Monday, February 12, 2007

The gospel: 'Jesus died for our sins' or 'talk about life'?

The current controversy in our society over issues as diverse as human sexuality and the sanctity of human life is really more than an argument over specific issues. Especially among Christians, it also reflects a broader conflict over what exactly is at the heart of following Jesus and his teaching. This conflict is being played out, almost by proxy, in the troubled, American expression of the classic via media, the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church is, for now, the American expression of the global Anglican Communion, the Christian tradition founded upon the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer, the two Creeds, episcopacy, and (at its heart) the Bible. Lately, there has been quite a storm in our nation's (un)official religion.

Into the midst of this dispute comes the Church's new Presiding Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori. She was interviewed last week by USA Today, and one of her comments reflects the fundamental juxtaposition between the two sides in this important dispute. The author of the piece in USA Today wrote:
[Katharine Jefferts-Schori] sees two strands of faith: One is "most concerned with atonement, that Jesus died for our sins and our most important task is to repent." But the other is "the more gracious strand," says the bishop who dresses like a sunrise. It "is to talk about life, to claim the joy and the blessings for good that it offers, to look forward. God became human in order that we may become divine. That's our task."
The question then becomes, how does the Chief Pastor of our nation's most influential Church stack up against what the Bible has to say about this same question? Would the apostle, St. Paul, agree with The Rt. Rev. Jefferts-Schori's view? Let us allow Paul to speak for himself:
Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the Gospel that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me.
I will only connect the dots so much as to say that I added the bold text, not Paul. But I doubt, seriously, that the apostle would object to that emphasis.

FEELING: Anxious
LISTENING TO: A discussion of whether admitting a man to a nursing school is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution


At 12:45 PM, Blogger David said...

Good post, Dillon. But I don't know about the Episcopal church being the most influential in America. Wouldn't you say that Southern Baptists probably have more political clout? It seems to me that when citizens think about Christians they probably, rightly or wrongly, think about Southern Baptists. Consequently, one could argue that Southern Baptists represent a stigmatized version of Christianity, and, are therefore not taken seriously. In that sense, I suppose Episcopals may be more influential. There's no doubt that Jefferts-Schori would like to present a more benign and acceptable version of Christianity that doesn't step on many toes.

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Diezba said...

I suppose I should change that to read "elite" rather than "influential." But in that sense, however, it is influential. Many of our nation's movers and shakers belong to the Episcopal church. And historically, the Episcoapl Church has been the "acceptable" Church to belong to. The "country club" of churches, if you will. Which, of course, is not to say that other churches have served that purpose in individual locales from time-to-time: the myriad "First Baptists" across the South come to mind.

As for Ms. Jefferts-Schori's theology, particularly her Christology, I believe that it is so benign as to be outside the bounds of Christian faith. The very heart of the Gospel, as proclaimed in the Creed and shared by the Churches throughout the history of Christianity, has always been that Jesus' death provides life for believers. Many, including myself, believe that The Rt. Rev. Jefferts-Schori would move the Episcopal Church away from the power of the Gospel toward a feel-good, well-meaning community organization. There's nothing wrong with such an organization, but it is not the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ.


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