Thursday, August 17, 2006

Leaving the Shire -- by Bill Boniface

(A Great Story That All of Us Need To Read )

As faithful Christians sit quietly, a desperate battle rages for the soul of the church. Bill Boniface writes a telling essay on the rising threat to your peaceful parish.


by Bill Boniface, but originally posted to the HoB/D listserv by Maurice M. Benitez, Bp of TX, Retired, used by permission

A short time ago I was attending a church mission partners meeting where
a new couple had shown up to explore signing on with our team. After
introductions, someone asked them what had brought them to our parish
from one in another clearly orthodox and untroubled denomination where
they'd been highly active and involved.

The reply to that simple question was both inspiring and intriguing: "We
decided we had to leave the Shire and join the Battle for Middle Earth."
The husband went on to say that they had watched the battle for the soul
of the Episcopal Church raging from a distance, and after a great deal of
prayer and discernment had felt called by the Lord to come and take an
active part in it. They seemed to clearly comprehend that the battle in
our own Church was but the front line in a war being waged against all
churches - indeed any such forces that serve as moral authorities in an
increasingly confused culture.

"We decided to leave the Shire and join the battle..." That was a
metaphor I hadn't heard before, but which resonated so deeply within me
that I knew immediately that I was in the presence of kindred spirits. My
wife and I had also left the comfortable Shire of a southern Maryland
country parish at roughly the same time to venture across the river into
Virginia. We knew a great army of faithful Episcopal clergy and laity was
coalescing there to fight our denomination's downward slide from faithful
Anglican Christianity into apostasy and irrelevance. We knew that the
battle to save our Church was raging there. And we, too, knew we had to
travel whatever distance was necessary to join them if we were going to
be more than observers of the decline of our lifelong Church. We, too,
had felt the call to "leave the Shire."

Since the day when I first sat down in my new rector's office and
reported for more meaningful duty as a foot soldier in this great battle,
I've learned a great deal more about human nature and modern church life.

Perhaps the biggest revelation to me after spending my entire adult life
next to men and women who had signed on to risk and, if necessary, lose
their lives for a principle was that the Shire has an attraction today
that is almost overwhelming. Indeed many will never leave it. They are
held fast by the compelling, seemingly gravitational forces of Comfort
and Tranquility even in sanctuaries and parish halls where Anglican and
Christian beliefs and ideas have long since faded to make room for a new,
post-modern theology that refutes foundational Christian beliefs and
gives preeminence to Doubt. Anything will be abided as long as it assures
tranquility.

Our friend's metaphor is particularly compelling given its universal
recognition in a society awash in media images. Everyone can immediately
visualize what he means. Four small Hobbits leave behind an idyllic
setting and venture forth from their comfortable existence to join the
Battle for Middle Earth. The very spectacle of that battle is terrifying,
but they know what's at stake and that it isn't just in the faraway
places where the battle is raging that those stakes are so high. They see
clearly that if the battle is lost, all of Middle Earth will be absorbed
by dark forces anathema to their very existence. Even the Shire.

So it is with this great battle for the Episcopal Church. We have more
"havens of tranquility" than we do fields where the battle for Christ's
saving gospel rages. The beliefs that once brought us together in His
name have been redefined into a sort of post-modern self-centeredness -
where our children are taught to believe that it's now more about us than
it is about Him. It's no wonder that we're lulled in great numbers into
valuing our tranquility over the gospel. But make no mistake - to lose
this battle also means to lose the Shire, for what comfort or tranquility
will there be in a crumbling denomination that embraces and even blesses
sin, rejects Christ's transforming and saving message, and misleads its
children?

Martin Luther once said:

"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every
portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the
world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not professing
Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.

Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved. To be
steady on all the battlefields besides is mere flight and disgrace if he
flinches at that point."

There is regrettably a lot of "flinching" going on today. Tens of
thousands of our number go about their parish lives as if little or
nothing is happening - taking great care not to rub the tranquility from
their eyes and see that our Church is failing not just us - but Christ.
Every Sunday as we kneel down to worship in the comfort of familiar pews,
another 700 Episcopalians walk away from the Episcopal Church forever.
Our denomination's continuing slide into statistical irrelevance in
numbers should be enough to shake any of us into recognizing the
insidious slide away from the gospel that has brought us there.

I have many, many wonderful friends in the Church who to this day cannot
bring themselves to venture from the Shire - even as they digest reports
of the desperate fight swirling around them. They are otherwise "boldly
professing Christ" in some of the most inspiring ways. They are good and
faithful people. But they fail to go where the battle rages, having lost
sight of the fact that defending the faith is every bit as important as
professing it.

Defending that faith today is no different from the way it was in the
apostles' day. We have to stop merely inviting the misguided to "go to
our Web site." We have to put one foot in front of the other and carry
the saving gospel of Christ to people who are hearing a false gospel that
neither comforts nor saves. If we truly love our neighbors as ourselves
we won't sit in our personal comfort zones as they are abandoned to the
darkness. We must - with God's help and for His sake - go where the
battle rages. We have to leave the Shire.

Bill Boniface is a retired U.S. Navy pilot and author of A Senior
Warden's Lament: Why I Left My Liberal Parish
.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Great thoughts. I know in my own case I write what I do on www.DestinationGod.com (although I do not think many besides myself reads it) to combat a similar but opposite problem in the conservative, fundamental church.

Churches like what I grew up in may not be marching in lockstep toward apostasy as others seemingly are, but neither is there the passion for doing the things of God, doing them God's way, and doing them for God's glory. All to attract a crowd.

The push seems to be to be a "force for good". But The Message has gotten lost in the message. True conservative Christianity and true conservative poilitics may have a lot in common, but not always. In a rush to be a player on the political scene, God's truth is sometimes a casualty. The immigration debate is a prime example.

Whatever Destination God may become in the future, and I am not sure of what that is to be at this point, I know that it will not follow the path being blazed in the emerging church movement. Many within that sphere are doing just what I was afraid they might if they did not keep their doctrinal focus. They are drifting left. And by that I do not mean the political left, but the religious left. And, like in the case above, it is all to attract a crowd. The drive to be "hip" and to be "relevant", has left them subject to be "weak-kneed" in matters of true doctrine and pure faith. Which is why I call Destination God the "practice of vintage faith".

I don't know, but it seems the older I get, the more like a rebel I become. Maybe I picked it up from "the old man". And I can't help but give in to the urge to yell, "Keep up the good fight, man!"

(I think this has just become an article for my site.)