Becoming Sacramental

For several months after my termination at RBC in 2008, our attention was focused more on my wife’s health needs than on the question of our church affiliation.  By early 2009, however, we were ready to make our commitment to Anglican Christianity. On April 19, we received the Sacrament of Confirmation, and our pilgrimage among Anglicans officially began.

I soon began the arduous process of preparing for Holy Orders (ordination) in the Anglican communion. I had been ordained twice before, once as a Baptist then again as a Mennonite, but all of my education and experience had taken place within the free church tradition.  My knowledge of the Anglican tradition was sketchy, and I needed to do extensive reading in the history and theology of Anglicanism. I also took courses in Patristics, Moral Theology, and Liturgics. I was ordained an Anglican priest on May 10, 2011.

Some may wonder how a man who grew up in the Baptist tradition can now submit to episcopal (Bishop) authority and practice paedobaptism (the baptism of infants and young children).  I do not denigrate the tradition to which I devoted thirty-five years of fruitful ministry.  When I became an Anglican, however, I chose to embrace a different paradigm for understanding the nature of the church, spiritual authority, and those practices I formerly regarded as “ordinances.”

I am now a sacramentalist.  I have come to believe that physical expressions such as baptism and communion are far more than just a “memorial” of Jesus’ death or a testimony to personal faith.  Each is, rather, an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”  Further, when I think of baptism as the New Covenant counterpart of circumcision, I have no problem administering it to children of believing parents as a visible sign of the Kingdom community in which the child will be brought up.

Here again the book by Robert Webber, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, which I mentioned in my last post, is helpful.  In describing his journey from Evangelicalism to Anglicanism, Webber noted “six aspects of (Christian) orthodoxy that were not adequately fulfilled” for him until he identified with the Anglican tradition.

For me, Anglicanism preserves, in its worship and sacraments, the sense of mystery that rationalistic Christianity of either the liberal or evangelical sort seems to deny.  I found myself longing for an experience of worship that went beyond either emotionalism or intellectualism.  I believe I’ve found that for myself in the Anglican tradition.  I also felt a need for visible and tangible symbols that I would touch and feel and experience with my senses.  This need is met in the reality of Christ presented to me through the sacraments.  These three needs—mystery, worship, and sacraments—are closely related.

At times I felt like an ecclesiastical orphan looking for spiritual parents and a spiritual identity.  I am now discovering my spiritual identity with all God’s people throughout history by embracing the church universal and a holistic perspective on spirituality.  These three needs—historic identity, an ecclesiastical home, and a holistic spirituality—are also closely related.  (pp. 15-16)

He goes on to say that he is “not sure one has to become an Anglican to satisfy these longings,” but he makes it clear that, for himself and the others whose stories are told in the book, “the Anglican church is a refuge, a home, a place where an intuitive and inclusive Christianity is taught and practiced.”  (p. 16)

That is my testimony as well.

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2 thoughts on “Becoming Sacramental

  1. Chris,

    Anglican Christians believe that communion should be offered to all who have been baptised. That includes small children. While that means that some communicants will be too young to fully understand all that is involved, it also emphasizes that dimension of the sacrament which is beyond intellectual comprehension anyway. There is a sense in which the Eucharist feeds us spiritually, and that benefit extends even to those too young to enter into the experience intellectually.

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