This paper arose from my desire to explain to people why a Southern Baptist boy would leave his heritage in search of liturgical worship. A lot of what I say here corresponds to Robert Webber’s Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail. I commend that book to anyone who wants to understand others’ opinions on the matter. Those who know me will agree that I am strong-headed, seldom swayed by other people’s opinions of me. This includes my ecclesiastical preference. In fairness, though, I feel a need to respond respectfully to some people who deserve an answer to the question posed by this paper. Those people are few, but very important to me. It’s also important to remember that this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction that I’ve only recently jumped from being Baptist to Anglican. I stopped over in the Presbyterian system for over 3 years searching for the best place for me.
My father, himself a Baptist minister, introduced me to the Christian faith while I was still in high school and has faithfully labored in Baptist churches for two decades. He made sure that I got a chance to encounter the gospel, and in the mind-boggling mercy of God I accepted the offer to follow Christ. My best friend, also a minister, also deserves a good answer. He has been my best friend in adulthood, roommate, classmate, coworker, ministry mate, and encourager. Since he comes from Baptist church within a Roman Catholic locale, I think he’ll wonder about my catholic faith. My second best friend certainly cannot go unmentioned. I cannot describe in words what this man means to me. After 10 long years of absence, he stepped back into my life as if we only missed a year or two. Many other people mean a lot to me and should perhaps be on this list, but they either already understand or sympathize with me.
Lex Orandi Lex Credendi
This Latin phrase means: the law of prayer is the law of belief. Conversely, the law of belief is the law of prayer. It doesn’t really matter which way you translate it—the meaning is the same. Whatever you pray, you believe . . . whatever you believe, you pray. Most evangelical churches have a prayer book like the Anglican Book of Common Prayer; they just don’t know that they do. It’s called a hymnal and it prepares the minds and beliefs of the people on a regular basis. The emphases of the songs become the theology of the singers, or lex orandi lex credendi. Today, their hymnal has even become archaic. Praise and worship music now teaches people what they believe about God, Christianity, and life. Most exiting worshipers cannot remember the pastor’s scripture text, sermon, or his teaching. Many can remember his jokes, or anecdotes. However, most people show remarkable recall of the songs sung before the speaker even clears his throat. Today most people don’t know, and possible don’t care, that they sing songs from heretical movements in their own church. In other words, people may not listen to the sermon, but they still come away from Church with a set of beliefs. Then why preach for 40 minutes when parishioners don’t listen …yet absorb the teaching of their church anyway? The fact is, they are merely absorbing the doctrine they are professing. It should make sense, then, to recite, rehearse [whatever you may call it], at least remember what we believe about our God, our faith, and our life together. This belief arose from the earliest days of the Church, and we do well to pass it on to the next generation. Leadership is the current trend to solve problems in the churches. I agree that an educated laity is the best scenario in any church, but leadership is needed far less than submission and obedience to scripture. An ever-present dose of scripture makes the environment of worship more productive for advancing people toward lordship.
Spirituality & Prayer
This is a touchy subject to write about. Some may even question why I include it. Others may question my motives, since it will sound like I’m trying to lay blame on something other than myself. But my point here is simple. The spiritual-life advertised by evangelicals all my life did not work for me. I don’t know if it’s my personality, my education, my experiences, or anything else. I think it’s a combination of all three and more. At least the ‘more’ is what I think I was missing in the evangelical world. That is a consistent, ordered, orthodox feeding on the scriptures and the essential doctrines of our faith. For all of my earliest years in the faith, I was encouraged to set aside a chunk of time, preferably the earliest morning hours, to read scripture and pray and read devotional literature. The Holy Ghost was supposed to do the rest … within me. Of course this is not a bad set-up. But I wasn’t coming away from these devos with the same spiritual-sounding jargon that others did. I felt un-spiritual and I tried harder. At other times I heard some things from people of authority that flatly contradicted the scripture in my mind. So why did they read it differently than me? Was the Holy Ghost the supplier of individual interpretation? Seminary studies only compounded the problem. We got the same true-grit style instruction, “stick to it, boys . . . God is good.” How can you deny that God is good?
