Category Archives: Canterbury Trail

Freedom in Liturgy

The goal of the Christian life is divinization, or theosis, that, is to become like Christ, to become like God. This goal is not easily attained. In fact it will never be attained in this life, but only in the one to come. The reason why the path to Christ-likeness is so difficult is because we are naturally rebellious against God and naturally adverse to doing the things required to complete this path (this is what it means to be sinful after all). So it is easy for us to become distracted and pursue something else instead of Christ, or to bind something together with the Gospel that is not part of the Gospel (e.g. political views).

One of the benefits of the liturgical life is that it sets boundaries for our attention and focuses it on the things which are beneficial in the pursuit of Christ-likeness, and prevents us from focusing on things that are harmful. The services focus our attention on God and prevent us from focusing our attention elsewhere. Morning Prayer directs our attention to the fact we are a part of God’s created order. Evening Prayer directs our attention to our inevitable deaths and eventual judgment before God. In Holy Communion our attention is directed to Jesus’ sacrifice and we receive grace through partaking of His body and blood. In all these services we confess our sinfulness and have Christ’s forgiveness declared and pronounced to us. Additionally, the liturgical year itself teaches us to view time in relation to God and His redemption of humanity through Christ.

Having now followed this life for the past few years I’ve noticed a change of focus in my life. I find myself mostly focused on whether or not I have obeyed God’s commands, meaning have I loved Him with my whole being and also loved my neighbor as myself? Not because I feel like I need to in order to gain God’s love or forgiveness, but because it is by continually fulfilling these two commandments that I (and we) stay on the path to Christ-likeness, which is what I really and honestly do desire.

In the end the liturgical life has given me freedom in my life. Freedom from things that distract me from the path to Christ-likeness, things such as cultural issues or political debates. And freedom to focus on things which lead me down the path to Christ-likeness, things such as the state of my own soul and purging sinful habits and thoughts from my life.

My interest in liturgy was piqued initially with a simple curiosity in the historical church and how they did things. But it is the freedom that I have found in the liturgy that has made me stay.

 

Advertisements

Journey to Anglicanism: The Church

Since the Trinity does indeed interweave our world, and through that interweaving incorporates those who believe into himself by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, then the organizing of such people into a community is a logical consequence. This is the basic doctrine of the Church [note the spelling], and was the doctrine that was taught to me growing up.

However, similar to the Trinity, it seemed to be a doctrine that was believed because it was taught in Scripture. Thus, again, Scripture was the basis. In Anglicanism however the Church is the result of the redeeming work of the Trinity.

He can no longer have God for his father, who has not the Church for his mother.
– Cyprian of Carthage, “On the Unity of the Church,” 6.

This statement from Cyprian is, in my opinion, one of the best and most succinct articulations of the nature of the Church, but also one that seems to be greatly misunderstood. I don’t personally know of anyone who has an issue with the first part of the statement which equates the Trinity with fathers. However it seems a great deal of people have an issue with the second part of the statement which equates the Church with mothers and further ties the rejection of the Church to rejection of the Trinity.

To a certain extent I can understand why some would take issue with the second part of the statement. There are some individual churches [note the change in my spelling] whose environments are toxic and kill any chance for the spiritual growth of its members. This could take any number of forms. It could perhaps be a minister who preaches to his congregation to not commit adultery while he himself is having an affair. There could perhaps be a lot of gossiping and spreading of false rumors. Or perhaps when some sin is committed forgiveness and grace are not found, but instead only guilt and shame. Whatever the reasons for the toxicity might be it is not surprising to me that those who are in such church environments end up leaving.

The Church [again, note the spelling] however is not an individual congregation, or even a group of congregations. The Church is the community of the redeemed people of the Trinity, all the redeemed people, from the beginning of time, both in heaven and on earth. So because it is the Trinity who is redeeming this community, rejecting and leaving this community is thus choosing not to be redeemed and amounts to a rejection of the Trinity.

But what is redemption? Essentially it is being removed from the kingdom of evil and freed from being a slave of evil and placed into the kingdom of the Trinity and being made a slave of Christ. The result is that the soul now desires to serve Christ and become like him, instead of desiring to serve and become evil. The soul however does not know how to serve Christ because it has only served evil. Thus it must be guided in how to serve Christ. It is this instructional process that Cyprian is using to describe the relationship between the Trinity, the Church, and the believer. Spiritual birth and growth requires different components. First, the Holy Spirit must indwell a person [this is where the desire to serve Christ comes from], and second that person must be in the Church [this is where the soul is instructed in how to serve Christ]. If either of these components are missing that person will not grow spiritually into Christ-likeness. Neither attending church services without being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, nor being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and not attending church services will result in spiritual growth. Both components must be in place.

In my view then the Church is the community in which spiritual growth can take place. It has always been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and he has given wisdom and insight to everyone who is a member of the Church. It is in the Church where this wisdom is found, both of those who are in heaven as well as those on Earth. In Anglicanism it is found in the hymns, the prayers, the preaching, the daily readings, and the liturgy. All of which exhort, direct, and guide us in our spiritual growth and pursuit of Christ-likeness. They remind us that Christ accomplished forgiveness for all our sins and exhort us to obey his teachings so that we will be like him. It is this community that I found in Anglicanism. Their hymns are sung. Their prayers are read. Their liturgy is performed. Their daily readings are followed. Their wisdom is sought out and found.

