Rooted and Grounded
Our Identity in Christ: Part Two of We Are Anglicans
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Trinity, August 23, 2020
“…that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”
LAST SUNDAY I began an examination of what we mean when we call ourselves Anglicans. In one sense, we are that odd bodkin church that is neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, not exactly Evangelical, nor Pentecostal, neither Calvinist nor Arminian. We are not these, and we are all of these: as ancient as any church and yet as close to real life as today’s headlines. And as traditional Anglicans, separated from The Episcopal church that calls itself TEC, we are as small and unimpressive as a country chapel. We have no pope or patriarch. We write no new music. We have no mega-church flagship. We’re as hidden as a pin in a jar of rice. Our liturgy makes new people wrinkle their noses and sometimes fly for the doors. I once befriended a church growth expert who, at hearing what we do and who we are, expressed shock that we even exist.
Last Sunday, I said that we are not Protestant, and that we are Catholic. Let me be clear on what I mean. Catholic means the universal church, begun in Jerusalem with the 11 apostles and other disciples of Christ, c. 30 AD, spread across the world, supported by an oral tradition, then a written record, and defined over and again by Church Councils that settled various challenges to orthodoxy, which means right teaching. St. Vincent of Lerins once gave a clear definition of the Catholic faith: it is what has been held always, everywhere, and by all. It is to that original body of faith we aspire, and so we are Catholic. The Romans claim it also, as do Eastern Orthodox Christians. In certain doctrines we differ from them both, but the core teaching is the same, the sacraments the same, the ministry once ordered by Christ and His Apostles, the same. Catholic.
What most people mean by Protestant is a Christian who rejects the Roman Church teaching and authority for one or another reason. What is mean by Protestant is a Christianity that left the Catholic (universal) Church to begin a new body of faith outside of it. They didn't simply reject papal authority and continue the Catholic faith. They denied certain parts of the core teaching, the ancient truths, and left behind the ordained ministry and sacraments, wanting a religion that saves them by faith alone. We love them, and share much in common with them, but our paths go very differently. We are sure our Anglican roots make us truly Catholic, not Roman, but English, Catholic. Anglican.
Is it okay to be Anglicans? And such an exclusive strain of Anglo-Catholic, ‘28 Prayer Book, 1940 Hymnal, vestments and acolytes-types that defy comparison? Strange as it may seem, not only did all Anglicans worship just like we do 100 years ago, but most Christian Churches worshiped much like this worldwide. In fact, the worship of most Christians in the world is closer to ours than it is to a non-denominational fellowship. We aren’t really so weird. We’re just weird right here and at this hour.
The mother ship of Anglicanism is a world-wide communion, called the Anglican Communion, that is the third largest worldwide denomination. Headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, a confederation of national churches use the term ‘Anglican’, and stem from the same English stalk, with similar orders and mostly English language services, in places as far flung as central Africa, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, and Chico, California—by which I mean St. John’s. The strains that distress that confederacy are mostly centered around human sexuality, same sex marriages, and ordaining members of that persuasion. They won’t put it to a worldwide vote, for Africans outnumber all other Anglicans by great margins, and Africans are conservative on sexuality. The American Church (TEC) leads the charge toward liberality, but its greatest sin has not been consecrating gay ministers. 20th century bishops James Pike and John Spong have been the most vocal proponents of heretical teachings in that church, and yet the roots of this rebellion go a great deal further back than the 60s and 80s.
In the mid-nineteenth century, a semi-scientific study of the Books of Moses in German seminaries concluded that no such prophet as Moses ever existed, but that various sources of traditional stories and creation myths were, from time to time, added to the Jewish collection until, around 500 BC, the priests added their touches and arranged the Pentateuch, the Bible’s first five books, in its current form, with the pretense that the man Moses was its author. If seriously considered, this Graf-Wellhausen theory on Higher Biblical Criticism undermined all the Hebrew claims to being chosen of God, given a Covenant, the Ten Commandments, any miracles, any such creation story, deliverance from Egypt, conquering of Canaan, or proof that their religion was to a real deity. The theory caught on, and in a few decades had been adopted by every major Christian seminary in the world.
