"Love them as I love them"
an essay on
Rev. Todd H. Wetzel
Steadfast Faith articulates the Evangelical point of view in the course of describing the conflict that currently rages within the Episcopal Church in the United States between theological conservatives and liberals. Many facets of the respective positions are discussed in the context of an account of the author's personal journey. As an Episcopal priest, he brings the highly charged, political issues of the Episcopal Church home to the local parish and individual believer's life and faith.
The Episcopal Church in the United States is in far worse trouble than I had ever guessed before I became an Episcopalian (February, 2000). As a church denomination, they have adopted positions that I would have thought almost anyone would readily acknowledge to be incompatible with the most elementary understanding of the Christian faith. After reading Todd Wetzel's appraisal of the Episcopal Church and its leadership, I can only admit how naive I was. To confirm this for yourself, you have only to look at the work of Bishop John Spong and understand that his views represent those of a very substantial majority of the American Episcopal hierarchy.
Of course, bishops who deny the Resurrection, or the deity of Christ, or the reliability or the authority or the factual basis of the Bible and its teachings, are nothing new: the third century saw such kind, and they have popped up in every age since. (See, for instance, Bishop John A. T. Robinson, in his book, Honest to God.) Moreover, as a former, long-time agnostic, I can appreciate the impulse to explain away the Bible, spiritual experience, and God, as superstition, as the invention of devout followers of an ecstatic cult, or as a purely human exercise in the imagination of ideals or wishful thinking. In view of the relief it provides the conscience, and the ease with which one can then fashion one's own ethics, I can easily understand how someone might wish to be a modern-day gnostic; I just cannot understand why such a person would want to remain an Episcopalian bishop, inescapably identifying him, as it does, with at least an historical belief in literal events that he now regards as, at best, symbolic fictions or, at worst, outright frauds.
The author does not answer that question except to point out that the undermining of scriptural authority in the Church provides some benefits, namely, one can invent one's own religion; one can justify almost any imaginable behavior, belief, or position. What he does do is to provide a highly persuasive argument for the restoration of orthodoxy to the church, not simply to upright the sinking ship, but to return it to its historic mission, out of love for that mission and the church. The author's personal testimony, which is threaded through the book, places that love at the center: Jesus loves the Church; in imitation of Him, so should we.
Early in the narrative, Father Wetzel writes about difficulties in his relationship with his wife. After a vivid personal renewal experience, he noticed that, while he was far more effective in his parish ministry, in evangelism and nurturing, he was less effective with the members who resented his change, including his wife. He writes:
I heard the retreat director tell us to "Go off, find a place alone, and listen to the Lord." I found a clearing in the woods, white with new-fallen snow. I walked out into the center of it, knelt down, and began to cry.
Father Wetzel extends this principle to the Episcopal Church:
"God," I asked, "why doesn't she love you like I love you?"
And -- in an instant, clear as a bell -- the words snapped back at me:
"Why don't you love her like I love her?"
I sat there a long moment or two, absolutely stunned... And I went home to learn to love my wife.
...Conservatives say about their liberal counterparts, "Oh, God, why don't they love you like we love you?" ... I believe that God, listening to this prayer is whispering back to us, "Why don't you love the people of the Church -- including them -- like I love them?"
Yes, Steadfast Faith is a call to arms, a clarion call to contend for the faith for the sake of the Gospel, out of love for the people being led so far astray. But first of all it is a call to prayer, reform, and renewal at every level, beginning within individual parishioners. For only renewal led by the Spirit can restore the Episcopal Church to its evangelistic mission in the world.
This book makes excellent, easy, enjoyable reading, but you will want to stand up at the end. Whether it is to shout, "Hallelujah!" or to curse the author's eloquence depends on which side you stand, but you will do one or the other.
The Rev. Todd H. Wetzel is executive director of
RMA, May, 2000
Wetzel, Todd H., Steadfast Faith, Latimer
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