Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Canterbury Trail

1. There was some interesting chatter earlier in the week in response to a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this month about two Baptist youths who grew up, one to become an Anglican bishop, the other a Catholic priest. Al Mohler thinks it's a failing of Baptist churches to adequately ground their young people theologically in the Christian faith.

Both Scot McKnight and Mike Bird aren't buying it. McKnight in particular points to the "soul liberty" principle of Baptists, which emphasizes freedom to act and believe according to one's own conscience. Obviously the SBC hasn't been emphasizing that principle much for the last 25 years.

This Canterbury pattern is nothing new, however. Indeed, it was quite common in the late 1800s. Every once and a while it comes back on our radar screen, that's all. I have seen it happen with some students these last 15 years even at IWU. I've even seen it happen with professors.

2. I think a lot of it has to do with the sense of weightiness and stability that the Anglican and Catholic traditions bring. It is very attractive to a certain contemplative personality.

And, whether we admit it or not, the interpretation of the Bible varies wildly among Christians. This group says this; that group says that. Al Mohler can get out his guns to make sure no Baptists deviate from what he says the Bible means. But he doesn't have enough soldiers to police all of Christendom. He doesn't have enough guns even to police the Southern Baptists. This is the Protestant Principle of Paul Tillich, emphatically demonstrated by history. Forms of Christianity that try to orient themselves exclusively around the Bible inevitably result in an endlessly diversifying collection of individual groups with different beliefs.

Against this backdrop, the Anglican and Catholic traditions seem to have much more depth. Rather than believing that the Church was wrong for about 1500 years before Luther finally got it right again, these traditions argue that the true Church has basically believed the same things for 2000 years.

3. For all that, I remain a Protestant. I respect the Roman Catholic Church. I could be an Anglican, no doubt would be if I lived in England. What is hard for me is not the rituals of these traditions but the claim that these rituals are the only correct rituals, the ones everyone should be doing.

I don't know if there is a name for what I am. I respect the common traditions of Christianity and I respect the original practices of the earliest church while 1) recognizing that they are not exactly the same and 2) concluding that neither in itself is timeless.

Did the earliest church baptize infants? I bet they did. Do we have to? No.

Did the earliest church have communion as a distinct and separate ceremony preceded over by an ordained minister? Not at all. Can we? Yes.

So I wag my heads at both groups. I wag my head at the arrogant primitivists who say, "We call our church leaders what they called them in the NT church." So what? Are you an ancient Jew? (really, this position is even more traditionalist than the other)

And I wag my head at the condescending crowd that thinks they are now superior because they've become Episcopal. Do you know how many stupid things the church fathers said and how bad they typically were as interpreters of the NT in context?

So there's nothing wrong with being Anglican and there's nothing wrong with going primitive... as long as you know that God is interested in what's in your heart, not in whether you meet in a house like the earliest Christians or whether your priest genuflects when he's consecrating the elements.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Well said!