The beginning date for the modern attempt to bring renewal to the Episcopal Church is undoubtedly 1960, when the Rev. Dennis Bennett received what he called “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” That event set off a wave of new life that swept through the church, and indeed the Anglican Communion, and soon spread to many other historic denominations. In place after place, and life after life, the renewing work of the Holy Spirit gave hope to many that the historic biblical Faith was again about to become ascendant. The movement for a new beginning was soon added to by the re-emergence of a sizable Evangelical group of clergy and laity in America, and soon Evangelical Renewal was a more comprehensive descriptor. The high water mark for that hope, for many, was the New Wineskins for Global Mission Conference of 1994. But later in the Summer of that year it was clear that the bishops of the church did not have the political or spiritual will to restore biblical orthodoxy to the Episcopal Church. But many of us could not see, or refused to face the truth.
Why did we let it happen?
As one who gave thirty years to the struggle for that renewal, I include myself in the question. What made us believe that the forces of revisionism would yield to the truth of the gospel? Why did we go on expecting the House of Bishops to join us in the fight, when year by year more and more of them were patently liberal in their theology? The late Elton Trueblood, writing in 1955 could see what was happening, and wrote about it his book The Company of the Committed. He had interviewed Bishop James Pike in 1955, and it was clear to him that the man was on a trajectory of heresy and apostasy. He was not the only voice saying there was major trouble brewing in the Episcopal Church, but those voices were gradually drowned out. But still the evidence was there.
As more and more bishops refused to uphold the historic Faith and Order why were so many of us so blind? I first heard warnings from trusted clergy and my bishop in 1968. From 1955 to 1994 was there ever a single institutional sign that the trajectory was going to change? Why did so many of us go on believing there could be a change? That we could make a difference?
Certain things were true of most of us. We were sons of the men who fought WWII, and they taught us loyalty to authority. We believed the promises we vowed at ordination, and thought the bishops did too. We had a defective understanding of the biblical meaning of “being a Christian,” and confused it with faithful churchmanship. Surely a major reason, apart from the deceptive power of the Enemy of our souls, was the truth and beauty of the historic liturgy. For anyone coming to the Table of the Lord in true faith, praying the Daily Office, and imbibing the theology of the historic collects and Prayer Book, it was easy to imagine we belonged to a godly and orthodox community of faith, devoted to the teaching of the apostles. But we did not.
Next Week:The Frog In The Kettle