the Episcopal Church and Scripture

From time to time one hears the presenting issue between the Episcopal Church and its critics is really not the morality homosexuality so much but rather the authority of Scripture; here is R. Albert Mohler, President of the of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in 2003:

For a church to move to ... elect a homosexual bishop is to abdicate biblical authority in such an extreme way that it raises questions about the whole integrity of the church.

A bit closer to home, here is the Episcopal Church's Canon Kendall Harmon of South Carolina in 2005:

While the clash over sexuality makes the headlines, it is only the tip of the iceberg; underneath the debate about non-celibate same-sex relationships lurks the deeper issues of the authority and interpretation of scripture and the way authority is dispersed in the Church.

One could easily multiply instances; here is the spokesman for the new ecclesial entity of Quincy, one-time Episcopalian vicar John Spencer in 2008:

We feel the Episcopal Church has been on a fast, major drift away from scriptural authority and historic Christian teaching....

Blogger Ramsey Wilson of what was once the Falls Church congregation of the Episcopal Church put the gist of the contention well back in 2006:

The 2003 confirmation of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, a divorced father of two who is an admitted, non-celibate, unrepentant homosexual, no doubt is important to orthodox Christians in the Episcopal Church. The importance, though, derives from the fact that Bishop Robinson’s confirmation is merely the latest in a long line of instances in which the Episcopal Church has expressed an utter lack of respect for the authority and reliability of Scripture. [emphasis mine]

Whatever the efficacy of homosexuality as a sexy wedge issue around which to rally the discontented, the conservative Anglican case for criticizing the Episcopal Church stands or falls on exactly this point about the authority of Scripture. In other words:

[A] If the critique is justified, then the Episcopal Church must have an utter lack of respect for the authority of Scripture.

By "the critique" I mean the cluster of opinions of both those who would merely like to see the Episcopal Church reprimanded in some severe way by the Anglican Communion as a whole, and those who would like to see the Episcopal Church replaced as a province in the Anglican Communion. The severe reprimand above would compel the Episcopal Church to choose either to conform to the order of the Anglican Communion or else assent to leave it.

The point I wish to make with statement [A] is that if the Episcopal Church did indeed after all have respect for Scripture's authority, then the critique would be a significant overreaction. The ordination of VGR cannot be merely an isolated instance of error, or merely part of a contingent pattern of error; it has to be part of a systemic failure rooted not in an innocent or superficial mistake, but in a conscious and settled rejection of Scripture's authority. Otherwise, our critics would have needlessly introduced dissension and division into the Body of Christ.

So, I contend that

[B] the Episcopal Church respects Scripture's authority.

If [B] holds, it would follow from [A] that our critics are not justified. In that case, the actions of CANA, GAFCON, etc would be rooted in error--an error dangerous to the substance of the faith, inasmuch as the orthodox are credally pledged to believe in the unity and catholicity of the Body of Christ, and these critics are exactly such orthodox by their own proclamation.

The case for [B] is quite strong in my opinion, inasmuch as the Epicopal Church has left little question as to where it stands on the issue of Biblical authority; volumes from the most recent two Church's Teaching Series from the '70s and late '90s have been devoted to the issue, and there are several other monographs with similar degrees of authority. Moreover, it seems to me equally clear that the actions of GC2003 are rooted in the approach to Scripture outlined in these publications.

Thus, I propose looking into these volumes to see what the Episcopal Church actually says about Scripture and Biblical authority; alas, I am unwilling merely to take our conservative brothers and sisters at their word on this one.

Where to start? Why not with Roger Ferlo's Opening the Bible; you can pick it up new for $12 and used for $3, plus 4$ shipping at Amazon, for instance.

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