Day 6: On Traditions
I’ve been posting every day for about a week now. I posted two posts immediately before I started my 30 day blogging “challenge”. This process of writing everyday has been stressful, but very rewarding. I am feeling a bit of an endorphin rush as I see people are actually reading what I’m writing. Please, please feel free to leave me a comment. I’m looking for feedback.
So I had coffee with my brother this morning. Over the past couple of years our conversations have slowly moved from primarily political to nearly always theological. We share the same upbringing in all things western philosophy and American. We were both raised Episcopalian.
As most siblings we disagree on a few things. We had a wide ranging discussion on practical aspects of church life: conversion, baptism, communion and discipleship. The discipleship aspect we are pretty much in agreement on because we were both mentored/discipled by the same man: Pastor Ken Hall. I think I’ve written on Ken before, but I will try to make a post about that in the coming days, I think it’s a story worth repeating.
My brother and his family attends a non-denominational church. The founding pastor was essentially a Lutheran, so much of their doctrine is Lutheran. Evidently there’s a debate going on now that the founding pastor has departed as to where they sit doctrinally.
I deeply sympathize with where they sit. The wholesale abdication of the Christian responsibility of teaching the Truths of the faith by the preceeding generations has landed us in this spot. We can look at American Roman Catholicism and see it’s failings: whole congregations of people who think by being baptized and taking communion and going to confession once a year means they are “good to go”, no changed life required. We can see the failure of independent churches that gave rise to Joel Osteens (love of money), Mark Driscols (abuse of authority, lack of humility), Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (I feel good about myself because I worship something once a week) as well as the distinct brands of guilt laden quasi-Christian practice (this one doesn’t seem to need an explanation).
Which why I’m deeply indebted to those who came before me who saw the need to be faithful. Those who left the Episcopal Church to preserve Tradtional Anglicanism. I, as an Anglican, get to draw from the early church. The Anglican Church was founded well before the Roman Catholic Church decided The Pope was the head of the Church (rather than first among equals) after the fall of Rome. We slowly imbided the ideas coming from the European continent during the reformation. So we aren’t fully Protestant, but more “Reformed Catholic” in the ancient sense of the word catholic. We preach Christ and Him Crucified. We teach the ancient creeds. We preach the bible as the inspired word of GOD. We look to tradition to teach us: what were the practices of the earliest Christians?
We in the United States have been too quick to change things. We adopted the Seeker Friendly™ model. We pitched the nearly two millennia of church tradition because modernity demanded it. In retrospect this hasn’t turned out well. They did not consider first what they were getting rid of and what the loss might be.
Chesterton’s fence is the principle that reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood. The quotation is from G. K. Chesterton’s 1929 book The Thing, in the chapter entitled “The Drift from Domesticity”:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it”
Modernity threw the baby out with the bath water. The Ancient practices support the teachings of the Gospel and the Church herself. They aren’t fences like the analogy above, but more like strings around our fingers, reminding us of Him to whom we owe our devotion. They are, of course, insufficient flying all by themselves. And they are useless if the church doesn’t understand what they are for. But that’s not a case for getting rid of them. It means we need to lean into them: to be teachable.
They are there if we will but listen: The Rhythm of the liturgy. The morning and evening prayers. The Lectionary. The Eucharist. Baptisms and confirmations. May God give us the Grace to be humble enough to receive this gift from those faithful followers of Christ who proceeded us.
Soli Deo Gloria
PS: as providence would have it the Word and Table podcast (which is essentially Fr Stephen, the Canon Theologian of the ACNA Diocese of the Upper Midwest) posted today is about Anglicanism