But some theology classes seemed to introduce a more balanced approach. I heard more ideas on Christian formation than I care to remember. Any approach that came near legalism just couldn’t fit. One did stick out in my mind. Worship can be a central spiritual tool for the Christian’s growth. In fact, how someone worships pretty much says it all concerning their character and inner life. But up until then, worship for me had been about listening & learning. Considering worship to be a spiritual exercise sounded like something ‘far out,’ or ‘new-age.’ But to my delight the Anglican routine of spiritual growth is extremely Biblical, theological, dignified, . . . and yes, rigorous. This system has a daily office of prayer and scripture reading. It’s also based upon a Christian calendar & lectionary. Had I found the kind of spiritual nourishment that could help me to be the man I ought?
Something about my personal constitution only grew more and more cynical and critical as I completed seminary. Knowing that I’d have to decide on a career & go through ordination gave me the idea that I should also become a better man, husband, and father. But I really wasn’t, and I had abandoned the Devos because they just didn’t seem to come naturally. I knew that I was operating on a shallow level with spiritual devotion and that doctrinal instruction gave me encouragement, but they were never presented together in any of the “growth” literature that I’d read. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this routine is that it does not promote itself as a guarantee. It doesn’t prescribe a formula for growing more “like-Jesus” and then heap guilt upon those who don’t seem to make the cut. The Holy Ghost must guide any effort to follow Christ. Much like the ancient theologian who reminds us that we cannot claim God as our Father unless we claim the Church as our Mother, one cannot begin to grow In-Christ while located outside the Body of Christ [Church]. Gnostic spirituality claims that we can do so. Don’t believe it.
Order of worship
For so long in my Christian life, church had been about . . . well, good things, but not the best of things. Church had been about listening, singing, “getting fed,” and other things that distract worshipers from the true activity of worship. The focus should have been singly on the worship of God. Church had become gimmicky, sensational, and manufactured to force a decision out of people. Still today I want people to make a decision to follow Christ, but not by sacrificing my worship of God. Rather I want my worship to demonstrate to others a life that follows Christ. I’m not talking about the feel-good stuff, but about the bended knee.
The arrows at the title to this section symbolize the direction of worship. The downward pointing arrow stands for the trend that wants worship to be about receiving from God, from the pastor, from the music, from scripture, or from other people. It’s about being fed, challenged, and even entertained. Many years ago this would not have been true of evangelical worship. Entertainment came to church during my lifetime, and it has taken many churches over. So if the downward [or self-ward] direction of worship is not pleasing, well-oiled, attractive, or effective … one can either change it, or leave to find another venue of worship. Changing it only causes confusion in spite of the attempt to make it “fresh” or “out of the box,” or “cutting edge.” Abandoning it can only lead to the common practice of church-hopping.
But notice there is an alternative, the other upward arrow. The emphasis here is upon our worship of God. Here the community gathers not to watch, listen, or receive … but to participate in the worship of God. Oftentimes this means that an aspect of the service appears “dry” or “dead” to the observing evangelical. But Anglicans battle this on every front because as Augustine said, “symbol without teaching leads to idolatry.” While never deviating from the ordered worship of God, teaching the scriptures must be in place to balance the experience or else the laity truly lose the sense of worship’s focus … i.e., God. We must never forget why we pray the same prayers; why we recite the same creeds, etc. We focus upon God. All aspects of this kind of worship have been designed to teach, reflect, or honor the Godhead … Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In fact, each symbol in Anglican worship has a scriptural basis. If one does not yet know that foundation, then the worship could be either idolatrous to the Anglican, or “dead” and “boring” to the visiting evangelical. Either imbalance is unacceptable.
