Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Orthodox

At J's suggestion, I've updated my description to call myself theologically orthodox instead of conservative. The latter is too politicized a term these days. As a person who believes in the evolution of language, I see now that the explanation I've given for my use of the term is simply not jiving with people. So hopefully Orthodox will better define my beliefs. I use it to explain that my faith is based on Christianity as put forth by the Nicene Creed. Nothing more and nothing less. The rest, as they say, is details.

Things have really heated up over at the blog of daniel. As usual people are not understanding the fact that Episcopalians have a wide variety of viewpoints. They ask us "What do you believe about x and y issues?" as if we could give one answer. Really, Baptists couldn't either - you can't ask "What do Baptists believe about such and such" because there are many varieties of Baptists, just as there are of Christians. In fact, though, that may be the problem.

Anglicans are a non-schismatic organization (did I just invent that word?). We don't split over issues outside the creed (yet). We have a big enough tent for many beliefs about a lot of non-salvific questions of the faith. We're primarily united by the way we worship (using the BCP), not what we believe about a set of dogmas or, for that matter, political issues.

But this confuses people from "independent" congregations because they are used to each denomination (or subgroup thereof) having a very clearly defined set of beliefs on just about everything. And of course they would, because they probably split with somebody else over said beliefs. Thus they know what they think (or are told to think) about many things outside the basic fundamentals of the faith (ha! You could say Anglicans are fundamentalists by that definition!).

So my point is that to understand Anglicans you first have to realize that we're extremely diverse and we do consider everybody in the Church a Christian, even if we disagree about abortion or gay rights or war or more theological stuff like real presence or the gifts of the holy spirit or even how to focus our worship (evangelical or anglo-catholic). Everybody who is baptized is welcome at the table (actually at more and more of our churches, baptism is no longer a requirement). We drop our differences in the presence of Christ.

It's a "grown-up faith," my first priest told me. They're not going to tell you what to think. They're going to ask you what you think and Socratically get your reasoning out of you. If the reasoning is sound, there's not going to be quibbling. Well, that's not true - we love to debate. But like I say, we're all one when we gather for worship.

It's actually a wonderful place for burnt-out evangelicals like we were, or damaged catholics, or people curious about Jesus but not ready to buy into the whole religious agenda. It's a good place for people who want to figure things out for themselves, and take as long as they need to doing it. It's a church that trusts God to do the work of growth in its people; trusts the liturgy to work its magic in our hearts; trusts the people to study the word; trusts the ancient rituals to still apply today.

All of that said, I did find a really nice description of what Anglicans (specifically American Episcopalians) believe about Scripture. Well most of us, anyway. The fun is that we can always find an exception to just about everything we say. And somehow we've managed to stay together this long. God help us continue to value our unity. IMHO, it's the best thing we've got going for us.

10 comments:

Pisco Sours said...

I find it interesting;that the gulf between Episcopalian progressives and... traditionalists, shall we say?... so mirrors the gulf between Democrats and Repbicans in the USA, and that the gulf is worldwide among the Anglican Communion.

One of the things that attracted me to Anglicanism was the via media. Sadly, it seems like in the USA, maybe in Western culture at large, the whole notion of a middle is just disappearing. Middle-of-the-road, middle-class, and middle way have been replaced by "with us or against us" and nuclear options.

Unfortunately, I have no idea how to fix that.

Charming Billy said...

The only thing I agree with in this post is that Anglicans disagree with each other.

Abortion and gay rights are either salvific and theological issues, or they are not. That is, the practices of abortion and homosexuality are either sins, or they are not. With something like abortion, it's either murder, or a minor medical procedure. Even if you think it's the latter, it's impossible to pretend that there's no moral dimension to abortion. You can't just set these issues aside; they're not just details.

In short, they're not the sort of differences you simply "drop in the presence of Christ". That's a cop out. The presence of Christ call us to question where we stand on these kinds of issues. Indeed, where we stand on these issues will affect how, or if, we experience the presence of Christ.

"We're primarily united by the way we worship (using the BCP), not what we believe about a set of dogmas or, for that matter, political issues."

To paraphrase Flannery O'Connor clumsily, if we all we were united by was the BCP, I wouldn't give a damn.

I'm an Episcopalian who's united with my fellow Anglicans and Christians by who, not the way, I worship. Dogma doesn't unite us, but, as far as it goes, it points us reliably toward the one who unites us. If we don't agree on who we worship, how can we be united in worship? Merely reading the same words from the same book at the same time on the same day does not consitute unity of worship.

As for Anglicanism being a "grown up faith." Please reconsider what this means. First, it is not faith, it's a denomination. Anglicanism doesn't stand alone; it's just one branch of a sadly divided church. Second, this remark drips with pride and condescension. Third, who cares if it's "grown up"? The question to ask is if it follows Christ or not.

The Feminarian said...

