Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Token Pastor among Priests

This weekend it was my great pleasure to attend a class offered by the Reformed Episcopal Church at the Chapel of the Cross on Anglican Spirituality. Of course, the whole discussion of spirituality is built upon the foundation of one's theological presuppositions. My theological starting point is the Baptist tradition that looks to the trans-sacramentally mediated grace of God. By this I mean that the grace of God is not dependent upon the sacraments for its transmission. This is a bold assertion, for it unabashedly places me in the tradition that affirms the sacraments to be "ancillary" to Christian worship, and unnecessary for salvation of one's soul (this is such an unfortunate admission, for I would rather that many non-sacramentalists in my tradition had not grown into anti-sacramentalists, discarding vast riches of church heritage altogether). I personally take the position that although the sacraments may not be a required means of grace (justifying or sanctifying), they are nonetheless helpful to the believer's spiritual development in how the work of God is invited to permeate the physical world and experience of the Christian. In this way, one might say that although I would not teach the sacraments to be a required means of grace, nor would I assert that they impart no grace at all. And because I will not assert the sacraments to be of no value, I conversely hold that they may be of some value for developing Christian spirituality. The exact nature of that "value" must not be too quickly defined, for one can easily gravitate to one of the two extremes: that (1) the sacraments are of salvific value, or (2) that they are of no value at all.

Because I find that the sacramental traditions enjoy a more tight link to the historic church, I am drawn to learn of them so as to develop a more ancient faith. Though I am committed to the Baptist theological tradition, there is freedom within that system to explore links to ancient Christianity. However, resources developed within Baptist systems to learn of the ancient church are scarce. Therefore, if the Baptist wishes to develop Christian faith that acknowledges kinship to the fathers, he must develop that faith through exposure to those who "know" the fathers better than he does. It has been my joy to make friends with those who can assist me in this. Along this line, my friend (who is near to being ordained an Anglican priest) invited me to accompanying him in his class on Anglican Spirituality.

The lessons and discussion were very stimulating. However, it became apparent in short order that I was the only one in attendance that is not fully "immersed" (sorry for the pun) in that Christian tradition. Not only this, but it was quickly evident that most had "converted" to the Anglican tradition from mine. This does not necessarily make the scene as dramatic as attending and A.A. meeting with a beer in my hand, but the rhetoric of some to me suggested their expectation that when I "come to my senses," I'll make the switch as they did. This possibly overstates it, and I would err to imply that I was made uncomfortable in any way. On the contrary, these peers are to be lauded for having made someone comfortable that was clearly out of place.

Within the class, we discussed the aspects of spirituality taught from ancient Christian sources and monks of the British isles. The "efficacy" of baptism was explored, along with the aspects of the human condition needing redemption and the implications of God taking on humanity in Christ's incarnation. We engaged in a fascinating conversation on sin as a "force" that effects and imposes itself on the human condition. This sin "force" produces ripple effects throughout one's life, throughout humanity and throughout creation. I must admit that the sacramental approach to spirituality does appear to acknowledge, in a helpful way, the connection that inevitably must exist between spiritual reality and the physical world we live in. This class likely has aided me well in exploring "baptist sacramentalism," understanding the extent to which a Baptist can have a connection to the ancient fathers and minister boldly in a postmodern context by doing so with pre-modern resources.

Sure it may have seemed a strange thing to be the token Baptist pastor among Anglican priests, but I proceeded boldly into such a context knowing the value it held for me. After all, if the Baptist tradition is to thrive in a post-fundamentalist (possibly even post-evangelical) context, then it will need to be enhanced by those traditions that pre-date such American innovations to Christianity. Therefore, I gladly wander into classrooms where, though I may stand out, not sharing many fundamental (again with the puns) assumptions, but finding much to learn anyway.

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