A Brief Confession: Part I

Celtic-Cross-in-front-of-Church-CC-Image-courtesy-of-Librarian-by-asplosh-on-Flickr1

This isn’t to serve as some grand apologetic, first for theism, then for monotheism, Christianity and then all the way down the line to traditional, broad church Anglicanism, though if you find yourselves convinced, great, I’ll see you on Sunday. In fact I intend on writing very little on theology. This isn’t because I am not interested in it, but rather due to the fact I am painfully aware of my own faults (praying, meditating on Scripture, reading the Bible and the writings of other Christians often serves as a light to further illuminate their depths). Like St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre, I am, without the “blood-stained robe” of Christianity, at heart, a “cold hard ambitious man.” I am prone to a lack of Christian sympathy and charity often under the guise of “humor.” I have a temper and often find that there is a distinct gap between my estimation of myself and who I actually am. I also have a profound ability to attach to any question the obviously burning issue of our day, “But what about me?” I don’t share these in some weak attempt to be honest as a means to buy being dishonest in every other section of my life, but rather explain why I hope you don’t affiliate my faults with the Name I try to attach myself to. Same reason I don’t put a Christian bumper sticker on my car (also most suck).

This is simply one man’s confession of faith, with a little explanation and intellectual justification. Again, you’ve been warned, the primary purpose of this blog is to serve as simply a mirror to my own vanity. Also this is going to largely serve as my catch-all “religion post”, though I doubt there were hundreds breathlessly awaiting the direction of this blog. Lastly, several of my friends view religion, Christianity or Anglicanism in particular as an odd curiosity. I am going to split this into two parts because it has taken so long for me to find time to write. It will go backwards. The first post will serve as an explanation for why I am an Anglican specifically, while the second will be why I am a Christian generally.

Why I Am Anglican

So you may be wondering, “Ok, but why Anglicanism?” There are countless Christian expressions of faith to choose from, so why this one? My Evangelical friends wonder in particular, “Why leave Evangelical Christianity?”

In many ways there was nothing wrong with how I was raised (Anglo-Catholic roots, but I grew up my whole life attending an Evangelical church). Christ crucified was preached, sinners were baptized, orphans and widows cared for. At the end of the day, I’ll probably always be a bit evangelical.

But it seems like being Evangelical sometimes means having historical blinders on. I had no idea there was any other kind of Christianity (beyond us and Catholics) until speaking to some friends who were Reformed. While initially repelled at the idea that a mere God would have any right to my “right” to choose, I eventually became interested and convinced of Calvinism, mainly by reading guys like James White, R.C. Sproul and Jonathan Edwards. From here I realized there were whole worlds of Christian tradition, I had never really given a thought or even heard of; the Reformed tradition, Lutheranism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anabaptists, and the like.

It was a bit like a fish becoming aware of the water. I began to be aware of our own tradition (low church, revivalist, conservative Protestant, Baptist, usually free will in regards to salvation), our own liturgy (2 Tomlin songs, worship pastor’s prayer, announcements, pastor’s prayer, the sermon, maybe communion, closing prayer, 1 Phil Wickham song), and thought, “Ok why do we practice Christianity this way and not another?” For the first time I felt like I had to justify what I believed in. Why be Reformed Evangelical and not a Roman Catholic? Is there a particular way we ought to “do church”? What purpose does Sunday serve?

Going to a Lutheran college, I also had the opportunity to read older Protestant writers and saw how commonly they cited medieval and early Church writers and leaders. Getting curious, I began to read and see a picture of Christianity a bit foreign to me and a bit strange to my Evangelical upbringing. So I “turned Turk” and started going to liturgical services. My wife and I now attend All Saints Anglican, which is a member of the Anglican Church in North America. While I still enjoy a good Crowder song and read John Piper just as much before, there are a few main reasons why Evangelicaldom left me wanting a bit more.

Gettin’ High on Liturgy

It seems to me like there is a growing restlessness within the Evangelical Church. We’re a bit tired of media driven personalities, dazzling light shows, worship that seems divorced from the congregation, and power point. We live in a culture where pastors (the worship pastor, the media pastor, the administrative pastor) abound but authority seems absent. Everything, at times, seems tailored to Me, the individual. There’s this sense that we make it up as we go along. C.S. Lewis pointed this out in regards to worship;

[E]very novelty prevents this…fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshiping. A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the questions ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste… ‘I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not, Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.’

Contrast this to the with the ideal of the liturgical traditional church. Where the traditional liturgy takes central stage, the room for a Mark Driscoll shrinks. While there is an emphasis on aesthetics and beauty, it usual refrains from overpowering the attendee. A little more Sistine and a little less light shows could go a long way. While the worship is quieter and perhaps more boring it isn’t something you witness but something you have to participate in, as we sing, read the Word and reaffirm our faith together verbally.

The end result is a less individualistic, community centered, quieter Sunday. Part of this is due to the fact that the liturigical tradition, by nature is rooted in something ancient. When we face difficulties the question isn’t, “What’s new?” but rather, “What does the Word say? Do we even have the authority to change this?” Where the Word is silent, we ask ourselves, “How did Christians do this before?” We can sometimes forget that the questions of worship, missions, outreach, discipline and organization aren’t new. There are something we’ve dealt with for thousands of years and, as a result, we have a wealth of knowledge from the “vast host of witnesses.” We call this wealth, Tradition. Is it not a bit arrogant to think only our generation has the answers to these questions and past Christians just must’ve been really terrible at being 21st century American Evangelicals?

