“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9.22)
Some years ago I had a parishioner who was fixated on the Substitutionary Doctrine of Atonement as the one and only way of understanding salvation. This passage from Hebrews was her favorite, and few conversations were complete until she had proclaimed it in a voice of Charlton Heston like forceful authority. How she became an Episcopalian was a mystery.
I tend to remember her during Lent because the drive toward Easter invariably raises the question: what is the meaning of the cross, particularly as it relates to salvation? For my one time parishioner, a wrathful God who demanded blood sacrifice for atonement, and was pleased to put Jesus to death as a substitute for what we truly deserved, was an odd sort of comfort to her. On the one hand it gratified her that she, and a few others, would receive forgiveness through Christ’s blood. On the other hand, she was saddened that so many others did not grasp the terrible fate that awaited them in the hands of an angry God, and she was determined to compel them to accept her brand of faith as their only hope.
Like I said, how she was an Episcopalian was a mystery.
Her theology was, however, consistent with the majority of conservative evangelical churches that dominate our area. The result is a hard core of convicted Calvinistic Christians (who have no idea who Calvin was) amidst a larger population that is either disgusted with the message and tone of their religion or wholly ignorant of Christianity. In between is a relatively small group of churches like ours that have become known as progressive.
She introduced me many times to her trove of Christian books and adult education materials, almost all from Colorado Springs or someplace in Texas. It was her treasured source of the only true understanding of scripture. I would ask her why she didn’t have any books or materials from the Anglican tradition of the Episcopal Church, and the answer was usually the same. “I didn’t know there were any.”
I wasn’t surprised. She had a point. The stuff in her collection was slick, well written, easy to understand, unequivocal in its message, convincing, and abundant. Offerings from our tradition were meager by comparison. Our popular writers, if popular they were, tended to be academics writing for academics. Or they were academics writing popular material, but with inconsistent messages that often raised more questions than answers. Various Sunday School and adult materials were good but lacked slick persuasiveness, consistency, or abundance.
Her collection was filled with books that all said the same thing, but with different covers, and published with plenty of hype several times a year as if they were something new and exciting. Thanks to her, I got weekly calls from Texas peddling videos and workbooks for teens and adults on almost any subject dear to conservative hearts. I often reviewed the material they sent on trial. It was well produced and offered an easy out for any pastor needing something he or she did not have to struggle with. None of it was consistent with our theological tradition.
It’s not that we didn’t produce good stuff. Now and then we did, and do, but it was hit or miss, a little here, a little there, and marketed much like the child who knocks on my door and says, “You don’t want to buy a box of candy, do you?” Now retired, I’m not up on what is out there now.
Well talk about a digression. This article started out as a commentary on the doctrines of salvation, and was intended to make the point that, for Episcopalians, it’s not what we think and believe, but how we think and believe, and that is what I am going to try to bring to my small rural congregation this Lent.