Monday, March 16, 2009
why I'm an Episcopalian
Michael Ramsey was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury. He served from 1961-1974. (To get some perspective on that #, St. John's has been around since 1732 and I am only the 17th Rector! "Being old" by US standards is like 'being rich' by Albanian standards. However, none of the Rectors of St. John's was ever murdered or beheaded or burned at the stake....That was, over the centuries, an occupational hazard of being ABofC.)
Ramsey contended--and I agree--that the Anglican Communion (at least what fiction that passed for it in his day) drew its theology primarily from the Doctrine of Creation and the Doctrine of Incarnation.
The Doctrine of Creation teaches that God created everything out of nothing and "it was good". In fact, Genesis says that God created humankind in God's "image and likeness". The Doctrine of Incarnation teaches that the very same Creator God took on flesh, was 'incarnate' as a human being to live and die as one of us. Unlike almost any other Faith, Christianity teaches of a God that got down and dirty with us. We are not the sport of the gods and God is not infinitely removed from us. God was one of us. And if the Holy took on flesh, flesh must somehow be holy.
Starting a theology from those two doctrines leads to a very high view of human nature--just a little below the angels, as the Psalms say. So human beings, in Anglican theology, are basically and inherently 'good'. Given world enough and time, people TRY to do the right thing. The church exists to inspire and console and comfort and counsel with men and women, not to 'control' them.
Roman Catholics and Baptists begin their theology with the Doctrine of the Atonement. The Atonement teaches that human beings are so basically and inherently bad and evil and sinful that if left to their own devices they will get into dangerous mischief. Consequently, the church exists to control and regulate those odious little vermin and keep them out of trouble.
All of us adhere to those three doctrines, but we Episcopalians emphasize Creation and Incarnation (that's why we're so good at doing Christmas!) over Atonement and RC's and Baptists emphasize Atonement. They both have many rules (different rules, granted--no RC would prohibit dancing and Baptists, as far as I can tell, don't fret too much about birth control) while the Episcopal has so few rules.
Most Christians see the world in black and white while Episcopalians look at a world of a multitude of shades of gray. That creates a remarkably different 'world view' and a completely altered relationship with the church. A friend of mine calls the Episcopal Church "the grownup Church", meaning that we treat people--even kids--like adults who have a brain in their head and a conscience in their heart and a spark of divinity in their soul. We believe people want to do the right thing by their very nature and need not be herded into salvation by sheep dogs of rules. We don't tell that to people enough--probably because we are also--because of our English roots--polite, reserved and self-effacing.
But the secret shouldn't be hidden beneath some bushel basket of enforced humility. I actually believe people might be attracted to a church that doesn't ask them to leave their brain in the narthex and be told what to do with their lives lest they go to hell. The mega-church phenomena, as far as I can tell, doesn't ask people to leave their minds outside but lulls their minds to sleep with entertainment and false security.
I really believe the Episcopal church comes as near as any Christian denomination to 'telling the Truth' about who we are and whose we are. We are 'dust and ashes'--that's True...but we are also shining, loved, gifted children of God--loved just the way we are and given by God the resources to be the best we can be at being who we are.
(I must admit that on sunny June Sundays I'd like to have that RC rule about not coming to church puts your soul in peril! But Episcopalians would suggest 'coming to church' and being part of a worshipping, giving community is a good way of being 'all we can be'...but not the only way....We never claim to be "The Way". Maybe that's why our evangelism sucks--we don't have fear or guilt to drag people in....But I wouldn't have it any other way....)