Habemus Altare

In Simeon’s Song, the Savior is given as a Light to enlighten the Nations and as the glory of God’s People Israel. The Nations are the Gentiles—those foreigners who were once outside God’s People but have been invited in through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In Luke’s Gospel in particular, as well as its sequel in the Book of Acts, a major theme is the early Church’s mission to the Gentiles. It was not accomplished without struggle. The Book of Acts, in particular, is about the ever expanding circle of God’s hospitality to those who are not yet part of God’s People. William Temple, the great Archbishop of Canterbury, said that the Church exists for the sake of those who don’t yet belong. A central feature of our calling from God is therefore to welcome “all sorts and conditions” of people.

In the Episcopal Church, we do not do this out of any kind of commitment to what some would call “liberal Christianity”—though I think it’s important to acknowledge that, in many communities, the local Episcopal parish is often one of the few congregations where it’s safe to be Christian and openly liberal at the same time. Properly understood, this is a potential competitive advantage for us. But I wouldn’t ever label myself as a “liberal”, and I know that others in our parish would be far less comfortable than I.

I see myself as a moderate Anglo-Catholic, deeply conservative on some issues, more liberal on others, committed to building a healthy Christian community that acknowledges the centrality of Christ as our tradition has received him. As members of the Episcopal Church, our commitment to welcoming all people comes out of a Catholic and Reformed understanding of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ—a Body that won’t be complete unless every kind of human being is welcome within it.

As far as I can tell, what unites us is a deep commitment to a specific form of Christ-centered worship—and to a non-fundamentalist theology. Some of us are profoundly conservative—as I am when it comes to anything in the historic Creeds or the Book of Common Prayer—but we are not anxious (as various forms of fundamentalism would be) about the presence of those who differ with us and question our core convictions. Indeed, we encourage questioning and respectful criticism of our most cherished traditions. This is because our eyes have seen the Savior and we know the presence of the living God-with-us.

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