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 — December 1, 19971 décembre 1997
 

On October 24, the Ottawa Citizen reported that Bill Phipps, the moderator of the United Church of Canada had stated that the “divinity of Jesus and the reality of heaven and hell are irrelevant.”

The article, which was carried coast to coast in numerous papers, generated an immediate controversy and storms of protest to both the United Church national offices in Etobicoke, Ontario and the newspapers reprinting the article.

By mid-November battle lines were drawn with pundits, theologians, clergy and laity of both conservative and liberal hues voicing their opinions of Phipps’ statements and of his orthodoxy. It would not be terribly helpful (or appropriate) for me to add my views. But, I should, in the interests of bringing clarity to the discussion, make the following observations.

Firstly, both Bill Phipps and the United Church spokespeople have pointed out that the specific statements that were reported were lifted out of context and did not accurately represent his views. The entire article was published in the Ottawa Citizen on November 2, and while the statements are direct quotes, in my opinion Phipps clearly did not intend to deny the divinity of Jesus.

When asked if Jesus was divine Phipps replies “We could have a whole discussion about that.” Later, when asked “was Jesus God?” he responds “No, I don’t believe Christ was God.” Although I cannot pin-point his saying this, I think that Phipps is using the term “God” to refer to the First Person of the Trinity, also known as the Father. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it is possible that Phipps meant to distinguish between the Divine Persons. Perhaps I’m just being generous.

When Phipps stated that the divinity of Jesus is irrelevant, he was responding to the interviewer’s attempt to lead him away from the social gospel to dogmatic concerns. Phipps’ comment might be better understood as “the divinity of Jesus is irrelevant [in a world where people are starving on the streets.]” Perhaps he would not have opened himself up to mis-representation if he had said that dogmatic theological formulations about the divinity of Jesus are not his primary concern at this point. C’est la vie.

It should be pointed out that the Executive of the General Council of the United Church has issued a public response to the media frenzy. While acknowledging and regretting the pain, alienation, anger and frustration that has been caused by the remarks, they further clarify that the United Church is, and continues to be a Trinitarian church affirming the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds as well as more recent denominational statements of faith. Further, they point out that the diversity of the United Church is based upon a conviction that creedal statements are subordinate to the the authority of Scripture.

The General Council executive also clarifies that the role of moderator is not that of bishop, the United Church is a conciliar church. The moderator’s role is “to bring inspiration, vision and wisdom to the whole Church during the term of office, to call the Church to faithfulness and obedience to Christ… and to lift up the wholeness of the Church with all its diversity, interpreting the parts to each other.”

As a final clarification the executive affirms the doctrine of the United Church as set forth in a variety of documents including the “Basis of Union.” Paragraph 2.1 of which includes a statement that the United Church believes in “the unity of the Godhead and the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three persons of the same substance, equal in power and glory.” As a corollary to this affirmation, the executive “recognizes and celebrates the diversity of interpretation” of these statements and documents.

Etobicoke locuta, causa finita.

Copies of the General Council Executive response and a number of clarifying documents are available on the UCC Web-page at www.united-church.ca/

Posted: December 1, 1997 • Permanent link: ecu.net/?p=2227
Categories: NewsIn this article: Bill Phipps, interfaith, salvation, United Church of Canada
Transmis : 1 décembre 1997 • Lien permanente : ecu.net/?p=2227
Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : Bill Phipps, interfaith, salvation, United Church of Canada


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