Steve’s October Congregational Letter

October 1, 2009

The Kingdom of God comes to us in moments, significant moments.  Do we have eyes to see?  Do our ears hear the voice of the Spirit?  St. Andrew’s stands at a kairos moment – a significant moment of great opportunity.  The biblical background to this letter are the words of Paul to the church in Corinth – you may read them here: 2 Corinthians 6.14-18.

October-letter-webpageAs you will know by now, this month marks the beginning of our 40 Days of Discernment process leading to one of he most important decisions this church will make with regard to our identity and our future mission.  The question before us as a congregation is simply this:  Can an orthodox, biblically committed congregation continue to remain affiliated with The Episcopal Church in the U.S. or has the time come to seek a new affiliation with the Anglican Church in North America?

Clearly, I believe the time has come for our departure.  I believe that the Lord is calling St. Andrew’s into a new future with Gospel-centered, mission-minded partners in the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom in North America.  But, that is not my (or the Vestry’s) decision to make alone.  And so, in conjunction with the entire leadership community of St. Andrew’s, we have set aside the next six weeks for a season of corporate discernment as to our future.

As we begin this time I think it is helpful for us to consider again the mission and call of St. Andrew’s.  We have discerned that it is our mission to do our part in the re-evangelization of the world and the transformation of our society.  Implicit in this statement is the recognition that we are called and we are unique.

In the pursuit of our call we seek to be directed in all matters by the Word of God while remaining open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  This dual engagement of both Word and Spirit is critical to maintain.  Some churches loosing their grip on the Word end up embracing curious forms of Christianity supposedly shaped by the Spirit.  Others, rightly leery of the abandonment of Scripture, err by neglecting and/or resisting the ministry of the Spirit.  Sadly, and tragically, both of these extremes are erroneous.

While I was at seminary one of my professors, seeking to teach us the balance and interplay of Word and Spirit often repeated this little ditty:

To have the Word without the Spirit is to dry up.
To have the Spirit without the Word is to blow up.
To have the Word and the Spirit is to grow up.

I would suggest that this balance and embrace of Word and Spirit is one of the primary distinctive features of St. Andrew’s. The interplay of this dual embrace of Word and Spirit forms within us a set of “core convictions.”

Each of us has a set of core convictions – about many things.  They’re so basic to the way in which we see life that we often do not even realize that these core convictions are operating.  And, it’s these core convictions – informed by Scripture – empowered by the Spirit – that function as a sort of lens through which we view the world.  It’s these core convictions that lead us to consider some sorts of behavior as being suited to the way things are, and other sorts of behavior as being out of alignment with reality.  It’s these core convictions that lead us to feel certain emotions in certain circumstances rather than others.

And this is what gives St. Andrew’s its strength – its substance – a common set of core convictions, which provide the framework for experience and the pattern for gospel ministry – for ethical action into our community.

Because we hold a common set of core convictions – even if you are not consciously aware of them, they’re there, in the music, in the biblical texts, in the sermons – we have an amazing freedom and latitude to purse a depth and variety of ministries.  And, it is precisely this idea of common core convictions, formed by Scripture and empowered by the Spirit that The Episcopal Church has lost.

Lee Barrett, writing in his booklet on the Heidelberg Catechism suggests: “Many contemporary Christians have turned to religious experience or ethical action rather than core convictions to provide the glue that holds churches together.”  Religious experience is not bad.  Actually, it’s good.  Ethical action is good.  The question is, in what are these dimensions of faith and life rooted ?

It is into this context that we – that St. Andrew’s – are called to give witness to Jesus Christ.  And this is where we begin to see the empowering presence of the Spirit at work.  Specifically, I would suggest that it is the work of the Spirit to lead us into truth and then produce unity:

  • Holy Spirit will lead you into TRUTH:

John 16.12-15:  I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

  • Holy Spirit revealed truth produces UNITY:

Ephesians 4.1-3:  I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4.11-14:  And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Some argue that schism is worse than heresy.  Nonsense.  Others have argued that apostasy is not an adequate reason to depart the church.  Again, nonsense.  A church that has overthrown Scripture and is acting contrary to the Spirit has ceased to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

The Spirit, making known to us the truth of God’s Word and the person of Christ leads us into a true unity based on substance (the Apostolic witness) not feelings of goodwill or affection.  This interplay of Word and Spirit has produced within St. Andrew’s a set of core convictions which give shape to every dimension of our corporate life. So, we would say:

