Friday, May 22, 2015

What do Episcopalians believe? is a question

What do Episcopalians believe? is a question that’s lately been working on me more than I’ve been working on the question. It’s a question that may have less of an answer than it has questions. Only once in my years of wearing this goofy collar has the question been put to me in the nature of get-it-right-or-it’s-a-deal-breaker. Years ago a newcomer to Apalachicola came to Trinity a few times and was welcomed and taken in, “adopted” so to speak. Telling me that she liked the people and liked our worship, including our music and our prayers and the eucharist, she made an appointment to come talk with me. She wanted to make sure we believed the same as her church back home where she grew up, or she’d have to keep looking. 

No, come to think of it, a second instance comes to mind. Same town and church. A man, lifelong resident and businessman, came a few Sundays. He was a Baptist, I knew him at Rotary, but knew him anyway because it’s a small town, 2,500 people, where nobody doesn’t not know everybody. After his second or third Sunday I asked if he’d like to talk with me about becoming a member. He said, “No, because I just noticed that you pray for the dead. That’s against the Bible. Jesus said leave the dead to bury their dead.” 

So, what do we believe? My first question might be “what do we believe about what?” About God? About Jesus? About the Bible? About liturgical worship? About written prayer? About eucharist, holy communion, the Lord’s supper? About the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine? About the virgin birth? About the Trinity? About the resurrection? About life after death? Okay, about praying for the dead? About the priest’s power and authority in the confession of sin and absolution? I’m going to work at one question, but first, a logos from our Creator:

What do we believe about God? (a) One way to get an answer is to worship with us and pay attention to what we do and say and sing and pray. We have a Latin phrase lex orandi lex credendi translated the law of praying is the law of believing: our theology (what we believe about God) is found in our worship. We don’t have an official theologian, or an official confession, or a curia or library, we have our worship. 

An example might be the second instance above, the local man who paid attention and noticed prayer for the dead: “And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear [especially                       ], beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service.” 

(b) Another way to get answers is to know that our doctrine is the historical doctrine of the universal Christian church. Thumb through the Book of Common Prayer, read the Nicene Creed and the Baptismal Creed (Apostles’ Creed) that are ancient belief statements of the Christian church; read the catechism (a teaching in question and answer format). Read the Historical Documents in the back of the book, including the Quicunque Vult and the Articles of Religion, keeping your sense of humor and remembering that your mind is as good as the mind of any old bishop. Read the examination questions for those about to be baptized, read the examination and assurance required of one about to be ordained. It’s all there if you look for it. 

(c) My favorite answer might be to enjoy worship and especially friendship and fellowship in a church that goes back two thousand years, whose doctrines are those of the ancient church, and make up your own mind what you believe. No two people in the sanctuary on a Sunday morning believe exactly the same thing, and nobody is going to make sure you are “orthodox” before opening the door for you or as you come down the aisle to receive Holy Communion. None of us worries about what the person sitting, standing or kneeling next to us believes; and, believe me, we’re all different.

And my standing slogan: just because we believe it, that don't make it so. 


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