Restoring hierarchy, Authority and Tradition to our churches and worship can help curb the excesses that can happen. As usual, Lewis speaks this truth about liturgy far better than I,

First, it [liturgy] keeps me in touch with ‘sound doctrine.’ Left to oneself, one could easily slide away from ‘the faith once given’ into a phantom called ‘my religion.’ They [the liturgies] provide an element of the ceremonial. On your view, that is just what we don’t want. On mine, it is part of what we want. I see what you mean…I fully agree that the relationship between God and a man is more private and intimate than any possible relation between two fellow creatures. Yes, but at the same time there is, in another way, a greater distance between the participants. We are approaching the Unimaginably and Insupportably Other. We ought to be simultaneously aware of closest proximity and infinite distance. You make things far too snug and confiding. [The closeness between us and God] needs to be supplemented by ‘I fell at His feet as one dead.’

A few formal, ready-made, prayers serve me as a corrective of, well, let’s call it ‘cheek.’

Why Anglican Specifically

So why Anglicanism specifically? What’s so special about the church movement growing out of the English Reformation and the break away from the Church in England from the Roman Catholic Church?

I think the Church of England (and its sister churches, the Anglican Communion) has the right combination of being Catholic  and Reformed. Unlike other, even liturgical churches that arose out of the Reformation tended to, over time, deemphasize the Church Fathers and early Tradition. On the other hand, the Anglicanism has, for the most part, kept its emphasis on the early Church.

Henry Cary, barrister and Anglican clergyman, put it this way,

A principle in which especially characterises the Church of England and distinguishes her from every other reformed communion, is her marked and avowed adherence to the catholic faith as received…

And at the same time, Anglicanism is undeniably Protestant. One of the major things that attracted me to the church was its clear Reformed doctrine of salvation. Article 17 of the 39 Articles of Faith explains;

Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, He hath constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation as vessels made to honour.

It’s hard for me to read Paul’s words in Ephesians about how God, “has predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself,” or Ignatius describing us as, “Being predestined indeed according to the love of the Father that we would belong to Him forever,” and not come to the conclusion that our salvation depends on God’s action alone, not our decision or Him choosing us based on our future decision. To me, Anglicanism represents the most Reformed, the most Catholic (that is universal), and most true description of how God saves us.

By contrast, Anglicanism holds positions on baptism and communion that would be considered downright “Roman Catholic” in some circles or even “un-Christian” in others. To Anglicans, baptism (both infants and adults) is not simply some public declaration of affiliation with Jesus and communion is not simply some memorial. Instead, as sacraments, they are actual, effectual ways God works in us. Communion and baptism aren’t primarily things we do, but rather ways in which God acts. The 1928 Book of Common prayer describes them as, “outward and visible sign[s] of an inward and spiritual grace.” By taking communion, for instance, I don’t simply commemorate Jesus’ death and resurrection but rather, at the altar, come in contact with the very Real Presence of Christ Himself. Anglicanism makes the argument that this is not only the traditional, universal way but also the most Biblical (1st Corinthians 10 and 11).

Lastly, Anglicanism offers a wide amount of theological diversity. One of the things that has turned me off of being, say, Roman Catholic, is how nearly every minute detail of faith is a matter of dogma, it seems. Don’t believe in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary? Well that’s too bad. Don’t believe in the Bodily Assumption of Mary (both positions with no mention in the Scriptures and of dubious standing in Tradition)? Well, tough. To reject them is to reject the entire claimed authority of Roman Catholic Church.

On the other hand, Anglicanism allows a fair degree of latitude. There are more evangelical, low-church Anglicans, High Church Anglo-Catholics and everyone in between (As for myself I prefer Lewis’ identification as a “broad churchman,” not particularly low or High). Now that often does create difficulties as that latitude fosters a culture where two Anglicans can go to the Lord’s Table, have extremely different views of what is happening before them (one believing in Catholic transubstantiation and the other believing in Zwingli’s “mere memorialism”) and yet claim to be “in communion.” Also this has caused immense strife in the wider Anglican Communion as theological liberalism began to take root in the West; in particularly when it came to issues of authority and our theology of human sexuality. Thankfully there seems a movement to rebuke such strife/ambiguity and resolve it by returning back to the classic sources of Anglican theology; rejecting both over-ascendant liberalism and the extremes of the low/High church divide.

On the whole, I feel that the Anglican Communion is a place where Tradition, vibrancy and the received, universal Christian faith meets best.

♦♦♦

Thus begins my humble attempt to explain what I believe and why, and thus give an answer “for the hope that lies within,” me. If you are secular, or not a Christian, I hope you’ll keep reading and maybe Christian friends will look a little less strange, and a bit more rational. If  you are Christian and trying to wade through the swamp of theology, hopefully I gave you a bit more clarity on the third largest grouping of Christians, what we believe, and maybe made you think a little bit on how we ought to do this church thing.

Sources of Theology

Good Anglican Sources

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