Sunday, January 20, 2008

Anglican, Christian, or both?

In November, I offered up a 2x2 typology of Anglican liturgy and theology, in which I place my interests in the Anglo-Catholic quadrant. It seems to me that most of the Anglo-Catholics are those who left PECUSA left in the 1970s, before the 1979 prayer book and 1982 Hymnal. Meanwhile, those leaving recently tend to be more evangelical — but in the past 30 years adopted Rite II and praise music before heading for the exits.

Of course, the 2x2 typology is oversimplified. The theology part has much more nuance than just old/new “Christianity”. Heck, back in the 16th century Protestantism had the Lutherans and the Calvinists (Reformed, Presbyterian), and this was before Henry VIII and Elizabeth I gave us the Anglo-Catholic fudge that created the Church of England — let alone the rise of the Baptists, Congregationalists and Methodists, or the 19th century Evangelical movement.

Still, 50 or 100 years ago the variation between liturgical Protestant churches in America was not so very dramatic, particularly since all the hymnals would have an entry by Luther, Wesley and Watts. Across Christianity, there would be Catholic and Orthodox high church worship, a less high church liturgical worship, or a non-liturgical Bible church. On theology, the major heresies were long gone — there would be debates about real presence, or works righteousness vs. salvation by faith, but not about the divinity of Christ or the primacy of Scripture.

All of this is a long-winded way of my wondering whether there are three dimensions but not two: theology, liturgy and music. My rethinking of what constitutes “Anglican worship” was prompted by my visit this morning to a church very much outside my Anglo-Catholic comfort zone. The service this morning was at the Kanata Lakes Fellowship in West Ottawa, an Evangelical “Anglican” church that I heard about from David Virtue’s online news site.

The new parish (begun two weeks ago) is a reaction to the struggles in Canada within the Anglican Church in Canada, struggles that exactly parallel those in the US within TEC. Talking to the parishioners, they clearly draw inspiration from American leaders like Bishop Schofield.

The theological bonafides of KLF are not in question. The new parish is one of three in Ottawa aligned with the Anglican Network Canada. (ANC is headed by Bp. Don Harvey, retired ACC Bishop of Newfoundland). Two of the Ottawa parishes are still in the ACC, but KLF hopes to go straight to the ANC, joining two former ACC parishes in New Westminster (British Columbia). As in the US, the national church has been drifting slowly left for 50 years, but the exodus is accelerating in dioceses with aggressively revisionist bishops.

The service was led by Brian DeVisser, a graduate of the Wycliffe College at U. Toronto. After getting the drift of the ACC seminary’s theology, Brian chose not be ordained in the ACC but hopes to be ordained into the ANC. His sermon (like last week) was on Paul’s letter to the Colossians (this week Colossians 2:6-19), focusing on the sufficiency of Christ without additional works, ritual, or adherence to earthly rules.

In this regard, the theology of our prayer leader was clearly based on scripture (without much regard for the rest of the “stool”, i.e. tradition or reason). This reminded me of a BIble study, or the sermon in a non-denominational Bible church. While “evangelical” (whatever that means), its focus on the original Scriptural meaning and eternal salvation certainly puts it at the other extreme not only from the social Gospel of the TEC/ACC, but also from Joel Osteen (and others) who try to claim that reading the Bible can bring you riches on earth.

On the other hand, the worship style was fairly modern, as proclaimed on the cover of the service booklet:
Kanata Lakes Fellowship is an independent, evangelical church in the Anglican tradition.
Music leader Tony Copple used his electric guitar to lead singing of one hymn (“Beneath the Cross of Jesus” to the tune St. Christopher) and four praise songs. One of the praise songs, “As the Deer”, exactly fit the praise song stereotype of love songs to Jesus:
As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you;
you alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship you. …
I want you more than gold or silver, even though you are a king;
I love you more than any other, so much more than anything.
I don’t claim to be an expert on the theology of praise music. However, in my limited understanding of Scripture, the God (in three persons) of the 1st, 11th or 19th century is omniscient and omnipotent, our Lord and savior, not a substitute for a spouse or significant other.

In addition to theology and music, a church is distinguished by its liturgy. The spoken part of today’s liturgy, a “Contemporary Service of Morning Prayer,” was based on a similar service by St. Alban’s (ACC/ANC) in Ottawa The prayers included the creed and the Lord’s Prayer, in modern renditions more akin to the Rite II versions of the US prayer book.

