If I wasn’t Anabaptist, I’d probably become Anglican – Reflections on an ancient-future faith orientation

If I wasn’t Anabaptist, I’d probably become Anglican – Reflections on an ancient-future faith orientation September 17, 2012

I’m Anabaptist, but even more than that, I’m a follower of the resurrected Jesus. If these two identifiers ever get out of order, something in my faith journey has gone seriously awry.

I didn’t even embrace Anabaptist theology until seminary. Actually, it was a long journey that started with two strands of complementary thought: the emerging church and an Anglican Bishop, namely N.T. Wright.

Neither Wright nor the emerging church is specifically Anabaptist, but much of what these voices were saying (when I was in college / seminary) gave me the courage to move into the Anabaptist way of faith. These voices questioned “traditional” modes of understanding the Scriptures and politics, pointing me to a much richer faith experience than I could have hoped for.

I grew up in the Mennonite Brethren denomination, which is on paper Anabaptist. In my childhood and early young adult context, this was not the case outside of educational institutions. All of the MB churches I ever was part of or visited were basically right wing evangelical communities with some unique traditions.* The traditions were great, but I eventually wanted the theology that had been left behind in more ways than one. And this is why I’ve chosen to remain part of a historical Anabaptist denomination (Brethren in Christ) as a church planter.

Yet, as I’ve attempted to demonstrate, it wasn’t as though my faith journey started with such a perspective, rather I’ve been influenced by many Christian traditions.

Early in college, a book came out by Brian McLaren reinforced the desire to have a “Generous Orthodoxy,” gleaning what I could from the multifaceted diamond that is the Church. I read books by Catholics, went to charismatic conferences, read emergent authors, listened to dynamic podcast preachers, attended Mass (especially Life Teen “contemporary” Mass), and absorbed everything I could from conferences like Youth Specialties: National Youth Workers Convention.

I’m an Anabaptist, but really, many wonderful strands of the Christian Tradition continue to shape me.

The more I’ve experienced the worship of high church liturgy, the more I’ve found myself caught up in the mystery of God’s love. I love the smells and bells of a Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican/Episcopal worship gathering. In fact, if I wasn’t Anabaptist… I’d probably become Anglican.

What I love about Anglican/Episcopal worship is its deep connection to the Great Tradition of the Church, while also having the flexibility for theological reflection and innovation. I say this as an outsider looking in of course, but I could easily find myself belonging to the Anglican tradition. I love taking the Holy Communion on a weekly basis. I find myself captivated by God’s Word as it is read aloud as part of the Revised Common Lectionary. Add to this that the Book of Common Prayer possesses some of the most powerful prayers and liturgies on the planet – beautifully weaving in themes like justice, ecology, peacemaking, and new creation. Worship in such a setting propels me closer to Jesus.

The reason that I, along with many others from low-church evangelical movements, resonate with much of the Anglican/Episcopal worship practices, is summed up in the following quote by the late Robert Webber:

“Ancient worship . . . does truth. All one has to do is to study the ancient liturgies to see that liturgies clearly do truth by their order and in their substance. This is why so many young people today are now adding ancient elements to their worship. . . . This recovery of ancient practices is not the mere restoration of ritual but a deep, profound, and passionate engagement with truth—truth that forms and shapes the spiritual life into a Christlikeness that issues forth in the call to a godly and holy life and into a deep commitment to justice and to the needs of the poor.” – Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Baker Books, 2008), 109.

He argued that the way forward from Modernity into Postmodernity would be to discover an ancient-future faith. This would be ancient, in that it invites emerging Christians into the patterns of worship of the historical church: the Christian year, lectionary, liturgy, and Christian practices. This transcendent piece roots Christ followers in the ancient story of the Scriptures and places us in continuity with the early church. This is a story bigger than just “I.”

The church taking this posture would also be a forward-looking movement, a church with a focus on the future. Such a church is on a mission to various peoples of post-Christendom by re-imagining the arts, social justice, spirituality, and community for the 21st century. Webber reflects on this:

“How do you deliver the authentic faith and great wisdom of the past into the new cultural situation of the twenty-first century? The way into the future, I argue, is not an innovative new start for the church; rather, the road to the future runs through the past. These three matters—roots, connection, and authenticity in a changing world—will help us to maintain continuity with historic Christianity as the church moves forward.” – Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year (Baker, 2004)

I find myself fitting into the sort of Christianity that Webber imagined would become the path forward for many of us from low-church evangelicalism. This will be part of the ethos of the church planting mission that I will be leading in 2013 in Seattle, Wa. It would be safe to predict that this network of faith communities will be: Anabaptist in values, missional in orientation, contemporary in the arts including music, charismatic in its openness to the work of the Holy Spirit, and liturgical in its worship rhythms.

