Being a (Non-Roman) Catholic Evangelical: Liturgy as a Way of Living Differently

David Russell Mosley

My prayer station at home.

My prayer station at home.

29 January 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few weeks ago now at our church, St Nicholas (an Anglican church in the Church of England), our rector, Steve gave a sermon on Acts 2.42-3.10. The gist of the sermon (you can listen to the whole series here) is about our public impact as we attempt to live life together. At the end of the sermon, Steve enjoined us to start a conversation about how we could live differently. You see, Steve pointed out something I think often all too true. If you asked a Christian what Christians believe, they could give you some kind of answer. If, however, you asked them what do Christians do? They might have a much harder time answering that question.

There are, of course, many answers to this question of what Christians do and how we can live differently within our communities. The most obvious answers are perhaps social justice and evangelism. Feeding and caring for the poor, the oppressed, the widowed is an essential aspect of Christianity. In fact, in the passage Steve preached from, Peter and John, in healing the lame man, were doing an act of social justice that was also an act of evangelism. These two things are essential in any attempt to live in our world, but differently from it. However, there is another that I think often underplayed as an aspect of living differently.

I’ve written more about liturgy on this blog than almost any other topic, which is perhaps ironic since I do not come from a particularly liturgy affirming tradition. That being said, I want to suggest that liturgy is the other main way we can actively live differently within our societies.  Consider how different it would look if on high feast days and high solemnities, like Christmas, Epiphany, Candlemas, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, etc., we all went to church for a service and then had a feast (on the feast days). And not just go to church, what if we actually had day long events and did our best to get out of work for the day? What if we invited people over for Twelfth-Night? What if on Ash Wednesday we all showed up to work with an ashen cross on our foreheads?

What if we actually treated Sundays as the first day of the week and not simply the precursor to the Monday work week? What if the start of Advent was more important to us (as the start of the Church Calendar) than New Year’s Eve? What if all our churches offered at least Morning and Evening Prayer services so people could come and experience fixed hour prayer? What if we thought of time differently? What if our day was broken up into set times of prayer (whether following a set liturgy or praying on our own)?

I firmly believe that if we treated the Church Calendar, the week, and the day as the Church has understood them in centuries past as what is really real, as opposed to the way modern society has chosen to organise our time, we would stand out. Liturgy is more than a method, but I would suggest it is as important as social justice and evangelism for living differently in the world. You can look over some of my past posts to see why I think this is, but ultimately, it is because I think God upholds every minute of every day and liturgy helps to live within such a rhythmic way as makes this reality known.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

My Three Books: Gabrielle Thomas Edition

Gabrielle Thomas 

22 January 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

*This is a guest post from Gabrielle Thomas on the three books that have influenced her theology.

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I happened upon Gregory whilst writing a graduate essay and was utterly inspired by his vision of the Christian life. His theology is beautifully interwoven with his practice, resulting in a holistic approach. Whilst this collection hosts some of my favourites, I will happily read anything he wrote.

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Bob’s book is an inspiring tool for reading complicated texts with people on the margins, many of whom have not had the luxury of an education. Having put it into practice myself whilst working alongside those who live on the streets, I can confidently say that his approach works. He has used his PhD and various languages to serve in innovative ways, so I would say that he is an author whose lifestyle has inspired me as much as his book.

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This is a fascinating project in which Rybarczyk compares two traditions close to his heart in order to encourage them to engage in conversations pertaining to unity. He is realistic in highlighting their differences, but overall brings to light some crucial similarities in their respective theologies (albeit not practice). As someone who is passionate about the unity of the Church, I found this a useful and memorable study from which to consider some of my own work.

 

Sincerely yours,
Gabby

Having completed ordination training in the Church of England, Gabby has embarked upon a PhD before moving onto her curacy. Motivated by the challenge of evangelizing in a post-Christendom context, her research is concerned with exploring new ways of expressing the gospel by reconsidering the inspiring vision of human identity as seen through the eyes of Gregory Nazianzen.

My Three Books: Philip Whitehead Edition

Philip Whitehead 

20 January 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

*This is a guest post by Philip Whitehead on the three books that have influenced his theology.

1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

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Growing up in a Reformed (Baptist) church, Calvin was often mentioned extremely positively but never someone I read. Coming to University as an undergraduate, Calvin was often mentioned extremely negatively, but again, never someone I read. During my MA I set aside some time to read the first two books of the Institutes and I got hooked. Calvin combines a true gift of exegesis with a fearless theological and logical boldness and expresses the insights of the Reformation as a rejuvenation of the Church’s ancient and biblical faith. Max Weber was almost completely wrong about Calvin and Calvinism, as is Lord Acton’s portrait of him as a grim dictator – what motivates Calvin is a conviction of the sovereignty of God and the finiteness and provisionality of human wisdom and capacity; leading to a theological method which is surprisingly (for many of us!) humble and reliant upon the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures which testify of him.

2. Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament

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I think I found this book influential not only for its clear and wide-ranging presentation of the New Testament’s teaching on moral and ethical issues, but also as an excellent example of how to do New Testament Theology well. Hays approaches the New Testament informed by the best exegetical scholarship, but doesn’t fall into atomistic treatment of texts. Rather, he looks, author-by-author, at texts as part of an NT author’s bigger picture and message, before attempting a theological synthesis. The result is faithful to the texts and to the canon, and demonstrates the coherence and unity in the NT’s diversity. I find Hays’ specific conclusions on some of the more controversial “moral” issues prophetic in their challenge to some of our present cultural assumptions, and encounter both encouragement and rebuke in this book.

3. D. H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition

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This is quite a slim volume, which I read in my third year as a theology undergraduate. Karen Kilby recommended it to her Protestant students on the reading list for the module on The Trinity. It really helped finish the process, which began in my Christmas holidays of first year with reading C.S. Lewis’ introduction to Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation”, of convincing me that Church history was my history as an evangelical, and that there was a great deal to learn from those who were in Christ before me. Karl Barth writes somewhere of his discovery that “Church history no longer begins for me in 1517” and reading Williams’ book helped cement that realisation for me. Williams clarifies (and I paraphrase) that ‘sola scriptura’ need not mean ‘nuda scriptura’; not should an enthusiastic and open retrieval of tradition be taken as endangering one’s commitment to evangelicalism. It also means, as Williams points out, that evangelicals can deepen their appreciation of their place in the story of the church and find that Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and yes, even Aquinas, are brothers in the faith.

Sincerely yours,
Philip

Philip is in his second year of full-time PhD study at the University of Nottingham. He was born in Manchester and grew up in Oxfordshire before moving to Nottingham. He studied BA German and History before switching courses to BA Theology at the University of Nottingham, followed by an MA in Biblical Interpretation and Theology, writing a thesis on the imagery used of Israel and the Church in the letter to the Ephesians. He then worked at CapitalOne before returning to full-time study, undertaking doctoral research on a Pauline approach to the Theology of Religions.

Being a (Non-Roman) Catholic Evangelical: Getting High (Church, that is)

David Russell Mosley

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18 January 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few days ago over at The American Conservative, Gracy Olmstead wrote an article entitled, ‘Why Millennials Long for Liturgy: Is the High Church the Christianity of the future?’ In the article, Olmstead cites several Protestant converts to various kinds of more Tradition (read Liturgical) branches of Christianity. This is a major trend I have seen myself in many of those with whom I attended university and even within myself. Olmstead posits that  Millennials, the generation that spans from roughly 1977~1982-c.2000, are in search of deeper and more mystical faiths, often than those in which they were brought up (the article notes a former Reformed Baptist, and two Presbyterians who switched from a typically Low-Church Evangelicalism to various High-Churches). I myself know of several Presbyterians, some Nazarenes, and many within my own tradition (the Restoration Movement) who have gone high Methodist, Anglican Church of North America or Episcopalian, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic.

Perhaps it is the hidden hipster within me, but I hate doing things that are trendy, or be seen to be trendy. In fact, in a recent Facebook thread a joke was made (by me, of course) that trendy is the last word most people would use to describe me. That being said, I wonder what it is that drives people like myself to seek more High-Church expressions of faith. I don’t think its possible for me, at least, to say what the general motivations are toward High-Church expressions of the Faith, but I can at least try to describe why I feel this way.

For me, it was the study of Christian history that began to move me down this path. My own tradition has often stressed that the Church should look as much like it did in the book of Acts, particularly chapter 2, as it can.  There are, I believe, many problems with this, but I don’t want to get into that. What learning about the history of Christianity, taught me, however, is that this picture we had of the apostolic church was for one, not as cut and dry as we tended to teach. Also, even if it was, things changed rapidly within a hundred years. You see, Protestantism can tend to focus on either the individual tradition of a given group (Baptist history, Presbyterian, Restoration Movement, etc.) or can focus too much on the brief pictures we’re given in the book of Acts which is meant to teach some bigger things than how to organise our churches. Doing a Master’s degree in Church History taught me that there is an awful lot between Acts chapter 2 and today and not all of it is bad.

In fact, as I learned about the history of Christianity, I realised that we technically share a vast majority of the same history with our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. Working with rough dates and generalisations, it could be said that all of Christianity (or the majority anyway) shares all of its history from the Life of Christ until 1053 (the typical date given for the schism between East and West). Western Christianity then continues until, roughly, the sixteenth century and the Reformation. What this means, I realised, is that there are 1600 years where we share ancestry and history with Roman Catholics and about 960 years that we also share with the Eastern Orthodox. This taught me that we need to take the practices and theology of those periods much more seriously than we tend to. We cannot simply write off ancient and medieval theologians because they are Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox and not Protestants. There were no Protestants!

