The last time I wrote on this blog, I wrote an entry by the same title for the 2016 year. At then end of 2017, I was ready to write again, but felt hesitant to publish what I had written. I might as well just make this a 2018 recap at this point, but this is loosely based on what I originally wrote, so here it is. Honestly, wisdom dictates that I was better off not posting anything at the time anyways. I will say from the outset that if this post upsets anyone, I do not have that intention. If you find these thoughts unpolished or insulting, I am certain that I am to blame, so I accept any criticisms on the thoughts I present here.
In my personal life, two of my beloved Grandparents passed away in Christ. During these times, my changing theology and spirituality was especially important to me (especially the communion of Saints). My daughter also turned 3. She is full of life and energy, and I began making more specific efforts to foster her first experiences of knowing and following Jesus.
Theologically, I will say from the outset that I did leave the Baptist tradition during 2017, and considered leaving Protestantism. In 2018 my family started to move over to an Anglican parish near our house (St. Matthew’s, Anglican Catholic Church), and we have been enjoying it. We love the liturgy, the focus on Word and Table, and the inclusion of our little one in the spiritual life of the church. This change has caused me to reflect on my journey. It’s easy for me to say what caused me to leave the tradition I was in (honestly, those stories are pretty played out these days), but I also learned a lot from other traditions along the way, so I want to recognize the people God used in my life (in no particular order):
- I was Baptized into a non-denominational Baptist church. I later had a conditional baptism (they don’t call them that, but that is what it was), in a Southern Baptist Church.
- I started following Jesus obediently as an adult in a Southern Baptist Church.
- I initially learned theology, biblical theology, and biblical languages from Reformed Baptists, Southern Baptists, and Presbyterians.
- The Reformed tradition was my entry into the concept of liturgy and historic orthodoxy and tradition.
- I learned how to preach from Baptists and Presbyterians.
- I learned about historic liturgy and sacramental theology from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox writers.
- I learned about Evangelism and Missions from Baptists, especially those in the SBC.
- Most of my friends are in the Baptist tradition.
- I learned about loving God personally and authentically from Evangelicals.
Most people, from this point, wonder what led me down this road. Some of my current theology is at odds with what I so strongly believed in previous years (how is that for eating your own words?). Here are a few things that led to this change. These aren’t all the reasons, but they are some of the ones that sparked my interest early on. I am not going to defend any of these points in great detail, because that would be an overly long post. I just want to give an idea of the thoughts that led to my studying these topics in greater detail:
- Modernity/Enlightenment has radically changed the way people read the Bible and practice faith formation. This is the beginning of my journey. This opened my eyes to the fact that what is obvious to the average person in our culture is often at odds with Classical Christianity. Churches now have altered their faith and practice in serious ways to attract people formed by Modernity. This is why the notion that orthodox Christianity has to subscribe to a theological method of Scripture alone without any guide from Church Tradition is so suspect. In practice, following the Bible alone now means that we read the Bible through Modernity and get whatever modern people want, ignoring how the Bible undermines so much in Modernity. Practically, some Evangelicals pay tribute to Tradition when referencing Doctrines they have decided to believe (Trinity, Christology, etc.), but they refuse to accept Tradition when it goes at odds with modern sensibilities concerning the Sacraments and Ecclesiology. There are claims from the Bible made, but in the end, everyone has an interpretation, and everyone is trying to use the Bible to prove they are right. I did feel that Evangelicals and many Protestants selectively reference the Bible quite a bit to get what they want out of it.
- Considering early church tradition, it is unlikely that Baptists/evangelicals represent the earliest Apostolic tradition. The early church transitioned from the Apostolic Era into the Episcopal model, and liturgy and sacramental theology was highly developed very quickly. All of this was done by disciples of the Apostles during the first few generations after they passed away. It has been hard for me to imagine that the early church would be so united in something that went against the clear teachings of the Apostles. This is the narrative that Protestants have to make sense of, and don’t seem to be able to explain (with the exception of some Anglicans and Lutherans). At the very least there would have been serious debate, and there was not. While there was diversity, there was a surprising amount of unity concerning many doctrines that many Protestants (especially Evangelicals) reject.
- Scripture and tradition teach a doctrine of ordination that only makes sense in the context of Apostolic Succession. 1 Timothy teaches that ordination is a gift received by the laying on of hands from church leadership. It makes logical sense that an manual succession would be required to carry on this biblical mandate, because someone cannot ordain themselves. However, this is precisely what most Protestants do. Anyone can call themselves a pastor and claim to be ordained, then they claim to ordain someone else, but it is nowhere clear where this ordination is coming from.
- Infant Baptism was debated in the early church, but everyone we see discussing it agreed that they were valid; the debated reasons were always related to post-baptismal sin, not whether they were valid baptisms. Many Evangelicals and Protestants also baptize children. Even your average Baptist church is baptizing children who can barely keep their heads above water, so this was a small point for me.
