Another Gospel : Revisionist teachings in Anglicanism today

– a comparison with the German Protestant churches of

Nazi Germany of the 1930’s.

Canon Dave Doveton, Diocese of Zululand, November 2004.

Introduction

In this paper I have used the term ‘revisionism’ to describe the broad theological attempt to reformulate the basic moral doctrine of sexual relations held by the church for the past two millennia; vis. The only appropriate place for intimate sexual relationship being in a monogamous union between one man and one woman. Typical exponents of revisionist views within Anglicanism are John Spong, Timothy Sedgwick and Jeffrey John. A widespread abandonment of established doctrine in the areas of sexual morality especially by the leadership of the ECUSA is evidenced by the adoption of declarations such as the “Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality Justice and Healing” in 2000. This was signed by 22 Bishops of the ECUSA, and among other demands called for the recognition of same sex unions and the adoption of a new sexual ethic based on “personal relationships and social justice rather than particular sexual acts”.

There are vast differences in the historical circumstances in which the Protestant churches found themselves in the pre-war Nazi Germany of the 1930’s and the Churches of the Anglican tradition in the 21st century. However there are uncanny and alarming parallels with Nazi Germany in the way a section of the church is dealing with the cultural and ideological pressures being brought to bear on it , in particular the emergence once more of a form of natural theology on which innovations in doctrine and liturgy are based.

The Protestant Churches in Germany during the 1930’s and the events leading up to the Barmen Declaration.

“Race, Nation, and cultural heritage”

The rise of a mixture of pantheism, romanticism and Christianity in the Germany of the 1930’s is evidenced in the writings of people like Hauer. In his book The German Vision of God, he called for a faith based on blood and soil,

Why German faith? … ‘German’ has the meaning of ‘wedded to the soil’ , ‘true to type’. Since we stand on German soil, are rooted in German life and blood, the term ‘German Faith’ arose naturally from our struggle…”

and on the belief that God was revealing himself in contemporary events centring on the German Nation,

“Paradoxically it is these grave and difficult times that (the German man) has won through to a trust in the immediate present, to an awareness of the presence of God in the contemporary events of his life”

and a totally immanent God,

“For us the earth is holy, because deep within it God himself dwells. According to the Christianity of the East the deeper one looks into the nature of the earthly, the more one discovers its ungodliness. Our experience is different. Wherever the searching eye and the living life is able to penetrate to the heart of things, there they encounter the God who is active and living within them. It is for this reason that the earth is holy for us ….”

As the Nazis rose to power in the 1930’s, the German Protestant churches were largely still in the grip of the strong tide of liberal protestant theology , with its stress on the immanence of God, an optimistic evolutionary view of human history and higher biblical criticism. Schliermacher’s influence in particular was still being felt with his theological emphasis on the individual, the romantic and the historical and his belief that the nature of human freedom lay in recognising and developing ones own identity in ones own culture.

As Nazi ideology took root in popular culture, the church succumbed to a blend of National Socialist ideology and Christian theology, producing a particular and errant form of natural theology, specifically an errant doctrine of revelation. Barth vehemently opposed this errant theology, resulting in him becoming quite unpopular.

In his Dogmatics, Barth spells out some of the historico-political context from which his rejection of this form of natural theology emerged. He writes,

The question became a burning one at the moment when the Evangelical Church in Germany was unambiguously and consistently confronted by a definite and new form of natural theology, namely, by the demand to recognise in the political events of the year 1933, and especially in the form of the God-sent Adolf Hitler, a source of specific new revelation of God, which, demanding obedience and trust, took its place beside the revelation attested in Holy Scripture, claiming that it should be acknowledged by Christian proclamation and theology as equally binding and obligatory.(13)

Further manifestations of this form of natural theology appeared in the declaration by the German Christian Movement whose aim, supported by Hitler was to unite all protestant Christians into one pan-Germanic Church. Their stated aims published in 1932 called for the restructuring of the German protestant church and among other things declared;

“We campaign for a unification of the 29 churches gathered together under the German Protestant Church Federation into one Protestant Reich Church ….

