March 23, 2006

Isaac at Leaving It All Behind (Hat tip: All 2 Common) contemplates the challenges faced by both “conservative” and “progressive” Anglicans in trying to define themselves within the Christian marketplace of ideas and practices. Particularly striking, I think, was this observation:

At the end of the day, the conservative Anglican movement isn’t really orthodox, because the movement’s allegiance isn’t to the community of disciples of Christ. It’s to their own ideas of preserving their own idols of what it means to be ‘Anglican.’ Ironically, that’s precisely the same sin that will be the undoing of progressive Anglicans, too, and preserved is exactly what both parties will end up as. Preserved as museum pieces for people to come see how people worshipped in 1789, or 1898, or 1983.

I know what Isaac is getting at here, and my experiences at both “conservative” and “progressive” Anglican (read: Episcopal) churches seem to bear his point out: so much of our energies are focused on the internal: the philosophical and theological differences tearing the Anglican Communion apart, as opposed to the external: teaching and proclaiming the “good news” of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

With so much attention focused on what we are against – for Anglican “conservatives”, it typically means opposing the ordination of gays (and, in most cases, women both gay and straight), the de-emphasis on moral teachings, sin, and the need for personal redemption; for “progressives” it involves opposing oppression, injustice, and all the “isms” associated with the liberation theology of the 60s and 70s, emphasis on Scriptural authority, and the traditional moral teachings of the Bible; – we seem incapable of being able to articulate clearly and confidently what we are for. Is it traditional liturgical or ecclesiatical practices? Is it diversity and tolerance? If either, how does it relate to our baptismal covenant to proclaim the good news of Christ crucified and resurrected? How does what we do and stand for differ from, say, a secular social club or fraternal organization?

Because of this focus on the differences between us, all we end up accomplishing in the end is growth or decline resulting from one church or denomination “stealing” parishioners from another – the evangelical equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Neither “conservatives” and “progressives” seem capable of articulating to themselves or others what they truly believe, in other words, what makes them Anglican, or even Episcopalian. Without that ability to confidently share one’s core belief system with others, there is no way to attract young people or the “unchurched” to this slowly-dying branch of Christianity that has so much richness and depth in its historical traditions and beliefs to offer.

Colleen Carroll in her book The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, observes that what a church or denomination believes at its most fundamental core is what is attractive for so many young people today. She writes:

Amid the swirl of spiritual, religious, and moral choices that exist in American culture today, many young adults are opting fro the tried-and-true worldview of Christian orthodoxy.

These young adults understand the challenges that traditional morality and othodoxy pose. They sometimes emphathize with members of their religious traditions that want to “update” teachings to make them more relevant, and many of these young believers happily embrace worship styles that make Christianity more accessible to seekers. But they resist any compromise of the essential tenets of orthodoxy as capitulation to secular culture. These young orthodox believers defend Christianity’s timeless moral teachings and its scriptural and ecclesiatical authority with vigor because they believe that any other approach would endanger the integrity of the faith they hold so dear.

These young adults Carroll writes so eloquently about understand in the end that any church worthy of serious consideration has to believe in something that requires something in return from them. It might be, in the case of many non-denominational “megachurches”, a requirement to tithe. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, like it or not, it is obedience to the Church’s traditional teachings. (Whether or not “the Church” or “a church” practices what it preaches is question for another time – suffice to say for now, it is hard to deny that the fastest-growing Christian churches in the U.S. are those who, more often than not, make demands or commitments on their members in one way or another.)

As Isaac points out, it’s just not good enough, as so many “conservative” Anglican churches practice, to “reform” liturgical practices and theology back to some earlier point in time. There might be a lot of depth there, but a broad outreach to those seeking a personal relationship with Christ it is not. It is also not good enough, as the Episcopal Church and so many other mainline Protestant denominations appear to do, to worship at the altar of diversity and tolerance (the United Methodist Church and its pathetic “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors” slogan comes to mind), as if afraid to take a stand on any particular slate of beliefs lest anyone be (gasp!) offended. With such a broad sweep, it is nearly impossible to cultivate the depth of belief required to attract those seeking a deeper, more meaningful commitment to God by way of His Church.

Unless Anglicans both “conservative” and “progressive” begin to focus less on the doings in our earthly Church and start focusing on the eternal one, both threads in the Christian quilt of belief and practice are doomed to the dustbin of history. Simply put, there are more churches and denominations in the Christian marketplace unafraid to proclaim and share what they believe: that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” to eternal salvation. This doesn’t mean one has to treat those who harbor different beliefs or belief systems in a way that is cruel, uncaring, or condemning – but you do have to have an understanding and commitment to what you believe in so you can be a beacon of light to others seeking their own spiritual destination. And, you do have to have confidence that in the end, no matter what, God will figure a way to sort it all out.

Is that asking too much of Anglicans today?

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 18:15 | Comments (2)
  1. […] Was looking earlier tonight at some of the tone of the posts I put up last year at this time and can see the spiritual prison I was in. Things feel so much better a year later, and these lyrics I feel close to tonight… Free as a bird, it’s the next best thing to be. Free as a bird. […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Free As A Bird — March 31, 2007 @ 12:37 am

  2. […] Earlier tonight, for no reason whatsoever, I was looking at some of the posts I had put up in this space last year at this time, and was amazed to see how absolutely lost, and how imprisoned spiritually I was back then. […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Real Love — March 31, 2007 @ 1:56 am

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