The Episcopal Church of the USA (hereafter, “ECUSA”) is a poster child for religious egalitarianism. For any who ever cared enough to look, its progress from women’s ordination to gay ordination to utter apostasy is writ large in recent history.
The few remaining conservatives within the Episcopal Church are still saying “Huh? How’d this happen?” And, what they’ll accept as an answer is pretty squishy – sort of correct, but not too correct. Otherwise they’d lay themselves open to the question “Well, why didn’t you object [or resist, or fight back, or flee] sooner?” The remaining conservatives in ECUSA are simply too few, too late, and still too compromised by modern departures from Apostolic faith for them to do much more than complain.
For the past decade, I have been warning my evangelical brethren that every cock-eyed thing they’ve seen in the Episcopal Church was already sprouting in their own back yards, that all they needed to do to predict the future evolution of American evangelicalism was to look at the Episcopal Church for the past 25 years or so.
Because they are my friends and because they love me, they usually receive these warnings with goodwill, happy to praise me for insight into the Episcopal debacle, but otherwise dismissive when I point to the same spiritual breaches within American evangelicalism. After all, Episcopal Christianity is the home of all that ritualistic mumbo-jumbo, all those tinkling bells and exotic smells, all that liturgy, for crying out loud. Who wouldn’t go off the rails?
“We believe the Bible! We’re evangelistic! We [fill in this space with whatever virtue is supposedly absent from those wacky Episcopalians].
Though I am 59 and have already enjoyed one myocardial infarction, I stand by my earlier predictions, that within my lifetime flagship evangelical churches will be ordaining anyone without respect to sex, marriage or remarriage, sexual orientation, or any “expression” of any of these. Here’s my latest evidence.
First exhibit: the newly minted female presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Katherine Jefferts-Shori. She’s the interestingly costumed person pictured in the graphic above. When candidates for this office were being discussed prior the June 2006 Episcopal General Convention, most thought her sex was her leading qualification. Evidently, so did the House of Bishops who elected her.
She brings not only her sex but her pansexual values, along with a version of “the faith” so off the reservation that an NPR correspondent’s follow-up question during an interview was “So, you’re a Unitarian, right?”
The only difference between Shori-faith and what passed for Christian faith 40 years ago in the Episcopal church is the range of what Episcopals were willing to repudiate in the Apostolic deposit of faith. Back then, when they said “We don’t believe any of that crap!” the crap they didn’t believe amounted to Pauline teaching on the sexes. Today, “that crap” covers all those things plus these: (1) the Bible as God’s word, (2) the sufficiency and exclusivity of salvation by faith in Jesus, (3) the Trinity, and (4) the eternal incarnation of the Son of God as a human male. An Episcopal priest at the Stand Firm website documents from Shori’s own statements her commitment to Pelagianism, Marcionism, Pluralism, Universalism, and Gnosticism.
Second exhibit: Wayne Grudem’s recent book Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? The question mark in the title appears to be literal until you begin reading Grudem’s text. For, when Grudem lays out his analysis of evangelical feminism – naming names and quoting their writings – there is no question at all. In fact, Grudem’s exposition shows how ludicrous it is to say that evangelical feminism is a path to liberalism. It is, on the contrary, identical to liberalism, and Grudem’s copious citations and quotations from evangelical feminist leaders makes the case airtight.
The liberalism of evangelical feminists is identical to the liberalism in the Episcopal Church that has brought it to its present sordid state. What makes evangelicals think that if they walk the path the Episcopals have walked for the past 30 years that they will NOT wind up in the same swamp?
Twice in the past 40 years, religious liberalism has been checked and reversed in American denominational structures: most recently in the Southern Baptist Convention during the Nineties, and before that in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in the mid-Seventies. The Southern Baptists took a bit longer, but their polity made reform a slower project. The Missouri Synod Lutherans got the job done in just two conventions.
For those who want an fresh case study in same-song-‘nuther-verse denominational evolution, tune your monitors to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). What makes their present evolution so fascinating is that they were born of a separation from apostasy in the Presbyterian Church (USA). In the history section of the PCA website, we read
[The PCA] separated from the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Southern) in opposition to the long-developing theological liberalism which denied the deity of Jesus Christ and the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Additionally, the PCA held to the traditional position on the role of women in church offices.
This last-mentioned distinctive is enshrined in the PCA’s Book of Church Order, in Part I, Chapter 7, Paragraph 2:
7-2. The ordinary and perpetual classes of office in the Church are elders and deacons. Within the class of elder are the two orders of teaching elders and ruling elders. The elders jointly have the government and spiritual oversight of the Church, including teaching. Only those elders who are specially gifted, called and trained by God to preach may serve as teaching elders. The office of deacon is not one of rule, but rather of service both to the physical and spiritual needs of the people. In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only.
Now, consider this page from the website of Loch Raven PCA Church. It identifies eleven deacons, and the names of seven of them appear to be the names of females.
Further, consider the work of Tim and David Bayly, both credentialed in the PCA, whose blogging has documented the granting of a platform in official PCA settings for Carolyn Custis James’ pro-egalitarian agenda. Their efforts provide evidence for the same two errors that eventually lead to the utter demise of the Episcopal Church: (1) a toleration for heterodoxy which grew into a toleration of heresy, and (2) an unwillingness to discipline individual leaders or congregations that departed from supposedly “official” standards of church order and doctrine. The Bayly brothers point to both sorts of departures, but beyond their lonely voices in the wilderness, I detect no movement from the PCA’s slumbering shepherds.
At this point, there is considerable room for hope. But for the present, room is about all that is hopeful. The more time that passes with no action to reverse these trends within the PCA, the more likely it will go the way of the Episcopal Church, rather than emulating the reforms of the Southern Baptists and the Missouri Synod Lutherans.