Friday, October 07, 2011

The Episcopal Church's Ecclesial Scorched-Earth Policy

Most gentle readers are probably churchy enough to be familiar with the sorry state of the Anglican Communion's fellowship in the United States. While the American Episcopal Church's hierarchy has gone all-in for same-sex sex since the ordination of an openly practicing homosexual in 2002, individuals and congregations belonging to the denomination have been leaving in wholesale numbers, with no sign that the trend will abate.

Today's WSJ offers a snapshot of the internal workings. Episcopalians live in a system where property is deeded to the denomination, not the congregation. So if the congregation decides to leave the denomination (it is, after all, still a free country), the property remains with the denomination, who can try to start another congregation or sell the property to whomever.

So what might you do if you are a dissenting congregation leaving the denomination? Offer to buy the building from the denomination, of course!

Which is exactly what the Episcopalian hierarchy refuses to do.

Author Mollie Ziegler Hemingway quotes:

"We can't sell to an organization that wants to put us out of business," said Bishop Jefferts Schori, who added that her job is to ensure that "no competing branch of the Anglican Communion impose on the mission strategy" of the Episcopal Church.
 So no sales to anyone will use the name "Episcopal" or "Anglican" in any way, shape or form. "Baptist," "Muslim" and "Urban Outfitters" are copacetic. Thoughts of a dog in a manger come to mind.

So congregations are either leaving their facilities while the denomination takes a haircut on the real estate, or they're agreeing to a five-year gag order on anything that lays claim to the Anglican tradition. In the battle of wills, the dissenters are agreeing to the cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face strategy of their former spiritual superiors. But the policy continues.

SWNID, an admirer of the Anglican liturgical tradition who would start a believers-baptism-only, non-bishop-appointing wing of Anglicanism were we of an organizing ilk, finds this battle instructive. When churches lose their grip on the gospel, they lose their grip on any sense of mission or even identity. As a result, they become more sectarian, not less.

We are connected to a wise fellow who is a member of the national governing board of a well-known mainline Protestant denomination, despite the fact that he does not hold membership in the denomination and is deeply antithetical to the current beliefs (or non-beliefs) and aims of the denomination. That is in itself indicative of the sorry state of mainline Protestantism. But he reports to us that within the board itself, if not among the denomination's adherents, the explicit goal is for the denomination no longer to exist in twenty to thirty years.

Certainly the Episcopal Church is on a trajectory to realize a similar goal.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

C. Peter Wagner: Embarrassment, But Should We Care?

SWNID fondly remembers reading provocative, thoughtful articles on church growth by Fuller Theological Seminary professor C. Peter Wagner.

That was then.

Through circumstances that to us are opaque and probably uninteresting, the once erudite Wagner turned a corner awhile back. He became demon-obsessed.

And Terry Gross can prove it.

Wagner appeared on Gross's celebrated Fresh Air yesterday (full interview and text highlights here). We gather that Gross got interested because Wagner is a leader among those who allegedly advocate the Christian "dominion" that creeps out the secular left.

Really, the dominion thing is probably not much for anyone to be concerned about. Wagner and company want Christians in positions to influence cultural influencers--media, government and the like. This is a well-known, widely pursued strategy that lies at the heart of many recent Christian organizations' foci. We figure that if the secular left is confident enough in the strength of its ideas, it won't mind people trying to compete with inferior ideas.

But what most Christian folk will find embarrassing and disturbing about Wagner and the interview is his fabulously, extravagantly extra-biblical theology of demons. Wagner really does believe that demons infest places, that they're connected to world events as people have demonized nations, and that he and other "apostles and prophets" know the spiritual technology to overcome them. N.B. that Wagner's wife has actually written a "how to" book on casting out demons.

We expect that gentle readers will resist the urge to label SWNID a closet antisupernaturalist who discounts the influence of the demonic. Far from it. We believe that our world is plenty, plenty influenced by Satan and his infernal minions. Evil is not an abstraction alone: it is the issue of a spiritual person.

But we think it nonsense to construe that as does Wagner: nonsense from the perspective of the Bible, historical Christian theology, and actual human experience. While we allow for the possibility of demon possession as such, we nevertheless insist that the demonic thrives in (im)moral decision-making and behavior.

That's why the New Testament is so straightforward in its anti-demon "technique," really no technique at all. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Is there a book in that? If so, we doubt that it's Mrs. Wagner's book.

Accompanying Wagner's demon obsession is a heartily unhealthy obsession with personal authority. His group labels its leaders "apostles and prophets." That's gravely serious stuff, and their qualifications are thin, to put it mildly. But how else can one speak with authority about matters that have no grounding in the church's authoritative witness in Scripture? For more on the authority jag, we recommend Timothy Darlymple's meditation Christian celebrity.

Of course, we're embarrassed because we don't want folk thinking that all Christians are nutjobs like Wagner has become. And we imagine that Wagner and such are the main reason that normal Christians like you and us have such limited success in persuading other folk to join us on the Jesus journey. Well, it's no help for sure, but we'll venture a guess that it's also of only minor importance in the hindrance category. For every self-importantly nutjobbish Christian in America, there have to be a least ten somnolently nominal Christians. We'll trace most of the static to them.