Thursday, October 8, 2015

Good things about being an Anglican (at least a High Church one)

I offer the following list, not as an example of how “we are better than you”, but as things we have for which I am grateful, and which I commend to others, including my fellow Anglicans, who may be tempted to forget what we have.

1. Actual worship of God: especially, following Jesus’ command, worshiping together on the Lord’s Days and Major Feasts, with Scripture being proclaimed, and the Eucharist being celebrated using the elements commanded by our Lord, namely bread and wine, and following our Lord’s example, sharing the sacrament of Christ’s Blood from a common cup with my fellow Christians, kneeling reverently before God’s altar.

2. Praying together with psalms and readings from the Bible twice daily, most often with others, using Daily Morning and Evening Prayer as appointed by the Prayer Book.

3. Having the essential services throughout the year all together in one book, the Book of Common Prayer (and if it is bound with the Bible, you have all you need!)

4. Having a version of my own language, English, which is also in a sacred register (in Rite I), like the liturgical language of Jewish Temple Worship, and the early Christian liturgies.

5. The tradition of having a church which is a sacred public space, open for prayer, and designed for an encounter with God.

6. Having doctrinal principles which serve as a corrective against the folly of those in power, including a misguided majority:  Scripture is understood as the Word of God written, and the essential test-stone of doctrine, understanding that both right reason and tradition are essential for a proper understanding of Scripture.  As a corollary, accepting that revealed truth is something accessible to every human intellect, and thus bound by no one Christian’s (ultimately subjective) infallibility, nor to the limited understanding and experience of a particular church.  Thus we can benefit from a true sense of catholicity, and the ability to read and learn from whatever is good in non-Anglican theology — Eastern Orthodox, Roman, Catholic, or Protestant — without the need to apologize for doing so.

7. A polity in which no one is supposed to have absolute authority, not the bishop, not the lay leadership, not the clergy, not General Convention (although all, especially the last, have tried to assert it.)  This is particularly  true, I think, for Episcopalians, whose traditions of American republicanism in the past served as a check on the abuse of power.  Thus we have a tradition of subsidiarity, something which also serves as a check on bureaucracy.  We can also be free from the temptation to worship those in top positions, i.e., no cult of personality surrounding our clergy or religious leadership. (Although we are sometimes tempted to worship the institution, which is itself a dangerous form of idolatry.)

8. Following ancient Judaism and the early Christians, an appreciation of art of all kinds, including depiction of the natural world and the human figure, including our Lord, as an aid to worship, which rightly understands idolatry as any human construct, including intellectual constructs, which takes the place of God, who, while known from his works, in his essence is incomprehensible.

9. A sense of Christian community — including hospitality, graciousness, charity, and mercy — which begins right after the Eucharist in coffee hour,  and extends to feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and all the other works of mercy in a remarkable way.

10. It might be objected that Anglicanism is a mess, to which I would respond that practically all of Christianity is a mess: there is no system of Church governance which relieves people from the need to be faithful faithful or good, or which can prevent them from sinning, including those in the highest positions.  What Anglicanism gives is the ability to actually ask the question, not about who is in authority and how his decisions are to be interpreted, but about what is actually true and right and the will of God, as well as a comprehensive ascetical and pastoral system, a system of prayer and discipleship, not just for religious or clergy, but for the ordinary Christian to live and witness to the Gospel.

With all these gifts, if we do not use them it is no one’s fault but our own.

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