I’m coming out. Yes, I’m going Anglican, no, I haven’t lost my mind, and here’s roughly how and why it happened (and is still happening).
As I indicated in my last blog post (on entering the Anglican fray on marriage), my family and I have begun to attend the Anglican Church. I say “attend” because nothing has been signed in blood and no dark ceremonies have been performed to make anything official, but I’m sure that will happen in due course. I’ve even redecorated the blog in honour of this move.
This will be a surprise to some people. My Catholic friends may even think (wishfully!) that this is one step in the journey “home to Rome.” Far from it. This is more of a Vatican II move: Taking a step to a position that has the appearance of being more conciliatory while reaffirming your commitment to what you already believed. Sure there are some similarities in form between the Anglican and (Roman) Catholic Churches. We even use some of the same liturgy. But that’s just because we have some beliefs and values in common, and it would be concerning to me if we did not. Anglicanism by design is the catholic tradition rolled back to a state without the elements that Protestants found objectionable. If you’re a Microsoft Windows fan, think of it as a system restore.
If you’re a Microsoft Windows fan, think of it as a system restore.
I also appreciate the more liturgical form of worship because it requires participation. You’re not allowed to sit silently throughout the service, dozing off or being distracted. And you’re not just involved, you’re also regularly verbally affirming and expressing your faith. Some Christians have to look up the Creed if they want to know what it is and what it contains. I never did, because I was saying it every week at twelve years old (I was Roman Catholic). Some people don’t like the liturgy because they think it’s mechanical and forced. And yet they have no problem with a church service that follows an unwritten liturgy week in and week out:
For me the question is not whether or not your church will form routines. Of course it will. The question is: What will those routines be? Why not form them by design, centred around what you believe to help you to focus on Christ? That’s what the liturgy is. What’s more, it has been done over a long period of time and done well. It is not just true but it has aesthetic beauty too.
But the truth is, this sort of thinking for me is a justification after the fact. If there was nothing appealing about Anglicanism then I wouldn’t be making this move, but the appeal is not, as far as I can tell, what served as the catalyst for this change. Maybe it should have been, but it didn’t. Years ago (in 1996), before I went to Bible College and before Ruth and I were married (but at a time when we were pretty sure we would be), I asked her what she would think of being a pastor’s wife. I knew that I wanted to do something God related and I wasn’t really all that sure what, but being a pastor seemed to be in the right neighbourhood. So after we were married I went to Bible College, and because I tend to go all the way with things, I didn’t stop at an undergrad degree but just kept going until I ended up in 2008 with a PhD, and not even a PhD in theology (although my field of study was a close cousin, and in some quarters the degree could have been completed within a theology department). In the years since then I’ve worked in a desk job, occasionally made an application for a teaching job, blogged, written and had a number of speaking gigs. Apart from the desk job I’ll probably do these things until I return to the dust whence I came.
Those who know me well might call me a cynic when it comes to the supernatural. Sure, I’m a Christian. But there are forms of Christianity that I’ve seen my fair share of and that I cannot identify with. Specifically, I mean the overtly charismatic / Pentecostal form of Christianity. For all the good it might contain (good that can also be had in more historic forms of Christianity, I think), I think it goes wrong theologically and practically in some ways. But without getting into all the details of that (I have commented on some of it here before), I generally have little time for people who think that God is always talking to them. “I have a word from the Lord!” No, you very probably do not. “God is giving me a message for you!” Really? And he chose you to deliver it, knowing that I think you’re a flake? That’s not the most effective delivery method.
“God is giving me a message for you!” Really? And he chose you to deliver it, knowing that I think you’re a flake? That’s not the most effective delivery method.
“I’m a prophet!” In that case, I’m a not-for-prophet. You get the picture, I trust. I try not to be gullible, or to have a falsely exalted view of myself where God goes out of his way to speak directly to me. Do I think God is able to speak to people? Sure. Do I think he does it? You bet. But I’m someone who thinks that most of the time when people think they are hearing from God, they are hearing from themselves. Quite possibly they’re hearing a good idea from themselves, too, and sure, given my high view of providence, I’m going to attribute it to God who works in all things. But a miraculous voice in your ear? I’m not one to think so. You’ve got the Bible and you’ve got the Church. That’s usually how God speaks (and if the church thinks it’s speaking for God, they better able to back it up with Scripture). You’ve also hopefully got some common sense and wisdom, and if you are lacking, as St James told his readers, you can always ask God for help in getting more and you can also learn from the example of others. That’s where I stand – I still do and I hope I always will.
Can you hear a “but” coming?
This attitude is a safeguard against foolish credulity – a safeguard that I think we should all have and one that not enough people – especially (sorry) Christians within the Pentecostal churches – have. But it is not a declaration about what God cannot or will not ever do. It certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t believe anyone is really “called” by God to a particular vocation. For the last year or so I’ve had an eye on the Anglican Church, and I haven’t even been one hundred percent sure why. I even remarked on Facebook some time last year (I forget exactly when), “I could totally go Anglican.” I haven’t thought a lot about the sorts of factors I’m talking about in this blog post, but maybe they were lurking in the subconscious. But just recently – in the last few months – I’ve been overcome with the impression, not an audible voice (that would be annoying and creepy), but something more influential. Go into ministry. And just as a person who believes in God usually doesn’t just believe in a generic concept of God but in a particular God (in my case, God as revealed in the person of Jesus of Nazareth), so too this was not just a generic “ministry” but a specific embodiment of ministry: Go into Anglican ministry.
