How are we different and How are we the same?
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Trinity, July 5, 2015
“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 stumbled in to the home of a Pharisee, with a swelling of his legs – dropsy. Jesus, the healer, saw him. The Pharisee, knowing it was the Sabbath, saw Jesus. A religious battle was on. Who would be right afterward? Jesus healed the man’s painful condition, then turned on his host. “Question: Your horse falls in a ditch on Saturday. What do you do for it? How can you think less of your fellow man than you do an animal?” No one answered. He continued, “The next time you are invited to a wedding, sit by the door on stool meant for servants. Do that and your host will come bring you toward the head table. If you put yourself up higher, then he’ll ask you to make room for a more important guest.” Jesus made sense. Humility, not pride.
But how can a single church in any town present itself to potential new members except as a really special and good church? It would be odd for a new person to be met at the door by the usher who says: “You would probably not like this church. More people who go to Bidwell Presbyterian, just over that way. They have contemporary worship and you can dress any way you like! Good bye!” So, do we take the seat nearest the bride and make too much of ourselves?
We live in a crass, self-promoting world. People who call attention to themselves move up, and those who are modest get left behind. We don’t group well, except to differentiate ourselves from some other group. It’s the Jets and the Sharks. Norteneos and Sorrenos. Catholic or Protestant. High church, low church. 1928 or 1979. Organ and choir or guitar and contemporary. Praise choruses or hymns. Some Christians fight over just about anything. How did this all begin?
Christianity started with a rushing wind and flames on the disciples’ heads. With new-found zeal, they flowed out into the streets packed with pilgrims for Pentecost, the first fruits. Many languages created a babel of voices wondering what had excited these 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 Holy Spirit was now here for everyone! The pilgrims had come a long way for the one place on earth where they could worship Yahweh. Unity of place had found a mutual disdain of their national origins and the languages that separated them. The Persian Jew couldn’t understand the Alexandrian Jew, and neither spoke Greek. These disciples of Jesus spoke magically and all understood them. Through words, the Spirit was uniting mankind, long ago driven out of Babel by His dividing their speech. Their old unity was over the wrong thing and their pride deafened them to His Voice. Now it was the reverse.
For 1,000 years there was only one church on earth. It was Christian. Call them catholic, and you only mean “universal.” Call them orthodox, you only mean their theology was right. There were local expressions of Christianity. Clarity arising out of the Great Councils was forged out of many errors suggested then corrected. Heresy was a splintering off the main trunk of the church’s truth. The ideas were made, considered, then expelled.
But in 1054, the Great Schism brought a cleaver down between the Latin West and the Greek East. At the center of the dispute was the pride of the Pope of Rome against the Patriarch of Constantinople. They have never healed the breach. Today, you ask either of those churches what is the true church—and you will hear that it is them, alone. No one else.
Not, certainly, us Anglicans. We are that third sibling that has no place in the squabble between the older heirs to the estate. The Romans claim Peter their first pope, and thus go back to the declaration Jesus made that upon this rock He would build His church, and giving Peter the keys to the kingdom, Rome held that unique position in all the world. The Orthodox claim Peter and all the Apostles, eastern men who all spoke Greek, wrote the New Testament in Greek, and only got taken to Rome to be executed. Their theology is pure, they celebrate all the saints, fast and keep all the feasts, and their worship is beautiful. They’re earlier than Rome. The true church. What can Canterbury say to either of those?
Do we look to the Protestants for somebody to talk to? Protestant means one who protests. The thrust of that movement was against Roman Catholics. Some opposition, however, was against Anglicans as the Church of England suppressed its Baptist, Puritan, Congregational, and Presbyterian citizens. King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth, James and Charles I established a state church as supreme in England, the only authorized religion. Use force to establish faith, and you create zeal in your opposition.
The modern world is no better. Protestant churches break into smaller pieces and new issues divide Christian from Christian, fundamentalist from charismatic from holiness from Methodist from Anglican. Even Anglican, as a word, can’t specify one way of worship or theology. Our mother church took a controversial direction that pitched many of us out to form around whatever the current lost value was. The Titanic lost more people than were saved by the lifeboats. So with Anglicanism. What is left of it, after the iceberg of 1976, is a dwindling and discouraged mainline denomination on a slowly sinking ocean liner and many smaller boats bobbing up and down on the freezing waters.
Can anyone see the One Church of Scriptures in all this mess?
I can. And I do. A recent Wednesday evening 85 Christians of this city came here for one stop on the Ten Days of Prayer, a season of repentance. Deacon Faith and I presented the Penitential Office and Evensong, a message and song by me, and Brad’s leading hymns from the Hymnal. They enjoyed it. They respect us. We respect and love the people Christ calls to be His own. Our ways of worship may separate us at times, but Christ called us to love. The things that unite us are greater and more important than what divide. The Bible is true and Jesus is God. The Trinity, Virgin birth, the Death and Resurrection. He is coming again in glory and that day is closer than ever. What is there to fight about?
Unity, as a cause in itself, can make things awkward. I prefer to love my Christian brothers and sisters. I can worship with them when they worship 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 everybody. Some think we’re worshiping the crucifix. We’re not. Some say we’re putting Jesus back up on the cross. Not so. Some object to our use of real wine. But I have seen great respect coming to us from Protestant believers who see as very valid Christians.
Roman and Orthodox may not regard us 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 ecclesiology. Calvinists oppose our soteriology. I could argue, but why? St. Paul wrote to churches that existed as one congregation in a city. But several of his letters charge those churches with unnecessary divisions, budding heresies and bad practices 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 single church, Paul urged for unity—1st century. It’s not a new problem.
Paul said that “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 Christians believe that God is One, and He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is supreme and has determined all things. The Son obediently made all the Father directed to be made like a word spoken. The Spirit gives life and inspires the writing of God’s word through people. The Son became man in Jesus Christ by the Spirit upon the Virgin Mary. He lived and died on the cross to redeem all mankind from judgment and sin. He rose 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 general Resurrection, and Life Eternal. In those truths we 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? Let me sit in that stool by the door. We are not huge like Rome. We can’t speak ancient languages like Moscow. We don’t speak in tongues like charismatics. We have a liturgy, which means that what we pray is written down. Our music is old. I wear funny clothes. And, frankly, there aren’t many of us. Maybe you’d prefer the contemporary service at Bidwell.
To speak in our favor, this liturgy was forged in fires of centuries of worship, even back 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, in words that stand as a brilliant achievement. We translated the King James Bible. Our altar worship elevates God and brings our hearts upward, rather than attempting to keep God ordinary. We don’t create frenzied worship, but if He wants to come in power, I welcome Him. We were on our knees anyway. We may not enlist an emotional altar call, yet we come to His altar rail and receive the Body and Blood of our Savior every week. I’m charged to produce Bible knowledge in you equal to any Baptist, and I’ve found that you know the bible as well as any layman I’ve found. I think I’ll stay right here. And from here at 3rd & Salem, I will bless Grace, Neighborhood, and Bidwell Pres. And I think you can as well.