Why the Archbishop of York got it wrong
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Church of England Newspaper Week ending August 3 2007
Archbishop of York John Sentamu has been quoted as saying, “…I haven’t found that in Ecusa (sic) or in Canada, where I was recently, they have any doubts in their understanding of God which is very different from anybody. What they have quarrelled about is the nature of sexual ethics.”
John Sentamu hasn’t looked or listened hard enough. The battle, at least in North America, is over core doctrine and belief: who Jesus is and what authority Holy Scripture has. Although in a brief article there is not ample space for a full-length dissertation on the extent of the problem, let some of the North American and especially Episcopal Church leaders speak for themselves.
In an interview with TIME magazine, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori remarked, “We who practice the Christian tradition understand him (Jesus) as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.” When CNN questioned Jefferts Schori about an afterlife, she opined, “What happens after you die? I would ask you that question. But what’s important about your life? What is it that has made you unique individual? What is the passion that has kept you getting up every morning and engaging the world? There are hints within that about what it is that continues after you die.”
Bishop John Bruno, Diocesan of Los Angeles, in my presence and speaking to a church gathering said Jesus was a savior, his savior, but not the only one and other religions had their own way to God. His predecessor, Bishop Frederick Borsch had said much the same thing, also in my presence, cautioning that people in other religions had their own way to God and should not be evangelized with the Christian Gospel.
Bishop John Spong, retired Bishop of Newark remarked, “I would choose to loathe rather than to worship a deity who required the sacrifice of his son.” From Canada, Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster predicted “The next battle will move beyond sexuality to focus on the exclusivity of Christianity and the need to recognize Jesus as a way, but not the only way.” The problem for much of the Episcopal Church leadership is they do not hold an ancient and Anglican view of Jesus Christ.
On the topic of Holy Scripture, the Bishop of Pennsylvania, the Rt. Rev.Charles Bennison has remarked, “We wrote the Bible and we can rewrite it. We have rewritten the Bible many times.” The Episcopal Diocese of Utah stated, “Judgments about ethics by appeal to the Holy Scriptures alone are foreign to our Anglican traditions, which have always included other sources of authority in their deliberations… There is no single biblical morality…”
Some may wish to say that these voices are isolated instances but not representative of the core leadership of TEC. The remarks here included are from the Presiding Bishop of TEC, a bishop of one of the largest Episcopal dioceses and his predecessor, a retired senior bishop of TEC, a bishop of a major east coast TEC diocese, and a former dean of the officially established TEC seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hardly voices on the margin of TEC, their voices and other leaders who have said similar things have gone unchallenged from the main body of the Episcopal Church. Not only that at General Convention 2006, the House of Deputies refused to consider Resolution D-058 which declared the Episcopal Churchâ€™s â€œunchanging commitment to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the only name by which any person may be saved,â€ and which acknowledged evangelism as â€œthe solemn responsibility placed upon us to share Christ with all persons when we hear His words, â€˜I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through meâ€™ (John 14:6).â€
The Episcopal disdain for absolute and historic beliefs about who Jesus is and what he accomplished, together with views on Holy Scripture that contradict the Anglican formularies is carried over into other areas where liturgy and practice are built on these views. Most of the liberal/progressive Episcopal dioceses tolerate on a wide scale fully open communion to all present, regardless of being baptized or not, and regardless of whether they are Christian, Jewish, agnostic, animist, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. There is a pervasive disbelief in sin and the need for atonement, disbelief in the unique and essential person and work of Jesus Christ, the wide spread unease in using the historic Trinitarian formulary or ‘Lord’ because it is seen as narrow, sexist, and exclusive. Formularies such as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer substitute for Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The mantra of faith for TEC is openness, toleration, inclusiveness, and progression into new ideas and new ways of looking at God. So what about the orthodoxy of the Episcopal Church that Archbishop Sentamu assures us of? One of their own leaders puts it very well. The Very Rev. William Rankin, former Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, remarked about heresy, “Heresy implies orthodoxy, and we have no such thing in the Episcopal Church.”
The Rev. Canon David C. Anderson
President, American Anglican Council and Secretary of the Anglican Communion Network