Christian Living

ChurchWatch 06/09/09

'Unorthodox' Episcopalians?

Bible Belt Blogger, Frank Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has been following the possible consecration of an Episcopal bishop-elect who practices Zen Buddhism and denies traditional Christian teachings about sin, salvation and Christ's atoning death on the cross.

But it appears that Kevin Thew Forrester is 'insufficiently orthodox,' even for the Episcopal Church.

According to Lockwood, unless there is a last minute change of heart by opponents, it appears certain that Episcopal Church leaders have rejected Forrester's consecration as a bishop-elect. He writes, "...thanks to the transparency of most standing committees across the nation, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette can report that a majority of the church’s 111 standing committees have decided to withhold consent to the election of the bishop-elect of Northern Michigan."

"Barring last minute reversals by some of the 56 standing committees that are withholding consent, Thew Forrester’s bid will be rejected."

Writing for Christianity Today, Lockwood explains that while the results will not be official until mid-July, a majority of standing committees have voted to withhold consent, according to a survey by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Unofficial surveys show the bishop-elect trailing badly among bishops as well.

Lockwood points out that Thew Forrester has rewritten the church's baptismal covenant, the Apostles' Creed, and the Book of Common Prayer's Easter Vigil liturgy to remove historic Christian doctrines. "The 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church has had bishops who have denied core Christian doctrines like the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection of Jesus. But the most prominent bishops to make such claims (such as John Shelby Spong and James Pike) reportedly did not do so until after they had been made bishop."

Concerned bishops on the both sides of the theological spectrum within the Episcopal Church said Thew Forrester's abandonment of church doctrine and liturgy within the Book of Common Prayer, placed him too far outside the mainstream to serve as a bishop.

Lockwood reports that according to the Episcopal Church's Office of Communication, if his nomination fails, Forrester will be the first bishop-elect to be vetoed by denominational leaders since at least the 1930s.

Daniel Burke of Religion News Service (RNS) reports that soon after his election by his diocese, conservative church bloggers from across the country discovered that Forrester practices Zen meditation and received "lay ordination" from a Buddhist community.

"A number of Episcopal bishops have judged him insufficiently orthodox to join their ranks," Burke writes.

According to Lockwood, Forrester has also adopted a new Buddhist name—Genpo—meaning "way of universal wisdom."

"Thew Forrester's rejection of atonement theology and his claims that the crucifixion was not the will of God were particularly troubling to some Episcopalians," Lockwood writes. But Forrester also teaches that Christ's blood doesn't wash away sin, Christ's death doesn't redeem and restore humanity -- and Jesus doesn't make us one with God, but simply reveals to us that we're already and always one with God.

"There are a few things that are absolutely non-negotiable in the Christian faith because without them it ceases to be the Christian faith," said Bishop of West Texas, Gary R. Lillibridge.

But not every bishop within the Episcopal Church agrees. One Forrester supporter, Wyoming Bishop Bruce Caldwell, said Thew Forrester's theology "stretches us, but not to the point of breaking."

Lockwood reports that Forrester is defending his liturgical and theological changes, saying they reflected the "continually evolving" Christian faith. "What we've done is quite responsible and appropriate, and indeed the church needs to do it in order to stay relevant in the 21st century," Forrester declared.

Lockwood writes that in addition to rejecting orthodox Christian teachings about the Cross, Thew Forrester denies that Satan exists, calls the Qur'an the Word of God, describes sin as being blind to our own goodness, and questions whether Jesus is truly the only begotten Son of God.

"Critics charged that Thew Forrester had also altered Christian liturgies to add Buddhist, Unitarian-Universalist, and New Age principles. In a message posted on his blog, Bishop of Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) Paul V. Marshall warned that the denomination's failure to uphold historic Christian teachings had made it an embarrassment," writes Lockwood.

"As a Church we are increasingly a laughing-stock," says Marshall "…because we do not consistently proclaim a solid core, words as simple as 'all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,' yet 'God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.'"

Another critic, Greg Griffith, of the conservative Anglican website StandFirmInFaith.com, explains, "All the Episcopal Church has done is to say that someone who is clearly not a Christian may not be one of its bishops. It may be history in the making, but it's hardly a grand or noble achievement, and certainly not a signal that the Episcopal Church is returning to orthodoxy."

Lockwood also quotes Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. "In any other church—evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal—this person wouldn't get to go to seminary, let alone be able to lead" an entire regional body. The fact that a diocese chose Thew Forrester and that nearly 30 standing committees have voted to confirm him is troubling, Harmon said.

"This is not something to celebrate. It's something to be sad about. It reveals a deeply, deeply unhealthy church," Harmon added.

But Lockwood says that there are still people within the church who are hoping for a shift toward Orthodox Christianity. Bill Carroll, rector at Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio, believes that this vote could be a turning point for his denomination. "I think history will remember this as the point when the Episcopal Church began to show some backbone about basic Christian doctrine," he wrote in a comments thread at EpiscopalCafe.com. "For too long, we have allowed our respect for difference to mean anything goes. There are boundaries."

Check out Frank Lockwood's Blog, Bible Belt Blogger.

Related ChurchWatch Blog Stories:

Breakaway Episcopal Churches Aided by "Division Statute"

Episcopal Civil War

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Fourth Diocese Leaves Episcopal Church

Hijacked: A Bible Believing Episcopal Priest Takes a Stand

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