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Episcopal Church Attempts to Jump Start itself with Evangelism Conference

Episcopal Church Attempts to Jump Start itself with Evangelism Conference

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue DD
May 31, 2016

The Episcopal Church, a denomination that is watching as its average Sunday attendance numbers fall year over year, hopes to jump start its numbers by holding Evangelism Matters, an evangelism conference in November of this year. Led by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the hope is that the church will reverse its declining fortunes and pour new life into a structurally moribund, morally and theologically flawed Church.

It is the evangelistic bonfire of the vanities.

Previous attempts, including efforts to double the church by 20/20, and, more recently TREC, - a Taskforce for Reimagining The Episcopal Church begun in 2014, have, so far, failed to reignite imaginations or jumpstart church growth. All that has happened is that the Church has changed its marriage canons to allow pansexualists to ecclesiastically unite. All trendy attempts have failed to see a mad rush for the red doors of local episcopal parishes. The rusted signs of 'The Episcopal Church Welcomes You' look as aged as the people in the pews.

TREC's desire for hope and change was supposed to find root in the words of Jesus, who cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." (John 11:43--44) To date, the only thing "coming out" are disillusioned Episcopalians emptying parishes, and the only thing "unbound" are the feet of those fleeing to safer spiritual climes including the ACNA, the Ordinariate, the RCC, and Orthodox churches of one stripe or another.

"We believe Jesus is calling our church to new life and vitality, but the church is held back by its bindings--old ways of working that no longer serve us well. Ours is an attempt to reinvent the church into making it more palatable to modern minds," said Evangelism Matters hopeful headlines. The hope is that by lowering the standards to allow the unbaptized to take communion, other religions using church premises, and welcoming the panoply of human sexualities -- LGBTQII -- into its midst then the church will leap forward, presumably with God's help, and suddenly become relevant to the millions of spiritually unwashed Nones and millennials of the 21st Century.

According to a news release from its national headquarters, this church wide innovative event is co-sponsored by Forward Movement and the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop's Office, and is hosted by the Diocese of Dallas and the Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas, where the activities will be held.
"Evangelism Matters is an exciting venture which will allow Episcopalians to share, learn and grow our capacity for evangelism," commented the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, the Presiding Bishop's Canon for Evangelism and Reconciliation. "People often speak as if Episcopalians don't 'do' evangelism, and that's just not true. We're serious about sharing good news and growing new relationships everywhere."

Now it is a shrewd move to make the Diocese of Dallas the venue for this "innovative event", as it is probably the ONLY solidly evangelical diocese left in The Episcopal Church, even though it does have a few sodomite priests who, I'm told, are sworn to celibacy. (That's a bit like believing Bernie Sanders might actually vote for Donald Trump if he loses to Hillary Clinton.) The Diocese of Springfield is solidly Anglo-Catholic, the Diocese of Albany is Evangelical Catholic, and the Diocese of Central Florida is moderately evangelical. The Diocese of Texas is also moderately evangelical, but don't hold your breath for too long, just in case the sound you hear is your own death rattle. So, Dallas it is, with its new bishop, George Sumner, undoubtedly charmed and delighted to know that his diocese was the Chosen One over, say the Diocese of Newark, where the word 'evangelical' is likely to see the wrath of Kahn, the wrath of Louie Crew and the wrath of John Shelby Spong rise up in an unholy trinity to defeat the momentary sliver of evangelical (read Biblical) light to fall on The Episcopal Church. God forbid.

There are at least four major problems with this pending conference.

Firstly, the language of "sharing good news". Spellers did not say sharing The Good News about Jesus's life, death and resurrection, it was simply sharing good news, but about what exactly? She doesn't say, but you can be sure it has to do with Presiding Bishop Curry's new found discovery of the Jesus Movement, amplified with the old saws of racism and white privilege. (More on that later).

