How are we different, how are we the same?
Part Three of We Are Anglicans
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Trinity, August 30, 2020
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
A MAN staggered into the home of a Pharisee, obviously struggling with edema, the terrible swelling of his legs from inflammation and water retention – called dropsy. Jesus the healer saw him. The Pharisee, knowing it was Sabbath, saw Jesus. The arena for a religious battle was set. Who would win? Who would be shown right after the ensuing clash? Jesus took the man, healed his painful condition, and then turned to his host. “Your horse falls in a ditch on Saturday. What do you do for the poor beast? How can you think less of your fellow man than you do an animal?” No one answered him. He continued, “The next time you are invited to a wedding, why don’t you sit by the door on a stool meant for the servants? Do that, and your host will come down to bring you up close to the head table. But if you put yourself up close, then he might ask you to make room for a more important guest.” Jesus made sense. Making yourself important can bring unpleasant surprises.
But how can any church in any town present itself to a potential new member except as the best church for them to choose? It would be odd, don’t you think, for a new person to be met at the door by the usher who says: “You would probably not like this church. There are a lot more people who go to Bidwell Presbyterian, just down that way. They have contemporary worship and you can dress casually! Good bye!”
So, are we to take the seat nearest the bridal party and make too much of ourselves instead, and sell our church as being the best?
We live in a crass, self-promoting world. The people who call attention to themselves get ahead, and the shy and quiet ones get left behind. American society is noted for a raucous, rude humor by which we are known around the world—as ugly Americans. We don’t group well, except to differentiate ourselves from some other group. It’s the Jets and the Sharks all over. Norteneos vs Sorrenos. Democrats and Republicans. Catholic or Protestant. High church, low church. ‘28 Prayer book or ‘79. Organ and choir or else guitar and drum combo. We make no allowance for taste or style, but pitch war camps over praise choruses vs. traditional hymns. Christians seem to be itching for a fight over just about anything. How did all this begin?
Christianity started with a sound of a rushing wind and flames on the disciples’ heads. With new-found zeal, they flowed into streets packed with pilgrims, there for the festival of Pentecost. Many languages rose in a babel of voices asking what had excited these happy people. Then each heard his or her own native tongue, clearly telling the great news that Jesus, the Messiah, was alive. He’d been crucified and buried, but had risen. His Spirit was now here for everyone!
These pilgrims had come a long way for the one place on earth where the Jews might to worship Yahweh. Yet their unity of place had uncovered mutual disdain in them all recognizing the marks of many national origins and languages that separated them. The Persian Jew could not understand the Alexandrian Jew, and neither could speak to Jews from Greece. Now these disciples of Jesus were magically speaking so all could understand them. In their words, the Holy Spirit was uniting all mankind, so long ago driven from Babel when He divided their speech. The reason He did that then was a wrong way they were united and seeking to gain heaven, so that pride had deafened them to His Voice. So their voices clamoring disunited them for millennia. Now one message brought the many disparate nationalities of Jews together in Christ.
For 1,000 years, from Jesus’ resurrection until 1054 AD, there was only one church on earth. It was the Christian Church. Call them catholic, and you only meant “universal” which was all of them. Call them orthodox, you only meant their theology was correct. There were local and regional expressions of the one true Christianity. From the beginning it was a true faith, then it was further clarified in Great Councils, setting many errors right. Heresy was the word for a splintering off the main trunk of the church’s truth. Alternatives were suggested, considered, then rejected. The Creeds were crafted to sum up their bright truth.
AD 1054 brought a cleaver down between the Latin West and the Greek East over contentious issues of practical religious life, while at the center of the dispute was the pride of the Pope in Rome up against the pride of the Patriarch in Constantinople. And they have never healed the breach. Today, you ask Rome or Orthodoxy what is the true church—and they say WE ARE. No one else.
And not, certainly, Anglicans. We are that third red-haired sibling that has no place in the squabble between the older heirs to the estate. The Romans claim Peter as their first pope, and thus cite the declaration of Jesus that ‘upon this rock I will build my church,’ and gave Peter the keys to the kingdom. Rome, the city, held that unique position in all the world – so they claim. The Orthodox claim Peter and all the Apostles, eastern men who all spoke Greek, wrote the New Testament in Greek, and only went to Rome to be executed. Their Greek theology is pure, they celebrate all the saints, fast and keep all the feasts, and their worship is beautiful. They go back farther than Rome. They are the first church, the true church.
What can England’s Canterbury say to either of those?
We may look to the Protestants for somebody to talk to. Protestant means one who protests, and the main thrust of the Protestants movement was against Roman Catholicism. Some of that opposition, however, was launched against Anglicanism. And in turn, the Church of England suppressed Protestant movements within itself, like the Baptists, Puritans, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians – all who denied priesthood, sacraments and Apostolic Succession: Protestants protesting us.
King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth, Kings James and Charles I: all established the Anglican church in England, the authorized religion of the realm. But, as I have said, it was no new religion. ‘Anglican’ only means English, but the Church we stem from is 1st or 2nd century born, more Catholic than the Pope, and thoroughly Orthodox in theology. We’re not embarrassed to tell the truth of ourselves. These royal personages of the 16th and 17th centuries made room for the Catholic Church of their forebears to endure, without the Pope’s interference. It was no new church.
The modern world has not fared better than they did in the Reformation age in its bitterest moments. Protestant churches continue to break up into smaller pieces as new issues divide Christian from Christian, fundamentalist from charismatic from holiness from Methodist from Anglican, and now Anglican from Anglican. Even Anglican, as a word, can’t specify one way to worship or a single theology.
