Scott: I get the value of the deep content that the Spirit-led heretics left us; but that’s just it. The heroes of Christian history that I look up to were imprisoned and excommunicated and burned at the stake, with few exceptions. I believe the same things that believing Christians have held as truths throughout the ages. I have no problems there. But how am I to find the value of systems that were held up by people who persecuted the believing, practicing Roots Christians of early centuries, then held as heretical almost every voice raised that was full of Spirit and Truth; the same systems that my own early mentors were hiding in refuge from? I want to know God: God’s ways, God’s approaches, God’s thoughts. Where do I find them in liturgical observance? I’m really not intending to push an agenda… I really am honestly seeking this out.
Michael: Thanks for sharing your background. Sounds like you’re more open and have experienced some of the good deposits within the liturgical /historical stream. My wife came from a very dead, liberal Episcopal experience as a child growing up. She vowed to never return to anything that remotely resembled what she experienced. Then she met me in college. I told her that I was called to be a priest in the Episcopal church and bring renewal from within. She didn’t have a grid for that other than the little charismatic nuns that had laid hands on her as an early teenager and prayed, and she was filled with the Spirit. After we married we returned together to St. Andrew’s, my home congregation (charismatic Episcopal). She was blown away at the richness of the presence of God in the liturgy, the gifts of the Spirit shared among the community, the deep love and commitment the congregation had for one another and the deeply shared community life within the Church. We’ve seen nothing like it since we left in 1985 to move to California.
To this day we still have vibrant relationships with some of them that are carrying us along the path of becoming ordained in the Anglican church. All that to say: my experience is marked from being radically touched by God through this congregation. That experience forever opened me to realize that the Church is so much bigger than any one expression. Historic faith can be just as alive as the “liturgy” of five songs (the first two being fast and the last few being dialed down), announcements, sermon, ministry time, lunch. That liturgy is just as fixed as anything St. Chrysostom or St. Gregory laid down! I lived that for 20 years. All that time I missed what I had come to love and value at St. Andrew’s. Because of this I realized that anyone who is looking from the outside in, without having an opportunity to be impacted positively, may not have a desire for anything being offered no matter the setting. I believe you have to find what works best for you. This is not a new fad for me, but something we’ve held dear but at a distance for many years on a corporate level.
Regarding the history, I would prefer to disassociate the worship tradition of the persecutors from their sinful behavior. As you know, there were loads of politics involved with the vast majority of the persecutions. St. John Chrysostom, the author of the liturgy performed in virtually every Eastern Orthodox church to this day, experienced his own trials when a silver statue of Eudoxia was erected near the cathedral of Hagia Sophia. John denounced the dedication ceremonies. He spoke against her in harsh terms: “Again Herodias rages; again she is confounded; again she demands the head of John on a charger” (an allusion to the events surrounding the death of John the Forerunner). He was banished to the Caucasus in Georgia. He remained there virtually until his death. St. Gregory wrote most of the liturgy found in Eastern Orthodox Western Rite, Catholic and Anglican services. John Calvin said that St. Gregory was the last great Pope, an office that didn’t yet hold to the erroneous views later adopted. The Church has always persecuted its own, both Catholic and Protestant. Take Calvin’s Geneva trial as an example. Protestants persecuting protestants (Anabaptists) as well as Catholic and Protestant wars. Our common history is humbling. Proof that we are still very much sinners in need of a Savior.
I think the only way to successfully explore how powerful liturgical worship can be is to find a congregation alive in the Spirit. Not an easy task! In terms of initial reading, I’ve found the writings of Henri Nouwen to be very simple and deep. In terms of liturgy, I would recommend Alexander Schemmann’s classic work, For the Life of the World. This is a treasure on understanding the spiritual depth of the liturgy. He is Eastern Orthodox. Also, Todd Hunter’s new book, the Accidental Anglican, may be a good read for one coming out of an Evangelical / charismatic expression into the Anglican church or other liturgical expressions.
So, the liturgical year, with the many structures for daily prayer, corporate worship and discipleship offer a Gospel-centered approach to growing deep spiritually. It places Christ at the center of everything. The Gospel is not something we merely begin a life of faith by; the way in is the way on. I have to admit that for years, as a pastor, I decentralized the Gospel and stressed the hot topics of our day such as signs and wonders, the prophetic, revival, apostles, etc. Many of today’s movements are built around everything but the centrality of Christ. A liturgically focused life will not be derailed from the simplicity of the Gospel. Every year is set up around the work of redemption in Christ and every Eucharistic celebration is focused on the redemptive story of our life in Christ; crucified, risen , reigning and returning.
Union with Christ places us inside the realm of new creation; the old is gone, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17). We hold this new ground by living in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Those who are led by the Spirit, says Paul, put to death the misdeeds of the body; neglecting to participate in the way of the cross is a matter of life and death (Rom 8:13-14). Perhaps many of us have understood the finished work of Christ in ways that have encouraged us to become passive. We settle for a type of faith that believes propositionally but does not participate existentially. James tells us that even the demons believe propositionally; such faith is dead (James 2:18-20). The disciplines of the spiritual life are a way to enter into that living, participative faith. It is a mistake that they are often confused with attempts to earn one’s salvation (sozo = healing), a futile and prideful notion. A living faith is animated by the power of grace. Engaging the spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, is a grace-empowered means of working out our healing with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work within us to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:12-13). There is no earning in such efforts, but there are great rewards: “Now if we are his children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Ro 8:17). He has placed us in this redemptive drama together with himself—in Christ. And sharing in his sufferings, our honorable and privileged vocation as co-heirs, is the path to sharing in his glory.