Blog Template Theology of the Body: Why John Lipscomb Became a Catholic

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Why John Lipscomb Became a Catholic

I believe God is now calling us to continue our ministry to serve in the healing of the visible Body of Christ in the world. I am convinced our Lord’s deepest desire is for the unity of the Church.

I attended a gathering of Catholics in the DFW area a few weeks ago to hear former Episcopalian bishop John Lipscomb share the story of his conversion to the Catholic Church in December 2007. Lipscomb is now waiting to become one of the almost 100 former Episcopalian clergy who have been received into the Catholic Church under the Pastoral Provision since 1980. He had already explained his story in an open letter to his friends in Christ, here. Hearing his story was like a breath of fresh air. So, here are some of his major points, from my notes. Please don't shoot the messenger.

1. The Episcopalian experience was primarily one of inward-looking mediation and reconcilliation attempts from day one, and all along Lipscomb was less and less able to be at peace about what he was doing. First, ECUSA continually took positions which refuted sound moral theology. Secondly, the 'gifts' of catholicity that Lipscomb had hoped to infuse into ECUSA were simply not wanted. And, he was just so tired of the jargon which carefully differentiated 'Anglicanism' from ECUSA, and shopped for bishops; to have such a misguided sense of boundaries in the Church is not 'catholic' at all.

2. The unity which John 17 calls for is a unity for the purpose of a united mission. This had become impossible in ECUSA. And, ECUSA's brand of ecumenism apart from truth could never produce any sense of unity at all; added to that is the fact that the English Reformation was about rebellion from the outset, the quest for unity becomes futile. In other words, the Anglican crisis is 500 years old.

3. For those who bristle about the idea of submitting to Catholic authority in the See of Peter, the heart of the issue is that for those who walk in the Spirit, freedom and law are not contradictions; rather than being a burden, the service of Christ in the paces of His authority is not a burden, but perfect freedom.

(Lipscomb suggested that this idea would be most difficult for those who had already submitted to ECUSA's dogma of postmodern relativisim, and had agreed to be a community that would merely accomodate the public, or, that would equate Church order with friendly small talk) The straw that ultimately broke the camel's back, he said, was the American Primate explaining that Jesus is actually not the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Here, Lipscomb recommended C. FitzSimon Allison's The Cruelty of Heresy.

4. Regarding the hope for prophetic action through local options in the world, Lipscomb pointed out that Biblically, prophecy calls God's people to repent and to return to the place they came from. Furthermore, he urged that it is impossible to think that ecclesial communities that are totally opposed in confession and practices from ecclesial communities in other parts of the world (as is the case for the Anglican Communion) will not inevitably contravene each other's mission; they will.

Here, Lipscomb recounted a personal story of meeting with young Rwandans who were former Anglicans, but who had renounced Christianity entirely and converted to Islam since ECUSA's forays from 2003 on.

5. To other clergy, Lipscomb said that when told that he had 'sold out' on the Episcopalian vision, his rejoinder is that he is proud to have sold out to the truth, and that he is eager to bring to the fullness of the Church the fullness of who he is, without compromise.

...My favorite point went to a notion that has become popular in the thought of Episcopalian clergy like Ephraim Radner, who has urged his brothers that the thing to do is to "live in the wounded church" as a way of living the Christian life most fully. The idea is that the wounded church, in her divisions, best reflects the wounded body of her Lord.

I've always thought that there are some serious problems with this idea. First, it's the world that is wounded- and certainly not on account of sharing in the wounds of Christ, but because of sin. It's not a problem to become content with, but a disaster for the Church to fix.

The Church, on the other hand, is the body of those people who are healed by the wounds of Christ- not in order to remain weak and wounded- but so that we may get about the business of healing a broken world. And, we worship the wounds of Christ. To equate the Church with His redemptive wounds seems terribly presumptive. In as much as the Church is the Father's good and perfect gift to the Son, the damages and divisions inflicted and suffered in schismatic communities are antithetical to the Church's very nature.

Yes, the Church is Christ's body in the world, but as a creature she is also qualitatively different from the divine and humanly wounded body of her Lord. What's more, she is a nuptial body, formed in hope and beauty to be Christ's flourishing lover and the mother of His children so that the world may believe... not His ailing convalescent so that the world might empathize.