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"I have been ashamed of Episcopal leadership denying the Christian faith..."

"I have been ashamed of Episcopal leadership denying the Christian faith..."
Grace and justification by faith alone are the key doctrines of the Christian Church
I have been solidly anchored in commitment to the Anglican Reformation

An exclusive interview with Bishop C. Fitzsimons Allison, Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina (ret.) on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

By David W. Virtue DD
July 31, 2017

I first met Bishop Allison when my wife and I arrived in New York City in the early 80s from Vancouver, British Columbia. I had been invited to join the American Bible Society as their Media Director, and I had heard about Dr. Allison and his preaching at Grace Church in the village of New York. After listening to him, we became members of his church and enjoyed wonderful preaching for two years as he preached on themes of grace, redemption and justification by faith.

From this position, he went on to become the twelfth Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina. He began his episcopacy as co-adjutor of the diocese, then became its diocesan in 1982. He retired in 1990, but remained very active in preaching, speaking, and writing. He remains a tour de force of low church orthodox Anglicanism with no equals.

Fitz, as he is fondly known to his friends, was born in 1927 and recently turned 90, making him one of the oldest bishops alive in The Episcopal Church and certainly its most knowledgeable.

He was president of the parish and diocesan Young People groups, as well as representative to the Provincial and National Youth Commission meetings. Raised in Columbia, South Carolina, he attended the University of South Carolina and received a BA degree from the University of the South at Sewanee. His studies were interrupted with service in the United States Army during World War II. Following his discharge with the rank of First Sergeant, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949 and then went on to study at Virginia Theological Seminary, from which he graduated with a Master of Divinity degree in 1952. He was ordained deacon in June 1952 and priested in May 1953. He later studied at Oxford University and received the Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1956. He taught church history at the School of Theology at the University of the South and later at Virginia Theological Seminary. He was Adjunct Professor at General Seminary and taught at Catholic University in Washington, DC. He is one of a very small handful of bishops with an earned doctorate.

He is solidly evangelical in faith and morals and has been in the forefront of the Culture Wars in the Episcopal Church, challenging the liberalism and revisionism of the Church as he watched it being taken over by forces at odds with the faith once for all delivered to the saints. He was one of the first open critics of the Bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong, and his 12 Theses. He has challenged the theological and moral teachings of the Church as a recent succession of Presiding Bishops have led the Church away from its biblical and historical origins, starting with Ed Browning, then Frank Griswold and latterly Jefferts Schori.

Dr. Allison is one of the few men I have known who combines in himself the skills of both pastor and scholar. I have sought his advice over the years and been well rewarded by it.

He is the author of five books including The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter (New York: The Seabury Press, 1966); The Cruelty of Heresy: An Affirmation of Christian Orthodoxy (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 1994); "Guilt, Anger, and God: The Patterns of Our Discontents" (New York: The Seabury Press, 1972); "Fear, Love, and Worship" (published prior to 1972). His most recent book, Trust in an Age of Arrogance, was released in 2009. His books argue strongly for Christian orthodoxy, and specifically for Christian pastors and teachers to be focused upon grace and justification by faith alone as the key doctrines of the Christian Church.

In 2000, he undertook a controversial episcopal act. He participated in the consecration of two bishops in Singapore, Charles "Chuck" Murphy and John Rodgers, both former Episcopal priests, because of the growing departure from the biblical and creedal faith by the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Allison talked with VOL on his life and ministry and his 67-year marriage to his beloved bride Martha. They presently reside in Georgetown, South Carolina. They have four children, 10 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

VOL: Have you always felt comfortable being an Episcopalian? Have you ever entertained thoughts that because of the direction the Episcopal Church has taken over the last 40 years that perhaps you ought to have gone in another direction denominationally speaking?

ALLISON: I have been ashamed of Episcopal leadership denying the Christian faith and their ordination vows, but have been solidly anchored in commitment to the Anglican Reformation and to the faith represented by Cranmer's Prayer Book. I have been given the extraordinary gift of friends who also hold these truths and are even more deeply committed to the Gospel than the faithful generations before the accommodation to a self-destructive culture.

VOL: At what point did you feel a call to the ordained ministry?

ALLISON: When praying the General Thanksgiving in Morning Prayer while in the Army in World War II and responding to the phrase ". . . by giving up ourselves to thy service. . ."

VOL: What professors influenced you the most at Oxford, and what subjects drew your closest interest and attention?

ALLISON: Canon V. A. Demant will always be a star to guide me in my commitments. He expressed himself in such indirect impersonal ways that I never felt denigrated, only miserably uninformed. It was a painful, but wonderfully humbling experience to have him as my supervisor. I learned something of how much I did not know. I have never lost my love for the 17th century and such figures as Richard Hooker, John Donne, George Herbert, John Owen and John Bunyan.

VOL: Was it always clear that you wanted to be a priest and not a full-time teacher/professor?

ALLISON: I discovered in myself and in others a spiritual hazard in teaching. It is valuable and even essential to do the scholarly work. But speaking and writing about Christianity when one is not, at the same time, preaching, caring, consoling and nurturing the hurt of dying folk, leads to what the word "academic" has come to mean: "it doesn't matter." I recall the announcer in a Super Bowl wondering what Theisman would do and observing that the score was 35 to 9, with only 7 seconds to play, said, "It's all academic now."

VOL: Did you ever think about another profession, or was the priesthood the one and only ambition you entertained?

ALLISON: Whenever I did, it would have to have been a part of Christian ministry.

VOL: What particular challenges did you face in the ministry and later as a bishop do you recall that really pushed your buttons?

ALLISON: The general failure to appreciate the importance of ideas, teachings, and doctrine. Our whole society needs to read and reread Richard Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences (1948). The Episcopal Bishop of Connecticut said it well: "Episcopalians are not given to think in terms of doctrine." It is a statement of theological bankruptcy.

VOL: You are a well-trained theologian. How well trained is your average bishop in the Episcopal Church today?

ALLISON: After serving 16 years on the Board of Examining Chaplains, I can speak with some authority. The clergy are woefully ignorant of scripture, history and theology.

VOL: I gather you are a great believer in continuing theological education for the clergy? Why is that so important to you?

ALLISON: Our hearts are far more open to the Christian faith when we have to preach to those who are discouraged or dying, than before a blackboard in an academic class. We are the only profession that has no required continuing education. Engineers, doctors, accountants, and lawyers all must have periodic updates in training. We are missing a great opportunity in that the clergy are much more ready to learn while engaged in active ministry.

VOL: Apart from Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge and Nashotah House in Wisconsin, the Episcopal Church's eight other seminaries are liberal in ethos and theology. How does that portend for the future of seminary training for next generation priests in The Episcopal Church?

ALLISON: Seminaries must have students to survive or meld into other seminaries. If not given confidence in scripture and creeds, they will produce clergy whose parishes or missions will not flourish and over time they will no longer be serving a congregation. The Diocese of New York alone has some 400 non-parochial ordained clergy.

VOL: The Episcopal church crossed the line when it ordained an openly homosexual priest to the episcopacy in the person of Gene Robinson, later same-sex marriage was recognized when TEC changed its canons. This was clearly a bridge too far for you. How personally distressing was that for you? Was a line crossed that made you despair if the Episcopal church would ever repent?

ALLISON: Things had gone so far already, that I was not surprised, but had already been convinced that in the future, biblical and creedal Episcopalians must find themselves in some way connected to orthodox provinces in the Anglican Communion.

VOL: By any reckoning TEC has moved with the spirit of the age and you have addressed that in your books. Is there any way back that you see now or in the foreseeable future? Is the present Presiding Bishop Michael Curry's embrace of the Jesus Movement, a hopeful sign for you?

ALLISON: Bishop Curry could not turn the Episcopal Church away from its accommodation to the culture if he wanted to and he's given no sign that he would want to.

VOL: In 2000, you flew to Singapore to participate in the consecration of two former Episcopal priests, Chuck Murphy and John Rodgers, who had formed the Anglican Mission in America (AMIA) as a rescue ship for orthodox clergy and laity who could no longer in conscience stay in TEC. That was a watershed moment for you and indeed for The Episcopal Church. Were you frightened or concerned about the consequences of such an act.

ALLISON: Not frightened, but concerned that many friends who valued the organization of the institution more than the faith of the church would be upset with me and they were. When Bishop (Alex) Dickson and I failed to get the 4th Province bishops to affirm their ordination vows in the face of Spong's 12 Theses (because they said "it would be too controversial"), we decided to participate in the consecration of John Rodgers and Charles "Chuck" Murphy, who could then minister to faithful and creedal Episcopalians in non-orthodox dioceses.

VOL: Were you ever threatened by then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold with inhibition and ultimately expulsion from the Episcopal Church for participating in those consecrations?

ALLISON: In 2004, there was a gathering of some 2000 orthodox lay people, priests and bishops in Plano, Texas. They formed the Anglican Communion Network of Dioceses and Parishes (ACN) and vowed to uphold the historic teaching and practice of the church. Bishop Robert Duncan as moderator of the Network, asked five us retired bishops to visit and confirm at a gathering of six orthodox congregations who were members of the Network. I was joined by Bishops Ben Benitez, Alex Dickson, William Wantland and Bishop Cavalcanti of Brazil. We confirmed more than 100 members of these parishes.

