I want to talk to you about our culture and our faith as Episcopalians.
Louis C. K. is an earthy (to say the least) comedian who stars in his own show on Fox television entitled: Louie. It is for mature audiences only. He said,
“I have a lot of beliefs… And I live by none of them. That’s just the way I am. They’re just my beliefs. I just like believing them – I like that part. They’re my little believies. They make me feel good about who I am. But if they get in the way of a thing I want, I [sure as heckfire] do that.”
Let me say that I think we are in a time where you and I have come to known that we (and our people) have received some “little believies.”
And that we are adrift in a sea of competing truth.
Our churches are awash in individualistic, congregational, and local contextual theology which disconnects us from our language of believing, our culture of believing, and our ability to build and sustain a transformational community.
The axial age was a time between 800 and 200 BCE when influences traveled globally thinkers and cultural ideals had a profound influence on future philosophies and religions, identifiable characteristics common to each area emerged[i]
You have heard we are in an emerging/ent time. We are in a new axial age. An age where in there swim competing arguments for truth and for society.
It is also my opinion that in some real way we as Christians, and in particular Episcopalians, have abandoned the field of philosophical discussion, of apologetics, of witness. We are leaving behind our own inherited theological views in favor of picking up other views from various and sundry traditions that we find interesting.
I think this comes out of the goodness of our own heart to try, in the midst of a great pluralism of discourse, to be relevant.
However, it is exactly by doing this that we leave behind the tradition(s) (the language and culture of our inherited faith) that may best help us navigate the world in which we live and the conversation that we are having.
This conversation is both an inner with our heart and mind and outer dialog in conversation with community members and in our workplaces and our confusion has become as much an individual confusion as a corporate one – especially for the Episcopal Church.
In an age where everyone can become a specialist about just about anything, we have in point of fact, become specialists about very little.
Baptism and confirmation classes no longer translate the faith of Christianity as received by the Episcopal Church.
Such classes are seen as something to do. Rather than preparing for people to glorify God in this world and the next; or as our legacy of faith to leave
Robert N. Bellah, emeritus professor of sociology and comparative studies at the University of California, Berkeley, has one view of what has happened.[ii]
Bellah, describes well the tension between Christianity (Pauline specifically) and pluralism. Recognizing the challenge of proclaiming the gospel in our Western culture he writes:
…[W]e are getting our wires crossed if we think we can jettison defining beliefs, loyalties and commitments because they are problematic in another context. Reform and re-appropriation are always on the agenda, but to believe that there is some neutral ground from which we can rearrange the defining symbols and commitments of a living community is simply a mistake - a common mistake of modern liberalism. Thus I do not see how Christians can fail to confess, with all the qualifications I have stated, but sincerely and wholeheartedly, that there is salvation in no other name but Jesus.[iii]
The good news of salvation, and the uniqueness of God in Christ Jesus is a Christian belief in which we have (especially as an Episcopal Church) a text, language, liturgy, and culture.
Discipleship in the Episcopal Church is conveying this reality to our covenant community and to the world around us.
A wise statement about our present situation of religious pluralism comes from Herbert Fingarette in his book The Self in Transformation:
It is the special fate of modern man that he has a "choice" of spiritual visions. The paradox is that although each requires complete commitment for complete validity, we can today generate a context in which we see that no one of them is the sole vision.
The reality I find is that many of us here today and many of our parishioners do not hold Christianity as the sole vision. We have other allegiances, other believies, which we apply to the Christian faith - mutating it.
And, this happens both in the liberal and the traditional church groups who campaign for allegiance.
Thus we must learn to be naïve but undogmatic. That is, we must take the vision as it comes and trust ourselves to it, naïvely, as reality.
In Mark’s gospel we are told to “trust” the good news.
Christians have a “believing” that is part of their community life.