This theory began to eat away at the trust Christians had always held in the other books of scripture as well. It ate through the entire Old Testament, and every book was put to scrutiny, as academic cynicism brutalized each source until you couldn’t cite a miracle or a fulfilled prophecy without some expert claiming it was written after the fact, and by counterfeit authors.
It was only a matter of time, therefore, that the doubts cast on Old Testament documents would arrive at the New Testament. By this time, German SS teams were exterminating the Jewish populations of Europe, and Hitler’s own saying was, “After Saturday, comes Sunday,” meaning after he’d exterminated Judaism, Christianity could not stand. Had the Christians only understood this earlier, history might have been different.
Naturally there was a reaction against the erosion of the documentary evidence of Christianity. Fundamentalists objected and printed pamphlets outlining irreducible elements of Christian faith. Missouri Synod Lutherans departed from the more liberal Lutherans in the U.S. over scriptural inerrancy. But rank and file church members never heard any of this argument, for sermons in America’s pulpits seldom spoke a discouraging word. The ministers taught in seminary that the things they were liable to read in the Bible ain’t necessarily so, came to their churches with bright homilies on Christian living and successful marriages. The heresy ran deep and undercover.
The most profound outbreak of the school of biblical doubt came in what was termed “The Jesus Seminar.” In the 1980s and 90s, this study by 150 critical scholars discussed and then voted on every word allegedly spoken by Jesus of Nazareth in the various Gospel accounts, and they decided that He only said about 18% of the words attributed to Him. Naturally, these accepted words were not the passages we use to prove His divinity (“Before Abraham was, I AM”), nor did any miracles make the cut. If anything could pry the secrecy lid off the academic catastrophe of the previous 150 years, it was their published summary, The Five Gospels (1999). Most Christians never heard of it. Life went on.
In this atmosphere of doubt, The Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA lost its faith in the faith. The election of James Pike as bishop of California in 1958 made a rupture in the cover-up. Pike started to talk. His Big God, as he liked to call his version of deity, could be all we might imagine. Pike cast doubts on the Virgin Birth and Deity of Jesus Christ, all miracles, the Resurrection and the Second Coming.
A couple decades later Bishop John Shelby Spong would echo these doubts and challenged the church to silence him. The apostasy of Pike and Spong was not remarkable. The Church has always had its bad eggs. It was the silence of the church that spoke the loudest, for Pike threatened to show the world how much his heresy was the teaching they had all shared, and the opinions they had all expressed, in secret, in closed rooms, in seminary. And they never touched either of these men.
Since then, anything goes. The Prayer Book seemed a stodgy old thing that needed to be tossed and new words crafted to eliminate any mention of sin. The campaign to redraw all lines of human sexuality had to begin small, and so the ordination of women, first in the role of deacon, then priest, and ultimately bishop was undertaken. Why women? It was a break with scripture and the Church’s history that was hard to argue, except by citing biblical warrant and tradition. Bible and tradition needed to go, because the newly invented Anglicanism was unable to escape its ancient past unless it lost two of its three legs.
Anglican thought has long held that, like a stool with three legs, the faith stands on three interdependent sources of authority: Bible, Tradition and Reason. The Articles of Religion, a 16th century statement of Anglican doctrine, states in its 6th article, “HOLY Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” If scripture doesn’t say so, we can’t insist on something as doctrine. If scripture specifically says “no,” it must be no. TEC reasoned that such rudiments can’t remain in a modernized church, nor could 20 centuries of orthodox catholic thought. The way to break those? Women’s ordination. It was unthinkable that anyone could oppose it. That would be unfair. Christians must be fair. Case closed. The vote of the Laity was decided by two votes. It almost lost. But the Bible and Tradition—20 centuries of faithful rendering of doctrine—were thrown out. And with them, our own movement was born by being thrown out also.
