Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Leonidas Moment?

Earlier this week I chanced to look down at the detritus left from recent house cleaning and yard sale material preparation and saw a little book alone on the floor that had somehow freed itself from the clutches of the ravagers and pillagers of my beloved treasures. While their backs were turned, I snatched it up and retreated to my cave. Some of you might recognize this book, The Will of God by Leslie Weatherhead first printed in 1944. In it, a series of sermons takes a look at God's will, and the concept is broken down into God's intentional will, circumstantial will, and ultimate will. I felt the book was asking for a re-read, so that's what I did. In a way, this helped me "decompress" after the recent General Convention of the Episcopal church. So many people are asking so many questions, that I had to stop and think, "Where is God in all this?"

My take on the ultimate will of God is that it is sometimes too difficult to accept, or we are so blinded by ourselves and the world, that we can never see God's ultimate will on our own. We are too impatient or self indulged to humble ourselves to Him as we busily try to plan our day or our futures as if He did not exist. The author uses what I would consider a strong classical argument that God's circumstantial will is intimately involved with the problems of Evil, Sin, and pain, those worldly things that try to steer us from God's intentional will. Regular readers of this blog may remember that Evil and Sin are not popular subjects at our parish, and from the reports from GC 09, not terribly popular with the modern Episcopal church in general. The church, by choosing to ignore the subjects, give Evil and Sin the perfect opportunity to work their way into the Church, thus setting up the current circumstances with which so many are struggling. Was this God's intention? Did God, through His intentional will, endorse D025 and C056? Did God will the rejection of D069*, or are these the actions of humans and their free will? Here we are, face to face with the circumstantial will of God. How we respond to these circumstances should be where we place our focus.

I personally find myself in interesting circumstances as a member of this disordered organization. This is nothing new of course. I recall 1979, 2003, 2005, 2006, and now 2009 as times in which the Episcopal church revealed how Evil advances its goals. At no point have I thought that this was the "movement of the Spirit" or "the will of God." It all looked more like the work of fallen man. Let me break it down in an overly simplified method similar to what is discussed in the little book.

1. Intentional Will: It is God's intention that I turn to Him, repent, and love and worship Him as my Lord and Savior.

2. Circumstantial Will: Evil is constantly attacking God's intention, and in this case, His Church, by presenting false doctrines and false prophets to which God's people, by their free will, are easily turned. These are the circumstances man has placed us in and it is where we find ourselves today, pulled away from God's intent.

3. Ultimate Will: This may not be revealed in my lifetime, but the question for me is how do I act in accordance with #1 to do my part for #3?

Some might flee and find comfort in an orthodox church, others might leave the church altogether (as some of our former congregants at ECOOS have done). This simple pewster agrees that the circumstances are dangerous, but I, for one, have been led to challenging them, and no, I am not expecting to change the world. One thing about this journey is that it is not easy, it requires study, prayer, more study, more prayer, and it cannot be done alone. At some point, even a simple pewster might be tempted to call it quits, to swim the Tiber, or to heed some such call. Why battle the Evil circumstances here that challenge God's intention when there is a safe spot down the street?

Can circumstances ever get so bad that I would leave the Episcopal church?

Clifford at Red Stick Rant appears have reached that point. Read his illustration of the fictional Leonidas restaurant (he named that after Leonidas Polk, the "fighting bishop") losing customers because of changes in the staff, what they were serving, changes in the ownership, and eventually losing Red Stick himself when the place becomes totally unrecognizable. (Click the Red Stick Rant link for the long version).

Nice analogy, but is July 2009 a Leonidas moment?

I don't think so. I think anyone wondering if this is the moment needs to proceed to chapter 4 of Weatherhead's little book. The chapter is entitled "Discerning the Will of God." Go there because the question on many moderate and conservative Episcopalians' minds is "Where do I go from here?" Part of our Christian being calls us to ask for God's help at such times. (As humans, we usually call only during troubled times, but that is a subject for another post.) The chapter ends with two questions:
1. "Do I really want to discern God's will or do I want to get his sanction for my own?"
2. "Have I got the courage to do God's will when I discern it?"

I came up with another,

3. What will happen if I reject God's will?

As I try to discern His will, I see, in all the conflicts of the day, the need to confront Evil. I recognize my limited ability to do so given my past upbringing in this Episcopal church. I accept the challenge to increase my understanding of God's purpose so that I can better defend it.

If I reject His will, walk away from His promise, then His sacrifice was in vain.

* ORIGINAL TEXT of Rejected Resolution: C069 Title: Affirm Christ in multi-faith society
Topic: Evangelism
Committee: 12 - Evangelism
House of Initial Action: Deputies
Proposer: Diocese of Western Louisiana


Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That this 76th General Convention of this church affirm the conclusion of the Church of England at its February General Synod and direct the House of Bishops' Committee on Theology to report back to the 77th General Convention on "their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in the United States multi-faith society, and offer examples and commendations of good practice in sharing the gospel of salvation through Christ alone with people of other faiths and of none."


Indicative of our support and appreciation for the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury at this General Convention and his leadership of the Church of England in Christian witness within the multi-faith culture of the United Kingdom, this resolution affirms that the Episcopal Church is in substantial agreement with the Church of England General Synod which directed its House of Bishops at their February 2009 meeting to report back on "their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain's multi-faith society, and offer examples and commendations of good practice in sharing the gospel of salvation through Christ alone with people of other faiths and of none."

Supporting document "General Synod 2/11/09" is posted and available in hard copy in the General Convention Secretariat until the end of the 76th General Convention.


  1. I'm continually struck by the fact that the Lord had faithful disciples in Thyatira upon whom He laid no other burden. Unlike us they might have no other options; yet, I think this underscores the primacy of individual faithfulness wherever one finds oneself.

    Never thought much about the Tiber but have at different points seriously considered sailing for Byzantium. But alas, I am reformed, and put great stock in doctrinal simplicity.

    Leonidas Polk is a source of fascination to me. He wasn't a particularly good field commander (some would say he was downright awful) but his troops adored him. One of his last mortal acts was to baptize Joe Johnston who, in my opinion, was the best strategist the poor CSA had.

  2. Oh, for a return to those thrilling days of yesteryear...when Episcopal bishops had courage and strength of character, and were willing to stand and fight for principles, regardless of the consequences.