….One may be a sensitive and seasoned traveler, at ease in many places, but one must have a home. Still, we can be intimate with those we visit, and while we may be only travelers and guests in some domains, there are our hosts who are truly at home. Home is always home for someone; but there is no Absolute Home in general.[iv]
This applies to us in that we cannot divorce our covenant communities from the faith tradition we have received; a tradition which is itself a culture – an Episcopal culture.
We might remember the Athenians who received the gospel from Paul they were concerned that he was simply presenting another foreign deity.
On the contrary, Paul converted them through an understanding of the scriptures presenting a monotheistic God known by the Hebrews, who was at work bringing about salvation history, and this God was THE God who created the very cosmos.[v]
We say we believe in One God. The Episcopal Church is not henothieststic church. We do not believe in one God among many.[vi]
If we return to Robert Bellah for a moment we get some help with this notion. He writes:
To put this in Niebuhrian terms: converting people to Christianity without Paul's background of Hebrew radical monotheism would be converting them to a sort of henotheism, a belief in Jesus as a kind of "guardian spirit."[vii]
Discipleship is about not simply the belief or the transformation alone. It is rather about belief in connection with a transformed life that then lives in a particular and unique covenant community – with its own culture.
Christians who are Episcopalians are at work discipling others. This means not making general, superficial or sentimental Christians.
We are at work doing something more than making a choice for a very nice believie. We are instead inviting people into a relationship with a particular God. In a particular community, with a particular text, language, liturgy, and social system
Without this work of inducting our current community members and our new community members we are offering a “henotheistic guardian spirit” as opposed to a biblical Christ.
Again, Robert Bellah:
Without such induction the individual decision may be not for the biblical Christ but for a henotheistic guardian spirit. And that is true not only for so-called new Christians, but for many of us in our own allegedly Christian society who do not understand what Paul would have required us as Christians to understand.[viii]
For Christians, and in particular – Episcopalians, the church is home. The church is the family of God. It is the temple of the Holy Spirit.[ix]
So, what I want to do for you today is to make the case for a stronger doctrine of the church and our Episcopal church specifically.
I want to speak to you about our culture, the particular one into which we are inducting members.
It is my belief that we, the Episcopal Church, have a common life with a wonderful remembrance of God in Christ Jesus.
That you and I were drawn to choose this church…choose to stay…choose to join
We in our context are the standard bearers. We [The faithful Episcopalian] are a living sign of the eschatological reconciliation of the world with God.[x]
We might find some indication of this work as it relates to the Episcopal Church in the words of Archbishop William Temple they remain the very best understanding, which was adopted by our General Convention in 1973 in this way:
"The presentation of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in such ways that persons may be led to him as Savior, and follow him as Lord within the fellowship of his Church."
…I would add the assumption at the end of this quote that specifically we are to do so within the fellowship of the Episcopal Church.
We must not shy away from this work. We must be about discipling Christians as Episcopalians. And, I would argue that we must evangelize ourselves first. We have congregations with assumed beliefs and common interests. We exist as a group of congregations, who have different ideas about our sacraments, discipleship methods for making general Christians, and clubs.
Yet this is not what drew us here together. This is not the faith we inherited. Nor the faith we first fell in love with.
I want to encourage you…inspire you to fall in love with the Episcopal Church again!
We have a beautiful and particularly unique faith. As Episcopalians we know who we are and whose we are. We were created by God as part of God’s creation and are made in the image of God. We are free to make choices: to love, create, reason and live within what was created to be a sustainable creation; and to do so with God.
We know that we do not do this. We don’t make good choices. We like to put ourselves in the place of God.
And so we know affirm that our salvation and our deliverance, in fact our very life lived in the company of God, is dependent upon God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness.
God has helped us by revealing himself through nature, history, saints and especially the prophets of Israel. We believe in a God who Jesus called Father. We believe this is the God who creates. God looked on creation and said it was very good. It is so not because of its nature but because of the God who creates it, sustains it, and directs it. The creation is God’s, belongs to God, all things are God’s, and exist for God’s purpose.
