Since we moved to Phoenix in August of 2010, more that a few people have asked me about our church situation–where are we going to church, how did we decide to visit, and perhaps most of all, what lead us to join an Anglican church?
In order to really understand how this decision made sense for me and my family, I am going to have to have to give you just a bit of background on how I got to be where I am theologically and how that has impacted where our family has chosen to worship. Lest this digress into a complete personal theological genealogy, I’m going to try really hard to keep it brief :)
I grew up overseas as the child of Southern Baptist missionaries. Although I was thoroughly acquainted with traditional Baptist theology and thought, the worship style I became accustomed to in West Africa was a bit more–for lack of a better term, enthusiastic–than what you might typically see in most traditional Baptist churches on the North American continent. I also went to a boarding school for missionary kids of all denominations, and there I found out that not only is Christianity much bigger than just my particular flavor, but that I have much to learn from every tradition. I was also highly influenced by my grandparents' Charismatic views, and to a lesser extent their history as Methodists as well. In college I met some wonderful Roman Catholics that taught me a lot about what it means to be a Jesus follower, and they were perhaps my first real exposure to the ancient liturgy (order of worship) of Word and Sacrament. While I was finishing up my undergraduate and graduate degree, I also had the distinct privilege of serving as the minister of music at a wonderful, traditional Baptist Church in Abilene, TX.
So I am something of a melting pot for Christian traditions.
I was in the midst of serving as minister of music for that small Baptist church, and my wife had just completed her degree in Church Music. One of her required textbooks was Robert Webber’s Worship Old & New which I picked up for self-study. That book convinced me of the centrality of the Lord’s Supper for Christian worship, and caused me to seriously reevaluate the “evangelical liturgy,” and consequently its core values and some doctrines. The old adage “lex orandi, lex credenti” (the law of prayer is the law of belief) holds true, I think. How we worship has direct impact on what we believe. As I delved into the theology behind liturgy centered on the Lord’s Supper, I was exposed to the historic Christian traditions, the writings of the Fathers, and my own prejudices and cultural baggage.
When I accepted my current job in Phoenix, AZ, I knew it was time to do a bit of exploring into some other branches of Christianity. Although I absolutely loved the Baptist church where I served (they loved God, and loved people!) It did seem that I was pulling further and further away from the Baptist norm–both theologically and culturally. On the cultural level, I found that the issues that seemed to really concern national and regional leadership were not where my heart was. Examples include moderate alcohol consumption as a sin, legislation in lieu of spiritual formation, and evangelistic campaigns that seemed to be more about numbers than disciples. Theologically, I found myself, through careful Bible study and prayer, adopting a more sacramental1 position on the Lord’s Supper, and more covenant-focused interpretation of Baptism2.
I’d like to emphasize that I did not come to these conclusions lightly. It was with no small amount of heartache, soul-searching, and tears that I finally decided that God was leading me away from the Baptist tradition that had been my spiritual home for so long. I will forever treasure my brothers, sisters, pastors, friends and mentors in Baptist circles, as well as the Godly wisdom and Christian encouragement they have shared with me3.
I really love the Lutheran theology of grace and its staunch refusal to intellectualize the the doctrine of election, yet Amber and I did not feel called together to any of the local Lutheran churches we visited. This is partially because conservative Lutheran theology is very systematic and specific (much like Baptist theology in that way) and didn’t seem to provide a whole lot of wiggle-room on some issues where Amber and I–as a married couple with somewhat differing theological views–needed some flexibility.
Almost on a whim, we decided to visit a local Anglican Mission in America4 church–mainly because it was one of the only non-Lutheran liturgical churches in our area. Almost as soon as we stepped into the Sunny Slope High School Multipurpose room (where our church then met) we knew Desert Mission Anglican Church was something different. We experienced an expressive, charismatic worship, ordered by a theologically solid liturgy and supported with an evangelical focus on Scripture and missions. We even discovered that our church and denomination has a connection to Africa! What we found at Desert Mission was a church that shared our values as a family.
We officially joined with Desert Mission Anglican Church and AMiA on December 12, 2010 for mission and community, and continue to be blessed there each week through Word, Sacrament, and fellowship of the saints.
Edited February 14, 2012 to include the paragraph on the importance of Webber’s work, and footnote #3.
- From the 39 Articles, a definitive confession for orthodox Anglicans along with the eccumnical creeds: Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him. ↩
- From the 39 Articles, a definitive confession for orthodox Anglicans along with the eccumnical creeds: Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christian men are discerned from other that be not christened, but is also a sign of regeneration or new birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God, by the Holy Ghost are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed, and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church as most agreeable with the institution of Christ. ↩
- Although I was ultimately led to move away from my dear Baptist home and into the orthodox Anglican tradition, the journey I am on remains difficult. Yet, I am sustained by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. ↩
- TheAM core values and beliefs ↩