I need to say a word about the spiritual-mindedness of the pastor and the atmosphere of worship. As I observed the evangelical pastors that I knew, I wondered if that model of leadership best fit my convictions. There is a significant difference in the general makeup of clergy from Anglican and Free Church groups. ‘Strong and authoritarian’ or ‘very charismatic’ describe the necessary traits of the evangelical clergy. ‘Contemplative and reflective’ or ‘compassionate and shepherding’ describe the general traits needed by Episcopal clergy. Did I see myself becoming a charismatic leader or a self-assured shepherd, basically? Could I see myself extending authority over people or offering pastoral help? Of course I could hammer myself into any mold necessary, but would it fit?… would it be the best description of biblical shepherding? I’m afraid we can all be lured into wielding control over people, but I don’t think I’m charismatic in terms of drawing the necessary crowds needed to appease the boards of evangelical churches.
The characteristics of the clergy are reflective of, and correspond to, the atmosphere of worship. Evangelical worship tends toward human interaction. People socialize on many levels. But they rarely focus strongly upon God. It’s kind of sterile in that no action is required on average. If action is required, it is commitment to Christ … the initial step. Episcopal worship is much more focused on Christ. I would describe it as divine interaction. People interact with the Lord through the sacraments, they reflect upon his acts throughout the liturgy rather than the preacher’s sermon alone.
Historical worship & mystery
I find when I study the Church’s history that many of our modern and postmodern expressions would simply not fit in most of the Church’s settings. For the most part, we have lost our sense of history, our sense of connectedness to the saints gone before. I think that they would find our modern evangelical churches on the brink of heresy. Departed saints would only need to attend our churches to come to that conclusion. Listening to the prayers, the sermon, and the songs would startle the Church fathers, the reformers and most of the rest in our spiritual genealogy. We evangelicals must remember that our roots are in the radical reformation. Puritanism and sectarianism was the answer that many people promoted as the ultimate cure for the Roman Church’s failures. Along those lines, we dumped anything that looked Catholic … Roman Catholic, that is. But in reality the major abuses of the Medieval Church were the political corruption, papal infallibility, and the doctrine of justification’s slide that gave rise to transubstantiation. But it was an opportune time to dismantle the church and build it back the way they thought it should look. The reformers initially had in mind to go all the way back to the New Testament and the Church Fathers to recover the true nature of faith and worship. Many of the reformers did not have in mind to demolish every form or symbol. But others did. They considered the Roman use of tradition as a rule of faith to be completely groundless and un-scriptural. Once the great Luther got the momentum going, all other movements in opposition to the Roman Church could ride the wave and implement changes on a sweeping scale. Most of the reformers utilized the newest technology, the printed book. Movable type gave men voices far louder than before. It gave them a more distant reach. Distributing the information was enough to launch the reformation even though the Roman Church burned his writings.
We have come so far beyond that now. Today we have reduced worship to anything-goes. Our personal preferences dominate worship. Common motivations for new worship often heard are: “The sermon really touched me” or “That is powerful” or “Wow, that was fantastic worship music.” We no longer worship the way our Church did for so many centuries. We only neglect our own history when we allow new fads to determine our present worship. I want to return to God-centered worship that appreciates the mystery of the Trinity, His incarnation, our redemption, our need, and His cure … more than appreciates those realities, but embodies them as the proper worship of God.
