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The Life and Times of the Embryo Parson

(Revised 8-21-2015)

I'm not actually going to bore you all with some detailed and narcissistic account of my "life and times", but I do want to give my readers a brief "spiritual autobiography" that will explain, at least in part, why I have come to the conclusions I have about the Anglican Way.

I come from a long line of Southerners who came from the British Isles and Northwestern Europe.  I grew up not in the Southern states of America, however, but in Southern California.  I grew up there because my father and mother, from Arkansas and Oklahoma respectively, moved there in 1940 as part of the great migration of Southerners looking for work. 

My father was Primitive Baptist (PB) and my mother a Missionary Baptist.  They did nevertheless get along theologically, my mother adopting the high predestinarianism of the PBs but never converting to the PB church.  (She took communion exactly once after she married my dad.  The PBs practice close communion, but during my brief sojourn in a Lutheran parish that had a rather "liberal" policy on communion, she and I took communion there together several years before she died.  It was the only time I ever took communion with either of my parents.) 

One problem with the PBs is that while they have a fairly strong presence in the South, there isn't much of one in SoCal, so I believe I attended a PB church only twice in my childhood days as the nearest one was 80 miles away.  My mom made a couple of half-hearted efforts to take me to local Southern Baptist Sunday schools, but that never really "took" due in no small part to the fact that my sectarian parents didn't like what the Southern Baptists taught.  So, I spent the bulk of my childhood years unchurched, though to their credit my parents did a fairly good job of teaching me about the Christian faith.  As a child, I really believed that faith.

But it was a Christian faith I deliberately tossed aside when I happened upon the seductions of the 1960s counterculture in my early teens.   In late 1973 and early 1974, however, things started happening to me psychologically and spiritually that drove me to the old King James Bible my mother gave me when I was a kid.  One day after I finshed reading the Gospel of John and then Paul's Epistle to the Romans, I said to myself, "that's IT", and I flushed $75 worth of hash oil down the toilet. 

Having had an Evangelical-style conversion experience and having been influenced throughout my teenage years by a number of Evangelical Christians, I naturally became an Evangelical myself.  After a bit of spiritual meandering, I ended up at an Evangelical college, where I obtained a degree in biblical studies, and later at an Evangelical seminary, where I pursued theological studies and graduated with a Master's degree. 

During my undergrad and graduate studies and through the influences of Anglican Catholic and Orthodox friends, I became an avid student of church history -- including the history before the Reformation -- and the Church Fathers.  Dovetailing with this was the fact that I had become very disenchanted with Evangelical worship forms.  To me, there was a huge disconnect between what I viewed as the depth and profundity (or gravitas, or kabod) of God and the message communicated by Evangelicalism's subculture, especially as it expressed itself in worship.  I had learned about something called "liturgy" and the "liturgical churches" where a different culture of worship existed, so I started trying them out:  Lutheran; Anglican Catholic; Episcopalian; Roman Catholic; Orthodox.   By the late 80s/early 90s I was well on my way to reading myself out of an "Evangelical mind" and into a "Catholic mind", and I had narrowed my choices down to two:  Anglican Catholic or Orthodox.  Just barely, Orthodoxy won out.  I was chrismated in 1992.

I stayed in the Orthodox Church  longer than I did in any other church during my Evangelical days, approximately 13 years.  But as the Spirit moved upon me in 1974, urging me to come to Christ, 30 or so years later when I was in the Orthodox Church, I began sensing an urge to come home to the biblical and apostolic faith of my fathers, the Catholic Church of England.

Like so many converts to Orthodoxy from Evangelicalism, I had become "true Orthodox"; a devotee of Orthodoxy as ideology.  I had not become quite as bad as "Vasili" in this article, but at points I was very close.  Thankfully, that mentality was temporary.  Several things occured:

1) Slowly but surely, after repressing a nagging issue for so long, I began asking myself why there is such a disconnect between what the Bible has to say about salvation and what the Orthodox Church says about it.  Not that the Orthodox Church is wrong in what it understands about theosis;  that can be found in Western Christian spirituality too.  Rather, I came to see that it's soteriology is somewhat stunted or incomplete.  It needs St. Paul, and it needs St. Augustine.  The apostle it largely ignores; the Catholic doctor of the Church it often excoriates.

