Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Coming home to Canterbury?

Lately I have kept a close eye on developments within the Anglican Communion. At first, my interest was passing: the situation seemed to be the usual sort of intra-denominationl dispute with which, as a Southern Baptist, I was intimately familiar.

Yet my friendship with Clark Dumas, an Episcopalian from Mobile, Alabama, changed my relationship with the story. No longer was news of dissension from within the Episcopal Church a trifling news story, it had a face and a name. The anguish faced by "Episcopalians" was one shared by my friend and brother in Christ.

Affirming my relationship to Clark as a brother was one thing, though, and worshipping with him was another. I remained safely within my pew down on the corner of Broadway and Seventh.


Spring break of my freshman year at Vanderbilt changed that. I went with Clark and some other friends down to his house on Mobile Bay, and that Sunday we went with Clark and his family to their church: Christ Anglican Church. It was my first experience with liturgy, and it was a transformational experience.

My entire life, I had heard that liturgy was bad and unbiblical, and that its use threatened one's commitment to worshipping God "in Spirit and truth" as Jesus had said "true worshippers" would. My experience at Christ Anglican, though, was just the opposite of what I had always heard. Instead of deadness and rote recitation, I found meaning and beauty in the words of Scripture placed into an order of worship, prayer, and song.

After the service, a woman who knew Clark, recognized that he was accompanied by visitors. She politely asked where we were from; I spoke of East Tennessee and my Baptist roots. To this day, I do not know why I mentioned my denomination -- yet I did. She laughed, and replied that she, too, had grown up as a Southern Baptist.

With a sparkle in her eye, she said, "Be careful attending an Anglican church: you might just end up switching, too."

I politely smiled and smugly thought to myself, "No, I won't -- this isn't my heritage."


My faith walk has come a long way since even then, I have seen Truth and beauty in the liturgy of the Anglican tradition. I have studied the roots of my own faith tradition, and I have seen that though our Baptist theology was influenced by the Anabaptists and Calvinists in its English infancy, our American version of the Baptist tradition has an even broader legacy.

Southern Baptists today are still heavily influenced by the Particularist and Generalist Baptists of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; but our worship and practice is a direct result of the faithful ministry of the Methodist circuit riders of the Second Great Awakening.

Southern Baptists' deep roots in the American southeast cannot help but be influenced by the hymnody -- and therefore, the theology -- of John and Charles Wesley. For indeed, it was the Wesleys who pioneered, with Luther, the use of hymns as an expressive, communicative medium for the transmission of theology and understanding about God.

Any understanding of the Wesleys must recall that they, themselves, viewed their theology as an extension and reform of the Church of England by whom they were ordained. Thus, while the roots of Baptist theology lie in the Continental Reformation, the modern theology and practice of Baptists that emerged in the Twentieth Century was greatly related to the Anglican-inspired Methodist movement.

In a way, then, my recent romance with the Anglican tradition is something of a homecoming. My English ancestors would be proud (if to the dismay of my Scotch-Irish ancestors who, as Ulster Presbyterians, ultimately rejected the Church of England).


But is my interest in and admiration for Anglicanism nothing more than passing Anglophilia?

I think it is not. Instead, I believe that my recent studies in the history of English Christianity -- learning about the Celtic, Romano-Celtic, Sarum rite, and protestant influences on the Faith in the Island of my ancestors -- have led me to value the historic commitments that the Anglican tradition has maintained as its distinctives. And in these distinctives, I see the essence of Christian faith and worship:

• The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

• The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol (confession of faith used at Baptism); and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

• The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself -- Baptism and the Supper of the Lord -- ministered with the unfailing use of Christ's Words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.

• The Historic Episcopate (the ministry of chief pastors, pastors, and deacons), locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

I will continue to pray and seek God's will in where He would have me worship. But in this journey I have learned one essential thing: the Triune God works the saving power of Jesus Christ in persons from many Christian communions. No matter what the name of the church is from which you come, the thing that matters, as Paul said (in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5):

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:

That Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures,
That he was buried,
That he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures,
And that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
Then he appeared to James,
Then to all the apostles,
And last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

With Paul, I must affirm that "last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born." The journey for this abnormally born, born-from-above son of the Father, brother to the Son, temple of the Spirit goes on, with hope that "where two or three are gathered in [His] name," Christ is there.

* * *

FEELING: Pensive
LISTENING TO: The sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, on the future of the Anglican Communion


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