  • We believe that sin touches every aspect of human personality and leaves no dimension of our lives untainted. The prophet Jeremiah writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17.9). For this reason, all people are spiritually dead (Ephesians. 2.1-10) and unable, apart from the inward stirrings of the Holy Spirit, to respond in faith to the offer of the Gospel. We must depend on the sovereign action of God to break the grip of sin.
  • We believe that the eternal, unconditional love of God for us is the ultimate basis of our salvation. We do not establish our own redemption.  We are utterly dependent upon God’s sovereign, everlasting love in Christ Jesus as the ground of our salvation. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9.16).
  • Understanding the all-encompassing work of Christ we recognize that God, from ages past, sought to create a new community comprised of people from every “tribe, language, people and nation” (Revelation. 5.9).  Christ’s atoning death did not simply make salvation possible. Rather, His sacrifice on the cross completely accomplished the salvation for those who would believe in Him.  To accomplish this work of salvation Scripture informs us that God initiates action to rescue humanity.  Therefore, we read that Christ died for “His sheep” (John 10.11, 15), “His Church” (Acts 20.28), and “His people” (Matthew. 1.21) to give them eternal life.  The Apostle John in 1 John tells us that Christ’s death is the perfect offering for our sins fully satisfying the judgment of God for those who believe in Christ Jesus.
  • We recognize that salvation comes to sinful people because the Holy Spirit sovereignly changes their rebellious hearts. He gives to us the spiritual ears with which to hear the call of God. The sheep hear the voice of Christ, are known by Him, and follow Him (John. 10.27). We depend on His powerful grace to transform us into new creations and to continually draw us to our Savior.
  • God’s power will guard and keep those who believe in Christ to the end. While we recognize our responsibility to “work out our salvation” with great seriousness (Philippians 2.12), we also affirm that it is God who is at work within us both “to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2.13). Because God is at work in us we persevere through trials and difficulties by faith, with the assurance of eternal life, because God is working all things for our good (Romans 8.28).

These dimensions provide the touchstone of Christian Hope.  This Hope motivates us to work for the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom in two ways.

First, we seek to prepare men and women, young and old, to bring the Gospel to all people in every part of the world. Our members regularly involve themselves in a variety of cross-cultural ministries. We encourage our members to serve every segment of American society.  And, even beyond this – to the world. Scripture tells us that Christ purchased people for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation. 5.9). Therefore, the proclamation of the Gospel to all people is one of the chief aims of St. Andrew’s as we seek to do our part in the re-evangelization of the world.

Secondly, we prepare our members to bring the Word of God to bear on every dimension of human culture; seeking to equip every Christ-follower to participate in the world for the transformation of our society to the honor and glory of Jesus Christ. We believe that the Lordship of Jesus Christ extends to all arenas of life.  Jesus is Lord not only of the church; He is Supreme over the family, governments and economics, the arts and sciences, and human society at large.  Therefore, we do not withdraw from the world. You are the bearers of God’s image. You are to fill every aspect of the earth with the knowledge of God your creator and redeemer.

May God give us the grace to follow boldly where He leads and may we give faithful witness to Christ in our generation.

In the family,

Steve

29 responses to Steve’s October Congregational Letter

  1. Praying for you from across the pond!

  2. This is great letter – focused, inspirational and informative! A clear guide for moving ahead. Looking forward to discussing this in our 40 Days group.

  3. Heather Lynn Griffin October 1, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Great letter, Steve. I loved the “lens” paragraph:
    “Each of us has a set of core convictions – about many things. They’re so basic to the way in which we see life that we often do not even realize that these core convictions are operating. And, it’s these core convictions – informed by Scripture – empowered by the Spirit – that function as a sort of lens through which we view the world. It’s these core convictions that lead us to consider some sorts of behavior as being suited to the way things are, and other sorts of behavior as being out of alignment with reality. It’s these core convictions that lead us to feel certain emotions in certain circumstances rather than others.” – This is very Polanyi/MacIntyre/Berger/Newbigin, but written in a generally accessible way 🙂

  4. Great letter, Steve. It’s “time” that our church makes its decision. Very powerful bible verse, also, kind of like a splash of water in my spiritually sleeping face.

  5. Truth Unites… and Divides October 1, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    “Some argue that schism is worse than heresy. Nonsense. Others have argued that apostasy is not an adequate reason to depart the church. Again, nonsense.”

    I agree completely.

    I’m glad that you put it in the letter.

  6. “Steve . . . read your letter to your congregation . . . we’ve been there and it was such a relief when we finally took that step out!!! We’ll be praying for you and your congregation.”

  7. Praying for you and the flock, Father. It is a journey of faith and taking a strong stand for Christ our Lord. He will honor the choice to stand.

  8. Suffering from a bit of envy as I attended a briefing at my DofSC parish tonight where it was admitted that the only reason we were discussing the situation publicly was because the Bishop requested it. Regardless of your decision at the end of the 40 days . . . at least you’ve put it out there to talk about and not bury! My prayers go out to all at St. Andrew’s.

  9. Tami, at least your rector said something to the congregation. Mine announced that our parish would never leave the Episcopal Church no matter what. And with that being the case he said there’s no point in talking about this topic at all. God bless St. Andrew’s for having the courage and the faithfulness to put the issue on the table. Praying for you.

