Signs, Signs, Everywhere Are Signs
Vol: 63 Issue: 18 Monday, December 18, 2006
Eight Episcopal churches in Northern Virginia voted to bolt from the denomination, widening the growing schism among America’s 2.2 Episcopalians.
First, a little background. The Episcopal Church is the American branch of the Church of England, or Anglican Church.
England had been Catholic for almost a thousand years until it separated from the Vatican in 1534. Henry the VIII applied to the Vatican for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
The sitting Pope, Clement VIII refused to grant one, so Henry VIII split with the Vatican and declared himself spiritual head of the Church of England. As the Anglican ‘pope’, Henry VIII could ensure his annulment request would be approved.
Henry gave himself lots of annulments. He granted himself four of them via his role as head of the church, and ‘divorced’ two others by chopping off their heads, via his role as head of state.
Following the Reformation, the Archbishop of Canterbury assumed the role of ‘spiritual head’ of the Church, but the sitting British monarch holds the title of “Supreme Governor of the Church of England.”
The Northern Virginia Episcopal diocese split wide open following the decision to ordain Gene Robinson as the denomination’s first openly homosexual bishop in 2003.
Following the decision, 24 parishes in the huge Virginia diocese partially or totally cut off funding to the diocese.
Bishop Peter Lee, the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia, made matters worse when he addressed some 500 leading Episcopalians on the matter a few months later.
Amazingly, he told the delegates, “If you must make a choice between heresy and schism, always choose heresy.”
And Lee wasn’t kidding when he said it. “For as a heretic, you are only guilty of a wrong opinion,” Bishop Lee said, quoting Presbyterian scholar James McCord.
“As a schismatic, you have torn and divided the body of Christ. Choose heresy every time.”
Rev. Martyn Minns, director of the Virginia branch of the American Anglican Conference, responded that Lee’s heresy comment was “doubly condescending,” Mr. Minns said. “It made light of the true pain we are experiencing.”
After almost two years of debate, the pain had turned to resolve.
The eight churches reported the vote among their combined congregations was almost unanimous. The departing congregations make up roughly 10 percent of the diocese’s 90,000 members and about 17 percent of the 32,000 people in the pew on an average Sunday.
I looked up ‘heresy’ in my handy Thesaurus (a standard feature of Mac OS X, I might add) and found the following synonyms for heresy; unorthodoxy, apostasy, blasphemy, freethinking; agnosticism, atheism, nonbelief; idolatry, paganism.
In that light, the statement: “When it comes to a choice between schism and heresy, choose heresy every time” is as staggering as a punch in the stomach.
It also makes me wonder why only 10 percent of Viriginia’s Episcopalians voted to flee. What is wrong with the rest of them?
The Episcopal Church of America was once one of America’s most conservative denominations. It was also among the country’s most respected. Fully twenty-five percent of all US presidents were Episcopalian.
Consider Bishop Lee’s comments in their full context. He was addressing the discontent among church members at the ordination of an openly gay bishop.
In that context, he called it a ‘heresy’ — which eliminates any lingering doubt as to whether the denomination really believes such ordinations are Biblical. Having openly admitted it as ‘heresy’ he took it to the next level and said heresy is acceptable.
It is worth requoting his exact words again: “Choose heresy every time.”
America makes no appearance in Bible prophecy during the Tribulation, but her fingerprints are all over the New Testament Epistles.
In this last generation, it is pretty much an accepted political fact that America is the world’s representative Christian nation. Genuine Christians may disagree, but that’s how the world sees the US.
That’s how Israel sees us. That’s how Europe sees us. That’s how Russia sees us. And it is certainly how the Islamic world sees us.
And if one compares American Christianity to the predicted state of the Church Age in the last days, it is a mirror image picture.
Paul could have been commenting on this exact heresy when he wrote;
“For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” (Romans 1:26-27)
Paul could have been responding directly to Bishop Lee’s defense of heresy when he followed with:
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” (Romans 1:28)
He could have been describing the overall state of the major Protestant denominations when he warned Timothy;
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (Timothy 4:3-4)
Lee’s comments — and their acceptance by the majority of his denomination, are also a perfect match for another of Paul’s Epistles — this one to the Church at Thessolonica.
Paul wrote them to directly address another heresy that had crept into their church. The Thessalonians were afraid they had missed; “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him.” (2nd Thessalonians 2:1)
Note the following. First, the Thessalonians believed that the Lord was coming and expected to be ‘gathered together unto Him.’ Secondly, they thought they’d missed it.
“That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.” (v. 2:2)
If they believed they had missed it, but were still there, going about their daily lives, then what does that imply? It implies two very important things.
The first is that fully they expected to gathered unto Jesus BEFORE the Tribulation, and NOT at the 2nd Coming.
Jesus said that at the 2nd Coming, EVERY EYE will see Him. The Thessalonians hadn’t seen Him, so they couldn’t have believed they missed the 2nd Coming of Christ. Any other reading of it fails the logic test.
The second thing that it implies is the pre-trib Rapture is NOT some new doctrine invented by Margaret MacDonald in the 19th century, since Paul said he was the one who taught them of a secret gathering of the Church to the Lord in the first place.
“Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?” (v. 2:5)
Paul also told them that day “shall not come, except there come a falling away first. . . ”
The word translated ‘falling away’ is ‘apostasia’ — from which we get our word ‘apostasy’ — which is a synonym for ‘heresy.’ Which is what Bishop Lee declared to be a good thing — while retaining 90% of his congregation — who evidently agree.
I headed today’s briefing, “Signs, Signs, Everywhere Are Signs” as a play on words from an old song title. Jesus was asked directly for signs from His disciples and He accommodated them.
“And as He sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?”
The very first sign Jesus listed of His soon return was,
“Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My Name, saying, I am Christ; AND SHALL DECEIVE MANY.” (Matthew 24:5b-6)
The signs all point to His soon return for His Church first — and soon! — so that “Wicked” can be revealed. (2nd Thessalonians 2:8)
Sometimes, even bad news can be good.