Episcopal presiding bishop terms individualistic salvation 'heresy'
By Bob Allen Thursday, July 09, 2009
ANAHEIM, Calif. (ABP) -- The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church called the evangelical notion that individuals can be right with God a "great Western heresy" that is behind many problems facing the church and the wider society.
Describing a United States church in crisis, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told delegates to the group's triennial meeting July 8 in Anaheim, Calif., that the overarching connection to problems facing Episcopalians 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," Jefferts Schori, the first woman to be elected as a primate in the worldwide Anglican Communion three years ago, said. "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."
Jefferts Schori said countering individualistic faith was one reason the theme chosen for the meeting was "Ubuntu," an African word that describes humaneness, caring, sharing and being in harmony with all of creation.
"Ubuntu doesn't have any 'I's in it," she said. "The 'I' only emerges as we connect -- and that is really what the word means: I am because we are, and I can only become a whole person in relationship with others. There is no 'I' without 'you,' and in our context, you and I are known only as we reflect the image of the One who created us."
Jefferts Schori said "heretical and individualistic understanding" contributes to problems like neglect for the environment and the current worldwide economic recession.
"The sins of a few have wreaked havoc with the lives of many, as greed and dishonesty have destroyed livelihoods, educational possibilities, care for the aged, and multiple forms of creativity," she said. "And that's just the aftermath of Ponzi schemes for which a handful will go to jail."
She said in order to be faithful, "we need to be continually rediscovering that my needs are not the only significant ones."
"Ubuntu implies that selfishness and self-centeredness cannot long survive," she said. "We are our siblings' knowers and their keepers, and we cannot be known without them."
"We have no meaning, no true existence in isolation," she said. "We shall indeed die as we forget or ignore that reality."
About 200 Episcopal bishops and 850 clergy and lay deputies were expected to convene for the 10-day meeting. Business items are set to include debates over human sexuality, politics and poverty.
One resolution being considered calls for "generous discretion" to be extended to clergy in exercising pastoral ministry in six states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont -- where the civil marriage of same-gender couples has been legalized as well as other states that may follow suit in the next three years.
The 2.1-million-member denomination has argued vociferously about homosexuality since 2003, when the group approved the election of its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Many more conservative Episcopalians and a handful of congregations have begun breaking away from the church in the years since.
Southern Baptist mega-church pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, took sides in his sister denomination's debate recently by showing up in Texas to encourage about 800 Episcopalians attending the first annual meeting of a conservative breakaway group calling itself the Anglican Church in North America.
Warren, who spoke out last fall against legal gay marriage in California, said in January that any nearby Anglican congregation that loses its property after breaking with the U.S. Episcopal Church was welcome to meet on the campus of his Saddleback Church.
Katharine Jefferts Schori not only refutes the whole of the Protestant Reformation and the martyrdom at the stake of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. Worse, she she refutes the words of Jesus himself.
Jesus' first words in his ministry were "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 4:17). John 3:16 drives home the point about believing (an active term, not a passive one). The very "sinner's prayer" that Jefferts Schori calls heretical is a combination of Jesus' own words and instructions, drawn from Romans 10:9-10, Luke 18:13-14, and Matthew 7:7.
Perhaps if she were to go into her private chapel, kneel before God, and pray this, she might yet be saved. Other bishops of the church have done just that... after their consecrations.
Heavenly Father, I know that I have sinned against you and that my sins separate me from you. I am truly sorry. I now want to turn away from my past sinful life and turn to you for forgiveness. Please forgive me, and help me avoid sinning again. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ, died for my sins, was resurrected from the dead, is alive, and hears my prayer. I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life, to rule and reign in my heart from this day forward. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me obey You, and to do Your will for the rest of my life. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen