17 November 2006

From Fr. Fishwick.

Received today via email:

November 2006


Christ Episcopal Church,Charlottesville,VA

One of the great mythologies floating around the Church today is that "doctrinedivides and service unites." The idea here is that if we can't agree about doctrine thenat least we can get on with the mission of the church. At first glance this notionsounds appealing. Aren't we all tired of the theological arguments dominating the lifeof the church today? Can't we just all get along? Doctrine, especially in the hands ofsome of its most ardent supporters is often used as a club to beat down conversationand even dissent on important theological matters. Even the traditional wordorthodoxy has become, in some quarters, to be seen as a code word for a narrow,shrill and defensive stance of what turns out to be social conservatism. As FlemingRutledge says, " in a culture that prizes what is iconoclastic and transgressive, orthodoxy has come to sound constricted and unimaginative at best, oppressive andtyrannical at worst."

But there is a difference between the perception of right doctrine (orthodoxy) and itsindispensable role in the life of the Church. The Historic Creeds and Confessions ofthe Church are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Therefore our affirmation of these giftsshould always be expressed within the context of generosity as God himself isgenerous and self-giving. Christian doctrine needs to be seen as the foundation of adynamic courageous intellectual life on the frontiers of 21st century challenges. Without basic affirmations we are dangerously unequipped. As Rutledge says onceagain, "when the Biblical and creedal bedrock of the historic faith becomes optional, it is fatal for the Church, for she loses her distinctive theological character."

Several weeks ago my wife and daughter attended Grace Cathedral in San Francisco,one of the premier Episcopal Churches in America. As they prepared to worship they saw this mission statement right in the front of their worship booklet: "We believe in one God, known to us in Jesus Christ, also known by different names in different traditions. We seek to challenge and transform the world, beginning with ourselves, and to celebrate the image of God in every person. All who seek God and are drawn to Christ are welcome at God's table." What sounds so inviting and hospitable isreally terribly cruel because that statement denies the uniqueness of Christ as theSavior of the world, and negates the crucial importance of Holy Baptism as theoutward and visible sign of what it means to be a member of the body of Christ, theChurch.

"Doctrine divides, and service unites" is exactly the wrong way around. We see this everyday in the life of the church. When busy people are working at cross-purposesargument and discouragement are always the fruit. Only the Word can hold ustogether, and teach us to see our different tasks coherently as facets in the many-angled ministry of Christ's people. Ultimately our service is about God- a God whospeaks. For centuries Scripture and the historic Creeds and the confessions of theChurch have been a light unto our path, to know that we have not been abandonedto our own devices. "The Sheep hear his voice and the sheep follow him." (John10:3f) This voice is a true and trustworthy guide for us as we seek here at Christ Church to be God's people and His witnesses in the 21st century.


Jeffrey Fishwick


Christ Episcopal Church, Charlottesville,VA



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