Several years ago, as I watched our diocese and our church head towards the inevitable break with the national church and as I watched churches struggle with hard decisions on the uniqueness of Christ, the authority of scripture, or any other number of issues I went on a journey to see if I really fit in the Anglican Church. Part of my issue was a fear that there would be no professional home for me in the coming years, and I might as well see if I am truly Anglican or if perhaps I was Baptist or some sort of non-denominational Christian”¦ The other issue I struggled with was reconciling my theology with the theology of the National Episcopal Church (who claimed to be Anglican). So I started searching my heart and mind for what I believed, as well as what scripture says to see what Christianity is supposed to be about. And while I am definitely not the scholar that Father Greg is, and while my understanding of pork products and the sacraments pales in comparison with Father Free’s, I hope you might find what I have to say somewhat helpful”¦ In understanding my journey, and in a brief introduction to what we Anglicans believe.
Now I should start by saying that I am not Anglican by birth. I was not a cradle Episcopalian. I was baptized in an Episcopal church as an infant, but through a series of events I grew up in a rural Methodist church. Please don’t hold that against me or my parents”¦ So I can’t claim to be Anglican because it is all I have known. In fact, when I visited an Episcopal church for the first time, I had to come to grips with the fact that it existed at all. My Methodist training and upbringing had neglected to tell me about the Episcopal Church. I didn’t even know it was there. So I claim no birthright.
And to be fair, I went to an Episcopal church because I thought a girl was cute. I was a teenager, a rather typical one actually, whose mind was less on theology and more on what my girlfriend was wearing. So I can’t even claim to have chosen the Episcopal Church. In many ways it chose me. A group of loving adults pointed the teenage me to the Jesus of the Bible, prayed that I might come into a saving relationship with Christ, and then proceeded to disciple me. Anglicans chose me, not the other way around. But a few years ago, I no longer could rest on that fact. It was time for me to choose.
As I searched my heart, and indeed the Bible, one thing was evident to me”¦ Scripture is very important! I know that many of you hold to a very high view of scripture ”“ in fact you would agree with St. Paul as he reminds Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All scripture is breathed out by God”¦”. That the Bible is God’s very word! That God inspired its creation, and He speaks through His word today. But the Bible has an author (God) and an audience (us). While God breathed out the scriptures of the Old Testament and the New Testament, he did so for his glory and our transformation. Paul continues in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is breathed out by God”¦ and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” The Bible is sparked by the divine, with all His authority. In fact, because it comes from God it’s profitable for little ”˜ol me. God’s word can transform my heart and my life. And through that transformation, I might be made more and more into the image of Christ, ultimately leading to righteousness.
So, I wanted a church that thought as highly about the word of God as I do. I want a church that encourages us to daily take in God’s word, ponder its meaning, apply it to our lives, and live it out according to God’s purpose. So what is the Anglican Church’s view of scripture? Please turn with me to page 877 of the Book of Common Prayer”¦ To the Chicago ”“ Lambeth Quadrilateral and the Lambeth Conference of 1888”¦
A quarter of the way down the page, you will see a number one. It proclaims, “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the revealed word of God.” And if you scan further down the page to the “A” under the Lambeth Conference, it reads, “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as ”˜containing all things necessary to salvation,’ and as being the ultimate rule and standard of faith.”
So, what does that mean? Simply, it means the Anglican Church, and St. John’s, hold a high view of scripture. It contains all things necessary to our salvation. In the Bible, the gospel is proclaimed to us, in it the grace of God is demonstrated for us, in it we are called to repentance, in the Bible our identity in Christ is made clear to us, and through it we are strengthened by God’s Holy Spirit to live redeemed lives. And we can see the Anglican Church’s view of scripture in this very service. We enter in prayer and then sit under the word of God as it is read to us from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament, and as if that weren’t enough, even from the Gospels as well. No other flavor of Christianity (that I know of) spends so much time in the word of God. And then to cap it all off, the priest stands up to teach us from God’s perfect word. I sought a church that held a high view of scripture, and in the Anglican Church I found a wonderful home.
And while I tend to view myself as a good boy steeped in the Reformed tradition, I realized that scripture called Christians to do more than just study God’s word endlessly. That we were to live in our world, proclaiming Christ crucified. That indeed we are connected to the historic church through the centuries”¦ That we are to profess the faith of the early church Fathers”¦ And we profess this faith; we summarize what we believe, through the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds.
