The Lambeth Conference, the international Anglican Communion's (AC) once-a-decade convention of international bishops guiding the 3rd largest Christian denomination, ended its 18 days of meetings, Bible studies, & prayer with a hope-filled message by Archbishop Rowan Williams (58) noting that it appears the meeting will promote creation of a loose agreement among the many international Anglican groups to remain united in worship & governance while respecting as much as possible the divergencies among the churches, ranging from the most traditional conservatives to the most changeable liberals.
The most traditional cling to the 450 year old original Anglican convenants, rejecting even ordination of women, as well as any approval of homosexuality, including the ordination of any active homosexuals, the consecration of any homosexuals as bishops, & church blessings or rites for same sex unions. The most liberal join the majority in affirming ordination of women, but go far beyond that step in actually pushing not only for the ordination of sexually practicing but monogamous homosexuals as priests, but also the consecration of the same as bishops, & formal same sex blessings or unions.
Archbishop Williams, the higest cleric in the AC, was joined by more than 650 bishops & archbishops for more than 2 weeks in an effort to prevent a formal breakup of the 80 million member denomination that is clustered in more than 44 regional & national churches in more than 160 countries worldwide. Only Roman Catholicism & Eastern Orthodoxy exceed membership worldwide. Anglicanism is not ruled by a heirarchy like the pope of Roman Catholicism, & is able to make changes in its administration, unlike the governance of Eastern Orthodoxy, which clings to the foundational confessions of the Christian church before it split formally into Roman Catholic & Eastern Orthodox in A.D. 1054. The Lambeth Conference is the opportunity for the leading bishops & archbishops to come to concensus on the major issues of faith & practice facing the Anglican churches worldwide.
The Anglican Communion is closer to a formal split now than at any time in its 450 year history because of 2 main changes in the last decade. First, worldwide Anglican membership has shifted its locus from the mostly developed, mostly white, mostly European & American churches of previous centuries to the mostly developming, mostly ethnic, mostly African, South American, & Asian churches, which are much more conservative than the others. Second, the Canadian (Anglican Church of Canada -- ACC) & American Anglican bodies in the last 10 years have begun ordaining sexually practicing but monogamous homosexuals, some churches have performed same sex union blessings as formal church ceremonies, & the American Anglicans, the Episcopal Church (ECUSA), in 2003 consecrated Gene Robinson, a homosexual Episcopal priest who divorced his wife to be with his long-time homosexual partner, to be the bishop of New Hampshire. Since that consecration, many congregations in the US & Canada have disassociated themselves from the ECUSA & the ACC, seeking international Anglican communion oversight from governing bodies in other countries.
The Lambeth Conference concluded Sunday, August 3, with worship (including a homily by Archbishop Williams), a press conference with Williams, & the release of a report on the conference. Williams & the report announced general agreement among the attendees to work toward a new pact among all parties to the disagreements that would avoid a formal split while respecting both the traditional & liberal commitments. Williams & the report both affirmed that there was widespread agreement for continuing a "moratoria" on ordination or consecration of sexually activie homosexuals & formal church same sex blessings while the covenant is negotiated over the next few years; & agreement that the churches disaffected from the ECUSA & ACC would stay under their respective national governances until the covenant is completed & adopted.
Archbishop Williams said he hoped leaders could agree on a draft version of the covenant within a year, but that re-drafting & approval would probably not be accomplished until 2013. That might give impetus for another Lambeth meeting in only 5 years instead of the traditional 10 years.
The 18 day conference was not held for the purpose of affirming, changing, or creating new regulations, but as an opportunity for the church's highest leaders to spend time to listen to each other, pray together, immerse themselves in study of scripture together, & discuss the divisions among them. This was accomplished by breaking the attendees into small group gatherings dubbed "indabas," after a Zulu term for tribal meetings on a village level that are called to settle disputes by discussion rather than force or autocratic power. No issues were set to a vote during the conference.
Bishop N. T. (Tom) Wright, one of the leading British Anglican bishops, Bishop of Durham, & a leader in the negotiations to prevent a formal split, has written a number of essays on the conference & the issues that are available on the N. T. Wright home page. Bishop Wright is a leading New Testament scholar & popular author whose conservative theology & pastoral commitment makes him one of the best known Anglicans in the wider evangelical Protestant world.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) governing body, meeting in San Jose this last week, has overturned a long-standing ban against the ordination of gays & lesbians, although the decision is not expected to be ratified by the necessary majority of the nation's 173 regional presbyteries (are groupings of congregations) over the next year.
Lisa Larges, national co-ordinator for That All May Freely Serve, an organization supporting gay equality in the PCUSA, said, "I feel proud of my church today. I think a generational shift is what we are witnessing. There is a whole generation coming of age for whom acceptance is a given. The church is beginning to experience that sea change."
