My Journey towards the Historical Church

In the past 1 1/2 years I have been on a journey towards a more traditional, liturgical community of worship. It all began when I read Simply Christian by New Testament Scholar and Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright. I enjoyed the read and I had heard much concerning Wright’s scholarship. But why was he, a Protestant, called a “Bishop,” and why did I always see him wearing “Catholic” garb in his pictures? Since then, I have been on a journey to better understand, particularly, the history and theology of Anglicanism and more generally, the nature and history of “the church.”
As of late, my wife and I have been attending an AMIA church known as Wellspring Anglican Church.  We have been blessed by our time there and are in the beginning phases of becoming involved in the church. During my journey towards a liturgical context (of which I skipped a lot for brevity), I have also been forced to engage other issues that, due to my own evangelical upbringing, I have never even encountered. For instance, Ignatius, who probably died around 110 a.d., wrote of a rather developed form of episcopacy which seems to be lacking in many evangelical “free churches.” Now, of course, the question arises, “Why should we take this form of episcopacy to be normative for today?” Indeed this is a great question and ought to be asked. But on the other hand, it should also be asked, “Why do so many evangelicals grant the theological developments most fully expressed in the creeds, yet fail to grant the validity of the parallel ecclesiological developments of the first 5 centuries, especially when many of them arose precisely because of the theology of the early church?”
For example, consider the following excerpts of Ignatius’ writings:

“Let us, therefore, be careful not to oppose the bishop, in order that we may be obedient to God.”-Letter to the Ephesians

“It is obvious, therefore, that we must regard the bishop as the Lord himself.” -ibid

“Let no one be misled: if anyone is not within the sanctuary, he lacks the bread of God.”-ibid

“Continue to gather together, each and everyone of you, collectively and individually by name, in grace, in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who physically was a descendant of David, who is Son of man and Son of God, in order that you may obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ.” -ibid

“Be eager to do everything in godly harmony, the bishop presiding in the place of God and the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles and the deacons, who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ, who before the ages was with the Father and appeared at the end of time.” – ibid

“Let there be nothing among you which is capable of dividing you, but be united with the bishop and with those who lead, as an example and a lesson of incorruptibility.” -ibid

“Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, either by himself or through the apostles (for he was united with him), so you must not do anything without the bishop and the presbyters.” -ibid

These sort of quotations could be produced over and over again throughout all of his letters.

Perhaps one of the strongest of his warnings is this:

“For all those who belong to God and Jesus Christ are with the bishop, and all those who repent and enter into the unity of the church will belong to God, that they may be living in accordance with Jesus Christ. Do not be misled my brothers: if anyone follows a schismatic, he will not inherit the kingdom of God.” –Letter to the Philadelphians

I found all of these quotes very interesting and highly suggest to anyone reading this post that at the very least, you owe it to yourself to read through some of the Apostolic Fathers writings. A good source is Michael W. Holmes The Apostolic Fathers.

In the next fews posts I will be engaging issues relevant to Anglicanism, liturgy, eucharist, episcopacy and the “historical church.” Any suggestions for more specific issues?

13 Responses to My Journey towards the Historical Church

  1. Bryce says:

    I appreciate your article. I’ve found myself on a similiar journey in the past year, first examining Anglicanism, and then Catholicism. I’d love to see an article on the New Testament canon, which is probably the issue that leaves me most uncomfortable as a non-Catholic. If the Catholic Church was authoritative then, why not now?

    Incidentally, I’d recommend Cardinal Newman’s “Essay on the Development of Doctrine” if you haven’t read it.

    Thanks.

  2. Clint says:

    Bryce,

    Thanks so much for the post. You should check out this article by Robert E. Webber called “An Evangelical and Catholic Methodology.” It only touches on issues of canon but it deals primarily with the issue of Biblical authority and it is really good! To read it go here:

    http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=14

    Thanks for the info. on the article. I will have to read Cardinal Newman’s essay.

