Priesthood in Anglicanism

Understanding the difference between the priesthood in Anglican polity as opposed to the Roman Catholic theology can be a confusing task for some. I thought then, particularly since most of my readers are not from an Anglican tradition, that it might be helpful to highlight the difference.

The following quote was well put in a paper drafted by the joint taskforce of the Anglican Province in America (APA) and the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC). Speaking of the formation of a distinctly Anglican doctrine during the several decades following the Reformation on the European continent they wrote:

Anglicanism rejected the notion that the priest’s liturgical function is to offer a propitiatory sacrifice anew at each Mass.

In my mind, this is the most significant differentiation. The sacrifice of Yeshua was once done and eternally sufficient. It is not repeated but memorialized in our celebration of the Eucharist.

Discernment

Several months ago a friend asked me when the last time I’d read 1 Corinthians 14 was. We were having a conversation about spiritual gifts, especially tongues. When I was 19 a friend of mine and I did an in depth study of 1 Corinthians and concluded that there was no way tongues had “ceased.” However, neither of us had ever experienced it for ourselves. So my attitude from that time had been, “God, if you want to commune with me in this way, I am willing.” However, at my friend’s urging I re-opened 1 Corinthians 14 and was immediately convicted by the first verse.

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 1 Corinthians 14:1

“Earnestly desire” certainly did not describe my attitude towards the spiritual gifts. This began a change in our congregation’s expectations for corporate and personal worship.

On Pentecost of this year (I found the timing significant), a close friend of mine and I spoke in tongues for the first (and so far only) time. I cannot tell you what transpired exactly, although I have a guess, but I can tell you that it was without a doubt a move of the Holy Spirit upon me. My overwhelming impression was that what I experienced is described by Paul in his letter to the disciples in Rome:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26

It had never previously occurred to me that the Spirit might speak those groanings through my vocal cords, but there is no better way to describe what poured out of me. I would say “uncontrollably” because in a sense that is how it felt, but I was very aware that while a torrent of groanings or words in a different language were rushing out of my inner man, I could definitely have quenched that flow. It was if I was a fire hydrant on a hot summer day, and words were the water gushing out of me.

Paul said, “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself,” and “if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.” My conclusion has been that in my weakness, the Spirit prayed through my spirit for the building up of my inner man in ways that with my mind I am incapable of. I pray regularly with my mind; I have spent my life building up my mind, but my spirit had never before received intentional ministry.

In my experience this overwhelming, unmistakable action of the Holy Spirit has been rare. More often He seems to interact with me or with us in a way that is aptly described as a still, small voice. So still and so small that it is difficult to know whether it is the voice of your mind or the voice of His Spirit speaking. It is at these times that I desperately wish for a more powerful discernment.

The discerning person can tell, for example, when prayer is not genuine contact with God but a conversation with oneself, when apparent humility is actually a twisted form of pride; when a vision is really an hallucination and an ecstasy a psychosomatic disturbance; when inspirations are projections of suspect desires and when a vocation to celibacy is more a flight from intimacy than a call from God.[1]

I have begun to notice, however, that when this still, small voice speaks there is not a doubt but a knowing that God’s Spirit just communicated and about what He said.


[1] Sandra Schneiders, “Spiritual Discernment in the Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena”

Impossible Expectations

Christianity (in general) is suffering from theological nonsense. I have been attempting for several years to provide corrective insight to these theological problems when and where I had opportunity. However, I have found that the average Christian either doesn’t know what his theological assumptions are, or generally knows what his theology is but doesn’t grasp how that intersects with the day-to-day existence of his life. This has proven to be a mostly insurmountable problem.

However, I have realized recently that the problem is actually much more endemic than our theology. The reason our theology has become disconnected with the life of the Gospel is that we have completely erroneous psychological assumptions. To be specific, Christians in general assume that an abundant life is theirs by virtue of grace, and make no connection between their actions and the state of their life.

