Canterbury Woe

Canterbury Woe January 12, 2016

Some of you may have heard, perhaps even from me, that the Primates of the Anglican Communion are meeting this week. What is a primate, you ask? Well, it’s not, to employ an old and tired joke, a monkey, no matter how much any of them may act like one. No, it’s the main head of the church, the overseer, if you wanted to get all biblical about it.

And what is the Anglican Communion? Well, you might think of it as a vibrant global movement of Christianity in the Anglican flavor, or a spiritually dilapidated, irrelevant grouping of people who can’t remember why they came into the church building, depending on where you’re standing.

All of these overseers of this very diverse church, for lack of a better word, are meeting together in Canterbury this week, to talk about their troubles and their differences, to say morning and evening prayer, to drink tea, and to have some photographs taken. And our overseer, our archbishop, which is what we call him, is there also, along with other faithful believing primates from around the world, and of course, the very Archbishop of Canterbury himself, who likes to self identify as an evangelical.

You might guess that I am exceeding ambivalent about this meeting, and what is hoped to come forth from its hallowed, and probably cozy, meeting rooms. I’ve been around the block in the Anglican world. An Anglican of Anglicans, as to the prayer book, able to rattle off whole sections by heart, as to the politics and the minutia, terribly well informed, I have been known even to pray for the whole mess.

But I am weary. I am terribly weary. I stand here, in the frozen northeast, surrounded by people who can’t even say the word ‘Anglican’. Is that like ‘Angel’? Angelican? Maybe? And, is that like a Christian church? Or, what is that? My charismatic neighbor across the street, who is himself a pastor, assuming us, of course, not to be recognizably Christian, was shocked to hear we believe in Jesus, in the bible even. “Really?” he kept saying, “I had no idea.” As I look at my neighbors and friends, at my wider community, I know in my soul that the Anglican thing isn’t the essential part. Running around making sure we have acolytes, fussing over the bulletin to make sure we have the correct collect, reminding the altar guild to change the altar hangings because we’re up on a new season, all of these activities of mine are nice, but they are not essential. They are not the gospel.

And if we don’t bother about the gospel in its most essential articulation, if we, in other words, don’t preach the Word, all the other stuff that we’re doing is pointless. The quiet ordering of our common life, the beauty of our common prayer, the work that we do in the world, all of that are effects of the gospel. They are not the point, but are rather the outflow of the rightly preached, properly understood, and therefore trusted saving news of Jesus.

But my ability to articulate the saving news of Jesus is tragically undermined when the higher ups fall into that confused place. Peace and unity are Christian Essentials, they cry. We must meet together because Jesus prayed for his church to be one! Where true charity and love meet (altogether now) God Himself Is There. We will resolve our non essential differences by talking and chatting and being very kind.

Except that, as some have said over and over for the last decade, the differences that divide us are not non essential. How is a person to be saved? More importantly, does anyone need saving? That is the question that the Anglican world has not been able to come to grips with. Tragically, I am of the mind that the human person, every single one of them in fact, is very far gone, is like a sheep who has gone astray, who can’t find her, or even his, way back, is needing to be rescued. I know this because the scriptures themselves say it. And I have taken the trouble to read and understand those same scriptures. I have discovered that they can be known, that they are reliable and true, and that Jesus can’t be grasped apart from them. He himself is the savior, he desires that all should turn from the self and sin and repent. For the one who repents he is faithful to forgive.

But you can’t pry him away from the scripture and expect him to be the savior who saves you. You just can’t do that. If you pry Jesus out and reform him into something that is more suitable to yourself and the culture, any culture, you no longer have a Jesus who can save. That is the essential point. It’s always been the essential point. It hasn’t changed. It isn’t complicated. Meeting together all day long, if you don’t agree about that, isn’t going to bring unity of belief and purpose. It only continues to confuse.

And confusion abounds in every direction. Christianity of every brand and flavor is in chaos. Prominent pastors and teachers are every day inching up closer to that alluring, siren call of heresy. Ordinary people in the west largely believe they are going to heaven, because they are good, and God, whoever he is, and it doesn’t really matter, loves them. In the era of the BuzzFeed Christian, a clear, full throated proclamation of who Jesus is is of the essence.

And on that note, I will go and enjoin my spirit to God in prayer, that he will not only save the lost, but that he will also save and rescue his church.

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