This is a bit of my history in the Protestant Church. I hope you find it enjoyable. I was baptized as a child in the Congregational church before joining the Presbyterian in my early-thirties. I was initially drawn to Presbyterianism for reasons of theonomic or Bible Law government, but while a Boy Scout the presbyterians sponsored my troop whereupon I also received my first study Bible. My experience after that largely had to do with confessional presbyterianism as defined by the Westminister Confession.
Presbyterian Shock. Fording across River Thames was not so much a repudiation of Presbyterianism as it was the Solemn League and Covenant (SLC). Nonetheless, it was a slow rowing trip before I hit the shores of continuing Anglicanism. The Solemn League was a military-religious pact between Scottish and English Presbyterians justifying rebellion against ‘disciplinarian’ Bishops in the CoE. Signed by Puritans to extirpate so-called “dregs of papacy”, the Long Parliament called the Westminster Assembly to refine the terms of SLC. This assembly produced a new settlement exclusive to Presbyterianism, known by the Westminster Confession (WCF) as well as its Directory of Worship. The WCF not only lacked royal authority proper to English law, but it contained points of faith or doctrine (RPW) contrary to scripture.
The scriptural problems in the WCF led me to take a ‘step-back’ to the earlier church; hence, my eventual return to Anglicanism. Consistent treatment of the RPW left Presbyterian worship intellectually untenable. Furthermore, the introduction of extemporaneous prayer often times felt frivolous, carelessly said, and, sometimes, “politically correct”. These concerns persuaded me to seek out the safety of fixed prayer in the BCP, much framed to the mind of 16th century divinity.
Doubts regarding the feasibility of puritan worship have resonated with other Presbyterians. For example, R. J. Gore Jr.’s recent observation in Covenantal Worship:
“But not one elder in our session– pastor included– could give a thorough explanation for why we did what we did, why we left out certain expressions of worship, or why we placed the selected particulars in the prescribed order. The invocation and the benediction were easy enough. But it became progressively more difficult to explain our order of worship beyond that. What we did, we did in ignorance of any principle more profound than the conviction that we should be guided by Scripture and the Reformed tradition.” (p. 3)
Coming to Terms. All this confirmed the problematic legacy of the Puritan and Parliamentary struggle of the 1640′s, culminating in Cromwell’s Interregnum. Despite the period’s tragic aspect, there is much about Puritanism that I still admire, namely, its emphasis on regular catechism, expository sermons, and a firm historic identity held by Presbyterian clergy and lay people. I also remain fond of the Puritanical quest for holy life exemplified by Christ’s humiliation. The seriousness of Puritanism is remembered as ‘dark’, as if the Puritan divines purposely extended Lent through the whole of the Christian year, making every Holy Day a Good Friday. If there’s such a thing as Puritan ritual, then perhaps a perpetual low-mass or even an eternal requiem would be descriptive?
Rather than reject this legacy in toto, I’ve come to view Puritanism as a laudable aspect of Anglican spirituality, having pre-reformation and even monastic precedents in the Western church. The deeply penitential character of Puritanism arguably has similarities to Franciscan or third-order devotion– a reaction by the faithful against the worldliness of the church, oftentimes by making visible the mortification of Christ’s corporate body. The focus on a suffering body seems to have certain Christological peculiarities for the West? In this sense, Chalcedon might be a continued focal point for later monastic and evangelical revival in the Church—Puritianism and Methodism being examples with modern Protestancy.
Discovering the Prayer Book. But my journey to Anglicanism was not entirely a negative reaction to the Solemn League. I was also drawn by the theological depth and historical richness of the prayer book. Not only did its fixed vis-à-vis extemporaneous prayers prove wholesome, but the BCP’s lesser sacraments which sanctified various states of life were persuasive.
Unlike other Protestants churches, the conservative nature of English Reformation did more to retain the catholic past. Although Anglican divines were smart to differentiate the nature of lesser vs. greater sacraments, the keeping of lesser sacraments managed to bring everyday life into a sort of ecclesiastical sphere.
England’s “conservative reformation” not only preserved an organic identity with the past, but it allowed our estates of life– i.e., birth, marriage, and death– to become testimonies for Christ. Among these testimonies, I wanted my future marriage to be a Christian witness, not just a ‘civil ceremony’.
