(Note: as studens of Theology this issue is very clear; but as we find out from Schori's skewed comments "A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough." Gal. 5:9)
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has castigated critiques of her July 7 heresy sermon, saying her claim that it was heretical to believe that individual believers can find salvation through Jesus Christ, had been misconstrued.
Salvation “depends on love of God and our relationship with Jesus,” and is made manifest by right conduct, the presiding bishop said last week in defense of her views.
However, evangelical critics of the presiding bishop note her explanations fall short, as “we are not justified by love, but rather justified by faith,” the Rev Mark Thompson, Head of Theology at Moore College in Sydney tells Religious Intelligence.
In her opening remarks to the Episcopal Church’s triennial synod, the Presiding Bishop stated the “crises” facing the church arose from the “great Western heresy that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.”
This belief was “caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus,” Bishop Jefferts Schori said. This “individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being.”
Critics dismissed the Presiding Bishop’s remarks as theologically ill-informed and as a mean spirited attack on conservative evangelicals. On Aug 27 the presiding bishop responded to these charges in an essay published by the church’s in-house media arm, Episcopal Life.
Bishop Jefferts Schori stated there had been “varied reactions from people who weren't there, who heard or read an isolated comment without the context. Apparently I wasn't clear!”
Individualism, she argued, was “basically unbiblical and unchristian” as the “spiritual journey” according to “the Judeo-Christian tradition” was about “holy living in community.”
“If salvation is understood only as ‘getting right with God’ without considering ‘getting right with (all) our neighbors,’ then we've got a heresy (an unorthodox belief) on our hands,” she argued, adding that “salvation depends on love of God and our relationship with Jesus, and we give evidence of our relationship with God in how we treat our neighbors.”
“Salvation cannot be complete, in an eternal and eschatological sense, until the whole of creation is restored to right relationship,” Bishop Jefferts Schori concluded.
While the Presiding Bishop’s explanation of her July remarks “does properly emphasize some fundamental truths that Christians affirm,” her argument was incomplete, the Rev Ephraim Radner, Professor of Historical Theology at Wycliffe College in Toronto told Religious Intelligence.
Dr Radner noted that presiding bishop did not address her claim that it was “heresy” to claim “we can be saved as individuals”.
“God does save us as ‘individuals’, as particular beings; and he creates us as such. We are created with and resurrected with particular bodies and beings and souls. This is a bedrock Christian conviction,” he said.
Bishop Jefferts Schori’s claim that salvation “depends” on our doing certain things, such as loving God or treating others justly are “clearly false according to Christian teaching, Dr Radner added, for “salvation ‘depends’ on only one thing, the grace of God in Christ Jesus.”
While Dr Radner noted the presiding bishop does concede this point in the close of her letter, that salvation is “ultimately the gift of a good and gracious God, not the product of our incessant striving,” her demonization of evangelicals was unwise. “It would have been helpful in her “clarification” if she had tried a little harder to exhibit some appreciation of the theological traditions that have in fact sought to maintain a clear sense of divine grace, having earlier and unjustly vilified them,” he said.
Dr. Thompson told us the presiding bishop “still does not seem to get the point that the Bible is concerned about both personal salvation and the relationships in which we operate as Christians, with each other and with the world. It is always wrong to pit one against the other, from either direction.”
Bishop Jefferts Schori “continues to caricature evangelical teaching. There is no one that I know of or have read who claims that reciting a simple formula about Jesus guarantees one’s salvation,” Dr Thompson said. Faith was not a mantra of repeated words, but the “wholehearted trust in the person of the Son of God who gave himself for our sins and this trust binds us in relationship with others God has called to himself.
He added that the presiding bishop’s “continued theological confusion is evident when she says that ‘salvation depends on love of God and our relationship with Jesus’. More care with the Bible and more intimate knowledge of the theological tradition would have enabled her to see this as a seriously flawed statement.”
“Our salvation depends on what Jesus had done in his death and resurrection,” Dr Thompson said, as “our appropriate response is to trust him and that trust flows out into our relationships with one another as love.”
It was “perfectly reasonable to complain when others deliberately twist what you are saying,” he said. However, in the presiding bishop’s case “the confusion has been caused by her own failure to confess the teaching of Scripture with clarity and her own ignorance of Christian theology.”