I’ve been involved or connected in some way to different church groups, from very low Protestant (Baptist) to very high Catholic (in Latin.) I’ve known church leaders who wore tie-dyed t-shirts and others who wore gold vestments. I fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes, I hope. It’s not that I’ve seen it all, but I make it my business as an educated Christian to learn something about different groups. I’ve learned my lesson about getting too close or too involved. I intend to stay right where I am, for good or for ill, whether the church I am in (Anglican) is right or wrong about some doctrine or practice. I find nothing harmful in this church, and Anglicans have, over the centuries, grown for themselves a tolerance for private opinion and belief. We are required to follow certain public practices of faith, and to avoid teaching anything contrary to the church, but privately, we may hold our own beliefs, without signing a confession of faith. This acknowledges that people may be on different stages of a long spiritual journey, and that any of us, from baby to bishop, may hold an erroneous belief privately that will be corrected in time by scripture and the Spirit. It is why we are told to attend divine worship, to fellowship with other Christians, and to accompany our scripture reading with daily prayer. The Book of Common Prayer and holy scripture are our Confession; the BCP is to keep us from straying from Christian thought and prayer, and the scripture is the living word of God, containing all that is necessary for salvation. It is living because it speaks truth to us, despite its venerable age; it addresses human nature, and the relationship between humanity and our Creator. We hear His voice in it.
Enthusiasm is discouraged in the Anglican way. Temperance, in its oldest meaning, is preferred. Enthusiasm leads to error, to emphasizing one aspect of faith to the detriment of others. Too much emphasis on liturgy may cause some to neglect charity; too much emphasis on our fellow man may lead to neglect of our relationship with the Lord. We are here to serve God, not ourselves, not our particular preferences even for the work of the church. Too much concern for our own sinfulness may make us introspective and distant from our Christian companions. Too much concern for evangelizing may alienate others who see us as judmental and arrogant.
While every moment is meant to be spent prayerfully, it doesn’t mean we neglect our duties for prayer. The mature Christian weaves the prayer of the heart and the hands into everything. Serving in one’s business and home with humility and efficiency is working prayer, the prayer of the hands. Thoughtful contemplation of a passage of scripture, in context, day by day, will produce more spiritual benefit than rushing through the Bible just to say one has read the whole book. And skipping from chapter to chapter, verse to verse, encourages nothing but scripture-mania, a desire to prove all of one’s thoughts with snippets of the Bible. Read carefully and slowly, a chapter or so at a time; stop, pray, think. Hold onto those thoughts and ponder all of it in the heart. I would prefer that the concordance be used judiciously, if at all, by laypeople. It is tempting to turn to it for proof-texting, which is pulling verses out of the Bible with no regard to their meaning in the context of the larger work. Nothing is gained by hammering others (or oneself) with verse after verse of the Bible.
I think one of the biggest temptations for Christians is to look for stricter groups to join, churches that emphasize keeping the rules. All Christians are called to follow Christ, and obey Him; He points us to right conduct in this world. He also frees us from legalism and fear, from attempting to save ourselves by keeping rules. We are given, in His death and glorious resurrection, the new life, if we embrace Him. We are then free – free of the old covenant, which emphasized the law and guilt, and free to follow His Way of radical love. Jesus did not worry much about keeping the rules of the temple priests, and He allowed His disciples to follow His example. They didn’t wash as instructed, harvested on the sabbath, participated in His healings, and sat to meals with those who were outside the law. After He had returned to His Father, the Holy Spirit guided them, even into rule-breaking and actual law-breaking (for it is better to obey God than the ways of men). Gentile converts were not held to the Jewish law; even Jewish converts could set aside kosher. The Christians gathered on the Day of Resurrection, the first day of the week, to remember His moment of glory and our moment of salvation.
The Anglican church is far from perfect. We are just beginning to examine our past complicity with the powers of this world – kings and governments. We have much work to do, and we should avoid our past mistakes, principal among those sins allowing the persecution of those who differ with us, and actual bullying of those who would reform the church when it is spiritually dormant. Within our unwritten doctrine is a spirit of tolerance, and a spirit for growth.