27 April 2011

Words Mean Things

(I know, I think I've used that title before, I promise I will probably use it again--it may even become the title of this blog eventually!)

In my studies in Anglicanism, I've been comparing the prayer books used in England and the USA throughout the history of the communion. It is certainly an interesting exercise and I think it is sharpening my theological vision.

One of the changes that has occurred that was brought to my attention by an article the late Peter Toon wrote is the addition of, "by the power of" to the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds in the 1979 US Prayer Book. You see, most renderings of the creeds say, "Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit." The 1979 changes that to read, "Who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit."

So, what's the big deal? Is it theological nit-picking? Well, my first question is, "Why add it?" It does nothing to clarify the text. In fact, I think it obscures it. Consider this interchange between the Pharisees and Pilate:
Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (John 19:19-22 ESV)
Did the Pharisees request alter the truth? No. We could argue that Jesus never actually said, "I am the King of the Jews," but his interchange with Pilate and his refusal to deny that he was make it clear enough. The Pharisee's request to change the sign hung on the cross does not change the meaning, but it changes the perception of the message.

Consider another example. Say we're at some social function and you and I have just met. I point to a woman across the room and say, "She's my wife." If I instead said, "That woman claims to be my wife," you would most likely get a much different impression. Obviously, (and thankfully!) my wife does claim me. The second statement would not be false, but it would be misleading. It would place questions in your mind that the former statement did not. It would cast doubt on her actually being my wife.

The same is true with  "This man said, "I am King of the Jews."" Those reading the sign would naturally wonder, "Does that mean he wasn't really? Is that why he's hanging there?"

"In the power of the Holy Spirit" also opens a door for us to walk through that was not present before. Obviously, if the Holy Spirit does anything, he does it through his power. I don't need to proclaim I am doing something in my own power, I only ever proclaim power when I am working on behalf of someone or something else. "By the power invested in me by the church and the state, I now pronounce you man and wife."

So, "in the power of" opens the door to another agent working, "in the power of the Holy Spirit." Like, say, Joseph? With that simple step through this theological gap created by this addition, the virgin birth is gone, and yet the appearance of orthodoxy remains because it is consistent with the revised creed. Granted, you still have that pesky line about the Virgin Mary to contend with...but I hope you see my point.

There is no historical precedent for adding "in the power of" and it creates potential problems and solves none. It only makes sense if there is an ulterior agenda at work. A revisionist, heretical agenda. It has been widely put forward in some circles that is what was at work with the 1979 prayer book. I would say this one small addition supports such a view. That is, unless someone can supply evidence to the contrary.

08 April 2011

Now I've done It....

I'm a deacon in the Convocation of Anglicans of North America.


To properly answer the question, we first have to examine, “why not stay Anabaptist?” There are several things that I had grown uncomfortable with over the years.
First, non-creedalism. Brethren are non-creedal, they don’t hold any creed as normative or prescriptive. Our Centennial Statement says so. I say this with irony, because it was written in the 1980s as a “snapshot in time” of the current state of Brethren belief, and has been latched onto and used as….our statement of faith, our “creed” if you will.
Yes, a creed is the invention of man, but it is a highly useful invention. It is a summary of the major tenants of our faith. To not have such a statement leaves each individual in the position of having to try to figure it out on their own or, more often, of just sort of having a vague idea what they believe and what the Bible teaches about various doctrines.
Second, free-church worship depends on the personalities up front, and often suffers as a result.  Sure, some can pull off a meaningful, grounded service. Many can’t, and the congregations suffer for it. This ties into my next point.
Lack of transcendence. We profess to worship a God who is spirit, who has filled us with his spirit, who can speak and cause things to be or cease to be. God, we proclaim, is amazing and beyond our comprehension, words cannot describe his majesty and holiness. How often is this communicated by our worship? Worship should give us a sense of being ushered into God’s presence, not a lecture hall or a concert.
Lack of history. To listen to and read much of the American evangelical church, Jesus died and was resurrected, nothing happened until 1950 when Billy Graham came on the scene, and now we’re here. That’s a bit simplistic, but reflects truth. By and large, we ignore 2000 years of church history. We overlook thousands of faithful saints who have sought after God with all their heart, mind and soul. Many of them preserved their years of learning and experience for us to learn from.
Instead, the evangelical church seems on a perpetual search for “the next big thing.” Most church conferences I have been to were either proclaiming to be that thing, or talking about what they thought it was, from small groups, to men’s ministry to whatever. We’re like kids who forget all the toys we have at home as soon as we step into the toy store, we want something new and shiny, instead of appreciating the heritage and message we have.
This ties into a disdain for theology, doctrine and depth. One of the last straws for me was a chaplain conference where theology was continually used as a negative thing that the speakers wanted to avoid or not go into. This was a conference of ministers. If we don’t discuss theology and doctrine, who will? Isn’t that part of our call?
Several people at this same conference stated this idea of “as long as you love Jesus and believe the Bible that’s good enough.” Well, that’s fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. Ask a Mormon and he’ll answer yes to that question. Jehovah’s Witness? The “minimum standard” approach so we can “count” as many people as possible has led to pews full of shallow Christians.
Finally, at least in some Anabaptist circles, to include the Brethren, pacifism is at least a historical position. As an Army chaplain, I have issues with that, especially considering I see no biblical support for it.

