Gentle as Doves, Wise as Serpents

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.


12 thoughts on “Gentle as Doves, Wise as Serpents

  1. This is my favorite of your blog posts I’ve read so far. The phrase “working prayer” resonates with me. It makes my daily drudgery seem more meaningful. Well done!

  2. I believe this one of your finest posts. As an Episcopalian I resonate with much that you say about Anglicanism. Thank you for a thoughtful presentation of who we are; sad that conversation now is centered on the signing of an Anglican Covenant. Peace in your day.

    • I think a Covenant is the opposite of Anglican! I don’t intend to sign, and can’t imagine any bishop will require it.

  3. Magdalena,

    this is a profoundly beautiful presentation on Anglicanism, and more widely, on the way in which Christ is followed in general regardless of denomination. I see in many of the yahoo fora I belong to a steady edging into a desire to follow more rules, more rules, more rules; this shift is a slower one, an evolution if one will *I come from a denominational background rooted in such ideology( that has occured over the past 6 seven years. ‘In the name of Scripture and living more obediently to Christ’s will’ but in essence, in not a few of the manifestations I have seen, something more akin to legalism as folk believe they ar shedding man-made structures for the 1st century Church/genuine worship etc. This is equated with living the ‘narrow way’ of the Gospel, but, the Narrow Way is one where we are focused front and centre on Jesus christ himself, being swayed neither to one side or the other. In the midst of the tumults rocking the Anglican Church (re Sydney Anglicanism, GAFCON etc), your post introduces some timely food for thought and reminders. Beautiful, genuinely wise and gentle!

  4. This is also what I like about the Swedish Church and the reason why I still feel that I can go there even though there are some things I do not agree with.

    By the way, regarding my pull towards quakerism, yesterday I got into contact with a Swedish quaker (finally) who believes he might be able to help me explore this. Let’s see what happens…

  5. I am absolutely wearied by someone on facebook (more than one, really) who seem to have decided it is their place – uneducated women that they are – to correct and guide me. If I don’t agree with their rulebound view of the church, then I have no wisdom. If I point out their hubris to them, they attack me publically. I suppose it looks like hubris to them, that I would use my education to gain wisdom!

    The Bible is not a rule book.

  6. Magdalena,

    I think I will continue to stay well clear of facebook!! Your experience is shared by several Christian women I know; at least one has experienced very toxic interactions not discimilar to those in which you have been confronted by the rule-setters.


    • I am not inordinately upset by this. You have plenty of experience with this type already, so why set yourself up? But why do they friend me? And why do they stay friends? I don’t unfriend except for offensive postings, but they have no reason to keep an unbeliever like me!

  7. I had to look up that word – hubris. I am glad to learn it. I was curious – are these ladies or people Anabaptist or an Anabaptist hybrid? I have seen quite a few Independent type Baptists combining a lot of Plain Anabaptism principles with their own slant. They are very strict and some of their teachings online can be and encourage followers to be not only zealous but quite condemning. I have had crushing experiences with certain Anabaptist groups. I know many wonderful Anabaptists and I do worship with an Anabaptist group. It is not at all all of them – I don’t want to seem like I feel that way.

    • Zealous, msot certainly. They probably think they are saving my soul by warning me of my great sin. I would say most of them are in the neo-anabaptist or neo-messianic range. They also condemn me for First Day sabbath, preaching, teaching men, belonging to a pre-Roformation church and probably for being short. I have known many Mennonite women – Old and New Orders – who would never treat us like this.

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