Secondly, Episcopalians don't do evangelism, they are embarrassed by the very thought of telling someone that they are sinners in need of a Savior. Most Episcopalians are more comfortable talking about baptism and baptismal covenants, inclusion and diversity, with most Episcopalians admitting that they don't believe the Bible is God's Word Written and the chief repository of truth about Himself, or that Jesus is the exclusive way to the Father. One might discuss the right flower arrangement for the altar over gin and tonics, but telling people that they are wretched sinners in need of a savior, then Episcopalians just don't do that. Never have, never will.

Thirdly, it is too little too late for a church whose numbers reveal that two-thirds of The Episcopal Church comprises women over the age of 60, with the remainder being old men and a few families. This is not a recipe for growth or evangelism.

Fourthly, is the definition of evangelism itself held by the new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Curry, Evangelism, Racism and White Privilege

At the first press conference in Salt Lake City after he was declared the new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry was asked if he was an evangelical (because of his constant talk about the Jesus Movement), he replied, "I am a follower of Jesus." What he meant by that, was that he was not THAT kind of evangelical i.e. an Evangelical like, say Billy Graham, or one of the thousands of Black Baptist pastors in America who preach the same gospel as Graham, but to a more focused audience.

To his credit, Curry is light years beyond "no outcasts" Ed Browning, or Sufi driven, 'Dance of Dispossession' Frank Griswold, and God-only-knows-what-she-believes, Jefferts Schori ,who once pronounced that being in a right relationship with God was a "great Western heresy" and "is a form of idolatry."

Curry, it could be argued, is trying to bring the Church back to its roots, even if the roots are shallow and an accidental dose of theological Round-Up might just kill the whole thing off before it starts.

Curry has linked his understanding of evangelism to racism and white privilege. In an article I wrote in 2015, titled 'What's wrong with Presiding Bishop elect Michael Curry's understanding of Evangelism?' http://tinyurl.com/zsyr4to, Curry offered up his definition of evangelism. He plans to promote a form of evangelism that calls on members to listen to others' faith stories and then share their own.

Such evangelism, Curry said, isn't about converting people -- "that's God's job, not ours" -- but is about helping them "find their way to God." He also wants to stress the love of Jesus, foster social justice, work for reconciliation -- racial and otherwise -- and preside over a church that's open to all, including both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage.

Stressing the love of Jesus is fine, but without mentioning the atoning death of Christ being at the heart of God's love, then "love" becomes a squishy word and ultimately meaningless. "God loves absolutely everybody," Louie Crew often opines, but loving everybody won't save everybody or anybody.

Sharing stories is fine, but that is not evangelism unless one is sharing the Good News of the Evangel, namely the life, death and resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Anything less than that or detracts from that, is sub Christian, and sharing stories that have no salvific end plan is no different from an AA meeting.

No one will dispute hearing how people come to faith in Christ, if that, indeed, is what the Presiding Bishop means is a good thing. Testimonies of faith, "once I was blind but now I see" and similar stories are indeed welcome.

Winning people for Christ is at the heart of the gospel. Evangelism (often confused with proselytism) is a dirty word to some people. In some quarters, it is clearly an embarrassing word especially for liberals and revisionists who prefer words like "inclusivity," "diversity," and "interfaithery."

But Curry has stated he has a different understanding of evangelism. He has linked evangelism with racism and white privilege which he sees as the root causes of The Episcopal Church's failure to grow, but he steadfastly refuses to name the racists thereby branding all Episcopalians (who are mostly white) with an unfair brush.

Curry is not interested in proclaiming the Good News about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection straight at the heart of its cultured despisers. Evangelism is telling people, graciously, that they are lost without Jesus. It is saying the hard word that we are all sinners, not merely by our acts, but we are born in sin - it is in our genes and DNA, and only through Christ's shed blood at the cross can we be released from the penalty of sin and made right with a loving God.

That's the only kind of evangelism the Bible proclaims. Unless Bishop Curry is prepared to state that openly and unapologetically, his understanding of evangelism falls short and the Episcopal Church will go on selling a "gospel" that is no gospel at all. It will continue to wither, and within two generations be out of business. And attending an Evangelism Matters conference will be nothing but a lot of hopeful, but empty slogans and contentless, meaningless words.


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