So, why Anglican?

They have a strong evangelical heritage. While I am quite critical of modern evangelicals in some regards, it is largely because they have failed to be true to themselves by keeping scripture as primary. Anglicanism holds the sufficiency of scripture in all matters of faith and practice.
Anglicans hold to a historic orthodoxy. They are unashamed to recite the Apostle’s, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, as the church has for over 1500 years. As such, they are not a break with the historic church, but a true reform of it. They don’t think that one day they opened the Bible and suddenly they figured it out. They trace a long history back to the Apostles. The acknowledge that errors were made along the way, and thus reforms were necessary, but they don’t throw out everything.
A higher view of the sacraments. Baptism and communion are important. Jesus commanded us to practice them and they are more than a route ritual that we do “just because he said so.” We can’t honestly read John 6:22-59 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 and think that communion is nothing more than a shot of grape juice and a wafer. There is spiritual significance in the actions. I can’t explain it all, but I have experienced it in myself and others.
Sound doctrine without being suffocating. The Anglican confessions—the 3 creeds and the 39 Articles of Religion lay down a foundation, but they don’t tell us what color the curtains are. There is some room for divergence on some matters, for better or worse.
Balanced liturgy. 4 scripture readings, confession, creed, sermon, Eucharist in every service. That’s a healthy diet.
Transcendence. A liturgical service is different. I see that as a strength. There is no mistaking this gathering for something else. The vestments, the procession, the incense, it all calls us out from our normal workaday world to a glimpse of heaven. This is different, we are on holy ground, we don’t come lightly or ill-prepared because God deserves our best worship.
Ecumenical. I am wary to ever claim I have it all figured out, and the Anglican tradition is open to learning from both Catholic and protestant sides of the faith. The via media—the middle way of Anglicanism seeks balance in this and other areas.
Intellectual heritage. Anglicanism has some great theologians and thinkers throughout the years. Cranmer, Whitfield, Wesley, Hooker, Lewis, Elliot. The list goes on. This is a tradition that values reason.
Anglicanism is also willing to accept “mystery” in a divine sense. They don’t have to have it figured to the last detail, they understand that sometimes we just have to accept what we know and trust God for the rest.
The Book of Common Prayer. After the King James Bible and next to the works of Shakespeare, there is no other more influential literary work in the English language. It is a concise distillation of the liturgy of the hours and other more cumbersome Catholic prayers and services, served up in the language of the people and stripped of the errors that had crept in during the middle ages. It is a great resource for both personal devotion and corporate worship.
Episcopacy. The offices of deacon, bishop and priest are not only biblical, but they are pragmatic as well. Having suffered through other less structured forms of church government, I believe good leadership is necessary in the church.
There are issues in the global Anglican communion. The Episcopal Church USA is an unmitigated liberal disaster currently. However, world-wide, there is a conservative majority that is pushing for revival and reform. The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is an exciting combination of those from the ECUSA who want a return to scriptural authority and those “new Anglicans” like myself who are drawn to all that is above in the Anglican heritage. This global groundswell is coming largely from the “global south” African and South American and some Asian diocese. It is an exciting time to see these former colonies standing up to call the Church of England back to her roots.

There have been influences along the way that have pushed and pulled me in this direction, from picking up a Book of Common Prayer as a young pastor for help with performing funerals and weddings, to discovering deeper in meaning in the Eucharist while doing field services in the Army. From learning how to sustain a regular prayer time by using written prayers to finding myself feeling increasingly empty in “contemporary” services. I have read and met people along the way who have guided me on my journey—both Anglican and non-Anglican. Some are personal friends, others are merely acquaintances. 
I pray this creates more friends than enemies, more discussion than condemnation, more understanding than confusion.