This revelation of who God is has been given to us by the witness of our faithful predecessors – and specifically in the living word of the Old Testament. God desires to be with us. God is faithful to us. God reaches out for us. God commits to us a binding relationship. This is expressed through the scriptures and in particular to the people of God – the Abrahamic descendants – Israel. God, the Father of his people, invites us to be faithful by virtues of love, justice, mercy, and humility.
The Ten Commandments remind us of God’s desire for us in our relationship with himself and with others:
Episcopalians understand that we trust God, and we bring others to know him.
We put nothing in the place of God.
We show God respect in our words and in our actions and in the results of our actions.
We are faithful in worship, prayer and study.
To the other we are to be faithful as well – treating our neighbors with love as we love God and love ourselves; to love, honor, and help our parents and family; to honor those in authority, and to meet their just demands;
We as Episcopalians are to show respect for the life God has given us; to work and pray for peace; to bear no malice, prejudice, or hatred in our hearts; and to be kind to all the creatures of God.
We are to use our bodily desires as God intended for the mutual building up of the family of God.
We are to be honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for all people; and to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God.
We are to speak the truth, and not to mislead others by our silence.
We are to resist temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; to rejoice in other people's gifts and graces; and to do our duty for the love of God, who has called us into fellowship with him.
This is what it means in part to follow in our apostolic teaching, to continue the work of a covenant community.
We as Episcopalians hold ourselves accountable to this vision of relationships with God and with one another. We believe we hold up our lives to this image of our being, word, and deed and can see clearly where we fall short of the hope God has in us and so we repent. We return to God.
As Episcopalians we know that baptism does not make us perfect. We know that we remain sinful and sinning people. That is what we Episcopalians claim - that we follow our own will and not God’s; this really messes up our relationship with God and with other people, and we have managed to make a very real mess of God’s creation.
We recognize we cannot help but do these things, so we understand that we are in need of saving. We are set free to do this work by creating a community of reconciliation. We know as Episcopalians, we say in our Eucharistic prayer, that God has tried to call us back to himself…with no real luck. It is under this weight of sin that God chooses to enter the world. God comes as Messiah to set us free from the power of sin, so that with the grace of God, live and work as God’s people, with God and with others.
We believe the Messiah, or Christ, is Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son of God. He is not just another prophet, good guy, wise man or great historic figure. We believe in the Episcopal Church that Jesus is the only perfect image of the Father, and that he reveals to us and illustrates for us the very true nature of God. Jesus reveals to us what I have said, and moreover that God is love and that God’s creation is meant to glorify God. We believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that by God's own act, his divine Son received our human nature from the Virgin Mary, his mother. We believe, what is foolish to man, that God became in Jesus human that we might be adopted as children of God, and be made heirs in the family of Abraham and inherit God's kingdom.
We believe we did what humans do to prophets and we killed Jesus. God knew this and yet freely walked to the cross in the person of Jesus, that through his death, resurrection and ascension we would be given freedom from the power of sin and be reconciled to God. While the ability to glorify God and live in a covenant community with God was given to us so too was the gift of eternal life. We believe God in the form of the Son descended among the dead and that they receive the benefit of the faithful which is redemption and eternal life.We say and claim that Jesus took our human nature into heaven where he now reigns with the Father and intercedes for us and that we share in this new relationship by means of baptism into this covenant community – wherein we become living members in Christ.
In our covenant community we have a language of faith which directs our conversations and gives meaning to our words; through which we understand we are invited to believe, trust, and keep God’s desire to be in relationship by keeping his commandments. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
We are to love one another as Christ loved us. We believe that God continues with us, as Jesus promised, in the person of The Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who gives life, has given life to word and language, and even our own Episcopal vision of Christianity. The Holy Spirit leads us into truth, and helps us to grow into mature followers of Jesus, to grow into the likeness of Christ. We believe the Holy Spirit is present when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and when we live in love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.
