Posted by: Terry | April 11, 2017

From Baptist to Episcopal

The last post introduced many of the thoughts that led me to consider changing churches, this one hopefully makes it more clear.

IMG_1268How did a good Conservative Baptist, Scofield toting, boy like me end up at an Episcopal church? It’s a fair question. So for the sake of friends and family who may think I have lost it, I give you a glimpse into my mind and journey so far. These questions rarely have simplistic answers, nor is there one defining moment that redirects a person. Looking back I find seeds that were planted which germinated over time.

There are three broad attractions to the Anglican/Episcopal Community:

  1. Participatory-communal worship
  2. God-centered worship
  3. It’s old

Let me explain.

Participatory-communal worship

About 5 years ago I became intrigued with the Book of Common Prayer. Growing up and for most of my adult life this was a document to be avoided, even scorned. Liturgy, Eucharist, Daily Office – these after all were Roman Catholic sounding words and we all knew they were heresy by association. What struck me first was that millions of Christians around the world were reading and meditating on the same passages of scripture at the same time – i liked that idea, there was a connection with Christians all over the world, a bit of unity. I began reading the passages for the day most every morning, like many others were doing that same morning. I found there bit of the unity, and instead of haphazard reading, a pattern.

This lack of unity among believers has plagued me since I was in my 20’s. Jesus prayed for unity in his priestly prayer, he said that unity would be the mark of his church. Yet there was little unity in the church I knew. There was of course the Reformation, which divided the church into multiple branches, which continued to branch into over 33,000 denominations, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia – not a lot of unity.

With the Reformation came the concept that each Christian should and could read the Bible themselves and understand it on their own, a noble and cherished treasure. Soon the Renaissance motto, expressed by Protagorus, “Man is the measure of all things,” led well-meaning people away from depending on the Bible and the church for understanding, to their own personal understanding of what the Bible meant; “What it means to me.” So certain we became in our interpretations that we split off from those who had the “incorrect” views and formed a new denomination, splintering the unity along the way.

For most of my life, my response to the question, “Are they a Christian?” was to subtly find out what their doctrinal statement was, there were boxes that had to be checked off regarding specific teachings, prayers prayed, etc. The simple message, the Scriptural message, expressed so clearly by Jesus Christ, “Who do you say that I am?” was almost a second thought.

It seemed that many Christians I knew defined Christianity more by check-boxes on a doctrinal list than they did faith in the Messiah. They even had great discussions of what is true faith, what is saving faith, faith became intellectual and ultimately divisive. Sadly, in recent years political issues have been added to the list.

The Anglican/Episcopalian view is that we find unity in how we worship, while allowing for discussion and difference on non-essentials; unity of belief is found in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. Within this community John Stott, that great Evangelical teacher, NT Wright, a quite different New Testament Scholar, and Rowan Williams, retired Archbishop of Canterbury, can all worship in unity, while allowing for discussion and acceptance of a wide range of thought. Personally, my convictions of foundational doctrines has not changed much, but I no longer feel the need to exclude those who do not completely think as I do.

This last Palm Sunday, while at church, it went through my mind that millions of other Christians were observing this day in a similar fashion. I was part of something bigger, part of a community of believers connected in the words and prayers we were praying.

While the worship, often called prayers, is communal or common, meaning shared with those in the local church and with other churches around the world, it is also participatory. In the church I attended for the last almost 20 years, and in the churches I visited over those years, what was called worship changed.

The debate was often “traditional vs. contemporary” worship. It was really not about worship at all, it was about style and taste in music, thus the arguments usually fell along age lines. Yet while the battle was raging something more decaying took place.

When I think back to my teens then on through my mid to late 40’s the focal point of the worship service was the sermon. There was congregational singing, led by a song leader, accompanied by piano and/or an organ. You could hear the congregation around you sing, this was pretty much the extent of your participation in the service, but it was a bit of participation. Some churches would have a scripture reading that was read as a congregation, many of the unused hymn books in our pews today have responsive readings in the back.

Most churches had some sort of an altar, a place for prayer. Often people were invited to come to the alter for prayer during the service, a bit of participation. Monthly we “took communion” so there was a bit of participation in what was happening. But then it was time for the sermon.

As the taste in music debate raged many churches moved church growth higher and higher on their list of priorities. Many then began to re-brand the product. One mega-church guru said that churches should offer the style of music that people listen to on the radio, and traditional images and patterns should be modified or even replaced. Clearly this is not the place for an in-depth discussion of all that happened, but here is what I have seen in my experience. Song leaders were replaced by worship leaders. I have known some wonderful folks bearing that job title, whose hearts are in the right place, yet most are not leading worship, nor are they song leaders. What we have now are polished music groups performing well rehearsed songs while the audience sings along. Can a person worship is this situation, absolutely. Yet it is not really participation in the service. The amplified instruments drown out the voices of the worshipers, that connection we had when we sang as a congregation is not the same, whether it is in the church, or in the days when I led singing around a campfire. For the most part when I go to a church service these days I feel I am being sang at, not singing with.

