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Ted Mollegen’s Grand Strategy to save The Episcopal Church: Veteran Deputy Looks Ahead…but to what exactly?

Ted Mollegen’s Grand Strategy to save The Episcopal Church: Veteran Deputy Looks Ahead…but to what exactly?

NEWS ANALYSIS

By David W. Virtue
www.virtueonline/org
August 13, 2014

Going, going, gone. That looks to be the future of The Episcopal Church. Not so fast, says Ted Mollegen, an 11 times alternate or deputy veteran to General Convention. He recently released a 66-page presentation urging the Episcopal Church to develop a grand strategy to reverse numerical decline, attract more money for development, and improve the church’s mission.

“The restructuring planned for [General Convention] 2015 won’t turn around TEC’s negative growth trend — unless it incorporates the church growth/redevelopment principles of this document,” Mollegen writes. “Cost-cutting is clearly necessary for TEC, but it basically consists of treating only the results of decline, not the root causes. TEC needs to find and counter the root causes of decline, while concurrently taking action to get positive growth going again.”

He is comparably blunt about the need for parishes to offer basic Christian education:

“A good approach is to use church growth principles to get people into the congregation and then teach them an appreciation for true Anglicanism. This is much more than teaching people who theologically are still Baptists how to use Prayer Books. You haven’t completed the job until you’ve taught them what the bible really is, and how to react to it with intellectual integrity. Teach them about the [B]ible, not just what’s in it. Otherwise they are likely to interpret it as though it were a 20th-Century history book and/or God’s behavior manual.”

Mollegen is critical of churches that have broken away from the Episcopal Church, but he also endorses peaceful solutions to property disputes, and looks toward the day when some individuals who left return.

Mollegen’s mentor is none other than Dianna Butler Bass, a leading TEC liberal, whose book “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening” is heralded by Mollegen as the text for his Grand Strategy.

Dianna Butler Bass, author and blogger for The Huffington Post with a PhD in Religious Studies, writes about what she sees as the end of the Church and religion, but with a gloss that transforms Christianity into a faith that welcomes multiple visions of divinity and spirituality. She presents depressing statistics showing how evangelical and orthodox faiths are declining. In fact, the statistics show most religious faith in the United States is in decline. However, Bass sees this as a new awaking of spirituality which includes not just Christianity, but all faiths. Bass’s vision is one of pluralism minus doctrine and absolutes.

It is, as one reviewer put it, “Empty cross, empty spirituality”. Or, to put it more simply, vacuous theological puke.

Bass, while rejecting outer kinds of religious trappings like structures, buildings and even beliefs, favors good works (spiritual practices), and community making. She never sees transformation lodged in divine redemption, but rather in inner or outer human practice.

This is Mollegen’s model!

According to Bass, conventional religion is failing and a new form of faith, which some call “spirituality” and can also be called religio, is being born. This is a new spiritual awakening in line with other American awakenings, part of a complex web of spiritual renewal throughout the world, which is the process of reshaping most religions by emphasizing relationships, practices, and experiences that connect people to a deeper awareness of self, to their neighbors in global community, and to God. There are powerful new forces of egalitarianism, communalism, environmentalism, economic life, and mutual responsibility being born from the emerging spirituality, opening the possibilities for new forms of compassion toward others and towards the planet. (pp259)

Bass makes this rather new age spirituality seem compatible with Christianity by never referring to the gospel of the cross and redemption, but only referring to discarded and unwanted dogma, systemization of beliefs and a set of doctrines. Of course, this has to entail rejecting the atonement, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and the Trinity. And orthodox belief is defined as old light, while progressive awakening becomes new light.

Mollegen’s Murky Message

Mollegen is nothing if not hopeful, but having watched the decline of TEC over 25 years, what he offers now is too little, too late with nothing more than palliative care for a church gone seriously astray in doctrine, faith and morals.

Mollegen addresses structural issues, recognizes that the 20/20 vision to double the church has failed, and argues for church planting, but what is missing is a clear apostolic gospel witness.

He talks about hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony (but whose?), diversity (oh God, how much more of that do we need to hear about), justice (yes for everyone except orthodox Episcopalians who are constantly vilified for their lack of inclusion), worship (who, whom?) reflection and beauty.

Nowhere is there a call to preach a gospel of repentance and faith, though in fairness, Mollegen does talk about the Great Commission, something Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori studiously avoids because “personal faith” is a heresy in her mind and she is all for love, justice and peace on earth with a schmear of Christian doctrine.

Mollegen hopes, above all, for reconciliation between TEC and ACNA, which at the very least recognizes the elephant in the narthex. He would like to see a lease back arrangement with parishes formerly occupied by Episcopalians (now Anglicans), but that is about as likely to happen as a Hamas rocket from Gaza landing on the Temple Mount. The Presiding Bishop has no intention of backing down. She is on record saying she would sooner sell properties for saloons. She is presently spending $40 million or whatever it takes in courts around the country fighting for those properties…and she won’t rest till the Supreme Court of the United States delivers the final ruling. Can Mollegen guarantee that her replacement next year will slow the property grab madness and end the litigation? Highly doubtful.

