Tag Archives: church

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.

 

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Salvation, Baptism, and the Church

In the previous post the passage of Acts that we were looking at ended with this sentence:

And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Salvation is the most important aspect of the Christian life. In fact it is what the Christian life is all about. Yet in my Evangelical Protestant upbringing I noticed that it was also one of the least understood aspects of the Christian life and one of the least appreciated. This was quite alarming to me, especially since our salvation was the reason that Christ came to earth. As the Nicene Creed says:

We believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…

At least part of the lack of understanding concerning salvation I believe can be attributed to two factors: 1)The Western proclivity for concrete definitions, and 2)The fact that salvation is, in the end, a mystery and a personal experience between an individual and God. In an effort to define salvation the West has articulated various and conflicting positions on salvation. In my native Evangelical Protestantism the end result of these varying positions has been not only divisions, but also seems to have led to salvation being primarily associated with getting into heaven. Thus to the Evangelical Protestant mind salvation is associated primarily with a completed past action: the moment they “accepted Christ,” became indwelt and sealed by the Holy Spirit, and were assured entrance into heaven upon death.* The downside to this association is that it can easily minimize, or even completely remove, the necessity and importance of following the commands of Christ and seeking to live more like him everyday.

Now to be fair Evangelical Protestants certainly agree that one must follow the commands of Christ, and if they aren’t then they have either abandoned their faith or were never really a Christian in the first place. However this is not called salvation in Evangelical Protestantism, but rather sanctification (becoming more like Christ). And while, technically speaking, sanctification may be included in the salvation process, dividing the process into different parts and defining different terms for each of the parts puts one at a significant disadvantage when reading Scripture because there does not seem to be such a distinction in terms made in Scripture. It is simply a form of “save” and could refer to the getting into heaven aspect, the sanctification aspect, the future glorification aspect (not discussed here), or could refer to someone being in physical danger, such as drowning, and in need of rescue.

Salvation is a personal experience between an individual and God and thus does not readily lend itself to definitions precisely because it involves multiple personal beings (i.e. a human and God). It also does not seem to be clearly defined and articulated in Scripture or in Christian tradition. It does involve coming to a recognition that Jesus is God and reconciled us to the Father through his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection; and following Christ’s commands and becoming more like him; and being glorified in the future. Thus I propose that when we think of salvation, or being saved, we do not think of “accepting Christ” and being guaranteed a ticket to heaven when we die, but rather the following:

The process of being restored to our original, perfect state of being from our current evil and depraved state of being.

For an adult this process begins first with the recognition that Jesus is God and reconciled us to the Father, from whom we were separated at the Fall, through his crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. Then as soon as possible baptism should follow. This is the pattern that we have seen so far in the Act of the Apostles. First the “men of Judea” recognized who Jesus was, then they were baptized.

Baptism, I think, is best viewed as the initiation rite into the Church, regardless of what one believes happens during baptism. As such I do not have an issue with baptizing infants since I do not see any good reason why a child of Christian parents should not be initiated into the Church. In fact, for a child of Christian parents, salvation begins as soon as they are born and thus they should be initiated into the community that will guide them through the salvation process. Later on these children who were baptized do make their own decision concerning Christ as they learn for themselves who he is and what he has done.

Baptism will be featured multiple times as we continue through the Acts of the Apostles and is certainly an important part of the Christian life. If someone claims to be a Christian they should have either already been baptized, or be waiting to be baptized. I do not believe anything else to be acceptable for someone claiming to be a Christian.

The Church, what the baptized are initiated into, is in general terms the worldwide body of people who have been baptized and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (called “believers” in Christian circles). The Church is such an essential part of salvation that Jesus himself personally trained and appointed those who would lead it during its initial phases. These were the Apostles, whose acts, words, and deeds we are currently reading about. And not only were Apostles appointed, but the Holy Spirit was, and still is, given to all who are members of the Church in order to guide the Church and protect it. The Church is not a man-made institution, but a divinely appointed institution whose main purpose is to guide people along the way of salvation and help them avoid the snares the devil has laid with the purpose of leading people off the path of salvation.

Summary

In order to be restored to their perfect, original state of being from their evil and depraved state of being a person must be initiated into the worldwide community of believers by being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit. Then they should learn from others in the community of believers so that they will be able to discern where God is leading them and avoid the snares the devil has laid for them.

Next up will be chapter 3.

* Protestantism disagrees as to whether or not one can lose their “salvation,” i.e. their admittance into heaven.

What is the Church?

I am the vine; you are the branches.
(John 15:5)

One of the tasks during my first semester here in Dallas has been to find a church home. Since I wasn’t raised in any particular Christian tradition or denomination I’ve also taken this opportunity to evaluate various traditions and denominations with the goal of possibly joining one of them.

Background Info: I grew up in independent churches, all of which were orthodox and Protestant. I have no doctrinal dispute of any significance with any of the churches I attended during my childhood and adolescence. Over time however I became increasingly dissatisfied with these churches. Or to state it metaphorically: I began to feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole (the specific reasons for this are another subject entirely and I won’t go into them in this post).

What is the Church? One of the books I have (finally) started reading as a part of my evaluation of the various Christian traditions and denominations is An Outline of an Anglican Life by Louis Tarsitano (McGrath’s Christian Theology has also been very helpful). In the first chapter Tarsitano presents a view of the Church that I agree with very much and think the rest of Christendom would do well to not merely intellectually assent to, but to actually live their lives, conduct their worship services in light of, and guide their flocks by.

One of the things that breaks my heart about modern Christianity are the divisions that exist within it. While I think that distinct styles of worship and disagreements are inevitable I do not think that these differences should lead to divisions within the Body of Christ so that certain denominations/churches absolutely refuse to work with other denominations/churches in spreading the Gospel.

When divisions go this deep I think the leader of the church has been forgotten, if he was ever acknowledged in the first place. Christ is the head of the church, not a man or a council of men (Ephesians 1.22; 4.15; 5.23; Colossians 1.18). Furthermore Christ is the one who chooses who constitutes the church, not us (John 13.18; 15.16, 19). While most Christians would agree with these statements it seems to me that these statements have little effect on relations between different churches and denominations.

Christ is the vine and we are the branches. There are not multiple vines, but only one: Christ. The branches are connected to the vine and are to bear fruit. If we could truly recognize that this, that Christ is the only vine and the different denominations/traditions are merely branches connected to the vine I think it would go a long way towards achieving the unity that has been lacking for so long within Christendom.