Monday, September 1, 1997

Impaired Authority: Obeying God in a Time of Chaos

Impaired Authority: Obeying God in a Time of Chaos

By Stephen Noll

"In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). There come times in the history of God’s people when, under divine judgment, legitimate authority breaks down and groups of believers must fend for themselves.

WHEN Solomon’s son Rehoboam arrogantly asserted his royal power, ten tribes defied him, saying "To your tents, O Israel!" (1 Kings 12:16). John the Baptist was beheaded for telling King Herod that he had no authority to marry his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). And the apostles refused the order from the High Priest and the Sanhedrin not to preach the Gospel, saying: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

Many loyal Episcopalians are shocked and grieved when they come to realize that their beloved Church has entered into such a time of chaos. But wishing it otherwise does not change the reality.

The Episcopal breakdown

The spiritual breakdown in the Episcopal Church is not new. It dates back as far as Bishop James Pike’s glorification of heresy in the 1960’s. Since 1979, a growing number of bishops has openly rejected biblical and traditional norms on homosexuality, invoking conscience and "justice" as their guide, and their colleagues have failed to hold them accountable for their disobedience.

The 1997 General Convention has brought the crisis to a head. First, the Convention made clear that it will not uphold the biblical standard of sexual morality, even when it gives verbal assent to marriage. It welcomed openly practicing homosexuals (including one bishop!) to its microphones and onto its committees without any acknowledgment that their behavior is contrary to Scripture and the Church’s official teaching. It elected a Presiding Bishop who, like his predecessor, has publicly advocated the ordination of practicing homosexuals and rites for same-sex unions. The House of Bishops deep-sixed the Kuala Lumpur statement on sexuality that had been unanimously affirmed by eighty Third World representatives of the Anglican Communion.

Second, the Convention made clear that it will exclude anyone who opposes its version of sexual "justice." In 1997, its wrath was turned on Episcopalians who do not accept the ordination of women as God’s will for the Church. As of next January 1, they will be officially disenfranchised. Only fools can doubt that, by the same rhetoric, opponents of the gay agenda will find themselves scapegoated in the near future.

One year ago, the American Anglican Council adopted "A Place to Stand: A Call to Mission" as its witness to Christ in a divided Church, saying: We desire to be supportive of congregations, dioceses, provinces, and the national structures of the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. However, when there arise within the Church at any level tendencies, pronouncements, and practices contrary to biblical, classical Anglican doctrinal and moral standards, we must not and will not support them.

Such tendencies, pronouncements, and practices were on full display at the General Convention, and with approval in high places. For this reason, we have concluded that the Episcopal Church is now functioning in a state of "impaired authority." Impaired authority means that some Church laws and leaders are legitimate and should be obeyed, while other laws and leaders should be disobeyed, out of reverence for a higher law and a greater Lord.

As events of the Convention unfolded, Bishop Fitz Allison gave the following advice: "Stay. Don’t Obey. Don’t Pay. Pray." In a state of impaired authority, it is our responsibility to those who have gone before us both to stay and resist, praying that God will restore and reform the Episcopal Church.

What kind of actions are consistent with this response? The AAC includes those who believe that drastic action is required, e.g., formal breaking of communion, withholding of funds from revisionist bureaucracies, and providing of alternative episcopal oversight to beleaguered parishes. It includes others who intend to witness to the truth within present laws and structures and hope that the new Presiding Bishop will offer a bold plan of power sharing to give us proportionate influence in national church affairs.

AAC members share a radical commitment to stand with all those individuals and groups that are contending for the biblical faith in a godly manner. We urge those who disobey to take action openly, lovingly, and responsibly, and we will assist them in their witness. We will also be open to "win-win" solutions from Church authorities. But we will not compromise historic and biblical principles.

In his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King wrote: "I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church; I love her sacred walls…. But oh! how we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being nonconformists."

Sexual libertinism is the particular "social neglect" of our Church. Instead of offering the bread of healing and order to a generation of sexually broken people, the Episcopal elites have given them the stone of consensual sex as an "experience" and a "right." In so doing, they shortchange the grace and power of God to align our lives with his order, attested to by many ex-gays, and they make impossible true pastoral care and proclamation.

The apostles foresaw our day when they warned against divisions in the Church caused by "worldly people, devoid of the Spirit" (Jude 19). The world has been too much with the leadership of the Episcopal Church. We call them to turn back from an agenda that is destructive to lives and souls and to the peace and unity of the Church.

We love the Church, yes our branch of the Church, for whom Christ died so that he might present her spotless to his Father. Even in its impaired condition. With a clear conscience, we will disobey human authority in order to obey God. And we will also heed the apostle’s word of comfort in such a time: "But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 20-21).

I wrote this article after the 1997 General Convention. Two years later, I went further in proposing "broken communion" with bishops who openly defied Scripture.

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