Archive for the ‘Iain’s Thoughts’ Category

Perhaps you read my first three posts and and you thought to yourself “This sounds very different from how my rector described Anglicanism to me!”  “I thought we were a big tent?”  “What about the via media?”  You may even have had a t-shirt that encouraged people to join The Episcopal Church because “no matter what you believe, there’s someone else in The Episcopal Church who believes it too!”  You may feel this way especially if you entered Anglicanism in North America. I would wager that many Episcopal or Anglican confirmation classes would define Anglicanism as a sort of compromise position. In the 1840’s, this compromise position was termed the ‘via media,’ the middle way. More recently, this compromise position has been termed “Three Streams Anglicanism.”  This is the idea that in Anglicanism the three streams of catholic identity, evangelical truth, and charismatic experience come together. Those who identify Anglicanism in either of these ways would have a hard time with the sort of picture I’m painting here of different camps that have vastly different theological foundations. For them, Anglicanism doesn’t devolve into silly arguments over churchmanship or theology. We are a big tent! There is room for all here! (more…)

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High Church Anglicanism

“Are you high and hazy or low and lazy?”  “They are low church, so they have, like, guitars and a praise band.” “I’m pretty high church. I love all the smells and bells.”  “I like the low church stuff, cause I’m just more of a casual person.”  “I’m glad we’re going back to a more Anglican way of doing things here and emphasizing traditional worship more.”  High Church and Low Church. This distinction is one that Anglicans will be all too familiar with. Unfortunately, the history behind this distinction has largely been lost so that today when people talk about “High Church” and “Low Church” they do so referring mainly to taste. The problem with this trend is that it ignores the significant theological differences that underpin High Churchmenship, Reformation Anglicanism, and Anglican Evangelicalism.

Today we consider the “High Church” movement. English seperatists (those who wanted the Church to be disestablished from the government in England) originally gave this name to those who advocated strongly for an Established Church of England, but more and more it came to be identified with those who would have been known as ‘Conservatives’ during the English Reformation because of their desire to hold on to more of the traditional elements of the churches teaching and practice. High Church Anglicans are sometimes identified historically with Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. This movement dominated the Church of England from the reign of Charles I until the Glorious Revolution. (more…)

Yesterday our Bishop, Mark Lawrence, preached on Luke 7:36-8:3.  This section tells the story of a promiscuous woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and annointed them with oil.  Mark handled the text wonderfully showing the tender love of Jesus for the most marginalized of sinners.  When the Pharisee who’s house Jesus is in complains that Jesus is allowing Himself to be associated with such a woman, Jesus informs him that “He who has been forgiven much loves much.  He who has been forgiven little loves little.”  As he was preaching, something else stood out to me about this text.  

Luke makes a point of recording in Jesus’ reply the Pharisee’s name.  When the Pharisee is considering how scandalous it is for Jesus to be involved with this woman, Jesus says “Simon, I have something to say to you.”  Why give this detail?  Jesus confronts scores of Pharisees who disapprove of His friendliness towards ‘sinners.’   Why record this one?  One simple answer is that that is what Jesus said.  I think Luke intends more than this though.  

Emerging scholarship has begun to recognize the use of a sort of name dropping as a means of what we would today consider academic citation.  So, when Luke is telling a story, he tells you one of the key players as a way of saying “This is my primary source.  If you want to verify my story, go talk to him.”  What if this is the case in this passage? What if Luke is recording Simon the Pharisee’s name because Simon was his source for this particular story?  I think it changes the thrust of the story significantly.  

Imagine Luke the historian interviewing Simon the Pharisee.  Imagine Simon telling him this story.  I cannot see Simon telling him the story grimacing around the name of Jesus.  I cannot see him telling Luke about this day inserting commentary on how inappropriate it was for Jesus to be with this woman.  In other words, I think it is highly likely that this conversation did something to Simon or else he would not have been telling so many people about it that it attracted the attention of someone wanting to verify the details about Jesus’ life.  

