Kevin Sam has two posts about some words spoken by Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (TEC), the US-based body which, as I reported a few days ago, is on the verge of putting itself outside the Anglican Communion. In the first of his posts, Kevin reports on Albert Mohler’s surprise that Bishop Jefferts Schori used the word “heresy” in these words which Mohler quotes, from her speech to the General Convention of TEC:
The crisis of this moment has several parts, and like Episcopalians, particularly the ones in Mississippi, they’re all related. The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention.
note carefully that the Bishop identified as heresy what the church — throughout all the centuries and in every major tradition — has recognized as central to the Christian faith. The confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord” has been central to biblical Christianity from the New Testament onward. … The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church finally summoned the determination to apply the word heresy — and then applied this most serious term of odious rejection to the Gospel itself.
In a second post Kevin examines Jefferts Schori’s words for himself, asking the question Was Bishop Schori really talking about the heresy of selfishness? But he doesn’t give a clear answer. Now if it is selfishness that the bishop called a heresy, I would not disagree except to concur with Mohler that
The word heresy should properly be reserved for teachings that directly reject what the Bible reveals and the Church has confessed concerning the person and work of Christ and the reality and integrity of the Trinity.
But what was it that Jefferts Schori was attacking? The key is probably in these words of hers:
That individualist focus is a form of idolatry
This suggests that her main point was about “individual” and “alone”, the idea that salvation can be found by individuals apart from a Christian community. That is indeed a distorted teaching of many Christians in the West, related especially to the ideals of rugged individualism and personal independence – not quite the same thing as selfishness. Again, while “heresy” is too strong a word, if this is what Jefferts Schori was attacking I would not want to take issue with her.
But the Presiding Bishop’s words are all too open to the interpretation which Mohler puts on them, that what she has called heresy is a concept at the heart of the gospel, the teaching originally of the prophet Joel which was quoted by the apostles Peter and Paul:
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
(Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13)
If Bishop Jefferts Schori is calling heresy this biblical teaching, upheld by the church through the ages, then she is putting herself and the denomination she leads not just outside the pale of the Anglican Communion but outside the pale of historic Christianity. If this is not her intention, she needs to clarify her statement immediately. Otherwise she is simply hastening the day of TEC’s formal ejection from the Anglican Communion.