Via Media & embracing the whole church
Many besides me sense that the Church has recently become something altogether new. This is not to say that all reform is bad or unnecessary. But must we abandon everything in the name of purifying the Church? Today our posture in response to modernism and postmodernism has failed to tell the gospel without some sense of current interest, sometimes bending the gospel to fit the cultural markers. Many have asked whether the reformation churches threw the baby out with the bathwater. This means I agree that the Roman church could not accept reformation, but the followers of the 16th century reformers abandoned many of its strengths. We were handed this view from our tradition within the radical reformation. Recall the difficult times the English throne suffered in the reformation era. The assent of a new King or Queen meant another religion would gain official status in the realm. Some were Roman Catholic (or married to one), some Protestant. One Queen provided balance to the people of the empire. She initiated the Via Media, or the middle way. The Church in England was no longer to sway between polar opposite positions. That is a bloody affair since religion is at stake. Rather, she would now embrace the catholic nature of the church without officially accepting papal influence or heretical rituals. She would also avoid the error of the radical reformers, but gave them both hopes for acceptance in the Church. This middle way was the brilliant answer to the ecclesiastical roller coaster that could have toppled the Christian witness in jolly ‘ole England. We have the Anglican tradition in large part thanks to her. Reformed Catholicism was the goal.
Word & Sacrament
This is a very important section for me personally. I will talk a lot about the sacraments, what most evangelicals call ‘ordinances.’ Ordinance refers to something that Christ commanded His Church to do. So those who see no significance beside obedience in their baptism, or in the Eucharist, only feel obliged to fulfill an order from their Lord. They don’t connect the waters of baptism or the elements of the Lord’s Table to a sacramental reality.
Sacrament refers to an object that is consecrated for a holy use. I no longer refer to the bread and wine as elements because they have been consecrated for this holy purpose. That purpose is in line with Christ’s declaration, “this is my body … this is my blood.” Even his disciples knew that the bread in His hands wasn’t actually his blood or body, but they kept his command to remember him as often as they took the supper. If Christ be God, then he cannot err. He said it is his body and blood. So we confess with Christ that it is his body and blood. Of course it was wine and wafer, but the priest consecrates it in line with Jesus’ own teaching. He has set that meal aside as a special re-enactment of Christ’s last supper. Anglicans affirm any understanding of the Eucharist that avoids two errors. It cannot be merely a symbol or remembrance, as the radical reformers teach. It also cannot be a real sacrifice as the Romanists teach. He is present, grace is distributed and the mystery remains, “how?” Worship God who boggles human understanding!
Most evangelical churches support the preaching of the Word. So it will not be hard for most to understand the need for it. Only when it is absent do they quickly decry its lack. Both Word & Sacrament are needed to fully understand and communicate the whole gospel. Free churches that practice a loosely structured liturgy but advance a mega-dose of scripture teaching omit a key part of the worship puzzle. This can be illustrated by the sun’s properties. If the sun only gave off light, plants might grow but we would freeze. If it only gave us heat, earth could not support life and we would enjoy warm mud puddles. We need both to have the fullness of the sun’s benefit. Some might consider liturgical churches to have much heat and little light. They have the forms right, but not enough teaching from the scriptures to promote growth. Evangelical churches produce a lot of light by teaching and preaching, but can turn cool and gimmicky concerning reverence in worship. Overemphasizing the Church’s teaching ministry can lead to legalism, while elevating liturgy too far above scripture can lead to libertarianism. What I concluded from my days in the Presbyterian tradition was that covenant theology really couldn’t be taught without the vehicle of an ordered, sacramental worship of God. It is far too abstract. We must accompany this doctrinal system with the weekly remembrance of the covenant’s fulfillment—Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension! When I came to realize that even a very reformed denomination was charging into the praise-N-worship area to foster growth, I knew it was time to consider ministry’s long-term consequences. I would not be happy in that context.
