John Parker: Voice and Vote

Posted by Kendall Harmon

It was the South Carolina Diocesan Convention of 2002, I believe, during which Bishop Salmon voiced something I will never forget.

In an effort to assure the continuity of some sort of traditional Christianity in the Diocese (it wasn’t directly under threat; the resolution was foreseeing a day like today), some well-intentioned soul proposed that we approve a resolution stating something like, “Be it resolved that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all.” Given the utterly heretical antics which have occurred in various places since that time, one can certainly understand the intention, especially in retrospect.

But Bishop Salmon, in his wisdom, approached the microphone before anyone else could say anything and said, “People: the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not up for a vote. He is the Lord whether or not one believes it or accepts it.” This was a moment of important clarity. In fact, Bishop Salmon was honoring his vocation as an Anglican episcopos, a firm voice defending the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

One wonders, in the history of Anglicanism in North America, where this all went so far off track—if it was ever on track. One surprising and notable fatal flaw inherent in Anglican/Episcopalian synods and conventions is the democratic process, especially whereby the unchangeable doctrines of the historic Christian faith are debated and often hang delicately in the hands of majority rule.

Since the very task of Christianity is paradosis (Greek), traditio (Latin), tradition—to receive only that which has been passed along from the beginning, and then to pass only that along to the next—it is totally foreign to the Christian faith that if 60% of all bishops, clergy, and laity vote in favor of something, then it should be done. This approach might be fine if the debate is to send missionaries either to Africa or to Asia. It is no problem to vote on whether or not to host the next General Convention in Miami or in Reno.

But the Christian faith itself is not up for a vote. In fact, it is not even open for debate among self-professing Christians. Why? Once again, because Christianity is received. One can receive it and accept it or not, but it is not subject to change. Red lights should flash and sirens should sound whenever anything is proposed to be believed which never in the history of the Christian faith has been both delivered and received.

Since Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever”, so then teachings about him are “the same yesterday, today, and forever”. And because the Church is the body of this unchangeable Jesus Christ, then too, the structure and belief of the Church is unchangeable and unchanging.

Since Jesus Christ, by his divine-human nature shows us precisely what it means to be both human and man, then we have no need to debate what true humanity looks like, nor what true manhood is. Jesus Christ is not just the “last Adam”; he is the true Adam, the true Man. True manhood and true personhood is one and the same: love defined as seeking and doing nothing but the will of the Father in Heaven, which always involves crucifixion, denial of self, and following—not leading.

Women also can turn to the purest, most perfect woman who ever lived to see precisely what it means to be woman. Mary, the ever-Virgin Theotokos (God-bearer), who is—even according to the ECUSA hymn, borrowed from the Orthodox—“more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim” and who “lead(s) their [the saints’] praises”, is she. And she is not just the second Eve, she is the true Eve—the most ‘real’ woman. The one who heard the word of God and kept it. Mary is the holy example of love, purity, and chastity, not to mention joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

There is no true humanity, personhood, apart from Jesus Christ. There is no femininity, womanhood, apart from the Theotokos. There is no Christianity without both. There is obviously no Christianity with out Christ; but there is no Christ without his holy Mother, Mary. It is perhaps this lack—the near extinction of the veneration of the Mother of God in Anglican circles—which is at the root of today’s struggles.

But then again, there are two quotes which are also instructive: His Eminence (now) Metropolitan KALLISTOS Ware (most famous for his excellent books The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way) said, “St. Athanasius said, ‘God became man to make man God.’ But God also became man to make man, man.” We have much to learn from this.

I do not know to whom to attribute the second quote, which I will paraphrase. “It is truly a sick world when we have veered so far from Christ, that the example and highest goal is to attain the status of fallen man (as opposed to attaining to Christ)—even for women.” In other words, in our modern society, the standard for all people (even for women) is the fallen male.

How utterly sad—truly sad—that the Anglican Church of Canada—like so many others—should believe that Christianity is up for a vote. I suspect we should be relieved that in order to approve SSB, 60% had to be in favor. I suppose we should all breathe a sigh of relief that it ‘failed’.

But it didn’t. As has been seen in our own country, the fact that it is up for a vote and debate at all indicates that it is only a matter of time, every second of which is precious for our salvation.

And how totally ironic that these votes should take place on the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Forerunner and Baptist of our Lord, June 24. St. John’s preaching was indeed a fore-running of the Lord’s, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Repent indeed. Change your minds.

