An Evangelical On The Canterbury Trail

Each step of my pilgrimage has required me to jettison some elements which I determined to be inconsistent with authentic faith, but I never abandoned my commitment to orthodox doctrine or salvation through faith in the work of Jesus on the cross. About ten years ago I began moving into yet another stage of my continuing pilgrimage… a further step in my relentless pursuit of authentic faith.

My soul began to hunger for something which my sojourn among Mennonites had not provided.  I began to read the early church fathers and to explore the character of Christian worship in the first centuries of church history.  I gained a new awareness of the place of mystery and reverence in worship.  I found meaning in the Daily Office, as a way of structuring my Bible reading and prayer time, and in the seasons of the church calendar, which is based on an annual review of the earthly life of Jesus, as a guide for devotional life and discipleship.  I gained a fresh appreciation for the importance of the Eucharist (Communion) in the church’s worship, and I began seeking an experience of holistic spirituality which was not focused on conversion alone or doctrine alone or ethics alone.

Along the way, owing in part to a growing awareness of my Irish heritage from my mother’s side of the family, I came to appreciate the benefits and influence of Celtic Christian spirituality.  With its Trinitarian foundation, its emphasis on community, and its sensitivity to nature as a beautiful expression of the creative power of God, Celtic spirituality offers a needed corrective to the materialism and individualism which characterize so much of contemporary Christianity.

In addition I read a great many books which encouraged me to drink long and deep from the stream of the ancient traditions of the church which had enriched so many believers from so many different theological families over the centuries.  One of the most influential of these was a short book by the late Robert Webber called Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail.  As I read Webber’s story of his own passage from mainstream Evangelicalism to Anglicanism, I gained a new perspective on the word “sacrament” and its place in the life of the church. The more I read, the more I realized that Webber’s story, and those of the other six “pilgrims” whose stories are told in that book, was also my story.

For more than five years after we moved to central Ohio in 2000, Shirley and I tried to relate to one or another of the Mennonite churches in that area in hopes that, somehow, we could combine our commitment to Anabaptist discipleship with our growing sensibilities in the areas I have just described.  I still believe that combination is possible, but our efforts in that regard proved futile and frustrating.  Ultimately we determined that we had to relate to a church that respects our convictions in the area of discipleship while it also nourishes our spirits in an expression of worship which not only rehearses the entire gospel story every Sunday but also involves all of our senses in the process.

When I embraced the Anabaptist distinctive of biblical nonresistance, I lost many of my former friends and my family, many of whom are still rooted in “God and country” fundamentalism.  I didn’t realize that, when my relentless pursuit of authentic faith led me to embrace a liturgical approach to worship—which, I maintain, is fully compatible with radical discipleship—I would lose my job in the process. (See my previous post.)  But when I think of the sacrifices made by our Christian forebears in their pursuit of faithfulness, mine is a small sacrifice indeed.

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