What We Can Learn From the Episcopalian Controversy

At its 74th General Convention, July 28-August 8 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the church approved a $146.4 million budget for the next three years, with priorities including young adults and youth, reconciliation and evangelism, congregational transformation, justice and peace, and partnerships with other churches inside and beyond the Anglican Communion.

The church also broke new ground, confirming the Anglican Communion’s first noncelibate gay bishop and approving a resolution accepting that blessings of same-sex relationships are taking place “within the bounds of our common life.”

It didn’t come easily.

There were predictions of schism, walkouts, and tears. World reaction has been strong enough to prompt the Archbishop of Canterbury to call a special primates’ meeting this October to consider the ramifications of this convention.

But through it all, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has seen “an incredible strength and joy despite the difficulties of some of the decisions we have had to make and the painfulness some of these decisions have caused within the community.”

And, perhaps more importantly, church leaders see opportunity. On the last day of convention, Dean George Werner, president of the House of Deputies, urged clergy and congregations to make the most of the evangelistic potential that lies ahead.

“Looking at the vast collection of [media] coverage this church has been getting,” he said, “this Sunday may be one of the greatest if not the best missionary Sundays in the history of the church.”

So begins the Episcopalian News Service’s press release entitled “2003 General Convention Leaves Legacy of Crisis and Opportunity,” a summation of the main events that occurred during the Episcopalian church’s General Convention and what has caused considerable controversy throughout the nation and the world. We must first establish, of course, that as Christians striving to obey the New Testament we do not find authority for such conventions, “primates” of the church, or that such a body would have the authority to bind anything upon the universal church, and we also deplore not only the acceptance but the approval of homosexuals and the homosexual lifestyle as has been done by the Episcopalian church (more information about the Episcopalian church versus the Scriptures is available at A Study of Denominations: Anglicanism/Episcopalianism.

When we as Christians hear of news like this, we do not find it very surprising, for we are aware of the apostasy of the denominations from the authority of the Word of God and the actions thus performed by such organizations. We may believe, and with good reason, that such an issue will not pervade our churches. This does not mean, however, that there is nothing for us to learn from the example of the controversy created in the Episcopalian church, for within this controversy we may see it as a microcosm the issues of liberalism vs. conservatism and the true goal of liberalism. Let us now see exactly what we can learn from this Episcopalian controversy.

The two sides of the controversy were well-established at the beginning. It was recognized immediately that there were many who could not in good conscience continue with the Episcopal church if a homosexual were elected to be a bishop and that there were many advocating for his election to the bishopric.

It was not essential for the homosexual to be elected as bishop. This controversy did not erupt over any necessary or “salvation” issue, but over an election that did not need to take place. It would have been very simple for the homosexual to rescind his candidacy and/or for him to be not elected.

The homosexual was elected as bishop despite the knowledge of the controversy at hand. Every person who voted in that election had a full understanding that the issue could divide the “Anglican communion” (note: the Episcopalian church is the American branch of the Church of England, or Anglicanism).

Those who advocated the homosexual’s election put on a pretense of desiring to keep unity. There were many reports of how all of these bishops did not want to divide the “Anglican communion,” yet they still voted in favor of having the homosexual elected as bishop.

The severance of unity, if it occurs, will be blamed on the more conservative persons. If or when (and I believe firmly that it will occur) the “Anglican communion” divides over the issue of homosexuals as bishops, the blame will not be placed upon those who elected the homosexual as bishop but on those who dissent and “divide the Anglican communion.”

Many are happy after the conference because of the press they received. It is believed that the Episcopalian church has profited from the media coverage of this event and can now have more effective witnessing because of their acceptance of homosexuals.

Does this sound familiar? For those of us who hold to the New Testament as our standard for faith and practice, it most definitely does! I could easily insert any number of practices– using instrumental music in the assembly, building a fellowship hall, giving church funds to non-saints– and the story would be very similar. Those who practice these things and who advocate these things in “churches of Christ” will often claim to “desire unity” and regret any division that may occur, but yet they will advocate these practices which are first and foremost not necessary and therefore not worth dividing over and then wonder why division occurs. Does it not follow that if they truly desired unity they would desist from advocating practices that they know will cause division? And in the end they always blame the more conservative Christians for the ensuing division for their “binding” and their “legalism,” and profess to have clean hands regarding the division.

God, however, is not fooled, neither by the Episcopalians or by divisive brethren. Paul in Galatians 5:20-21 condemns those who would cause division and strife within the church: who are the ones guilty of division? Romans 14 establishes clearly that if there is a liberty with which members disagree, the practice of that liberty ought to cease to maintain unity. The necessary conclusion is that those who would advocate their liberties– to advance their own desires despite any concern that may arise– to the point of causing division are condemned for such. If unity is truly desired, why would anyone advocate a liberty to the point of causing division unless the desire to be “right” and to do what one wants to do surpasses the desire to maintain unity?

The actions of the Episcopalian church regarding their acceptance of homosexuality and even promoting such a person to any form of authority are certainly deplorable and we encourage any and all members of the Episcopalian organization to repent from their ways and to turn to the true Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We as Christians, however, should always be mindful toward our brethren regarding liberties, and ought to always strive to not cause division in any way if it may be avoided.

ELDV

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