John the Baptist preached as a voice in the wilderness as a sign of what was to come. But now already the Lord is come, is sacrificed for us, and indeed is risen! Neither these holy and life-giving events nor any facet of Christianity is up for vote.

To be in the wilderness now is an unnecessary choice. The Church can be found, and it is not far away. As the prophet Ezekiel said, “So turn, and live!”

--Fr. John Parker is Priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Mt. Pleasant, SC, and can be reached at frjohn [at] ocacharleston [dot] org


Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOrthodox Church* Theology

16 Comments
Posted June 26, 2007 at 8:26 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. David Wilson wrote:

Posts like this trouble me.  Fr John Parker, once an Episcopal priest now an Orthodox one continues to voice his opinion about the sorry state of Anglicanism. I suppose it is his right to do so, after all it’s a free country.  Yet he freely chose to leave the Anglican flock and he and others who have left ought to concentratre their efforts and energies ministering to the their new, more perfect, flock rather than lobbing shells at the one they have left.

June 26, 9:04 am | [comment link]
2. Bob from Boone wrote:

I agree, DDW+. We get enough criticisms from “ex"s, people who have never been Episcopalians, and a lot of “Episco-bashing” from both within and without. It would be nice if those who have left would not look back and complain. They’re behaving like a divorced person who won’t get go of his/her anger at the other spouse. The healthy thing to do is finally let go and get on with their new ministries.

June 26, 9:27 am | [comment link]
3. Focloir wrote:

Bravo for Bishop Salmon!

June 26, 9:51 am | [comment link]
4. Fr. John Parker wrote:

Before any more comments like (1) and (2) are made, perhaps a few words of explanation will be helpful.

First, if anyone considers this a ‘lob’, please consider it a lob of sanity and a safety line, and not a bombshell.  Bombshells are intended to destroy, and the destruction—in this specific case—is coming from within, not without.

Second, I do not have a “new, more perfect flock”.  In fact, my parish is filled with people just like every other church, and I am the chief sinner among them.  What I do understand, though, is my own sinfulness in ways that I never could have before—because either there was insufficient teaching on it or what actually is sin was called good.  I therefore am able to seek salvation much more fully, because the way of repentance is clear, well-documented, and there are many Saints (whose Communion we not only proclaim, but also fully enter and engage) whose way of repentance I can follow.

What I have received, by God’s grace and by no merit or action of my own, is two-fold:  a) the fullness of Christianity—Christus et Corpus. and b) the fullest ‘first-aid kit’ one could ever ask for.  The first gift (the Church) is the fullest understanding of God and Man, and all related categories.  The second gift is the sacraments intended for the healing of our infirmities—which can only be rightly named and identified when we have a full and proper understanding of both God and man.

Third, I didn’t leave ECUSA angry, though I can see much anger in those who remain.  I left having found what the Orthodox Church claims to be “the faith once for all delievered”, unashamedly proclaimed. 

In my 31 years as an Episcopalian, I often heard “answers” to faith questions where there are none, and “it is a mystery” or “there are diverse opinions” (even at TESM!) where there actually was a clear teaching from the beginning.  But Christianity is the other way around.  There are many mysteries, which we must proclaim as mysteries til the end; and there are many clear teachings from which we must never stray.

Finally, I must say that I am surprised at your being troubled.  I often wondered (as an Episcopalian) “If we are one of three streams of the Church, why don’t we *ever* ask assistance from the other two?”  Do you not believe that the Orthodox Church—which is the most ancient and unchanged Christian Church on the planet earth, whose faith is evidenced in the 20th century by more martyrs in 100 years than in nearly—if not all—of the previous 20 centuries combined, whose bishops still recite and believe the Nicene Creed as it was discerned in 325 and 381—do you not believe that we can offer any assistance to you at all?  And do you really believe that any word we speak is a bombshell upon you? 

Please, please know that this is not the case.  Again, a) I have no bombshell to lob on you and b) if there are any bombs being dropped, it is from within—so-called “friendly fire”. 

The Orthodox Church doesn’t issue bombs to her priests, only medical kits.  And to our deacons, stretchers, carried by four friends—just like the paralytic’s.