I guess from a human perspective, I chose this denomination for really only a few reasons. First, though, let me say that I fully consider God to have providentially brought my family to this Church. But still, people will ask why this particular Church when we’ve been in others … and when it seemed like we had found the right fit in those churches. After a little disappointing experience here and there, sprinkled with a mega-dose of theological education, combined with the early years of family life, I had to choose the best fit for my ministry. Heck, I had to decide if I had a future in the ministry. Catholic structure was a big deal because I’d seen so many churches abuse the right to choose God’s man for their church and likewise to dismiss him after the “new” wore off. I have found the Reformed Episcopal Church to offer more than I expected concerning order. Worship was a big deal because of the core values I picked up in my education. I have found the Reformed Episcopal Church to offer more than I expected concerning worship. The balance they/we seek to maintain is admirable. Doctrine was a big deal because so many evangelical people and churches either 1) fight over non-essential doctrines or 2) they don’t contend for the most essential beliefs of the Church. Mainline churches have abandoned both and gone a-whoring after the meaningless dogmas called UNITY or inclusion. They have lost any sense of who they are and introduced a new gospel of ecclesiastical unity and social inclusiveness. I have found the Reformed Episcopal Church to offer more than I expected concerning doctrine. I had to look very hard at what made up my deepest convictions, and select a group that shared the same foundation. No church is perfect, no minister is perfect, yet I hope to avoid a lot of heartache by doing some hard work up front. So this has taken some time … but I’m still young and have many years of ministry ahead.
1*Robert Webber. Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: why evangelicals are attracted to the liturgical church. Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow, 1989. For a deeper understanding of Anglican practice and doctrine, I also Recommend Louis Tarsitano’s An outline of an Anglican life: lessons in the faith and practice of the Anglican Church. Charlottesville, Va.: Carillon Books, 1994.
2*I also hope people don’t think I’m just denomination hopping because I can’t find what I’m looking for. Seminary taught me to be theologically critical. I was already critical enough, so now I think I’m just more doctrinally discerning. See the section of this paper on Word & Sacrament.
3*notice the lowercase ‘c’.
4*If you’re not on the list that means I probably 1) already have spoken to you personally about my journey or 2) I never expected you to question me on it.
5*Asked for ideas as to how to remedy the widespread ignorance of biblical principles, Barna cited research he had completed regarding the limited impact of preaching. “We know that within two hours after leaving a church service, the typical individual cannot recall the theme of the sermon they heard. But if they have a discussion about a principle and its application to their life, or if they have a multi-sensory experience with those principles, they retain the information much longer and the probability that they will act on that information rises dramatically … This week’s Update reinforces the fact that most Christians are confused about what they believe. Obviously, more preaching isn’t the answer. http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrow&BarnaUpdateID=194 accessed 8/9/2005.
6*I’m not sure pastors intend to compile jokes for their people to re-tell during the week [usually the pastor wants them to remember precisely what they cannot . . . the sermon].
7*I can’t imagine a worse set of beliefs than the ever-popular Kum-by-ya, or even the gospel of tolerance that some songs promote today. We have to remember that we live in a post-Vatican II era. Evangelicals today must profess little more than “I love baby Jesus” to gain membership in the churches. Christian churches are cross-pollinated with people who may never have been converted.
8*The sermon should serve, not dominate in the Church. It should serve the presence of Christ which we celebrate in the Eucharist ~Wolfhart Pannenberg, Christian Spirituality.
9*Short for devotionals. AKA your “quiet-time.” I see that hand in the back!
10*My faith was being purged. I was moving from a “no creed but Christ” mentality to a balanced view that holds scripture atop tradition & reason, all in tension, for authority.
11*Sutton, Ray R. Baptism: signed, sealed and delivered. Houston, TX : Classical Anglican Press, 2001, page 44..
12*See O’Halloran, A fantasy theme analysis of the transition of evangelical leaders into the Episcopal Church, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation from the University of Denver, 1992. Other words used to describe evangelical clergy were power, control, dynamic personality, independent, conservative, and preacher. Other terms for Episcopal clergy were nurturing, non-directive, open, educated, ecumenical, centered, and quiet.
13*One night I asked my wife about this problem. I pointed out the most genuinely successful pastor we knew from our Baptist past, besides all the famous ones. After outlining all his traits and strengths I asked, “Do you see me possessing or developing most of those abilities, since they are necessary to make it as an evangelical pastor?” Her response gave me closure on the issue. She said, “you could put on a good show if you tried to.” That is exactly my point here. I don’t want to put on a show or try to be something I’m not. I still believe that God has equipped me for ministry—just not the kind I had known for so long.
