News Articles

Episcopal Church left historic Christianity, conservatives say

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (BP)–Two leaders of The Falls Church, one of the largest Episcopal parishes in Virginia that voted to sever ties with the Episcopal Church, said they left the denomination because the American Episcopal Church “no longer believes in the historic, orthodox Christian faith common to all believers.”

“The core issue in why we left is not women’s leadership,” John Yates and Os Guinness wrote, referring to the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as presiding bishop of the national body. “… It is not a ‘leftward’ drift in the church. It is not even primarily ethical — though the ordination of a practicing homosexual as bishop was the flash point that showed how far the repudiation of Christian orthodoxy had gone.”

Yates, rector of The Falls Church, and Guinness, an evangelical apologist and member of the congregation, wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post Jan. 8 titled “Why We Left the Episcopal Church” because they believed it was time to set the record straight.

Nine Virginia parishes voted in December to break from the Episcopal Church; two more joined them Jan. 14. The Falls Church and Truro Church in Fairfax have a combined attendance of 3,000 people, and both were part of the historic Truro Parish founded in 1732 that President George Washington served as a warden.

“The core issue for us is theological: the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world. It is thus a matter of faithfulness to the lordship of Jesus, whom we worship and follow,” the pair wrote, noting that some leaders within the Episcopal Church “expressly deny the central articles of the faith.”

Episcopal revisionism, Yates and Guiness said, abandons the fidelity of faith and negates the authority of faith.

“The ‘sola scriptura’ (‘by the scriptures alone’) doctrine of the Reformation church has been abandoned for the ‘sola cultura’ (by the culture alone) way of the modern church,” they wrote. “No longer under authority, the Episcopal Church today is either its own authority or finds its authority in the shifting winds of intellectual and social fashion — which is to say it has no authority.”

Additionally, Episcopal revisionism severs the continuity of faith and becomes captive to one culture and one time, Yates and Guinness noted, and it destroys the credibility of faith so that there is hardly anything left in their theology that is distinctively Christian.

“It is no accident that orthodox churches are growing and that almost all the great converts to the Christian faith in the past century, such as G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, have been attracted to full-blooded orthodoxy, not to revisionism,” they wrote. “The prospect for the Episcopal Church, already evident in many dioceses, is inevitable withering and decline.”

Jim Pierobon, a spokesman for The Falls Church and Truro, told Baptist Press that conservative Episcopalians did not vote to leave without first trying to bring the denomination back from its revisionist theology.

“It has been at least 30 if not closer to 40 years since the schism — as some have called it — began to fray around the edges,” Pierobon said. “I know the leaders of our churches here in Northern Virginia tried very hard to change from within and to be in communion with our brothers and sisters throughout the Episcopal Church.

“But increasingly, more provinces in the Anglican Communion worldwide are adhering to Scripture and sticking to what the Bible is telling us literally,” he added. “It became increasingly difficult and then ultimately through last summer impossible. Anybody who had been working at this for decades could come to the conclusion that we could not fix it by staying within the church and it was time now to put to a vote whether or not to sever ties with the Episcopal Church.”

Pierobon said The Falls Church and Truro take seriously how they incorporate the Bible in their worship services, adult education classes and in rearing their children.

“We want to adhere to it very specifically and don’t take lightly those who want to interpret it differently,” he said.

Some of the 11 Virginia parishes — including Falls Church and Truro — have placed themselves under the leadership of Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, a conservative leader in the fight over homosexuality and an advocate for a literal interpretation of Scripture.

Truro rector Martyn Minns became a bishop in the Anglican Church of Nigeria last year and is head of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, which many Episcopalians consider a new rival U.S. denomination. They contend that Akinola’s establishment of an American branch of the Anglican Church of Nigeria is a violation of geographic boundaries.

“In doing so, he has made himself the kingpin of a remarkable alliance between theological conservatives in North American and the developing world that could tip the power to conservatives in the Anglican Communion, a 77-million-member confederation of national churches that trace their roots to the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury,” The New York Times stated in a Dec. 25 article about Akinola.

Akinola has spoken out against homosexuality, the ordination of women and the infiltration of a liberal agenda in Anglican seminaries, and The Times noted that he is essentially sending missionaries to a Western society he sees as increasingly godless. Akinola told The Times he is simply doing what Western churches have done for centuries, sending a bishop to serve Anglicans where there is no church to provide one.

Also at issue in the decision by 11 Virginia parishes to leave the Episcopal Church is a dispute over who retains rights to the churches’ property. The Falls Church and Truro properties are worth tens of millions of dollars alone, and under church law, parish property is held in trust for the denomination and the diocese.

In a news release Jan. 9, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia said a 30-day standstill agreement intended to keep both sides from suing to retain the properties would not be renewed when it expired Jan. 17. The diocese, with 90,000 members, had established a seven-member property commission to plan a course of action, and it was not known what would happen once the agreement expired.

“We are trying to stay committed to the process of amicable separation, and we’re still hopeful that the diocese will not want to go into a public legal fight,” Minns, of Truro, told USA Today. He added that if a need arose, Truro was prepared to defend local ownership of the church property, and he believes they have a strong case.

Ralph Webb, director of Anglican Action for the conservative Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, called on the Virginia Diocese and the Episcopal Church to work with the Virginia parishes, not against them, regarding litigation in order to maintain goodwill among all parties.

“Sadly, the Episcopal Church appears to be in denial about the significance of these departures,” Webb said in a Jan. 17 news release. “The parishes are constantly dismissed by diocesan officials and national church leaders as comprising either a small number of parishioners or small percentage of congregations. The Episcopal Church’s health truly continues to fail when 11 parishes of any size — and some of these parishes are well-known to be large — leave a diocese that is considered ‘moderate.’”

    About the Author

  • Erin Roach