So yes, I could easily find myself worshipping among the Anglicans/Episcopalians – permanently if I wasn’t committed to an Anabaptist vision of the Kingdom. Certainly some things wouldn’t be perfect in that setting, one area being the Anglican openness in some quarters to celebrating nationalist themes (actually, I attended an Anglican Church today and they sang the fourth verse of “My Country Tis of Thee” which made me cringe a bit).

Even so, worshipping within the Anglican tradition truly enriches me every time and serves as a reminder of the multiple expressions of God’s beautiful Church. Together, all of the various denominations proclaim in their own way what I recited out of the Book of Common Prayer this morning – the mystery of faith:

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.


*There are of course some exceptions to this pattern 🙂

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  • Michael Pahl

    Kurt, I have thought this same thought many times! “If I wasn’t Anabaptist, I’d probably be Anglican…” It sounds like our journeys have been very similar.

  • p@trick

    kurt…i understand a love for mystery that accompanies liturgy. my favorite place to attend church was a little country episcopal congregation that combined liturgy with charasmatic worship and spiritual giftings. i can still hear the resonating sound of the liturgy and see the prayer team ministering to someone in need of healing, restoration or love, and i can hear the organ sternly evoking a deep sense of the sublime, while the guitars and drums would take us higher. i can still feel the warmth of the tradition, the poetry, the passion that this small congregation evoked. they sincerely worshipped with each facet of the service. what beauty!

    • Stan Theman

      church is a waste of time, money and effort.

  • “What I love about Anglican/Episcopal worship is its deep connection to the Great Tradition of the Church, while also having the flexibility for theological reflection and innovation.”

    The problem is that this “flexibility” and “innovation” turns into blatant heresy, such as denying the divinity of Jesus, but I digress.

    The only reason the Anglican communion has a connection to the Great Tradition of the Church is because the whole lot of those who were Catholic became “Anglican” by force. The connection stops there.

    The Episcopalian communion here in America is worse off and is severing ties to the Anglican communion quick and it is partly because of “theological innovation.”

    But this post is telling for a lot of reasons, one being that I believe it represents the sentiment among many who “attracted” to the high church liturgy.

    But, over all, you will find that in Catholicism you will find the deepest connection to the Great Tradition and experience the liturgy every Sunday at mass where you can commune with Christ in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity and among the fellow brethren.

    • “The Episcopalian communion here in America is worse off and is severing ties to the Anglican communion quick and it is partly because of ‘theological innovation.'”
      No one in the Episcopal Church (which is on more continents than only North and Central America) has not severed ties to anyone.
      Considering how the Anglican Covenant has been defeated in the Church of England and other constituent members of the Anglican Communion, there appears to be many who still accept the role of conscience and discernment in the life of the various member churches.

    • ANB

      There is one problem: when people from low-church evangelical movements
      join the Episcopal church, they don’t last long before they want to
      change it. They are drawn by the liturgy, the Book of Common Prayer, and
      the music, but they can’t handle the lack of focus on “doctrine” and
      the conciliatory attitude of “the middle way” (which was the intention
      of the church as it developed under Elizabeth I–to bring in Christians
      of a variety of persuasions under one banner). In your post, you call it “flexibility.” They want the same old
      dogma from which they came. Then, after a while, the English choir is
      thrown out in favor of a worship band, the collect of the day is omitted
      at the beginning of the service, and everyone starts arguing about the
      role of gays in the church. And then, pretty soon, yet another
      congregation separates from the worldwide Anglican communion, joins
      CANA, and aligns itself under an African bishop–and all after a variety
      of lawsuits. Oh, and then those of us who continue as Episcopalians are told by Evangelical Christians that we aren’t really Christians at all. As one acquaintance asked me as I pointed out my church, “Well, do they even believe in the Bible there”?

      • Very true. When there is no authority, no boundaries so to speak, then it’s only a matter of time before things deteriorate.

  • “*There are of course some exceptions to this pattern ”

    Important clarification, thanks!

  • I commend you for embracing, or considering, other traditions. I come from a Baptist tradition and many don’t understand that part of Baptist though involves freedom of worship. That is, free to adopt or worship as each congregation decides.

  • Not me. While I have a deep appreciation for many liturgical themes and traditions, I fundamentally object to any that conditions elements of God’s grace upon the mediation a sacred office that only the properly – certified (a.k.a ordained) can perform. All those that are in Christ are, in some manner, priests –thereby intercessors– on each other’s and the world’s behalf. And of course different ones are granted differing gifts for the edification of the body. But the priesthood (which may also exist in “ministers” or “pastors” in low churches) is inimical to the body. This understanding was one of the genius discoveries of Anabaptism, though sadly lost to many of that spiritual heritage. Even Protestants of too many stripes prefer the structure of a magisterium, though they can’t agree which one…

    • Even Protestants of too many stripes prefer the structure of a magisterium, though they can’t agree which one…”

      The “structure of a magisterium” is the only thing that makes sense when you consider the failure of “Sola Scriptura” in Protestanism.

