Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

St. John Apostle and Evangelist (Christmas I)

Today is both the First Sunday after Christmas and the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. John is certainly an important New Testament person and writer. He was the son of the fisherman Zebedee, and younger brother of the Apostle James. John, his brother James, and Simon Peter were often together and seem to have been the disciples closest to our Lord. In fact, John himself is usually identified as the beloved disciple to whom our Lord, while on the cross, entrusted His mother.
John may have been the youngest of the Twelve, and as hinted in today’s gospel, despite hardships, imprisonment, exile, and threats to his life, John was the only Apostle to survive to a truly old age and die a natural death. Because he lived so long, John provided the strongest personal connection between the first and second century churches. He also wrote the Gospel and three epistles that bear his name and probably also the Revelation or the Apocalypse.

St. John clearly deserves to be remembered and honored. But why today? Why is his day placed so close after Christmas Day? The Church seems to have had three reasons for this choice. First, in the early centuries of the Church, several commemorations that stressed something about the foundations of the Christian faith were placed on the calendar right after the celebration of Christ’s Birth. Secondly, having several important Christian celebrations during the pagan winter festivals of late December gave believers a positive distraction from surrounding pagan celebrations.

The third and most important reason for remembering St. John on the third day of Christmas is that John’s writings contain several themes associated with Christmas: light, life, love, truth, and the glory of the eternal Word, God the Son, revealed in human flesh. The Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke tell us some details about Christ’s Birth. The Gospel of St. John and his letters emphasize the doctrinal meaning of the Nativity. Thanks be to God for the apostle John and even more importantly for the gift of Jesus Christ!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas 2015

In the midst of our Christmas festivities, let us pause to meditate on the meaning of our celebration. To do that, let us begin with the announcement of the angel to the shepherds. St. Luke 2:10 says, “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
The angel’s message “I bring you good tidings” translates two Greek words which could also be translated as “I announce good news to you” or “I proclaim the gospel to you.” So the announcement of Christ’s Birth is the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel. His Nativity is an integral part of the whole story, the entire Christian message. This birth cannot be isolated from all that Christ means.
This good news is “of great joy.” Despite all the humility and suffering that will be part of the story, it brings a deep and lasting happiness, an inner blessedness. And the joy is open to all people. The lowly shepherds are merely the first chosen to hear. They are humble representatives of all God’s people.

In St. Luke 2:11, the angel continues, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” The angel states to them that He is born” unto you”, that is, for their sakes. The birth of this descendant of King David concerns the shepherds in a personal way. He is their savior. Even as a physically helpless newborn, He possesses the potential to save them. He is the One who will deliver His people in many ways- most importantly from sin. This infant can heal their souls and restore their broken fellowship with God the Father.
This little child in Bethlehem is their savior because He is “Christ the Lord.” He is the Christ- God’s anointed one, the King of God’s people. He is their Lord because He is both Son of David and Son of God. The majesty of this helpless babe is beyond measure.

Finally in St. Luke 2:12, the angel tells the shepherds, “And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  This unique infant called Savior, Christ, and Lord will not be found in an impressive palace or temple. His glory is worthy of heavenly messengers, but it will not be obvious to the world. On the contrary, He will be clothed like an average Jewish peasant baby, wrapped in strips of cloth. And His bed is even more lowly than average. The only bed available to Him is a manger- a rough trough for cow feed.

In other words, the angel tells the shepherds to recognize their King and Savior by His lowliness rather than by His grandeur. The glorious child has finally come, and this is truly good news. Yet, the irony of the heavenly message is that simple shepherds will be the first to pay homage to the new-born King, and they will recognize Him by His humility.

Christmas brings us a similar message. The deliverer that we have longed for still comes through the Spirit, the Word, and Sacrament. This is really good news- tidings of great joy. However, the joy is not to be confused with external worldly happiness. Whether we have a great external celebration with lots of people, gifts, and food  or we just have a simple and small observance, let us focus upon what God does- how He sends His Son, the Word, to become flesh and dwell among us. Glory to God in the highest!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Advent

Over the last few years, I have posted numerous times during Advent. There have been general posts on the background of the season and on particular days and scriptural passages. This time, I would like to focus on the general purpose of the season in Christian devotion.

