Ask an Anglican: Baptists, Women, and Church Shopping

There’s a lot in this question. I’ll answer as much as I can, but this will have to be a two-parter.

Nick writes:

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.

Nick continues:

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…

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17 Responses to Ask an Anglican: Baptists, Women, and Church Shopping

  1. Scott Elliott says:

    It also seems to me that the formula, “The God I worship would not….” (send bears to kill children who made fun of a prophet, for example) is just standard tag-line of that priest’s, meaning that “God is bigger than;” that a god would have to be awfully small to … do this / demand that / etc.

    The phrase doesn’t appear to be a matter of conforming — ourselves to God, or of God to ourselves — but of expressing that the notion in question regarding God is inconsistent with God as understood by that individual minister.

    So I think your correspondent has read much too much significance into an innocuous, though irritating, verbal habit. Makes me wonder why he chose to do that. Is he irritated at the priest for waving off his serious questions with such a cavalier and condescending response? That would made sense to me, but I still think the choice to write her off, and take the Episcopal Church as a whole with her, is a bit extreme.

  2. Scott Smith says:

    As a Lutheran, I was wondering, what is the Anglican rationale for doubting the validity of a Eucharist preformed outside the bounds of succession? If the words of institution are spoken, and everything is done in good order, where is the basis of the doubt? Does it come down to the celebrant not having the “indelible imprint” upon their soul?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Scott,

      Validity is a loaded word, and so perhaps it would have been better if I’d chosen another. Certainly, there are Anglo-Catholics who would question the validity of the sacrament celebrated by a non-priest on the same grounds used by Roman Catholics which you hint at, the argument that the priest is ontologically changed in ordination. I doubt that high Anglicans in the classical period would have made the case in the same way. The issue is not the power of the priest himself, in some sort of isolated and magical way, but the way in which the Word of God directs us. In institution narratives that we find in Scripture, the Eucharist is celebrated by Christ with the twelve alone, who are alone given the command to “do this in remembrance of me.” These same twelve are later given the Holy Spirit and called upon generally to act as priests and pastors. They are called upon to forgive sins in the place of Christ, to preach, teach, baptize, and celebrate the Eucharist. This ministry is an integral part of the Church and intimately tied to the Eucharist, which is why there are many patristic references to the teaching that only the bishop or the one he authorizes (the priest) celebrate a Communion that truly Catholic Christians can participate in.

      This is not to say, with some sort of full bodied confidence, that I know for sure that a Eucharist celebrated by a Lutheran pastor, for instance, is not a real Eucharist. I’m sure that there is grace at work there, one way or the other, and it is entirely possible that the Communion received at that pastor’s hands is indistinguishable from the Communion received at the hands of a priest. But what I can say confidently is that something important is missing from the Lutheran pastor’s celebration (unless, of course, he’s a Swedish Lutheran). And I don’t honestly know how that affects what’s happening there, but all things being equal, I’d rather not have to ask those questions.

      There’s also something to be said for simply taking people at their word. I realize that there is a conflict here when it comes to Lutherans and Anglicans, since Lutherans do understand themselves to be partaking in Christ’s true Body and Blood, but Baptists and other memorialists do not. They believe they’re participating in a pious symbol of their faith, but nothing more. I agree with them. There’s something strange about insisting that those who do not believe in the Real Presence must actually be participating in it anyway.

      • Joshua says:

        When I was a Lutheran I never doubted the sacrament that I received from them. Improper does not necessarily mean invalid, but it is important to have a proper understanding of the the Priesthood. This was not one of the big reasons I became an Anglican but it is an important one nonetheless.

      • Stephen says:

        “There’s something strange about insisting that those who do not believe in the Real Presence must actually be participating in it anyway.”

        Or, why one would want too.