Between music and prayers, the worship was thus very unfamiliar to me, although it would be quite familiar to parishioners of evangelical Common Cause parishes (including, perhaps, Bp. Robert Duncan’s home parish). The theology was undeniably Christian, so where does it fit in the Anglican tradition?

Conversely, there are Christian churches that still use the great hymns and the Bible, but don’t do creeds, kyries or kneeling. A Church of Christ or Disciples of Christ parish might fit this model. So while traditional liturgy and hymns seemed to come as a package within the Anglican faith, they are clearly separable within the broader realm of biblically-based Christian worship.

This goes straight to the matter of the boundaries of Anglicanism. Rev. Peter Toon — the president of the Prayer Book Society USA and self-appointed arbiter of the Anglican faith — has been on a tear about two things. First, neither the US 1979 prayer book (nor any other experiments authorized by Lambeth 1968) is not a “Book of Common Prayer” but an “Alternative Service Book” because it is not faithful to the 1549 or 1662 BCP of the Church of England. Second, churches not in communion with Canterbury should not call themselves “Anglican.”

Today’s worship convinced me that Toon has it half right: parishes that use the BCP are Anglican, as long as it is a service that would be recognizable to Cranmer. This is a doctrinal rather than institutional definition of Anglicanism, analogous to that of Lutheranism or Calvinism rather than Catholicism. If the institution drifts doctrinally, then the definition should stay with the doctrinal (rather than property) heirs.

In Canada, the 1962 BCP would fit Toon’s definition of a prayer book, while the modernized 1980 Book of Alternative Services would not. Today was not a BCP service — so was it really Anglican?

To argue the point more generally, from an institutional standpoint, why would praise worship Christianity be Anglican? We already have non-denominational evangelical parishes adding the Nicene Creed to modern worship, so how is this any different? Other than having Bishops (and apostolic succession), why are the non-BCP parishes trying to be Anglican rather than Calvary Chapel? (Particularly if Calvary Chapel has more parishes, members and resources than biblical evangelical Anglicans).

If Common Cause eventually throws out the 1979 prayer book and goes back to the 1662 original — with or without the “thees” and “thous” — that would be Toonian liturgy. Presumably (unlike Rite II) that would include a confession of sin prior to communion, no matter how bad that might be for business.

A party, a philosophy, an ideology, a social movement — or a religion — is meaningless without boundaries that define what’s inside and what’s outside. It’s not for me to set the boundaries, or to push out members of the tenuous Common Cause coalition. But if we don’t share a prayer book and a hymnal — in addition to interpretations of scripture — would we really all be one church?


Warren said...

Were I to compare several Pentecostal or Alliance churches, some differences that would be significant to me, might not be noticeable to you. Some of the differences you speak of (save doctrine) would likely be transparent to me. Perspective is an interesting thing.

9.West said...

I totally agree. While we all might buy our Bibles from the same publisher, sing some of the same songs, or even go to the same bible study (e.g. BSF), some differences will remain within the Christian tradition.

What differences are important enough to draw denominational boundaries? It seems as though using the same order of service is one most people would agree is an important definition of a denomination. If using the same words matters, does using the same songs (music and lyrics) also matter?

wnpaul said...

I am afraid my first reaction to your comments on "As the deear" was one of thinking, "He identifies as Anglo-Catholic, and he's just confirmed the usual sterotype of Catholics as biblically illiterate."

The entire song (which you are quoting inaccurately btw, thus rendering the third line you quote nonsensical) is basically sentiments expressed in different places by the Psalmist and other Scripture writers towards God, brought together in one song; if this type of language of the worshipper towards God is inappropriate then all of us had better stop praying the Daily Office.

I agree that much modern worship music is overly romantic and deserves the label of "love songs to Jesus"; this song is not only about twenty years older than that trend (it's copyrighted in 1983), it is also very different in that it uses biblical language and sentiments directed towards God rather than modern romantic mush directed towards the man Jesus.

Also, much of the literature arguing for a celibate priesthood, or justifying celibate monastic life, both in the Roman and Anglo Catholic traditions, uses the imagery of God/Jesus as spouse to justify a life without human marriage, so I would be careful knocking that concept.

9.West said...


As I understand it, you make 3 criticisms. I see your point in some cases, not others.

1. The song is quoted inaccurately.

I accurately typed in the first two (of three) stanzas as printed in the handout for the congregation to sing -- that's what I had to work with. I did not quote the refrain, which seemed redundant to my point:

You alone are my strength, my shield, to you alone may my spirit yield
you alone are my heart's desire; and I long to worship you.

2. We agree that some praise music is excessively sentimental, but you think a) this song was composed before this relatively recent trend (I have no data either way) and b) the sentimentality is the original psalm.

While I had lousy Internet service, I should have whipped the Gideon Bible out of my hotel room to look up the original Psalm 42:

1 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?

So the first stanza of the praise song is an accurate paraphrase of verse 1. But then the second verse of the psalm is a foreshadowing of John 4:14, while the second stanza of the song seems to be drawn from thin air:

I want you more than gold or silver, even though you are a king;
I love you more than any other, so much more than anything.

Nice rhyme, but where does the phrase "I love you" appear in the psalm? (Or "gold" or "silver" or anything else?).

3. Because "Roman and Anglo-Catholic" orders sublimate human love in the direction of Christ, such imagery is appropriate.

I could see your point if I were Roman Catholic. However, I agree with the general Protestant criticism that it's non-Biblical and a relatively modern innovation, and thus incorporate all of the standard arguments by reference.

I'm not aware of any general policy of Anglo-Catholic celibacy; all the Anglo-Catholic priests I've known -- save one -- have all been married. (Of course, as Paul says, anyone can take a vow of celibacy).

So (without the Catholic vow of chastity), I share the criticisms of excessive sentimentality made by the various KFUO guests that I cited earlier. Since it's hard to quote a radio program, I guess I should buy tmatt's book so I can look up his points and quote them directly.

Warren said...

9.west, I'm not a fan of "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs (although I have attended churches that sing them), but I'm with wnpaul. The song you picked is a poor example of the genre. I would posit that it is as scriptural as many traditional Anglican hymns (probably more so in some cases).

As an aside, I remember singing the song in the early 80s, but haven't heard it sung in church for several years. I especially like Chuck Girard's rendition of it on his praise and worship album called Voice of the Wind. Chuck Girard is one of the "grandfathers" of christian rock (along with Larry Norman and a few others) and is not someone who can be accused of pushing Jesus is my boyfriend music.

9.West said...

Warren — I can accept that position, that "Jesus is my boyfriend" is not theologically sound, but this isn’t the best place to make a stand.

I’m not sure where I would make a stand, since I’d rather focus on preserving good music than looking around for bad music.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, you seem to equate "good music" with "hymn". Music and liturgy are second order issues, not first order issues. As far as I am concerned, a church that can sign on to the 39 Articles is Anglican. That's the genius of the Anglican tradition, the real Via Media - that style is not as important as substance.

9.West said...

I certainly agree that the theology of the ideas (and the efficacy of communicating them) is a far more important liturgical issue than what (or whether) music is played. So why I’d prefer to listen to High Church Progressives, my soul (and my kid's soul) is better served by going to an Evangelical service.

I would also agree that music is a matter of taste. As you might imagine for a blog about “Anglo-Catholic liturgy,” I favor traditional hymns over praise music.

However, as I’ve indicated before, I think there are stronger intellectual and historical arguments to be made in favor of the hymn form. One argument is that such music that has stood the test of time, while ephemeral pop music has not. Another is that commonality of music (as provided by a shared hymnal) provides continuity of worship, both across space (between congregations) and over time (between generations).

As Terry Mattingly said: “How many of us will be singing songs that our parents and grandparents sang?”

Anonymous said...

Pop music hasn't had enough time to stand the test of time. There was just as much bad music written in Mozart's time as there is now; the difference is, now everyone can record it for posterity. We won't know if modern praise music has stood the test of time for at least another fifty years.

Anonymous said...

I should note, that I sang in a very traditional choir for ten years (I gather you are from Ottawa, Meredith Macdonell was my choir director), and I now sing in our praise band occasionally, so I suppose you could call my tastes pretty eclectic.

9.West said...

Kate, I agree that it's unfair to compare all pop music with the best of 18th century music. In fact, despite disparaging the 1982 Hymnal as containing a lot of such music that won't survive, I am confident that “Bread of Life” (#335) will be in hymnals in the 22nd century (if we have hymnals).

But no, I don't live in Ottawa, just happened to be visiting. In case you hadn't guessed from all the TEC/PECUSA refs, I live in the US.

Anonymous said...

Only read the one post, and not all of that. I'm a friend of Brian DeVisser, you see. Anyway, that'll teach me to make assumptions, won't it...

9.West said...

Having attended mission and other startup churches, I support wholeheartedly what Brian is doing. I also thought his sermon more informative than most, and certainly impressive for a recent seminarian.

I'm plugging the parish (and put money in the plate) because I support the theological principles behind it. However, as I told Brian (or Tony) at the time, the liturgy is not my cup of tea.