We know the Holy Spirit’s movement when we see it in accordance with scripture, creed and reason of the church. The creeds affirm this teaching of the Christian church, and our Episcopal Church, they are basics of everything I have said.
They are the way Episcopalians remember on any given Sunday the promises of the God we believe in. As Episcopalians we read the bible. We do so in worship, in daily prayer, and in our study. We find it a living word and encourage one another to read, mark, and make inward the truth of the living God as revealed within its pages.
Episcopalians are not fundamentalists, while some fundamentalists may indeed be Episcopalian.
Our scriptures consist of books written by the people of the Old Covenant, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to show God at work in nature and history. And, those written by the first followers of Jesus, and the first leaders of our church, which set forth the life and teachings of Jesus and to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom for all people.
Episcopalians claim that the Holy Scriptures are the living Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible.
As part of the protestant reformation we believe all people may seek truth in the scriptures through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, but we also believe that it is the Holy Spirit guiding the Christian Church and the Episcopal Church in the true interpretation.
We believe the Bible should be read with other people. That we should listen to scholars, preachers, and teachers, and that we must work to interpret the Scriptures. It is from the Church, the Episcopal Church in particular, that we as Episcopalians find our meaning and understanding of the Christian faith.
It is one church in the full body of Christ, the community of Jesus, the family of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, which exists in this world and in the world to come. The Church triumphant and resplendent, the bride of Christ, is described as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and of which all baptized persons are members. It is also called the People of God, the New Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and the pillar and ground of truth. We believe as Episcopalians, and can trace our heritage, to the very nature of this church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. It is our particular mission to do this work as the Episcopal Church. We do this through our worship, proclamation of the Gospel, working as virtuous citizens of the kingdom of God to create real and permanent good through the power of the Holy Spirit.
All of our work is, like living stones, part of the kingdom God is building even now, even in this world. We do this work as bishops, priests, and deacons, in relationship with the baptized of the church.
We believe the ministry of the Episcopalian Christian is:
· to represent Christ and his Church, specifically the Episcopal Church
· to bear witness to God in Christ Jesus in the whole of our lives
· to use our gifts and talents for this work
· to work towards reconciliation with others and in the world
· to take our place in life, worship, and governance of the Episcopal Church
In our Church we have bishops; and we have our specific work. My work is:
· to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese
· to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church
· to proclaim the Word of God
· to act in Christ's name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church
· and to ordain others to continue Christ's ministry.
The ministry of the priest is:
· to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as pastor to the people
· to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church
· to proclaim the Gospel
· to administer the sacraments
· and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.
The ministry of a deacon is:
· to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need
· to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the Gospel
· and the administration of the sacraments.
In the Episcopal Church we have two Gospel Sacraments: Baptism and Eucharist. These are the two sacraments given to us by Christ. We are to invite people to Holy Baptism.
It is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God. It is what God does, not what we do.
It is an invitation, through the water of baptism, for us to say you are God’s. God claims you. You claim God. We make promises for babies so that they can share in this family and we promise to guide and guard them in the Christian faith. We believe in infant baptism. We believe it is our responsibility (not the child’s responsibility) to grow up within the Church, to know Christ and be able to follow him.
For the adult is an opportunity to stand and say: I renounce evil, I don’t want to live in sin, I trust in God and in Jesus as my Lord and savior.
It is our altar call….the invitation to be baptized…There is nothing that separates us from God or you.
This is THE way people become members of our Episcopal Church. A missionary church will have people along the edges who may not be baptized or want their children baptized. This is natural for a missionary community. However, when we begin to move away from this core teaching, just like any other, we are moving away from being Episcopalian.
There are other churches with other traditions around initiation. This is ours.