By the time I met my Bride, Ms. Amanda Kruse, I was already lapping the beauty of England’s historic common prayer book. Before our marriage, Amanda and I were careful to be confirmed under an biblical-minded Bishop, so we presented ourselves for the laying on hands by the Most Reverend Peter Robinson of the UEC. On March 4, 2010 we were confirmed and became ‘members-at-large’. But confirmation also help prepare us for marriage which happened on August 14, 2010. Curiously, this was the same date as the Vigil of St. Mary’s Sleep. Perhaps coincidence?
An Anglican Home. Upon the advice of Bishop Peter Robinson, we temporarily joined an REC/APA parish under Bishop Richard Boyce. This turned out quite ironic. James Jordan mentions both REC and UEC in the same breath as ‘orthodox bodies’ within modern Anglicanism (Sociology of the Church, p. 130). Bp. Boyce entered the REC on grounds from the APA’s Solemn Declaration, saying in his letter, “My group joined APA because it was open to Anglican unity. We need a united voice, a good seminary or two, a Christian education resource, a national magazine, a profile to help announce the Gospel to a needy nation. We need to be part of a world of inspiring orthodox Anglican leaders”.
I continue to be persuaded by Bp. Boyce’s letter regarding cooperation with traditional Anglicans; however, Amanda and I eventually left the REC to help Bp. Robinson build a lay presence in the UECNA. We now have a UECNA home chapel with a handful of regular visitors as part of our private society.
The APA and REC are close relatives to the UEC, so we hope to see these three jurisdictions working closer together (as they have in the past) soon. We’ve never left Bp. Robinson since our confirmation, and I have always considered Robinson a “New Josiah” for continuing Episcopalians.
National Catholic. The theology of ‘offering’ as found in the Eucharist had a strong pull for me, especially with the Sacrament of the Altar as a highest prayer for the faithful. The liturgy of Holy Communion ultimately led me to consider what was happening ‘spiritually’ in public worship– starting a penitential climb up the Lord’s mountain; entering the Holy of Holies; whereupon a Moses or Josiah awaited to recall the Covenant between God and His people at the height of temple steps; solemn vows tendered; followed with a seal of vows by holy ’sacrifice’; culminating in the sacred feast. According to Tillich, this re-enactment of both heaven’s descent upon the Earth alongside Israel’s ascension up the Mount– commonly called the ‘Mass’– was the central act of medieval society by which the Christian world constituted itself. The lesser sacraments appeared to join with the Eucharist as an offering that was then blessed and returned by God. The temporal order is therefore increasingly sanctified and ruled by Christ by the Christian Sacrifice.
The social implications of the Mass were important to me: Around Mt. Zion were the Israelite nations (divided by “lots” of land, each headed by their own Prince). Their number surround about the Lord’s tabernacle, “every family under their own banner”. This is a picture the spiritual rule of Christ over the nations. From this allusion of Israel’s OT encampment is a picture of national churches whose total communion is the church catholic. Of Western church(es), Anglicanism has been exemplary in embracing both the national and catholic.
A Student. I continue my fledgling studies on matters of worship and also polity at Anglican Rose where the focus has shifted away from problematics of Presbyterian iconoclasm toward the general nature of Anglican adiaphora I am especially interested in Anglo-German relations during Henry VIII’s reign as well as later resurfacing of similar talks due to Hanoverian regency in the 18th and 19th centuries. My commitment to Anglicanism is ultimately for a greater knowledge and love of God. As as an MTh student at Cranmer’s House, my interest is assisting with catechesis according to Archbishop Robinson’s call for Anglican integrity, “Every diocese and ever parish needs to have programs of education not just for those entering Holy Orders, but also for lay readers and for the laity themselves.” This squares with the occasional prayer for religious education found in the 1928 BCP,
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who hast committed to thy holy Church the care and nurture of thy children; Enlighten with thy wisdom those who teach and those who learn, that, rejoicing in the knowledge of thy truth, they may worship thee and serve thee from generation to generation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
My wife, Amanda, and I are presently very poor, but we try to be God’s servants. I am very pleased to make new friends, and aspire someday to find our Anglican church restored, otherwise known by the various branches of the Glastonbury Tree. I am thankful getting this far. PAX
Charles Bartlett currently lives in Northern California with his wife and baby daughter. He is a certificated k-12 instructor, and lay-minister in the UEC.