Advent is above all a season of spiritual preparation as we contemplate the ways that Christ has come, keeps coming, and will finally come among His people. We should use Advent wisely to think about spiritual subjects such as sin, judgment, forgiveness, prophecies and  promises of redemption, and grace coming in the person of the Christ, the Anointed One of God.

As Christians, we need to be awake, watchful, and prayerful at all times. We should not allow moral failings, earthly worries, or spiritual lethargy to draw us away from spiritual readiness. Yet, given our fallen human nature, we do tend to become forgetful and lazy. So the Church has incorporated reminders in our worship. In general and personal confession, in corporate prayers, in sermons, in the Eucharist, and in private devotions, we are repeatedly called to wake up and persevere. And in two major seasons of the church year- Advent and Lent-, we have reminders to wake up, watch, and prepare for new encounters with God in Christ.

So Advent is intended to be a spiritual wake up call. It is not quite as somber as Lent, but neither is it a time for much premature celebration. As we meditate upon the Scriptures, we should not rush ahead to the Nativity stories. We should consider a variety of Old Testament passages about the fallen human condition and the need for redemption., about the longings and hopes of Israel, and about God's promises to save all penitent and faithful people. We should also consider the many passages in the New Testament which exhort us to be ready for Christ to come among us anew. During Advent as always, we are to await Him with vigilance and constant prayer. May we all think on such things in this season and be open to new manifestations of divine grace in our lives.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Two Aspects of Being Anglican

Recently as I was thinking about what being Anglican entails, it struck me that there are really two aspects of being Anglican- cultural and theological. This is not an original insight, and to some extent, the same could be said about every religious tradition. Yet, this dual aspect is especially true of Anglicanism. It is rooted in the very name Anglican which is from Ecclesia anglicana, "English Church."

Historically, Anglican identity starts in England, and reflects developments there during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Reformation, and Modern times. Although Anglicanism has become multilingual in the last two hundred years or so, it is closely associated with the English language, especially with English liturgical and biblical translations.Regardless of an individual Anglican's political philosophy, ethnic background, native language, or theological perspective, most Anglicans seem to be at least somewhat anglophile.

Nevertheless, there is more to being Anglican than simply being a Christian anglophile. While Anglicanism has been influenced by and expressed through differing theologies, there has been the common theological theme of "reformed catholicity." Regardless of churchmanship, Anglicans have thought that fifteenth- and sixteenth-century European Christianity needed some degree of reformation.The vast majority of Anglicans have agreed that popular European (including English) Christianity of the late medieval period added many superstitious details to the ancient faith. There has also been agreement that the papacy has claimed and still claims too much authority for itself.

At the same time, the majority of Anglicans have also maintained great respect for ancient catholic faith and tradition. The ancient creeds, the sacraments, the historic liturgy, and the apostolic ministry of  bishops, presbyters, and deacons have been maintained, honored, and propagated. Although Calvinist rejection of parts of catholic tradition has been strong among some Anglicans, it has not overwhelmed or destroyed the catholic aspect of Anglicanism. In every century since Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I liberated the English Church from papal hegemony, there have been Anglican laity, clerics, and thinkers who have stressed continuity with the ancient catholic tradition. This emphasis on catholic continuity was particularly true among the Caroline divines and the supporters of the Oxford movement.

Such catholic continuity has also been believed and promoted among traditional Anglicans in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Although there has been scandalous fragmentation, the continuing Anglican movement has maintained the structures and content of a Christianity that is appropriately reformed and truly catholic. While much of the Canterbury Communion has abandoned or at least diluted the ancient Faith, truly catholic Anglicanism survives and even flourishes in many places. While being a cultural anglophile has its appeal, the essential aspect of being Anglican is the continuation of the ancient and universal faith of Christ's Church.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

All Saints Day- 1 November

Ever since I started recovering from youthful scepticism and liberalism in my mid-twenties, All Saints Day has been very important to me. It is a time to emphasize the Christian heritage passed down through the centuries. This blog began at All Saints Day six years ago, and in previous posts, I have mentioned some points of general importance. During this week, we think of all those Christ would call "blessed"; we think of all those made saints or "holy ones" through the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism, all those who are part of the holy catholic Church.

