We are to pass on what we've been given. If we don't, we lose that which has been entrusted to our care.
A poignant memory for me is traveling through Sault Saint Marie, Ontario, Canada. Mum turned to me as we passed by an Anglican Church (Episcopalian Church) and said, "If you are ever on the road, and don't have meetings, and don't know where to go to church; go to an Episcopalian Church. It is always a safe bet, because no matter what else happens, the gospel is always present in the liturgy of the service." Knowing what I know now, the fact that mi Mum, a Bob Jones graduate, said that is rather remarkable, and I have never forgotten it. I pass it onto you.
You know that after your Mom and I split I ended up at St Matthews in Parkrose. I was there for three or four years. I still love those folk. I think (I hope) I left well. I certainly held no malice and left because of epistemology rather than theology. If you remember, I left to go to Evergreen. I wanted to hang out with Bob Hyatt, who I considered to be one of the most innovative pastors in Portland.
While I was at St Mattie's, I joined the church. To do so, I went through confirmation, rewriting the catechism as I did so. (I need to go back and look at it to see what I wrote and how I'd change it today.) So you know, the Catechism is the training that liturgical Churches (Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans (Episcopalians), Presbyterians, and Christian Reformed, to name some of the bigger ones) provide congregants who want to pursue membership in the church. Catechisms appear to be a series of questions and answers. Those joining the church memorize (or at least know) the answers to each of the questions in the catechism. In the old days they were tested, but not many churches test congregant's knowledge anymore.
At some point, we'll talk about the catechism (and why I re-wrote it), but for now, I only wanted you to know what it was. A brief Church history lesson will also help. Throughout the Church's history denominations form because they don't like something in the existing church. Because of this, you might say, each denomination is reactionary. Many times splits are doctrinal. But sometimes, they are not so much about theology (orthodoxy) as they are about behaviours and practices (orthopraxy). Anglicans (or Episcopalians) split from the Roman Catholics not because of theology but because of practice.
Henry VIII, the famous king who had eight wives by the time he was done, wanted a divorce from one of them. The pope wouldn't grant it, and so Henry ordered the Bishop of Canterbury to form a new church and called it, the Church of England. Though the Church was birthed under Henry, its future wasn't solidified for some years -- until after the reign of Henry's daughter, Mary, who returned England to Catholicism (killing a lot of people in the process). Mary's sister Elizabeth took the throne after Mary died, and she made the split final for political reasons. The Church of England's future was secure. During her reign, she commissioned a document called, the "39 Articles of Religion." Perhaps more than anything else, the 39 Articles defined the direction of the Church for the centuries to come. The document expounded 39 points of doctrine. A few are reactionary, while many confirm beliefs held by the Catholic Church. At this stage, the document is more historical than anything else. I agree with some of the articles and disagree with others, as do nearly all the Episcopal pastors I know. We probably disagree on which articles to discard, however. And we all probably read all the articles differently than the authors intended they be read. There is some hazy history, but it appears that it took nearly eight years for the Church to agree on the final 39 articles. This isn't that surprising. If you ever study or write theology, you will discover that it is more surprising that they agreed at all.
Many of those in the churches that I grew up in think that the Episcopalians are too liberal. They argue that many Episcopalians deny Jesus is God, that the Scriptures are the Word of God and are perfect and that Jesus is the only way of salvation. To the Church I grew up in all of this is heresy. Also, many argue that the church's refusal to condemn homosexuality and transgenders is an anathema.
I disagree with the Episcopalians teaching on some of these things. You know that I hold, with an open hand (in other words, acknowledging that I might be very wrong) that had people fallen into sin, there would be no homosexuality and no gender dysphoria -- that God's original creation was for eternal monogamy between a man and a woman.
However, we don't live or love in that perfect world any longer. I know the life of heterosexual monogamy to which I've been called, and given my complete failure in that arena; I am not going to look at anyone else and tell them how God intended for them to live. It is simply not my place. To do so would be the height of hypocrisy. As I read Jeremiah and Joel (two Old Testament prophets) I need to allow people to work out how they walk before their God for themselves. I no longer claim to know how anyone else should behave in any of these matters.
