Beliefnet
Progressive Revival

In his Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul describes his frustration with members of “the circumcision faction”-an early group of conserative Jewish-Christians from Jerusalem who refused to eat with the Gentile converts in St. Paul’s community in Antioch.

What might Bishop Robert Duncan and other leaders of the new conservative rival denomination to the Episcopal Church share in common with this narrow faction of the early church over whom St. Paul’s wider vision ultimately prevailed?

The common thread is a confusion between purity and orthodoxy. Like the members of the early circumcision faction who were afraid their faith would be polluted by table fellowship with Gentiles, leaders of the Anglican Church in North America are seeking to purify themselves
of the corrupting influence of the Episcopal Church with its committment of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians into worship, fellowship, and leadership positions within the church. The four diocese and dozens of indivual parishes that will come under their leadership may consider themselves “orthodox” but what exactly does that mean?

Isn’t Christianity a rather “unclean” religion from the start?

God’s self-emptying into human form was an abomination to begin with. Jesus’ persistance in breaking bread with prostitutes, tax-collectors, sinners, and all varieties of the ritually-unclean incensed and scandalized the religious authorities of his day. Death on a cross would have been an embarrassment for anyone, let alone the Messiah. So, arguably, eating with the corrupt and corrupting “other” is just what Christians are supposed to do around the altar every Sunday. It is the promise and power of the faith.

For this reason, it is possible that the leaders of the Anglican Church of North America may end up enjoying the same obscurity as those “certain people of James” who Paul referred to with exasperation in his Letter to the Galatians. St. Paul’s insistance that there is
neither Jew or Gentile, slave or free, or male or female in Christ Jesus won the day back then, and may still have the final say when history looks back on this moment as well. Time will tell.

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