Although it is not an official lection for All Saints Day, I always recall the third and fourth verses of the brief Epistle of Jude- " Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ."


From the times of the Apostles onward, false teachers have crept into the Church, seeking to corrupt the Christian message in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes. This infiltration has been especially strong in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. So more than ever we should heed St. Jude's exhortation to "contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." Of course, faith is an attitude, but it also has specific content. The Faith has been revealed and passed on once for all. It is enduring and unchangeable in its basic essentials. Its doctrine is embodied in Scripture, clarified by the ancient Fathers, and summarized in the ancient catholic Creeds. The appropriate behavior that flows from this Faith is summarized in the Ten Commandments, the Two Great Commandments, in lists of the gifts of the Spirit, and the Cardinal and Theological Virtues. In worship, this Faith is expressed in historic liturgies, especially in Baptism and the Eucharist. A convenient brief summary of the Faith is found in the traditional Prayer Book Catechism.


On this All Saints Day, let us honor all the saints by following their lead and contending for the Faith that they have passed on. In a fallen world, especially in a corrupt age, there are many false teachers, and we need to make special efforts to retain and pass on our godly heritage.

Friday, October 23, 2015

St. James of Jerusalem- 23 October

On many Christian calendars including some Anglican calendars, October 23 is the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem. Of course, there are several men named James (Jacob in most ancient and modern languages) mentioned in the New Testament. Two of the Twelve had the name, but James of Jerusalem is another person. He is also known as James the Just and James the brother of our Lord. Exactly what "brother" means has been subject to debate. Perhaps James was an older son of St. Joseph, or perhaps in Semitic usage, brother was used to refer to a first cousin. In any case, from a human perspective, this James was considered a close relative of Christ.

During our Lord's earthly ministry, James was sceptical about Christ's ministry, but after the Resurrection, he saw the risen Lord and became an apostolic figure (somewhat like St. Paul later).
St. James seems to have been noted for his sincere obedience to the Jewish Law and his personal piety. He became a missionary among pious Jews, and as the other apostles dispersed from Jerusalem, he became Bishop of the local Christian community. In Acts 15, he presided over an apostolic council that considered the mission to the Gentiles, and in his concluding address, showed both a concern for Jewish sensitivities and an openness to God's work among non-Jews. James also wrote the Epistle with his name which stressed that sincere faith must produce fruit. Late in his life, extreme Jewish revolutionaries decided that James' Christianity was a threat to their agenda and murdered him in a mob action.

St. James exemplifies several important traits for us. He turns from his early scepticism and converts to the risen Christ. In this way, he discovers his new mission in life. James is an example of personal piety who embodies his Christian faith in a virtuous life. At the apostolic council, he also shows that it is possible to combine personal rigor with mercy toward those who serve Christ in a different way. Finally, St. James shows the courage and sincerity of faith by suffering martyrdom from those he wanted to bring to Christ.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

St. Luke- 18 October

This year the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist falls on a Sunday. Since this is a major feast on traditional prayer book calendars, it takes liturgical precedence over the 20th Sunday after Trinity.

Luke was a Gentile Christian, maybe from Antioch in Syria. He was a friend of St. Paul, and he was a physician (Colossians 4:14). In the Book of Acts, he was with Paul at Philippi in Macedonia, and a few years later went with Paul to Jerusalem. When Paul was arrested by the Romans, Luke staid near him in Palestine, and later went with him to Rome. He was a faithful companion who stayed with Paul when other friends went in different directions (2 Timothy 4:11).

Luke wrote a large portion of the New Testament, a two-volume work comprising the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. He was  probably the only Gentile Christian among the New Testament writers. Luke seems to have been well-educated. He had a classic Greek style and seemed to be a reasonable thinker who made special effort to learn and organize historical truth.