But not all PCUSA members & clergy feel the same. Rev. John Huffman of the 3,100 member St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church of Newport Beach, California, said, "Already, many of our strongest churches, including mine, are losing members who are disgusted with a political operation that is not Christ-oriented or Scripture-oriented."
Part 2 of the comprehensive religious survey of 35,000 Americans & their religious affiliations, beliefs, & practices was released June 26, 2008 by the Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life. Part 1, focusing on American religious affiliation, was released in February.
Part 2 shows that most Americans do not approach their faith dogmatically. A majority who affiliate themselves with a particular religion do not believe that their religion is the only way to salvation. About the same number believe that there is more than one way to interpret the major beliefs of their religion.
More than half of those surveyed said religion is a very important part of their lives. More than half attend religious services regularly & pray daily. Some readers may be surprised that a majority of respondents want their religion to preserve its traditional views & practices, not to adopt "modern" beliefs & practices. Most believe that there is a conflict between being a "devout person" & "living in a modern society."
The survey found that the most conservative a person was religiously, the more conservative he or she was on political & social issues such as homosexuality & abortion; but that political & social views on issues like the environment & foreign affairs were less affected by religious conservatism.
Although almost all those who identified with a particular religion believed in God, how they conceived of God differed. Among evangelical Protestants, only 13% believed God was "an impersonal force," but that percentage rose to 53% among Hindus & 50% among Jews. Even among those who said they were religiously "unaffiliated," 70% said they believed in God of some kind.
The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), the lagest Presbyterian denomination in the United States, has lost more than 57,000 members in the last year, church leaders announced at their church's General Assembly in San Francisco over this last week. The 2.5% drop leaves the membership at 2.2 million at a time when the group is also discussing ordaining homosexuals in active relationships, affirming abortion choice, & declining to affirm that the Bible is wholly the inerrant Word of God. Over the last year, 12 congregations have switched to other denominations (including other Presbyterian groups), & 71 were dissolved. Additionally, about 130 congregations have threatened to leave the association because of disagreements about the leadership's stances on homosexuality & the Bible.
PCUSA outgoing stated clerk Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick noted, "While it is deeply painful to lose this many members for any reason, it is obvious that the vast majority of Presbyterians are committed to staying in the PCUSA & doing Christ's mission together."
Working in the northern Jordanian city of Rihab for 3 months, archaeologists from the Rihab Center for Archaeological Studies (RCAS) have uncovered an ancient catacomb (subterranean burial place) with evidence of early Christian rituals underneath the remains of an early Christian church dating to around AD 230.
The ancient church, named St. Gorgeous, is one of the oldest Christian churches yet discovered. The earliest Christians worshiped primarily in the great rooms or patios of private homes & worship in buildings dedicated entirely to worship did not become numerous until the 3rd century AD (the 200s).
The catacomb lies under St. Georgeous church. The dig is led by archaeologist Abdel-Qader Hassan, head of the RCAS. Hassan says his team believes the mention of 70 faithful followers in a mosaic in the floor of the St. Gorgeous church directly above the catacomb refers to the early Christian believers who worshiped underground during early Christian persecution. Hassan says there is evidence that worship took place in one part of the catacomb, & that believers lived together in another part.
The Texas State Third Court of Appeals in Austin has ruled that child welfare officials did not have grounds under state law for removing more than 400 children from their parents last month. The officials moved to seize the children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) on the basis of anonymous phone call to a child abuse hotline claiming to be from an minor girl in the sect who had been forced to marry a close relative who was physically & sexually abusing her. That individual has never been identified, & there was some initial evidence that the call had actually come from a much older woman who had made other fraudulent calls from Colorado previously on other crisis issues. Child welfare officials had argued that the sect forced underage girls to marry & raised underage boys to believe they should become adult predators.
The appeals court rulled that the grounds were "legally & factually insufficient." The appealate court argued that the only grounds for taking children from their homes without court proceedings would be a clear demonstration that the children were in immediate danger.
The New Press, a non-profit publisher funded by socially & politically liberal causes, is launching a new line of books on religion designed specifically to critique conservative cores of various religions & to affirm the common prejudice that religion in general, & religions in particular, forment discrimination against gender, sexual orientation, & other minority groups.
Eight titles are slated to debut the new line, which is funded by a major grant from the Kendeda Sustainability Fund distributed by the liberal social justice organization the Tides Foundation.
Feminst religious scholar & activist Rita Brock will be the supervisor of the books, which will be divided into 2 series: one series will include books, each of which will address a different religion, designed to critique the core values & beliefs of major religions; the other series will focus on progressive religious social issues, particularly how the conservative cores of various religions oppress various minority groups. Brock announced, "Our plan is to break down the stereotype of religion as a right-wing phenomenon & to support progressive laypeople with materials that can help them make their case."
