An American commented that the church [in the early 19thc.] had fallen from a position of power to the condition of “a victim, dressed for the slaughter.” It was a ghastly picture, he declared, “when skepticism was rampant, and an insufferably insolent individualism paraded itself on the platform; when the men most alive were the Evangelicals, amongst whom there was hardly on who combined scholarship. Intellect, and address in a considerable degree, nor one who represented the principles and system in the Book of Common Prayer. Cited in John F. Nash’s “The Sacramental Church”
One of the challenges for Anglo Catholics in the 20th and 21st centuries is that we have won much.
Eucharist as the central act of worship? Check.
Confession in the Prayer Book? Check.
Holy Week services in the BCP? Check.
The Gloria at the beginning of the Mass and the Peace? Check and Check.
A faithful social consciousness restored? Check.
There is much that the Catholic movement within Anglicanism has “won.” Yet, now there seems to be a need for a new Oxford Movement within the Church.
Look at that quote above again. Skepticism rampant. Individualism unchecked. A quasi-evangelical Christianity as the dominant form of Christianity. A lack of seriousness in theology and scholarship. And a Prayer Book all too often ignored.
There is still much to do. The worry of the day is not that we have the externals in order. Our churches and clerics are also now adorned in ways which once would have caused scandal. Candles, vestments, and more are part of the standard Episcopal Church. The worry is that these things are the décor for a churchwide wake as we remember the good old days, are careful not to speak ill of wrongs that have contributed to the demise, and sing a song or two in fond farewell.
There has been much talk of restructuring the Church, this is good and proper, yet my fear is that we have no idea what we are building structures around. There are other Christian pan-Protestant denominations about that hover at the gates of universalism. There are social service agencies that can deliver needed services more efficiently than us.
We are facing not just a collapse of large parts of the Church, we are facing a collapse of leadership, nerve, and vision.
The answer is not Hymnal revision, new governance structures, Communing the UnBaptized, a Kalendar of Saints with non-Christians, guitar Masses, digital Prayer Books, more liturgies about the Earth, or many of the other countless ways many seem to think will lead us to the dawn of a kinder, gentler Church that will usher in the Kingdom.
We have to begin, now, to rediscover what it means to be an Anglican Christian.
A new Oxford Movement can do this. There is a desperate need for a movement that takes seriously the issues of the day while committing to delving into the Tradition and carefully reading Scripture. There is a need for a movement that is unabashed in its proclamation of Jesus Christ. There is a need for a movement that sees social service not as a goal of the Church but as a means for us to be drawn closer to the mind of Christ. There is a need for a movement that is grounded in disciplined prayer and lovingly offered worship. There is a need for a movement that sees the Sacraments as the means by which we know the Incarnate Lord. There is a need for a movement that is ready to move beyond zero-sum church politics to transform hearts and souls.
What could such a movement offer?
- A focus on the adoration of God.
- A focus on careful preparation to receive the Sacraments.
- A heightened awareness of Healing and Confession.
- An understanding of the Real Presence in our life together.
- A renewed focus on the disciplines of daily prayer for all believers.
- A focus on devotion to Our Lady and all the Saints.
- A view of the Church as extending through time and across boundaries.
- A commitment to forming young people in devotion to Christ.
- A commitment to justice work grounded in the Incarnation.
- A commitment to fostering a renewed sense of Anglican identity.
A new Oxford Movement offers distinct gifts for this time.
In a time when younger believers seem to be reaching for the transcendent and the mysterious we have an understanding of God that is rooted in more than tidy chats about Him. We offer a way of coming into the Presence of the Holy One. Worship is no didactic lecture on the merits of God but a chance to be in relationship with Him through His Son.
As many Christians are rightly offended by the degradation of the Earth and the plunder of its resources we have an understanding of the created order that revels in its most essential quality – it communicates something of God. We use the most common elements to receive the grace of Christ. God makes Himself known in the world all about us and we gather the best that creation as to offer in art, music, architecture, flowers, incense, and more as we worship.
We see in the Incarnation that embrace of the whole of humanity. As we live and move in an evermore diverse and pluralistic society, understanding the nature of God as revealed in human flesh is more vital than ever. For we see all of humanity bound up in the humanity of Jesus Christ. The challenge is not to see Christ in every person for that leads to the exaltation of the individual – our challenge is to see every person in Christ so that their totality is caught up in the divine personhood of Jesus.
As we see suffering all about us in the world, our view of the Incarnation, Creation, and the Glory of God leads us to serve. We have long understood that worship without service and service without worship are dead ends. The liturgy is not simply blessing or encounter with the Holy, it is a divine imperative to go forth and transform lives in the world around us. We do this not because it is the nice thing to do, we do this because we can do no other as we are transformed evermore into the likeness of Christ.
We have also always understood that it is the humanity and divinity of Jesus, in their fullness, that bring saving health. Whether through Stations of the Cross or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, we seek to know Jesus more fully so that his story becomes ours and ours his as we are bound together in the love of God. We are in a life-long journey of redemption living as we continue to turn from sin to newness of life. As vague spiritualities and syncretistic propositions capture the devotion of too many, we offer a way of understanding the life of Christ who makes us whole.
As the Church struggles, we offer a view of the Church that is more than a voluntary society of well-intentioned men and women. It is a Divine Society given to us by Christ as we have been made His Body. The Church’s mission is God’s mission – the restoration of all with and in God. The Church exists for this one purpose – for the same purpose as Christ was sent – to bring men and women to the knowledge and love of God.
That Church extends back in time and is not a passing thing. In a culture obsessed with falsity and peddled images of self, we offer a Body that is real. We offer a Church that is authentic and rooted in millennia of faith and prayer. Moreover, we offer an Anglican Church that, for centuries, has straddled theological divides, wrestled with thorny issues of church-state relationship, and has been responsive to the needs of the day while maintaining the faith.
We are facing serious challenges as a Church, of this there is no doubt. Yet all the restructuring we can achieve will be for naught if we have no sense of self, no reason for being the Church, and no hope of connecting with those outside our walls.
We offer hope in the face of the predations of fundamentalism and humanism. On the one hand, fundamentalists define the faith in such a way as to make it a laughingstock in the face of human progress and scientific achievement. Yet, equally destructive is the path of humanism which has given us liberal Protestantism. Humanism and liberal Protestantism have stripped mystery, spirituality, and symbolism away to the point where we have no compelling reason for people to even come to our churches – let alone for us to go out and evangelize.
Each has taken its toll on Christianity. There must be something else that the Church offers than knee-jerk reaction or hollow affirmation.
We offer, simply put, the sacred. We offer the sense that God is calling us to be a holy and living sacrifice as we are brought into his redeeming love. This happens in ways beyond understanding and can only be termed mystery. We offer a sacred way of being that sees all of our lives as consecrated for God’s use so that our selves and souls and bodies are fed and we, in turn, go out into the world, rejoicing as we draw others to Christ.
More about much of this will follow!