It’s been several years since I’ve written an article for the Sunday pastor’s column in our local paper, but I’ve been reading most of those that others have written and often wonder what non Christians think about them. My guess is, that if they read them at all, they are a little confused about how there can be so many different traditions in the same faith, and how they can sound so different while saying much the same thing. One possible way of looking at it is to think of the Christian Church as something like a living Christmas Tree decorated with hundreds of ornaments of every size and description. Each ornament might represent a denomination that has it’s own distinct shape and color offering up it’s own way of adorning the tree.
I suppose that a purist might want to get rid of all the ornaments and just let the tree’s natural beauty shine forth on its own. The problem is that the first followers of Jesus Christ each had their own way of expressing what it meant to be a Christian. That made them the first ornaments, and every generation in its turn has added more. That’s the way we humans do things. The truth is that the bare tree all by itself does not exist and never has.
My own tradition, the Episcopal Church, a part of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, has its way of adorning the worship of God through Christ. For instance, although we are certain that the bible reveals and illuminates the truth of God’s holy word, we do not take the book itself to be literal or inerrant. We do not affirm our faith in the words of a written confession, but in the language of our worship and through the ancient Apostles’ and Nicene creeds of the Church. It is sometimes said that we have an incarnational theology meaning that we heavily emphasize the duty of Christians to continue the healing and reconciling ministry of Jesus through the works of our daily lives. Our own way of being Christian is deeply rooted in the legendary origins of Celtic Christianity in Britain somewhere in the second century of the Common Era. I doubt that many pew sitting Episcopalians could say a single word about Celtic Christianity, yet the Celtic soul lives on in the unspoken ways in which we treasure God’s creation and our place in it.
We have a strong affection for the early Church fathers and mothers, and we are committed to forming our own faith in the light of the wisdom handed down to us through the ages. It would be hard to find an Episcopal Church where Holy Communion, the Eucharist, is not celebrated every Sunday because we believe that Christ is truly present to us in the bread and wine of that holy meal. We have an unusual tolerance for ambiguity, realizing that what we think we know as true, we can know only in part. We must always be prepared for God to speak to us in new ways that can startle us out of our comfortable ways. That means that in our tradition it is unlikely that you will be told what to think or believe, but you will be encouraged to ask the hard questions and be fearless in entering into conversation with God, Holy Scripture and the community of believers in search of answers.
Finally, as Anglicans we existed for 870 years within the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church, but that ended in 1533 as the result of an argument between a mad king and an embattled pope about a divorce. Since then we have followed our own way as a “Reformed Catholic Church.” Both Protestant and Catholic at the same time, no wonder we have a high tolerance for ambiguity. Any other Episcopalian who reads this, and being Episcopalian, is sure to disagree and suggest his or her correctives. That’s the way of Anglicanism.