And just as a person who believes in God usually doesn’t just believe in a generic concept of God but in a particular God (in my case, God as revealed in the person of Jesus of Nazareth), so too this was not just a generic “ministry” but a specific embodiment of ministry: Go into Anglican ministry.
I forget who mentioned it first, me or Ruth (me, I think). The first conversation was a testing of the waters, but the affirmation was immediate. There was nothing to negotiate; As soon as the idea had been brought up it was accepted. I had been thinking: I’m really sure of this and I hope she’s OK with it. But there’s nothing quite as encouraging as the reaction of your better half telling you that this isn’t just in your head.
The first step in that direction is becoming Anglican, so that’s the process we’ve started now. How long will the transition take? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. We have a clear sense of where we are going.
“But you don’t agree with everything they teach!”
Probably not, especially given the range of things that they teach. They don’t all agree with each other about what they teach! This would be the case no matter what church I went to, because I think too much (some would say). But I agree with the things that both they and I agree are the most important things. We affirm them every week as we proclaim the Creed together (the Nicene Creed, which is a summary of Christian teaching).
One of the things that I appreciate about the Anglican Church – the Evangelical Anglican Church that takes its faith and Scripture very seriously – is that it is a generous orthodoxy in the true sense. While holding to the essential elements of the historic Christian faith, there is a genuine respect for learning and intellectual exploration and the fact that this will take sincere, orthodox Christians to a range of different places on a range of issues. Think about some of the bright lights in modern Anglican theology past and present: N T Wright, John Wenham, John Stott, C S Lewis and numerous others. One of the factors that allows for this sort of intellectual breadth is the climate of freedom beyond the essentials that Anglicanism provides.
“But they baptise babies!”
Oh well, nobody’s perfect. (Said with tongue in-cheek) I currently think they are probably wrong about this, just as I think other churches are wrong about many things. I am not able to just change my mind at will about this, and I do not, at present, see myself changing my mind on this any time soon (although stranger things have happened), but it seems to me to be a silly reason to not worship as part of their community. I also take the view that sometimes it is better to concede to the practices of a community you trust, believing that it will not make an ultimate difference. So I don’t know how this issue will play out.
“But there are liberal Anglicans!”
Yes there are, plenty of them! But I will not be one of them. The presence of pockets of theological liberalism is a reality in any of the mainstream churches. They are large, well-established institutions of society, and like many such institutions, there are people who feel that such institutions have a duty to keep changing in order to “keep up to date” rather than to preserve an ancient faith, and to cater to what people want (or at least, what people like themselves want) rather than to serve as an agent of transformation and redemption for people. Even in the Catholic Church, that bastion of resistance to such influences, liberalising forces are slowly at work, and for all the talk of papal authority being the major force holding them at bay (and yes at a practical level this explanation makes good sense), their influence is only kept at bay with much persistent hard work – work that cannot be stopped any time soon. The thought that we have a right to have the Church create for us an intellectual and moral context of our own design seems to be a very attractive one to some people. I don’t share their view. Either you embrace what the Church represents: A community of people committed to following Christ as revealed in the Scripture (both in the essentials of what we find there to be taught as true and in the way we are called to live), or you do not. You may have difficulty with that. So do I sometimes – more than I like to admit, to be honest. But it is what I have embraced and I’m working at it with God’s help (and the Church’s help). If you don’t want to be a part of that, then the Church is currently not for you – although you are always welcome, nay, called, to enter and embrace that life. That is what it means that the Church is inclusive: Everyone is welcome to come and take part in this life.
What should we do about this? Should we abandon any church in which such liberalism arises? Should we declare that liberalism automatically has the trump card, guaranteed to win all takeover battles and receive the keys of any institution it decides to occupy? Or should we love the Church and want to be a part of it and work to contribute to its mission, including maintaining its integrity?
Should we abandon any church in which such liberalism arises? Should we declare that liberalism automatically has the trump card, guaranteed to win all takeover battles and receive the keys of any institution it decides to occupy? Or should we love the Church and want to be a part of it and work to contribute to its mission, including maintaining its integrity?
I choose the latter, which I understand is not the path of least resistance, but which seems to me to be clearly the better option. I could have continued to worship at the Brethren church and all would have been fairly well, both for my family and the church. But that church was fine before I came along and it will be fine without me, as far as these struggles go. I want to be in a place where I can be a part of the work to make things better, and you don’t make things better by staying away because things aren’t perfect. Of course not everyone is called to get involved in this way.
So there you have it. I’m becoming Anglican. Because in essentials, I believe as they do. Because I find beauty there. Because in its best form, it is a Church that encourages the sort of intellectual exploration and intellectual charity and breadth that someone like me needs (and which I also think is good for people in general, including my children). Because I believe I can be used for good there. And because this is where I believe God has led me.