The Presiding Bishop's Opening Address: Confessional Christianity is a heresy
by Rev J. Philip Ashey
July 11, 2009
In stark contrast to the gathering of Anglicans two weeks ago in Bedford Texas, there was no opening worship at GC2009. No praise. No prayer.
Just a short introduction by a man in a sport jacket that had the same electric lime green tint, and a similar pattern, to that worn by the Riddler.
Then the Presiding Bishop of TEC took the stand. She spoke about the crisis facing The Episcopal Church. "Crisis is always a remarkable opportunity," she said.
Speaking from her own experience as a pilot, she said it is a time to "aviate, navigate, and then communicate," in that order.
Always keep the plane flying through the crisis-even when you are not sure where you are.
She described the essential crisis within the Gospels as Jesus' decision to set his face toward Jerusalem, and likened the decisions of this 76th General Convention to that decision to set one's face toward Jerusalem.
And then in a cold, calm, defiant and defining voice she said, "The individualistic focus on reciting a personal formula about Jesus Christ as Savior is a heresy." Wow.
Did I really hear what I think I heard?
Did I just hear the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church dismiss as heresy the confession of millions upon millions of Christ followers, from the Apostles to St. Augustine to the Wesleys to the GAFCON gathering of Anglicans last year to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in the Church of England meeting in the UK right now to the multitudes throughout our own Anglican Communion who are invited to make a personal confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior-and who do so daily, often at great personal cost, as their churches and provinces explode with growth in numbers and mission?.
How is it that a Church which has done everything to remove "heresy" from its vocabulary can now so confidently proclaim that confessional Christianity is heresy?
How is it that a Church can dismiss the clear words of scripture (see e.g. Romans 10:9-10) as a mere "individualistic formula"?
What audacity and pride drives a leader of a church to ignore the wealth of an over 2,000 year uninterrupted tradition that holds that a person must confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in order to be a Christian??
I suppose the answer lies in part in what she went on to say: that Jesus Christ's death on Calvary is "only a way point and not the end point..
It is only a way point to the fulfillment of God's dream for a reconciled humanity."
So I guess if I want to follow the Presiding Bishop and the vision she is casting, I must conclude that Jesus was wrong when he said at Calvary "It is finished." (Tetelestai: once and for all time).
It really wasn't finished after all. I guess Paul was going way overboard when he wrote that God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:19), and that "In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Col. 2:9).
I guess Jesus had one of those lapses of judgment when Thomas fell at his nail pierced but resurrected hands and feet and said "My Lord and my God." Jesus should have corrected him and said, "No Thomas-my death and resurrection is just a point along the way to the fulfillment of God's greater dream."
Is Jesus death on Calvary just a "point along the way," just a moral influence on our aspirations and behavior? Is he just one among a number of people worthy of our worship? Is any profession of faith beyond that an individualistic heresy-or perhaps even worse, a simplistic surrender to some "formula"?
Or is Jesus in fact who he and his followers claimed to be-the only way to the Father (John 14:6), the only name under heaven and earth whereby all may be saved (Acts 4:12), and the only one who had the character, authority and power to command us to make disciples of all nations, and to teach them to obey everything he commanded-including caring for the least, the last, and the lost? (Mattt. 28:16-20)
Thank you, Mrs. Schori, for making the choice so very clear.
---The Rev. Phil Ashey is Chief Operating Officer for the American Anglican Council
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