All hail the Marcionites!!

Once again, in his usual weekly Church Times column of anti-orthodoxy comment, Giles Fraser has missed the point entirely:

This week’s stop (my final one) on my American adventure is Pittsburgh, the belly of the beast. The good people of Calvary Church have been looking after me and sharing their fears.

These are not radicals or revolutionaries, just puzzled suit-and-tie churchgoers doing their best to follow God’s call. What are they to do when their Bishop, the Rt Revd Robert Duncan, wants to lead their whole diocese out of the Episcopal Church because he does not like its theology?


How did Pittsburgh diocese get so bad? The answer has something to do with the establishment of the reactionary Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in the diocese back in 1976. This school saw itself as a bridgehead for ridding the Church of progressive theology. It has been feeding clergy into churches all over south-west Pennsylvania, dramatically changing the complexion of the diocese.

One wonders whether Fraser would apply the same criteria to the liberal takeover of institutions like Virginia Theological Seminary (the same institution where only in the past few weeks, the leader of the student body proposed that saying that homosexuals can change should be treated as “hate speak”) and other theological institutions in the US and the UK?

In the world of business, it would be called a hostile takeover. For those who worry about the intentions of Wycliffe Hall, now that it has been claimed in an anti-liberal putsch, there is a lesson here for all those who have ears.

Perhaps Fraser would like Wycliffe to be more like it’s fellow Oxford College, St Stephen’s House, where the degree of sexual licentiousness is such that one man I pastored was permitted to stay on at the college when he, to the full knowledge of the faculty, left his wife for a fellow (male) student, but was then censured and not permitted to stay when he repented and went back to his wife?

For those of us who listen to what’s going on in Wycliffe from those who are there (rather than the newspapers), we know that Turnbull’s tenure as Principal is far less an “anti-liberal” putsch (for Wycliffe was far from a liberal beast when I was there a couple of years ago) and far more an example of new management learning when to push and when not to.

Will Bishop Duncan really lead his diocese out of the Church, taking its property into the bargain? I doubt it. I reckon he might not be around as an Episcopalian bishop too much longer. The Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori – whom Bishop Duncan has ordered his clergy not to pray for – has warned him of impending disciplinary action.

“Abandonment of communion” is an offence against the canons of the Episcopal Church. And if a disciplinary process gets him up before the House of Bishops on a charge, they will surely kick him out. They are sick and tired of his behaviour.

It has come to a sorry state hasn’t it when Bishops are disciplined, not for sexual misdemeanour or denial of core doctrine, but instead for holding fast to that which has been Christian belief for 2000 years?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu preached about inclusion here at Calvary Church recently. Bishop Duncan squirmed through the sermon with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp.

But then, true inclusion, true union in the body of Christ has always been about the acceptance of all sinners to repentance, not the glorification and sanctification of sin.

All the world’s religions have dangerous and arrogant people who think they are the only ones with the truth. Anglicanism has generally had a more modest and generous view, allowing various viewpoints to co-exist. But these new puritans have taken advantage of Anglican theological hospitality to mount a raid on the soul of the Church. They want to close down the very openness that allowed them space to flourish in the beginning.

Such a corrupt view of Via Media is not surprising from Fraser. When Hooker and the C17 divines before and after the Restoration clarified the essence of Anglicanism, the broad church they sought to nurture had an ecclesial liberty in styles of worship, not of doctrine. The same church could hold the likes of Herbert and Laud, but demanded of both that they taught (and believed) the creeds and the 39 Articles. To abandon the communion of the church is to step outside those boundaries, and others within TEC are far more guilty of that then Bob Duncan is.

TEC demands conformity of churchmanship (liberal and permissive) whereas the Network has constantly sought diversity. Look at how the majority Evangelical ACN dioceses have gathered round an Anglo-Catholic Bishop (Bob Duncan). See how the Forward in Faith Dioceses that are looking to leave TEC are offering oversight to an Evangelical Primate (Greg Venables). This is the Via Media in its full beauty and power – a communion of orthodoxy, not monoheresy.

They will fail. The only thing that keeps this conspiracy of conservatives together is what they are against. And it will be people from churches such as Calvary that will have to pick up the pieces and put things back together again.

It is, one might venture, churches like Calvary that are to blame for everything falling apart, for they contain lay men and women and deacons and priests who simply shut their eyes in the face of rampant apostasy amongst their highest leadership.

And perhaps, the greatest surprise of all is that Fraser’s entitles his piece:

I believe the new puritans will fail

Has he really been to Pittsburgh? That diocese (together with Fort Worth and San Joaquin) could hardly be called “puritan”. Their style of worship is far further up the candle that rarely appears in “puritan” churches. Their membership is less Reform and far more Forward in Faith. If one is to call the bishops of those dioceses “puritans” then one might equally label Fraser a Marcionite.

But then, Fraser spends a whole column criticising Duncan et al without a hint of Scripture given to substantiate his condemnations. In fact, I can’t recall a single column Fraser has written where he has rested his point in a Biblical truth.

Perhaps Bob Duncan is a puritan after all…

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