I was raised in a conservative, evangelical church in the IFCA denomination. There I was instructed in the Christian life through Bible lessons and opportunities for service. I was Baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and received the Lord’s Supper on a quarterly basis. I attended a Southern Baptist university and made mostly Baptist friends. Despite my influences, personal study and prayer led to an evolution in my beliefs and I’ve come to understand that the memorialist teachings regarding Christ’s established sacraments were not Biblical. The sacraments were not rightly understood, but they were rightly administered. The first question is this: Does God work through a sacrament rightly administered, despite our ignorance? (I believe so, but I wanted your take)…
Does God act through a sacrament rightly administered even if the person administering does not believe in it? Yes, unequivocally. Following the mind of the early Church, Article XXVI states that even though evil and ignorant men may from time to time become priests, “the effect of Christ’s ordinance [is not] taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.” Not that those of a memorialist understanding are evil, but simply that their error, whether intentional or out of ignorance, cannot and does not undo what Christ has done. The power and effect of the sacraments are not based on our goodness and rightness but upon His good and right Word. If the sacrament is properly celebrated than it is the sacrament, no matter what is going on in the celebrant’s personal life or what errant thoughts may be running through his mind.
However, the question has to be raised as to whether the sacraments offered in a memorialist context really are administered properly. Without knowing the specific liturgy, it is hard to say, but most memorialist churches use words that indicate that what they are doing has nothing to do with any real and actual presence of Christ. The use of grape juice instead of wine, for instance, is a departure from Christ’s clear words and as such cannot be trusted to truly be the Blood of Christ.
Likewise, if the minister celebrating the Eucharist is not a priest or a bishop, this raises questions as to the validity of the sacrament. Of course, I would not go so far as to definitively deny that Christ is truly present there. After all, the thing that makes the sacrament operative is not the power of a priest but the power of the priest, the Word of God made incarnate and the promise He made to us. It would be exceedingly egotistical to deny that God could act through His Word, even misapplied. Nonetheless, the Eucharist is not just something we do on our own but something which connects us with the whole Church, and the structure of the ministry in the Church is not incidental. It is, in fact, part of what Christ Himself says when He promises to be with His people until the end of the age. A Eucharist celebrated by someone who has not been ordained into the ministry that Christ established in His apostles is hardly one that can be said to be “rightly administered.” At best, it is irregular.
A few years ago I began attending an Episcopal Church. The people there were very welcoming and loving. They encouraged me to take the Eucharist (I was not aware that non-members were welcome to). I worshiped with them for about a year. My wife and I were even married in the church building. Slowly I became uncomfortable there due to the direction of the national church, and the fact the rector was a woman. I am by no means a bigot. Women are equal members in the Body, but I’ve always been taught that women are not meant to be Priests or Bishops, and some of Paul’s writings seem to back this up. Question 2: Do women have a different role to play in the ministry, and if so, does it preclude them from serving as Priests or Bishops?
That one is a doozy. And it really deserves its own full airing. So I’m going to hold onto it and answer it in a subsequent post.
For now, let me address Nick’s last question:
The rector was a very kind woman, but would often answer tough questions with something like, “The God I worship would not…” The overall attitude in bible studies was to find out how God conforms to us, rather than seeking how we can conform to God. I read in Genesis about Cain’s offering to God which was unacceptable. God rejected it because it was worship on Cain’s terms. Because of this truth and an effort to get my wife more involved and excited about worship, we ventured out to visit a church in a nearby town. This church is affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Our experience there has been fruitful thus far and we are being fed Christ’s word more fully. This is my final question: Was it right for us to relocate to a new church? The people at the Episcopal church were very kind and love the Lord, but the Anglican parish seems to have a more humble attitude regarding God’s will. What’s your take?
In the current confusion in North American Anglicanism, I find it difficult to pass judgment on anyone’s choice of where they worship. I remain a loyal son of the Episcopal Church, but I understand that it can sometimes be difficult to stay, given how far the Church has strayed from the tradition. I do not believe that the folks in the ACNA did the right thing by leaving, but they are my brothers and sisters in Christ and I do hope for their thriving and their survival as a faithful witness to Christian truth. If the ACNA parish is what is best for your family, be at peace. But I would encourage you to know what you believe and why you believe it, so that you can resist the pressure to drift from one teaching to another which is prevalent throughout modern Anglicanism, even in conservative church bodies.
I have written previously about church shopping here. I think this is relevant even in the inter-Anglican debate.
More to come. Stay tuned…