Friday, February 08, 2002

"Mere Christianity" and full Christian commitment [e.g., during Lent].

[I offer this meditation before the beginning of Lent in order to show why for some the godly discipline of the Church Year (which includes the keeping of Lent) has great importance.]

Each and every regenerated and believing Christian, whatever jurisdiction of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church or denominational group to which he belongs, confesses Christ Jesus as Lord and prays "Our Father" to the Father of the same Lord Jesus Christ. Further, he accepts and submits to the sacred Scriptures as the Word of God written and accepts it as the authoritative basis in the Church for Faith and Morality.

The central or essential Christian confession and commitment - it if can be extracted from the whole Christian vocation and consecration - may be called with C.S.Lewis "Mere Christianity" and or with others "Basic Christianity." This core or common denominator can be expressed in terms of believing and trusting God in terms of the doctrines of the Apostles' Creed, praying to God in the way taught by the Lord's Prayer, and obeying God as given in the Ten Commandments (and their fulfillment by the Lord Jesus).

The popular "Alpha" course is intended to teach "Mere Christianity" and so are other similar things.

Obviously this core commitment and consecration of Basic Christianity has to exist in a real context of church membership, church worship, church doctrine, church discipline and church style/churchmanship. Thus there is an Orthodox Way, a Roman Catholic Way, an Anglican Way, a Lutheran Way, a Methodist Way and so on. And then within these large categories there are subdivisions or differing emphases and styles.

Within a large world of many cultures and languages; within a Church that experienced in the middle Ages the great division of East and West; then within the West the divisions of the sixteenth century caused by the Protestant Reformation; and then again within the West in the nineteenth century and since the proliferation of denominations that now cover the world, we should expect to see a variety of styles and ways of being Christian. Likewise we should expect to see a vast array of opinions! And we do, and it is confusing even to those of us who have studied Church history in depth and detail!

The most obvious place to see this vast ocean of opinions is in what I have dubbed the American supermarket of religions - see the Yellow Pages of the Phone Directory of any large city under "religions" and "churches" as a starter!

In this context, be it in the USA or in South Africa or the Punjab each of us has to find a home in God's household within one of these jurisdictions or churches or denominations and then allow "Mere Christianity" to reach a fuller expression in a discipline of worship, doctrine, devotion and lifestyle. In some place in the world our choice of "church home" is overwhelming while in others it is down to one or two choices!

For me, such a home would need to be one where (a) there was a deep sense of belonging in a tangible way to God's Church which has existed through space and time as a divine society in history since the apostolic age, and one which (b) accepted not merely the authority of the Scriptures, which is foundational, but also the godly example and teaching of the Church (i.e., the church of the Fathers, the patristic church of the first four or five
centuries) which actually collected the Scriptures and accepted them as Canon (rule). This of course limits me to a small group of the long-standing Churches of the world; and since, by the providence of God, I was born in England and not in Germany I see no absolute reason not to find that home in the ancient church of England, now the Church of England, but for many centuries known as the Ecclesia Anglicana.

From this home I can and should cooperate with fellow Christian believers in the other churches and groups, I can and should attempt to feel with Christ the pain of the existence of much of these divisions and schisms, and I can wait in hope for the end of the age and the fullness of redemption when by grace alone we shall all be one in Christ.

Meanwhile, my vocation as an Anglican (be it as a clergyman or a layman) has to be a filling out of, or a development of, the "Basic Christianity" that I share by the grace of God with others.

So I have to shed some/most of my opinions (remembering that the Greek word for opinion is the word meaning heresy!) and submit to an authentic expression of the "Anglican Way" and style of worship, doctrine, discipline, and order. Others who are Lutherans or Methodists have a similar but different duty which may be described as complementary in the greater view of things.

The traditional and authentic style for Anglicans is the living within the discipline of The Book of Common Prayer. Herein are services to cover the whole of my life from the cradle to the grave; herein is a daily service for mornings and evenings that I can/should use; herein is a Daily lectionary of readings from the Bible to follow; herein are Bible readings for each Sunday and holy day; herein is the Church Year wherein I walk with Christ as a child, to the Jordan river, into the wilderness, around Galilee and Judea, to Jerusalem, to Calvary and to the heights of heaven; herein are the traditional periods of fasting (e.g. Lent) of Ember days (special prayers) of festivals and so on. With my Bible and my Prayer Book I am set to live within the discipline of the Anglican Way. All other Christian books, be they commentaries on the Bible or aids to devotion and piety, are there to enrich my living within the discipline of The Book of Common Prayer. I am a person under authority and my opinions are restricted and my options are few! And such is good for godly habits are part of the foundation of sanctification.

Thus the devout Anglican keeps Lent not to earn God's salvation but as a member of the household of God, in union with saints (from many centuries and places of yesterday and today) and in union with the Lord, in order to worship and love the Lord or God and to prepare the better to celebrate the Atonement and the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. An Anglican fasts in union with Jesus and at his command and seeks to give what he saves on food as alms.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon Rector of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
Diocese of Lichfield & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large of the Prayer Book Society of the USA.

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