I’m in love.

OK, I’ll admit it: my fling with the Anglican Church is getting pretty serious.  Sure, she’s a screwed up girl: but, for starters, she’s breathtakingly gorgeous.  She’s eloquent and well-read, and every time we meet I feel engaged at every level: physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.  She takes energy, sure, but the results are well worth it.

End romantic metaphor.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m slowly being seduced (the metaphor really works too well) by the power of Anglican liturgy.  I’ve been going steady with St. Paul’s on Lower Queen Anne for about eight months now.  It was Dr. Spina, one of my professors and an Anglican priest himself, who convinced me that a church service ought to be more like a dance than a performance.  Every symbol, every ritual, every movement is infused with meaning and significance and history: something I can’t say about the kinds of churches I grew up in.  Every time I go I find something new to chew on: the centrality of the Eucharist, the aroma of the incense, the themes of the text for the day.

What attracts me–and this is so typical for my personality–is that every part of the service (except, unfortunately, the sermons, lately anyway) has theological import.  Just a couple of examples: when I walk in the door I see something like this:

It’s not a great image, but you see how the eye is drawn to the crucifix?  That’s on purpose: you can tell by the way the dome arches over it, by the light coming from above Jesus, by the lines ascending towards the crucified Lord on either side.  But having the crucified Christ as the focal point of the space is more than just aesthetically pleasing: it’s making a theological statement.  It’s a visible reminder of the centrality of our Lord in Christian worship, and it’s something I can learn from.  And what is right beneath the crucifix?  The altar: the focus of the worship space is thus on the sacrifice of Christ.  It is on this altar that the body of Christ is broken and the blood of Christ spilled out.

There’s so much more to this that I could get excited about but really you should just watch the video if you’re at all curious.  This Anglican church in Florida somewhere is growing really quickly, apparently because a lot of young evangelicals (like, say, yours truly) are leaving evangelicalism in search of a deeper tradition.  So their church is putting on seminars to teach people the basics of how liturgy works—why they do what they do.  Very cool.

This Sunday is All Saint’s Day.  I have no idea what that means, but I’m really excited.

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7 Responses to I’m in love.

  1. ulrich says:

    I appreciate this. And I like that everything is meaningful. Its very cool. Lately though, and Im not trying to downplay this for you, but maybe just start a discussion, I’ve been wondering what the point of having a big old church is. Especially an extravagent expensive church, or the giant church buildings. I’ve been wondering what else that money could be doing (or could have done) to further the kingdom, or just how many lives could have been saved. Jesus spoke about money and helping the poor more than anything else. And I don’t think there was any coincidence involved I that. That being said, I still appreciate the church you speak of, and hope that the motions never lose meaning, like they do in todays wedding for a lot of people. That is filled with meanings as well that nobody thinks about. Its fantastic really. anyway, just get back to me on this.

  2. urbanfall says:

    Hey dude, I didn’t know you read this!

    I suppose part of the issue is whether or not the developments the church made during the medieval era were good or bad. A lot of people think that most of the things that happened between Constantine and Luther were bad news: expensive cathedrals, monastic orders, increased heirarchy, and so on. Basically, everything Protestants don’t like about Catholicism developed during this period.

    The instinct, or better, theological commitment, behind this is called originalism. Basically, originalism says that the more we can be like the original church—the Acts 2 community—the better. It’s a very strong impulse within American Christianity especially: you don’t see this kind of thing, to my knowledge in Europe or Africa or Asia. Thus, the house church movement, for one example.

    But one of the underlying assumptions of originalism, I think, is that the further away you get temporally from the person of Jesus when He was on earth, the further you are from the person of Jesus spiritually. There’s this tendency to think that the original purity or intensity of Chrisitianity tends to be compromised by the trends of every age. I think that’s true, to a certain extent, and that originalism can provide a good “check” on that natural process as time goes on.

    However, what I don’t buy about all of that is this idea that Christians today are “further” from Jesus than Christians in the first century. Scripture is clear that Christ has sent us the Holy Spirit while He is away. Through Christ and the Holy Spirit we have communion with the Father in the very same way that not just Paul and Peter, but also Augustine and Aquinas and the medieval types did in their day. Basically, that means that the Church doesn’t always need to conform to what it looked like in Acts 2 to still be faithful bearer’s of God’s image, to still be Christ’s physical, tangible presence on earth. So just because the medieval and early churches look quite different doesn’t mean that, necessarily, one is them must be wrong.

    BUT. I think you make a good point in noting that all of this rich theological liturgy that developed in medieval times—though in continuity with the traditions of the early church—must not be permitted to distract us from the MISSION of the Church in the world: again, to be Christ’s physical, tangible presence on earth. The Church should be doing the same kinds of things NOW that Christ did THEN: healing the sick, helping the poor, raising the dead, preaching the Word, declaring the Kingdom, and so on. The kind of liturgy I posted about does some of those things. But liturgy, at least as far as I can understand it so far, functions in part as a sort of reminder to God’s people of who and what they are supposed to be. It’s more about teaching than doing.

    So, yeah. I’d agree. One of the things that has been bugging me about this place, which I neglected to mention in my post is, firstly, the vacuous nonsense that passes for preaching there, and, secondly, the lack of opportunities to really jump in to serving the community. But I haven’t honestly tried to pursue those options so I can’t really say for sure whether they have them or not.

