It’s been said that a paradigm shift occurs for one of three reasons: 1) a crisis situation; 2) an influential individual; or, 3) an overload of information. When I became an Anglican, all three of these influenced my decision.
In 1989 I graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM) and became the pastor of a Bible Church in North Dallas. At that time, I knew nothing of Phillip Schaff and his subtle diagnosis of American Protestantism.
"Tendencies, which had found no political room to unfold themselves in other lands, wrought here without restraint. Every theological vagabond and peddler may drive here his bungling trade, without passport or license, and sell his false ware at pleasure. What is to come of such confusion is not now to be seen (The Principle of Protestantism, Phillip Schaff, 1844)."
One hundred-forty-five years after Schaff penned those prescient lines, I not only saw what he predicted, I experienced it. When I entered the pastorate my priorities were to teach God’s Word and to shepherd God’s people, but the congregation that called me was a loose confederacy with no system of doctrine to galvanize it. In addition, its growing number of programs demanded an administrator, not a preacher.
During this pensive season, I lingered over the Protestant visage. I read her magazines and journals. I listened to her music. I watched her television programs. I wasn’t a participant, but a curious observer.
What I witnessed still baffles me. Her children lumbered to Weigh Down and bought t-shirts emblazoned with, "Food Cannot Meet My Needs." They loaded onto busses and headed to Promise Keepers where they cried and vowed to burn their Swim Suit edition of Sports Illustrated. Then they spent the night on the sidewalk to be the first in line to purchase The Prayer of Jabez, a book that promised to change their lives.
From where I was standing, much of the Protestant Church looked like a lab rat in a maze, frenetically searching for the next, new experience. Its appetite was insatiable. Nothing satisfied. Nothing lasted. Nothing remained the same. It couldn’t remain the same, or its children would get bored and boredom was a sin.
I was on a journey, and the Protestant path had led me to a wasteland where God was trivialized and His Church was marginalized. I remember writing in my journal, struggling to describe the shift that was taking place inside of me. From the walls of my study, the ink portraits of Hodge, Calvin, and Edwards watched quietly.
But they had no answers.
My heart was hungry for something more than barren sanctuaries, long lectures, and prayers during worship that were made up on the spot and for the most part were bereft of serious forethought, Scripture and theology.
A. W. Tozer, a respected Evangelical of the earlier part of this century wrote the following. "We of the non-liturgical churches tend to look with disdain upon those churches that follow a carefully prescribed form of service . . . The liturgical service is at least beautiful; ours is often ugly. Theirs has been carefully worked out through the centuries to capture as much of the beauty as possible and to preserve a spirit of reverence among worshipers. Ours is often an off-the-cuff makeshift with nothing to recommend it. In the majority of our meetings there is scarcely a trace of reverent thought, no recognition of the unity of the body, little sense of the divine Presence, no moment of stillness, no solemnity, no wonder, no holy fear." (God Tells the Man That Cares, A.W. Tozer)
And this is what my heart craved - the solemnity, stillness and wonder described by Tozer. I was searching for serious worship and a sacramental life that would immerse me in the life of the Holy Trinity.
It was during this period that I asked myself, "Is my faith something I invented? Or, is it the faith of the prophets, the apostles, the Early Church Fathers and the martyrs? How can I know?"
It dawned on me that I was sitting in judgment of the historic Church. I had annointed myself the final arbiter of what was orthodox doctrine and worship. I alone had decided what I would believe and how I would worship. I was shocked to find that I looked a whole lot like the folks I had been watching!
In 1990 my children were baptized and my family became Anglican.
After last week’s post, I received an email from a friend, who wanted to know why I converted to Anglicanism. He pointed out that my post didn’t explain my reasons for ambling down the Canterbury Trail. Here is an edited copy of my response to him. Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
Thank you for your response to last week’s blog post, “How I got Here from There: My Conversion to Anglicanism.” Your queries caused me to pause and ponder again the beauty of Anglicanism and how God drew me to her. You didn’t ask for a lengthy explanation like this. In fact, you asked to visit over coffee, or scotch – an offer I still plan to take you up on.
I wrote this for two reasons. First, I wanted to revisit and savor what happened to me 20 years ago. Second, I’m a firm believer in writing’s ability to sharpen wooly headed thinking.
