Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Tag: Protestantism

Two new books and the innate liberalism of Protestantism

A few days ago I purchased two books I’ve been waiting to read for a while.  They are quite different works of history and/or cultural critique, yet they are both contributing to some thoughts I’ve been trying to flesh out for a while.

Christianity's Dangerous Idea

The first of these is Alister McGrath’s Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, which is primarily a history of protestant support for individual interpretation of the Bible and, by way of illustrating the former, a history of the emergence and evolution of Protestantism.  I’ve only skimmed sections of it so far, and read the introduction, but I believe this text would be important for those attempting to come to terms with the divergence of protestantism–especially those who’s denominations are in periods of conflict.  In particular, McGrath makes the following observation in the introduction in regards to the current struggles within the Anglican Communion:

The idea that lay at the heart of the sixteenth-century Reformation, which brought Anglicanism and the other Protestant churches into being, was that the Bible is capable of being understood by all Christian believers–and that they all have the right to interpret it and to insist upon their perspectives being taken seriously,  Yet this powerful affirmation of spiritual democracy ended up unleashing forces that threatened to destabilize the church, eventually leading to fissure and the formation of breakaway groups.  Anglicanism may yet follow the pattern of other Protestant groups and become a “family” of denominations, each with its own way of reading and applying the Bible.

The dangerous new idea, firmly embodied at the heart of the Protestant revolution, was that all Christians have the right to interpret the Bible for themselves.  However, it ultimately proved uncontrollable, spawning developments that few at the time could have envisaged or predicted.  The great convulsions of the early sixteenth century that historians now call “the Reformation” introduced into the history of Christianity a dangerous new idea that gave rise to an unparalleled degree of creativity and growth, on the one hand, while on the other causing new tensions and debates that, by their very nature, probably lie beyond resolution.  The development of Protestantism as a major religious force in the world has been shaped decisively by the creative tensions emerging from this principle.

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From Adam Hamilton: Why Mainline Worship has a future

In the midst of all the Lambeth stress and worries about the future of the Anglican Communion it is easy to get discouraged. When coupled with the particular issues facing congregations and pastors of all denominations, the seemingly psychopathic desire of denominational institutions to impale themselves on the swords of their own irrelevance, self-obsession, and agenda-driven politics it is very easy to get discouraged.

But while I may not be very hopeful about the long-term health or even survival of the mainoldline denominations, I am encouraged by the possibilities available to those who unashamedly preach the gospel while at the same time maintaining a generosity to those who are seeking or even disagree. “Generous Orthodoxy” has become nearly a cliche phrase, but I believe it is what we ought to shoot for, and that at it’s heart it is what C.S. Lewis meant by “mere Christianity.”

Recently two blogs I read regularly have brought up two issues that could play out in favor of whatever remnant keeps the faith and resides within/emerges from the oldline denominations. One is from Adam Hamilton, the pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, a UMC mega church that has as part of its mission “The renewal of the mainline:”

On the weekend of June 28-29 our worship team met on retreat at Glen Eyrie Retreat Center in Colorado Springs (this is a fabulous place – owned by the Navigators – it is adjacent to the Garden of the Gods). We spent 3 days together praying, hiking, eating, discerning, studying and planning as we developed worship ideas and plans for the next twelve months. It was a great blessing. Each year, as a part of this retreat, we worship together at two or three churches. The aim of these visits is both to experience worship and to see what we can learn from others (in the corporate world this is known as “bench-marking”).

This year we visited two churches – a large non-denominational church in a “conservative-evangelical” tradition and a small “alternative” service that was a part of a mainline denomination’s cathedral in Denver.

After worshiping at both congregations our worship team was unanimous in saying they felt they had experienced a deeper and more profound sense of worship at the alternative mainline service than at the non-denominational mega-church. This was true not only for the “traditional” worship team members, but for the “contemporary” worship leaders and even, or perhaps especially, for the four “young adult” members of the team.

{Read it all}

The other comes from a commenter over at Michael Spencer’s InternetMonk, via the Boar’s Head tavern:

I’ve been teaching an adult Sunday School class for a couple of years now. I’ve got a great group of people, people who love, accept, pray for, and support each other. They say they appreciate my teaching, but I feel I’ve learned far more from them than they have from me. I’ve also taught a number of Discipleship Training classes at my church, and I’ve been a leader in the FAITH evangelism training. I’ve been doing sound for services and special events at the church for 16 years now. I say all of this to show that I deeply love and am deeply involved with my Church.

But some members of the church, none in my SS class, have some problems with me, and would like to see me removed as a SS teacher. The first incident occurred a couple of years ago when I was teaching a DT class on Revelation. Someone in the class made an offhand comment about how they didn’t see how anyone could believe in evolution, and that anyone who believed in evolution must be an atheist. I pointed out that I accepted the evidence for evolution, and that Christians had many different views on the subject of origins and the interpretations of Genesis one. I then moved back on topic to Revelation. The following day I received a call from the associate pastor saying that he and the pastor wanted to meet with me. A few members of the class had gone to the AP to complain about what I said re Evolution. Note that they didn’t come directly to me, as Jesus commands. The meeting with the Pastor and the AP went well, but half of the class didn’t show up for the rest of the sessions. (Interesting side note: it was the younger members of the class that dropped out. The older, 50+, people stayed on.)

{Read it all}

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