You know, I was trained many years ago how to interact with the random Jehovah’s witnesses that showed up at my door by telling them exactly what I believe. I was taught to do that by sharing the Nicene Creed. The creeds effectively sum up what the Bible teaches us about our faith”¦ Who God the father is, who his son Jesus Christ is, who the Holy Spirit is, and what the church is. I hold fast to the creeds, especially in recent years.
It seems like every day there is a new preacher, interpreting scripture in a new way, telling us that God really meant this or that. And the best way I have found to combat that is through searching scripture for answers the church has been giving for nearly 2000 years. In the creeds, the doctrine of the church is summed up for us.
If you look back at your prayer book, number 2 and “B” both point us to the use of creeds to sum up our faith. To keep us in check”¦ To make sure that we don’t wonder from essential truth’s about God due to our own selfishness. This is so crucial! In Malachi 3:6, God tells the Israelites, “”¦I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” I’m sure you have heard it said that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And that is what the verse in Malachi is telling us. That God doesn’t change his mind ”“ He doesn’t go back on his promises”¦ He doesn’t think one thing is sinful one day and then come back to us another day to tell us there is no more sin. And because God doesn’t change his mind, the church shouldn’t either. So when someone argues the deity of Jesus ”“ we point them to the creeds. When the uniqueness of Christ is questioned ”“ we point them to the creeds. When the Holy Spirit is denied ”“ we point to the creeds. So we as a church must continue to profess the same God as the first Christians did. And we do that by learning the doctrine that the creeds teach us. The creeds are useful summaries of our historic faith.
Father Greg has told me several times that the Nicene Creed is placed after the sermon in Rite I and II services to stand as a correction if the preacher wonders too far from the truth found in scriptures. I hope that isn’t too necessary today!
So as I see it, we need the Nicene and Apostles creeds to ensure that we are holding on to the faith of the historic church, to scare away Jehovah’s witnesses, and to correct false teaching.
I feel like this might be getting a bit serious or stiff, and in my training as a youth minister I was taught to break up your teaching as often as necessary to keep people’s attention, to let their minds ponder what you have just shared, and to let the Holy Spirit work on their hearts. So let’s take a momentary detour.
In 1996, I went off to college”¦ Well, by off I mean that I went to the College of Charleston, which is essentially just down the street. And what I wound up studying while I was at college was history. I love history. And my wife doesn’t”¦ I am constantly trying to tell her that I love history because it connects me to the people who came before me. I enjoy going to civil war sites and thinking about the brave soldiers that stood there long ago. I like to think about what they were doing, feeling, and seeing. I love going into old churches and sitting in the pews. I like to think of the countless people who have sat in that seat seeking God’s voice, crying out to him in pain, or praising God’s holy name. I love history. I am so honored to stand here, knowing that great Bible teachers have stood here proclaiming the word of God, that missionaries who have given their lives wholly to God stood on this ground sharing what God is doing through them, that children have grown up at St. John’s and then stood in this spot to proclaim who God is. I love history.
And as I searched my heart and the scriptures I saw that history matters. We see the importance of history in the genealogies of Jesus”¦ We see the importance of history in God’s unchanging promises”¦ If you think about it, that is exactly what God is telling the Israelites in Malachi, that he doesn’t change. He is telling them that his promises don’t change. That verse tells us that history, what God has done and said, matters.
So I longed for a church that understood history. I wanted a church that was connected to the ancient church. It’s like the creeds in that respect. I wanted to be sure that the body of Christ I belonged to was the body that Jesus set to create through the early apostles and by his death on the cross. And that is exactly what the Anglican Church offers. Please look with me at the prayer book again. Number 4 and “D” both tell us about the history of our church. It reads, “The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.” That is a dizzying sentence.
I might need to offer a simple definition”¦ Episcopate = bishops.
We are a church run by Bishops. And as a lay person, that can frustrate me at times. That someone is in authority over me. But many times scripture reminds us that we are not our ultimate authority.
Take 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 for example; “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly because of their work”¦” Paul is reminding the people of Thessalonica that God has put others over them. And in Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul says, “(God) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for ministry”¦” Our Bishops, priests, and leaders are gifts from God! Sometimes it is hard to see that, but think back to our recent struggles with the National Episcopal Church”¦ Who would not count Bishop Lawrence as a gift from God? Who would not count our vestry and priests as gifts from God? And Paul goes on to tell us in Romans 13:1 what our respect for God’s gift of leadership is to look like”¦ “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
Now, I realize that Paul was talking about civil authorities, but let’s look at the principal. We submit to the authority God puts over us. In the church the authorities over us are bishops and priests. That God calls to lead us, to shepherd us, to teach us, to equip us for ministry, to counsel us, to love us as God loves us”¦ So we submit ”“ we surrender ourselves (our wills and our authority) to their authority, as they submit themselves to Christ Jesus.
