by Rob Schwarzwalder
December 14, 2011
Joseph Bottum argues in a rather grim new piece in The Weekly Standard that the Anglican Church is on the verge of falling apart, irrevocably, due to the serious theological divisions between Western communions (specifically the U.S. and the U.K.) and much of the rest of the Episcopalian world.
He notes that such things as abortion, homosexual “marriage,” and the ordination of practicing homosexuals are the drivers of the Anglican crack-up. While these are the immediate causes, they are not the only ones. For example, the theologically notorious John Shelby Spong, former Bishop of Newark, NJ, denies the authority of Scripture and all the essential doctrines of orthodox faith, including the existence of a theistic God and the resurrection of Jesus. He remains an Episcopal priest in good standing.
The presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church, Catherine Jefferts Schori, commenting on Jesus claim to the only way to God (I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me, John 14:6), tells us the following:
I certainly dont disagree with that statement that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. But the way its used is as a truth serum, or a touchstone: If you cannot repeat this statement, then youre not a faithful Christian or person of faith. I think Jesus as way thats certainly what it means to be on a spiritual journey. It means to be in search of relationship with God. We understand Jesus as truth in the sense of being the wholeness of human expression. What does it mean to be wholly and fully and completely a human being? Jesus as life, again, an example of abundant life. We understand him as bringer of abundant life but also as exemplar. What does it mean to be both fully human and fully divine? Here we have the evidence in human form. So Im impatient with the narrow understanding, but certainly welcoming of the broader understanding … in its narrow construction, it tends to eliminate other possibilities. In its broader construction, yes, human beings come to relationship with God largely through their experience of holiness in other human beings. Through seeing God at work in other peoples lives. In that sense, yes, I will affirm that statement. But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.
Got that? Jesus didnt mean what He said, and what He apparently meant is so intrinsically meaningless that He might as well not have said it.
Many in the global Anglican communion have retained an orthodox theology, but the combination of theological heterodoxy and sexual libertinism has doomed its Western branch to ecclesiastical oblivion.
So, if Bottum is correct, one of the world’s great Christian traditions is about to founder on Western insistence that biblical morality be cast off as worn, bigoted and archaic. And it is those in the non-Western Anglican community who are most stoutly defending both orthodox theology and orthodox practice (e.g., marriage really is between one man and one woman—imagine that).
In his telling conclusion, Bottum writes: “Freed from their African anchor, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in America will move even further in a pro-Muslim, anti-Israel direction, providing yet more cover for fashionable liberal anti-Semitism. Let loose from their allegiance to Canterbury, the African churches will quickly move toward forming pan-African denominations that will feel entirely distanced from Europe and Americaand will help build the belief the global South owes nothing to the West.”
What the “global South owes … to the West” is debatable and secondary, even tertiary. What Christians owe to their professed Lord is allegiance to His Word. It is the latter debt that Western Anglicanism seems intent on not repaying.