The second sacrament is the Holy Eucharist. In the Episcopal tradition this is not a sacrament of initiation. The Eucharist is food for the journey. We do it to remind us of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, his judgment and his coming again.We make present, through this act the sacrifice of Christ and we believe it unites us to God.
Through bread and wine, given and received according to Christ's command we receive:
· are the forgiveness of our sins
· the strengthening of our union with Christ
· the strengthening of our life with one another
· in our union we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where God and man and all brothers and sisters in the family of God are united
· we receive our nourishment that gives us strength and courage to do our work of glorifying God in this world and the next.
It does not require of us right belief, but self-examination, repentance for our sins, love for God, and charity for our brother and sister.
These are the two Gospel and primary sacraments of the Church.
In our Episcopal Church we have five other sacraments created by the Church, revealed through scripture, and built upon tradition, that are for the benefit of her people as a means of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.
These are: confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent, and unction.
While these sacraments (with a little s) are a means of grace, THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH believes they are not necessary for all persons in the same way that Baptism and the Eucharist are.
As Episcopalians we are people of hope, who live with confidence and courage, awaiting God’s judgment. We believe that we are working with God for the completion of the purposes of creation and unification of all people with their creator through the proclamation of the good news of salvation and the unique witness of God in Christ Jesus.
We believe Christ will come again and will fulfill his promise to make all things new. We believe in heaven where we are united with God in an eternal Eucharistic celebration of God’s love and glory. We believe in hell, eternal death, where those who reject God may be found. Yet we make our cry of hope as all go down to the grave dust to dust, ashes to ashes, praying God to recognize us as a sheep of his own fold, a lamb of his flock and a sinner of his redeeming.
We believe that God will raise us from death in the fullness of our being, that we may live with Christ in the communion of the saints. And that we shall have a new existence, in which we are united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other eternally.
Our assurance as Christians, and as Episcopalians, is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is who we are. This is what it means to believe as an Episcopalian.
Many churches have some of these beliefs, but it the unique and particular manner and combination which makes us Episcopalian.
Bishop Richardson, the 5th bishop diocesan of Texas, said:
The World is in ferment today. The Church is in ferment today. Theology is in ferment today. We may mythologize some things surrounding Christ, but we may not mythologize Christ. His Incarnation is a fact. His redemption of us is a fact. The Church as a redeeming body is a fact. And Christ is the great fact – God’s fact. And the Trinity is a fact; you cannot say all that you mean by God until you have said Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The doctrine of the Trinity is as decisively simple and as simply decisive as that.
In an atomic age, the Church with the Holy Scriptures in her hand must proclaim the sovereignty of the power of God as ultimate. In a world of racial prejudice, and national strife, the Church with the historic creeds upon her lips must stand for the unity of the human race in Christ Jesus with no other alternative. In a generation of material wealth, the Church with her sacraments must bear witness to the grace of God as the means of salvation. In a time of great and rapid change and many voices, the Church with her apostolic ministry must speak in no uncertain voice of Him who changeth not and is the Way, the Truth, and the Light.
Two things we need to keep in mind. First, the Lord God reigns. This is His world and He has a purpose for it. Second, we have come into the world at this time to fulfill His purpose.
When the Old Testament Esther hesitated before the danger she faced, Mordecai pointed out her duty, saying, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the Kingdom for such a time as this?”
Written in 1966 and delivered to his first diocesan council, Bishop Richardson’s words could well be spoken today.
We must be about our own formation. The discipling of ourselves is the first work.
The second is discipling others in the way of Jesus as we follow him in this church.
Discipleship means coming into a relationship. Wherein we are using the fabric of our Culture as Episcopalians to engage the culture around us and not revising it to make us comfortable
I am not challenging you to come up with your own really cool understanding of our church.
We have a theology.
We have a language.
We have sacramental symbols - signs and worship – liturgy.
We have a teaching.
And, we have a mission to share the Gospel faith we receive.
Which is particular and unique.