In other words, we believe the equivalent of the idea that by virtue of believing that because Derek Jeter did all the work necessary to become an all-star baseball player we can also become all-star baseball players by believing in Derek Jeter. We forget that Derek Jeter’s all-star status was the result of daily following the regimen required to form baseball skills.

What am I saying? Yes, we are saved by grace, but what that means is we are given access to the baseball diamond. It still remains up to us to pick up the bat and hit 100 pitches a day. It is still our responsibility to rise early each morning and run sprints.

This leads to the “elephant in the room” of Christianity; the big issue that no one wants to admit let alone talk about. We have the same existential problems as our non-believing neighbors, only our problems are further complicated by guilt and the nagging feeling that it shouldn’t be like this.

The present status is that Christians espouse the idea that the Gospel provides the life abundant, but live as if the promises Scripture makes aren’t really attainable today. This has progressed to the degree that there are theologies which specifically state that Scripture’s description of a believing life pertain to the world to come. Talk about capitulating!

Leo Tolstoy described our situation well,

all men of the modern world exist in a continual and flagrant antagonism between their consciences and their way of life.[1]

Messiah’s death on the cross provides us the opportunity to be formed in His likeness as a result of the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in us, which is itself a response to our physical efforts at the renewing of our mind.

Each of us grows up in surroundings that train us to speak, think, feel, and act like others around us. “Monkey see, monkey do,” goes the proverb. This is the mechanism by which human personality is formed, and it is largely for the good. But it also embeds in us habits of evil that permeate all human life. Humanly standard patterns of responding…seize upon little children through their participation in the lives of those around them. Sinful practices become their habits, then their choice, and finally their character.

The very language they learn to speak incorporates desecration of God and neighbor. They come to identify themselves and be identified by others through these practices. What is wrong and destructive is done without thinking about it. The wrong thing to do seems quite “natural,” while the right thing to do becomes forced and unnatural at best—especially if done because it is right.[2]

The Holy Spirit does a work of renewal, brings about rebirth, but a new character must be formed just as the old character was formed. Spiritual practices will become habits, and then our choice, and finally our character.

Prayer, solitude, fasting, meditation on Scripture–these are tools that we are meant to use. Tools are designed to produce results. As Eugene Peterson says, what distinguishes us from the animals and from the angels is that we use tools.

We are not animals, living by sheer instinct, in immediate touch with our environment. We are not angels, living by sheer intelligence, with unmediated access to God. We are creatures, heavily involved with tools. Unlike animals, we use knife and fork to get food to our mouths, and hammer and saw to build a home for ourselves. Unlike angels, we use the scriptures to hear what God says to us, and the sacraments to receive his life among us.[3]

The spiritual disciplines are not tools for doing or getting, however, but for being and becoming. Our society is riddled with technology, but it is exclusively dedicated to doing or obtaining, while we neglect the spiritual technology that Jesus modeled for us. We neglect it because we have assumed that a new character is bequeathed to us by grace. And indeed we are given grace for each moment, but it is grace in response.

Let’s adjust our expectations in line with reality. Character is not born but formed. Likewise character is not born again, but reformed (renewed, transformed) after being born again. The transforming work of the Holy Spirit (progressive sanctification) is done in response to our effort. Can we earn salvation by effort? NO! However, we must work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). We must train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7-8), we must discipline our bodies if we hope to attain the reality of the gospel promise (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

G.K. Chesterton said:

Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.[4]


[1] Tolstoy, Leo. The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Trans. Aylmer Maude (London: Oxford University Press 1936). 136[2] Gangel, Kenneth O. and Jim Wilhoit. The Christian Educator’s Handbook on Spiritual Formation. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1994. (chapter 18 by Dallas Willard, “The Spirit is Willing: The Body As a Tool for Spiritual Formation”)

[3] Peterson, Eugene. Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991. 1

[4] As quoted in Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. San Francsico: Harper Collins, 1991. 1