Our diocese has a "Task Force on Unity" whose work appears to be doomed due to the lack of agreement on just what is really, really, really commonly believed in the Episcopal Church in Upper South Carolina. For a picture of the degrees of disagreement on some of these beliefs, I refer back to the last survey (found here) done in our diocese prior to the election of Bishop Waldo. Since that time, it appears that the portrait of a conservative diocese has been relegated to the basement of the museum, and the art nouveau of the progressive church has been hung in its place. Former members of several of our parishes are saddened at the changes in the diocese (personal communications), and they are perplexed at how a once unified church has fallen apart.
One response I have heard from sources within our diocese is that without the assurance of a common belief, especially in regards to doctrine and theology, there can be no Unity. Other voices from outside the diocese echo this idea.
"We can no longer rely on the strength of our beliefs because no one is quite sure what it is we believe. We resort to coercion rather than persuasion to enforce our will on others. The Dennis Canon has become just another method to enforce compliance in a community that is marked by a predatory opportunism." Ladson F. Mills III
Reading the Rev'd Mills' words the other day led me to ponder, "If a hypothetical average Episcopalian pewsitter were to write out what the Episcopal church believes, what would it look like?"
Images of a blank page came to mind.
Then I began to seriously think about a few things most Christians would consider core beliefs, and if there were any things that all Episcopalians were really, really, really sure about and really, really, really believe. I concluded that the physical resurrection of Jesus is something that (considering the widespread acceptance of the writings of John Shelby Spong and Marcus Borg) not all Episcopalians are really, really, really sure about. Likewise scratch the virgin birth off the list as well as the miraculous healings, walking on water, casting out of demons, Old Testament prophesies, Articles of Religion, etc.
So what are we left with? Here are a few that I came up with.
1. Crucifixion: We are quite sure that a man called Jesus was crucified.
2. Baptism: We are quite sure that we have been baptised because our mothers told us so.
2a. We are quite sure that we don't need to be baptised again.
3. Omniscience: We are quite sure that our priest knows when we are in the hospital.
4. Reason: We are quite sure that we do not check our brains at the door of the church.
5. Priesthood: We are quite sure that we are entitled to at least a few moments of the rector's undivided personal attention each Sunday.
6. Confirmation: We are quite sure that a Bishop does the confirmations.
7. Blessings: We are quite sure that most things can be blessed if you desire them to be blessed.
8. Music: We are quite sure that the numbers on the Hymn board should match what the organist plays.
9. Coffee Hour: We are quite sure that this very, very important.
10. Daydreaming: We are quite sure that we will daydream during the sermon.
11. Pew Position: We are quite sure which pew we will sit in next Sunday.
12. Pentecost: We are quite sure that one really ought to wear red on Pentecost.
13. Justice: We are quite sure that our mission is justice (for a definition see the Revisionist Dictionary).
There is a longer list of things that most Episcopalians think they are sure about, and a more lengthy list of things that many Episcopalians think they believe (such as "The Episcopal church is relevant), and a endless list that some Episcopalians might believe, but that was not the point of this exercise. The point is something our bishop is after, and that is "Unity" which he implies is being together in relationship and "mission" in spite of our differences in doctrinal beliefs.
I am afraid that that as far as doctine goes, Ladson Mills in the above quotation nails it on the head when he writes, "no one is quite sure what it is we believe."
Hey, if it is unity we are after, then let's talk unity and stick with the following statement:
"Think how He was manifested—God manifest in the flesh—to be a Surety for sinners. Made sin for us, although He knew no sin,—made a curse for us. Oh, if I could declare Him unto you, you might have fellowship with apostles, and with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things will we write unto you, that your joy may be full.
Other joys do not fill the heart. But to know the Lord Jesus as our Surety, satisfies the soul; it brings the soul unto rest under the eye of our pardoning God. I met the other day with a thought which has filled my heart often since. It is intended to explain that wonderful verse, John 14:18, 'I will not leave you orphans—I will come to you.'" Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne (Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894), 245-247.
h/t Tolle Lege