Episcoplaians, Katherine Jefferts Schori, and Evangelicals: The War is Now Declared

Gary l’Hommedieu has it right, regarding TEC PB Katherine Jefferts-Schori’s declaration that individual salvation is heretical:

This week the Presiding Bishop declared holy war on heresy, and that’s news. Which heresy? “That we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.” This heresy must be stamped out with an inquisitorial zeal. “[Such an] individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy.” “My words” here refer to the “sinner’s prayer” or equivalent, where an individual prays to initiate a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and has the gall to believe the Lord hears that prayer.

The Episcopal Church is now in open ideological war with American evangelicalism and the myriad of denominational structures that espouse it. Most notable among them is the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), an overtly evangelistic and mission oriented Province that celebrated its official inauguration in Dallas-Fort Worth two weeks ago.

The blunt truth is that this war has been going on for a long time, but it no longer a cold war.

Whether they like to admit it or not, a “view from the pew” is that the Episcopal Church, since at least the Second World War, has sold itself as an alternative to revivalistic evangelicalism, with all that goes with that.  People who didn’t want a church with too rigid of doctrines, whose sensibilities complemented their upward social mobility, and who liked the aesthetic of the church became Episcopalians.  That fuelled the growth of the church during the 1950’s and early 1960’s, that growth only to collapse with the chaos of that decade.  TEC rebuilt itself somewhat after that catastrophe, only to repeat the feat after Vickie Gene Robinson’s consecration pushed things too far in 2003.

I don’t think they’re going to get a third chance.

In any case, what Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori has done is to canonise the war doctrinally.  By taking a leaf from Roman Catholic communitarianism (another one of those “Affirming Catholic” moments) she has made abjuring individual salvation an official church practice.  It’s a big step, but it isn’t without a preceding undertow in the life of the Episcopal Church.

In some ways, I find this opinion amusing.  Many non-evangelicals feel that Evangelicalism is too individualistic and not sufficiently solicitous of the need to become a part of the Body of Christ.  But, after years hearing Evangelical preachers beat on “forget not the assembling of yourselves,” I know for a fact that evangelical churches have a sense of community that is sorely lacking in others, especially Roman Catholic churches.  The core problem of Evangelicalism isn’t excessive individualism but institutional fragmentation, which cannot be papered over by Gothardian authoritarianism.

Jefferts Schiori has also given soulwinners the weapon they’ve been waiting for.  Now they can say that, if you want a personal relationship with God, you need to get out of the Episcopal Church, and that the Presiding Bishop agrees.

2 Replies to “Episcoplaians, Katherine Jefferts Schori, and Evangelicals: The War is Now Declared”

  1. Just a thought: My husband and I think the Episcopal Church has been selling “itself as an alternative to revivalistic evangelicalism” for quite some time. You’re absolutely right that “People who didn’t want a church with too rigid of doctrines, whose sensibilities complemented their upward social mobility, and who liked the aesthetic of the church became Episcopalians.” Wasn’t this just as true of the Gilded Age that followed the American Civil War as it is of the 1950s?

    The 1928 BCP may have been a counter to that trend, but it reasserted itself, as you say, after WWII. Apparently the current ABC is still trying to split the differences in the Communion (http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2502)…there is a fair amount of commentary out there on the Infobahn. Using the analogy of Hellenic to Hellenistic, I believe the Episcopal Church is now officially “Christianistic” rather than Christian. Sad, but probably inevitable.


  2. Good to hear from you.

    I think that you’re right. The trends after the Civil War are something that Evangelical Christianity would like to forget or paper over with stories of the likes of D.L. Moody, but they’re there all the same. It’s also noteworthy that the Holiness (and Pentecostal) movements arose in part as a reaction to the “conventional” type of religion that came into vogue after the War Between the States.

    World War II resulted in a similar kind of conventional religion becoming fashionable, and the reaction went two ways. The first was the Charismatic Renewal of the 1960’s and 1970’s, with its aftermath. The second went to the secularistic liberalism that took over much of Main Line Christianity.

    The ascendancy of the second made the present situation in TEC inevitable, as you observe. Many of those who participate in the Anglican Revolt had joined conservative parishes after the massive loss of membership in the early 1970’s. Conservative cradle Episcopalians (like myself) who had witnessed the original turning away were already gone for the most part. The new converts were ambushed by Gene Robinson’s consecration in 2003 and the rest, as they say, is history.

    I’ve spent enough time about Rowan Williams here but I’ll reiterate: he’s sympathetic to TEC and KJS’s idea about the place of homosexuals in the life of the church. But he feels that, given time, the whole Communion will come around to his idea on this subject. But the Americans a) can’t wait, as usual and b) aren’t as sure of the inevitability of this transformation as Williams is. Williams hates having to make clean-cut decisions like the one he’s being pushed to do, and it will be interesting how he muddles through this one.

    In a perverse sense, American Anglicans are playing into their TEC counterparts’ hand by putting the ABC (and that stupid Covenant) at the centre of their game plan. They would be better off if they and their GAFCON allies started a “Third Canterbury” (similar to the Third Rome concept the Russian Orthodox came up with) and were done with it. The longer they fool around with Williams, IMHO, the greater the chance that they will find the same rot they left in TEC infest their own church.


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