Less than a month after sponsoring an event for Virginia Episcopal clergy featuring a speaker who denies both the afterlife and unique divinity of Christ, Bishop Shannon Johnston of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has presided over a service featuring a similarly controversial figure.
Bishop Spong and Bishop Johnston on Good Friday.
In a Good Friday service at historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, retired Bishop John Shelby Spong decried the Nicene Creed as “a radical distortion of the Gospel of John,” asserted that several of the apostles were “mythological” and declared that Jesus Christ did not die to redeem humanity from its sins.
The three hour service featured a series of six meditations by the retired Newark bishop interspersed with prayers led by Johnston and a hymn promoted by the Center for Progressive Christianity entitled “Welcome doubt: Refine our thinking.” Johnston’s promotion of Spong, whose Newark diocese famously declined by 40 percent during his tenure, further undercuts the Virginia bishop’s claim to be creedal and orthodox.
Spong has a long history with St. Paul’s, serving as rector of the onetime “Cathedral of the Confederacy” from 1969 to 1976, before his election as bishop of Newark. The Greek revival church across from the Virginia State Capitol, which once counted Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis among its worshippers, continues to draw prominent Richmond-area figures including a former Virginia governor and first lady who offered scripture readings on Friday.
Arguing that the Gospels were not historic accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, Spong sought to isolate the fourth gospel, insisting it was not authored by John the son of Zebedee. Instead, the retired Episcopal bishop proposed that the Gospel of John was not a story of incarnation.
“This Gospel sees Jesus as a life lived so deeply that he reached mystical oneness with God,” proposed the author of the upcoming book “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.”
Spong argued that Jesus could say “I and the father are one” only because he was inviting his disciples “to enter a mystical reality of divine human oneness.”
Instead of portraying the crucifixion of Jesus being about his sacrifice, Spong claimed the author of the book of John intended a “call to all of us to be whole people – to find yourself and give yourself away.”
“God does not need human sacrifice to forgive,” Spong declared. “John’s Jesus is not about saving sinners and rescuing the lost. It is about moving beyond self-consciousness to universal consciousness.”
Oh yes, there is more. Read it all here.
Prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Scout, remember our talks ... your angrily vehement claims that your diocese is orthodox?
Blessings to you. I know this sounds like an "I told you so" and in some senses, it is. But do know I am praying for you and your diocese. Who Jesus Is ... far more important than which diocese or church you belong to. The Anglicans might let you down and maybe I am letting you down with this "I told you so." But Jesus won't; abide with Him.
Many blessings to you and yours.
Johnston is just doing what he said he would do: "To me, the plain fact is that I - we - need to hear and understand other views of Christian truths." He wanted Spong to be teaching disregard of creedal Christianity. Johnston says he believes in the Nicene creed. Given past history with episcopal bishops, count me skeptical on that if he doesn't care if it is preached in the episcopal diocese of Virginia or not.
It's getting increasingly difficult for orthodox Episcopal "stayers" to square the circle and claim that TEC is cerdally sound. This just continues to reinforce my decision to leave years ago, and not to risk my soul or, especially, the souls of my children at the hands of these false teachers.
That should be "creedally"
One of the issues is what are the definitions of the words in the Nicene Creed. I recall Bishop Schori talking about words as being metaphors and the metaphors can change their meaning. What if even the Nicene Creed is full of metaphoric words that have different meanings? I found this in Christian Science, where I could be in a room full of Christians and think I agreed with them all (although they would use funny words that were unknown to me - words like "salvation" for example - had no idea what that meant) but in fact, in CS the words had been redefined by Mary Baker Eddy. It seems as though Bishop Spong is doing the same thing - keeping the ancient "word" but redefining the meaning and Johnston seems to be fine with it, which is truly sad.
Wilf: How nice of you to remember me after so much time has passed (albeit imperfectly, given that I have never uttered an angry or vehement word here. I have been a model of cheerful contrarianism, I think).
My point, which you seem to have imperfectly understood, is that I have observed nothing in the Diocese of Virginia, either before or after the departure of so many of my fellow Christians for precincts that suited their spiritual needs more amenably that Episcopalian worship, that prevented what we short-handedly refer to as "conservative" or orthodox Christians in this Diocese. The Reverend Mr. Spong is a former rector of St. Paul's and I have no more problem with him showing up there occasionally than I did with Dr. Crosson showing up at Holy Cross. People can make their own judgments about the validity of their views. We remain creedal Christians. Spong's point on the Nicene Creed is not that different from other scholars whose orthodoxy is generally not questioned (e.g., Bishop N. T. Wright) in that the Creed had its origins in political and theological debates of the 4th Century and can, if not approached with some informed discernment, muffle the Gospel message. Christians of better mettle than I (or perhaps even you) survived under very adverse conditions for three centuries without the Creed. It is a useful reference point as to who we are - I can say it freely without reservation - but its purpose and function have to be understood. I sense that is what Spong is saying, at least for starters. That he says it at St. Paul's does not shake my faith.
You were indeed rather passionately defending the "orthodoxy" of the Diocese of Virginia, and not merely that "orthodox" or "conservative" Christians were not prevented from [ ... something unclear ... I'm sure you mean something more than simply visiting churches, that you don't have any guards whose task is kicking out people who appear to be suspiciously conservative ... you've got a grammar prob here, but I so often do too ... much, much more frequently than you ... ].
It seems that you now see going to church more like attending an academic lecture hall, than hearing the preaching of the Word. This is more or less consistent with a lot of the things you once denied ... and we have been through this so many times ... not that I am "offended" that someone has "a different view" ... simply that church should teach people about Who Jesus Is.
So it is now OKAY in TEC Dio VA to teach that Jesus is dead, in ordinary language? That "Jesus lives" means much the same as "Elvis lives"?
I am sorry that this seems to be "okay" with you. You seem to have modified your faith in order to make it "fit" a defense of your church. This is dangerous.
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