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Apostate Churches

How can one tell when a church has departed cleanly from Christianity?
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It’s a common thing on the Right to point to loony-leftism in churches and go, “Ha-ha, look at the crazy people!” But this calls up a more serious response, because it’s not just some fringe parish, but an Anglican cathedral:

Rev. Bingo Allison? That would be the same ordained Anglican deacon who says here that he is a married father of three who aspires to ordination, and who recently celebrated this on his Tumblr, and who said there that Christian theology is “a fundmentally queer enterprise because it also challenges and deconstructs”:

How is a Christian church that gives disturbed people like this a platform of honor to spread their destructive theories not apostate? Rev. Bingo believes in teaching little children that there is no such thing as boys and girls — and Rev. Bingo believes that this is Christian. Does the clergy at the Newcastle Cathedral? Do they even believe in Christianity?

Then again, the Church of England is now drafting a liturgy to celebrate gender transition. What if a vicar refuses to participate in that sham? Will he be kicked out? Will he be considered apostate by the C of E, or just heretical?

Here is a video from the Newcastle Cathedral’s website introducing the Cathedral to the public. It’s a well done three-minute production, one that highlights the aesthetic beauty of the place, and invites people to come be part of the Cathedral community. Watch the entire thing. You know which two words you will not hear in it? “God” and “Jesus”:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1D-nzyEHFE]

Can you find the Christian God there? I’m not asking in a snarky or mean-spirited way. From evidence, it seems that the Newcastle Cathedral is a temple of a different religion. There are lots of Christian services there, and I am sincerely confident that they are beautiful (Anglican worship usually is). But to what extent is the God worshipped there related to the God of Christian Scripture and Christian Tradition?

In the Church of England, the “electoral roll” is a list of regular worshipers in a diocese over the age of 16. They have the right to vote in Church of England elections. The roll is renewed every six years; if you’re on it, and the six-year period comes around, you have to re-apply, or you’re dropped. Therefore, it’s a good measure of who is actually active in the Church. According to the Living Church, an Anglican magazine, the electoral roll in the Diocese of Newcastle dropped by about 25 percent from 2000 to 2016 (from 18,600 to 13,800).

We all know that Britain is thoroughly post-Christian now. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t Christians in Britain, but it means that the nation is no longer defined by its Christian commitment, however nominal. To be clear, some of the most committed and inspiring Christians I know are Anglicans. In fact, on my recent trip to England, it seems that the most vibrant Christians I met are somehow connected to the network of Holy Trinity Brompton, which does amazing evangelical work. My question is, at what point can one — must one — conclude that a church is apostate? What does that mean, given that HTB and the Newcastle cathedral are part of the same church, formally? What does it mean, for example, to say that you are an Anglican, but you will not attend services in the Newcastle cathedral because you regard it as apostate? Does that make sense?

Note well, I’m asking this in total sincerity. I’m trying to figure this out.

Consider what’s happening in the Catholic Church. The Vatican recently released its “working document” for the upcoming October synod of the bishops of the Amazon region. Steve Skojec at the traditionalist Catholic blog One Peter Five sounds the alarm:

But are our shepherds focused on reform? No! Perish the thought. They’re all in on a celibacy-destroying, religiously indifferent, pagan-promoting Amazon synod document that says totally un-Catholic things like “Love lived in any religion pleases God” (#39). And how about this gem, from #87*?

Indigenous rituals and ceremonies are essential for integral health since they integrate the different cycles of human life and nature. They create harmony and balance between human beings and the cosmos. They protect life against the evils that can be caused by both human beings and other living beings. They help to cure diseases that harm the environment, human life and other living beings.

So basically, “pagan magic is totally great you guys.”

What in the actual hell is wrong with these people? The martyrs who ministered to indigenous pagan populations around the world and died horrible deaths trying to save them from damnation must be ready to rise up from their graves.

The bottom line is this: we’re way, way, way past the point in time where we can take anyone seriously who is still trying to offer an orthodox reading on what’s happening. These are not men who are merely misguided; they are destroyers, who have come in hatred of our religion to remake it according to their own designs.

And though we can see this plainly, our hands are mostly tied. The Church ain’t a democracy. We laity can agitate, we can complain, we can hold accountable, and we can pray and do penance, but we cannot do a damned thing about all the damned things that are happening in our Holy Mother Church.

Read Skojec’s entire piece. 

Skojec’s anger is completely understandable. This official Vatican document endorses religious syncretism. This is a very, very big deal.

Almost 20 years ago, at a social event, I met an Evangelical who had been a missionary in rural Guatemala. He told me that when he arrived in the country, he decided to visit the local Catholic parish to get a feel for the area. That parish was administered by the Jesuits. He was shocked to walk into the worship service and to observe the priest in the front, saying mass, while in the back, a witch doctor was conducting some sort of pagan ritual. It turned out that the shaman did so with permission of the pastor, who was all about inculturation. The missionary told me that he understood at once why so many peasants were flocking to Evangelical churches.

Syncretism is not a joke. These shamans invoke actual malign spirits. Last year, I was talking with a Catholic priest who works in a heavily Hispanic region of the US. He told me that he has to spend a surprising amount of time going into the houses of his Hispanic flock, blessing the houses to rid them of poltergeist activity. He warns the people to stop dabbling in syncretistic practices, to stay out of the botánica, because they are calling forth malign spiritual powers that they don’t understand. They never listen, he said; the cycle is never-ending. This is a big part of Latin American and Caribbean Catholic culture.

The Catholic Church should be fighting it. Instead, the bishops of the Amazon region, in concert with the Vatican, are poised to embrace it.

What would it mean to call those churches “apostate”? If I were Catholic, you can bet that I would never, ever attend a parish where pagan rituals were permitted, or where the priest embraced and endorsed them, at all. I would consider that parish, and that pastor, to be apostate. Not just heretical, but apostate — as having left the Christian faith.

But an apostate pastor, or parish, is not the same thing as an apostate Church. Until now, it was easy to call out such a pastor or parish as having departed in a significant way, perhaps even to the point of apostasy, from Catholic truth. After Francis, though? If the Amazon synod affirms syncretism, would it be heretical, or apostate? And how far would the apostasy go? Where would the lines of demarcation be? Would it conceivably force a formal schism within Catholicism?

Again, I’m asking because I don’t know the answer. The times we’re in, though, require us to think hard about it. I’m eager to hear more from you readers, of all churches, who know more about ecclesiology and theology than I do.

UPDATE: A reader points to a liberal Presbyterian church in Cincinnati whose janitor dressed up like a woman and did Drag Queen Story Hour for children in a worship service the other day. Moral insanity. Naturally the local paper reported on it; I’m amazed, though, that they actually included a contrary view in the story.