Raymond Dague: The Theology of Heresy in Central New York
On Saturday, June 4, 2005, the famous liberal theologian Marcus Borg is coming to central New York to give a public lecture and to speak to the clergy of the Episcopal Church. The Diocese is bringing him here. Marcus Borg is one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar in 1985. The Jesus Seminar is a group of liberal scholars who have decided that very little of what is portrayed in the Gospels is historically accurate. They say that they are in search of the “historical” Jesus, rather than the Jesus of “myth” as portrayed by the Church for the last 2000 years.
How did we get to a state in the Episcopal Church where orthodoxy as set forth in the Nicene Creed is out, and heresy is taught to our clergy by Marcus Borg at the request of the officials of this diocese? That is an interesting story which requires some recent and not so recent history.
The recent history we mostly know, because we have been living it for the last two years. Lately the entire world wide Anglican Communion has been racked by wars over the new bishop of New Hampshire who is living with his homosexual lover. Also by vote of the 2003 General Convention, each diocese can now decide whether it wants to bless homosexual unions. Some bishops, like the new bishop of Florida, are saying that all is well, but events speak differently.
Six rectors in Connecticut are under threat of being removed by their bishop. Three parishes in Los Angeles have transferred their ecclesiastical authority to an Anglican bishop in Africa. The bishop of Los Angeles is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a lawsuit against these parishes which legal experts say he will lose, and with it three of his fastest growing parishes. A similar lawsuit by the bishop of Pennsylvania has generated a legal bill over $1 million to that diocese,and the bishop there still has another appeal before he can seize thechurch he is suing.
All across the country whole parishes are walking away from their property and starting new churches, sometimes turning the keys over to their bishop to do what he wants with empty buildings with no parishioners. The Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) is picking up many of these parishes. Independent Anglican parishes are forming. Almost every diocese in the country has taken a big financial hit, and church attendance is down practically everywhere.
Traditionalist groups such as the American Anglican Council and the Anglican Communion Network are flourishing in an apparent backlash against the slide of the entire denomination.
Weird things continue to pop up around the country with the name “Episcopal” attached. Last fall a husband and wife pair of Episcopal rectors in Pennsylvania were discovered as having been long time Druids.Surely you would think that the bishop of these two priests would discipline them. But when they renounced their Druid practices and resigned from the “Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids” their bishop disciplined neither of them. He issued a press release touting the positive contributions they had made to the church. The husband later renounced his Christian faith to become a Druid priest. The wife is still rector of her Episcopal Church. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has uttered not a peepover this apostasy.
The official website of the national Episcopal Church carried a “Women’s Eucharist” which is pure pagan worship of the female body. When a circle of women drink from a cup of wine they invoke the image of their menstrual blood in an act which looks like Satan worship.
One of the most prominent Episcopal churches in the nation, Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City, had a very interesting celebration on Trinity Sunday 2005. While we at St. Andrew’s were celebrating the Father,Son, and Holy Spirit with the liturgy of the faith used for almost 2000 years, Trinity Wall Street had a clown mass. No words were said for the readings which were instead acted out in mime. The congregation responded with noise makers rather than said or sung prayers. The priest was dressed up like Bozo the Clown, rather than wearing liturgical vestments. Instead of incense they blew bubbles around the altar. If you go to the Trinity Wall Street website you can watch this entire hour-long liturgy travesty.
In the diocese of Central New York the Thornfield Conference Center was recently deconsecrated when the “vision committee” of the diocese decided that the Center had no future, and its buildings were torn down. As the diocesan budget is shrinking, church attendance is off.
St. Andrew’s in Syracuse and some other parishes have cut off sending money to the diocese. As a result St. Andrew’s, one of the largest and fastest growing parishes in the diocese, was denied a seat at the 2004 diocesan convention. A new parish has not been started in this diocese in well over 30 years, and many have been closed, or yoked under a single priest with other parishes which are failing.
The problems of the Episcopal Church did not begin with the 2003 General Convention and the advance of the homosexual agenda. The root of this decay is far deeper than the events of a single church convention in the summer in Minneapolis two years ago.
In 1958 a liberal dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City was elected bishop coadjutor of the diocese of California, and within a year was bishop of California. Until he resigned in 1966 James Pike, like Bishop Spong of New Jersey, was the darling of the liberal news media. His antics even won him a spot on the cover of Time Magazine. Pike’s first career was that of a lawyer, but his real splash was as maverick bishop. Actually “heretic bishop” is a better characterization. Pike’s descent into heresy involved his denial of the doctrines of the virgin birth and the infallibility of scripture. As early as 1960 he called the doctrine of the Trinity “outdated, incomprehensible and nonessential” to the Christian faith. The Episcopal Church largely ignored Pike until he became so outrageous that he was impossible to ignore. When Pike’s son committed suicide, he engaged in séances to contact his deceased son. Pike married three times, divorcing his first two wives.
Finally Pike was presented with changes of heresy. In October of 1966, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church voted to censure him. This was a rather mild rebuke considering that Pike’s widely publicized views completely contradicted the Christian faith. Some of the bishops wrote a minority report defending Pike saying, “We believe it is more important to be a sympathetic and self-conscious part of God’s action in the secular world than it is to defend the positions of the past, which is a past that is altered by each new discovery of truth.” In other words, even our belief in the Triune God is up for grabs as each generation discovers new truths.
When the divided House of Bishops gave only a censure rather than any real discipline, it was a signal to the entire Episcopal Church that there was no longer any church discipline about what you believed or did.
Bishop Pike then took a drive in the desert of Israel south of Jerusalemwhen his car got stuck. He tried to walk back to civilization, but lost his way. He died in the barren wilderness of the Israeli countryside as he was trying to find his way out of the desert – perhaps an apt metaphor for his entire life.
After Pike another heretic Bishop came on the scene. From 1976 to 2000 John Shelby Spong was the bishop of New Jersey. He is another Pike, but even more public and sensational. Spong wrote more books than Pike did,and rather than just being on magazine covers, he is constantly on television with interviews, has his own online web column, and rides the lecture circuit peddling heresy. Central New York’s former bishop O’Kelly Whittaker invited Spong to be the speaker at one of our diocesan conventions. While his diocese was in serious decline due to his disbelief of everything Christian, Spong made a good living. He became famous as a debunker of the things which his Church believed as set forth in the Bible, the Nicene Creed, the 39 Articles, and the Prayer Book. And in doing so he is helping to pave the way for the Episcopal Church to renounce Trinitarian doctrines in favor of a doctrine of radical love and inclusiveness.
What Spong believes is set forth in his own words in what he calls his “12 Theses.”
1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.
To analyze these would take too much space here, but notice one thing about Spong’s 12 Theses: they say much about what he does not believe, but little about what he does believe. Much liberal theology is similar. It criticizes what it claims is wrong belief, but has few positive statements to describe faith in Christ. Other than “God is love”, “inclusiveness,”and “gender neutral” language, there is not much substantive content to liberal theology.
Borg is in the tradition of Spong and Pike. In a well-written book The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions by Marcus J. Borg & N. T. Wright, Borg describes what he thinks about Jesus, and often what he does not think about Jesus.
Borg believes that Jesus was not conceived by Mary as a virgin, but was the biological child of Joseph and Mary. Jesus was “more likely” born in Nazareth and not in Bethlehem as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. None of the things associated with the nativity of Jesus such as the appearance of the star, the shepherds seeing the angel, or the magi visiting the baby ever happened. Also the geneologies of Jesus were fabrications, or as Borg likes to say, “history metaphorized.” Jesus did not know that he was the Jewish Messiah. Jesus did not predict his own death, nor did he see his death as the salvation for the sins of man.Jesus did not utter the words of the Eucharist at the Last Supper over the bread and the wine. There was never a trial of Jesus before the Jewish or Roman authorities. Whether the tomb was empty on Easter morning is “irrelevant” to the Christian faith. He describes the Nicene Creed as “not…a set of literally true doctrinal statements to which I am supposed to give my intellectual assent, but as a culturally relative product of the ancient church” which he prefers to chant or sing, rather than say.
Borg is an attractive and glib speaker, and a fine writer. He cranks outbook after book debunking orthodox Christianity, and is a bit better than his predecessors Pike and Spong in trying to articulate actual content to what he believes. But basically his calls himself Christian by remaking Christianity as he “imagines” Jesus. When you see a theologian, bishop, or priest speak about “imagining” or “re-imagining” God, watch out. They, like Pike, Spong and Borg, are remaking God in their own image, and to their own liking.
In a very real sense, the Episcopal Church in the United States is doing just what Bishop Pike did. It is lost in the wilderness, has embraced heresy, and is dying as its membership and finances dry up. It is dying of thirst for the Holy Spirit as it wanders in a wilderness of theological and moral experimentation. It claims that it is acting prophetically at the behest of the Holy Spirit revealing new truth, but it is lost in the Wilderness of Sin.
Marcus Borg is another step along the proud road to renouncing the truths of the Christian faith and replacing them with a quasi-Christian jargon of love and inclusiveness with no requirement for repentance, transformation and holiness. This next weekend, the Diocese of Central New York will take one more step down that road as it listens to Marcus Borg. I plan to stay home to work in my garden and mow my lawn.
–Raymond J. Dague, Esq., is Chancellor to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Syracuse, New York