A word in season

By now most readers are well aware of the inhibition of the Rt Revd John-David Schofield, Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin, by Dr Katherine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, and a committee of the three senior bishops of The Episcopal Church; and of the finding of this review committee that the Rt Revd Robert Duncan, Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, has “abandoned the communion” of The Episcopal Church, though an initial attempt at inhibiting him has failed. One contrasts this with the failure to bring any such charges in their day against infamously heretical bishops in The Episcopal Church; viz., James Pike and John Spong.

A few days ago, I reread several of the essays in a collection edited by Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson and published in 1996, The Catholicity of the Reformation. In an essay entitled, “The Problem of Authority in the Church”, Dr Braaten writes these words peculiarly apposite to the situation:

In every age the church is called “to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The function of the creeds and confessions is to provide standards by which the church can judge and condemn false teachings contrary to the gospel. The church has always found it necessary to draw a dividing line between what is acceptable teaching and what is unacceptable. However, heresy has become virtually outmoded in the modern church for two reasons. First, the rise of democracy meant that the church lost the coercive power of the state to punish heretics as criminals; and second, the Enlightenment brought the age of tolerance in which the rules that set limits to heresy were overthrown. Orthodoxy was put on the defensive. Heresy became a matter of religious freedom and human rights. The threat of heresy to personal salvation that prevailed in the ancient church was annulled. The issue of heresy shifted from soteriology to ecclesiology. The category of heresy could still be invoked when an extreme case threated the unity of community. Dissent was permitted so long as it did not break the unity of the church. Not heresy but schism became the more serious concern. The prevent heresy from leading to schism, the churches today, maintaining their organizational unity at almost any costs, have taken to promoting inclusivity and diversity at the expense of revealed truth and biblical morality, pushing back the limits to heresy, to the point where people are “tossed to and fro and blown by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).

The problem with conservative “dissidents” in The Episcopal Church is, of course, that they threaten organizational unity, which denominational leadership will attempt to preserve at almost any financial, theological and moral cost.


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