Mollegen is naive at the depth of the anger and hatred revisionists and progressives in TEC have for people like Archbishops Robert Duncan, Foley Beach, Nicholas Okoh or Eliud Wabukala. He is blinded by old fashioned liberal notions of fair play. That day died with Jack Spong, Gene Robinson, Walter Righter and a whole host of revisionist bishops who are now the majority in the HOB. He is living in his own fantasy world of Episcopal make believe.

TEC and ACNA

The birth of the ACNA in 2009 was a game changer. Does Mollegen really think that even if TEC reached out to ACNA (which is not going to happen this side of eternity), that ACNA would be interested in rapprochement since the two denominations have two very different understandings of the gospel?

What world is he living in? That’s like hoping ISIS would make peace with the US or with al-Maliki and Iraq’s moderate Muslims. Not going to happen.

ACNA knows how to make churches grow. Today the ACNA boasts 29 dioceses from coast to coast, including Canada, as well as a special Armed Forces and Chaplaincy Jurisdiction in a unified Anglican Church in North America. A recent Provincial Council reported that the number of congregations could be as high as 1088, or a fifty-five per cent increase in congregations since 2009. This is just their “net” growth.

By contrast, according to George Clifford, an ethicist and priest and TEC researcher, TEC started only three new churches in 2012! So three versus over 1000!!!

So why does The Episcopal Church plant so few new churches? Clifford says there are two factors, one demographic and the other theological.

“First, the US population grew from just under 180 million people in 1960 to 308 million in 2010. That significant growth suggests that a flourishing church would also have been a growing church during those five decades. Yet the increase in US population sharply contrasts with TEC’s decline from 3.4 million members in 1960 to fewer than 2 million today. In other words, during the last five decades, the US population increased about 70% and TEC’s membership declined by roughly 42%,” wrote Clifford.

So the real issue then is theological! What a surprise.

First, TEC lost confidence in Scripture because it feared being called fundamentalist. Secondly, TEC capitulated to the culture on morals, hoping (against hope) that Gene Robinson’s ordination would see a rush of gays and Millennials into the church. Never happened. Ordaining women to the priesthood, another nice keep-up-with-the-culture touch, never panned out as a win for new church growth, either. Its seminaries bought into most of the modernist thinking on Scripture and doctrine with Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) now interpreting most theology through the lens of gaydom.

This particular Episcopal seminary is in serious trouble. A recent article in The Living Church revealed that the seminary has only 72 students. The school is facing “soaring costs and declining full-time on-campus enrollment.

God calls his people to be a missionary people. In previous generations, the missionary impulse may have derived much momentum from people believing that the only way to experience the fullness of God's love was through Christ. Most Episcopalians no longer believe that Christ is the exclusive path to God and they wonder why no one wants to hear what they have to say.

Evangelical churches are growing because people want a definitive word from above, not wishy washy, milquetoast, watered down dogmas aimed at pleasing everybody. In the end, they please nobody and churches are dying.

VOL recently documented that the ACNA has now gone past the Anglican Church of Canada, TEC’s sister church to the north, in average Sunday attendance. http://tinyurl.com/l2zbpo5

The claim that TEC has a shortage of clergy is also a bogus explanation of why TEC is failing to plant new churches. In 2009, TEC had 17,868 clergy compared to 9079 in 1960, or about twice as many as when they had one-third more members. In spite of a sizable number of clergy retirees, we still have ample numbers of active clergy, says Clifford.

The problem is they don’t have an evangelical message of salvation from sin. What they need in an ever-changing culture is a never-changing gospel.

Numerical decline represents an existential threat for TEC. A growing number of congregations devote a disproportionate (often almost 100%) of their resources to paying a priest and keeping the building open. Paying the priest and funding the building is easier to address than numerical decline.

It’s the message, stupid. Why do you think Rick Warren’s Saddleback church packs in thousands weekly? Because he has a clear apostolic message and witness while at the same time he doesn’t skirt the myriad social concerns of our day like AIDS in Africa or suicide prevention. Why are Anglican priests like the Rev. John Yates in Northern Virginia, or the Rev. David Short in Vancouver, BC, Canada so successful in making churches grow (and planting new ones)? Because, first and foremost, they say that to follow Jesus is costly discipleship and becoming and remaining a Christian might actually mean you have to give up some bad behaviors. God forbid.

The tragedy of TEC’s position is that its total message is social engagement with Millennium Development Goals, the Five Marks of Mission, women’s issues, AIDS, poverty, war in the Middle East et al. One hears almost nothing about God’s love expressed in the cross, only His absolute love for absolutely everybody without any attempt to put His love in the context of sin, suffering, redemption and the cross.

TEC’s new wine is pansexuality, something Mollegen won’t address or come to terms with. He doesn’t or won’t see the enormous and irrevocable damage done by Gene Robinson’s behavior and consecration and what has flowed from that, including his own recent public divorce.

Mollegen’s “grand strategy” will fail. It cannot possibly succeed any more than TEC’s 20/20 vision to double the church. It is not happening and never will.

We need to know our culture and context and engage it well. We need to share Christ FIRST before answering a hundred questions about sex and the role of women in the church. We should be agents of gospel transformation in a time when it’s so desperately needed. Perhaps we need to start with something as simple and prophetic as telling people that Jesus Christ IS the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him.

What a refreshing change that would be. Mr. Mollegen, are you listening?

END

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