2) I grew increasingly tired of the attacks on "the West" from the pulpits and publishing houses of the Orthodox Church, especially since, on certain issues anyway, the Western theological approach seemed more rational and/or biblical than the Orthodox theological approach.  I kept wondering why the Orthodox are so constitutionally anti-Western;

3) I began to ponder the question, if Evangelicals are truly the spiritually benighted folk Orthodox spokesmen and literature often said or at least implied they are, then how is it that so many of these Evangelicals live such spiritually exemplary lives -- much more exemplary than the life of the rank-and-file, nominal Orthodox Christian -- and whose holiness rivals if not exceeds the holiness of many of Orthodoxy's most revered saints and contemporary "holy elders"?;

4) I became annoyed by the negative attitude of many Eastern Orthodox concerning the Orthodox Western Rites, an attitude harbored by what appears to be the vast majority of Orthodox Christians.  I had come to love the Holy Communion service of the Book of Common Prayer.  The vast majority of Orthodox who know of the Liturgy of St. Tikhon have not been mollified by St. Tikhon's Orthodoxizing tweaks to the BCP.  Why?  Their parochial attitude began to get under my skin;

5) In 2003, all of this sort of came to ahead when my father passed away.   Having drifted from the PB churches for one reason or another, my mom and dad had no church community to bury him.  So my mom asked me to find someone there in the little town where they lived and where I had gone to college.  I knew that community in a way she did not.  The reaction of the Evangelical community there, expressed in the form of an outpouring of love for a man they didn't even know, was enough to drive home the point to me, once and for all, that these people have the life of God in them, the manifestation of which, as I said, is equal to if not exceeds that of Orthodoxy's holiest people.  They are certainly holier than the man who was my bishop at the time, a man who was notorious for both his ugly antics on various online Orthodox discussion boards and his support of people who were ultimately censured by the OCA for their role in the recent finanicial scandal.  When I posted something on one of those boards about how I believed the Lord had sent our family various little "signs" of His presence among us in the wake of the funeral, telling us that Dad was OK, said bishop responded by telling me that this is all so much hooey and "prelest", and that because my dad hadn't been baptized there was no eternal hope for him.

This was the straw that broke the camel's back, something for which I must grudgingly thank this bishop who is now, happily for the church, "out to pasture".  I thank him because a year or so after that I attended my last Divine Liturgy and then began a several-year process trying to figure out, exactly, where that "home" was to which the Spirit was calling me.   As for my father, as near as I can tell the real reason that he  (a *Baptist*, mind you) wasn't baptized was that he had a fear of water.  That became more or less confirmed to me over the years, though he really never wanted to talk about it.  I did pour some holy water on his grave, beseeching the Lord to count that as his baptism, but I wonder if that was even really necessary, as I can recount numerous times tears would well up in my father's eyes as he'd read a precious passage of Scripture.  I figure he was likely baptized by those tears, or more precisely, that they were a manifestation of an internal baptism of the Spirit that had aleady occurred.

6) This experience, plus my own *theological* reflection on the exclusivist ecclesiology of the Orthodox church, led me back to an ecclesiology that included Evangelicals in the church.  Read most any book or article on the subject in Orthodox sources and you will find an assertion to the effect that while Protestants may be godly people they are not, strictly speaking, members of the Church.  This, however, is a proposition that is patently absurd, as it enjoys neither empirical nor biblical support.   So absurd, in fact, that some Orthodox scholars are starting to backpedal on the issue, as are a number of Roman Catholic scholars, whose official ecclesiology calls forth the same absurd proposition.  For instance, Rome these days makes a distinction between "the Church", which she says subsists in the Roman communion, and "ecclesial communities", i.e., all those Protestant who aren't, strictly speaking, part of the Church.  Of course since "ecclesia" in Greek means "church", one wonders what Rome hopes to establish by such an argument.   Read this article for an example of Orthodox backpedaling, and these two for examples of Roman Catholic backpedaling.  Officially, however, for both communions Evangelicals cannot be in the Church.  I say hooey.  Clearly they are, though I will agree that their ecclesiologies are lacking, in that while they definitely participate in the "prophetic" mode of the church, they are lacking the "priestly" mode.