- The canon of Scripture works with the authority and tradition of the church, and Scripture itself affirms the oral authority of tradition from the Apostles and nowhere claims to be the sole authority of church practice and doctrine. This often scares people, like this means that Scripture has no authority, but at its core this affirmation merely points out that not a single person on planet earth can interpret the Bible in a vacuum. People who claim they “just believe/teach the Bible” are either lying or they are confused, because none of us can use Scripture without some kind of received and propagated tradition. The early church immediately recognized this when they pointed out that heretical cult groups were also using the Bible to ‘prove’ that they were right. Further, the historical details of canonization are hard to dispute. The church didn’t even fully canonize the NT until the fourth century, and there were writings that did not make it into the Canon that were used in public worship and instruction (Didache, 1 Clement, et. al.) Neither Jesus or the Apostles left a list of books with the Church. They left an oral tradition empowered by the Holy Spirit. Scripture is supposed to work with tradition and is itself the product of it, and denying this is just to obscure what is already happening when we interpret the Bible anyways, an act that is always heavy laden with received tradition. In this sense, the Bible was received as proving the traditions of the church received from the Apostles, not teaching on its own a body of faith and practice without guidance. Acknowledging the authority and importance of tradition is at its core merely a recognition that there is no such thing as an objective reading of the Biblical text. The text itself is fully authoritative, but only in its meaning, not in its mere existence. That being said, I do think that much of the biblical text is clearly more consistent with the faith and practice of the early church. Two good examples of this would be the Eucharist and Absolution, both practices that make most sense of the biblical text: John 6:51 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 20:22-23 “And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
- Scripture itself lifts up and describes the highly ritualistic and ceremonial worship of Israel, and understands it as commanded by and given by God. The issue was their hearts, not the liturgy of Israel that culminated in the coming of the Messiah. If anything, Scripture offers a picture of worship that is highly ceremonial, especially when we see into heaven in the book of Revelation and see liturgical worship. This lead me to accept that all worship involve ritual and ceremony, the question is what they are forming in us over time. Modern worship is mostly about what modern people “feel” like church should be like, not what the church wishes to form in missional, holy, communities. Even churches that claim a version of the regulative principle leave out clear postures of worship found in Scripture (like kneeling, incense, raised hands, etc.) merely because their notion of reverence requires ‘orderliness’ that is a version of the modern milieu and not following Scripture and tradition. Evangelicals start with what people want, and form worship around preferences, even those who claim to follow only Scripture. Orthodox Catholic liturgy requires me to submit not to what I prefer, but what is best for my body and soul, even if it ‘feels’ out of touch with modern sensibilities. I kneel whether I feel like it or not, the music is about worship (not preferences or entertainment), the Eucharist is a reverent moment drawing me into the presence of Christs’ sacrifice.
- The most plain reading of Scripture reveals that the Lord’s Supper is a deep communion with the body and blood of Jesus: His real presence. This was never doubted by the church for 1500 years until radical reformation groups were formed. The advent of modernity made a rejection of sacramental theology the status quo for most people in the western world. Even a cursory reading of basic passages on this reveals more than Evangelicals are willing to admit.
- It really appears that the Reformation was a series of bad schisms that went out of control. The Medieval Catholic church had many problems, but the reforms against the Roman Catholic Church became overly reactionary and based on being as different from the RCC as possible. Once one becomes ‘more catholic,’ it honestly becomes hard to talk about it with Protestants. People have been lied to a lot by pastors trying to demonize traditional catholic faith (RCC, EO, Anglo-Catholic, some Lutherans). I won’t say that I think the Reformation was evil, because it was full of political and theological complexities, but I do not think it is something we should celebrate in toto.
If anyone is interested in studying some of these ideas, here are some great books (and one podcast) that vary in difficulty but were important to me. I categorized them by the issues I was researching:
- How (not) to be Secular, James K.A. Smith (A summary of A Secular Age by Charles Taylor which is far too large for most people to read)
- Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith
- You Are What You Love is more accessible, but I think a little less explicit about all the problems in Modernity that he covers in greater detail in other works.
- Crossing the Tiber (A convert to the Roman Catholic Church, but reveals many issues that I struggled through even though I don’t think everyone should become Roman Catholic)
Against Heresies, Saint Irenaeus,
- Commonitory, Vincent of Lerins
- Scripture and Tradition: What the Bible Really Says, Edith McEwan Humphrey
- The Gospel and Catholic Church, Michael Ramsey
Liturgy and Public Worship:
- Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith
- Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church, Robert E. Webber
- The Anglican Way: A Guidebook, Thomas McKenzie
- Worshiping with the Church Fathers, Christopher Hall
- Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Brant Pitre
- Worship, Evelyn Underhill
- Brokenness and Blessing: Towards a Biblical Spirituality, Frances Young