The alters have been removed, public prayer for the needs of the congregation are not regular, so the limited participation we had in prayer is leaving as well. At my most recent church I can’t remember the last truly pastoral prayer. When there is prayer it is usually a time for individuals to pray, not praying as a body. We seem to have forgotten that the Lord’s Prayer is plural, not individual; “Our Father… give us our daily bread… forgive us… lead us not.” Part of the purpose in coming together is to pray together.

Over the years I came to feel that my church experience was to be sung at, then talked at. What I find at the Episcopal church is that I am part of most all of the service. We read together, we pray together, it feels more like a body of people who are there to worship together. It is Participatory and communal.

God centered worship

Every Sunday at the Episcopal Church I hear more about God, Jesus the Messiah, and the Holy Spirit than I rarely ever did in the last 10-15 years or so.

Over the years of attending church in Seattle, and visiting churches in Oregon, the music and the messages have become more and more “me focused.” The songs that are simple expressions of the wonder of God and his person are few, many which attempt praise, usually include me in them. Even the lyrics “In the stars His handiwork I see…” are part of a song titled “He’s Everything to Me.” And the central message is not unbridled proclamation of God’s person, it is the question, “What is that to me?”

Sermons are directed at changing me – with Jesus as a role model here is how you should live, and if you do life may be hard but its still your best option. Many of the messages at many of the churches I have visited over the years are well delivered self-help themes with Biblical texts for legitimacy.

The basic pattern of the Episcopal worship is: Praise, lessons, prayer, Eucharist.

Praise takes the form of congregational singing and the reading of a Psalm. The lessons come in two parts. First readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Gospels. Then the sermon which is drawn from the readings. The sermon is usually shorter, but with just enough to cause you to think.

The climax of the morning is Eucharist, Lord’s Supper – not the sermon. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is central, and our renewing each week our commitment to him. Jesus is central for who he is and what he did. Webber writes in his book, The Canterbury Trail,

“As I meditate on my worship experience in the Episcopal tradition, I find that I am drawn to it because it is so thoroughly evangelical. I have always confessed Christ as the central person of human history and of my life. Yet, until my worship life was oriented around an ordered experience of Christ not only on a weekly , but on a yearly pattern, I was unable to express in a concrete way my personal commitment to Christ.”

For years I looked for good preaching, now I am refreshed each week by a practical expression of what Paul wrote, “participation in the blood of Christ… participation in the body of Christ.” And, “whenever you do this you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

It is old

In 1909 the Scofield Reference Bible was published. Its format was innovative: the first to be published since the Geneva Bible with notes alongside the text, as well as cross-referencing passages to the rest of the Bible. It was the work of Cyrus I. Scofield, who built on the work of John Darby (1800-1882).

This bible became the best selling study Bible of all time and the doctrines and teachings of Scofield and Darby are the foundation of much of what we would call Evangelical today. Yet many of the ideas are not old, they were developed in the 1800’s. Again this is not the place for in-depth analysis, but it was my realization of this that led to my interest in what the early church wrote and how they worshipped. It made sense that I could learn from those who lived and worshiped within a few years of Christ’s life and death, the Apostles, and early leaders.

The relevant lesson for this article, is that the way Anglican’s, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Episcopalians worship is most similar to the way the early church worshiped. We have evidence from the 1st century of forms of liturgy with similarities to what we do each Sunday at the Episcopalian church.

Much of the early worship was developed by Jewish Christians who adapted Synagogue elements into their worship of Christ. Even in our New Testament there are passages that most theologians conclude were an early liturgy. The 95th Psalm has been used as an invitation to worship from a very early date, in the 6th century Benedict of Nursia organized patterns of worship and prayer, he said Psalm 95 should be used even daily, as many still do to this date; his inclusion was simply documenting what had been in practice for many years.

Yes  the form of worship has of course changed over the years, but the essentials of: Psalms, Lessons, Eucharist, and prayer are the same. A Christian from 200 would not feel that out of place at the church I attend on Sundays. I feel connected to the ancients each Sunday.

Conclusion

The essentials of my lifetime of faith are firmly in place. Moving to an Episcopal Church has not required that I give up any of the important doctrines, it has given me a glimpse of what it means to have a unity apart from checklists, and to experience what it means to worship.

We are a diverse group that cares about the world and each other. There are differences in application and methods, but there is unity in that we are worshipping together, the differences are God’s to work out and judge, I like that. Arguing and debate never worked anyway, never changed people, it just fractured and caused hurt.

To all my brothers and sisters that are in other denominations there is nothing here intended to be critical, Jesus is Lord.  But in the Episcopal Community I have found a place where I am and active part of the worship, where I do what I am not sure I ever really did before, actually worship – genuinely considering and ascribing to God, who he is and what he does – purposely “Hallow your name.” There is a unity in that I am participating in ancient traditions along with millions of others doing the same; we are joined in spirit. I am humbled weekly contemplating my savior, and moved to recommit and renew my faith in him.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: