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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Obligatory Blogging

Say that three times real fast.

Yes, I continue to be the slackest of bloggers. Ten lashes with a wet noodle for me. I’m sure I’ll get more inspired some time soon. Blogging has just had to take a back seat to other events in my life here recently.

Concerning recent events…I was confirmed in the Anglican Province of America about six weeks ago. I had never seen a confirmation ceremony before, so I fumbled and bumbled my way through it, kneeling, standing, and reciting when I was directed to. I’m pretty certain the thing took in spite of my foibles. Therefore I am now officially and fully a part of the Church, by Anglican standards. And so to all my non-Catholic friends: I’m in Apostolic Succession, and you aren’t. Na-na-na-na-na-na.

My dear Plymouth Brethren mother attended the service at my request, though her attendance was more than a little reluctant. When a parishioner asked her what she thought of the service, she just smiled and nodded her head. Bless her heart, as we say here in the south. I trust one day she will understand her son’s strange ecclesial journey, though that understanding may not come this side of glory.

And yet in my personal beliefs, I remain mostly a Presbyterian.

I have no idea who is reading my blog (though I can tell someone is by the hit counter), so I don’t know how this bit of information will strike the reader. Some of you may be more traditionally Western Catholic in your beliefs, in which case you’re saying to yourself something like “All the oil and holy water in the world won’t help this guy.” And some of you may be more Reformational or Evangelical in your beliefs, in which case you have written me off as a crypto-papist at worst or as just confused at best.

But most of you probably could care less, which may be the best position to be in.

The fact that I am a Presbyterian is one that I made sure of discussing with my priest before joining the church. I am something of a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none when it comes to theology. That includes the endless variety of denominational distinctives. I wanted to make sure that I could transfer my membership to another denomination (specifically, Presbyterian) sometime later after being confirmed. I know some Anglican communions wouldn’t allow that. I was assured that in the APA I could do that. Plus, I am not one to enter into a church situation under false pretenses. I wanted my pastor to know clearly where I was coming from. While the APA is generally more Anglo-Catholic in its practice, I am a Protestant down to my toenails. I am appreciative of the immense good that has come out of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. But I have numerous fundamental disagreements with both groups. Nor do I have any intention of changing. I go wherever the truth leads me, and so if I were to become convinced of Anglo-Catholicism, then my views would change. But I believe I’ve looked at the issues sufficiently to know that such a change won’t be happening. The APA seems broad enough to hold Protestants and Catholics, though I’m sure if disagreements haven’t already taken place, eventually they will. Protestants and Catholics can only tolerate each other in the same communion for so long. Then again, I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. That question to the side, as long as the APA keeps using the 1928 Prayer Book of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and allows for diversity in private devotion without forcing the more Catholic practices into public devotion, I can be content where I am.

Our culture today has taught us to view the church the way it has taught us to view everything else (everything, that is, not claimed by the State). We begin with the grid of free will and filter everything through that grid. One shape the free will grid takes is the shape of consumerism. We go out shopping for religion and choose whatever strikes our fancy. There have been other factors in the history of America that have bourne upon our ideas of church. What we have ended up with is what R. J. Rushdoony called “The Voluntaristic Church”. We can buy whatever religion we want, or we can vote it into being, or we can just make it up as it suits us. We determine our own destiny. There is no transcendent standard. Most people aren’t so brazen as this, though this mentality directs their decisions to some degree anyway.

I’ve tried to take a more Biblically intelligent approach to finding a church than that. I don’t think I can go just wherever suits me. I have to examine Scripture, determine what is the most Biblically shaped church available to me, and join that church. It isn’t always easy to make that choice, or even to determine what is most important in a church. But one has to follow Scripture as best he can.

If I’m mostly a Presbyterian (you may be wondering), why did I join an Anglican church? I can’t fully answer the question now. But here are a couple of brief reasons.

Since leaving the Plymouth Brethren about seven years ago, I’ve spent a lot of time surveying the church landscape, both in my community and in the broader world. I’ve spent a lot of time as well studying the Scriptures, and reading books by various Christian theologians of various persuasions on all sorts of topics. And while I don’t have everything figured out, I’m in a pretty settled position regarding what I believe the Scriptures to teach on just about every major topic.

One topic I’m pretty settled on is worship. Not on every aspect of worship, mind you. I have plenty more to learn when it comes to the details. But I’m convinced of certain things nonetheless. For one thing, I’m convinced that worship should be reverent. There should be no running around chit-chatting in the worship room right before the service. That kind of behaviour immediately betrays what people think they are there for and what they think of God. The music should communicate the greatness of God’s character and of His salvation of us. With so many churches abandoning traditional hymnody for modern sappy effeminate pop songs, any sort of notion of these things is being lost. And those leading worship should behave in a way that demonstrates for the people that they are entering into God’s presence when they gather for corporate worship. The pastor needs to save his jokes for some other time. The sad thing is that what I’ve just described characterizes most of the Presbyterian churches I’ve attended. So that eliminated about ninety percent of the Presbyterian churches in my area.

I also believe worship should be more liturgical in nature. This is just building off of my previous point. And once again, I’m still working out the details of this one. But here’s one thing to consider. In the Old Covenant, God gave the people of Israel a very detailed pattern of worship. This pattern was very structured in its order and execution. If once in history God Himself saw fit to give us a pattern, shouldn’t we consider that pattern and its context as we shape New Covenant worship? Now we know that the exact shape of Old Covenant worship was done away with in the ending of the Old Covenant. The Book of Hebrews makes that quite clear. But the Israelites were people, and so are we. And they didn’t just invent their own worship – God gave it to them. Those two elements alone make me believe that we should consider the orderliness of worship as a vital element.

But there is more to liturgy than just being orderly, just like there is more to being liturgical than just having alot of different elements to your worship service. Many Presbyterian churches have order, as well as some of the classic elements of a liturgical service, such as the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. But a classical liturgical service conveys the idea that we are there to corporately engage in dialogue with God. If a pastor ad libs between every element of worship, even if it is Scripture-related ad libbing, he gives off the impression that the congregation is in fact dialoguing with him, not God. That is what I have often seen in Presbyterian churches that would say they have a “liturgy”. And so I say to any Presbyterian ministers that may read this: if you really want to communicate the greatness of God to your parishioners as you say you do, then you will follow a set liturgy and get out of the way. If, however, you want it to be your show, then talk as much as possible – during the elements of worship as well as in between them. Have at least two preaching services on Sunday, and maybe a mid-week service. Meet your parishioners for meals, and instruct them then, too. Visit them in their homes, and use the opportunity for more instruction. And don’t let them talk much, because God ordained you to talk, not them. They don’t have anything important to say anyway. And don’t worry about burning your people out. If they can’t handle all the instruction, then they probably aren’t truly converted anyway.

Those last few sentences were sarcastic, as I trust you can tell. I wish I could say that they are fictitious, but they are based on my own personal experiences with Reformed ministers (except for the last sentence – for the most part, anyway). Then again, I’ve blogged about this before, so the reader already knew about my frustration with this sort of thing. Nonetheless, this is another example of the problems that have kept me out of the other Presbyterian churches in my community.

Liturgy is the main reason I’m in the Anglican church rather than in a Presbyterian church. If I’m so Protestant, you might wonder, why didn’t I just join an Evangelical congregation? I tried going it in non-liturgical Evangelical churches before this. But I just couldn’t stand the casualness of the congregation’s behaviour in worship. I couldn’t stand the contemporary music. I longed for weekly communion. I missed the full-orbed observance of the Church Calendar. And I wanted to be with people who were conscious that they were part of a community two thousand years old (or, truly, older), and who weren’t afraid to draw off of the wisdom of that ancient community. I hope one day to find myself a member of a Reformed congregation that has all of these things. But for now, until the Lord directs me otherwise, I am where I am.

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