one holy catholic and apostolic church

this title is a belief from the nicene creed, affirmed corporately each sunday at the episcopal church where we worship and are members.  "catholic" here is the lower-case one, the Church universal. it struck me this morning, that as we affirmed belief in one Church, our own is at the center of much dissension and controversy and perhaps on the brink of schism.

when we joined st. michael's 2 1/2 years ago, i was vaguely aware that the national church was veering away from orthodoxy, but it didn't seem to matter because the teaching at st. michael's was so thoroughly rooted in scripture. i had grown up in the presbyterian church usa, which like many mainline denominations, also struggles with a national leadership that is not reflective of the core beliefs of many of its congregations. the pcusa churches where i worked and worshipped never wavered from their commitment to the gospel, and so when we came to st. michael's, i didn't pay a lot of attention to what was going on at the national level. 

we love our church. i am continually impacted by the richness and beauty of the liturgy. memorizing prayers never seemed monotonous or ritualistic; God uses them to speak truth to me in manner similar to when you read a passage in scripture for the thirtieth time and the Holy Spirit again reveals something new.

i love that we celebrate the Lord's supper each week, "the memorial of our redemption," as the book of common prayer instructs us to pray. this weekly observance orients the focus of each worship service not on the sermon or music but on the cross of Christ. the sermons are great, and the religion scholar in me loves the way father jim puts scripture in a historical context and applies it today, but there is something especially meaningful to me that worship is dependent less on our priest's charisma, education, or oratory skills than on the significance of Christ's redemptive work on the cross and meeting him at the table.

we have found a wonderful community at st. michael's. the congregation is predominantly made up of retirees, empty nesters, and forty and fifty-somethings and their kids, and while we have very few peers there, our church has supported and loved us like family, as the body of Christ should.

things at st. michael's are turbulent now. because of "innovations" in the national church, our bishop wants to take the entire diocese out of the episcopal church and "re-align" with a south american anglican province. the national church didn't like this and deposed him last week, and next week our diocese votes on whether to realign with the bishop or stay within the american episcopal church.

our congregation is torn. while most everyone disagrees with our national presiding bishop's demonstrated lack of commitment to scripture, we are split on the realignment issue. our priest believes that we should stay, and the vestry (our governing body) has agreed and chosen to remain, no matter how our diocese votes next week.

realignment is not as simple as leaving. our bishop, a faithful and godly man, is not looking merely to walk away but to sue the national church for property and endowments which legally belong to the national church and not individual congregations. lawsuits within the Church are a terrible witness to the world of the love of Christ. divisions, though made with the intent of remaining true to the gospel, do not serve the body of Christ and its mission to be salt and light to the world. the Church is too divided as it is, and there is so little dialogue among the divergent. christians fracture and fracture, defining themselves in opposition to others, and this can't be what Christ had in mind for his Church.

Schism simply compounds the evil of false teaching. It is using another wrong to combat a wrong. As messy and as infuriating and as terrifying as living in the Episcopal Church is for an apostolic and biblical Christian, breaking away is not the answer that the catholic witness of the saints throughout the ages have given--especially for those who still can worship in faithful parishes (Rev. Jeff Murph).
i don't know what will happen. all i know is that some beloved families have stopped worshipping with us, and others are contemplating leaving. the diverse and faithful community we love is fracturing, the body of Christ is suffering, and i don't know what the answer is.

this this passage in philippians 2 was one of the readings at worship this morning:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature of God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

may we as the Church work out our salvation with humility, fear and trembling, to the glory of God who work within us. as we pray each sunday after communion:
Grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart; 
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

1 comment:

Octamom said...

How my heart just aches for you in this season. We have experienced church splits before, over any variety of issues--and while I have sometimes felt pulled to the group 'leaving' and have at other times felt pulled to the group 'staying', I have overwhelmingly recognized the failure of the church to walk in unity and singleness of heart--and I know that grieves the heart of God. I pray for wisdom for your leadership, wisdom for your church family, wisdom for you and your husband as you walk through this decision. The verse that is on my heart is Romans 12:18--'If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.'

Your writing on this difficult season and topic is so beautiful, so poignant. Thank you for sharing your heart and journey. It is a situation that unfortunately too many of us have experienced. May we learn to be a Beautiful Bride, blameless and spotless before our Groom.


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