This plus my own work, mostly private, in recent years in the theology behind much that is contained within Liturgy (the Church Calendar, the Divine Hours,) and high sacramentality (Eucharist and Baptism as sacraments and the world as sacramental) has left me desirous of more than I have often received in Low-Church Evangelicalism.  Even now, I attend an Anglican church here in Nottingham, but, particularly the service we attend, it still tends toward a more Low-Church expression, desiring to be more Spirit led, which I believe means allowing for spontaneity (not a bad thing, in my opinion, though rather limiting since that attitude can tend toward saying the Spirit doesn’t move, or move as freely, within structure).

The issue for Low-Churches, however, is not one of simply having a stylistically more liturgical service. That could perhaps help with retention of young people, but it doesn’t get to the root of the desire, at least not for me. This isn’t, for me, merely a preference for a traditional style of worship. It isn’t as though I unequivocally prefer hymns or chants to praise choruses and contemporary Christian worship music (I actually like some of the latter); nor is merely a desire for more communal prayers; lectionary based preaching; or more attention to the Eucharist. It is the theology behind so many of these things. I read the Scriptures and the great theologians of the Ancient and Medieval worlds and I see a worldview that sees the World as constantly upheld by and participating in the God, a world where Angels can appear to young women, where bread and wine can be body and blood, where miracles can happen. In essence, I see a different world than the one the Enlightenment and science divorced from theology and philosophy has taught us to see. I see a world where time can be used to tell the story of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, everyday, every week, every year. I’m not sure, however, that most standard Protestant theologies can give us this, tied as they often are to Modernism. Nevertheless, I don’t give up hope. I hope, pray, write, and teach about these things in the hopes that change can be affected, not simply in what we do, but in what we believe. If something doesn’t happen, however, I firmly believe we will see more young Christians and young converts, attaching themselves to traditions which already have these elements of liturgy and sacramentology, because let’s face it, that is much easier than changing our traditions themselves.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

My Three Books: Matt Vest Edition

Matthew Vest
The Naming and Circumcision of Christ
1 January 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Columbus, Ohio

Dear Friends and Family,

 Thanks much to David for this question. I’ve answered the “favorite books” question before, but the “most influential to my theology” question is one I’ve not paused over as much. Five years ago my answers to this would be noticeably different, primarily due to my conversion since then into the Eastern Orthodox Church. In light of that spiritual journey and my work as a young (i.e., lowly) academic and PhD student, moreover, I expect the answers will be different again five years from now.

1) Pseudo-Dionysius’ The Mystical Theology

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Dionysius’ short work is known as a classic of “apophatic theology” for detailing the limits of language and words to the point where we become “actually speechless and unknowing” before the “Cause of all beings.” This process of assertions and denials about the Divine Cause presents a particular challenge in rightly reading the mystical Scriptures. Dionysius’ hermeneutical challenge is to realize the Scriptures as the highest language we can experience, embracing the “divine names” not as intellectual idols of God’s essence but as ways of experiencing His energies. In my small world of reading/study, this liturgical/embodied/apophatic epistemology is a theological landmark.

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We all know the Patristic formulation that Athanasius made so popular: “for the Son of God became man so that we might become gods.” For years I read this from the assumption that man’s “fall”caused the Word of God to take on flesh, but such an assumption seems bound to a framework of immanent reason (and even a “physical theory of redemption”). Athanasius surely has more in mind–namely, presenting the Incarnation as Christ’s “divine manifestation.” Athanasius doesn’t dwell solely on the physical details of Christ’s birth but rather focuses on how the Passion reveals the true nature of his coming through the Theotokos, his life, death, and resurrection. In other words, Athanasius’ understanding of the Incarnation extends beyond the manger to include the whole scope and entirety of Christ’s life and work. What does this mean? Our ways of theologizing must begin with the whole life of Christ–including grasping the Nativity from the vantage point of the Passion–vs inferential theories that gloss the depth of terms such as Incarnation.
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OK, moment of honesty: I can’t list the Hugh’s Didascalicon without also listing Illich’s In the Vineyard of the Text. Illich’s work convinced me the Didascalicon was much more than yet another Medieval treatise on the ars liberalis. Illich revealed in Hugh’s work, rather, an entire theological anthropology bound in embodied, corporeal reading. After reading Hugh/Illich, reading was not reading anymore for me. I’m convinced now that the technological move from “book to text” evinced in the transition from monastic education to scholastic university has rendered a different picture of mankind altogether. Reading Hugh/Illich has blurred the lines between reading/study/prayer–and has convicted me how poorly I practice all three of them.
Sincerely yours,
Matt Vest
Matthew Vest is as the Assistant Director of Graduate Studies for The Ohio State University Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities. Vest holds a B.A. in Moral Philosophy, an M.A. in Liberal Arts, and is currently a Ph.D. student in Theology (University of Nottingham). When out of the library or office, Matthew Vest and his wife, Leah, both enjoy ultra running, craft beer/homebrewing, and chasing after their two wild warrior-toddlers.