    One question for you, though: how do you think we should resolve this tension about how to use the church’s money? I mean, institutions cost things to run, but we are supposed to be reaching out too. It seems like walking that line would be quite the trick.

  3. ulrich says:

    What I am not saying is that the movements brought about during the medievil times are wrong, but that its safe, and you can’t go wrong, by following originalism.

    One way to balance is to drop the institution entirely maybe. How much money really NEEDS to be spent on building development? Is the house church movement the best way to utilize this? Im not sure, but there are plenty of places people can meet that cost very little if anything at all. Before you destroy my argument, realize that I am still working through this in my head, its a new thought and it needs a lot of refining. My thought, though maybe somewhat extreme, is that the church should stray from anything that isn’t an outreach. People need their own time with God and need to grow spiritually, but at what cost? If I need food because I haven’t eaten for a day, should I not offer something that I have to the person that hasn’t eaten in a week. The problem with this way of thinking is that people should not ignore their spiritual growth. But what is spiritual growth? Can you grow spiritually by acting according to the will of God? If so, you could grow spiritually by giving to the poor, or teaching the word of God to someone. A person can still learn from the bible on their own amd ask questions or listen to a sermon and learn from them, but how much spiritual growth have you experienced by listening to a sermon? Me, very little. I have heard some thought provoking sermons, but the real spiritual growth came when I dug in and did itt myself. That’s when God shows me things. When I do what He asks, and seek Him out. I think that a church should be helping, the poor, healing people, and teaching people. None of which is less important than a building. sorry its not organized, but I am on a cell phone and refuse to organioize my thoughts.

  4. urbanfall says:

    Hey, sorry to bombard you with that last comment . . . bit of an overreaction, I think. The relevant part is the last bit for sure.

    You wrote that whole thing from a cell phone!? I’m impressed.

    I’m not sure how you would be able to “drop” the institution. I mean, the big-C Church (not to mention small-c churches) is an institution by its very nature. Institutions involve structure and bureaucracy and that kind of thing of necessity. Paul uses the metaphor of the body of Christ because there’s lots of different parts to the church . . . not everyone should be a pastor or a janitor or a scholar or a missionary. That’s just division of labor: good economic theory.

    I can appreciate what you’re saying about digging in and doing it yourself: C.S. Lewis said that some of his best “devotions” happened when he sat down and went at a tough bit of theology with little more than a pencil. There’s definitely value in trying to figure things out for yourself: that’s probably when stuff really “sticks” the best. But, I do think that one of the virtues of an institution is that you can have some people who are trained in theology and biblical interpretation, because good theology and good interpretation isn’t something that comes automatically or easily. That’s why there’s seminaries for pastors to attend, so not every Christian has to learn Greek and Hebrew and know the difference between literary and canonical criticism and all of that. When you are part of a worshiping community, you have certain advantages over someone who’s trying to be a Christian alone.

    But I’m not sure that’s exactly what you’re saying, anyway.

    On the issue of buildings and how money is spent, it seems that one thing churches should make sure happens—at least, ones with buildings—is that their building is providing a service to the community beyond just being a place for tithe-giving members to gather each week. Monday-Saturday, I figure, that place better not be sitting around empty.

    Is that what you’re driving at? I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing…

  5. trifon says:

    I know this post is several months old now, but I thought I’d leave a comment now. I believe that helping the poor and working for justice are crucially important, but I also believe that liturgy and beauty is important. Jesus preached in the temple, and after He ascended the Christians continued to meet in the temple until they were excluded from it. But Jesus didn’t abolish the Hebrew liturgical worship, He fulfilled and perfected it. Christianity has been liturgical since its beginning. Anyway I kind of lost my train of thought but I just wanted to express some appreciation that I have for beauty in the the Christian life.

  6. trifon says:

    Yeah, I’ve been reading your blog for a little while now and I felt like a creeper not commenting on any of your posts. Anyway, I think that Christianity is definitely about feeding the hungry, helping the poor, healing the sick, caring for orphans and widows, even loving our enemies! But beautiful expressions of love that may be deemed extravagant by some are still an important part of Christianity. For example, in the Gospel of John chapter 12, there is an account of a woman named Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with expensive, fragrant oil. Then one of the disciples becomes upset because he would have preferred to have sold this fragrant oil and given the money to the poor. This was Judas, the one who would later betray Jesus! And Jesus did not reprimand Mary, instead he tells Judas to leave her alone! I’m not sure if that passage is entirely relevant to the conversation at hand, but the fact that Judas Iscariot is the one who is arguing against the woman who anointed Jesus with this oil instead of selling it to help the poor makes me think… Anyway, I found this quote that I really like from an Orthodox priest, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, from his book For the Life of the World. He’s speaking about the importance of beauty.

    “The liturgy is, before everything else, the joyous gathering of those who are to meet the risen Lord and to enter with him into the bridal chamber. And it is this joy of expectation and this expectation of joy that are expressed in singing and ritual, in vestments and in censing, in that whole beauty of the liturgy which has so often been denounced as unnecessary and even sinful.

    Unnecessary it is indeed, for we are beyond the categories of the “necessary.” Beauty is never “necessary,” “functional” or “useful.” And when, expecting someone whom we love, we put a beautiful tablecloth on the table and decorate it with candles and flowers, we do all this not out of necessity, but out of love. And the Church is love, expectation and joy. It is heaven on earth, according to our Orthodox tradition; it is the joy of recovered childhood, that free, unconditioned and disinterested joy which alone is capable of transforming the world.”

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