Are 815 in any sense graceful?

Some telling words from the Bishop of South Carolina:

All of this leads me to believe that the challenges that lie before a predominately conservative diocese like South Carolina have now been enormously increased if only because of the perception of our parishioners and clergy—but, more pertinently from what I fear is a failure of the present House of Bishops to realize just how far from historic Christianity our church has drifted. To many of our minds this, far more than Pittsburgh’s present challenge to TEC’s discipline and polity, is what has led to this current crisis. Beyond this the checks and balances previously given to us in the Constitution & Canons seem profoundly weakened. Phrases long understood as clear apparently can be spoken of as ambiguous. If what appears to be the plain meaning of a canon can be dismissed with apparent ease and with no recourse; if the request from such a monumental gathering as Lambeth 2008 urging greater dialogue and forthright conversation within the body of Christ seems to count for so little here in the first action of the House—even after so many TEC bishops report being profoundly moved by the grace exhibited toward us from those provinces grieved and hindered by our prior actions; and when there seems to be so little recognition that it has been the very actions of our General Convention and HOB in recent years that has so alienated dioceses like San Joaquin, Pittsburgh and others that their laity and clergy vote in such large majorities to remove accession clauses—judicious governance and Christian unity will drain like water from an opened hand. One might have wished for a more generous spirit and greater patience toward our own aggrieved members. Indeed one has to wonder where such tone deafness and purblindness come from.

This is the epitome of the problem with 815 and the whole TEC estabishment. They plead liberality and love, but their actions exhibit neither grace nor compassion. They say one thing to one person, then do the opposite to another, showing they have no compulsion to even pretend to acknowledge the truth of a matter. But this is hardly surprising from a leadership who have relegated divine revelation to confused musings and who have elevated the god of self to the highest authority. They choose what is right and wrong instead of what the Lord Almighty has revealed.

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

As I wrote in my Oxford Dissertation:

There must be more to the meaning of knowing good and evil than simply cerebral understanding. What it cannot mean is simply that by eating the fruit of the tree Adam and Eve knew what good and evil was. They already knew that some things were not good, for God had laid a prohibition on eating the fruit of the tree in Genesis 2 and Eve is aware of that prohibition in her reply to the serpent. She understands that the command has been given, and that to transgress the command would be wrong. She is aware of what good and evil are.

In what way does God know good and evil, given that on eating the fruit of the tree, the man “has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil”? The statement by God begs the question, what exactly does it mean for God to yada tob wahra, and if we cannot say the same thing about God knowing good and evil that we can about humans, can we come to a conclusion about Adam and Eve “knowing good and evil” that we could not come to in regard to God?

What I mean is this. It would be absurd to speak of God knowing good and evil in that he came to discern what things were good and what things were evil. Such a view would be based in the assumption that the good and bad things were independent of God, that he came to be in a universe that already had good and bad things in them and that he has engaged in a process of discerning this particular “good thing” and that particular “bad thing”. I would argue that such a view is inconsistent with the traditional orthodox understanding of God.

But if that were so then the second option, that the humans come to understand the ethicality of certain objects and actions is simply untenable, because when applied to God it would imply that “good” and “evil” are concepts external to God and that he discerns them within the universe as moral poles within which he finds himself operating. In such a framework God discovers, almost accidentally, that he is “good”. Once again such an approach does not fit into the traditional understanding of God, for God is the creator of all things, heavens and earth, and is therefore the creator of good and evil, for these moral judgments operate in respect to him, not externally to him.

So in what way does God “know good and evil”?

There is something more subtle going on here, a “knowing” that transcends simply discerning the ethical content of something. For example, the first time something is called “good” is Genesis 1:4 (“God saw that the light was good”). Now we ask ourselves – when God saw that the light was “good”, was he observing that “goodness” as something that the light just happened to be (e.g. that God created the light and it just happened to be good, though it could have been bad)? Or, was it that the light was good because God had created it to be good – it could no more become bad then a caterpillar could become a bulldozer. The latter is the correct answer and that leads us to the important observation that becomes the hinge for understanding not just the Fall but the whole dynamic of sin. When God “knows” something to be good in the Creation narrative, he does not just discern it to be such, rather he is the one who, by design, makes it intrinsically so.

