Christian Identity

Here’s my contribution to the carnival

I. The Scriptures

Blessed Lord who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (Proper 28, BCP)

The canonical Scriptures of the Church–Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament–contain all things necessary for salvation because they point to the identity, teachings, and saving acts of Jesus Christ. They are the authorized record of God’s dealings with his people, written by limited and sinful humans yet in a real but mysterious way God’s own Word. Its comprehensive teachings were best summarized by Jesus himself: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment. The second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt 22:37-39).

In this statement and by his actions in the gospels, however, Jesus overturned or dramatically reinterpreted some parts of the Scriptures. Furthermore, the Apostles and St Paul acting in the Spirit with the mind of Christ did the same. Thus Scripture itself reveals that it must be interpreted by the Church in accord with the mind of Christ (found foremost in his call to love; viz. Augustine). Furthermore, this interpretive process cannot help but be influenced by the community’s human reason, experience, cultural location and philosophical understandings.

II. The Creed

Almighty God, who hast revealed to thy Chuch thine eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace to continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of thee, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; who livest and reignest, one God, now and forever. Amen (Of the Holy Trinity, BCP)

The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are not summaries of the faith but outlines of the faith; they sketch the boundaries of what Christians must believe about the Scriptures to be considered Christians. That is, they clarify potentially contestable points in the Scriptural record particularly concerning the nature of the Godhead. They declare what problematic portions of the Scriptures are to be understood literally especially in light of the reading practices of Late Antiquity.

The Athanasian Creed (possibly written by St Vincent of Lerins) contains noble and, as far as we can know, correct statements about the inter-relations of the Godhead. However, it has never held the place of the others, probably because it arrogates to itself judgments and determinations that belong to God alone.

III. Apostolic Succession

O God, who didst lead thy holy apostles to ordain ministers in every place: grant that thy Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of thy kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (For the Ministry II, BCP)

Apostolic sucession was especially important in the early days of the church when wandering preachers and holy men were the norm. It established continuity of doctrine and the clear handing on of sacramental efficacy. The Christian Church is neither a text nor a set of beliefs; it is a community sacramentally joined the Christ himself continually striving through to incarnate Christ to the world through word and deed. The sacraments and teachings entrusted to bishops and their representatives–priests and deacons–make this possible.

Bishops and their ministries of teaching and the laying on of hands are for the sake of order in the Church, and for the orderly spread of God’s kingdom. We must remember, however, that sacraments do not work because bishops perform them according to the rules of the Church. Instead these means of grace are effected by God’s grace and at God’s good pleasure. Hence, apostolic sucession gives clarity concerning how Jesus’ gift of the Spirit has been handed on through the ages. While God is pleased to use these channels, to suggest that he may not work outside them is institutional arrogance.

IV. catholicity

O God who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. (All Saints’ Day, BCP)

In the Creed’s explication of the Spirit is a reference to “the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” After the close of the events recorded in Scripture in the Spirit did not desert the Church but continued in its midst instructing it in the mind of Christ. The holy catholic and apostolic church is not an institution but is gathering of the true members of the Body of Christ, the Church Militant, Expectant, and Triumphant. Though not constrained within a single institution, it has manifested itself through institutions during its history, most notably in the Orthodox Church in the East and the Roman Catholic Church in the West.

Through the ages the community of the saints has explicated and clarified the Christian faith beyond what Scripture and the primitive apostolic teaching reveal. Where these explications and clarifications lead the community into the mind of Christ and holiness of life they are to be embraced and encouraged. Anglicans are inheritors of the Western spiritual traditions embodied in the historic life of the Roman Catholic Church; thus those teachings and practices of the Roman Church that advance the Gospel and the mind of Christ are commend for our practice.

V. reformation

Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Proper 25, BCP)

While the Spirit is active and at work in the Church, the Church is also an institution comprised of humans and as such is liable to the two human sources of error, limitation and sin. Because of these, the Church collectively and its individual members constantly fall short of who and what God created it to be. Through the movement of the Spirit and human effort it must be continually redirected to the source of its life and power, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Throughout the Scriptures the twin goals of holiness and love are constantly held up before the people of God. In the complicated and sometimes contradictory demands of both we often err too far in one direction or the other, falling into a rule-based casuistry or a overly-permissive libertinism. We are constantly called back to obedience. As we struggle to discern our way in a world and culture that is constantly presenting new challenges to faithful living, it is good to seek the wisdom already contained within our historic tradition. While many reform movements have made an idol of apostolic primitivism, the full history of Christian experience should be careful examined for those things that aid us in our proclamation and embodying of Christ here and now.

(…and it slides in at 1,298 words!)

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About Derek Olsen

I'm a layman within the Episcopal Church with a PhD in New Testament and an interest in most things medieval, monastic, and liturgical. My chief job is keeping up with my priestly wife and our two awesome kids. In addition to that, I earn a living, run the St Bede's Breviary, listen to loud goth/industrial music, and do some stuff for the church. I currently serve as Secretary to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music where I'm also co-chair of the Calendar committee and chair of the Digital Publications committee.
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3 Responses to Christian Identity

  1. Caelius says:

    Mine is up. It’s laconic for me.

  2. Gaunilo says:

    Very helpful reflections. The point on the creeds (viz. as outlines and boundaries) is well taken and exactly how I think discussion of them should begin. It’s been interesting to see how that item in particular is being handled in this carnival! (I guess I will always be both conservative and liberal depending on whom I’m talking to!)

    I’m becoming convinced we need to pay much closer attention to Augustine’s hermeneutical rule. Good call.

  3. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Thanks. Augustine’s hermeneutical rule has had a special place in my heart ever since I came across it. I think it’s challenging because it requires a robust sense of incarnate love rather than feel-good emotion. Embodied caritas is not always pretty but it’s always true.

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