We stand on the basis of positive Christianity. Ours is an affirmative, truly national faith in Christ, in the Germanic spirit of Luther and of heroic piety.

In race, nation and cultural heritage we see the orders of existence which God has given us in trust; it is the law of God that we should be concerned to preserve them. Therefore racial admixture is to be opposed …..faith in Christ does not destroy the race, it deepens and sanctifies it,

We want a Protestant church rooted in our own culture, and are opposed to a spirit of a Christian cosmopolitanism. We want to overcome the degenerate phenomena which derive from this spirit….

. In January 1934 he was among several church leaders and theologians who were making preparations for a meeting with Hitler. Karl Fezer had prepared a theological memorandum to which Barth was asked to assent. He was horrified at the document and called it heretical – he said to Fezer;

“we have different beliefs, different spirits, and a different God”

With that bombshell, pandemonium broke out in the meeting. Barth was asked to withdraw his remark, but refused – this was now the situation between him and the German Christians.

In May 1934 at Barmen, Barth and several other pastors and theologians, among them Niemoller, framed a response to the heresy of the German Christian movement. The Barmen declaration was an attempt to uphold the authority of the bible as the word of God and to deny that there were additional sources of revelation (especially categories of existence) that were equivalent sources of revelation.

The first declaration stated;

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.

[Here of course is one of the sources for the heresy that called the ideology of apartheid “Christian”. –ras volk en nasie- In the 1980’s the Barmen declaration was to be the inspiration for what became known as the “Belhar Confession” – a theological refutation of the errors of the parent Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk by its daughter mission church. Also the ABRECSA statement.]

Some parallels with revisionist teachings in the Anglican Communion today.

  1. The elevation of “orders of existence” into categories of revelation apart from and in addition to the revelation of Jesus Christ as attested for us in Scripture.

The assertion that the experiences of unrepentant homosexuals are somehow revelatory of Gods

purpose.

For the Germans ‘blood and soil’ was holy to them.

“God has created me a German, Germanism is a gift of God”

Compare this with the oft repeated mantra which merely substitutes the word ‘gay’ for ‘German’.

Steven Noll points out the ultimate outcome of the error of relying on experience as a means of revelation, without the test of the bible.

“When experience is put on the throne, it becomes a false and tyrannical idol. Liberal theology understands the Christian experience to be the window-dressing of universal religious experience. According to this view, we can sing the Creed without believing its literal meaning so long as it evokes in us a sense of “the holy,” an experience expressed in other words and rites by all religions.

Such a view of religion has an obvious appeal in a pluralistic culture: it seems to bless every sincerely held opinion and practice. But in reality, experience without Biblical authority quickly becomes judgmental, demanding “political correctness,” whether it be in the form of Rousseau’s civil religion, or the German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s endorsement of Nazism as the “emerging revelation of being,” or Marxist liberationism, or the Wicca rites of radical feminism.”

Or Timothy Sedgwick’s ethics (based on a God that is inseparable from his creation, who does not speak) where

The sanctification of these orders of existence, and the implication that there are areas where we do not need justification and sanctification through Jesus Christ.

The Canadian theologian Douglas Farrow witnessing the Canadian Synod describes the principle behind the resolution “affirming” same sex relationships and draws a comparison with the heresy of the German Christians;

“A well-marshalled parade of speakers, including the amendment’s sponsors, made perfectly explicit the principle on which this “pastoral” amendment rests: The only way to affirm the homosexual – and in this respect at least, the homosexual cannot be regarded as an exception – is to affirm the integrity and sanctity, the wholeness and holiness, of what he or she already is and has as a sexual being in a sexual relationship. In that relationship, he or she already has and knows the divine blessing.

Barth (and other Barmen elders) saw in the actions of the German Christians, who attained a following of roughly two-third of the Protestant church, something more than a mere political mistake. He pointed to the heart of the problem, and the problem was at once a theological and a pastoral one: The German Christians thought it possible for the church to be an expression of the religious powers latent in the German people – powers released by faith and baptism – when in fact the church can only be the church in so far as it becomes an expression of the transforming power of God in Jesus Christ.

