What the heck are Anglican/Episcopalians? How “brand name” Christianity might bless you. (1 of 2)

In this post-brand era, why would anyone join a denominational church? 

Many are blessed by what they are experiencing in the post-denominational “generic” church that dominates the church-going landscape today. If that is you, I am glad and genuinely celebrate with you your satisfaction in God. Many others, however, are longing for something more: searching for something “missing” in their Christian walk.

Do you long for a faith that is more internal than external? More communal than individual? More rigorous on yourself and roomier toward others? More focussed on the world’s needs and less on the church’s? Do you long for a faith experience with access to the ancient wisdom of the faith and less wedded to our contemporary culture? If any of this resonates, to quote the old commercial, “this Bud’s for you!”

Yes, denominations may be dying, but Anglicanism* is growing, and rapidly. This is especially true among young adults around the world. Some of the growth of Anglicanism is in Anglican churches, but it is also occurring in the larger evangelical world. “Wait a minute?” You might say, “I went to an Episcopal Church and it was 75, 75 year-olds.” That may be true, but Anglican thought and practice is popping up everywhere these days-like at Willow Creek or among the 1000 young adults at PhoenixOne. What is Anglicanism? The simplest definition I have is Reformed-monasticism. Huh? Let me flesh that out a bit…

Anglican Christianity is not about rigidity, ritualism, or being locked into any tradition, old or new, that is not rooted in Scripture and found in the great arc of God working through history. We aim for both the message and methods of Scripture and the earliest Christians.

Now that you know what we are not, what are we? To begin with, Anglicans/Episcopalians are Christians. And Christianity is Christianity. However, Anglican Christianity is a unique and nuanced expression of the Christian faith.

To be grasped Anglicanism really has to be experienced, and more than once. Anglicanism is not about a different Sunday morning experience, but a different vision of life. As such it takes time to be captivated by it. Because it represents a different vision for life, explaining it is also complicated. Indeed, if you ask 10 Episcopalians to explain Anglicanism you may get 11 answers. Another difficulty is that, although we are such a large group worldwide, we are very small in the U. S. Because we are small, most people’s experience of the Episcopal Church is through the media. The Episcopal Church is not very much as it is portrayed in the media-any more than Pentecostals spend all of their time doing backflips down the church aisles or Bible church people spend their days shouting at folks. Anglicanism is more complex than the stereotypes and is differentiated from the other branches of Christianity in some very distinct ways. These distinctions include:

  • Protestant theology/catholic worship. This is where “Reformed Monasticism” comes in. The Episcopal Church embraces the theology of the Reformation with the worship practices and spirituality of the ancient Christians. By “ancient,” Episcopalians are not referring to the theological innovations and abuses of 1200-1500 C.E.,  but rather to the first 5 centuries of the church. That early period saw the New Testament written, confirmed which books would comprise the Scriptures, and developed the Nicene Creed which defines the Christian faith and answered the cults about the nature of the Trinity with a clarity that the faith still relies on today. That period also gives us a pattern of worship. That pattern dates from at least the early-100′s. Our worship is built around monastic rhythms of being immersed in and formed by the daily reading and praying the Scriptures together as a community (called the Daily Office), the weekly communal celebration of communion (called the Eucharist) and then living those rhythms out in the world to bring honor to God’s name and aid our fellows. You will notice that our words and actions in worship are God-directed rather than back and forth from stage to congregation.
  • We both practice and are led by common prayer: “Common” is an old word for “shared”. Churches are always trying to figure out what banner to unify under. For some it is the beliefs of a person (like the Pope or Mark Driscoll), for some a doctrinal statement (like the Westminster or Augsburg Confession). Episcopalians are unified around the idea of being willing to pray the same words together…the words of Scripture and the “safe,” vetted words of the church until God works out our stuff in our own lives. That comes from our roots in England as being Catholics, Protestants and social Christians all in church together. Some long for the idea of “purity” and uniformity of belief in the church. History and experience tells us that theological uniformity is a mirage at best. Being unified around praying the same words is a value that is both holy and extremely difficult to live out. This can be very frustrating as there are often people with us that we think are a bit crazy. They tend to think we are a bit crazy back. But we are attempting to err on the side of generosity and give people room to “work out their salvation” in honesty and sincerity, not to mention “fear and trembling.” So we agree to major on the majors and give room on the minors. What are the majors?
  • Majoring on the Majors: “The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral” defines our “Big Rocks.” They are:  1) Scripture contains all things necessary to our salvation 2) The historic Creeds of the faith (Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed) as the sufficient doctrinal statements (which really means that Episcopalians see ourselves as “a church in relationship with other churches” rather than “the ‘true’ church”). 3) Our worship is ordered around the two sacraments that Jesus taught: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And 4) Churches are led by bishops who have continuity of relationship and teaching back to Jesus. (Btw, until the 1500s this was the only form of church leadership and to this day about 3/4 of the world’s Christians are part of churches led by bishops in lineal relationship with the first Apostles.)