Please know that I am not writing generically or angrily.  It is life or death, my friends.  I’ll leave my email address again here.  Feel free to contact me directly.  I don’t bite.  smile  frjohn (at) ocacharleston (dot) org

June 26, 10:15 am | [comment link]
5. chips wrote:

Bob,
If something you care about was hijacked and held hostage - you would continue to care.  A once healthy entity - the ECUSA - was taken over by a well organized minority of leftist activists - (feminists, socialists, leftist 1960’s era seminarians, and gay and lesbian activists).  I think the real problem for myself and many others that these changes (wo, the prayer book, the Church’s political outlook, and the impending acceptance of homosexuality as a proper lifestyle choice) were not reflective of the average Episcopalian circa 1970 to present especially those outside large east coast urban areas.  The Church did not so much as change as it was changed.  Hence many would like to see a restoration even if they do not intend to return - instead we appear to be on the verge of the second best outcome - a division.  The new entity will not and can not be just like the old - perhaps it can be better.  I care because I plan to return.

June 26, 10:18 am | [comment link]
6. Jimmy DuPre wrote:

Fr. John; I liked your post. But would you like to clarify “I therefore am able to seek salvation much more fully”? Is it possible to be partially saved? or partially pregnant?
Were you referring to justification or sanctification?

Article 17; “Hence those granted such an excellent benefit by God are called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working at the appropriate time. By grace they obey the calling; they are freely justified, are made sons of God by adoption, are made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, they walk faithfully in good works and at the last by God’s mercy attain eternal happiness.”

June 26, 10:24 am | [comment link]
7. David Wilson wrote:

Proverbs 16:18

June 26, 10:41 am | [comment link]
8. Phil wrote:

Thank you for your thoughts, Fr. John, and pay no mind to the “new, more perfect, flock” language.  It is the disconnected-from-reality meme of the haughty and prideful American province, seeking to justify itself as it heads for a fall.

June 26, 10:52 am | [comment link]
9. Fr. John Parker wrote:

Jimmy,
When I say, “seek salvation more fully”, here is what I am getting at:

We believe that salvation can only be spoken of in a triple-formula: “I was saved.  I am saved.  I am being saved.”  I can’t think this quickly, but to try to use your example, pregnancy can be spoken of in two of the ways, “I was impregnated. I am preganant.” One can’t be in the process of pregancy (it is a process of growth and change) without first being impregnated.  Though I am not sure the analogy carries any further than that. 

Baptism is the norm and beginning of Salvation for living human beings.  But no one is ‘saved’ simply because he is baptized.  Salvation is a daily process, and the outcome of it is known to the Lord alone—it is He who will judge. (In this sense, I cannot answer the famous CCC question, “If you died tonight, are you sure you would go to heaven?”  It isn’t God I don’t trust, it is my following Him.)  We also remember our Lord who said, “He who endures to the end shall be saved.”

I guess I’d only add that I am able to seek salvation “more fully” because the need for salvation is clearer and fuller, my life as a sinner is clearer, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ is most clearly taught and understood, and the “medical kit” I refer to has every necessary remedy for the soul.

I hope that helps…thank you for asking, and do again if I’ve garbled it more.

June 26, 11:01 am | [comment link]
10. The_Elves wrote:

Fr. John, thank you for your eloquent comment and article. 

To #1 & 2: Quite regularly on the old blog, we made it clear that the elves don’t look kindly upon “trolling” from other denominations. (“Come home to _______”). 

Fr. John’s post is not in that category. 

First of all, it is a top-level entry, posted by Kendall, so Kendall obviously saw something he felt worth sharing.  Secondly, Fr. John in both his post and his comment has focused on sharing the insights into the faith that he has discovered following his entrance into the Orthodox church, not on gratuitously attacking ECUSA.

We ask commenters to please focus on the substance of his remarks, not his identity as a former-Episcopalian.  Thanks.
—elfgirl

June 26, 11:14 am | [comment link]
11. The_Elves wrote:

DDW+ we don’t find your “Proverbs 16:18” comment helpful. 

If you’re accusing Fr. John of pride, your comment is ad hominem and out of place.  If you have some other point to make, please do so clearly.  Such a general cryptic comment using a single Scripture verse without commentary or application to the post is not helpful to the discussion.  We have called others on “both sides” about this in the past and will continue to follow the practice of asking for more specific exegesis.

—elfgirl

June 26, 11:19 am | [comment link]
12. Grandmother wrote:

Grannie to the “rescue”.. Fr. Parker has a column printed every Sunday, in the Charleston Post and Courier, Faith and Values section.

I, and many of my friends (of all denominational stripes) eagerly await his words of wisdom, and voice of reason and teaching.