Good thoughts to ponder. The only response I need to make is that the "grown up faith" comment shouldn't sound prideful at all (oh my gosh, the priest who originally said it to me didn't have a bone of pride in his body!). I wish I could put my tone of voice in writing. It's totally not meant to sound that way - think of it more like a parent congratulating a child for being such a big kid. That's the tone intended. My priest said it to me in response to my asking about nitpicky things, to get me to focus on the big picture - and to teach me that the Anglican church allows its people to think for themselves. For me, that was incredible and exciting, because I'd always been told what to think about everything.

The Feminarian said...

P.S. Isn't it great how we can so widely disagree even about the very purpose of church, yet still both worship together on Sunday morning! That's exactly my point - Go Anglicans!! :)

janinsanfran said...

I'm afraid one of the consequences of Christianity having passed through being Christendom is that for many, having a "grown up faith" ceased to be an issue. As we pass on into a global village, post Christendom, nothing but a grown up faith is likely to serve.

The Spirit will get us, kicking and screaming, where we need to go to find our witness.

Caelius said...

Anglicans are a non-schismatic organization (did I just invent that word?). We don't split over issues outside the creed (yet).

What about the Reformed Episcopal Church or the rest of the Continuum? Unless, of course, racism and the use of the 1928 BCP are mandated in the Creeds.

Here's three articles in Anglican and Episcopal History I recommend on the subject.

Donald S. Armentrout, Episcopal Splinter Groups: Schisms in the Episcopal Church, 1963-1985, The Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 55:(1986):295-320.

Justus D. Doenecke, Schism in Perspective: A Comparative View, The Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 55:(1986):321-325.

Warren C. Platt, Schism in the Episcopal Church: Comments on Armentrout's Paper, The Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 55:(1986):327-328.

Charming Billy said...

It is indeed a fact that Anglicans of widely differing beliefs worship together, but nowadays this is best explained by sociology rather than doctrine. At one time the breadth of Anglican diversity was defined at one end by Anglo-Catholicism and at the other by Low Church evangelicalism. There was room for these differences within the scope of Anglicanism, both because Anglican doctrines are designed to mediate between and reconcile this range of beliefs, but also because all congregants were once united in subscribing to certain moral and theological principles. However, Anglicans, as well as those of many other denominations, no longer agree on these doctrines and principles.

Thus you will find within a given Episcopal congregation a range of theological opinion that far exceeds the mediating and reconciling capacity of the classical Anglican formularies. For example, the 39 articles can be construed as permitting belief in the real presence as well as permitting a low church, almost Presbyterian, understanding of the Eucharist. However, nowhere in the Anglican formularies can one find support for the Christology of a Spong. Even though it is fact that Spong is Anglican, his beliefs cannot be located even within the admittedly wide scope of Anglicanism. Anglican doctrine is even less adapted to mediate debates about acceptable sexual and marital standards simply because it was never intended to do this. The Anglican understanding of sex and marriage differed in no way from that of any other denomination, so it’s a mistake to think that Anglicanism is somehow doctrinally more gay friendly than other denominations. Sociologically, it is; but that’s another matter.

So as far as I can tell Episcopal “common worship” now exists largely because communicants simply don’t care about doctrine. Some of the more reflective would applaud that development, but I submit that a reflective commitment to doctrinal ignorance makes common worship meaningless. You can’t worship in common unless you believe in common. If the congregants hold no common understanding about the god they worship, then common worship becomes a sociological, rather than religious, event. And that’s not what brings the people of God together. Rather than belabor this point, I’ll simply invite you to reflect on the declining numbers of Episcopalians.

The Feminarian said...

I'm totally on board with your first two paragraphs (long comment, by the way...). As far as the third, I can only really judge by the two Episcopal churches I've been involved in. Both are Anglo-Catholic and subscribe to the lex orandi est lex credendi school (that is, we learn our doctrine by practicing liturgy). Also we hold in common the doctrines as espoused in the Nicene Creed, and I honestly believe that's all that's necessary. Obviously Spong doesn't seem to agree with many facets of the creedal faith. But I'm not going to damn him. I'll trust God to lead him on his faith journey as the Bishop permits.

Incidentally, the two churches I mentioned are growing in numbers usually only seen by Evangelicals. I attribute that not only to a lively, Spirit-led worship, but also to priests who have firm orthodox beliefs and aren't afraid to share them (including such things as making Jesus Lord of your life). I think my churches are unique among the denomination, but my prayer is that they will lead the way toward the future.

The Feminarian said...

Oh, also it's interesting to note that you say "you can't worship in common unless you believe in common." That's a valid position - the classic lex credendi est lex orandi (law of belief is the law of prayer). But it can go the other way around, too - at least that's considered a valid liturgical theory. In that way, the law of prayer (the way we worship) shapes the law of belief (our doctrine). Just another way of looking at things.

The Feminarian said...

Oops one more thing: what brings the people of God together is God. Okay, that's it, I promise. :)