You mentioned in your email that twenty years ago there was a mass migration from what you call “Word based” worship into more reverent, sacramental worship. You are spot on. Robert Webber chronicles this exodus in his book, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail. In Evangelical is not Enough, author Thomas Howard articulates why these people left. As best as I can tell, their departure wasn’t an emotional reaction brought on by an unbridled desire for aesthetics. Instead, these people wanted worship that conformed to the heavenly pattern of Revelation 5-7.
In your email you asked why I became an Anglican. I may have unintentionally mislead you in my original blog post by intimating that irreverent worship was the reason I left my roots. In fact, that is not true. My reasons for converting to Anglicanism were many.
In the early 90’s I was looking for a church that valued the Scriptures. I found it. Anglicans read (present tense) from the Old Testament, New Testament and Psalter each day during Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Its Lord’s Day worship includes lengthy readings from the Prophets, the Psalter, the Epistles, and the Gospels.
A perusal of the 1662 and 1928 editions of the Book of Common Prayer reveals that the Scriptures are woven into the warp and woof of every service and office. It’s been estimated that upwards to 75% of the Prayer Book is either a direct quote or accurate summary of Scripture.
During worship, Anglicans pray the Word, chant the Word, hear the Word, and eat the Word. In short, Anglican worship is saturated with the Word.
So, this is the first reason I’m an Anglican and not a Lutheran, Roman Catholic, or Presbyterian. In my estimation, Anglicanism is unsurpassed in its appreciation of Scripture.
A second reason I converted to Anglicanism is that the Anglican ethos is pastoral. Now, that’s more than a mere slogan. It’s a truth that springs from the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.
When you have a moment, read through the Articles of Religion. You’ll notice that they take up a few pages at the back of the Prayer Book. There’s a good reason for this. The Articles of Religion outline the Christian faith in broad brush strokes, so as to create a sheepfold for all who believe the Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments.
You’ll also find that the Thirty-Nine Articles sound as if they were written by a pastor. In fact, Article XVII was penned with a genuine concern for how people might respond to the doctrine of election. Also, couched within the Article is a pastoral admonition regarding an improper preoccupation with the doctrine of predestination.
All of that to say this - I gravitated toward Anglicanism because of its pastoral ethos, its culture of incarnational theology that vivifies truth in worship and ministry. The Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer (1549) further illustrates this. In the past Anglican parishes were often called “Cures,” and priests were referred to as “Physicians,” who administered the “Medicine of Immortality.” Hence, when a priest was ordained, the Bishop said:
Have in remembrance into how high a dignity and to how weighty an office and charge ye are called: that is to say, to be the messenger, the watchmen, the pastor and the steward of the Lord; to teach, and to premonish, to feed and provide for His children in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ forever. . .
See that you never cease your labour, your care and diligence, until you have done all that lieth in you, according to your bounden duty, to bring all such as are or shall be committed to your charge, unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you, either for error, or viciousness of life.
Mark the incarnational and relational images. The priest is a father and the parishioners are his children. He is responsible for raising and nuturing them.
The poet-priest, George Herbert wrote the following about the pastoral culture of Anglicanism. “The country parson is not only a Father to his flock, but also professeth himself thoroughly of the opinion, carrying it about with him as fully as if he had begot his whole parish. For by this means, when any sins, he hateth him not as an officer, but pities him as a Father.”
Another reason I became an Anglican is that my study of the Scriptures and Church history convinced me that both the Word and the Sacraments are vital to worship. So, in my estimation, it’s ill advised to bifurcate between the two. It has been my experience that when false distinctions like that are made, pastors become imbalanced and to do things like preach 87 messages on John 3:16 and to spend three years expounding the Ten Commandments. It seems to me, that kind of lopsidedness feeds the Gnostic idea that worship is primarily mental. When I jumped off the Protestant ship, I was searching for worship that encompassed both the physical and the mental, the Word and Sacrament, the kind of worship found in the Book of Common Prayer.
My reasons for converting to Anglicanism are almost too numerous to number. I suppose I could cite five or six more critical issues that prompted my conversion, including Anglicanism’s historic episcopacy, and its time-tested model of spiritual formation.
I trust this note has answered your questions.