anthills–Episcopalians & the Anglican Communion

April 22, 2006


Filed under: Anglican, Anglican Communion, Episcopal Church — anthill @ 9:03 pm

The Presiding Bishop of ECUSA, many bishops, and other leaders are banking on an appeal to the Anglican Communion to hold diversity in tension while seeking a new consensus on sexuality and to get back to a shared mission.

I am persuaded by those serious-thinking people on both “sides” of our present argument who assert that the debate over homosexuality goes way deeper than the surface issues.

Our understanding of the mission of the Church, in practical terms, is one area of deep disagreement. Related to this, we often have radically different understandings of the good news of Jesus and the meaning of reconciliation to God.

Many other foundational points could be explored, but let’s start with mission and salvation.

In a previous diocese, I was part of a weekly lectionary group with three or four other Episcopal priests. Again and again when the readings had clear statements of the call to be reconciled to God and to receive eternal life, I would ask if they saw a personal element to this salvation. Not once did they agree; always it was communal, societal salvation.

Take the readings for the third Sunday of Easter. If you are to preach, what will you preach? If you are to hear, what will you hear? With some exceptions, you will see one of the deepest divides in our church played out in the sermon.

The BCP lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary only share Luke 24:36b-48 this week. During an appearance of the risen Christ we hear:

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

This purports to give one version of “The Great Commission”—“…repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations….” Of course, those who have bought into the post-modern, neo-gnostic outlook will deconstruct this classic scripture into a power-play by the later church.

The BCP readings then have (in order of the settings) Acts 4:5-12. Peter and John are arraigned ominously before many of the same people who condemned Jesus. The leaders ask what authority they claim. Peter answers:

…this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is `the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Another ringing proclamation of “salvation” and being “saved” (shades of Baptist-like preaching)!

Finally, in chronological order, we hear 1 John 1:1-2:2—“concerning the word of life”:

…if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
…if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

“Atoning sacrifice” is the RSV/NRSV soft translation of hilasmos—translated in earlier versions by “propitiation,” with its hint of the wrath of God. This was too much for the translators of the post-WWII boom. But Leon Morris, in The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, gave a rock-solid defense of the harder translation.

So, those who follow the BCP lectionary will be confronted by three “hammers of grace” ringing our bells.

What will the preachers do with these monumental texts? Mark my words—Many will ignore them and default to the equally classic reading from Micah 4:1-5:

In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever.

Some who preach will make special pleading about the world situation. Micah must be preached. But if the world were at peace, they would still find a reason (or give no reason) to bail out to Micah.

Those who follow the Revised Common Lectionary do not have such an out provided. Along with the gospel noted above, they will hear Acts 3:12-19—the episode that provoked the reading above from the BCP lectionary. And even here, the conclusion pressed on the crowd of witnesses to the healing is this:

And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.

Jesus suffered to deal with the problem of sins. Repentance and a “turn to God” is the way to grasp God’s gift. This is individual salvation. Are there corporate, societal implications. Well, of course! But these begin with personal reconciliation to God.

The RCL, in chronological order, has a reading from 1 John 3:1-7:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God….
You know that [Jesus Christ] was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

All these readings are cut from whole cloth. They cohere. Will those who preach this Sunday give ringing appeals for people to be assured that they are personally reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, knowing that eternal life will further call them to serve God in the world God made? Or will these golden texts be bypassed as an anachronism?

See how it is where you worship this Sunday. You will be hearing a most basic part of the deep, defining, differences in the Episcopal Church. Two radically different gospels will be proclaimed across the ECUSA.

This post is being adapted into the beginning of a new “page” in the right column.



  1. Brilliant insight. It is sad that the cohort that “bails out to Micah” is always so assertive of “higher criticism,” yet blind to its own eisegesis.

    Comment by Timothy Fountain — April 26, 2006 @ 8:19 pm

  2. […] Read it all at the Anthills. […]

    Pingback by Drell’s Descants » An Interesting Commentary On This Sunday’s Readings — April 26, 2006 @ 9:00 pm

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