Monthly Archives: October 2012

Episcopal Lessons from the Baptist Wars

About ten years ago I was talking to a friend who is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of SC.  I suggested, “You may want to read the history of the Southern Baptist Convention Wars.”

He laughed, patted me on the arm and said, “Don, that will never happen to us.  We are Episcopalians!”

I so hoped that would be the case, but the events of the past week, months and years have shown that unfortunately I was correct.  Last week the Episcopal Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops announced that the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, has abandoned the church.   That announcement triggered an automatic response from the Diocese of South Carolina disaffiliating the diocese from the Episcopal Church.

As in any relationship, this divorce has been a long time coming.  It is a loss for congregants, for churches, for the Diocese and for the Episcopal Church.  Even more it is a loss for the larger church.

For those of us who live and move and have our being in the wild and wooly world of congregational churches, where there isn’t the security and the community of a diocese or a larger church, we took comfort in knowing that there was a stable place, a place where tradition and order and community trumped provinciality.  We hoped that there would be a place where the tent and the table was broad enough to welcome diversity.  That was our hope.

Instead, what has come to pass is what Martin Marty has called the “baptistfication” of American religion.  Everyone is becoming Baptist!  Oh, the signs might not say that, but if you read carefully, that is what this divorce is about.

It is about interpretation of scripture.  Rev. Al Zadig, rector of St, Michael’s Church said,  “For many years there has been a split coming in the Episcopal Church over the core issue of the authority of Scripture.”  That was the battle cry in the early 1980’s as fundamentalists and moderates fought for control of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Then, the battle was whether the Bible is the inerrant, infallible word of God.  Zadig asked,  “Do we have the freedom to rewrite the Bible to fit social trends, or do we rewrite our hearts according to the changeless word of God in Scripture? The National Episcopal Church is changing Scripture according to social norms and in doing so has changed the core of the Christian faith.”

In Baptist life, the issue was women.  Could they/should they be ordained?  Now Episcopalians’ battle of interpretation is being fought in over gays and lesbians.  Are they welcomed?  Can they be married?  Can they be ordained?  Both sides argue over the seven verses of scripture, but at the core the question is one of hermeneutics. How shall we interpret the Bible?  Are scriptures set in stone, or it is a living document that grows and changes with the world?

Historically, Baptists have said that every person has the right and the responsibility to read and interpret scripture under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  No one can tell another person “THIS is what this passage means!”  That is the work of the Holy Spirit.  (It can also lead to quite a bit of chaos!  Ask the Episcopalians!)

The diocese has also acted a bit Baptist in claiming local autonomy.  That is a hallmark Baptist belief—that no other group can tell a local congregation what they must believe or do.  Each congregation is autonomous.  (That is great when you are making decisions about what to do, but can be a harsh reality when trouble comes or you need help paying for the building!)

The SC Diocese has long objected to decisions made by the national church.  Now they are just saying that they are stressing their independence, their autonomy.

As a Baptist, I say “Amen!”  But what happens when a local congregation decides that they want the same autonomy?  Where does the authority lie in a church?

“You might want to read the history of the Southern Baptist Convention Wars.”  It is still good advice for my Episcopal friends.  We made so many mistakes, hurt so many institutions, destroyed so many lives, and damaged the body of Christ.  We had so hoped that others might learn from our mistakes.

But…

Prayers will be offered that a way out might be found.  We need the Episcopal Church.  But if you want to be Baptist, I know where you can find a really good one! 

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The Most Confusing Part of Worship

It is the one part of a worship service that I just don’t understand.

I understand that scripture forms the basis for the whole service (at least when worship works.) I understand the morning prayer, the litany and the hymns—even when I don’t like them.  I even understand the announcements!

But the offertory prayer???

What is happening there?

What do we think will happen?

Is this a loaves and fishes kind of thing?  Do we think that if we pray over the money then God will miraculously transform our $5 bill into a $50?  Then shouldn’t we just say that?  “O God, please take this pittance that we have given and transform it into a great bounty!”

