Sprague's Words Dishonest And Arrogant–Bishops' Responses Weak But Welcome
by Dan Tilly
First, I am thankful that now at least two bishops, Bishop Whittaker and
Bishop Edwards, have had the courage to address the false teachings of
Bishop Sprague. In some ways their attempts are timid, nevertheless, it is a
beginning. I do regret that Bishop Edwards is weak on his opinions
concerning the virgin birth of Christ, and I think it is a mistake on his
part to think that the teaching of the historical virgin birth is not an
essential part of the gospel story. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see
bishops willing to address these important issues publicly.
Second, I am thankful that Bishop Edwards has addressed the crucial issue of Christology. Certainly as Christians, the nature of Christ is of primary importance, and when the revealed nature of Christ and the historic teaching of the faith are continually undermined by Bishop Sprague, it is encouraging to hear other bishops speak up in defense of the faith once delivered to the saints.
Having said this, I think there are other issues which must be addressed concerning Bishop Sprague’s speech. Two areas that concern me are:
Disregard for the meanings of language
Sprague's states that his intention is to encourage those "who want to affirm Jesus but find little meaning in the stilted Christological language of the ancient creed." He goes on to explain, in his opinion, that theological language is always symbolic in nature and should not be taken literally. In treating language in this manner, Sprague can say, "I affirm that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, very God of very God, begotten not made.." while stating just three paragraphs later that "Jesus was in total fully human." In short, Sprague wants to affirm the language of the creeds while denying the truth of what the words say. He does this by a somewhat magical waving of the "symbolic" wand. Sprague, and his kind, are fond of doing this language "double-speak". They can affirm the Articles of Religion which speak of the virgin birth of Christ, while at the same time denying the virgin birth.
Such twisting of language is dishonest on several levels. First, it is dishonest with the original intent. The Scripture writers, the writers of the creeds, and the writers of the Articles of religion never intended for the language to be taken in any other sense than that in which the historical church has taken them. Matthew’s and Luke’s account, for example, of the birth of Christ, are clearly historical narratives, not merely theological ones. The creeds were written to defend the church’s understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ..."fully human AND fully divine". These creeds, among other things, were being drafted precisely to ward off the very heresies that the Sprague's of the present world are advocating. Second, Sprague is being dishonest with himself. Honesty would impel him to frankly admit that his teachings are contrary to the Scriptures, the creeds and the articles. He would leave the church or start a new branch of his own. But instead, he tries to convince himself that he is in the mainstream of "developing" Christianity. He believes he has every right to re-interpret the documents in such a way that they mean the very opposite of what they have historically meant. And finally, the Sprague-types have been dishonest with the lay people in the pews. To affirm that one believes the cardinal doctrines of the faith and to repeat the words of the creed as if one truly believed them, while all along being an unbeliever of the very doctrines one is affirming, is the height of dishonesty. It has confused the laity. It has confused them precisely because of the language problem. It is dishonest to use terms commonly understood to mean one thing and then fill them with foreign meaning that says the very opposite.
In his speech at Iliff, Sprague said, "To treat this myth (the virgin birth) as a historic fact is to do an injustice to its intended purpose and to run the risk of idolatry." He later says of the resurrection of Christ, "I am certain that the miracle of the resurrection, preeminently that of Jesus is not tied to bodily resuscitation. The linking of resurrection with bodily resuscitation is to make a literal religious proposition of a metaphorical symbolic expression of truth itself. This is the kind of idolatry from which I dissent." Again he says, "The concept of blood sacrifice is superstition at best and idolatrous allegiance to a non-Jesus methodology of God-human relationship at worst." Carefully note that Sprague is accusing those who believe in a historical virgin birth, a bodily resurrection of Christ, and a sacrificial blood atonement on the cross, of superstition and idolatry! This has to be the height of arrogance. If pushed to its logical implications, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and the church for 1900 years has been idolatrous! Now, Mr. Sprague, with all his superior understanding and spiritual insight, is going to deliver us from our idolatry and superstition! It’s as if he has said, "I am right, and the church of all ages is wrong!"
Should this man really be a bishop?
<Back to News