The character of Luke may be reflected by some of the emphases of his Gospel. The Gospel according to St Luke has been called the Gospel of Mercy. Luke emphasizes Jesus' compassion and patience with sinners and the suffering. He shows concern for Samaritans, lepers, tax collectors, soldiers, public sinners, uneducated shepherds, and the poor. 

Today we remember and give thanks for St. Luke, and we hope to follow some of his good qualities. Like him, may we be characterized by dedication to truth, loyalty to Christian friends, and compassion for all- especially, the weak, the poor, and the sick.

Monday, September 21, 2015

St. Matthew- 21 September

Today is the feast of St. Matthew, Apostles and Evangelist. The Collect of the Day mentions his background and points to his example in leaving behind greed to follow Christ.

O Almighty God, who by thy blessed Son didst call Matthew from the receipt of custom to be an Apostle and Evangelist; Grant us grace to forsake all covetous desires, and inordinate love of riches, and to follow the same thy Son Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen. 
The Gospel from  St. Matthew 9: 9-13 gives the account of Matthew's call to follow Christ:
And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Matthew also seem to have been called Levi, and ancient tradition ascribes the authorship of the first Gospel to him. He may have also been a missionary among Jews and a martyr. Otherwise, our Gospel account contains most of what we know of Matthew. Although we are not fond of taxes, most modern Westerners have a hard time imagining the position of tax collectors in first century Palestine. First, for patriotic Jews, tax collectors were servants of hated oppressors. They were traitors to their own people. Secondly, tax collectors were religiously suspect. They dealt with money imprinted with idolatrous symbols, they were constantly in contact with people and things that were ritually unclean, and their lifestyle did not make it easy to participate in sacrifices and prayers. Thirdly, many tax collectors were morally reprehensible. The Romans contracted local tax collectors to gather a certain amount of money for the Empire, but the collectors were free to gather as much as they wanted by any means they wanted. Tax collecting was often similar to organized crime. Collectors could use the means that seemed convenient, included blackmail and extortion. And if a victim lacked cash, various goods and favors could be demanded.

So most tax collectors were indeed "sinners" that Pharisees and other respectable people avoided. Eating with tax collectors brought ritual uncleanness and at least a hint of moral taint. Yet, Jesus associated with such people and raised questions about His good judgment. The Pharisees put Jesus" disciples on the spot, and overhearing them, Jesus replied. He was the spiritual physician concerned about the sin-sick souls. He was calling tax-collectors like Matthew to repentance. Of course, the irony was that everyone, including the Pharisees was sin-sick and needed to be called to repentance.

On this feast of St. Matthew, may we see ourselves in the example of Matthew.  Like him, we are all sinners whom Christ calls to repent. And like him, we are sinners who can be called and healed by the gracious mercy of Christ. Like Matthew, we can turn from sin, follow Christ, and serve His Gospel.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ember Reflections upon the Ordained Ministry and the Church

I have written about the history and meaning of the seasonal Ember days a number of times. These days always lead me to reflect upon the meaning and purpose of the ordained ministry. This week, I have been thinking about the Anglican teachings on the ministry and their relationship to teaching about the Church. In recent months, encounters with Christians of other backgrounds have highlighted the special perspective of Anglicans (I started to write "unique perspective" but then mused that Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholics, and some Scandinavian Lutherans have shared a similar perspective).

From the early years of the Christianity onward, both the ordained ministry and the Church itself have been viewed from two directions: 1) from the bottom up, and 2) from the top down. The first perspective focuses upon individuals baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Baptized persons who respond to grace by faith are the Church militant. In a sense, the Church is present wherever there is a baptized believer and even more when two or three are gathered in Christ's name. From this body of baptized believers, the ordained ministry arises. Even the most hierarchical churches expect candidates for ministry to be related to a local congregation. Unfortunately, Christians have often distorted this side of the Church. Many, especially Protestants, have stressed the individual and the congregation so much that they ignore the larger Church. At the opposite extreme, Christians involved in larger structures have often ignored the individual or the local parish.

