Fr. Paul A. F. Castellano
Christian Worship and “The Chosen”: A Study in Christian Cannibalism.
Now that I have your attention allow me to explain what I’m thinking. My focus in this week’s blog will be on how we interact with Christians with whom we disagree, particularly in worship and especially for those of us who espouse traditional liturgy.
We’ve just concluded one of the most profound, spiritually affecting, moving periods of the liturgical calendar. From Advent to Christmastide, to Christmas, St. Stephens the Proto-Martyr, Holy Innocents, The Circumcision of Christ, and Epiphany or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.
If we were paying attention, we would’ve been concentrating on and swept up in the power of the Spirit during this seasonal time of worship. Being confronted by this succession of profound holy days should’ve driven us to our knees in praise, adoration, and the worship of our Savior. I’m sure many experienced what I’m discussing.
What a wonderful time of the Christian year to be able to participate in these aspects of “anamnesis” a "remembering" of the early period of the life of our Savior.
Yet, as one interacts on social media, the joy of this season is abruptly tempered with what can only be described as “petty” infighting among Christians.
As those of us who love traditional liturgical worship and know it to be the thoroughly Biblically informed type of worship, replete with the full complement of theological and historical buttressing, we can’t seem to get out of our own way.
We have this marvelous heritage as Anglicans of liturgical worship, extending all the way back to the 1st century, and all we can do, it seems, is to unnecessarily fight, bicker, and slander one another!
Anglicanism, historically, is a broad tent expression of Christianity. It has legitimate expressions of “churchmanship” that differ from one another. Anglicanism has historically encompassed Low, Broad, and High Church forms of churchmanship; and, though those terms have changed meaning – sometimes significantly – Anglicanism has recognized and welcomed all 3 expressions. Yes, there has been sniping here and there, but overall, the tent has accepted these forms of churchmanship – until recently it appears (by recently I mean the 19th century).
Whether it is a product of the inexorable fracture of society, the rise of particular ideologies with specific theological agendas, or just plain contrariness, we now seem to desire to feast on the flesh of our opponents rather than celebrate what we have in common in churchmanship – a focus upon dignified, respectful, holy, biblically informed common involvement in word and sacrament.
Take the recent publicly funded T.V. show depicting the Life of Christ, “The Chosen.” Here is a marvelously presented, well-acted, well-written, presentation of the life of Christ, produced by committed Evangelical Christians, with very high production value, to which even the pagan world has taken note (U.S.A. Today recently did an article on this series), however, there are Christians that refuse to accept the success of this series.
My goodness, we have a phenomenally written and acted, quality Christian program, actually sharing the Gospel and some Christians simply want to tear it down! Look, I’m a theologian and philosopher by training, education, and professor and I have disagreements with some of what is being presented, but those disagreements are MINOR when I consider how the Gospel is being preached – ON T.V.!
Why is it not possible, even recommended, that we get behind a program that is actually sharing the Gospel, presenting Christ as Truly God and Truly Man, even if we have minor objections? Yes, the show fills in information nowhere found in the Bible. So what? As long as what is being presented doesn’t do harm to the text or the Gospel, one would expect this from a quality theatrical production. You can’t make a movie about the Life of Christ quoting only Scripture, it wouldn’t work, cinematically.
It is heartbreaking to see how readily Christians want to attack other Christians over such minor matters. This brings me back to churchmanship.
We appear, in traditional liturgical circles to pick our position and, instead of presenting reasonable, biblical, theological, and historical, arguments respectfully and courteously, we immediately devolve into name-calling, slandering, and division.
One extreme appears to be ossified and stuck in the 16th – 17th century, labeling anyone who wears colored vestments merely a shill and crypto-papist; no theological or biblical argument is given, just the continuous, endless, droning on of repetitive citations from this 16th century divine or that. Not recognizing that scholarship has advanced in the last 4 hundred years and these articulations from days gone by need to be considered in light of new information. That’s not to say everything proffered today is gold or everything from the 16th century is garbage. NO! But we are to be “reformed” and “always reforming” as the sentiment from that period stated.
On the other extreme, we have those whose churchmanship is replete with full ritual and ceremonial regalia, including color vestments, incense, Sanctus bells, etc., who look at those so-called, “Low Churchman” down their collective noses as if they have no concept of what true liturgical worship is! “How plain and ugly their churchmanship is,” it is said; “How does the beauty that God revealed, demanded, and evidenced in worshipping Him show forth this banal setting.” We seem to, by default, immediately attack instead of understand, dialog, interact lovingly and respectfully, and, if so be it that we can’t come to an agreement, act in Christian charity and agree to disagree until such time as more light can be presented on this matters.
The key point to consider and impart, when engaging our differences is, what is the proper Biblical, theological, and historical support for one's churchmanship. Simply because one wears vestments doesn’t make one a closet or neo-papist. What is that individual’s theological argument for their churchmanship – THAT will determine how we understand the what and why of their liturgical actions. Conversely, merely because one only wears a cassock, surplus, and tippet, doesn’t make one a Puritan or Presbyterian with a prayer book. What is THEIR theological support for their churchmanship?
Whether we’re advancing the Gospel via film or worshipping on Sunday, perhaps we should actually behave like Christians and not attack but ask; not slander but support; not criticize but be Christlike in our interaction. After all, didn’t Jesus tell us:
34 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
35 "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (Jn. 13:34-35 NKJ)
Given our current behavior, I see more devouring of the flesh than loving our brother. How about we change that?
Soli Deo Gloria