14*Of course, I’m talking about charismatic leadership, not speaking-in-tongues or Pentecostal doctrine.
15*Notice I didn’t say Hymns. That’s because the hymnbook is largely abandoned today. Oh, that they would return to the hymnbooks!
16*Remembering that there are evangelical Anglicans, I mean here Free Church evangelicals.
17*Most will remember the issue of selling indulgences by John Tetzel. If not, I recommend you watch the most Recent release of Luther in which Albert Molina portrays Tetzel. The producers have overdone it a little, of course, but the main issue is that the Roman church began to sell favor with God, or a little less time in purgatory.
18*The regula fidei or “rule of faith.” The Reformers sought to regain the ancients’ insistence that scripture was the final, if only, rule for faith.
19*I am reminded that no one responded to Luther’s invitation to debate his 95 theses. The Roman Church only selected portions that displeased them for his heresy trail.
20*“Not to know what took place before you were born is to remain forever a child”—Cicero. Quoted in a footnote by Ellwood P. Cubberley, The History of Education (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1920), page 82.
21* Queen Elizabeth's religious policy shaped the future of the Anglican Church as a blend of Roman Catholicism and Genevan Protestantism (Calvinism), a compromise that enabled England to avoid religious wars like those elsewhere in Western Europe. Since Mary's bishops were unwilling to cooperate, and the House of Commons was dominated by Protestants, only the Queen's will prevented a radical Calvinist reform of the Church. The new Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity reestablished England's independence from the Papacy but made broad concessions to Catholics in the Church’s liturgy. Both Catholics and Protestants were dissatisfied, but both were also given hope of later amendments in their favor.
22*For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. ~1 Corinthians 11:26.
23*We do not Receive these things as common bread or common drink, but as Jesus Christ our Savior who became incarnate by God’s Word and took flesh and blood for our salvation ~Justin Martyr, Apology.
24*Since many evangelicals disdain other symbols, it’s not hard to imagine why they don’t remember this meal more often … it doesn’t mean anything except that they remember his last supper with his disciples.
25*Transubstantiation as set down at the Council of Trent. Christ is taught to be re-sacrificed for the benefit of the atonement to be real for those taking the meal.
26*Modernism teaches us to solve all mysteries by scientific processes. We must deduce the reality of the meal in order to appreciate it. If that were true, we could never appreciate the incarnation, the Trinity, the resurrection, his ascension, or his return. Mystery is not the enemy. (N.B. that the word sacrament is our English word for the Latin sacramentum translated from the Greek musterion)
27*Recall that liturgical churches can err when they reduce the publishing of God’s word to a brief homily. This promotes the empty repetition of liturgical worship void of its best illuminator—the scripture.
28*Believing that everyone must follow your teaching or doctrines, no matter how insignificant they prove to be in the long run.
29*The belief, or unchecked mindset, that your religion is correct and that you need not prove your worth by improving your life. You’re with the right crowd, so that’s enough to earn you heaven. Recall how St. Augustine considered this idolatry.
30*The sirens of career called sweetly for a few years at the end of my seminary days…far past graduation, in fact. I have labored in the library at DTS for eight years and considered making it a career. Library classes at UNT helped me decide against it, though. Honestly, I even gave thought to going for a Ph.D. So it was even harder to change gears once again to Reconsider the call of God upon my life. It never left.
31*Tradition is a form of communal memory and … without its steadying presence Christian congregations—even if they flourish in the springtime of their lives—will in time languish and wither” – Robert Louis Wilken, reviewing Evangelicals and Tradition: the formative influence of the Early Church by D. H. Williams.
32*See Philip Turner’s An Unworkable Theology. First Things, June/July 2005.