The second perspective on the Church focuses upon the Apostles and the continuation of their ministry through the historic ministry of bishops, presbyters/priests, and deacons. As best we can tell, the Apostles sent or appointed other men to continue their work in various places. And certainly, as the Apostles died off, the universal Church saw need for order and connections centered in the ministry of bishops. Through their oversight, preaching, teaching, and special sacramental functions, the Church carried out her mission. Individual believers and local congregations looked to bishops and other clergy as guardians of the faith and sacramental grace. Unfortunately, many Christians have also distorted this side of the Church. Some bishops and other clergy have over-emphasized the larger organization and forgotten that the Church also flows from all the baptized and local groups of the faithful. And higher prelates (archbishops, metropolitans, patriarchs, cardinals, popes) have ignored that local bishops are central and that the highest dignity of any prelate stems from the simple fact that he is a bishop. At the other extreme, many lower clergy and laity have rebelled against abuses by dismissing the importance of the historic ministry.

Anglicanism at its best keeps the two dimensions of the Church together. On the "micro" side, we know that baptized believers, individually and in local congregations are basic. In a sense, they are the Church throughout the world. Yet, they do not stand alone. On the "macro" side, the Church depends upon the historic episcopate with the assisting ministries of presbyters and deacons. Bishops are the universal ministers of the universal Church. They are supposed to be the guarantors of the apostolic faith in Jesus Christ. On Ember Days and always, let us pray for the Church from both perspectives, for the ministry of every baptized believer and for the ministry of all true bishops and other clergy.

Monday, August 31, 2015

APA Bishops on Marriage

See the Link for the Anglican Province of America's statement on Holy Matrimony- http://philorthodox.blogspot.com/2015/08/apa-house-of-bishops-on-holy-matrimony.html

Friday, August 28, 2015

St. Augustine of Hippo- 28 August

The Feast of St. Augustin of Hippo, Church Doctor, is a black-letter day or minor observance on the 1662 calendar, and it is also found on many other Christian calendars. His impact on the Latin or Western Church and on the whole Western intellectual tradition is hard to over-estimate. Even thinkers who have rebelled against his ideas have been influenced by him in many ways. Augustine (354-430) was born in North Africa, and spent most of his life there. He did, however, spend 5 very significant years (383-388) in Rome and Milan. In Milan, the Christian influence of St. Ambrose was added to the life-long witness of Augustine's mother, St. Monica. Augustine finally converted, and after his baptism, Augustine returned to North Africa where he led a monastic life. Soon he was ordained, and in 395 was consecrated bishop. He served faithfully in many ways for the rest of his life, and he died as his beloved city was besieged by the Vandals.

In his pastoral writings and in his refutations of Manicheans, Donatists, and Pelagians, Augustine laid the foundations for later Western theology and philosophy. His City of God developed a Christian philosophy of history, and his Confessions remain a fascinating spiritual autobiography. Medieval theology was heavily indebted to him, and although Thomas Aquinas developed a new theological approach, he was steeped in Augustinian thought. Despite their Pelagian tendencies, even Renaissance humanists drew much from him. Reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer were also his followers on a number of issues. In fact, the Augsburg Confession and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion have been called deeply Augustinian, and traditional Books of Common Prayer are filled with structures, prayers, and phrases that reflect the Augustinian heritage of the Western Church.

Finally, I would add a personal appreciation. In my mid-teens, reading St. Augustine's Confessions was a key factor in giving me a thoughtful and deeply rooted Christianity in an environment that promoted two opposing options- emotional revivalism and skeptical scientism. In several periods since then, I have returned to the thought and devotion of this great teacher of the Church. His life and his thought embody the truth of the Holy Scriptures, and especially as we slide into a so-called post-Christian period with new barbarians at the gates, we can and should benefit from the witness of Augustine of Hippo.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Blessed Virgin Mary- 15 August

Commemorating the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15 is an observance that historically has elicited a variety of reactions among Anglicans and other Christians. In 1950, the Papacy associated the feast with the official Roman Catholic doctrine of the Assumption. According to the official decree of Pope Pius XII,  Mary "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory". Although some Anglicans accept the Roman views, most have been hesitant to make a dogmatic statement. Many Anglicans have ignored the day altogether, some have observed it as a day marking the completion of her earthly life, and some have promoted the Eastern Orthodox view of her Falling Asleep.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer includes the Annunciation and Purification as feasts associated directly with our Lord and biblical passages. It also lists as black-letter days or minor observances the Marian observances of the Conception, Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, and the Birth of Mary. However, it does not include August 15, probably because of late medieval excesses. Several calendar revisions or supplements since 1662 do have some commemoration of the Virgin on August 15.

