Sunday, February 04, 2007

On Episcopalians and absolutes

Norman Siefferman writes a letter to the editor of the The Free Lance-Star:
Until recently, one of the most outstanding and attractive features of the Episcopal Church was its avoidance of doctrinal dogmatism. You sat in your pew on Sundays and had no real idea how your neighbors interpreted the faith.

For all you knew, your neighbor might be an agnostic who happened to like the superb English of the Prayer Book, or he/she might be a zealous, red-hot evangelical who secretly wished to convert the world to total-immersion baptism. In either case, no one tried to bother you with his or her private beliefs.

Worship was corporate; we were all in it together, but the finer points of doctrine were left to the individual.

Why all that latitude in belief and doctrine? Because, as the preacher (if he had a theological education worthy of the name) told us, none of us knew for sure. None of us had a grip on the absolute truth, and we were willing to admit it.

God knew it, but the rest of us saw and understood things as in an ancient and poorly made mirror, that is, barely if at all. It was God's sacraments of baptism and Eucharist that bound us all together, not our own private and often weird beliefs.

We did not bother others with what we knew to be matters of our private and often uninformed opinions.

But something happened along that pleasant way. ... Some people began to believe they and they alone owned the truth.
The Bible often tells us that only God can know the absolute truth, and any human claim to know it amounts to idolatry. Idolatry means regarding something that is entirely human (doctrines, for example) as eternal and divine.

Meanwhile, Episcopalians on both sides of the current quarrel seem to believe they know the absolute truth, and they are willing to wreck a venerable institution in the name of it.
I note that he wrote, "both sides of the current quarrel seem to believe they know the absolute truth." Fair enough.

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