Friday, July 30, 2010

What Shape is a Jellyfish?

Are Anglicans high church or low church? Well both. With "broad church" squeezed in between. Their approach to worship and doctrine alike is well summed up in the little Lain phrase via media, the middle way. Which remains, for many, a true attraction to this church.

One day in class we were studying the collects of the Church of England's Common Worship. A discussion arose around the propers for "All Soul's Day," a point of contention, as one might expect, for the Evangelicals given its association with the "Romish" doctrine of purgatory. I asked what the Church of England's position was on this issue. In reply my instructor answered with a question: "What shape is a jellyfish?" Point taken. Doctrine becomes what one desires or needs it to be, for Angl0-Catholics it is one thing, for Evangelicals another. And the official books of worship are modified and crafted accordingly to accommodate as large and broad a constituency as possible.

This reality came home to me also as I was looking at the 39 Articles in the back of the Book of Common Prayer and reflecting on the text of the Apostles' Creed at the same time. The 39 Articles possess a very clear statement supporting our Lord's descent into hell. However, the creed, in typical Episcopalian fashion, renders it differently as one who went to the realm of the dead. I asked about this one as well and was informed by an Episcopalian priest that the 39 Articles are now considered, at least officially, more as "historical documents." Yet, there they are in the back of their book of worship. How odd.....

As a Lutheran such a lack of conviction and definition signals the potential for all kinds of mischief in the church, and I suspect that my Anglican acquaintances would agree, especially as they witness the ongoing fracturing of their communion into almost as many new micro denominations as the Lutherans. Given the beauty of their prayer book and liturgical convictions it is a shame that their commitment to be a truly confessional church is lacking in so many ways. There is such potential there.

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