I am not challenging you to come up with your own really cool understanding of our church, but rather to choose to form people of every age
To disciple them in the way of the Episcopal Church…to be unabashedly Episcopalian.
[i] German philosopher Karl Jaspers coined the term the axial age or axial period (Ger. Achsenzeit, "axis time") to describe the period from 800 to 200 BC, during which, according to Jaspers, similar revolutionary thinking appeared in India, China and the Occident. The period is also sometimes referred to as the axis age.
Jaspers, in his Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte (The Origin and Goal of History), identified a number of key axial age thinkers as having had a profound influence on future philosophies and religions, and identified characteristics common to each area from which those thinkers emerged. Jaspers saw in these developments in religion and philosophy a striking parallel without any obvious direct transmission of ideas from one region to the other, having found no recorded proof of any extensive intercommunication between Ancient Greece, the Middle East, India, and China. Jaspers held up this age as unique, and one to which the rest of the history of human thought might be compared. Meister, Chad (2009). Introducing Philosophy of Religion. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 10. ISBN 0203880021.
[ii] Robert Bellah is author of many books, including The Broken Covenant (Seabury Press 1975) and, with others, Habits of the Heart (U. of California Press, 1996).
[iii] Robert Bella, The Christian Century, April 19, 1995, pp. 423-428
[iv] Fingarette keeps this from becoming stale in mission as the culture of Home comes into contact within new contexts. He writes: Yet we must retain an openness to experience such that the dark shadows deep within one vision are the mute, stubborn messengers waiting to lead us to a new light and a new vision . . . We must not ignore the fact that in this last analysis, commitment to a specific orientation outweighs catholicity of imagery.
[v] Robert Bellah in his essay returns to the work of Paul with the Athenians and offers us a sense of both the difficulty of what we must do and a challenge to reengage our mission: …[I]n order to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified to the biblically illiterate Athenians, Paul must convince them of the fundamentally Jewish notion of a creator God who is Lord of all and who will bring the world to an end in a last judgment. Only in that context does the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ make sense. Even though Paul abrogated the Jewish ritual law for the gentiles, he still, in a critically important sense, had to convert them to Judaism before he could convert them to Christianity. That is as much the case today as ever and is evidenced by the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures are canonical for Christians.
[vi] Henotheism (Greek εἷς θεός heis theos "one god") is the belief and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities.
[vii] Bella article. He also states: It would confirm the suspicion of the Athenian philosophers about Paul: "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities" (Acts 17:18). Indeed, today much missionary work carried on by Americans or Western Europeans in the non-Western world, emphasizing individual salvation rather than a transformed way of life, may be only the proclamation of a foreign divinity.
[viii] Ibid. Here is the whole quote: As the missionary-theologian Lesslie Newbigin puts it: "A religion of individual salvation had been taught, along with a wholesale rejection and condemnation of traditional culture. The result has been . . . a superficial Christianity with no deep roots and then -later- a reaction to an uncritical and sentimental attachment to everything in the discarded culture."
…Thus it would seem that a nonsuperficial Christianity must be based on something more than an individual decision for Christ, must be based on induction into the Christian cultural-linguistic system. Without such induction the individual decision may be not for the biblical Christ but for a henotheistic guardian spirit. And that is true not only for so-called new Christians, but for many of us in our own allegedly Christian society who do not understand what Paul would have required us as Christians to understand.
[ix] Even still, in a humble way, we do well to remember H. R. Niebuhr’s belief: that while this is true the church is also faithless and disloyal to its cause.
[x] Ibid. Bellah again challenges me in my thinking: This Trinitarian complex of remembrance of Christ, appeal to the Spirit, and thanksgiving to the Father is not simply one aspect of the church's life; rather, it is the very act of the church's life, the act in which the church's koinonia is realized. The church is that community whose common life is a lively remembrance of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. And it is in this way that the communion of the church in history becomes a living sign of the eschatological reconciliation of the world with God.