  3. Joshua says:

    After visiting some of the Parish websites of those Churches within ACNA, it immediately became obvious to me that a number of them are not teaching Classical Anglicanism. They certainly have a better grasp on social issues than a good percentage of the TEC, but that in and of itself does not make them Anglican. One website spoke of the importance of Baptism and then a paragraph later spoke of the need to have a born again experience. I found it ironic that they did not see the blatant contradiction. Another podcast that I was listening to (given by an ACNA priest) said that the Church was very tolerant of those who did not want their children to be baptized and that the age was of no importance. A number of things within the ACNA radically contradict classical Anglicanism. I would say whether people stay within the TEC or go to ACNA they need to try and find a Church that teaches classical Anglicanism. Variety is a blessing to Anglicanism but it needs to be consistent with the formularies. The Reformed Episcopal Church holds to a declaration of principles that run contrary to Anglicanism. They have tried to clear this up in recent times ,but it sounds like a Roman Catholic trying to harmonize Vatican 2 with the Council of Trent. They would do better just to admit that these (Calvinist) principles should have never been taught in the first place.

  4. MichaelA says:

    I find the point about ensuring that my worship conforms to God, rather than that God conforms to me, to be a continual struggle. That is not meant as a comment on any of the posts above, nor the article itself, but just a personal observation.

    • Cadog says:

      Me too. Henry Blackabie addressed a similar principle — I cannot put my hands on it just now and probably not unique to him — but something like this: to ask God what is his will for me is not really the right question — as it is also “Me” centered. Better to SEEK where God is already at work — and move there.

      btw very much enjoyed your and Joshua’s dialog in last thread. You were really tearing up the keyboard — hard to keep up with you! Really thoughtful discussion.

  5. Cadog says:

    Fr. Jonathan —

    I think your comment in your first paragraph (“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”) is more defensible than the direction you are taking in the second and third — or at least more consistent with some of your other guidance re. baptism. It seems that if “properly celebrated” according to the words of institution, the Lord’s Supper is as legitimate as other communions’ observance of baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the latter being sufficient for reception into the Episcopal Church — I was told re-baptism was not normally an option (not that I wanted it).

    Also, while the memorialist observance may not be sacramental, I don’t agree with Nick that it is not Biblical, which may not be quite what he meant. In Paul’s account (1 Cor. 11:25), Jesus say states “do this in remembrance of me.” I don’t see how this command could be limited to the 12 who were present, since Paul was writing to those who were not (I realize that your comment re the 12 had to do with administration by apostolically ordained priests and bishops, but I just don’t see how distinctions can be made as to what was intended for the 12 and what was not — other than of course from tradition, which is indeed terribly important). It would not be possible to properly observe or experience the Eucharist without memorializing our Lord’s sacrifice. So not unbiblical — just incomplete.

    And is grape juice vs. wine really an issue? Both are the “fruit of the vine.” To require that it be wine would seem to be as non-essential as the position taken by some protestants that grape juice must be used because, as they would claim, that is what Jesus used — a patently absurd position given that freshly pressed grape juice, especially in a warm climate, will immediately begin the fermentation process — it can’t NOT become wine.

    Great questions and answers. Can’t wait for the your third part!

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Cadog,

      If it is true that a properly administered Eucharist is truly going to give you Christ’s Body and Blood, and it is also true that an ordained priest or bishop is necessary to that proper administration, than it is a perfectly logical conclusion that a Eucharist celebrated by someone who is not a priest or a bishop is in some way deficient. It is possible, of course, to take the first point and not the second, as you’ve done. If a priest is not necessary to the proper administration, than it is immaterial whether the sacrament is celebrated by a priest, some other sort of Christian pastor, a lay person, or even a non-Christian. As you point out, the biblical text nowhere explicitly commands that a priest or a bishop must be the celebrant. Nonetheless, the institution narratives can be interpreted that way, and that is exactly how the early Church did interpret them. If Anglicanism is to be not just biblical but patristic, than we must be bound by that same interpretation. Again though, we’re dealing with possibilities versus certainties. Do I know for sure that a Eucharist celebrated by a person who is not a priest is not a real Eucharist? No, I don’t. And frankly, I hope and pray that it is really and truly feeding people with Christ’s Body and Blood since the Scripture does explicitly say in John 6 that we need to eat His flesh and drink His blood to have any life in us. But I can’t possibly know for sure that it is, and so I have to counsel against it.

