Sunday, August 20, 2006

“Salvation through Christ Alone” -- Well, Of Course!

The Debate on D058

[Editor's note: Some pundits and dissidents intent on attacking The Episcopal Church have used simple-minded "soundbytes" to charge that -- in declining to adopt resolution D058 -- The Episcopal Church denied the divinity or uniqueness of Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth, as this first-hand account explains in detail.]

I have seen with some alarm the way in which resolution D058 is being used around the church, including in a newsletter article by Bishop Stanton of Dallas. Since I am the one who moved discharge of that resolution, I want to share my reasoning with the wider church.

On the final day for Deputies to submit legislation for consideration at the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church held in the summer of 2006, a resolution titled "Salvation Through Christ Alone" (D058) was entered. The Dispatch of Business Committee chose to refer it to the Cognate Committee on Evangelism for consideration.

When it came to us as the final piece of legislation we would consider, I was concerned about the public perception of any debate on the resolution. No matter what we did with it, a bad headline would result. The resolution was introduced late into the Convention, and the debate would be limited to about 15-20 minutes. Since our procedure in General Convention is to alternate between those for and those against, it would always appear to people unfamiliar with our procedures that the debate indicated a major division in the Church. That parliamentary situation would clearly give an erroneous picture to the outside observer.

I moved to request the House to discharge us from considering the resolution because it had already been dealt with at previous General Conventions. That motion was passed by a large majority of the committee, and we expected it to go to the "consent calendar," where debate is not allowed. However, it appeared on the "debate calendar" instead.

When it came to the floor of the House of Deputies, the debate, which consisted of four speakers before the question was moved, was on the motion to "discharge from further consideration." It was never on the subject matter itself! Any interpretation of the action of the Committee or the House of Deputies to the contrary is simply erroneous and misleading. The House agreed with the Committee to discharge the resolution because it had already been dealt with at previous Conventions.

When I rose to explain the Committee's action, here is what I said in response to each "Resolved."

"Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church declares its unchanging commitment to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the only name by which any person may be saved (Article XVIII);"

* First, this is an inappropriate subject for legislation. It is part of the historic doctrine of the Church, and such cannot be changed except in Ecumenical Council, the last of which was held in the 10th century.

* It was acted upon by previous General Conventions in each edition of the Book of Common Prayer (and by the English Church since 1549). In the Prayer Book we have all of the 39 Articles of Faith (save one dealing with the English monarchy); we have the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds; we have the Baptismal covenant; and we have the statement signed by all ordinands that we "do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation."

"And be it further Resolved, That we acknowledge the solemn responsibility placed upon us to share Christ with all persons when we hear His words, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6); "

* This, too, is covered in the Baptismal covenant, as well as in the welcome of the newly baptized: "We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood."

* These words are affirmed at every Baptism and every renewal of Baptismal promises.

"And be it further Resolved, That we affirm that in Christ there is both the substitutionary essence of the Cross and the manifestation of God's unlimited and unending love for all persons;"

* First, I don't have any idea what "substitutionary essence of the Cross" refers to.

* "Substitutionary Atonement" is one interpretation of the doctrine of the Atonement, but not the only one. This "Resolved" should go to the House of Bishops Committee on Theology, not the Cognate Committee on Evangelism.

* Regardless of the theological meaning of the words, the structure of the English sentence is very strange, since it suggests that the Cross alone accomplishes the Atonement and must logically be a person of the Trinity. In fact, Jesus is the one who accomplishes the Atonement on the Cross. He, not the cross, is the sacrifice. Jesus is God, not the cross on which he was crucified.

* I think this particular "Resolved" is both bad English and bad theology.

"And be it further Resolved, That we renew our dedication to be faithful witnesses to all persons of the saving love of God perfectly and uniquely revealed in Jesus and upheld by the full testimony of Scripture."

* This final Resolved is covered in nearly every liturgy contained in the Book of Common Prayer.

I ended by stating my embarrassment that anyone would introduce a debate on the substance of this resolution on the floor of the House of Deputies. The commitment to Jesus as Lord is not debatable, it is the foundation and first Creed of the Church since New Testament times. The House should discharge the Committee on Evangelism (and itself) from further consideration of this resolution because it has already been dealt with at previous General Conventions. Jesus is, and always has been, LORD.

The Rev. Dr. Robert G. Certain
Deputy, Diocese of San Diego
Member, the Cognate Committee on Evangelism


Blogger GREGH said...

Our Passions and the Promiscuous Church

by David V. Hicks


The only time I ever heard the now Bishop Gene Robinson speak was at a Vespers service at St. Paul’s School in the fall of 1992. His topic appeared to be God’s gift of love, a phrase he often repeated in his talk, but his point conflated love with sex, and he urged the girls and boys of St. Paul’s to share their sexual gifts “either with someone of the same sex or someone of the opposite sex.” He said this more than once, and I jotted the phrase down in the book of prayers at my desk. No mention of marriage or even of commitment. He did close his talk, however, with a disarming suggestion that God would be well pleased if His gifts were shared safely. “Please use a condom.”

Read it all at:

8/20/2006 7:25 PM  
Blogger hrsn said...

Very helpful explanation for the action on this odd resolution. Thank you.

8/20/2006 8:24 PM  
Blogger Thomas B. Woodward said...

Those who have known Gene Robinson and who have worked with him over the decades can attest that the bizarre tale passed on by David Hicks is a sleazy bit of baseless attack on Bishop Robinson.

He is not the first person to whom this story has been attributed -- and will certainly not be the last. Even those in the Episcopal Church who have been most opposed to his consecration as Bishop in the Episcopal Church know this story to be untrue. My brother, headmaster of a neighboring Episopal prep school knows this is untrue.

I do not know whether I am more sad or angry that such baseless slurs occur. It may be that this is something Mr. Hicks conjured up out of his own imagination -- I can assure you that if his words had any relationship to the truth, the Headmaster of St. Paul's would have dealt with it in a way that the respect the people of that school, that diocese and the others in which he was nominated for bishop, and this church who have worked and prayed with him would not have materialized.

I write as one who has been victimized in similar manner to the way Mr. Hicks has victimized Gene Robinson. There is no place for this in the church.

8/20/2006 9:26 PM  
Blogger Toewalker said...

Thanks for the clarification, Thomas. Those of us familiar with StandFirm have long since abandoned hope of truth coming from them, but for the visitors here who are unfamiliar with this particular breed of viper, it is good that someone took the time to rebutt the lie once again.

8/26/2006 5:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thank you too, Thomas. These bottom-feeders love to spread their lies. Thanks for putting the spotlight on them.

8/30/2006 11:26 PM  

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