The Anglican tradition in which I was raised is freighted with a “state church” history, which in America translated into a “mainline” church of cultural consensus.
In the breakdown of that consensus, the Episcopal Church (the historic Anglican province in the United States) suffered an ugly identity crisis, bouncing from chaplaincy to a social elite and labeled “The Republican Party at prayer” or “Catholic lite” to a limousine (or, today, alternative fuels) liberalism reflexively siding with any movement opposed to traditional Christianity.
Can Anglican Christians in North America rediscover a discipleship that isn’t saddled with social status and approbation? That’s not unknown. The “Oxford Movement,” quaintly aesthetic as it now seems, was at first a protest against the Church of England’s cultural captivity and a quest to reclaim identity with the transcendent kingdom of God.
Tonight my course readings in the Book of Acts ended with this intriguing passage,
…and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. (Acts 5:40-42 NRSV)
They rejoiced because the cultural powers-that-were mocked, abused and rejected not only them but the Lord in whose name they taught and preached. They were not concerned with positive reviews from those considered their cultural betters.
The Daily Offices of the Book of Common Prayer (USA 1928 and 1979 versions) include Psalm 100 as canticle in response to a Bible lesson or an invitatory to start the day. It is a song of joy, based on the greatness of God and the peoples’ unique identification with Him:
Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song. Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. (Rite II, 1979)
O BE joyful in the LORD, all ye lands: serve the LORD with gladness, and come before his presence with a song. Be ye sure that the LORD he is God; it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Coverdale Psalter, 1928 version)
A church on the margins, not counted among the respectable or at least tasteful, is not the usual Anglican/Episcopalian comfort zone. Can North American Anglicans rediscover joy in dishonour? (I put the “u” in despite spell check. Anglicans got to represent, after all.)