The German Christians called “pious” and “godly” and “spiritual” and “Christian” what was not pious or godly or spiritual or Christian, because they looked at what human beings – specifically German Christians – could be or become in their own right. They thus left themselves open to interpreting historical events – such as the rise of National Socialism – as driven by the Spirit of God, when these events were driven rather by the spirit of this world and by the Prince of Darkness. They failed to measure these events by reference to the redemption of humanity accomplished by God, once for all, in Jesus Christ. Neither did they understand the correlation between salvation in Christ and the lordship of Christ. Since there is nothing lacking in the former, responded Barmen, there is nothing lacking in the latter: “We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords – areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.”

However, in the headlong rush by the Canadian Anglican Church and several dioceses of the ECUSA to allow same sex blessings, are revisionists really claiming that these relationships are in themselves holy? Or were the framers of the Canadian Synod resolution misinterpreted, as has been claimed?

The report of the task force which was asked to provide a theological basis for such blessings in the Diocese of Massachusetts (Theological Perspectives on the blessing of holy unions : Task force on the blessing of holy unions, Diocese of Massachusetts, May 2004) is quite clear on the matter. Under the heading, Section 3: Scriptural metaphors for the Blessing of Holy Unions, the following is asserted,

When two people come together in an intimate relationship to make a vowed commitment to a life-long union and to seek the blessing of God and the church on this relationship, we affirm that this relationship is revelatory of God. The couple reveal something of the holiness of God; in this respect they are hierophantic – the relationship speaks of the sacred.” …..

“The blessing both recognises the holy already manifest in the couples relationship and

invites the continual presence of God in a very intentional way.”

But on what basis, one asks, is this union seen as valid in the eyes of God? After all, the Christian mandate for marriage is clearly set out in scripture and the church follows that mandate. The scripture also sets out certain requirements that must be met before a marital union is considered valid in the eyes of God. For example, neither of the persons may already be married to somebody else, it must be a union of one man and one woman, there are certain degrees of prohibition with regard to blood relations and so on. Another statement from the document explains;

“Two persons, at least one of whom has been baptised, who are drawn to one anther in desire and wish to share a life of a loving mutuality, intimacy respect hospitality and life long faithfulness present themselves to a community that in some fashion discerns the authenticity and integrity of this desire and evokes Gods blessing on this desire.”

The basis is desire, according to this view the church exists to firstly discern (in some fashion) the authenticity of the same sex desire and then bless it. The criterion for what is good and right is desire itself; this particular desire is not subject any other test except the discernment of this community. The question is never asked whether this desire is legitimate.

“Through its relativization of truth, postmodernism contributes to the absolutization of satisfying one’s desires. With truth dethroned as guide for life, something has to take its place — and the heir to the throne is the absolute importance of doing what feels right or good to each individual. Postmodernism supports the absolute importance of desire satisfaction with its denial of truth and reason, along with its promulgation of a naïve and destructive notion of tolerance.

One can also note here the thoroughly postmodern trait of rejecting the basic Christian belief that truth must be defined in relation to an external reality, and instead defining truth as relative to a community or culture that shares a narrative. (JP Moreland)

The Presiding Bishop of ECUSA, Frank Griswold, sums up much of the revisionist belief in this area. His thinking is revealed in the many public statements and letters. In his letter to Archbishop Robin Eames

“A closing thought: Communion, as Archbishop Rowan has made clear, exists on many levels; it is not simply a formal, ecclesial relationship. Therefore, I ask myself and the members of my own church in the midst of this profound and straining disagreement if there is not some invitation or opportunity to live the mystery of communion at a deeper level, as difficult and costly as it may be. Are we not being invited in a more profound way to make room for one another’s realities and one another’s contexts both at home and abroad? Do we not have things to learn from one another? Do we not all possess, woven into the fabric of our lives in virtue of our baptism into Christ’s risen body, dimensions of the truth as in Jesus, who is himself the truth? Are we not being given the opportunity to experience in the depths of the communion we share, which is our participation in the very life of God, the fullness of God in Christ which exceeds all that we can ask or imagine?”

As Kendall Harmon has pointed out in a penetrating analysis, this paragraph reveals where Griswold believes we find the truth – in ourselves;

Where is truth located? In the self! This is the affirmation that is common to all forms of Gnosticism. Truth does not come to us from outside our selves. Truth is not spoken to us by the holy God of Israel through Word and Sacrament. The risen Christ, rather, is “woven into the fabric of our lives.”

Giles Fraser in a sermon preached at Oxford University earlier this year stated,

“Being saved is evangelical language for describing the new life that opens up beyond the censure of an abusive God. The sense of finally facing the truth, the sense of admitting it to others, the sense of being accepted as one is, the sense of being released from the burden of impossible condemnation: being saved is an experience emotionally identical to coming out of the closet.”

Here again truth comes through experience – the experience of accepting a gay identity. The truth being faced is “I am gay”, a truth just as powerful and equivalent in an emotional sense at least, to the truth of the gospel of unmerited grace of God revealed in Christ. Truth comes from experience alone – what I experience in the self.

(Evangelical truth is not accepting the truth that comes from what you are (gay). It is accepting the truth that you are lost without the revelation of Jesus, without his saving grace, it is acknowledging your need to turn from who you are, the freedom that comes from the realisation that Christ can heal you and wants to, Christ can transform you and wants to …..)

In the diocese of Vermont, the theological rationale which prefaces the rite for blessing same sex unions staes;

“…we accept the experience of the many who identify themselves as gay or lesbian because, as stated above, they find their most essential, God given identities fulfilled in an intimate relationship with a person of the same gender…”

The rationale here proceeds as follows:

People find themselves fulfilled in an intimate same sex relationship

Therefore they conclude that they have a ‘gay’ identity.

The church accepts this experience as revelatory

The same rationale is in principle espoused by Griswold. In a recent interview on the “Pew Forum” he states;

“Griswold said the context is not incidental to sexuality, “it is very much part of the public discourse and includes the phenomenon of homosexuality. Homosexual persons are very visible in all areas of public life. Homosexuals should be self disclosing because the culture is a self-disclosing culture.”……….


I think we would also acknowledge that secrecy is the devil’s playground, and untoward things seem to happen in secret. Therefore, to bring something out into the light and discuss it openly is the best way possible for whatever it is to be purified, to be revelatory of that which is of grace and truth.

Firstly then, the churches source of revelation ….

Secondly, the Vermont paper proposes that the aim of the church is to fulfil human identities/selves. Compare this to the German Christian movements aim that the Church should promote ‘German-ness’

  1. The denigration of the authority of Holy Scripture.

The German Christians regarded the Old Testament as offensive and oppressive because of its Jewishness. In an address made in November 1933, Dr Krause, leader of the Berlin German Christians called for a radical overhaul of the German Protestant church. For the church to be at home in Germany, he said, it needed to be liberated from the Old Testament and the Jewish ethic, from the stories of cattle dealers and pimps. The Old Testament was in his view,

“one of the most questionable books in the worlds history”

He believed Pauline theology should be renounced, for it had falsified the simple gospel message, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’, and it was a theology based on inferiority and the idea of a scapegoat.

Revisionist thinkers have adopted an approach which effectively dismisses the moral code of the Old Testament by creating a false dichotomy with the ethic of Jesus. Susan Russell who is president of Integrity, the homosexualist lobby in the US in a recent article says,

And where do we turn when we’re challenged by those who point to the Bible and say, “Ah! But what do you do about passage X, Y or Z?” Being biblically orthodox ourselves, we turn to Holy Scriptures and the words of our Lord and Savior — who when tested in the Temple by those who demanded that he pick a “greatest commandment” gave us this criteria: “The greatest commandment is this: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And the second is like unto it: love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets.”
THAT’S the foundation of Biblical Orthodoxy: that’s the historic faith we inherit as Anglican Traditionalists
.

While the German church denigrated the authority of scripture on the basis of its Jewishness, modern revisionists do the same by contrasting ‘law’ and ‘grace’ and implying that the one is antithetical to the other. They do not seem to be able account for the fact that Jesus who endorsed the greatest commandment, did not seem to think it abolished the moral commandment of the OT. In point of fact he deepened and hardened their relevance and application to his followers.

The other method revisionists use is to deny that the universally accepted teachings of scripture on a particular subject, do not apply in certain contexts – effectively setting aside scripture as the final authority, in favour of another authority (be it culture, popular psychology, the experience of particular individuals, or whatever). An example of this can be found in the Vermont .. referred to above. After outlining 8 principles (taken from a Diocese of New York publication on biblical hermeneutics, “Let the Reader Understand” ) which provide a sound base for Biblical interpretation, the authors then give a short theological rationale which justifies same sex unions, yet they do not offer any justification for changing the unbroken authoritative church tradition of biblical interpretation in this area. The following dismissive note is merely appended, that for self-identifying homosexuals,

“…sexual expression is entirely different from that condemned by a few verses of Holy Scripture”

(note The overwhelming consensus of modern biblical scholarship is that the bible teaches that the only place for sexual relations is between a man and a woman in a life long monogamous marriage ; Lambeth Commission, Lambeth Resolution 1.10 , True Unity in the Body, Report to cofe bishops)

The SEAD response is as applicable here as to LRU;

“The problem before us is not the interpretation of scripture but the authority of scripture, that is, when the teaching of scripture should be set aside. LRU appears to us to argue that because of the cultural context in which the scripture arises and the cultural context in which the scripture must be applied, the plain teaching of the scripture in the area of sexual practice does not apply with regard to homosexuality. Rather than a difference of interpretation, this appears to us as a straightforward rejection of the authority of scripture based on the conviction that in light of current American cultural understandings of sexuality the clear teaching of scripture favored by the whole history of the tradition and the overwhelming consensus of the contemporary world-wide Church is wrong.”

There is in my opinion no difference between the German Christians rejecting the authority of certain parts of Scripture on cultural grounds (the fact that they as Germans did not find the Jewish scriptures relevant for their experiences as Germans) and revisionist thinkers dismissing the Scriptures teaching on human sexual morality on the basis of a certain subculture of economically privileged North Americans in the 21st century, who insist on their own understanding of human sexuality and the gratification of their desires.

The conclusion of Philip Turner bears repeating at this point:

“And it raises the question of whether we inhabit a moral universe governed by an order we are called upon to understand and to which we are required to conform, or whether that universe is a mere product of preference-pursuing individuals, selves, and persons who create a social world suited to their self-defined goals through an elaborate process of moral bargaining.”

The drive for an ‘inclusive church’

not on the basis of apostolic truth, or any theological conviction for that matter. The basis of unity is purely institutional – with the German Christians it was membership of the Reichskerk, for revisionists our basis of unity is membership of the Anglican/Episcopal Church.

  1. A peculiar type of ‘Kairos Theology’ ; God is present in decisive moments of history

Certain historical events are the work of the Spirit of God, but are not subject to evaluation by Holy Scripture. For the German Christians the moment is the rise of Hitler, for the revisionists it is the consecration of Gene Robinson. “God is doing a new thing”

  1. An evolutionary view of Human beings and of history.
  2. The focus on the individual and the self; the cult of the therapeutic. The church exists to affirm people in their identities, for them the supreme mark of their identity was their Germanness, for the revisionists it.

In the diocese of New Westminster the rite of blessing same-sex unions is meant to be an effective pastoral tool to enable the church. The function of the church is seen as helping self-identifying homosexuals to feel included, safe and respected. It is also

“…an act of public witness and resistance in a world that continues to marginalise gay and lesbian Christians”

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.