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The Great Western Heresy?

File:Billy Graham Cleveland.JPG

“Just as I am, without one plea

But that Thy blood was shed for me

And that Thou bidst me ‘Come to Me’

Oh Lamb of God, I come.

I come.”

What crosses your mind when you read these famous words?

A Billy Graham crusade?

Perhaps the day you became a Christian?

But if we were to ask the presiding Bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori that same question, her reply would be rather different.


This shocking declaration hit the news in the aftermath of Schori’s opening address to this year’s Episcopal General Conference in Anaheim, California.

Episcopal Bishop calls individual salvation ‘heresy,’


ANAHEIM, CA – Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori says it’s “heresy” to believe that an individual can be saved through a sinner’s prayer of repentance.

In her opening address to the church’s General Conference in California, Jefferts Schori called that “the great Western heresy: that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.”

The presiding bishop said that view is “caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus.”

According to Schori, it is heresy to believe that an individual’s prayer can achieve a saving relationship with God. “That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy.”

It seems as if the Episcopal Church has had more than its share of polarizing moments as of late.

The ordination of openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson caused a number of congregations to sever ties with the main body.

Last month a group of 700 Bible believing parishes officially united as the Anglican Church in North America.

So it is no wonder that Reverend Schori would take a dim view of those who don’t march in lock step with directives from upper management.

But to declare the notion that “we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in a right relationship with God” as worthy of dropping a theological “H” bomb seems a little bit over the top.

Does the Bible teach that salvation is an “individual” experience?

Uh, yes. Yes it does.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13)

Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

As far as Ms. Schori’s complaint about using “a specific verbal formula about Jesus”, it would seem that the Apostle Paul might disagree with her as well.

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”(that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 10:8-11)

So it would seem that Schori finds herself without a Biblical leg to stand on in this discussion.

And really, this is the underlying issue here.

What has befuddled senior Episcopalian leadership is the fact that so called “breakaway” parishes seem to be more concerned about biblical authority, rather than bureaucratic authority.

The ordination of an openly gay bishop certainly sounds trendy and hip, but can’t be supported by Scripture.

So when the rank and file Episcopalians who read their Bibles  happen across a verse like –

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:9-11)

– they are faced  with a choice:

Do we follow the teaching of Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori-

or the Scriptures?

And perhaps that is what inspired the Reverend to drop the “Heresy” bomb in her speech.

Jefferts Shori is representative of religious people who have long ago cast off the authority of the Scriptures as the basis of their world view and decision making.

And when you are confronted by those who question policy and perspective, but you are no longer willing to say, “Here’s what God says in His Word..”

then what do you do when someone has the nerve to ask, “Says who?”

You can give them a rambling amalgamation of philosophy, psychobabble and spiritual platitudes, but what do you do with those who aren’t impressed with your answer?

You try to intimidate them.

Or belittle them.

Or brand them with a heavy sounding epithet of shame – “Heretic”.

Now if Jefferts Shori was objecting to the idea that we can be saved by mindlessly mouthing some spiritual platitude, she would have a point.

I have been asked, “Will saying just a little prayer save someone who was incredibly evil?”

And my answer is, “No.”

We aren’t saved by saying “a little prayer”.

We are saved because Jesus Christ willingly died a horrible death on a cruel Roman cross to pay the price for my sins – personally and individually.

The “little prayer” is simply the biblically prescribed way of laying hold of that gift.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:(John 1:12)

How interesting that a religionist who prides herself on tolerance would use such a harsh,ugly and intolerant word to describe the beliefs of those who simply take the Bible seriously.

But then, its pretty obvious those in the Anglican communion who take the Bible seriously aren’t taking the pronouncements of Jefferts Shori very seriously either.


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