The Episcopal Church (now called TEC) took a controversial course that pitched us out, rupturing itself in the process. The Titanic lost more people than were saved by their lifeboats. So it was with Anglicanism. What is left of TEC, after the iceberg of 1976, is a dwindling and discouraged mainline denomination on the deck of a slowly sinking ocean liner, with many smaller boats bobbing up and down on the freezing waters, hauling in whoever did not drown.
Can anyone see the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church cited in Scriptures with all this mess?
I can. And I do.
I’ve currently welcomed into our sanctuary the Sovereign Joy Church – a Baptist fellowship. We house a Korean 7th Day Adventist group preaching and praying in their native tongue. I’ve told the story of this building. The altar, organ, lectern, and our reclaimed 115-year-old Gothic revival church is shared. They thank us for a beautiful place to come to God.
In this building, over our 25 years here, we have given shelter to Campus Crusade, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Saints Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Church, many city-wide prayer events, and an Evensong joint service with St. John’s Episcopal members, the church that built this edifice, at its centennial. We respect and honor them all, knowing we have this place only by God’s grace, and we love all the people Christ calls to be His own.
Our ways of worship may separate us at those times when we formally approach Him, but when I meet with a fellow pastor, it always is as friends. I am the third longest ministering senior pastor in town. I’ve led multiple pastors on many prayer retreats, without objection, even when I offer communion our way, and our church holds their respect.
I have found with most of the Christian leaders in this town that the things that unite us are greater and of more importance than the things that separate us. The Bible is true and Jesus is God. We affirm the Trinity, the Virgin birth, the atoning Death and bodily Resurrection. He is coming again in glory and that day is coming. And heaven is real. What is there to fight about?
In fact, the only thing to fight over, as a pastor, is the people. There are just a certain number of people, and several churches, and people will go where they choose to go. We can lob insults at other churches and make enemies. Or else we might ask, “What would Jesus do?”
Unity, as a cause in itself, can lead to strange alliances and odd attempts at a forged unity. When churches have parted ways in their history, then attempting to re-splice them in the name of unity can create error. The focus gets off of God and onto artificial unity, and compromise.
I prefer to love my Christian brothers and sisters. I can worship with them when they worship in their way. I like our service better. I want to come here. This worship holds God very high. But I know it isn’t for everyone. Some would think we’re worshiping the crucifix. We’re not. Some believe we’re wrongly putting Jesus back up on the cross, ignoring the fact He is risen. Not so. Some object to our use of real wine. But I have received great respect from Protestants who know us as good and valid Christians.
The Romans and the Orthodox may not regard us very seriously. We respect them anyway. Pentecostals may think we’re not spirit-filled. We are, and we love them anyway. Evangelicals might question the scriptural basis for our holy orders or sacraments. We bless them. Calvinists debate the way we see salvation. Okay. I could argue, but why? St. Paul wrote at a time when in any city there was only one church. They regarded him as their founder, and he set all the standards. But several epistles charge his churches with division, signs of heresy, and sins done in his absence.
To Ephesus he enjoined them to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph 4:1-3 In a one-church-city, Paul preached unity—in the 1st century. It’s not a new problem.
Paul told them: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” v5-6
After all is said, and all is done, real Christians believe that God is One, and He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is supreme and by His will determines all things. The Son is perfectly united with the Father and obediently created all the Father directed to be made. The Spirit gives life to this world and inspires the writing of God’s word through people. The Son became man in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit’s presence above the Virgin Mary. Christ lived a human life and died on the cross to redeem all humankind from the judgment of sin. He rose on the third day and appeared to His disciples. Then He rose to His Father and is seated in glory. One day He is to return for all who believe Him. One Spirit in us all, One church, One baptism, One communion, One heaven, the Great Resurrection, and Life Eternal. Get someone to sign off on that statement, and you have unity in all the ways that matter. It’s the Nicene Creed. It defines the word Christian.
So, what does an Anglican church offer that is unique and that makes it important that we still exist? To answer that, let me sit in Jesus’ little three-legged servants’ stool by the door.
We are not huge like Rome. We can’t speak in ancient languages as they do in Moscow. We don’t speak in tongues like charismatics. We have a liturgy, which means that our prayers are written down. Our music is quite old. I wear funny clothes. And, frankly, there aren’t many of us. Maybe you’d prefer the contemporary service at Bidwell after all.
To speak in our favor, this liturgy we use was forged in the fires of many centuries of worship, when it cost everything to claim Christ. And it was translated, against the will of the most powerful church on earth, into a newly emerging English language, coining words that now stand as a brilliant achievement. Our church produced the King James translation, an English Bible that, after 400 years, in many ways stands head and shoulders over other attempts to render holy writ in words you will always remember.
Our altar worship raises God and brings our hearts upward, rather than engage with people in the friendly middle, attempting to make God less threatening by making Him everyday.
We don’t whip up frenzied worship, but if God wants to show up and lay us on our faces, we welcome Him. We were on our knees anyway.
We may not give invitation for an emotional altar call to come forward and come to Jesus, yet we regularly ascend to His altar rail and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
I’ve found that you all know the biblical truths as well or better than most Protestant laymen I know.
I think I’ll stay right here. And from right here at 3rd & Salem, I will bless Bidwell Presbyterian, New Hope Fellowship, Vespers, Trinity Methodist, Grace Community, and the Neighborhood Church. And, God willing, they bless us too.