      • Not gonna bite. This is a circular argument where you say only through magisterium do we have scripture, and I’ll say magisterium must be judged (and found wanting) by a scriptural standard. It’s a tail-chasing exercise with no hope for conclusion because we start from irreconcilable foundations. Let’s do the readers a favor by not trotting out the old warehouses, OK?

        • I’ll do the readers a favor but perhaps not the you the favor. 😛

          Maybe we can discuss elsewhere?

          • Sure, Daniel. If you really want serious dialog, pop over to my blog (linked on my name) and leave me a comment. If you want to discuss publicly, search for the post on Sola Sciptura and we’ll chat. If you prefer private, just say so and I’ll respond by email. The first comment by any user is automatically moderated as a spam protection, so I’ll either approve or delete it at your preference. I don’t reject dissenting but serious comments, but will respect your privacy preferences if you express them.

          • I should warn you, however, that while I warmly embrace my Catholic brethren as fellow servants of King Jesus, I unreservedly reject apostolic succession and the authority of the magisterium. I am quite confident both that Catholics are my brothers and that I shall never cross the Tiber. So if you want to understand, and even debate, my reasons, welcome. But if you expect to bring me to Rome, save your time… ;{)

  • Kullervo

    These are many of the specific reasons why I (an ex-Mormon) love the Anglican Communion.

  • AmyS

    1) I appreciate Webber, especially his writing on catechesis and the church year. Free church traditions are rarely as intentional about conversion and Christian education.

    2) One aspect of high church/liturgical traditions that is missing from free church traditions is the use of clerical vestments. In Anabaptist settings, the ecclesial ideal is communal and non-hierarchical, and vestments are typically considered a sign of hierarchy and symbolically antithetical to the priesthood of all believers. But, vestments are really good in some ways. A therapist friend recently pointed out to me that preaching is akin to a Rorschach test, and that, since vestments make the preacher (for that moment and purpose) less of a unique individual and more of a functional role-player, congregants are freer to listen and reflect on the word in more directly personal terms, less encumbered by interpersonal dynamics. In other words, the preacher in plain clothes is a 3-dimensional singular personality, whereas a preacher in a robe and stole is more like a 2-dimensional mirror and a representation of the whole community.

    • AmyS

      Admittedly, the folks at Bad Vestments might argue that poorly chosen (ego aggrandizing) clerical clothing is a more troublesome barrier to worship than plain clothes. They have a point.

    • Such an interesting observation, @58757ba8ba47d7e22c9fe13375191e5a:disqus . I saw this earlier on when this post was written, but failed to comment.

  • James Stambaugh

    That’s funny; if I weren’t an Anglican I’d be Anabaptist. Good article.

  • David Ozab

    No wonder we get along so well and see eye to eye on many things. Even though I left the Anglican Communion to join the Catholic Church, I still value that stream of the Church’s Tradition. And I’ll never run out of good things to say about N.T. Wright.

    • Well said! I came from evangelical fundamentalism to the Catholic church and N.T. Wright was instrumental in getting me there ironically enough.

  • I’m not anglo enough to be Anglican, nor political enough to be Anabaptist, so I’ve ironically opted to embrace a healthy dose of both by making peace with the tradition of my upbringing: hodge-podge evangelicalism!

  • Eric Kouns

    I was born into Fundamentalism, began my ministry in mainstream Evangelicalism, then became an Anabaptist while a student in seminary. I served there 26 years before I finally yielded to the call of Anglicanism and the liturgical tradition… for the very reasons you describe in your excellent article. I wanted to be a liturgically-leaning Anabaptist. I ended up being an Anglican with strong Anabaptist sensibilities.

  • Aaron

    Is it odd that I often find myself reading your posts? I think not! I come from a Catholic background, drawn to Anglicanism because of it’s theological openness, and as of the last few years, find myself almost completely identified as an Anabaptist. Webber, Wright, and Greg Boyd, all impacted by journey. Oddly enough, I am in a Vineyard church. Well, may be not so odd. 🙂 Peace. Aaron

  • John Walker

    I’ve thought this same thing. I’m a walking paradox. Not sure how to reconcile Anabaptism’s strict sola scriptura with paleo-orthodoxy’s embrace of tradition, but somehow we make it work!

    John Walker | Freedom In Orthodoxy | freedominorthodoxy.blogspot.com

  • Kurt, I wasn’t an Anglican, I’d probably be Anabaptist! The Anabaptist vision of the Kingdom has resonated with me deeply, and I believe it is a gift to the whole Church. Very grateful for guys like you and Greg Boyd that have introduced me to a very straightforward, simple, and radical way of taking Jesus at his word and truly submitting to him as Lord over everything.