To clarify – the knowledge of good and evil that God exercises is not so much a passive, receptive knowledge but an active determination of the moral content of an action or a being. Throughout Genesis 1, when God “sees” that something is good he is not simply passively observing a random by-product of his creative act. Rather, he is observing that which so is because he has determined it to be.

Now we see the temptation made to Eve by the serpent, and how it fits very clearly into his own rebellion against the sovereignty of God. When the serpent says “You will become like God, knowing good and evil” he means that Adam and Eve will become their own moral arbiters within the universe. They will be able to determine what actions and beings are good and evil, without respect to the one who actually created them. Ultimately, they will be able to, and will attempt to, construct an alternative truth to that which God has in reality made. They will engage in deceit in that they will willingly seek to alter the moral value of the universe, deciding for themselves what is good and evil – and their valuations of good and evil will necessarily conflict with those of God, with those that actually are. They will place themselves in a place of heterologeo to God, “other speaking”, declaring that which simply is not so to be otherwise. They will attempt to become like God, deciding (“knowing”) what is good and evil.

This my friends is sin. This my friends is TEC. They have truly apostasised.

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20 Comments on “Are 815 in any sense graceful?

  1. Bishop Lawrence is being foolish if he thinks one can negotiate with those who refuse to negotiate.  Let’s concider the actual case of Bishop Duncan.  He has made it very clear that he intends to lead his diocese out of TEC, lying to the members of his diocese when that is needed to goad them into the proper action, and has adamantly refused to concider any method of reducing tensions other than a plan roughly equivalent to the third province plan some have asked for in England.  That plan was rejected in TEC partially because it is fundamentally a rejection of the need for engagement with the broader church.

    The way Bishop Duncan has behaved has been mirrored by many leaders in the realignment movement all across the US.  They insist that things either must be done totally and entirely their way until the coming of the Lord, or they will leave TEC doing as much damage as possible on the way out.  Other than deposition, what else are we to do with these brothers in Christ? 

    Bishop Lawrence’s complaint about canons being ruled to mean something other than what he thought they mean is also somewhat out of place.  The rulings of the parliamentarian where challenged by members of the house and where sustained by the house.  Complaints that things ought to have turned out otherwise is a plea for things to be even more lawless then they are now.

    Jon

  2. lying to the members of his diocese when that is needed to goad them into the proper action”

    That is a very strong statement. Care to back it up with some evidence?

  3. It’d be easier if I could quickly find an archive of all his comments on TEC ot his diocese, but there is the interview he gave beliefnet way back in late 2003 or early 2004 (here).  In that interview he suggests that TEC is heretical and mischaracterizes the Supplemental Episcopal Care plan being discussed at the time making it sound like those under that plan would have someone else dropping in occasionally, but much less often than the diocesan.

    My claim is easier to prove at the moment for Bishop Iker.  Reports from that diocese are that positive news from the rest of TEC is avoided by the diocesan paper and the national monthly isn’t mentioned except by those known to oppose the bishop’s positions.  His “10 Reasons Why Now Is the Time to Realign” (that link may go bad before long since it seems to be Bishop Iker’s page for posting current letters). 

    Reason 1 suggests that those of us who are in TEC are in “moral and spiritual decline” which is looks like some sort of defamation of the character of those of us in TEC (the numerical decline is of course well documented although its causes are probably not what Bishop Iker asserts). 

    Reason 3, the PB is a heretic, is false.  If you want to assert otherwise present the evidence. 

    Reason 4, TEC is a liberal revisionist sect, is both false and some sort of defamation.  Yes I know GC has passed liberal resolutions on WO and approved Bishop Robinson’s consecration.  It also approved B033 which effected a moratorium on consecrating other partnered GLBT priests as bishops without saying so straight out.  At this point it isn’t clear what the next GC will do either on SSBs or on the question of consecrations.

    Reason 5, they won’t be able to get an orthodox bishop within 7 years, is true only if being anti-WO is essential for orthodoxy.  At this time the Communion doesn’t recognize WO as a litmus test for orthodoxy, however.  It also suggest to me that he has issues with obedience, but that is neither here nor there at the moment.

