Charismatic in an Anglican World
From experience, I tend to believe that doctrine is an important factor to consider in choosing a church. For a Charismatic Christian who practices the gifts of the Spirit, it would be foolish and very difficult to become part of a community that regularly denounces my Christian practice. Similarly, if the peace of a Christian community is threatened by my beliefs, the loving response may be to walk away. The danger is that I could use this argument as license to leave any body of believers that does not condone a certain lifestyle or particular belief system. Nevertheless, churches have been split over smaller differences than the style of Sunday morning worship, so to build an undercurrent of disagreement over more weighty issues like the Holy Spirit may jeopardize the life of the community.1
With this in mind, I moved to Sydney, Australia ready to try experiment with an idea that I learned years ago from a teacher in Oxford, England. Instead of searching for a church by its qualities, I would search for a church by its location. After all, my thinking had been stirred by the New Testament writers who did not send their letters to the Baptist, Charismatic, or Anglican churches, but to the church of Ephesus, Corinth, or geographical area where believers gathered (e.g. Revelation 2).2 Perhaps I could think of my church as the group of Christians who lived and practiced their faith in my local community.
I was determined to find the nearest church and build into it however I could. Church would not be about checking off my list of requirements for music, doctrine, service length, or programs, but about entering the process of sharing life together as believers from all backgrounds of life and practice.
It was a matter of hours before I had found the Anglican church at the end of my street and made a copy of the service times for my first visit.
For those who don’t know, the Church of England grew alongside the Catholic Church until King Henry VIII declared himself to be the head of the church instead of the Pope for political and personal motivations. After this change in hierarchy the two gradually drifted apart in their practices and beliefs. As time went on, a “low church” Anglican practice emerged that let go of the pomp and circumstance still characteristic of high church Anglicanism.
Imagine the sound of a pipe organ echoing through soaring rafters of a cathedral dome while rays of sun sparkle through stained glass and pierce the clouds of incense wafting above the heads of priests in beautiful robes carrying a crucifix and other holy symbols toward a decorative and symbolic altar. Low church Anglicanism has none of this. Except for the age of the stone building and the stained glass windows, there is not much to differentiate the church I attend from an average baptist church in the United States.
In some ways, I feel more drawn to the Anglican high church as I have developed a fond appreciation for tradition, art, and ceremony. The Catholic, Orthodox, and High Anglican traditions evoke a sense of reverence and sacredness that is sorely absent from my charismatic circles. Yet I remain an appreciative spectator of these holy occasions rather than joining the community for fear that I may resume my former version of Christianity based on formality rather than a relationship. The fire and passion of charismatic circles is something I need to challenge my tendency toward complacency and to force me to stop trying to define God.
If I were looking for an experience of the charismatic church that would spur my growth in this direction, it would be a simple choice for a Sydney resident like myself to head straight to Hillsong for an awesome experience. And while I certainly intend to enjoy some visits to the internationally renowned charismatic church, the choice, this time, is not so simple.
At some time in the past, I would have said the church is a place to learn and grow as a Christian—and I would still agree. However a year of studying education has shown me that learning does not always happen in a lecture format. Sometimes it happens in the process of applying the ideas in practice. Watching children play while their parents gather to encourage each other as Christians may be a more effective learning experience than an hour long sermon.
I have chosen to experiment with the idea that my growth as a Christian is not the responsibility of someone else, but a result of my pursuing a relationship with God in the context of a Christian community. Certainly there are some environments where I would be out of place – and some churches that could not be called communities. But this time around, my choice of a church community will not be driven by doctrine but by opportunities to serve and practice the ideas of faith together with others in the community.
Christians are called to be salt and light in their own little corners of the world. While it is possible to do this without being surrounded by other Christians, it is much more enjoyable and profitable to share the experience. I don’t want to be a lone Christian who meets with others I agree with only once a week and returns to an isolated community where my life and church are completely disconnected. When the church and its members are close by it creates a sense of community and responsibility for what happens there. The church becomes less of its own exclusive club and more of an integrated part of life in the city.
As it happens, the church on my street is Anglican and my first visit saw me welcomed and invited into a group of people who enjoy life together and make being a Christian a challenging and rewarding experience. Certainly there are times when I realize we do not share the same perspective, but so far these have only served as excellent sources of conversation and learning. Maybe it’s the attitude of love that transcends the difference to create something beautiful.
I am a Charismatic Christian attempting to find life and community in a local Anglican congregation. It should be an interesting experience to find out how I can integrate and serve in this strangely quiet and unfamiliar environment.
1 Certainly, there is a time and place for such discussions. 1 Timothy 2:14-26 highlights both the importance of pursuing in truth and avoiding unhealthy conflict.
2 Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Image courtesy of Charles Heyworth.