In the ten or so years following the 1976 Convention of PECUSA, our Continuing Anglican movement held a formational meeting in St. Louis, consecrated four bishops in Denver, launched the Diocese of Christ the King, and soon thereafter St. Augustine of Canterbury Church in Chico.
We were angry. We defined ourselves by who and what we were not. We were not The Episcopal Church. They had left us. We would go it alone. We would use the word Anglican to distinguish ourselves from those called Episcopalians. About that time, this church building was put up for sale, St. John’s having built its new church on Floral Avenue. The sale of old St. John’s to Bill and Amy Pang, made it into the Dynasty Restaurant and Shell Cove. That struck at the hearts of many in Chico, a symbol of breaking faith and leaving the truth behind. It was a focal point in a feud.
Nationally, the feud continued. We continued the faith as always. But the energy derived from being angry subsided, thank God. Being the opposite of TEC lost its energy, and we had to find our own definition of what we are, instead of what we are not. I welcomed the change.
We are Christians. We follow the Nicene Creed. We believe in the Holy Scriptures as a divinely given record, maintained from error, saved from loss for 35 centuries, holding the necessary truth about God and humanity’s problems that are solved by His Son. We have Christ to be our Savior, our Master, our Teacher, our Example. In His life, He fulfilled the role of Prophet, telling us what God was saying. In His death, He was our Priest, offering Himself, a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Rising to life and reigning at the right hand of His Father, soon to return, He lives on as our King. He is the central figure in human history, and will come to take us home to Himself at the end of the age. We have not dropped one stitch of this glorious tapestry.
St. Paul prays for the church. He asks God to grant us inner strength by His Spirit “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-21 This Church, this Anglican Christianity, is about Christ, or else it’s about nothing. We center on Him. We come to His altar. We partake of His Body and Blood. We preach Christ crucified. We seek to have His nature sown into us, that our old man may die and the likeness of the Savior be manifested in our lives. If I do anything good, it is God who gets the credit. If I do less than good, that’s just me.
There is an Anglican Mind, and I’ve spoken of it. It starts at Jesus, and hopefully ends with Him. In the process, the Anglican approach to faith is supple, thoughtful, impartial, open, reasonable and still faithful, vibrant and artistic in expression. It is the major source of the English language and culture.
We think dangerously. We dare speak when angels are quiet. Our words soar above our heads and we honor the languages of past ages, while forging new language to express the inexpressible.
C. S. Lewis is a notable example of the Anglican Mind; he cannot be claimed by any one church party or special interest. He is his own Christian. He worked it out his way. He finds truth less in the proofs of logic and more in the probability of wonder. And he said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” He is our poet laureate, while being only a minor poet himself. He proves Christianity without science, yet his words are inescapable. We have an Anglican Mind, which if done right, is the Mind of Christ.
St. Paul wrote that the natural man, any of us without the inspiration of God’s Spirit, can’t receive truth, because spiritual truth is discerned by the Spirit in us. Who is it that knows God’s mind? If we pray to have it, we have the mind of Christ. 1 Cor 2:14-16
One of my favorite Communion hymns is the very ancient “Father we thank thee who hast planted,” Hymn 195. It’s from the Didache, an early 2nd century liturgy in Syrian Greek given as a Communion prayer. They saw the Father as a farmer who plants His Name in our hearts, grows food for us while bestowing knowledge, faith and immortal life to us, and gives Christ as our eternal Bread. Then we sing to this farmer-God to watch over His Church like a wheat field, saving it from evil, perfecting it in love, uniting it, conforming it to His will. Then the song describes how grain scattered on hillsides is harvested and made into one bread, and it is broken again, and taken and eaten by many across the earth, to bring them all together into His Kingdom by His Son. One Bread, One Body.
The broken fragments of many churches notwithstanding, there is only One Church, because there is One Jesus, and One Body. It’s the universal Church, part of which we are as Anglicans. It is to This Body we turn and we satisfy our hungered souls on Him.