    Reason 6, TEC is coming after us, is largely false.  It is true that the chancellor of TEC wrote to them to tell them to bring their constitutions into conformity with TEC C&C, but that is something dioceses are supposed to do.  Besides they haven’t been brought up on charges on those matters directly, even in the cases of Bishop Schofield or Bishop Duncan.

    Reason 7, the C&C don’t prohibit leaving yet, is misleading at the least.  The C&C does specify under what circumstances a missionary diocese can leave TEC, and one part is getting consent from GC.  Those dioceses must also be outside the continental US.  So it may be true that nothing is said directly to his diocese’s situation, but it is a false statement in so far as it suggests that there is an open and shut case on dioceses leaving TEC.

    Reason 10, it’s all about upholding the authority of scripture against the humanist unitarians in charge, is misleading in the first half and false in the second.  Folks on the liberal side care about scripture, too, at least as deeply as conservatives.  Those in authority are not unitarians (the BCP still being trinitarian and TEC still using the BCP).

    In so far as Bishop Duncan has said similar things to his diocese he has lied to them to goad them into realignment.

    Jon

  4. That’s it is it Jon?

    TEC is in spiritual and moral decline – the organisation supports abortion on demand which is wicked and worship of Molech. Schori is a heretic as she denies the uniqueness of Christ (“For us he is the path to God, but it would be arrogant to claim that others may not find their own way”). If you can give us one definitive statement from Schori affirming that Jesus is the only way to the Father and that there is no salvation outside of his name, then do please let us have it. TEC leaders deny the authority of Scripture and its nature as clear unambiguous revelation from God. TEC has gone after orthodox parishes across the country and now orthodox bishops. The leadership has deliberately and willingly ignored its own canons in order to get rid of orthodox leaders (but you would expect that from an organisation that twists the meaning of Scripture to suit its own demands).

    So that’s Iker’s comments dealt with. Would you now like to show where Bob Duncan lied?

  5. Actually, TEC doesn’t support abortion on demand.  Resolution 1994-A054 is the most recent resolution to deal with the matter.  It says in part
     We emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience.
    and

    Whenever members of this Church are consulted with regard to a problem pregnancy, they are to explore, with grave seriousness, with the person or persons seeking advice and counsel, as alternatives to abortion, other positive courses of action, including, but not limited to, the following possibilities: the parents raising the child; another family member raising the child; making the child available for adoption.

    It is the responsibility of members of this Church, especially the clergy, to become aware of local agencies and resources which will assist those faced with problem pregnancies.

    In 1997 GC also specifically spoke against partial birth abortion in resolution 1997-D065.  You may have gotten the impression that this had changed from the rhetoric around the Executive Council’s decision to be part of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, but membership in that group doesn’t alter the previous commitments and is consistant with TEC’s position that legislation on the matter will fail to address the roots of the problem (also part of 1994-A054).  I have also heard that the group has good programs for folks focused on things other than cheerleading for abortion on demand.  You might look through their programs before condemning everything connected with them; their Healthy Families program in particular looks good.
    Schori’s statement in Time (I believe that was the source although I am certainly open to correction) to which you refer is consistant with Roman doctrine assuming she used the common academic shorthand for distinguishing between the historical Jesus and Jesus Christ.  IIRC even Dan Martins agreed when we discussed the point on his blog when the statement came out, although he thought that she hadn’t intended to be consistant with Roman doctrine.  Do you really mean to tell me you think Pope Benedict is a heretic in this matter?  Additionally, while you may be convinced that a person is a heretic, telling everyone that the person is a heretic seems a lot like slander if it isn’t grounded in an actual presentment and conviction.

    You are also mistaken about the purported persecution of the conservative bishops and dioceses.  The only bishops in danger of being deposed are those seeking to lead their diocese out of TEC.  The Bishop of Northern Indiana, on the other hand, is one example of the many conservative bishops that have not been attacked in any way by GC or their brothers and sisters in the HoB even thought they aren’t a majority of that house.  The fact that Bishop Little would almost certainly refuse to ordain a person he knew to be gay and partnered isn’t even enough to get him into the slightest bit of trouble.