Or is this prayer a way of “encouraging” people to give?  If that is the case then how about an honest prayer.  “O God, bless bountifully those who give; and those who choose not to give, O Lord, strike them blind.”  Granted it is rather Old Testament, but it would only take one blinding to cover the budget for the year!!

What do we do with the Offertory prayer?  I have thought a lot about this recently.  Many churches are in the midst of their stewardship campaign for the year.  Others are wondering how they are going to balance the books by the end of the year.  It is that love-hate relationship with money that causes many sleepless nights for ministers and churches.

A recent article in The Christian Century gave me some help.  Dean Snyder not only gave a wonderful theological underpinning to the issue, suggesting that too many of our offertory prayers fall prey to a docetic heresy—the idea that the physical world is too base and grubby for God to have actually entered it, and therefore, something that we good Christians shouldn’t care for.

Yet as he points out, it is that base and grubby money that makes the ministry possible.  You can read the entire article here.  In conclusion, Snyder suggests a prayer  he would love to hear, or even pray.  I have taken the liberty of “Baptistizing” this wonderful Methodist prayer.

We offer to you, O God, this money and rejoice in all it will buy and pay for. We thank you that some of it will pay for baloney and cheese from Costco to feed hungry people in this city. A portion will help pay teachers’ salaries in Haiti. A few dollars will pay for the work sheets our children carry home after Sunday school. May what they learn here help shape their character and life values.

Some of this offering will buy sheet music for the choir so that your name might be glorified. Some will pay the electricity and heat for this building where we come to worship you, where homeless people come for help and where AA groups meet to help each other stay sober.

We thank you that this offering will pay for the pastors’ salary and the salaries of the church staff who devote themselves to or­ganizing this congregation to make disciples of Jesus to transform the world. May our work be wise and courageous. And a small portion of this money will help our larger church do the things that we cannot do alone—support missionaries, train ministers, shape our future.  We pray for those who lead your church that they might have the courage to lead us in your way.

We thank you also, God, that the money will not be spent on things that we might desire but that will not really bring us happiness. We thank you that when we give to you, we learn to seek our happiness not in things but in you, and we find a truer happiness this way.

We thank you, God, that when we give to you rather than spending more on ourselves we fulfill the trust you have placed in us by blessing us with so much. You have blessed us with life, strength, intelligence, abilities and resources, and we thank you for the opportunity to give you joy by being generous to you and others. It is a great blessing to be able to give this money.

We know that the way we use the money and resources we have shapes our hearts and affections. So we are grateful that we will love you more as a result of giving this treasure to you. May we give even more to you this coming week so we will love you even more.

We also remember that some of us who have given the fewest dollars have been the most generous, and some of us who have given more dollars have not given as sacrificially. Still we rejoice in this money we present to you, God. We delight in it. We delight in what it will buy and what it will not buy because we didn’t keep it for ourselves. We love giving you this money, God. Thank you that the Word became flesh and began this earthly Christian movement of love, inclusion, justice, beauty and joy so that we might give our dollars to help fuel it. In gratitude for the blessing of being able to give our money, we pray. Amen.

That makes sense to me.  You might even want to use it this Sunday!

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A Football Sermon Reminder

The thrill is a bit dulled this morning in SC.  Last Sunday, after the Gamecocks defeated Georgia their was talk about national championships.  It was exciting to hear.

But this morning….  After a loss at LSU the thoughts of a national championship are fading a bit.  Some people are even worried about a conference championship.  I am even sure that there will be a few people who will jump off the caboose!

As I read the paper this morning however I remembered a line from the sermon last week.  It wasn’t about football.  It was from Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic, who as far as I know wasn’t a football fan!  But the quote…

Hope is not prognostication.  It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons…It is an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed…Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well.  It is an orientation of the spirit.

Good words for all of us who find our hearts broken week after week.

Wake Forest fans know this well!

Maybe next year!

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