January 22, 2007

Is the Episcopal Church Heretical?

Filed under: The Episcopal Church — William Witt @ 5:41 am
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A gentleman associated with a an Episcopal Church advocacy group calling itself The Episcopal Majority recently chided me for using the word "heresy" to refer to recent stances taken by TEC.

"What you, from your peculiar point of view, term as heresy is just that–your peculiar judgment."

The accusation that orthodox Anglicanism is nothing more than "private judgment" is one of my particular irritations. It is often used by followers of John Henry Newman, but seems now to have been adopted by the revisionists. Here was my reply.

Well, no. It’s not. Say, for example, that a Presiding Bishop of TEC were to claim that Jesus was only one way of salvation among others, and claimed that to say that no one came to the Father except through Jesus would "put God in a small box." That would constitute a heresy that has been repudiated repeatedly throughout church history and is condemned in the 39 Articles (xviii). Or suppose that said Presiding Bishop gave a Christmas sermon in which he or she first seemed to be affirming the doctrine of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, but then went on to speak of incarnation in a manner that made it clear that incarnation was simply a way of speaking of God’s general presence in creation, and that what was true of Jesus was equally true of other people as well, including, in his or her own words, Santa Claus. That would, of course, be a repudiation of the Nicene Creed. Or suppose that such a Presiding Bishop were to say in a recent interview that he or she did not believe that Jesus was terribly concerned about the afterlife. That would either indicate that she was not familiar with the gospels, or believed that they were entirely untrustworthy. That would, of course, be contrary to the Anglican affirmation of the "sufficiency of Scripture." Or suppose such a General Convention were to approve as bishop a man whose lifestyle were explicitly condemned in Scripture, on the grounds that Scripture says we are supposed to love one another. That would be to violate the statement in the 39 Articles that the Church "cannot ordain anything contrary to God’s Word written" and that it may not interpret Scripture so as to make one part repugnant to another (xx). Or suppose that such a church tried to justify its actions by pointing out that Christians eat shellfish. That would be to violate the historic principle of biblical interpretation that distinguishes between moral, ritual, civil, and ecclesiastical law, and would be to pit the OT against the NT (vii). Or suppose that such a church tried to impose ordained female clergy on a diocese. That would place the church in violation of the article that nothing that cannot be read in Scripture or proved from it may be required as an article of faith (vi). Or suppose that prominent members (including bishops of said church) made statements or wrote best selling books suggesting that if the bones of Jesus were found in a grave somewhere in Palestine, this would make no difference to Christian faith. That would violate article iv, which states that Jesus rose bodily from the grave, including his flesh, bones, and everything pertaining to the perfection of human nature.

Of course, no Presiding Bishop would ever actually say such things, nor would a General Convention approve such things. To take such actions would place such a church so far beyond the bounds of historic Christianity that it could no longer be called a church, but merely a heretical sect, something like Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Science. But to recognize that such actions or beliefs would be heretical would not be engaging in mere private judgment, merely affirming what Scripture clearly teaches, and what Christians have always affirmed and have repeated numerous times in Creeds and Confessions.

But, of course, we’re talking about hypotheticals. As I said, no even remotely Christian church would ever do or affirm such things or elect as its chief officers those who did. And, as you’ve pointed out, the Episcopal Majority was formed merely to preserve the church’s historic heritage and tradition. So no one in Episcopal Majority would endorse or approve such actions or beliefs either.

But if they did, hypothetically speaking, I think we could call that heresy.

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