    Did you not note the interview I pointed to at the beginning of my responce or did you think it was too old?  I haven’t yet found an archive of Bishop Duncan’s pastoral letters to the diocese, although those would be one of the most important vehicles through which he influenced the diocese, but I may find them eventually.  In the diocese’s blog, however, he casually speaks of the HoB (including the conservative members of that house) as being far from the Christian mainstream  on one of the few times he mentions them at all (see the entry for March 21, 2006 and June 22, 2005) and his reports from international gatherings suggest that he views even the conservative bishops in TEC as apostate unless they side with him (note the entries from July 13, 2005 and March 2, 2005).  Consistantly using a broad brush to paint TEC as heretical and on the lunatic fringe (including those conservative bishops who haven’t expressed intrerest in realignment) is one of the major ways both he and Bishop Iker have encouraged the people in their dioceses to mentally and emotionally disconnect the the broader church.

    I’ll be looking through Bishop Duncan’s convention addresses over the next couple days, so I’ll be able to cite more occasions after that, although if you know where I can find information from the conventions before 2003 it would be helpful.

    Jon

  6. Joanathan,

    The GC resolution you cite is a clear example of the double speak that TEC engage in. The resolution finishes with a clear, nay vehement, call to oppose any attempt to limit abortion. How that can be a pro-life position I simply don’t understand. The resolution eventually ends up reading as a “Sometimes a woman will choose to have an abortion for reasons she decides, and at that point we have to allow her to do it, and condone it”.

    And how can TEC possibly argue it still holds this position when it actively supports the RCRC <a href=”http://www.rcrc.org/issues/questions.cfm#freedom”>who write</a>:

    The Coalition believes that reproductive freedom is an essential element of religious liberty, a founding principle of our nation.

    This is such an open statement and rejects any ultimate ethical position on abortion. It is a mandate to allow child murder.

    Pope Benedict XVI does not hold the same position on salvation as Schori. He does *not* suggest that people will be saved by following false gods. He believes absolutely in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Schori has yet to affirm that Jesus is *the* revelation of God.

  7. Are you really so ignorant of Catholic theology that you are unaware of the possibility of salvation for those outside the earthly bounds of the church?  The relevant paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church are 846 through 848 in which the majority of the text is quotes from Lumen gentium.  To summarize, those who don’t recognize that Jesus is the Christ for whatever reason can still be saved by means known only to God.  This doesn’t mean they are saved outside of Christ, but it is in he absence of any explicit recognition of Jesus Christ.  Schori’s position is consistant with this if we assume that she was using the name “Jesus” to point to the human and the outward aspects of religiousity.  It is also similar to C. S. Lewis’s view of heaven expressed in “The Last Battle.”

    Your complaints against resolution 119-A054 look to me to be more grounded in a debate about methods of saving lives than any real debate about the importance or value of life.  As the resolution says, legislation explicitly on abortion doesn’t address the roots of the problem.  I think those roots are the very reasonable fears the poor and the middle class experience when they are confronted with an unexpected pregnancy, and I have seen at least one study which seems to confirm this.  Making abortion illegal won’t do anything to calm those fears, and crises pregnancy centers’ services seem to me to be inadequate to deal with the fears since they don’t extend for 5-10 years or more after birth as far as I’ve ever heard.

    Last I heard TEC continues to support RCRC in spite of some of it’s more extreme positions because it also does good work.  The world isn’t divided up into those who hold right positions and do good works vs those who are evil and do poor quality work.

    Jon

  8. The RC position is that God’s divine election *may* extend to those who aren’t aware of Jesus Christ (paras 847 and 848). Schori’s position is that non-Christians can have a relationship with God outside of Jesus Christ. The fact that you cannot distinguish between these two is another sign of the approach to language and words that is prevalant in TEC, that you twist things to mean anything that you want things to say.

    Para 848 very clearly states that Christians have a duty to evangelise the world – Schori’s argument is that Hindus and Muslims will be saved by their own spiritual journey, so to attempt to evangelise them is prejudiced. That is such an unChristian position (and in contradiction to the RC catechism you seem to think it is close to) that it baffles me why you continue to support it. Unless of course you believe that Hindus will be saved by adhering to their own spiritual tradition?

