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Commentary: One church - two Gospels?

By UWE SIEMON-NETTO, UPI Religion Editor   |   Aug. 18, 2003 at 7:05 AM   |   Comments

GURAT, France, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- The expanding crisis in the Episcopal Church USA and the worldwide Anglican Communion is about to reintroduce one of the most ancient dilemmas of Christianity: Can two opposing gospels coexist under one roof without doing damage to the Body of Christ?

The problem will presumably come up when in mid-October the world's Anglican primates meet in an emergency session to discuss the crisis caused by the approval by the ECUSA's General Convention of an openly homosexual priest as next bishop of New Hampshire.

Diane Knippers, president of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, predicts, "There is an excellent chance of 7 or 8 out of 10 that an alternative (ecclesial) province will emerge in North America." Many observers agree.

Such a "province" would provide a home for theologically orthodox Episcopal dioceses and parishes in the United States. It would presumably have its own presiding bishop or archbishop as a counterpart to Frank Griswold, who heads the ECUSA, which conservative Anglicans accuse of revisionism.

If this comes about, it is still unclear whether the new province would remain in communion with the old one. Would it instead only recognize other faithful Anglican churches around in the world? Will those churches in turn break with the ECUSA? Some African denominations have already threatened to do so.

These questions are of great theological import not only to Anglicans but all Christians. As one contributor to Virtuosity, an orthodox Anglican news service, wrote, "Would Paul recognize two churches in Corinth and Ephesus with two divided Gospels?"

In other words: Can the Gospel of Christ, which is about God's salvific suffering for his people, share a home with the utterly different post-1960s gospel based on man's selfish desires? Can the same "Communion" - Anglican or otherwise - countenance two mutually exclusive positions?

According to Gerald R. McDermott, an evangelical Anglican theologian, African church leaders sent messages to the General Convention in Minneapolis saying, "These decisions (the approval of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire and of blessing for same-sex unions) will literally kill some of us. Radical Muslims are looking for another pretext to launch a new jihad against Christians. Evangelizing Muslims will say that this is proof that Christian faith is immoral."

Yet pointing to equally dramatic events in early church history, McDermott does not believe that there is a need for Anglicanism to break up: "During the fourth century Arian controversy, the Church remained one even though most bishops were followers of Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ."

The controversy between Arius and his adversary Athanasius, who was banished five times, threatened to destroy the church in its most youthful period. Ultimately, though, Athanasius prevailed; he is now considered one of the most important church fathers; to this day all denominations affirm his position that Christ is true God and true man.

But can the Arian controversy be compared with the ECUSA's current "blasphemy against God," as the Church of South India called the Minneapolis decisions? Can it be used as an argument against parting ways with revisionist Episcopalians? It's almost impossible to say.

Albrecht I. Herzog, a leading Lutheran theologian from Germany, whose Protestant church is undergoing similar upheavals as Anglicanism, agrees with Virtuosity's correspondent, pointing to the New Testament text probably most relevant to this controversy.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul shows flexibility on issues concerning Jewish dietary and Sabbath laws: "To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. ... To those outside the law I became as one outside the law - that I might win those outside the law" (1 Corinthians 9:20-21).

But this, Herzog insists, definitely does not refer to sexual acts of the kind the Old Testament describes as "abomination" in God's eyes, a particularly strong term with which Scripture otherwise defines idolatry.

The conservative majority in world Anglicanism decries the Episcopal Church's defiance of Scripture. And this is where its actions are the most dangerous. Anglicanism's 39 Articles of Religion affirm the Bible as "sufficient for salvation" (article 6), yet Anglican revisionists refute this basic tenet of Christian - and especially Reformation - theology.

In an interview with FOX-TV's Bill O'Reilly, one of the revisionists' top spokesmen, the Rev. Ed Bacon, averred, "The Anglican Communion doesn't have Scripture as its ultimate authority. We've had the Holy Spirit working in community as our ultimate authority."

With that he throws us right back to the bloody actions of Thomas Muentzer, the leader of the left wing of the 16th-century Reformation. Muentzer rejected the "sola scriptura" principle of Luther and his followers, Calvin included. This principle states that truth is revealed in Scripture alone and the Bible is the yardstick against which, according to Luther, everything must be measured.

Muentzer called this "Affenglaube" - monkeys' faith. His disastrous attempt to bring about some form of revolutionary "paradise" - guided by what he thought was the Holy Spirit - had an illustrious emulators: Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx' cohort, who in his pamphlet, The German Revolutions, expressly paid homage to the 16th-century radical.

True, unlike Muentzer, Engels envisioned an Elysium without God. But then, what good is God anyway if superseded by man? Seen in this light, the Rev. Bacon and 65 percent of the Episcopal Church's current electors are in dreadful company.

One wonders how desirable it is to share their home.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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