Such wisdom and insights were unavailable to me growing up. They weren’t outlawed or forbidden or anything; they were simply not used. The only essential element it seemed was to read and study the Bible. I didn’t need anything more than that, and so I shouldn’t use anything more than that so it seemed the reasoning went. The writings of ancient Christians were just ignored for some reason, as if past generations had no counsel or wisdom relevant to our present age. I don’t know for sure the reasoning behind it, but whatever it was the writings of old dead men and women were rarely, if ever, consulted it seemed.

In the end I suppose you could say that me and these old dead people kind of hit it off from the beginning.

There’s much more I could  say about this topic, but it’s not relevant. The Church certainly exists outside of Anglicanism and there are a number of traditions in which a Christian can grow in Christ-likeness; no Christian tradition has a monopoly on the Trinity.

My semester is currently in progress, so this blog may be going silent for a while. Next up in this series will be the Scriptures. When it will be published however I don’t know.

 

Journey to Anglicanism: The Trinity

Rublev's icon of the Trinity depicts the three visitors to Abraham in Gen 18

Rublev’s icon of the Trinity depicts the three visitors to Abraham in Genesis 18. See here for more information about the icon: http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/lord_trinity_rublev.html

Last year I officially converted to Anglicanism from an ‘Evangelical’ background. This post is the first in a series describing my journey.

One thing that has stood out to me over the course of my seminary studies has been the differences in thought between the early Church Fathers and modern theologians. In modern Evangelical seminary education theology is taught systematically, which means that the whole of Christian theology is divided into separate sub-parts and each topic is discussed individually and independently of the others (usually these parts end in –ology). From the standpoint of an educational methodology this systematization is useful because it makes it easy to discuss the various aspects of the faith without confounding the issue. However I believe that shaping and training the thinking of future ministers by using such a systematic methodology is dangerous because life is not systematized, but interwoven. It is impossible to break life down into various independent sub-parts that never interact with the other parts because each part of life interacts with and influences the other parts.

My faith, as a consequence of this systematic educational methodology had been systematized as well. All the various parts of theology, The Trinity, Salvation, the Church, Man [that is, humanity], Sin, etc had all become separated from one another. As a consequence of this I found it theoretically possible to change doctrine in one area without that change affecting any of the other areas. If I had continued this thought process its ultimate end would likely have been the renunciation of my faith, or at least a redefinition so radical that it would bear no resemblance to traditional orthodox Christianity.

In contrast to this the NT authors and early Church Fathers did not divide their theology into separate categories; everything is interwoven with everything else. This difference gradually became apparent to me during my explorations of Anglicanism as I began to notice that their theologians were not describing things in quite the same manner as the Evangelical theologians I was used to reading. By the time I finished a course on the theology of the early Church where we had the opportunity to read some of the primary source documents from that period the difference in thought between ancient theologians and their modern Evangelical counterparts was definite.

Most recently the consequences of this systematic thinking have become apparent to me regarding the Trinity. My Evangelical upbringing provided me with very little understanding of this doctrine. Sure it was in the doctrinal statement of the churches I grew up in, and believed by the leadership of those churches, but it was rarely mentioned during the services and I failed to see it as a foundational element of the Faith. The foundation of my faith during this time was Scripture and the teachings of Scripture. Unfortunately the Trinity is not explicitly taught in Scripture, but rather is derived from it, thus I did not regard it as foundational to my faith, but rather a consequence of it.

So when I began attending some Anglican services I was surprised that the Trinity was constantly and consistently mentioned during the services. In fact ‘God’ was rarely, if ever, mentioned apart from ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ This difference was striking to me, and I began to ask myself the question, ‘Why is the Trinity mentioned so often?’ After nearly two years I realized that the answer to this question was that the Trinity was foundational to the theology of Anglicanism, a foundation which was not to be found in my theology.

This foundational difference is, I believe, important to realize because Christianity is not based on Scripture, but on the redeeming work of the Trinity. It was the Father who created the world through the co-eternal Son. After we rebelled in the Garden and were driven from the presence of God it was the Son who left the Father in heaven and took on our sinful flesh and reconciled us back to the Father in heaven through his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. After His ascension the Son sent the Spirit from the Father to indwell all who believe. It is this redeeming work of the Trinity, which bridged the chasm created between heaven and earth at the Fall, on which Christianity is based; without this work Christianity is invalid.

The Celtic cross. The knots on the cross represent the interweaving of heaven and earth.

The Celtic cross. The knots on the cross represent the interweaving of heaven and earth.

Our world is thus interwoven by the Trinity and is both redeemed and being redeemed by the Trinity and therefore the Trinity should be the foundation of our faith, not Scripture, because Scripture itself only exists because the of the work of the Holy Spirit inspiring the authors. Scripture witnesses to the Trinity and calls us to Him. It calls us to the recognition that it is He who created heaven and Earth and interweaves them both and shows us how we should live as His creatures.

This last part, how we should live, can be found within His body, the Church, which will be the subject of the next post  in this series.