If I had to guess, I would think that Simon would tell the story something like this: “I had heard of Jesus and I had my suspicions.  I invited him into my home to see if He was as dangerous a heretic as He was made out to be.  He came to my door and I didn’t offer him water to cleanse his feet, oil to refresh himself with, or even the courtesy of greeting him with a kiss.  I wanted to vet him out first before I offered him any hospitality.  Then this woman comes in.  She was obviously a lady of the night.  She begin to weep over his feet, annointed them with oil, and dried them with her hair.  I thought ‘How scandalous!  Some prophet.  He can’t even identify a prostitute when he sees one.’  It was as if Jesus saw into my soul.  Immediately he explained to me that those who are forgiven much love much.  I saw how wrong I had been not only about this woman, but about myself.  Jesus knew this woman’s sin better than I did, and yet he forgave her.  Her heart was bursting with gratitude, but despite all my theological and moral precision, my heart was as cold as a cadaver!  He who has been forgiven much loves much?  How true.  I slighted Jesus.  I despised those He loved.  I was too self-righteous to ever seen my need for grace.  He loved me and forgave me despite all this.  You can’t imagine how much I love Jesus now!”  

This is the great beauty of the grace of God revealed in Jesus.  No one, not the most profligate sinner or the most precise Pharisee is too far from God’s grace.  We often speak of God’s grace as if it’s only for the prodigal.  But God is as pleased to forgive a stony hearted religious zealot as He is to welcome the most broken libertine.  When I came to Christ in college, there was no denying that I needed grace.  My life was as worldly as anyone’s.  However, I continue to need that grace as much today as ever I did, if not more.  I have been the Pharisee and the Sinner.  Thank God His grace extends to both!

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

1 Peter 2:9

“So, what are we now?”  I have been asked this question countless times in 2013.  Of course, by now, though I’m not quite sure how to answer it, I at least know what the question means.  It means, “Are we Episcopal?  Are we Anglican?  If so, what kind of Anglican are we?”  What lies behind that question, however, is more varied.

For some, it is simple curiosity.  They love being a part of Trinity, and the broader association of our church is less important to them.  For others, it comes out of a place of grief.  Our entire spiritual and religious life has been formed in The Episcopal Church.  We feel a bit like people without a country.  For still others, we are finding it hard to invite people when we don’t know who we are.  As varied as these concerns are, they stem from the same root.  Identity.

I think few of us really give the issue of our identity its due attention.  Who we think we are sets the course for our lives.  When people never get a secure sense of who they are, they can spend their lives in an aimless kind of wandering, never really knowing where they fit in.

Our identity begins forming early in life, and continues to do so based on who we are, what we do, where we live, what we like, etc.  I have a cousin who years ago dropped out of college despite the fact that he had walked onto the football field and was making decent grades.  When another family member asked him why he said, “You and me, we’re just not the kind of people who go to college.”  Despite having the ability and talent to succeed in college, his identity was wrong.  That’s why that question “So, what are we now?” is so important to answer well.

In his epistle to the churches, the apostle Peter addresses the identity of the church.  He tells them, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [Christ’s] own possession.”  Who are we?  Peter says we are a chosen, royal, and holy possession of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He says we are a race of people formed into a nation of priests who live in the service of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Who are we?  We are Christ’s.  We are His treasured possession.  We are honored dignitaries in His service.  Before we are Smiths, or Jacksons, or Petersons, or Americans, or black, or white, we are Christ’s.

Having our identity in Christ makes all the difference.  When we understand that we are Christ’s, then we understand that we are not our own.  We were purchased at a heavy cost.  We are not a people who stand on our own merits, but we are a redeemed people.  We are not failures, rejects, or victims, but beloved adopted children, “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”(Romans 8:17)  We are not individuals, but we belong to the body of faithful people throughout the ages, those who have lived by faith, not by sight.  We have a family joined together not with blood of genetic heritage, but by the shed blood of Christ.

Because this issue of our identity is so important, I’ve invited our Bishop to address just that at a luncheon forum following our 11 o’clock service.  Bishop Mark Lawrence will be addressing the question “Who are we?”  in a presentation followed by a brief time of Q&A.  But remember, no matter who we are, no matter what we call ourselves, no matter who we are related to, our identity is first and last in the Lord Jesus Christ.