By Tripp Parker
Any institution that denies doctrines historically affirmed by Christians for the past two thousand years isn’t a Church, even if it used to be. Worse, such an institution, by rejecting those doctrines, will soon cease to be an institution at all.
Which institution am I referring to? Any number of mainline Protestant denominations would fit this description, but in this case, I am referring to the apostate institution called the Episcopal Church. I was able to observe as a bystander as a lawsuit was filed by the Episcopal Church against my parish, and in the process, I was able to see just how far down the road to perdition that institution has gone.
First, some background might be helpful. The Episcopal Church began its slide decades ago when it began exchanging truth for cultural acceptance. Traditional doctrines on issues such as homosexuality, or whether Jesus meant what He said when He proclaimed “No man comes to the Father, except through Me” were abandoned. A more culturally palatable “church” was being built, one where homosexuality wasn’t a sin; in fact, priests were ordained who were openly homosexual. The Son of God was not the only way to salvation, He didn’t really mean that when He literally said it. Like the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, the Episcopalians were here to improve on the teachings of Jesus.
This, of course, did not sit well with the actual followers of Jesus within the Episcopal institution (I will henceforth refrain from calling it a Church). The first major rift was caused by the 2002 decision of the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada to authorize a rite of blessing for same-sex unions; the second was the General Convention‘s ratification of the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay non-celibate man, as Bishop of New Hampshire the following year. This all culminated in 2009 when a group of parishes in North America established a new branch, the ACNA, and renounced their allegiance to the Episcopalian bishops and established new ones.
The ACNA is in a sort of limbo in the Anglican communion, as the parishes are not officially recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury, yet its priests are recognized as being priests in the communion. Stranger still, bishops from most of the dioceses across the world, particularly Africa and the southern hemisphere, do recognize these parishes as being a part of the Anglican communion (those bishops, again, being far more orthodox than their American or European counterparts). In fact, the Episcopalians were essentially banished from the Anglican communion (by their more orthodox counterparts in Africa and South America) for 3 years in 2017 and were not allowed to vote in any Anglican Communion decisions on church doctrine nor represent the communion in any interfaith bodies for these reasons. Other doctrinal rifts also surfaced, such as the ordination of female bishops, and teachings on euthanasia and abortion. After the ACNA was formed, a few years later many parishes across the United States decided to leave the Episcopalian institution and join the ACNA.
Now, one might think this shouldn’t be a big deal. Why would the Episcopalians, ostensibly convinced these backward bigoted Anglican parishes do not deserve to be in their institution, want them around anyway? After all, the Episcopalians have attempted to remove bishops and priests for simply and honestly adhering to sincerely held, historical Christian beliefs. It’s a bit like the Roman Catholic Church being cross because Martin Luther started his own church after they excommunicated him from theirs.
However, the Episcopalians aren’t just apostate in their theology, they also indulge in mortal sins. In this case, that sin is greed.
You see, the Episcopalians claimed ownership of all the property of every diocese and parish in the country. So, when these parishes left and joined the ACNA, lawsuits were filed. The Episcopalians wanted the property, even if the actual members of those parishes didn’t want to be Episcopalian. It comes as no surprise that an institution that treats Scripture as disposable and Christian doctrine as outdated would also ignore Saint Paul’s words on whether we ought to be suing other Christians.
The results of those lawsuits have been mixed. Due to the differing state laws governing trusts and property ownership, whether the Episcopalians were able to confiscate the property depends on the state in which the lawsuit is filed. The Episcopal Church in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia won the rights to most of the church properties in those states, even if the congregations inside had left.
Other states, such as Texas, ruled that roughly 60 parishes that split from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth several years ago can keep their property. More recently, South Carolina split the baby and ruled roughly half of the parishes could keep their property, and half needed to give it back to the Episcopal institution.
I mentioned above the greed demonstrated to be pervasive in the Episcopalian institution by their insistence on trying to take property they can’t use (because no one in those communities want to be a part of that institution). However, that’s not quite the entire story. It’s worse than that. There’s also spite, wrath, and a desire for division.
I recently interviewed a man who was a member of the vestry of St. Luke’s Anglican in Akron, OH. There were 5 churches in Ohio that left the Episcopal institution and banded together after a lawsuit was filed against them by the Episcopalians, only to have the courts rule against them. It was clear, though, that the Episcopalians intended to sell the properties after they won them in court. To reiterate: no one in those communities wanted to be a part of their institution. The property was either going to sit empty or be sold for cash. The Anglicans who lost the lawsuit inquired whether they could buy the property back. That way the congregants keep their church, the Episcopalians get their cash, and everyone can move on. Win-win, right?
The response from the Episcopalian representatives was “we would prefer to sell it to be a mosque or a salon, but certainly not to you”
I think there are two lessons to be learned here. The first is that if one rejects the teachings of Jesus or treats His words like a salad bar where you can take what you like and leave the rest, you’re not far from indulging in mortal sin. This is where the human heart, absent the saving grace of Jesus, wants to go. As St Paul tells us, when we reject God, we indulge in the flesh; heresies, sexual immorality, hatred, strife, and greed follow.
The second lesson is subtler. There is a reason that many parishes do not want to be Episcopalian. There’s a reason that those parishes that remain are dying.
That reason is that by abandoning the parts of Christianity that our culture finds unpalatable, the institution becomes indistinguishable from the cultural zeitgeist or a political party. Why would anyone get up early on a Sunday to participate in rituals to simply affirm whatever the cultural mood is at the time? What is meaningful about that? What is transcendent about it? Why not sleep in and just vote the “right way”?
Ben Sixsmith, an agnostic, made this point in his article about celebrity pastors, and it has stuck with me:
“I am not religious, so it is not my place to dictate to Christians what they should and should not believe. Still, if someone has a faith worth following, I feel that their beliefs should make me feel uncomfortable for not doing so. If they share 90 percent of my lifestyle and values, then there is nothing especially inspiring about them. Instead of making me want to become more like them, it looks very much as if they want to become more like me.”
Churches that exchange historical Christian doctrine to appeal to the political and cultural palates of the day are doomed. The appeal of Christianity, as Tom Holland (the award-winning historian) argued, is in its weirdness. Christianity is, and always has been, counter-cultural. We should not be surprised, then, that the formerly Christian institutions that reject Christian doctrine to appeal to cultural or political movements wither away, both in membership as well as virtue.
Now, you might think that I write this because I hate the (former) Episcopal Church. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I am writing this because I love the Anglican tradition, of which historically the Episcopal Church has been a huge part. The liturgy, written in the 16th century by Thomas Cranmer, is extraordinary. All hearers of it are exposed to Biblical Christianity in a remarkably beautiful, scriptural and reverent fashion, without the baggage of the bishop of Rome. Its theology is reformed (at least when the priests actually adhere to it).
Anglican churches are beautiful, and the combination of the architecture, music, liturgy, and sound doctrine allows myself and my family to meet the transcendent God in ways, to put it bluntly, one cannot get in a seeker-friendly evangelical congregation that we had been attending prior to this. I am, in other words, a convert to Anglicanism because of how much I love it. I am blessed to be a part of my parish, as is my family. My anger stems not from hatred of the Episcopal Church, but rather because I am grieved by what it has become, and I wish it to change.
Many parishes in dioceses across the country did not prevail in court and lost their property, and it is our duty as Christians to help those parishes lay down new roots by contributing both time and treasure to help them do so. The Episcopal institution might not care about the health or presence of the church in those communities, but we do.