Since I was a baby, I’ve attended church just about every Sunday of my life. Sure, there were a few periods of time when attendance was spotty: after leaving a church that was spiritually oppressive and healing from those hurts and then for a short time between churches in the first few years of marriage. Some would judge that we were “forsaking the assembly of believers” and others would understand that life just happens, healing is needed, or sometimes you just honestly want to sleep in, not get up, and go through the motions.
In the past year, our family has found a new place of worship,and even a new way to worship each Sunday. It’s only new to us because the Anglican tradition is certainly not new. It’s been around the early 1500’s. You might have heard about Henry VIII splitting the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. It was kinda big deal and still gets discussion in history books (and no, it wasn’t all about his desire to divorce).
When friends and family hear we left the Baptist tradition and are now attending an Anglican church, we get plenty of strange looks and a few dozen questions. I’ve now come to just saying we attend a small church plant because I’m honestly surprised how many people haven’t heard of the Anglican church.
So, I recently had a discussion with my oldest and dearest friend who’s been raised Baptist like I was. She had many questions about Anglicanism. This conversation lasted several hours into the night recently. I think I passed the inquisition given to me. She seemed pleased that I still believed all the proper things and wasn’t crazy or a member of a cult. I answered upwards of 20-30 questions and we had a great discussion. It’s good to explain why you believe what you believe and I love educating people on things I’m passionate about.
One of the questions she asked was about our style of worship. Her mother-in-law attends an Episcopal church, which is simply put an American version of Anglican. She’s noticed when she has attended a service at the Episcopal church that the sermons, the preaching, or what might also be called a homily in the liturgical world, are not the lengthy discourses she’s used to in the evangelical Baptist churches she’s attended. So, she wondered – how can you learn anything about God’s word in these truncated messages? Regularly used to 45-50 minute sermons, she wondered what exactly we can learn in the much shorter homily-type message.
I tried to explain how the liturgy, the entirety of the service’s design, is all about different types of learning and active, participatory worship. You can learn when you recite the Nicene Creed. You can learn when you recite the Lord’s Prayer. You can learn when you recite the prayers and petitions that are said by the clergy and the people. You can learn as you partake in the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist.
I tried to point out that the length of a sermon does not necessarily reveal the depth of it. In the four different Episcopal and Anglican churches I’ve attended, I’ve noticed the clergy have a distinct ability to communicate spiritually challenging messages in as little as 15 minutes or in as many as 35 minutes. My own pastor at our Anglican church plant has a Baptist upbringing and I notice his messages tend to go a bit longer than the lifelong Episcopal priest at the church down the street. Both however, challenged me and gave me spiritual food that I could chew on long after the service had ended. And seriously, thinking back to so many of those ultra long sermons in the Baptist world – how much of that was opinion, funny anecdote, or clever opening joke to fill up the time allotted? We all have a form of liturgy (even if that word isn’t used in some circles) and the evangelical world focuses more on a longer, educational sermon as the focus of their service.
For this reason, I think I’m going to weekly write a What I Learned at Church Today post (I’m trying to think of some clever title, but right now cleverness is escaping me. Suggestions are always welcome). In this, I’ll give you a summary of what was discussed as well as thoughts formed in the recesses of my brain because of the discussion. So, let’s get started!
All summer at Trinity Church Summerville, we’ve been working our way through the Biblical basis for the Apostles’ Creed (which is literally something my husband and I have hoped to hear a minister preach about for several years – Christians seriously need to know what the essentials of Christian faith are and what they aren’t). Today’s sermon was about the line in the last stanza, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
After a reading from Hebrews 10, my pastor gave an illustration of a security blanket… something that young children hold to tightly to feel secure, to feel all is right with their world. In our faith, we also hold tightly to things as a type of security blanket. The church has become that to many Christians. And, as our churches get smaller in America overall, people are losing confidence. Pastors and theologians and bloggers lament the drop in the number of salvation professions, number of baptisms, and statistics that show a decline in church memberships and attendance. The American church as a whole is losing security and confidence. Our security blanket unravels weekly in front of us.
Too often, churches view outreach as a “come and see” model. We invite people to church in order to evangelize. We think back to the big tent revivals, where the norm was put up a tent and the people would come here a loud, bigger-than-life preacher shout for revival. In today’s church, youth ministries, especially, are the come and see model. If kids just come to youth group, they’ll turn out okay, right?
Because of this come and see approach to outreach that’s been practiced for so long, we think we share the gospel with people when they come and sit in front of our pastor and hear the word of the Lord.
