I am a retired Anglican clergyman. As a consequence I was able one Sunday, in February 2016, to visit a church of a different denomination. However, as I was leaving I was asked, “Do you only normally go to an Anglican Church because you are an ordained Anglican clergyman?” It was an unusual question—not one that I have been used to being asked. But the question hit a nerve, not least of all because I have asked myself that question many times.
Now I am someone who has sat in many different churches. I have also conducted and participated in services in churches of other denominations. And in many ways I feel that I don’t really fit into the Anglican Church at all. But then, I have often asked myself, “Where would I fit in?” After all, I may feel more comfortable in some churches than in others, but the reality is that none of the churches that I have ever been to, or have associated myself with, have ever met the criteria that I look for in a church.
As a consequence I replied to the question with the only true answer I could give. And it was not because of denominational loyalty, but rather, “Because I believe that is where God wants me to be.”
The sad thing, for me, about the question, was to be reminded of how uncomfortable I am (and I am sure many others are) about the state of the church universal. After all, it is supposed to be God’s church, and I should fit in. But I don’t. So with this in mind, I thought I needed to put down on paper some of the basic aspects of the kind of church that I would like to belong to. And using the formula of the Ten Commandments this is what I came up with:
Principle 1: True Loyalty—A church that has its focus 100% on the living God. A congregation that puts God before family, friends or any other distractions. A church where the people are wholehearted in their beliefs, and where God always comes first.
Principle 2: True Worship—A church which gives God his true worth. One which is centred around God, and not the balance sheet. One that is based on God’s message, not on the things we like. One where the buildings and aids to worship have little value in comparison to the worship of God.
Principle 3: Reverence for YHWH—A church which reveres God’s name. One in which the people provide 100% of the income, and where fundraising outside of the community of faith has no place. One that does not muddy the waters by trying to meet the expectations of people outside of the church.
Principle 4: Holy Time—A church that takes seriously the need to meet regularly, and on other occasions, and discourages a less than 100% commitment to God and the community of believers. A church that does not encourage activities that compete with the need to meet together and worship God as a community.
Principle 5: Family Responsibilities—A church that encourages the Christian community as a whole. A church that teaches, builds up, encourages, and supports the members of the family of believers.
Principle 6: The Sanctity of Life—A church that recognises the importance of life, from conception, and takes a stand against anything that devalues life. Furthermore, a church that actively supports its poorer members.
Principle 7: The Sanctity of Marriage—A church that acknowledges the basic family unit—father, mother, children—and encourages fidelity in marriage amongst its members.
Principle 8: Respect for Other People’s Property—A church that practices the right of its members to own possessions. Particularly the need for families to own enough to support themselves.
Principle 9: Justice—A church that practices fairness and justice. A church that upholds the rights of others.
Principle 10: Right Thinking—A church that looks at the world through God’s eyes, and not from the perspective of individuals or even the community in which they live.
Now in one sense what I am looking, even yearning, for is a church that doesn’t exist. Because what I have listed are ideals to be sought for, rather than what I could possibly expect. Unfortunately, I have never found a church that even remotely aspires to the kind of challenge provided by these ten principles. And in that lies the real problem. Because the kind of church that I have described is surely the kind of church to which we should all aspire, no matter what denomination we belong to.
So am I an Anglican? Do I fit into the Anglican church? Well the answer to both questions is probably not. But then I’m not sure that I will ever truly fit in, no matter where I will be. But that may not be because of the original principles on which the various denominations are based. Rather it may well be because of what the churches have become. And sometimes that seems a long way away from the principles that God laid out for his people so long ago.
Posted: 5th March 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis