June 21, 2006

Apostasy and Anathema


I've not commented on the debates in the mainline Protestant churches, using the phrase, "I don't have a dog in that fight."

But skeptic though I am, I've been reading up on Orthodox Christianity and dipping into the church fathers, and frankly, watching the antics of the Episcopalians, 'tis a puzzlement. In boarding school we had compulsory chapel 5 times a week, and I liked it, especially the hymns, which came from the Episcopal hymnal, although the rest of the services were more Congregationalist. We also had to read the whole Bible in a class that was less than illuminating because not well taught.

What I don't get is theologically liberal Christianity. The sources of authority are Scripture (only scripture, if you're Protestant of most varieties) and Tradition. The Catholics also look to Papal authority and the Orthodox toward the personal experience, within the Church, of theosis, or movement toward the divine.

If you accept a substantial part of any of the foregoing, fair enough. You are at least a semi-orthodox Christian, at least by aspiration. If you don't accept the Scripture as inspired in some sense, don't revere the Tradition, and take yourself alone as Authority, why pretend to be even semi-orthodox? You are apostate--a follower of a different religion. Whatever it may call itself, it's not Christianity.

Why deny it? To hang on to the buildings? Because the songs are nice? To preserve a tribal identity, like Reconstructionist Jews, who pray to a God they don't believe exists? Because it's stylish to wear vestments? To rationalize conduct that Scripture, Tradition, and Authority all condemn?

There are people who call Jesus their Mother, and ordain lesbian priestesses and alcoholic practicing homosexual bishops. To an outsider such as I, these carryings-on seem bizarre, flying in the face of Scripture and 2,000 years of Church tradition.

The Church fathers in their sermons and codices sought to define their faith as against heretics, and in Councils ended up declaring ideas that contradicted scripture and tradition to be anathema. This process went on for hundreds of years, so not much can be said about this particualr slice of time in the life of the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches.

However, to this outsider it seems that much of mainstream American Protestantism is apostate from any variety of orthodox Christianity, and to the followers of Scripture, Tradition and Authority, its ideas and practices will ultimately be anathema.

Where this all will leave American culture and society is unclear. Perhaps we will become secular, like Europe. Perhaps the more traditional denominations will grow in power. Perhaps the disintegration of Protestantism will lead to the conclusion that Tradition and Authority are required to preserve the faith, to the advantage of the Catholic and the Orthodox churches.

It surely will be interesting to watch.