  9. Just so we’re not in any doubt about this Jonathan, here’s a LA Times article about a joint Hindu/”Christian” service that Bishop Bruno of LA was planned to be present at. In it the article says:

    The bishop also said he was committed to renouncing “proselytizing” of Hindus. Bruno had been scheduled to read the statement himself, but a death of a close family friend prevented him from attending the service.

    Either you need to acknowledge that this “commitment” is contrary to what the RC Catechism says, or you need to call for Bruno’s removal as one who had renounced the call to make disciples. What you cannot argue though is that the liberal leadership of TEC have any sense of the uniqueness of Christ, for if they did, Bruno would not have said he will no longer evangelise Hindus.

  10. My belief is that Hindus, if they are saved, will be saved by God in Christ whom they may encounter in a partial way in their own religious tradition.  The question of proselytizing is more complicated than you suggest.  The word itself suggests to non-Christians a concerted public attempt to discredit them and the faith they practice.  As such proselytism can be contrary to evangelization.  Even what is commonly called evangelization (for example going up to people and asking if they’ve been saved) can work against helping folks actually recognize God in Christ Jesus.  While it can become a cop out, St. Francis’s suggestion to preach the gospel at all times, while using words only when absolutely neccesary is worth keeping in mind.

    Your argument that there is a distinction between salvation and having a relationship with God seems rather weak, since that relationship is an integral part of salvation.  It also overlooks the possibility of having a relationship with a person without knowing their proper name, which is the way a great many relationships established over the internet are.

    Jon

  11. Jon,

    You’ve completely dodged the issue. The Bible no where suggests that the Son has revealed himself in other religions, indeed if he has then he has done a magnificently poor job of it as Hinduism (for example) completely rejects the unique divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. You have created an assumption of this “partial way” in order to get round the clear teaching of Scripture that there is no salvation outside of Jesus’ name.

    I take your clear inability to condemn Bruno’s rejection of the uniqueness and necessity of Jesus for salvation as an implicit assumption you agree with him.

    The traditional orthodox position is absolutely clear. Hindus (for example) are *not* saved “by God in Christ whom they may encounter in a partial way in their own religious tradition“. Unless they acknowledge Jesus as the Christ then what you are actually putting forward is an obscene works soteriology where people are saved on the basis either of what they did or how smart they were to work out the true state of affairs. They truth is that they are saved, if they are saved, by the rich grace of a God who elects them for salvation despite their clear and manifest rejection of him.

  12. Your argument against Christ being revealed to other religions is far to concerned with superficialities.  It is true that no other religion recognizes Jesus as Lord, but concider the case of the Jews and their prophets.  The word that was spoken by the prophets, who are read to this day by practicing Jews, is Christ even though the Jews don’t recognize Jesus as Christ.  The situation may be similar for other faiths, although it is less clearly so.  The evidence we should expect to see in other religions of Christ’s presence by the Holy Spirit isn’t the readiness with which they recognize Jesus as Lord; it is the readiness with which they recognize genuine holiness, the readiness with which they laud peace, justice, and charity among the peoples of the world.  As our Lord says, among other things, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9).  Non-Christians have exhibited the blessed qualities in the past and are likely to do so in the future.  I see no reason to think that our Lord will say to such people “Oh, I didn’t mean those bits to apply to you” when he comes to judge the living and the dead.

    This doesn’t mean that we are saved by our works or our thoughts.  We are saved by grace, but our response to grace is also important.  In the end, if our habitual response to grace is rejection, hate, or rage it seems to me that we won’t see heaven.  On the other hand, if our habitual response is joy and an embracing of grace then it seems to me we will see heaven.  This isn’t a new position unique to myself.  It runs all through C. S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters”, is presented at least briefly in his “Last Battle”, and is consistant with the Roman position that, while we are saved by grace, we need to form our faith in a way that is a proper response to grace.

    I do not see that the quote you gave from Bishop Bruno constitutes a denial of the uniqueness of Chris or that one can only be saved in Christ.  It looks to me like a rejection of a methodology for bringing people to Christ which often fails.  Naturally I am against failing to bring people to Christ.  Are you sure you’re judging his statement in a spirit of charity by assuming that he means to reject Christ rather than a method of evangelism?

