By The Very Rev. Daniel Richards
Since the Reformation, Christianity has been mired in major debates about faith. That isn’t news; it is history. We often talk about how the Anglican tradition is poised to be revolutionary and, in fact, the Episcopal church has been in the forefront of several controversial issues that are reshaping the church and our nation.
Are we ahead of the cultural milieu or just another product in lace? More importantly, are we doing what God wants us to do?
It helps to understand that we are a unique branch of Christianity. We are pragmatic and flexible. This all stems from a core characteristic of Anglicanism: we are a practice-based faith.
We are not creedal exactly. We are not really hierarchical. We have both creeds and creedal statements. We have a hierarchy. But those things do not fundamentally define our faith.
We are defined by what we do. Ever since Thomas Cranmer conceived that the center of the Eucharistic act was the receiving of the bread and wine, we have centered our self-understanding in our practices.
In academic circles we call this “orthopraxis” or right practice as opposed to “orthodoxy” right belief. The simpler truth is that we really should be orthodox, but we allow greater range than other traditions, not out of hubris, but rather we are so focused on our actions that we just aren’t concerned enough to fight.
This has been in turns frustrating and liberating as a non-cradle Episcopalian. I grew up a Southern Baptist, focused on theology and in love with the history and beauty of theology. It was the poetry of Bible and theology that drew me back week after week. But, it was the embodied theology of the liturgy that drew me to the Episcopal church.
I learned there that our outreach flowed from the pages of the Gospels. The formation in the daily chapel deepened my experience of the Eucharist where we read the Bible, we recite the creeds, we care for the poor, we take part in the sacred dance, but we rarely talk about predestination versus free will, much less pre-millennial dispensationalism. We are a people of actions.
There is much to be said about this, but it can be put really simply: we “do” our faith. We do the Office Daily, we do Eucharist weekly, we do meals and food for the hungry, we do welcome. But we also need to balance our doing with thinking.
This is about following Jesus. We do what we do because he asked us to. So as we head into the next year, I will be offering a course on a book I had the vestry study five years ago when I came, Becoming a Blessed Church by Graham Standish.
The book is about seeking God’s direction and will for us before we act. It is a simple thing to stop and pray, but a profound thing nonetheless.
If we are going to say that we follow Jesus, obey Jesus, then we have to ask what he wants us to do, where he wants us to go, and how to be along the way. We do that in prayer.
This is where the Holy Spirit enters into our life. Jesus told his disciples that after he had ascended to his Father, he would send the Holy Spirit to teach, instruct, and guide them. If we are to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, then we have to pay attention to the spiritual dimension of life.
We have to slow down and listen to the Spirit speak within us. God in the Spirit will direct us. I have found that to be a subtle but reliable truth. I don’t always listen, but when I do I discover that my actions have consequences that go beyond my intentions and that my words have the potential of speaking the Word into other lives as well as my own. God acts when I slow down; God speaks in my silence.
So we do. As Episcopal Christians we do a lot; let’s make sure that it is what God would want us to do. Stop. Pray. Listen. Act.