    Yeah, I have similar questions as yourself. Why don’t we see the same sort of authority in the church today that we saw as necessary and even mandated by the Apostolic Fathers in the early church. Maybe it is because of the Enlightenment, we have thrown off the shackles of dogma and church authority and function more on the basis of personal autonomy. Whatever the reason, there seems to be great discontinuity between the early church and the present church in many of its expressions.

  3. Daniel says:

    For my own personal journey, as is similar to your own and Tony’s, I do not feel comfortable grasping on to one of the historical churches….yet.

    I say “yet” because, for me, I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling a denomination my home unless I was certain that I agreed fully with all the doctrine. That is my journey, and has been my journey. In high school I was looking for WHAT I believed. In college, not just what, but WHY I believed it. Now while I am in Seminary I am taking it a step further to say not just why I believe something but can also DEFEND why I believe it.

    So for me, this personal journey of finding a denominational home asks a lot of the same questions as you are asking, but I want to be able to defend in good principle and in opposition for that. And I’m just nowhere near ready to do that yet. Pelikan didn’t go from Lutheran to Catholic until way late in his life, same with your boy Beckwith. The Christian journey is a life long journey.

    If my journey leads me Anglican, cool. If it is Orthodox or Catholic, cool. Heck, it might even be Calvinist Reformed! Wait, nahhhhhh…..

  4. Clint says:

    Daniel,

    Thanks for the comment. I titled this post, “My Journey towards the HIstorical Church” for a reason. It is indeed just that, a journey. And everyones is different. My own philosophy is that once you have firm convictions in something you must live those convictions out. That, is why, I have joined an AMIA church. I do not feel as though they are THE historical church, which is why my post mentioned that my journey is moving “towards” the historical church. However, at this time, from the best of my knowledge, experience and research, I think that AMIA fits my convictions and that they are faithful to historic Xty. I would go into the mainline American Episcopal church (TEC, formerly ECUSA) in a second if I didn’t feel as though they had strayed too far from Apostolic teaching (most fully expressed in the ordination of a gay bishop, buddhist priests, etc.). So these are but a few of the reasons for my present ecclesiological location.
    The hope of AMIA is for it to be a renewal movement that will streamline back into the historic Anglican Communion. I pray that this will happen. If, and when, it does or does not, I will make necessary moves from there. At this point though, I must join a church that at least has these 4 elements: word, table, prayer and fellowship (Acts 2:42). According to Robert Webber these things and other elements typically present in more liturgical contexts are not only historically evangelical, but enjoy the support of the reformers themselves. Webber finds great discontuity between the present state of evangelical church worship or “liturgy” and the liturgy of the reformers. He states:

    “First, the gap between present evangelical worship and the practice of the Reformers can easily be seen through an examination of the Reformation liturgies. Pick up any of the liturgies such as Martin Luther’s Fortnula Missae Of 1523, Martin Buber’s Strasbourg Rite Of 1539, John Calvin’s Form of Church Prayers of 1542, or something as late as Richard Baxter’s The Reformation of the Liturgy of 1661, and the difference can readily be seen. I find, for example, the five following characteristics in these liturgies: (1) an affinity with the liturgies of the ancient church; (2) an order that follows the pattern of revelation and Christian experience; (3) a significant emphasis on reading and hearing the Word of God; (4) a high degree of congregational involvement; and (s) a view of the Lord’s Supper which affirms its mystery and value for spiritual formation.

    By contrast my experience in many evangelical churches is as follows: (1) a radical departure not only from the liturgies of the ancient church but from those of the Reformation as well; (2) confusion about order; (3) minimal use of the Bible; (4) passive congregations; and (s) a low view of the Lord’s Supper.”
    -from the article “An Evangelical and Catholic Methodology”

    I think that Webber hits the nail on the head in his assertion. If he is correct, which I think he is, then I am compelled even more to join a church which displays those elements which are more fully expressions of historic Xty as opposed to cultural consequents of an a-historical 20th century approach to ecclesiology.