In our internet group of 1400 + or -, we are probably one of the most ecumenical gatherings around. We have informal “chaplains”, ECUSA, Orthodox, PNCC, RC, etc, who are a great help advising, answering questions etc.  Sometimes, indeed, the conversation among them gets a bit “technical’, but its been a wonderful learning process.  We would be honored to have the likes of Fr. Parker in our midst.

Interestingly enough, if one feels like one is being “lobbed”, perhaps one should look at where one is standing? 

Fr. Parker is held in very high esteem among Christians in the Charleston area. It would not matter if he was of any other denomination, but we find the “Orthodox” perspective interesting and challenging. 

Prayers ascending for all those who are willing to minister to us.

Grannie Gloria in South Carolina

June 26, 11:33 am | [comment link]
13. Deja Vu wrote:

Well, the first few comments are interesting in that they seem to indicate that the TEC party line is now to say that those who left have no right to speak.
The previous party line was that those who left would be welcomed back to the fold.
Now TEC is telling the remaining flock to stick their fingerrs in their ears and say “La, la, la, la, la, we can’t hear you.”

June 26, 12:37 pm | [comment link]
14. badman wrote:

The essential point being made in the article is “How utterly sad—truly sad—that the Anglican Church of Canada—like so many others—should believe that Christianity is up for a vote.”

and

“But the Christian faith itself is not up for a vote. In fact, it is not even open for debate among self-professing Christians. Why? Once again, because Christianity is received. One can receive it and accept it or not, but it is not subject to change.”

The difficulty is that we do not have the clarity of vision that we will have in the hereafter.  It is wrong to suggest that “reception” is a straightforward process brooking no discernment, study, challenge, exegesis or exchange of views.  The whole history of the Church from the Council of Jerusalem onwards shows how all, including the apostles, had to meet, deliberate and, yes, on occasions, as in the early Councils of the Church, vote.  Synodical government, which involves votes, is part of the most ancient traditions of the Church.

What the writer is really saying is that his understanding of the matters in issue is shared by most Christians in the world today and across the ages (true) and is inerrant and should not be questioned.

My own view is that theological and other debates, provided they are conducted in good faith and in a spirit of Christian charity and humility, are a means of informing and strengthening our faith and of ensuring that any error or weakness in our own reception is tested and corrected and, likewise, any error or weakness in the reception of those with whom we converse.

If that were not so, reading blogs, and reading and contributing comments, would be worse than useless.

June 26, 1:21 pm | [comment link]
15. Fr. John Parker wrote:

Badman,

It is true that within the history of our faith, there have been countless theological battles.  Surely this was the case in the 2nd-8th centuries, when the 7 Ecumenical Councils were convened in order to clarify what has always been believed.  What is important to see, though, is that this was not some democratic vote (Imagine if there had been such a thing when St. Athanasius woke up, “and all the world was Arian.”)  Rather, there is a careful treatment of the Canon of Truth, beautifully initiated theologically by St. Irenaeus of Lyons.  The point is that all questions of the faith must be held against that canon (this is not, by the way, the Biblical canon, especially at that time) to test their veracity and faithfulness to what was delivered.

Today, though, you are right.  I am arguing that this reception is an straightforward process.  Why?  Because the battles being waged today have been waged numerous times in Church History.  The Canons of the Ancient Church and the Homilies of saints like John Chyrsostom record what we believe about all of this.

Why, for example, would we have a theological debate in charity and humility with Mormons—whether or not they are Christian—when they are basically 19th century Arians?  The work has been done.  We need to love them, and show them the Truth, but not waste our time in ‘dialogue’ or ‘debate’ with them.

Same thing is true with issues of humanity and sexuality.  There is an unchanged, received, un-debatable Christian belief on this.  True, for all of us it is difficult to live out, and for many—brutally difficulty.  But did our Lord promise us a life of ease?  Jesus never said, “Indulge thyself…”  To the contrary, the Gospel call is to self-denial.

To enter into the arena on these matters now is, as you call it, “worse than useless”, precisely because it puts us in the position of Eve in Genesis 3—confused and asking ourselves, “Did God really say…?”  (Please don’t misread that last sentence as some fundamentalis reading of Genesis—that is not Orthodox.  Rather, understand it to mean that satan’s main task is to get us to question what we know to be the Truth, and then be on to tempt the next one.)

Fr. John+

June 26, 3:50 pm | [comment link]
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