Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Metropolitan Jonah Notes A Coming Realignment Within Christianity

In a recent address to the assembly of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) offered his thoughts on "a coming realignment within Christianity." In particular, he notes "a radical shift away from traditional Christianity" to a form of secularism that evacuates the core content of the Christian faith and replaces it with something "unrecognizable" while perhaps, at times, trying to pass it off as the real thing (sort of like dressing heterodoxy or heresy up in a chasuble while chanting and burning lots of incense).  Here's part of what he said:

 ... there is a coming realignment within Christianity, one which we can already see the strains of.  Whenever schisms happen within the Church, they are generally because certain individuals lead a group out of the Church, being disobedient to the Faith and Doctrine, and refusing to submit to the authority of the hierarchy, which is trying to discipline them and call them to repentance.  
What is happening now is somewhat different: a split between those who hold to traditional, biblical faith as interpreted by the Fathers of the Church and the ecumenical councils; and those who espouse a secularized belief, subject to the rationalizations of the scholars according to contemporary philosophy, who dismiss the Fathers and the Councils as no longer relevant, who dismiss the moral teachings of the Scriptures and Fathers as culturally relative. This could be called, by one side, a break between traditional Christianity and post-modern worldly philosophy. Or it might be labeled as the freeing of people from fundamentalist oppression to the light of their own reason. 
This is not the protestant/catholic divide; it is not the evangelical-charismatic vs. mainline divide. It cuts across all communities in the West, even affecting the Orthodox and Roman Churches in some degree. ... 
There is a radical cultural shift away from traditional Christianity, toward something unrecognizable.   The “Secularists” (for lack of a better, non-pejorative term) reject the virgin birth of Christ, the resurrection, even His Divinity; that His words are recorded in the Scriptures and that the Scriptures are even relevant to our days; rather they are oppressive and keep humans in darkness.  Another Episcopalian bishop, a certain Mr. Spong, wrote that “Christianity must change or die,” referring to traditional orthodoxy, espousing the radical secularization of the Episcopal Church and all Christianity.   It is my prediction that it is not the Orthodox Churches that will die. 

Read it all.

Some will deny that there's any truth to Metropolitan Jonah's assessment.  He's either misreading the facts on the ground in churches like the Episcopal Church, or he has an axe to grind and is deliberately misrepresenting the truth.  

Others might disagree, saying that Metropolitan Jonah is right.  And that's a good thing!  We need a relevant, meaningful Christianity that speaks to people today.  All of that "traditional" stuff is so out of touch with reality in the 21st Century.  Such a stance might be taken, for example, by those who promote the curriculum Living the Questions.  I note the following description on the LTQ homepage under the heading of "Resourcing Progressive Christians" which says:

People know that at its core, Christianity has something good to offer humanity. At the same time, many have a sense that they are alone in being a "thinking" Christian and that "salvaging" Christianity is a hopeless task. What is needed is a safe environment where people have permission to ask the questions they've always wanted to ask but have been afraid to voice for fear of being thought a heretic.    
Living the Questions is a source of curriculum and media for both seekers and "church alumni/ae" convinced that Christianity still has relevance in the 21st Century. Providing a variety of flexible resources, Living the Questions can help people explore the future of Christianity and what a meaningful faith can look like in today's world.

Of course, rival understandings of what exactly constitutes the "core" of Christianity is itself part of the division and realignment that Metropolitan Jonah addresses.

Metropolitan Jonah is at least right about this: things are shifting.  And in the Episcopal Church, they aren't shifting in the direction of greater clarity about and accountability to the orthodox Christian faith as received within Anglicanism.  In the name of "relevance," we do seem to be willing to jettison traditional understandings of the Christian faith (note, for instance, the tendency to define "orthodoxy" as right worship vs. right belief, playing fast and loose with Prayer Book liturgies, dropping the Nicene Creed from the Sunday Eucharist, and recent debates over allowing the unbaptized to receive communion, among other deviations from orthodox norms).  Perhaps only time will tell how far away from orthodoxy this shift takes us.  And at what cost.