Denying Jesus as Lord is another matter. I could not be part of a congregation that denied the Trinity. Having said that, how Jesus saves is an open question for me. While I hold with a closed hand, grasping tightly to the fact that the Jesus' death on the cross is the only means of salvation, how the cross saves is beyond me. I was taught the only way that a person cold be saved was by saying a prayer, inviting Jesus into their heart. Not only is that extra-biblical (not found in the Bible), it is plain wrong.
Though I've never said it to you explicitly, you may have noticed that I don't use the word "Christian" anymore to describe myself. There is nothing wrong with the word. However, I've chosen to refer to people like me who love Jesus as "Christ followers." Because for me, that describes who I am -- In all things, I seek to follow Jesus. A Christian is someone who cognitively believes Christian doctrine. A Christ follower is someone who attempts to obey and follow Jesus. I want to be the latter.
When you are at an Episcopalian Church you will hear more scripture than you do in most "free church" services. We'll talk about the free church later. It is sadly true that many Episcopalian people that I know, don't know their Bibles very well, they hear it in church more regularly than their Baptist brethren. I was raised to believe that the Bible was "inerrant" (or without any errors) when originally written. That last phrase was important because no one has any of the originals. As I look back, I realize that the church of my youth fought tooth and nail for inerrancy to fight for their interpretation rather than for inerrancy. The Bible clearly has errors. That is part of its magnificence. What is more, our understanding of it is flawed and fallible and when we think we have understood it, we most certainly have not.
This is an important piece of my journey and transformation. I need to write an entirely different post on Scripture alone so you can understand my journey on this all important topic.
Suffice it to say; I believe that the Bible is God's unique and divinely inspired word to us and for us. It contains all we need to know for salvation, and it is mediated (or revealed) to us by his Holy Spirit so we can have a relationship with the Triune God. It is worthy of intense study and scrutiny. It will not give life by itself but will be used by God to raise the dead, heal the sick, give hope where there is despair, and faith where there is doubt. There is no book like it, and no other writing compares to it. I think that most Episcopalians would agree with this paragraph and those who don't have a right to be wrong.
When I go to an Episcopalian Worship service, I trudge a rhythmic path toward Jesus. I am invited into Jesus' presence, and hear his word proclaimed: First an Old Testament reading, then the Psalm, then a New Testament reading, and finally a Gospel reading. I am encouraged in my faith through the homily; am invited to pray for the world, confess my sin, and hear God's forgiveness given. With shame taken from me, I can fully enter into relationship with my neighbors sitting next to me, as we pass the peace one to another; and, finally, I am invited to partake in the body and blood of Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
I need to stop here once again. As I grew up, I often heard preachers and pastors add to the Bible by saying, "This is a symbol of my body and blood." They did so because they don't really believe the Bible is inerrant. They believed their interpretation was inerrant. This is important because Jesus said, "Whenever you gather to worship, partake in communion together" (SGT, 1 Cor 11:25); and Jesus didn't say, "this is a symbol..." What he actually said was, "This is my body which is given for you..." and, "this is my blood, which was shed for you..." (SGT, Mt 26, Mk 14, Lk 22, 1 Cor. 11).
And this is the glory of it, so please catch it. Because he forgave me (and he had to forgive a shit ton of sin in me), I get to take communion. And as I take communion, I say, "I will enter into his death and give up my life for the world in the same way he gave up his for me. It may look like it costs me everything, but death always precedes resurrection, and resurrection is better than life!" When we are done with communion, we are sent into the world to be Jesus' body in the world.
These are the reasons that I am grateful to be Episcopalian. I realize I didn't address the things in the church with which I do disagree: The ecclesiology (how the Church is set up), or the right of infant baptism. Those issues, in practice, don't affect me and are easy to overlook. The things that make me Episcopalian far outweigh the things that pull me away.