the hull of the boat, several courses of action are necessary. Bail water, get the passenger to stop holing the hull, and start patching it. Continuing to bail water out of the boat to save the passengers without saying a word to the passenger smashing holes in the boat is not a reasonable course of action. It does not take the welfare of the other passengers seriously. It is both unfaithful and destructive. It is a betrayal of the passengers we say we are trying to help - including the poor nitwit having a wonderful time while preparing his own death by drowning.

By all means, let us continue to bail out the boat and let us continue to study and teach one another. It will not result in unity, though. It will result in great strife, bitterness and sorrow. We must adapt our ways to That Which Is - it will never, never adapt to our ways. That's the message that the world can no longer stand to hear.

Thoughtful and insightful post. "Kill off the concept of sin, and you build a wall against mercy." Heresy has incredibly damaging consequences to us--like salvation, it's not just a matter of mental assent, but of crucial reality.

Found you while Web surfing. Thanks for this post.

author of Heart to Heart: Meeting With God in the Lord's Prayer
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