This day seems to be a case where the Anglican middle way and tolerance of diverse opinions is wise. Christians should always remember the blessed Virgin Mary with honor and gratitude. We should seek to emulate her submission to the divine plan and grace of redemption. This attitude is especially appropriate as we think of her departure from earthly life. We are also free to have our personal opinions and devotional practices on many topics, but we should not be dogmatic where Scripture is silent and Tradition is varied.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Need for Prayer

There are many responses that believing Christians may have to the abominable and diabolic decision of a slight majority of the U.S. Supreme Court vainly attempting to redefine marriage, but the first and most enduring response should be prayer. And for me, the following petitions from the great Litany apply to such times of trial.

Remember not, Lord, our offences, nor the offences of our forefathers; neither take thou vengeance of our sins: Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

From all evil and mischief; from sin; from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from thy wrath, and from everlasting damnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Monday, June 01, 2015

What is classical Anglicanism?

In skimming some frequently read blogs, I found an interesting post on Prydain (https://prydain.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/an-interesting-anglican-blog-once-again-i-thank-you/) about an English blogger's view on the Five Points of Classical Anglicanism (http://1nc-again.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-five-points-of-classical-anglicanism.html). The five proposed points can be summarized briefly:
1. Classical Anglicanism is confessional. This point asserts that the Thirty-nine Articles are a binding theological statement meant to guide one's understanding of other Anglican formularies such as the Book of Common Prayer.

2. Classical Anglicanism is universal/catholic. Anglican doctrine and practice respect patristic and even medieval Christianity as long as they do not contradict Scripture.

3. Classical Anglicanism is protestant. Anglican theology is based on the "solas" of the Reformation and rejects the Roman Catholic system, especially ideas about the papacy and merits of the saints.

4. Classical Anglicanism is supposedly Reformed or Calvinist. This assertion claims that Anglican views of the sacraments and of predestination and related beliefs (TULIP) are moderately Calvinist.

5. Classical Anglicanism is normative, not regulative. Unlike continental and puritan Calvinists, Anglicans think that Scriptural principles guide church practices, but do not exclude all use of tradition.

While this five-point summary is interesting, I see two main problems. The first is the issue of defining "Classical Anglicanism." In many areas of the humanities, classical does not refer to beginnings but to high development. In Anglicanism, when does "classical" begin and end? Does one include the developing ideas of the Oxford martyrs and certain Marian exiles while rejecting Lancelot Andrewes and the Caroline churchmen? While I admire the heroism and struggles of Cranmer and his contemporaries, it seems to me that they were pre-classical because of their turbulent times and the early deaths of some. To me, classical Anglicanism is more descriptive of the development from Elizabeth I to the Restoration, including people such as Jewel, Hooker, Andrewes, Cosins, Ken, Laud (who was more "protestant" than many of his later admirers admit), and perhaps even later figures such as Taylor and Law.
The second problem is point four about Calvinism. For good or ill, there is no denying that Reformed views and even self-conscious Calvinism have been influential on the thought and practice of many Anglicans. However, despite such influences, it seems that both practice and official standards such as the Thirty-nine Articles and the Books of Common Prayer deliberately tried to be open to moderates of various persuasions. A moderate Renaissance Catholic, a moderate Lutheran, a moderate Calvinist, and varying degrees of high and low church belief and practice could find things they liked in Anglicanism without finding everything stated exactly the way they would have chosen. Extreme positions were not acceptable, and for good or ill, confessional Anglicanism allowed more breadth than other systems of the time.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Anglican Blend

As we approach Pentecost and consider the descent of the Holy Spirit to establish and empower the Christian Church, I have been ruminating on the place of Anglicanism in the universal Church. All groups of Christians seek to defend their existence. The difference is that unlike some other traditions, most Anglicans do not claim to be the one true Church.  Sometimes, such Anglican breadth may seem like a weakness, and sometimes, it may seem like a strength, but in either case, Anglican doctrine is not as clearly identifiable as the doctrine of most other Christian traditions. Historically at least, Anglican liturgy and Anglican polity have been easier to identify while Anglican doctrine has seemed less distinctive.