    Jon

  13. Jon,

    You’re just avoiding the issue again. The Scripture clearly tells us that no-one recognises holiness without first being regenerated. As for *lauding* peace, justice and charity, these are all works (the “lauding”), so either you are preaching a gospel of endeavour whereby someone is saved on the basis that they pursue a moral good, or you have to abandon your claim.

    The traditional position is very clear – anybody who is not a Christian who is saved is saved entirely on the basis of God’s election of them, not on the basis of *anything* they have done or thought or sought to do. Any alternative soteriology preaches works, not grace.

    I’m sorry to say, but the fact that you cannot see that Bruno is preaching a less than unique Christ says more about your blindness to see the apostasy than my bad intentions.

  14. So C. S. Lewis is a heretic now?  And the Roman Church as well?  Where does all you say leave the Epistle of James?  I think you have misjudged the tradition of the Church in refusing to recognize the importance of responding appropriately to the grace which saves us.  You also seem to me to be putting artificial limitations on God’s ability to rain down grace for purposes other then making everyone explicitly Christian.  I think we should assume the Spirit has been present where ever we see the fruits of the Spirit, even if the individual who is exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit is not Christian and insists that they are following the dictates of their own religion.

    I should note this date, since it is the first time I have heard that refusing to embrace ineffectualness in serving the Lord is apostacy.

    Jon

  15. Jonathan,

    You are fundamentally misunderstanding the Scriptures. The position you are advocating is that something (however small) in the life of someone who has not professed Christ *merits* them salvation. That is not a Christian position, and neither is it the position of either the RC Church *or* C S Lewis. The position the Scriptures take is that salvation is only by the grace of God, and not through any merit of one’s own works.

    I am putting no limits on God’s ability to rain down grace. As a Lutheran electionist I am perfectly happy with the concept that there may be members of the elect (those who have their names written before the beginning of time in the Lamb’s Book of Life) who never have Christ preached to them in their mortal life and so therefore never profess Christ. However, their salvation is *entirely*, 100% down to the merciful grace of God in election and absolutely nothing they have ever thought or said or done has contributed in any way to their place in the new heaven and earth. Unfortunately this seems to be the exact position you are arguing, that something that they have thought, said or done merits their salvation.

  16. No, I am not saying that they merit salvation.  I am saying that their actions can (and in some cases do) indicate that they have previously received grace from God, and that their own religions have supported their cooperation with the grace God has given.  Book 2, Chapter 5 of Lewis’s Mere Christianity is very much to the point, at least in the case of salvation for Christians.  Note particularly what he says about losing the Christ-life in us. 

    Jon

  17. The “thing” that produces the good actions in people isn’t grace, it’s the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Once he enters you then you become a slave to righteousness rather than a slave to sin. If that has happened, you become someone who recognises Christ (for without the Spirit we are turned away from God). So what you seem to be arguing is that the Holy Spirit comes and regenerates someone, but they still have absolutely no recognition of Christ despite God dwelling within them?

  18. It seems odd to me to talk about the transforming power of the Spirit as something other than grace, but yes that is more or less what I am saying.  The lack of recognition is more complicated though.  They lack an explicit recognition of Christ.  Perhaps it might be better put to say that they don’t recognize that Jesus is Christ or that they don’t recognize Christ in a way that we can recognize as recognizing Christ.  I think it hinges mostly on God being fundamentally real.  If God is fundamentally real, then our theologies are approximations of God and not God himself.  Of course some of what Christians teach is a very close approximation, especially the parts that are firmly grounded in revelation, but even there there is still a gap between the teaching and the reality.  The distinction between intellectual recognition and gut-level recognition may also play a part.  Between the two distinctions it seems to me that it may be possible, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for non-Christians to recognize what is good (which is a recognition of the reality which is Christ) while not recognizing that the Christ we preach (sometimes very poorly) is the same as the reality to which they hold.

    Jon

  19. Perhaps we might both be better served by taking to heart the leason that it is better to expend considerable effort on clarification before we start accusing our conversation partners of heresy or apostacy.  Just because we think we understand each other doesn’t mean we actually do.

    Jon

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