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Episcopal Presiding Bishop's Faux Jesus Movement Evangelistic Crusades

Episcopal Presiding Bishop's Faux Jesus Movement Evangelistic Crusades

By David W. Virtue, DD
May 9, 2017

When the new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, announced his Jesus Movement agenda at his first press conference at the last General Convention in Utah, his predecessor, Katharine Jefferts Schori, looked bewildered. She had spent nine years pushing a revisionist agenda that had taken the Church a thousand miles away from Christ, spent millions of dollars fighting for properties and watched as TEC publicly shrank before her eyes. She further declared that a personal relationship with Jesus was a Western heresy likened to "work" rather than the free grace of God and said Jesus was not the only way to salvation.

Bishop Curry rode in on a horse called the Jesus Movement, and, with much fanfare, announced a new day had dawned for the Episcopal Church.

It would no longer just be about social issues, but cultural issues together with a schmeer of 'come-to-Jesus' evangelism that includes lots of talk about racism, white privilege, love and social involvement that would hopefully bring the masses back through TEC's red doors.

To date, Curry has held two "evangelistic" style crusades -- one in Pittsburgh, the other in western Missouri. Both were accompanied by much hype, hope and hallelujah.

In Pittsburgh, the good news was centered on reconciliation, crossing racial and geographic boundaries, praying together and healing broken communities. The gatherings tailored for that work took place in two Episcopal churches in Pittsburgh and one in McKeesport and at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

By any reading, Curry's understanding of evangelism falls far short of authentic Biblical evangelism and no one apparently came forward because there was no altar call and no mention of who Jesus is and what He came into the world to do and die for, but everybody was made to feel better about themselves, which is the exact opposite of evangelism's purpose.

(In the interests of full disclosure,) many decades ago, I worked as the assistant pastor of a large Black Baptist church in Montclair, NJ. The pastor was the Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, who later went on to pastor a 4,000-member church in Shaker Heights, Ohio. He is now the president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He taught preaching at Princeton seminary for a number of years, and if you ever heard him preach, you would know why.

Unlike Curry, McMickle had a clear fix on the gospel, while being socially relevant. Almost every Sunday he would preach strong biblically based sermons ending with an altar call, urging his people to repent of their sins, give their lives to Christ and follow him till they died.

Like most Black preachers, he did not dodge relevant social issues, but he never compromised the nature and message of the gospel and the need for people to be in a right relationship with God in Christ, the recognition of man's self-centeredness, rebellion and sinfulness and man's need for salvation.

He preached Christ crucified, words that you will not hear on the lips of Bishop Michael Curry. He talked about sin -- all sin -- not just racism, and yes, he did mention racism once or twice in his sermons. But it was never the central thrust of his sermon. Never. (I was known affectionately as a reverse Oreo cookie). I took it in the spirit it was given.

Consider some of Curry's words in Pittsburgh recently:

"Episcopal Church, we need you to follow Jesus. We need you to be the countercultural people of God who would love one another, who would care when others could care less, who would give, not take."

High sounding words. These words presume that Episcopalians are not following Jesus, which might be true, but it is hardly helpful. Yes, Christians are a counter-cultural people called to love one another, to care for the least of these --- all true, but these words could be said by a Unitarian with a Jesus overlay. What is missing is any mention of the cross, of our rebellion before a holy God, our need for repentance and faith. Nothing. It is half a gospel at best and "another gospel" at worst. It falls far short of real revival understood by a Jonathan Edwards, the Wesley brothers, or closer to home, Billy Graham, or my former pastor, Dr. Marvin McMickle.

His prayer for this and subsequent revivals, he said during one of his four sermons, is that they will be the beginning of "a way of new life for us as this wonderful Episcopal Church, bearing witness to the love of God in Jesus in this culture and in this particular time in our national history."

But one cannot talk about the "love of God" while overlooking (or conveniently ignoring) the "wrath of God against all unrighteousness". No such words drop from Curry's lips. Keep talking about love, love, love, but that does a terrible injustice to the words of the Nicene Creed which says..."and he shall JUDGE the living and the dead and of his Kingdom there shall be no end." Judgement is not a word Episcopal bishops like to talk about except to rail against the rich or a president who stands for everything they don't.

Now, bearing in mind that the average age of an Episcopalian is now well into the 60s, this kind of thinking will be new for Episcopalians. Episcopal priests (whose average age is also in the 60s) are not used to talking about evangelism let alone revivals, that's the language of Pentecostals or rah rah evangelicals, unless of course one thinks that the marriage of two men (or women) of the same sex is a revival moment. The language of revival smacks more of Franklin Graham or Nicky Gumbel...the kind of evangelism that makes Episcopalians decidedly nervous.

The deeper issue is that if you don't have life in yourself, you can't pass along what you yourself have not received, and 98% of Episcopalians don't. How can you lead someone to Christ if that is not what you believe yourself...and furthermore believe that baptism makes conversion unnecessary!

And that is why Curry's "Jesus Movement" falls short and will ultimately fail as have other "revival" ideas like doubling the church by 2020 and TREC. Focusing on social concerns, racism and taking stands on culturally relevant issues is not legitimate conversion. It's like putting lipstick on a Bernie Sanders or a Barack Obama in the hope that out will pop Tony Campolo. It's not going to happen. In fact, Campolo could pull it off precisely because he is a left of center evangelical who can speak to Episcopalians in a way Curry cannot. I watched when Campolo spoke to the entire diocese of New Jersey. He wooed and wowed them so well, the bishop practically made an altar call and then prayed extemporaneously at the end!

In West Missouri, Curry billed all three events under the banner of "Awakening the Spirit in West Missouri".

In Kansas City, Curry's evangelism director said, "Our great hope is that these revivals both awaken the spirit within Episcopalians and with the communities around us and that Episcopalians will grow in their love for Jesus even as we welcome our neighbors into this loving, life-giving, liberating way with Jesus and as we join together in the Jesus Movement that changes us and changes society."

"Once the diocese has discerned what enacting the good news of Jesus would look like in its communities, members of the church-wide staff come to the diocese to help with organizational details and to begin that work of capacity building. Moreover, they return to the dioceses after the events to work with Episcopalians to cultivate leaders who have new abilities, new relationships and a new common purpose to further enact Jesus' love in their communities."

Based on this, nothing will change. Without genuine metanoia accompanied by faith in Jesus with changed lives, Curry's "revival" notions will not bring people back into Episcopal churches.

As one observer noted, Curry's "evangelical revivals" are not based upon a biblical view of Christ crucified for our sins. Instead, they are based upon cultural relativism and social concerns. ACNA and TEC are promoting two different gospels with different outcomes and therefore different results.


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