Why is this important? Simply because it has a high probability of blessing you…and of other’s being blessed as a result of what you receive as you “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

 

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Glimmers of Hope: Does going to church even matter?

glimmersSomeone recently told me, “The gathering of Christians in worship doesn’t begin to matter in light of the endless string of calamities, tragedies and bad news in the world.”

I think it does. And I say that as someone who spent most of his Christian life disliking church.

I think it matters more every day. A world desperate for Good News needs to find people of faith together, immersed in the Scriptures, coming to God’s table, becoming more like our Savior, and serving the world.

Is it not obvious how much we need to be in the Scriptures together, be challenged together, affirm our faith together, pray together, repent of our sins together, be reconciled to one another, and eat at the Lord’s Table together? But it isn’t just us who needs this. Is this not what our world needs most from those who name the name of Jesus?

I know that the trendy answer is that we should “do more good stuff.” But for all our failings, Christians are already the most powerful force for good in the world. Yes, we could do more, but nothing more or less than the worship of the God and Father of all is what I believe the world most needs from us. This is true even if the world doesn’t know it. Even our American individualism says we do not need anyone else. Even if our church is boring. Even if we are tired. Even if there is a great football game on television or our kids really don’t want to go.

We need to keep meeting together in order to open our minds and hearts, to be changed by the unchanging Word, to refuse division, and to live our lives in light of eternity.

Once upon a time people arrived in California to hunt for gold. Broke, tired, cold and hungry, the forty-niners toiled, hunched over in icy streams for elusive nuggets. A single glimpse of a yellow glimmer staring back from the creek bed was enough for them to keep going. A broken, tired, cold and hungry world desperately needs the glimmer of hope that Christians in adoration of our Savior send.

A high school friend who came to camp with us several years ago powerfully illustrates this truth: He was on a weekend designed to help students hear, see and understand the Good News of God’s love for them. For this young man it was all a big zero. I woke him up the morning after he waxed eloquent of his boredom with all things religious and dragged him to the staff worship service. After we were dismissed for breakfast, I noticed he had tears in his eyes. He told me that he simply had to give his life to Jesus right then and there. When I asked him what was going on he said, “I saw the way you Christians were worshipping and I knew that I didn’t have that kind of love. I desperately need it.”

You in worship are the glimmer of hope God’s world most needs. This Sunday, go to church.

Grace and peace,

Matt

Here is a thought on the role of Scripture in worship as we prepare to gather next week…Scripture, the Reformers held, is to be placed in the hands of the people and read in common, so as to knit together a people through deep immersion in the Scriptural story. This, New Testament scholar, Bishop NT Wright says, is at the heart of Anglican worship and life: “the simple, daily, communal reading of the Bible, through which the Spirit forms us as a church and equips us for mission in the world.”