We now seem to be well into the usual summer lull that occurs in most parishes between Memorial Day and Labour Day. In my own church it is not so noticeable on a Sunday, but midweek activities tend to take a bit of a hit, and it is harder to keep the regular schedule going. Other places I know take the summer off.
One event in Church history that occurred during the summer lull was Keble’s sermon on “National Apostasy,” preached in St Mary’s Church, Oxford on July 14th 1833. This is traditionally regarded as the beginning of the Oxford Movement, but like so many dates in history it seems to have been picked in retrospect, rather than having been seen as significant at the time. The immediate cause of Keble’s sermon was a proposal by the Whig government of the United Kingdom to suppress ten Irish Protestant bishoprics and redistribute the proceeds. The problem was not so much the reforms themselves, but the manner in which it had been done: by act of Parliament, without so much as consulting the proper Church bodies. This provoked a reaction which stressed that the Church was of Apostolic origin, and that, although it might be Established, and therefore enjoyed the patronage of the state, its essential character derived not from the link with the state, but from the Apostles–and ultimately from Jesus Christ Himself. Keble took as his jumping off point the traditional High Church rhetoric about the independence of the Church, whilst still being part of the Establishment. Keble saw the Church as a Catholic, Apostolic, and Sacramental body whose existence was independent of, and predated that of the State. It was also the body which had formed and guided many of the institutions of the State, as England had evolved from a patchwork of Germanic petty kingdoms to an Empire upon which the sun never set.
One thing that is very evident today is that there is an influential section of both the academic and political worlds that are deeply invested in the idea of “the secular state.” In the case of America, and most of Western Europe, this involves a massive exercise in revisionist history. Although America was founded as a state without an Established Church–they would not have been able to agree on what it should have been, even had they thought it desirable–the men who founded it had been formed by a Christian and a Classical Education. They had roots in a great tradition of Faith and Learning that went back at least four thousand years; so, they were working with the accumulated wisdom of the ages. Those who would sweep this accumulated wealth of knowledge, art, and philosophy away are indulging in an exercise which is not only designed to sweep away the past, but bring about a New Society and a New Humanity: a Brave New World that ignores the Old Truth about mankind.
At our recent General Convention, a resolution to condemn historical revisionism of this sort was passed by an overwhelming majority. Our collective thoughts were that this sort of rewriting of history produces not just an ignorance of the past, but a false and misleading impression of the history of a people, and blinds us to both the virtues and the vices of the past. “All have sinned, and fallen short of the Glory of God” applies as much to nations as it does to individuals. If we bury the nation’s sins, or, alternatively, demonize good and wise men whose only fault was to accept the customs of their own day, then we cut ourselves off from the Nation’s history, custom, and laws. Strange as it may seem, the Bible warns us about the consequences of that, too. Israel persistently abandoned the worship of the true God to go after the idols of Canaan. As the Psalmist puts it,
They turned their backs and fell away like their forefathers: starting aside like a broken bow. For they grieved him with their hill-altars: and provoked him to displeasure with their images, When God heard this he was wroth: and took sore displeasure at Israel.
(Ps. 78:57-59 BCP)
Much of the historical matter in the Old Testament deals with how God judged Israel for their faithlessness.
As individuals, and as a nation, the same path is open to us, if we wish to find peace. We need to repent and return to the living God. Both the Old and the New Testaments hold out to us the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ, both God and Man, who reconciled us–his chosen people– in His own body upon the Cross. We also need to be quite clear that the Kingdom of God exists among us; we are its citizens through baptism and repentance, and we are part of that Kingdom of God on earth which is called the Church. Eternal life is not ‘pie in the sky when you die,’ but something that starts now. Repentance and faith should bear fruit in the form of good works and a growing desire to walk closely with our Lord and Saviour. This mission of the Church is to be God’s Kingdom here on earth, to preach His Word, to celebrate the Sacraments, and ‘to show forth the Lord’s death until He come again.’ Therefore, the function of the United Episcopal Church, like that of every other part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, is to be a faithful witness to God’s love towards us as it has been revealed in Jesus Christ.
If you would like to know more about the UECNA, please browse through these pages, and if there are matters not addressed here about which you would like to know our teaching, please contact your closest UECNA minister or the National Office (click here).
Lastly, I would like to add that we firmly believe that the best way for the Church to advance the Christian Faith is to abstain from ecclesiastical politics, and to devote all our energy to preaching the Gospel of Christ and celebrating the sacraments of our Redemption. Our mission as the Church is to point always beyond ourselves and towards our Saviour, preaching the Gospel of God’s Love in Christ for humanity.
+Peter D. Robinson
Presiding Bishop of the United Episcopal Church of North America