Back to the chronology.  I floated ecclesially for a few years, trying out both Roman Catholic and Evangelical churches, whose worship services only seemed to be proceeding apace from bad to worse.  What to do?  Well, eventually, as you may have guessed by now, I found a way to put both Evangelical and Catholic together: Anglicanism.  Though it has its own set of problems, the Anglican Way is, finally, a saddle that fits my butt.  It is BOTH Catholic and Augustinian.  It is the historic church of my Anglo-Saxon fathers.  It has a linguistically glorious and theologically profound cultus, more glorious and profound, I would argue, than Orthodoxy's opulent but soteriologically deficient "feast for the eyes", as Molly Sabourin calls it.  What's not to like?

So here I am, an orthodox Anglican deacon, a blogger, and a healthcare chaplain: the "Embryo Parson".  After having gone through a brief Anglo-Calvinist "cage stage" after my reception into Anglicanism in 2011,  I am settling in comforably to a form of high church, Augustinian Anglicanism that acknowledges the problematic aspects of the Reformation and accordingly looks to the Catholic past for its essential identity, something that has long been an emphasis in Anglican divinity.  (I have come to believe that when B.B. Warfield opined somewhat gleefully that the Protestant Reformation represented the triumph of Augustine's view of grace over his view of the Church,  his glee was misplaced.   Augustine would have never thought to separate them, and the corrosive effects of the more radical movements of the Reformation arguably demonstrate why he would have never separated them.)  I intend to live and die as a "Prayer Book Catholic" sort of Anglican who espouses the Pauline-Augustinian doctrines of grace, and I will try to convince some of you to join me.  Anglicanism isn't for everyone.  Nor would I begin to presume that my church is the "one true church".  But as for you disaffected Evangelicals who are looking for something more historic, more theologically balanced, and more liturgically fitting, I urge you to take a long, careful look before you move on. 

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Reader Comments (2)

Thank you for writing this, sir. I especially appreciated what you had to say about your father. Baptism by tears. Beautiful. I remember reading somewhere once that tears are a sign that the soul rules over the body. That has always stuck with me.

What you've written reminds me of something I've thought long and hard about. It's the visceral motivating force, felt especially by those (like you and me) with traditionalist sentiments, to reverence one's parents — especially for a son to reverence his father. I prefer the term filial piety, although it could go by other names. The son must never disparage his parents or speak lightly of them. Irreverent thoughts about them must be cast away. The son must consider how his actions reflect on his parents, and he must strive to be worthy of them. In so doing he seeks to repay the debt to those who gave him life. This is his duty. This is filial piety.

Like you, I could not remain in the Eastern Orthodox Church because it transgressed filial piety. By Orthodox lights, my father — a man of immense faith and profound humility, a man who has given his life in service to the Lord God, to his wife, to his family, and to his local Evangelical congregation — is not a Christian. At least, not strictly speaking. The Orthodox will call the non-Orthodox 'Christian' by economia. But strictly speaking, to be a Christian is to be united to Christ sacramentally in the Orthodox Church. My father is not that. And to think that I once believed this. To think that whatever good I saw in him, whatever clear evidence of the operative power of the Holy Ghost I saw in him, was all basically suspect because, well, he wasn't Orthodox? I am ashamed of it all now.

No, I was the one in prelest. I am thankful it didn't take my father's death for me to figure this out.

August 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterABH

EP, please feel free to shoot me an email. I appreciate your blog and I am especially curious about your thought on the Philip Barber paper you recently mentioned, having read it a few years ago (and which I completely concur).


May 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwyclif

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