The House of Bishops demanded that we appear before the Presiding Bishop and his Council of Advice (the presidents of the provinces). We agreed to appear on two conditions: we would be able to discuss the matter of doctrine first and the matter of polity second. The other stipulation was that we would be allowed to have two non-participating observers at the meeting. (Manning Patillo, President of Oglethorpe University, and the Rev. David Collins, Dean of the Cathedral in Atlanta and former chairman of the House of Delegates at General Convention agreed to be present for us. The Presiding Bishop called off the meeting. I must admit I was disappointed, since we would have been delighted to have the chance to affirm our ordination and consecration vows and to invite them to do likewise.

VOL: After the consecrations took place, Griswold high tailed it across the Atlantic to request that then Archbishop George Carey condemn the action, which he did. Were you disappointed that a fellow evangelical did not come through for you?

ALLISON: George and Eileen are still our very dear friends. I am sorry he was upset with me for crossing ecclesiastical boundaries and I am sorry that he seemed to care more about the boundaries than the faith that gave birth to its boundaries and to the church itself.

VOL: You have watched with dismay the slow decline and emptying of The Episcopal Church. Your diocese (South Carolina) recently left TEC and has now allied itself with the Anglican Church in North America. Was that the right move for Bishop Mark Lawrence to have taken? Was it inevitable in your mind?

ALLISON: Bishop Lawrence and our diocese were forced to leave or succumb to new canons with arbitrary tyrannical power. ACNA is a way to remain a part of the world-wide Anglican Communion, a large majority of whose primates have unmistakably supported and recognized ACNA.

VOL: You have written five books, which of the five would you like to be remembered by?

ALLISON: I really can't choose one as they are so different. Fear Love and Worship is one of the very few books on worship that relates what we do in church to the lives of the readers. The Rise of Moralism (my doctoral thesis) exposes replacement of the Gospel by moralism in the hitherto acceptance of cruel Pelagianism in Anglican history. The Cruelty of Heresy is not a scholarly work on the early history of the church, but is an attempt to show how heretical teaching leads to pastoral cruelty and that heresy and sin are symbiotic. We are heretics because we are sinners, not because we fell asleep in a lecture on Nestorianism. I know of no secondary work that makes these two points. Guilt, Anger and God is an attempt to analyze the alternatives to Christian faith and to see the cogency of biblical belief. Trust in an Age of Arrogance uses one short text from Jesus: "Take heed! Beware the yeast of the Pharisee and Sadducee" to reduce the astonishing complexities of the world's beliefs and the myriad distortions of the Christian faith to a simple diagnosis and a simple affirmation. I wrote it over a period of 17 years, thinking I couldn't write until I had read everything on the subject. Oliver Wendell Holmes declared that he cared "nothing for simplicity this side of complexity", but would give his life for "simplicity on the other side of complexity." This was my hope for the book. They are like my children. I can't pick a favorite.

VOL: You have never left The Episcopal Church as a bishop, but you have watched the rise of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Do you approve that another Anglican jurisdiction was needed on North American soil?

ALLISON: I am more sure of the need each day. I even believe that the Church of England itself needs the faithful presence and witness of biblical and creedal missions largely provided by those from what used to be our "mission field."

VOL: GAFCON has emerged as a global movement to provide a safe gospel harbor for primates and bishops of the Anglican Communion under assault by liberal and revisionist theological forces in the West. Was this necessary in your mind?

ALLISON: It was and is necessary and a great encouragement. It is therapy for our hubris to have those to whom we have sent missionaries, now seeing the need of mission to the United States, Canada, Europe and Britain in their headlong race to sever ties with the Christian faith.

VOL: Your last book focused on twin themes of grace and Justification by Faith. Why are these themes so important to you?

ALLISON: Because without grace, Christianity is merely law by which we are all condemned. I think it is perhaps safer to say we are "justified by blood" (Rom. 5:9) for it leaves less room for self-justification (self--righteousness) which is the ongoing pervasive sin of us all. With grace and God's justification "we have peace with God. (Rom.5:1)

VOL: If you had your life to live all over again what would you change?

ALLISON: I would repent and hope to be more grateful. Presiding Bishop Jack Allin said it for me (and many others) in 1985. "I must repent for I have loved the Church more than the Lord of the Church."

George Herbert also said it for me:

"Thou that hast given so much to me
Give one thing more, a grateful heart
Not thankfull, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare dayes
But such a heart, whose pulse may
be thy praise.

VOL: Thank you, bishop.

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