But you might have noticed that I skipped a word that the Chicago ”“ Lambeth Quadrilateral and the Lambeth Conference both use: Historic. And by now you know I love that word. So not only are we a church run by bishops, our bishops can trace a line back to the earliest apostles. So we are an ancient church, confessing the truths that Jesus taught his disciples. I love that, don’t you? Knowing that we aren’t adrift on a sea by ourselves”¦ But that we are connected to a church that spans 2000 years of history. I love that we are connected to a church whose body covers the entire globe. We are connected to that church by the very bishops God puts in authority over us today. That Bishop Lawrence is connected all the way back to the founding apostles. Amazing!
Some of you tuned out the last few minutes either because I was talking about history or because I was talking about someone being in authority over us. All I can say is”¦ I’m sorry?
There is one more aspect of Anglicanism that I have fallen in love with: The Sacraments. Please look one more time at your Book of Common Prayer. Number 3 and letter “C” talk about the importance of the sacrament to the Anglican Church. Letter “C” on page 878 says, “The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself ”“ Baptism and the Supper of the Lord ”“ ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.”
I love that the sacraments are the visible, tangible signs of what Jesus is doing and has done for us. I love that they are the very things that Jesus did when he walked the Earth ”“ that he ordained them Himself. I love that he gave them to us. I love that through them I am receiving the grace of God.
For example”¦ Every Sunday, as I am invited by the priest to come to the Holy Table, I am aware of how much I don’t deserve to be called to feast with the Lord. I am aware of what Jesus did on the cross to secure my spot at the table”¦ I am aware that God is looking past my sinful nature and at Jesus, whose sacrifice covers me ”“ and He is calling me his child. Telling me to take my seat”¦ And then he feeds me”¦ And not just with any food, but with spiritual food”¦ The body and blood of Jesus himself, shed for us that we might come to God’s table. It is clear to me that God’s grace rests upon us as we approach his altar. And I love that! Don’t you?
Because sometimes it is hard for me to think in abstracts, and I need that visible ”“ tangible ”“ outward sign of God’s grace. And we have that in the sacraments.
I realize this has been a long sermon, and there is much more that could be said or taught about what makes us Anglican. But I’m going to stop here and ask you a question.
Why does this matter? What difference does it make if we are Anglican or not? That was a question that I wrestled with for quite some time. And to answer it, I need to tell you about fishing tackle”¦ Before I had kids (when there was such a thing as ”˜Rob’ time), I loved to go fishing. I honestly didn’t care if I caught too much, I just liked to be on or near the water, with a line in the water ”“ waiting to see what I might bring up. And one thing I learned while fishing in front of my in-laws house was that you need the right sinker for the right type of water.
When the tide is slack, you can use a small, light sinker ”“ the current isn’t pulling it away from you very hard. When the tide is coming in our out ”“ you need a larger sinker (or more than one) to fight against the current. To reach the depth you want to fish in”¦
Well, the current of our culture, our world is a hard and fast moving current. It pushes us ”“ and it even pushes churches”¦ The culture will try to erode our thinking on biblical issues, tell us that Jesus is just another great teacher ”“ an example to emulate”¦ But He is not God. It will tell us that we have been reading the Bible all wrong, and that we should skip certain parts of scripture because they have no meaning in our world. The culture will tell us ”“ will push and pull us ”“ to be just like them.
So we need a good sinker. And Anglicanism has four heavy sinkers”¦
1. We hold fast to God’s word. We know it comes from Him and is useful for our transformation and His glory. So we read it, we teach it, we study it, we seek to live it”¦
2. We use the creeds to summarize our faith and to be a solid foundation of doctrine for us to stand on. Fighting hard against the current of our culture ”“ refusing to change our beliefs since God himself does not change.
3. Anglicans are not a fly by night kind of church. We can trace our roots back to the earliest church. So our sinker is heavy, and we run our church as scripture asks us to ”“ with people submitting to the authority put over them, even as the leaders of our church submit to Christ himself.
4. And our last sinker is the visible and outward sign of God’s grace for us. The sacraments. I am so thankful that Anglicans did not throw out the sacraments like many other churches during the reformation ”“ since they are a means of God’s grace for us.
All four of these sinkers, when held faithfully together, are enough to drop us down through the fastest current. They anchor us to Christ and the church he died to create. And they work together making us Anglican. That is why this matters. And that is why I am an Anglican.
–Mr. Rob Schluter is the Youth Minister at Saint John’s, John’s Island, S.C. (and this is posted with his kind permission)