Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Biblical Literacy and The Episcopal Church

An internet acquaintance (who tends to be on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me) was writing to me to agree with something I'd written. But she capped her comments off with the following statement:

Honestly, people act like children about all this. So what if your dude doesn't get elected? You accept it and move on with your life. Wallowing in self pity and refusing to acknowledge that Christ does indeed live in every person is kind of a crappy way to live, in my opinion.

To be honest, the part about Christ living in every person (emphasis hers), made my jaw drop. This is a 20-something young woman, a committed Episcopalian, who is pursuing a path that will lead to Ordination.

I was at a loss, for a moment to explain to her why I do not believe that Christ dwells in all people. I felt exactly like the person (described by G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy) who is asked to tell why he prefers civilisation to savagery. The fact that everything in the New Testament points to the fact that some have Christ living in them, and some do not ... actually acts as an impediment to explaining the thing to someone who feels otherwise.

I began by quoting Romans 8:9 to her:

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

How does one go to church every Sunday, read one's Bible, and not know this? It was not only that she disagreed (and continued to assert that Christ dwells in all people), but that her subsequent repsonses gave me to believe that she had never heard my interpretation espoused before by anyone. That was what is truly amazing to me.

I have know for a long time, at least since I taught Sunday School in an Episcopal parish, that Episcopalians have done an abysmal job of teaching people the Bible. But still, this floored me. Here is a young woman, who (unless God mercifully intervenes) will eventually be a priest(ess) in The Episcopal Church, and she does not understand something so fundamental as this!

Some obvious questions are begged. If Christ already lives in all people:

(1) What can possibly be meant by the concepts of conversion to Christ, regeneration, etc.

(2) What of those who explicitly renounce Christ, and do not want Christ in them? Does He indwell them anyhow, against their wills, as if it were akin to demonic possession?

(3) What need is there to preach the Gospel? Will not the indwelling Christ already instruct each and every soul?

Perhaps I am onto something there, because of course TEC does not really preach the Gospel in most places. It's Good News is the gospel of Social Justice, which at its best is a ministry of charity to people's earthly needs, and at worst is a force for Leftist political action.

How did this young woman come to the conclusion about Christ in all people? Was it a homily she heard on St. Matthew 25:45 (He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.')? If so, the preacher must have skipped the entire context of Matthew 25, which is one of the most stark verbal portraits in the entire Bible of the great divide between those in whom Christ dwells (the sheep, at His right hand) and those in whom Christ does not dwell (the goats, at His left).

One of the things that I am most grateful to God for is that I was brought up in a church where reading the entire Bible oneself was strongly urged. From the evidence of my young friend's testimony, it does not appear to be sufficient to get one's Bible teaching a verse or two at a time, according to the Lectionary, as interpreted by the Rector.