Why I dropped church and joined The Church

A German Mass during WWII

A German Mass during WWII

Snark MeterrealMID.003I came of age outside of the faith. At eighteen God found me. From that day forward, and with a love that was not my own, I have not been able to help but love Jesus back and work for the welfare of others with the overflow of that love. Yet, even with all that love, I am sorry to say, I did not love church. Oh, I liked the idea of church. I liked lots of people at church. I just didn’t like church.

At least not until I discovered the Church: The Church historic. In the Church historic; orthodox, catholic and reformed, I found something larger than I.

I came to value Christ’s bride when I wandered into an expression of it that immersed me in a different and embodied narrative: the grand story of God’s creation, fall, redemption, and working toward final justice. The Church, described by the Creeds, nourished by the Sacraments, defined by the Scriptures and led by the Holy Spirit through the 3-fold ministry, is something one can stand lashed to when the storms of life come.

Don’t get me wrong, I am indebted to the church of my conversion. The godly men and women of that movement introduced me to faith, fed me on the Scriptures, and challenged me to serve. Now, however, in the Church I am no longer adrift in a world that is a Jesus add-on to a life of my American culture’s creation. In the Church, I am connected to the original eleven “sent-out ones” by touch and by teaching. In the church of my conversion, “The gates of hell,” did, in effect, “prevail against it” from the close of the canon until the Reformation, or maybe the Second Great Awakening, or, for some, the coming of the evangelical explosion of the 1980s.

The Church is rooted in history, unchanging, with worship patterned after that of the earliest Christians. Lancelot Andrewes described the Church of the Great Tradition as bound by “One canon, two testaments, three creeds, four ecumenical councils, over five centuries.” She clarified those creeds in the Reformation. Her lay and clergy were missionaries of the Awakenings. In this Bride, the Holy Spirit is gloriously alive and balance is maintained in public worship by praying the safe, vetted words of the Church. In the Church, the old battles are not forgotten. So they do not need to be refought.

What put me off about church was that it was so like me – feeding me a steady diet of myself: my wants, my preferences, my music. It was quite “relevant.” I came to realize that I actually needed church to be UN-like me: to be transcendent. The Church is unconcerned with “relevance.” It cares not for my preferences. When I ask it to change it grins gently and asks me to change instead. In the Church, when one panics about something and accosts the clergy at the door, the chances are good the priest will say, “We have been in God’s presence in the liturgy. How about we enjoy that for a bit? Call me on Tuesday.”

The Church is maddeningly un-fearful. It is not subject to politics or fads. It does not do focus groups and market research. It is not trying to impress me, win me, or woo me. Instead of bending to my whims, it seeks to conform me to the image of Christ through immersion in patterns: daily in the Scriptures, weekly in Sacramental feeding of the Thanksgiving meal of the family of God, and living out God-time in the Christian Year. As a man of flesh, these patterns marinate me in the Gospel, bringing forth flavors in my life I never imagined.

In church I could write my own wedding vows. In the Church, self-made wedding vows, narcissistic holdovers of the 70’s, are not on the table for discussion. The Church calmly says, “Our job is to be conformed to God’s will and God’s words, not our own, so we will use the vows that have withstood the test of time, thank you.”

Many genuinely love the relevant church, I am sincerely glad for them. But for the growing group for whom church-lite is wearing thin, for whom the four songs and a sermon liturgy delivered by latte-toting pastors in skinny jeans is holding up as well as a Walmart shirt, there is an alternative. That alternative is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. It follows a pattern that was old when Justin Martyr described it in 150 CE. It is both sacred mystery and deep discipleship. A faith in which the words and movements all tell a story. And ultimately, shape lives into the image of Jesus.

A few questions for discussion:

If you are a “relevant church” person, do you love church? Or are you giving up on it? If so, why?

Are you one of the people that goes to an expression of the Church that has a plethora of service options. (One of the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches that offer services along a continuum from chanted 1700 year old liturgies to modern “relevant” models.)  If so, do people move between the offerings?

Are you in one of growing numbers of modern churches experimenting with ancient liturgies? If so, how is that going?

Liturgy, when artfully done, is powerful and engages young people.

Many people write and say, “I hear you talk about liturgy, but that can’t possibly work with young people.” Here is the 45 second promo video for students to use to invite their friends to camp next summer. We are advertising the three things Christian camping is all about: fun, friends, and God. I am posting it for the last 10 seconds when you can briefly see that liturgy, when artfully done and culturally contextualized, is powerful enough for the young adults who make the video to say “that has to be in.” Lots of camp experiences don’t make the cut. What does make the cut tells you what is important to the 20-22 yr olds making the video.

If you look closely, the video, shot from this summer’s footage, you can see great camp fun, our gifted and godly young leaders, some first-rate proclaimers of the Gospel and a few of the many ways for kids to experience God, from the ancient to modern. The music is just as diverse as the spiritual offerings: Hip Hop/Chant/Hillsong/Black Gospel/Spanish/Taize/Hymns.

Our goal is to raise up a faithful Christian generation that is leading the church and changing the world.

A couple of things about our camp:

1. Our program is a combination of Young Life style energy with a strong emphasis on community building and contemplative and liturgical space all built around a framework of daily immersion in the Bible.

2. About 2/3 of our counselors were teenage converts, the other 1/3 grew up in the church. More than half are non-Anglo.

3. Over the last six years, every youth pastor who has brought students has said, “This wasn’t just the most powerful experience of God my students have ever had, it’s the most powerful experience of God <strong>I</strong> have ever had!

4. We know this works, because I am a numbers geek. We gather data and chart longitudinally on all of the 15 or so different spiritual experiences students engage in during the week.

We are very excited about the way we have blended the best of ancient and modern, catholic worship and protestant theology, fun and depth, community and individual experience. After 30 years of youth ministry and more than 30,000 campers I can honestly say that this is the most unique thing I have seen in camping.

btw, If you are interested in bringing students or observing, contact me.

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)