  10. Trey – thanks for reminding me that it could be worse! Praying for you too . . .

  11. Tami & Trey, I have been thinking about you all day. I’ve been praying for you & your situation. I believe the Holy Spirit is stirring you to pursue a new thing. I’ll continue to pray for wisdom and encouragement for you about what direction you should go.

  12. Thank you for the prayers, Craig! Right now, my husband and I believe the “new thing” we’re being led toward is to make the effort to drive in to Mount Pleasant and attend St. Andrews. I’m worried about being able to be integrated into the life of the church when not in the same community, but I’m not exactly in the community of the parish I attend now – just a lot closer.

  13. Tami, we drive from Summerville and it has been WELL worth the time and sacrifice. We’d be glad to share our experience regarding integration if that would be helpful. Welcome!

  14. Tami,
    I also live in Summerville and have been making the commute since 2003. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to drive so far. Many in TEC don’t have an orthodox parish within reasonable driving distance. I view my commute as a very small and worthwhile sacrifice.

  15. We are in Goose Creek, but currently attend in Summerville . . . knowing there are parish members of St. Andrews who live up this way makes me feel a lot better! And Spencer, you are absolutely right about the reasonable driving distance and those who don’t have that – appreciate the reminder.

  16. Come on in; the water is fine! Your AMiA colleague

  17. Ezekiel 43:8,9 “by setting their threshold by My threshold and their door post beside My door post, with only the wall between Me and them. And they have defiled My holy name by their abominations which they have committed. So I have consumed them in My anger. Now let them put away their harlotry and the corpses of their kings far from Me; and I will dwell among them forever.” I don’t won’t our wall next to the wall of those who have defiled God’s holy name!

  18. We are near Georgetown and have seriously considered the move to St. Andrew’s…

  19. Just a heads up that St. Mary’s in Goose Creek is a wonderful church under the leadership of St. Andrew’s. You may want to come worship with us and see if it’s a fit.

  20. Ditto on the St. Mary’s suggestion. Remember that most people begin coming to “church” BECAUSE SOMEONE INVITED THEM. Perhaps there are those unchurched friends and neighbors in the Summerville/Goose Creek area that are waiting to be invited to a neighboring church [St. Mary’s] where they can begin or renew their walk in Christ as you do…

  21. I admit to having a probably unfounded fear of Red Bank Road area of Goose Creek at night due to things we were told when we first moved here years ago, but thank everyone for the suggestion. I was asked today if St. Mary’s is part of the 40 Days of Discernment process and didn’t know the answer?

  22. Oh, just go already. Why wait six weeks? The decision has been predetermined. Everyone knows it.

  23. Steve, Thank you for so clearly and humbly stating where you are personally. I have to admit I was a bit bewildered at the idea of a discernment process when I did not know where my leader stood on the matter at hand. Equally, I needed some kind of referent point as a basis for my discernment – just “discernment” in the abstract was overwhelming.
    I also wanted to tell you how much I admire your willingness to open this process to the whole body. By stating that this decision was so important that it necessarily needed to involve us all was a true blessing to me. It is clear you trust the Spirit to lead and St. Andrew’s to hear.
    I thank the Lord for your leadership and I pray his continued blessing upon you and your family.
    Yours,
    William

  24. Tami – there are many of us who make the weekly drive to St. Andrew’s from the Summerville area. If you’re serious about looking, I’d go to St. Andrew’s and see what it’s like and what the Lord might be saying to you.

  25. I am a member of Holy Apostles Barnwell, I spoke to Steve Oct 24 at Special convention. I am torn by my church’s, shall I say, Fog. I am a member of the Vestry and am entertaining a thought of resigning my position. I wish I lived closer, so that I might join in your 40 days of Discernment. My church is one of the churches that was split in decision on Resolution #2, and many in our Parrish believe we should stay with TEC. As William stated, I was bewildered until I spoke to, and read his “Blogs”.
    I wish St. Andrew’s the Blessings of our Lord and Redeemer.
    Pat

  26. In response to ST’s comment that the outcome is predetermined and everyone knows it, I think it is important to realize that there exists a strong faction at St.A that does not want to leave TEC. You might believe otherwise because these are not the people you surround yourself with at small group, or Sunday services, etc. If we take the position that the process is unimportant we risk promoting apathy about the vote. If people don’t show up for the vote, the outcome could be a surprise for a lot of people.

  27. This process will certainly be a defining moment on a variety of levels.

  28. Your letter was sent to me from a friend…Two scriptures came to mind. If the foundation be destroyed, what shall the righteous do? {Psalms} Also, do not grieve the Holy Spirit…choose this day, whom you shall serve. Those who God gives a mandate to obey, He will be faithful to them. It is good being on the Lord’s side.

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