    So this is just a little ruminating on my own journey. I hope I have been clear. I sympathize with your hesitancy to join a denomination until you have “fully agreed with all the doctrine,” but I am afraid if I took that same approach I would never join any denomination at all, that is, unless it were the General Clintonian Convention:)

  5. Yeah, I hope I didn’t come across as bashing on your journey. Because I’m not. You know I have very high sympathies and respect for both Catholicism and Anglicanism. I too am excited to see what happens with AMIA and Anglicanism and TEC. It will be a very important conference. In the same way, talks of Lutheranism joining in the communion of Rome, and perhaps an inevitable unification of Orthodoxy and Catholic? Who knows. Time will tell with all of these things. What I desire most for the Church, large C, is unity. I’m afraid the eschaton is my best bet of seeing that happen.

    I am excited to read that Webber piece, I printed it out just today and hope to get to it this week.

    I think you’re right that it is virtually impossible to fully know every aspect of a denomination and its doctrines, what, why, and be able to defend them as I aspire to do. But one also should not go in to any denomination without studying it first. Today at work I was looking at someone’s application and they are part of the Evangelical Friend’s International denomination. What?! It is because of obscure and a-historical denominations like that is why I want to study the best I can to come to my own theological conclusions instead of being a part of a denomination with a cutsie name like that.

    And I’m not saying you haven’t studied because obviously you have and continue to do so. I’m just saying that for me personally I want to study certain aspects of theology myself and basically plug in the denomination that best fits with my system. That is, taking into account questions I long to answer about things like authority, tradition, ecclesiology, and other things. And while it would be nice to have a clearer understanding while I am in seminary, I have noticed myself getting a drink from a fire hydrant and in humility I said to myself that I will undoubtedly just need more time, more prayer, and more study. And I am okay with that, Christianity is a life long journey and I’m only 24!

    Although I must admit that the General Clintonian Convention looks quite appealing….

  6. Clinton says:

    No, I wasn’t offended in the least by your initial post. Evangelical Friend’s International Denomination??????? We all just need to realize that the gates of hell will never prevail against the General Clintonian Convention…so join up! J/K, obviously.

  7. Yes, when I saw that denomination I wanted to literally projectile vomit all over my miniature cubicle that faces a blank wall. It was disgusting.

    But I concur the latter proclamation…

  8. Tony says:

    Though I have not yet read Webber’s article, I agree with his view of the radical discontinuity between contemporary evangelicalism and the historic church (up through the Reformation at least). I am more and more impressed by the great explanatory power of the forces of historical development. Contemporary American evangelicalism is the product of the two Great Awakenings, which put all their eggs in the basket of individual crisis-moment conversion and an individualistic understanding of piety, and as a consequence, basically gave the reigns of the “church” over to the whims of the host culture. Thus, we are left with an emaciated faith that gets by on sloganeering and bad Christian t-shirts. A very sad state of affairs that should motivate believers to engage in the very quest you have undertaken. Keep on the trail, my friend.

  9. Bryce says:

    I enjoyed the article– thanks for the link. If indeed your journey should someday reach its destination, whether it be a firm conviction in Anglicanism, Catholicism, or another church, I’d love to read about it on this site. Until then, keep posting the updates. Maybe you can help me in my journey, and vice versa.

  10. Xavier says:

    I’m proud of you Clint! Follow the truth.

  11. Bryce says:

    Xavier, how are you? This is Bryce, from the Dallas Socratic Society (Steve Lee’s student). If you don’t mind, what are your thoughts on this matter? What church/denomination are you a part of?

  12. Clinton says:

    Bryce,

    Thanks for the encouragement! I will keep posting on any updates. I think Xavier has moved over into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints…Just kidding!

  13. Bryce says:

    My heart nearly skipped a beat as I read “Latter-Day Saints.” Haha good one.

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