I’m an Anglican, nee: “Episcopalian.” At one time, those two words described the same thing. Not today. As I’ve previously recounted on these pages, in the late 60’s and early 70’s, a new breed of Episcopal priests – all of whom espoused theology that was far to the left of the mainstream – infiltrated the Episcopal Church hierarchy and eventually took over. They subsequently enacted changes to our denomination such as the ordination of women, followed by the ordination of openly homosexual priests, culminating in the ordination of a practicing homosexual bishop and support for homosexual marriage with the blessings of the church. This has resulted in a cataclysmic schism within the largest group of Episcopal churches in North America, and the virtual excommunication of those that support this group, by Anglicans in the rest of the world. That much is fact. In the last week or so, another large diocese – this time in Fort Worth – has chosen to leave the mothership (a.k.a. “The Episcopal Church” or “TEC”) and align themselves with other Anglicans who cannot stomach this endorsement of theological liberalism. Predictions are now that, within the next year, there will be a new organization of affiliated Anglican/Episcopal churches in the U.S.A. – a group that will have the blessings of the worldwide Anglican community, and one that will offer an alternative for communion to the liberal TEC bunch.
The larger question is, “what happened?” How did one group – the secular/progressive/liberals – stage what amounted to a very quiet coup, and hijack an entire denomination? I’ve wondered about that for years. And now, thanks to the Reverend Dr. Peter Toon of the Prayer Book Society, I have the answer.
They rewrote the Book of Common Prayer – and used it as a tool to attempt to remake our faith.
Let’s set the WABAC machine to the late sixties…say around 1968. By then, most churches were shrinking – not growing – and most people weren’t paying that much attention to what was going on in our nation’s seminaries. What few realized was that the seminaries has hired teachers that were espousing radical ideas and liberal interpretations of theology – and their students were listening. An entire crop of newly-minted priests has been exposed – some say “infected” – with a theological strain of liberalism, where gender bias was a sin, but living in sin, adultery, and homosexuality were “personal decisions.” Ideas that held that institutions like marriage were just convenient concepts, but had no permanence, no real relevance, and no sway over our culture. But it’s one thing to try and brainwash a bunch of priests. The liberal wing realized that was a slow way to win their theological gunfight. Far better would be to infect the entire faith, and what better way than to simply rewrite the playbook?
The movement to “modernize” the Prayer Book gained traction as attendance declined nationwide. Liberals argued that the Book of Common Prayer was an anachronism, and that updating it would make it more “relevant” for society today. They argued that the language in the 1928 BCP was simply too obscure and hard to fathom, and that this was the main cause of the decline in attendance. If only we’d all agree to a new book, we could grow our faith once again. The quest for a rewrite began.
I remember, as a young acolyte, stitting there in my pew, reading over these new pamphlets with trial versions of the various rites and services in them. It was a painful process. Revision after revision, our rector and his assistants gamely tried to go through the service, helping people understand that “change is for our own good,” and “holding onto tradition is counterproductive.” (Many of these same arguments came back to me a few years later, as I read Aldus Huxley’s 1984.)
The new book was standardized and approved in 1979. Most churches I knew of asked their Bishops for permission to continue using the “old” (1928) prayer book. Most requests were denied, or churches were allowed to compromise with a brief, transitional grace period. Then the new book became the law of the land.
To many, this may seem like a tempest in a teapot. But, again, thanks to Dr. Toon, I now realize what we lost, and what kind of theological shell game the libs played with our book. The Prayer Book Society (www.pbsusa.org) puts out a newsletter, Mandate, which in this issue features an article that lists twenty specific differences between the theology of the ’28 book and the ’79 one. Reading it was a revelation. I’d always intuitively known the ’79 book was less than the sum of it’s parts – but now I know why. Here’s a sampling of Dr. Toon’s comparisons:
The ’28 BCP offers consistent doctrine throughout, in line with the Thirty-Nine Articles.
The ’79 BCP offers inconsistent theology throughout, with a variety of doctrines.
The ’28 BCP sees Baptism as a sacrament ordained by God, set forth with conditions and requirements that are non-negotiable.
The ’79 BCP sees Baptism as man and God as “partners” – with God as the “Senior partner.”
The ’28 BCP is committed to the doctrine of generous and gracious male leadership – thus the ordaining of women is not supported.
The ’79 BCP is committed to equality in all things, therefore supports the ordination of women (and offers no barriers to homosexual ordination.
The ’28 BCP features a traditional Catechism based on the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.
The ’79 BCP contains a new, modernized Catechism centered on humanism, freedom, and individual rights.
The ’28 BCP presents marriage as a permanent union in the eyes of God between one man and one woman.
The ’79 BCP presents marriage as a convenient pairing between two individuals, who may or may not produce children, may or may chose to stay together, and can pretty much do whatever they want.
The ’28 BCP describes God as a holy, righteous and strict Father who lovingly expects his creatures to toe the line and do his will.
The ’79 BCP Rite II portrays God as a generous Father/Parent who’d really, really like it if his creatures would be every so kind to consider doing what he suggests.
I’ve dramatically paraphrased Dr. Toon’s words here (and encourage you to click on the link and read his article – I am but a layman…Dr. Toon knows his theology!), both because I have no desire to plagiarize…and because I have the freedom to be as pejorative and dismissive of the ’79 BCP as I want to be.
In my opinion, the ’79 BCP is “Exhibit One” when it comes time to charge The Episcopal Church with Heresies, Crimes Against Religion, and the crime of attempted hijacking of my denomination’s faith. Fortunately, over 100 years ago, a group of Episcopalians broke off from the main church to “re-form” the religion into something that was not veering off the path. That group, the Reformed Episcopal Church, is the parent group of my own church, All Saints Anglican, here in Amarillo. We use the ’28 book exclusively. Even better, recently the REC has been invited to join the Anglican worldwide Communion. It seems that we’ve been keeping the faith – quite literally – as the group known as TEC has been busy dumbing-down religion for their own, liberal theological goals.
If you’re at all interested in the causes of the much-publicised Episcopal schism, I encourage you to read Dr. Toon’s article – and visit an REC church near you.