In a denomination where conservative biblical foundational documents have been supplanted by same sex union blessings, approval of actively gay clergy, & abandonment of the supreme authority of scriture, a conservative, biblically faithful, evangelical theologian doesn't feel comfortable. For famed theologian J. I. Packer (81), this discomfort has become unbearable & the prolific author has left the Canadian arm of the international Anglican Communion for the more conservative & orthodox Province of the Southern Cone Anglican fellowship in South America. Packer made the move with 10 other British Columbian Anglican clergy last week.
Packer says he can no longer serve under Vancouver Bishop Michael Ingham, saying he "appears heretical" for sanctioning same sex blessing in BC Anglican churches. In recent years, 28 parishes have voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada for its liberal moves, aligning themselves with other international Anglican provinces that are more conservative.
Packer's perinially best-selling book Knowing God (1973) summarizes biblical evangelical Protestant faith as including the authority of the Bible as the "absolute authority" on divine revelation, teaching, & truth, & describes moral rectitude as outlined in the Bible explicitly disallowing homosexuality as acceptable Christian behavior. Packer & the others who left the Canadian communion have denied that they have left true Anglicanism, but instead aver that the liberal leadership of the Canadian communion have left true Anglicanism. "I'm simply being an old-fashioned mainstream Anglican," he said.
UPDATE MON APR 21 -- According to a St. Louis (MO) Post-Disatch article, the LCMS is continuing to insist that the cancellation of Issues Etc. was financial, although they have admitted that it was by far the most popular program on the LCMS owned radio station, KFUO-AM, the oldest continuously Christian radio station in America. More than 7200 supporters have signed the petition urging the station to reinstate the program, more than 200 showed up to a supporters prayer service in the area, & more than 75 picketed the LCMS headquarters, their signs asking for accountability from the Lutheran denomination. For more details, see Lutheran Radio Program's Demise Is a Symptom of Larger Ills.
Although the show was more popular than any other on the station, & although its hosts had raised more money for the station & the denomination than any others, & although its hosts had always affirmed traditional, biblical, Christian theology & Lutheran heritage, the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) (LCMS) leadership has cancelled Issues Etc. & summarily terminated host Todd Wilken & his producer Jeff Schwarz, effective last Tuesday, March 18, in the middle of Holy Week.
While Wilken & Schwarz were given no notice or explanation, nor was anyone else connected with the program, the LCMS quickly posted a notice stating the show was cancelled for buiness & "programmic" reasons. When thousands of e-mails, letters, phone calls, & petition signatures put extreme pressure on the LCMS, a revised statment was posted that claimed low listnership & expensive costs as the reasons behind the abrupt cancellation & terminations. Although some figures were cited to suport the claims, full analysis of the situation belies the official revised statement
In a March 28, 2008 Wall Street Journalarticle, Millie Ziegler Hemingway noted what is more probably the actual reason for the program's demise: "the program was in all likelihood a pawn in a larger battle for the soul of the Missouri Synod. The church is divided between, on the one hand, traditional Lutherans known for their emphasis on sacraments, liturgial worship & the church's historic confessions and, on the other, those who have embraced pop-culture Christianity & a market-driven approach to church growth. The divide is well known to all confessional Christian denominations struggling to retain their traditional identity." Issues Etc. was firmly in the traditional camp, although the hosts never directly criticized the LCMS, its leadership,or programs adopted by the leadership that were more pop-culture Christianity.
The Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, LCMS current president, is of the pop-culture Christianity faction, being well known for his statement "This is not your grandfather's church."
A lay-driven movement in opposition to the cancelling of Issues Etc. & the termination of Wilken & Schwarz has generated a petition signed by over 5000 individuals, including pastors, Lutherans, & non-Lutherans from 49 states, 27 denominations, & 25 countries. Letters, e-mails, & phone calls have swamped the LCMS offices in St. Louis. Various friends & supporters have begun raising funds for the Wilken & Schwarz families, including Schwarz's home church, St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Hamel, Illinois.
Whether the conservatives will preserve the faith heritage of the LCMS as they did in the 1970s when a similar split loomed remains to be seen. That a huge wave of conservative Lutheran energy has arisen is beyond dispute.
Answers In Action director Gretchen Passantino, author of this article, was a frequent guest interviewed on Issues Etc. & has signed the petition & provided support for Wilken & Schwarz.,
Workers engaged in excavating beneath the Greek city of Thessaloniki have discovered a graveyard dating from the first century BC through the fifth century AD that may offer evidence of early Christian & Jewish life in the city whose church the Apostle Paul addressed twice in his New Testament writings (1 & 2 Thessalonians).
The workers uncovered the 1,000 or so graves preparing to install a portion of the Thessaloniki metro. Digging began in 2006 & the first 13 stations are to be completed by the end of 2012.
Most of the graves (886), which ranged from simple holes with the remnants of simple wooden coffins to 5 room family mausoleums, were found just east of the city center, which was the eastern countryside during ancient days.
The Greek government will have supervisory oversight of the site & its contents as they are cataloged & studied by archaeologists.
The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26