However, outreach is not just come and see. Jesus said to go and tell. When we go out and talk to others we then find moments of faith and opportunities to share the gospel. It’s when we minister to others, do life with them and are not afraid to be with others that gospel moments happen.
Yet, so many Christians freeze at these moments. They are afraid they can’t share their witness because they aren’t in a church setting, or they don’t have a pastor guiding them. They are afraid they’ll mess it up. Their confidence is in the church and the programs offered there. Successful evangelism means someone visited a church for the first time. And with visitors few and far between at so many churches, our security blanket seems thread-bare.
Perhaps it’s time to stop trusting in man-made institutions and start trusting in the One that made all things complete. And He sent the Holy Spirit to minister with us as we grow God’s Kingdom. So, “I believe in the Holy Spirit” because:
The Holy Spirit brings us confidence (v 19-22). We get scared to share our faith because we might mess it up, but really, our faith is simpler to share than we think. We need to be faithful and share because God’s word doesn’t return empty, regardless of what us not having some perfectly memorized script. Gospel moments don’t fit a template. They are as varied as the many people that drift in and out of our sphere of influence. And importantly, we need to not just talk the talk, but live what we tell others. Faith without works is empty and even dead. If we aren’t out there putting our faith into actions, it’s all for naught. Go and share. God’s got this. Plant the seeds and let God produce. Side thought – this was rather convicting to me. Even those who’s gospel methods I disagree with – be they too legalistic or too squishy – continue to preach and continue to see some fruit develop because God’s the one who is ultimately in control. I need to have a softer heart toward them.
The Holy Spirit offers us protection (v 32-33). And here’s a side note – I love that my pastor doesn’t use alliteration for every sermon point. It makes me feel like I’m listening to a grown up who is preaching to grown ups. Sorry, just a little pet peeve of mine. Anyway, back to the sermon… How many Christians are so scared of living in the world because the world might rub off on us? We can’t minister to this group of people or that subset of people because they are so sinful or so lost we might somehow catch their sin disease. We don’t need to live in a holy bubble. We need to be with the people in this world. Jesus ate with sinners, Jesus drank with sinners, Jesus surrounded himself with those society did hold in high regard. If we expect to minister and share the good news with everyone, we can’t be afraid to be with all people. Just because I hang out with someone, doesn’t mean I’ll be just like them (despite how much this was preached at me growing up in an ultra-conservative church). We will not win the world by judging them, but by having real relationships with them.
The Holy Spirit helps us learn compassion (v 34). He gives us a gospel centered heart. Our church is going out into the community very soon to adopt a block and minister to those who are hurting and have different needs. And you know what? We’re cancelling church to do this on a Sunday. Instead of going to church that Sunday, we’re going to show others how we can be the church. Side note – this has me so excited. I’ve been praying for a fellowship to do this since reading Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted and Brandon Hatmaker’s Barefoot Church (they are companion books, really). Again, we get so attached to the Sunday ritual, we can’t fathom deviating from it. But you know what? It is perfectly okay to vary from the script and put our faith into practice. And I can’t recommend Interrupted enough. Read it. Now. Read it again in a few months. Life-changing book.
And finally, the Holy Spirit gives us a promise (v 35-39). We aren’t going to mess up so badly God won’t love us. His love is unconditional. He will preserve us. Side note, my pastor may have mentioned the last point in the TULIP here – P – Perseverance of the Saints. And I totally get that he’s more Reformed than I’m entirely comfortable with – I struggle with separating the legalistic tendencies of the modern Calvinists from the doctrinal points I might agree with, not to mention I tend to swing toward the open view of God and free will theism. I might have some knee-jerk responses to Calvinism as it is practiced today, but I’ll totally show my pastor grace in this area because we both affirm every point of the Apostles’ Creed, so in the important doctrines, we’re in fellowship. After all, I was totally Reformed once myself.
We were encouraged to remember that since we believe in the Holy Spirit, we can move forward in our faith with confidence, enjoy the Spirit’s protection, live a life of compassion, and rest in God’s promises. And we should go out and live out our faith without abandon. Yes, we will fail and we might even fail in a big way, but failing just means we tried.
Not too bad for a 25 minute message, right? And after that we broke bread and drank wine and gathered at the Lord’s Table. Because we do all this in remembrance of our Lord – all of it, not just the bread and wine, but the worship and the prayers and the music and the homilies and the fellowship and the work and the service to others.
God’s peace to you all