      Baptism is commanded biblically as a duty of all disciples, though it is clearly normative for apostles to carry it out. Nevertheless, we see Philip the Deacon baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch and other examples of possible baptism by the non-ordained elsewhere in Acts. More important, though, is the fact that the early Church accepted the possibility of emergency baptism (though Chrismation was another matter), interpreting the Scriptures in this way. Is there an analogue to emergency Eucharist? Perhaps. Some early Anglicans wrote about the Protestant bodies on the continent as if all that they did, the Eucharist included, was done in a state of emergency, whereby God blessed them and made them true churches even though they were unable to have valid orders. But can we really say now, after five hundred years, that the ongoing celebration of the sacrament by bodies without priests is due to an emergency situation?

      As for wine versus grape juice, the same principle holds about proper administration. Our Lord took bread and wine and said that they were His Body and Blood. He did not take anything else. Could something else, like corn chips and grape soda, become His Body and Blood? If so, He has not revealed it to us. I get that there are historical reasons why some bodies choose to use grape juice, as well as pastoral reasons given the prevalence of alcoholism in our society, but the fact remains that the Bible–and the prayer book, for that matter–only recognize bread and wine as being the elements necessary for a true Eucharist because these are what Jesus commanded us to use. It may seem like a bit of a silly argument, particularly when people outside the Church observe Christians fighting over this stuff, but ultimately it comes back to whether we accept the plain words of Scripture or not. If we’re willing to dispense with “This is my Blood” than we’ll be more willing to dispense with “He took the cup of wine.” If we believe one, we ought to believe the other.

      • Cadog says:

        Thank you Father Jonathan, hugely insightful. I am a little (not much) conflicted on all of this, though for myself, personally, the Eucharist as you have laid it out (no pun intended!) is what I believe and it is meaningful beyond words, and largely why I became an Anglican.

        Thanks too for your comment re pastoral concern for alcoholics, which I had thought of also but did not mention. I know Jesus commanded we partake of the cup of WINE, but for reasons I mentioned (unless he chose to supernaturally intervene), it HAD to have been wine. I am glad it is/was!


      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Pastorally speaking, I find it helpful to remind people that taking one part of the sacrament is taking the whole of it. Receiving only the bread and not the wine is no sin, nor indeed is the reverse for those with wheat allergies.

  6. Stephen says:

    One of the things I genuinely struggle with as a RC is what I see as a decline in ‘respect’ for Holy things and Holy places.
    For instance, the Sanctuary is called that for a reason. Yet I see a continual lack of recognition of where the Faithful are.
    Do Anglicans reserve the Host and do you do so in the Sanctuary or have you also moved it off into a broom closet somewhere as some Catholic Churches have done?
    Just curious.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Stephen,

      I think that’s a common problem, the lack of reverence, throughout the American Church, both Catholic and Protestant.

      Not all Anglicans reserve the sacrament, but it’s a fairly common practice. The “higher” the church, the more likely that it does so, although the most evangelical parish in my diocese reserves. We keep our tabernacle in the chapel. What’s much rarer amongst Anglicans are things like Eucharistic adoration. It happens, but only in what are called very “Anglo-Catholic” parishes.

      What I see disappearing in Anglican churches are the gestures of reverence. It could just be my experience, but I see fewer people bowing towards the altar when they cross the church and only the older people bowing to the cross as it goes by. These may seem like little things, but they mean a great deal. They communicate that what’s happening in our worship is more than just a gathering but a receiving of the divine.

      • Stephen says:

        I couldn’t agree with you more.
        Arriving at Mass (or Church, if you prefer) 20 minutes or so early so that you can put yourself into a proper frame of mind instead of showing up just in time to beat the Priest down the aisle to grab a seat.
        Respecting the Altar, not because it is a big piece of marble or fine wood, but because what takes place ON that Altar.
        Put the drum kit down in the social hall, turn off the guitar amps and realize that we are in a place set apart for communal worship about to come in contact with the Divine.

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