Anglican doctrine has covered a wide range. At times, this wide range has been a practical necessity because of political or societal factors. At other times, Anglicans have deliberately sought to be comprehensive for theological reasons. Thus, Bishop John Cosin (1594-1672) has often been quoted as saying that the Anglican Church is "Protestant and Reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church." Likewise, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher (1887-1972) wrote that Anglicanism "has no peculiar thought, practice, creed or confession of its own. It has only the Catholic Faith of the ancient Catholic Church, as preserved in the Catholic Creeds and maintained in the Catholic and Apostolic constitution of Christ's Church from the beginning." In other words, Anglican theology is both Catholic and Protestant. It brings together and hands on the best from the whole experience of broadly orthodox Christianity.

So is there anything unique in  Anglican theology? Yes, but upon reflection, it is not in particular doctrines. It is rather in the blend. Like a fine coffee (or should I say tea?), Anglicanism takes good things from the whole of Christian history and tradition- from the Apostles and ancient Fathers to medieval and modern Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, to Lutheranism and Calvinism, and yes, even to contemporary evangelical and charismatic movements. Particular Anglicans may stress one aspect or the other, but it is the blend which gives Anglicanism its unique flavor in doctrine as well as in liturgy and polity. Of course, Scripture and ancient catholic tradition set limits in both doctrine and morality; everything is not permissible. Yet, the Anglican blend is a positive characteristic; it is a recognition that God has worked and still works in various and sundry ways.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Evangelical and Catholic

Over the years- indeed decades, I have reflected upon the polarities in my personal theological development, in the thought and practice of Christianity, and in the history of Anglican Christianity. I grew up in a southern "evangelical" environment and was grounded in Scripture. Yet, even as a pre-teen, I was aware that there was more to Christianity than the local expressions (mostly Baptist and Methodist) that I saw around me. In addition to Bible study, I started reading Christian history and biography. In my late teens, I visited services of other traditions and was attracted to historic liturgy. Through most of college and seminary, I focused on historical studies in religion. I was heavily influenced by mainline liberalism, but was never totally at ease with its theological and moral reductionism.

Then my senior year in seminary, I had a renewing religious experience of Christ as Savior. This personal experience was immediately connected to the traditional aspects of liturgy surviving in a university chapel service. In my courses and in my personal readings, I began to ponder anew the common core in various streams of Christian theology. My personal faith in the living Christ and in the Holy Scriptures could not be separated from the Creeds, Baptism, and the Eucharist.

From those days onward, my theology has been guided by two principles: first, evangelical; secondly, catholic. The center is faith in the good news of redemption through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God the Son. Yet, in thought and experience, this evangelical faith has been guarded and expressed through the catholic or universal teachings and practices of Christianity. To best understand the Gospel, one must look at what has been believed by faithful Christians across varied times, places, cultures, and ecclesiastical structures. Then one sees the importance of factors such as the canon of Scripture, the ancient creeds, the two basic sacraments, and ordained leadership. There is a constant give and take between the evangelical and the catholic; they depend upon each other for their best expressions. Despite external ecclesiastical loyalties, anyone who values both is a brother or sister in faith. And anyone who neglects one or both of these elements is missing the fullness of Christianity.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Three Days

The Three Days from the evening of Maundy or Holy Thursday to Easter morning celebrate events at the heart of the Christian message. They are also themes at the heart of Anglican Liturgy and Doctrine. From the meaning of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper to the centrality of the Cross and Resurrection, the commemorations of these days bring an intense focus that reminds us of Christ's work for our salvation. This focus is important for sincere Christians of any tradition; for an Anglican, this focus brings home the reality that our heritage is truly evangelical, that is, gospel-based. Thanks be to God the Father, and praise to our risen Lord Jesus Christ!