Saturday, August 15, 2015

High Church?

High-churchman, this is a word with a specific context.  Usually "high church" is taken to mean ceremonial and ritual.  If one's congregation employs ornate vestments, incense, and sings as much of the service as possible, or relatively, even if one has vestments and a set liturgy at all, this is "high church".   However that  that is not its original meaning.  The term "High Churchman" comes from the Anglican ("Episcopal" in America) Church, and refers to a particular doctrinal tradition, namely a high doctrine of the Christian Church, with a concomitant emphasis on fundamental doctrine, a sense of the sacred, the disciplines of the Christian life, and use of set of appointed forms of worship, that is a liturgy, in particular a faithful following of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.  Being high-church has important doctrinal, philosophical, and cultural consequences.

Most importantly it means that one is a follower of Jesus Christ, a Christian, and a member of the Christian Church.  Doctrinally it means affirming the unique revelation of God in Christ, that Jesus Christ is the both the fully divine Son of God the Father, and the fully human son of the Jewish virgin, Mary.  Because Jesus is who he is, we can know God personally through him.  It also means that one knows that Jesus died a human death, on a cross, an instrument of execution used by the officials of the Roman Empire,  and that he then rose bodily from the dead.  Jesus offered himself willingly to this death, sacrificing himself for us.  By his sacrifice he restored us to a right relation with God, and preserved us from the everlasting death that was the result of our deliberately breaking our relation to God, who is our creator, the source and purpose of our life.  This sacrificial act of Jesus by which God forgives our rejecting him and restores us to a life-giving relation to him is called the Atonement.

The Atonement is the key teaching of Christianity, which I reckon hard to over-emphasize.  Unless we make the center of our teaching Christ's sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, whereby he opens for us men the divine glory, then we can hardly consider ourselves high church at all, or even much in the way of Christian.

The high-churchman also holds the authority of Jesus, who is the Son and Word of God, in Holy Scripture, all of which is God the Word "in letters" as the ancient Church Fathers said.  Because of his doctrine of Scripture, he takes the sacraments, in particular Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, not as pointless commands, but as occasions where actions done in obedience to God's command are employed by God as means of His Grace, such that the things they symbolize become the means of conveying reality thus symbolized.  Hence in Baptism our sins are truly washed away and we are born again in Christ; in the Eucharist bread and wine are incorporated in Christ, becoming His Body and Blood, so that Christians receiving them are likewise incorporated into Christ, becoming and growing up as His Body.

The High Churchman holds close to the basic doctrines of Christianity as found in the creeds, i.e., the Nicene and Apostle's creeds.  High churchmanship also means catholicity as a standard by which to discern Christian truth, that is holding to what the Christian faithful have believed and practiced in all times and places, and in particular to the common faith of the ancient church, as handed down by the tradition of the apostles, as the standard to be appealed to when then is present disagreement among Christians.

It also means an understanding that essential for apprehending the truth of faith is the reason with which God has endowed our human nature.  The high-churchman understands ancient classical philosophy and culture as providing a divinely given preparation for the gospel, which, while it is subordinate to the gospel proclamation (the "kerygma") and must be critiqued and purified by it, also provides an essential component of revelation, and is necessary for understanding the Scriptures of the New Testament in particular.

He also understands that while he is forgiven by the free gift of God in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, that the Christian life and the divinely commanded use of his talents requires rule and discipline both personal and corporate, including the discipline of liturgy, that is, common prayer.

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