Father Ron Smith said...

"Whenever schisms happen within the Church, they are generally because certain individuals lead a group out of the Church, being disobedient to the Faith and Doctrine, and refusing to submit to the authority of the hierarchy, which is trying to discipline them and call them to repentance."
- Metropolitan Jonah -

I wonder what Jonah has to say about the 'Great Schism"? Who moved away from Whom in that instance? And Who was in the right?

Anonymous said...

Brian I read your blog and it gives me hope that there is a place (and people) I am seeking where I will feel at home and at peace.

Bryan Owen said...

Hi Fr. Ron. You're asking interesting questions. Not knowing Metropolitan Jonah personally, I'm in no position to say how he might answer them. Perhaps someone should send him an email to ask him directly.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for the kind words, George. I pray that you do, indeed, find a place among people where you feel at home and at peace.

Joe Rawls said...

I fully expect that I will have to leave TEC at some point, even though I support full inclusion of women and lgbt people. I also support full inclusion of the Creeds, which is the kicker in a growing number of parishes. OTOH, I do have a certain affinity for the eremitic life, at least as it applies to institutional affiliation.

Bryan Owen said...

Hi Joe. I hear and I honor your struggles on the "full inclusion" issues you raise. And I sincerely hope we do not lose your presence, voice, and witness in TEC! While we have never met in person, and while we don't agree on all things (who does?), I am blessed to know you as a brother in Christ via the blogosphere and Facebook. Regardless of what shakes out for you, I pray that this connection will last.

C. Wingate said...

I don't know if you've seen Fr. Damick's assertion on who is not a Christian, but it rather neatly shows the crippling limitation that Orthodoxy ecclesiology (at least in the eyes of a lot of convert clergy) brings to any such realignment. I remember Al Kimel telling me, some twenty years ago, that the problem with all kinds of theological dialogue with the eastern churches is that they were only interested in telling us what we needed to believe; they weren't interested in any commentary from us. Jonah is right, I believe, in drawing a line between those who are creedal and those who are not. But as far as Anglicans fighting the battle of being doctrinal enough (which is really at the core of our unique character), we are never going get much help from the Catholics or the Orthodox because of their (unwarranted) confidence in their stand-alone infallibility. Their need to assert their authority eventually trumps the obligation to make good arguments, and their emphasis of schism on the basis of disagreement prevents theological alliance. The attitude tends to be, "yeah, well, you rejected those heretics, but you're still wrong and thus also heretics."

Bryan Owen said...

Hi C. Wingate. I have not yet read that particular piece by Fr. Damick, but those are good points you're making.

Your points remind me of an Episcopal priest who told me that he could not convert to Orthodoxy because it would require him to accept that everything he had known as church up to that point - including especially his priesthood - had all been fake. Every Eucharist he had presided over, every absolution offered, every blessing of a newly married couple - the very heart and soul of his ordained life - it's all been a lie.

I'm also reminded of advice that one Orthodox priest gave to an inquirer who was considering converting from another Christian tradition. The Orthodox priest basically told him, "You should not convert unless you have truly come to believe that the Orthodox Church is the one true Church." Which, of course, means believing that all other churches aren't churches at all.

C. Wingate said...

I must add that Jonah's address participates in the myth of "Orthodox England" which, in its most extreme manifestations, leads to such craziness as the Deathbed Prophecy of Edward the Confessor (supposedly he predicted William's conquest a year later; in actuality the true text says no such thing). The truth of course is that historically we are deeply rooted in the Roman church, no matter what the contribution of the Celtic church may have been. Augustine arrived at Canterbury some nine centuries before Cranmer was priested, and the Council of Whitby was less than a century after that.

C. Wingate said...

And one further comment: your priest's reservation is also very much my reservation. The whole "come back to Rome/Constantinople" thing is based on the truth that I am now a Christian, but perhaps fundamentally dissatisfied with where I am now. I feel a great lack of integrity in using that as leverage in converting me against my old church; I really do not feel that I have been faking it all these years. It's too conspicuously a rationalization for a ecclesiastical divorce.