Tuesday, September 26, 2006

An apologetic for staying

I go to a loving, growing, Biblically based, fantastic and conservative Episcopal church. Yes, I know that sounds strange. Given all the rotten things that are happening right now in the national church, and thus causing problems in the worldwide Anglican communion, there has been much discussion lately about whether conservative Christians should stay within our wonderful conservative Episcopal parish, or leave in protest of the wider doings of the national leadership. They are good discussions, and good questions, and big problems. Recently a friend of mine wrote an apologetic for leaving. (I tried to link to it, but I couldn't find the original post on her blog.) It was really good and made me think a lot, and this was the result. I make no claims that mine is as well written! But I do think that it might be worth saying. So here it is. An apologetic for staying.

I’m a protestant. I believe that there are times when you must put your foot down and say “this is heresy and cannot stand.” I also believe that history has shown that leaving the church to make your point about heresy only makes a bad situation worse. Look at the proliferation of little “denominations” (and “non-denominations”, for that matter) that have resulted from the Protestant Reformation. The splintering of God’s holy people in such a way is in direct opposition to Christ’s prayer “that we all may be one.” Instead of battling it out within the church (think: Arius vs. Athanasius) we have dismantled the church to the point where it is hardly recognizable. Now instead of having our fight and having it done, we have hundreds of denominations, many denouncing each other and crying “heresy” all the more. This is not a good result.

Martin Luther knew that leaving the church was not a good idea. He stayed until the church forced him out (granted that he was particularly inflamatory and you can hardly blame the church for not liking him!) and it was his followers who created the “denomination” as we know it.

The Episcopal church has “erred and strayed like lost sheep”. It makes me sad and angry and sometimes horrified to learn what our leadership has done and continues to do. We have gone our own way and spit in the eye of those who tried to direct us back to truth – all in the name of “listening to the Holy Spirit.” I cannot believe how patient God has been with us.

But there is good news as well. The Episcopal church has been in a steady decline for decades. Those of liberal theology are aging and not reproducing themselves; churches are slowly emptying and unable to pay the bills. The liberal church is dying by its own choices. Contrast this with Blessed Sacrament, a bastion of orthodoxy and adherence to the gospel. Here we find over fifty college students and recent graduates, drawn to the fullness of the faith. Here we find more than thirty young families, just starting out, many with multiple small children. Here also we find the elderly, a vibrant part of church life and ministry, giving their wisdom to the younger families. This is not a dying church – we are alive and growing; evangelizing and raising up children. This church which stands firmly on the solid rock of Christ’s Gospel is drawing more to Him than those churches which preach “love” without discipline, “acceptance” without commitment, and “tolerance” without truth.

Liberal theology will fail. It may take many more decades, but it can’t stay on the path it is on and continue forever. I want to be there when we’re the majority again.


Aegialia said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Aegialia said...

You mean this link?


(Blogger doesn't seem to like the HTML for links or else I'm doing it wrong, so you'll have to copy/paste)

If those who stay stay for the reasons listed here, they do what they are called to do.

That seems to me to be the biggest rub in all of this--that some will be called to stay and others to go, and both will be witnesses to the truth.

I wish I didn't have to choose.

Emily said...

Yes, that one. The search engine on your site doesn't like me, evidently. :)

Jonathan said...

I have a hard time understanding the argument that some should stay and some should go - if there is a proper action, morally proper, than it is the action that all Christians should follow. For example, if Sarah's argument (from her blog) obtains, than it seems to recommend a universal, not particular, plan of action because it is arguing from the character of God. And, though the body of Christ diversley manifests that character, it only does so in some ways. You'd need a pretty good argument to specifically show that in this situation its for a certain kind of person - an argument my mind can't predict.

Further, it seems to me that by doing two things, whatever witness is expressed by the Church will only be expressed in a lukewarm way. Instead of being burned by the fervent heat of merciful community, or frozen by the frost of schizm, the Episcopal Church will feel the tepid waters of the Carribean lapping on their toes. It seems to me it's almost a double schizm.

Further, it seems to me that as Evangelical Protestants, there's no reason to leave a straying wide body of Churches becuase the important thing is two-fold: 1) you're saved by God's grace individually and 2) you're being ministered to by a community of believers that is faithful. Since we've got that, why leave?

If, however, you take a higher view of Church community and catholicity than is taken by the average evangelical protestant, you're going to be dealing with these troubles from a different ecclesiology. If you're not in communion with Blessed Sacrament in this situation, aren't you equally condemning the faithful who remain?

Regarding Ecclesiology, I'd like someone to address the whole idea of excommunication (which is what I assume people leaving TEC would view their actions as) in this part and parcel way. Do Paul's commands break down that way? In fact, I would say that the strongest arguments against this lukewarm response would probably be drawn from the passages of the Bible that place precedent for excommunication.

Emily said...

Jonathan, maybe you should leave your comment on Sarah's blog. ;) Since it has more to do with her post than mine, you know!

You have some interesting points, though, particularly about the differing ecclesiologies.

Amber said...

This is all well and good, and I'm fairly certain I understand your arguments... but what if you have to move? What if you find yourself in an area where all the churches are embracing the liberal line (and dwindling and dying) and there is no Episcopal church to go to, and no where you feel you can trust the church to minister to your children in a way that is faithful to God's Word?

What if the diocese decides to start creating problems for your church, and destroys some or all of what you have going there? I've heard of that sort of thing happening in other parts of the country...

You really don't have to answer my questions, but this is some of what I struggled with when I left. I wandered in the wilderness for awhile, then I ended up being called in a direction I did not want to go... but now I'm going and I'm glad of it. Beyond glad, really - completely and utterly and blessedly thankful. But anyways, thanks for posting about your thought process, it is interesting to read and think about. I'll have to read Sarah's entry as well.

Emily said...

Amber, here are the short answers:

If we had to move to an area where there aren't any conservative Episcopal churches, we'd attend a different kind of church. Probably Lutheran, if we could find a good one, or just an Evangelical church if the teaching was good and programs for the kids were good. That doesn't mean that I would stop being Anglican. It is like being part of a family and moving away for awhile - you don't stop being part of the family; circumstances have just gotten in the way of your being together with the family at that time.

About the diocese "destroying" what we have - honestly I don't think they could destroy it. They could make life difficult for us, and cause lots of money problems and such, but I don't believe that what is happening at Blessed Sacrament is so fragile that diocesan meddling could kill it completely. Thankfully, we have a bishop who does seem to be "really" liberal (i.e. is willing to live and let live, even those who disagree with him.) So at this point, I don't see that being a problem. I'll grant that it could become a problem, but I think we're strong enough to handle it if it did.

Ha, and I said those were the short answers. ;)