Is persecution a blessing?

In a recent article for Covenant, the blog site for The Living Church, Hannah King pleads for cooperation with The Episcopal Church (TEC), the heretical sect from which so many fled to form The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Alex Wilgus at The North American Anglican offers an excellent response, noting the pain, sadness, and outright abuse many faithful believers suffered at the hands of TEC before finding a safe harbor in ACNA. To Wilgus’s points, I would add that King’s article is not only naive, but also ill-timed. Currently serving a parish in Greenville, South Carolina, she should be well aware that the lower part of her state is Ground Zero for a theological and legal battle that is far from over. Only yesterday, the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina, where I am privileged to serve, was informed that the so-called “Episcopal Church in South Carolina” (TECSC) is filing yet another legal complaint. Unsatisfied with a previous outlandish court order that the diocese relinquish its historical name and marks, the Episcopal entity is now demanding removal of certain items from the diocesan website and yet another name change since the diocese has recently taken a name that is “confusingly similar” to its previous nomenclature.

This latest petition is nothing more than a vindictive exercise in self-flattery. The newly christened Anglican Diocese of South Carolina is nothing if not eager to disentangle itself from any lingering association with both the national and local Episcopal bodies. In fact, we would have willingly given over the old name and marks had our adversaries not (literally) made a federal case out of it.

Difficult as it is to be an Anglican in the lowcountry of South Carolina, however, perhaps we ought to rejoice in our continuing tribulation. Herman Sasse (1895 – 1976), citing the example of the Apostle John, observed that a church not wrestling with questions of truth and falsehood was “always in danger of dying.”

The Apostle of Love warns Christians: “Believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Although John’s Gospel and Epistles constantly set forth the love of one’s fellow believers as the criterion for true faith and genuine Christianity, his criterion for erroneous faith and heresy is a dogmatic statement: “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus is come in the flesh, is not of God and this is the spirit of the Antichrist.” In other words, contrary to all expectation, the correct teaching of the Incarnation appears as the touchstone according to which true doctrine is distinguished from false, the church from heresy. It was so at the beginning of the church’s history; it shall continue so until the light of eternal truth shall enlighten us all. Of those times in which the life of the church was not very much disturbed by concern for pure teaching and by alarm concerning false teaching, it may be said that they do not belong to the great ages of the church. On the contrary, the church is always in danger of dying when it ceases to wrestle for truth and to pray that the Lord may guard it against the devil’s wiles and false teaching.

As it seeks to establish itself as the guardian of Anglican orthodoxy in the United States and Canada, the ACNA would do well to heed this Lutheran theologian’s wise counsel. Barely a decade since its inception, the siren voices are beckoning the young province to unlash itself from the mast and pursue the the dead end paths of compromise and theological innovation.

The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina, still engaged as we are in hand to hand combat with a determined and vindictive foe that perfectly fits the Apostle’s definition of “the spirit of Antichrist,” remains instilled with a holy resolve to resist the temptations to compromise and innovate. Twelve years ago, in the face of fierce opposition to his eventual election, Bishop Mark Lawrence wrote, “I have lashed myself to the mast of Christ and will ride out this storm wherever the ship of faith will take me.”

That storm has not subsided, but the ship of faith remains intact. In God’s time, we will land safely on the shore. When that day comes, we may very well realize this persistent persecution was, in fact, a blessing.

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