Last night (Friday), my boss, Kevin A. Miller, VP of Resources at Christianity Today, was ordained to the Diaconate (the first step in the process to priesthood) by the Anglican Mission in America. Consisting of less than a hundred churches in America (according to the website’s church locator), and growing at a rate of about one new church every six weeks, this diocese has an interesting history.
I recently posted about how the Evangelical Global South is growing incredibly fast, and that we will soon be receiving missionaries here from Africa and the other usual “mission fields.” Here’s an unusual example. The AMiA came about as a result of Episcopal dissatisfaction with the direction of the Episcopal Church in America (ECUSA)–which has lost over a third of its membership in the last three decades, and is becoming morally dissolute by many accounts. So, bishops from the American Anglican Council went abroad, appealing for intervention from a more courageous and bible-based sponsor. They found it in the provinces of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda and Southeast Asia. And now, this missionary outreach from Rwanda is growing almost as fast in America as it is overseas. The Church of Rwanda is a full member of the Anglican Communion, so it’s not like the churches in America seceded or anything. They just found new sponsors, and a new voice at the table.
While I attended Kevin’s ordination last night, I was struck by how unfamiliar and yet comfortable I was in the service. Coming from a Baptist and Assemblies of God background, my church liturgy style is much less formal, less symbolic, and involves a lot less reading and responding. However, the AMiA is a fully Evangelical church, and, get this, it’s Charismatic. When fellow ministers laid hands on the ordination candidates, I clearly heard a few prayers in tongues come over the loudspeaker. There were a couple Vineyard songs thrown in the mix, and the worship team felt as familiar to me as anything I’ve seen in our A/G churches. I was nervous about communion, because I wasn’t sure if it would be “closed,” like Catholic communion often is, but it was made clear that those of us who were not Anglican should feel free to join in communion if we followed Christ as Savior and Lord, and we were provided non-alcoholic grape juice if we preferred not to drink the wine.
(Can I tell you that the bread served at this communion was rather tasty? I’m used to the tasteless prepackaged crackers that remind me of soup crackers, or the paper-thin wafers that resemble cardboard as much as they do bread. But this stuff, oh, this was manna from Heaven.)
As the AMiA FAQ page says, no church is admitted into the the Mission if it’s not fully missional—meaning, it must be fully committed to evangelism and reaching the lost, not merely grabbing believers from other churches. Indeed, the stats on the site indicate that at least 60% of the congregants are new believers.
I got another surprise when I read the brief bios on the order of service and realized that one of the candidates for the Diaconate is an ordained Assemblies of God minister from Arizona (note the verb: “is,” not “was”). I made a point to spend some time with him at the reception following.
Jack (I won’t use his last name) did not leave the A/G out of any sense of dissatisfaction. There was no moral failure, he was not in trouble with anybody, and he isn’t a lapsed Pentecostal. He grew up Lutheran and while in the Navy he came back to the faith. Afterward, he went to Northwest College of the A/G up in Washington state, attended a Wesleyan seminary, and entered ministry in the Northwest district. But God and the perpetual overcast skies eventually began working on him for a major life change. When his wife pointed out a job posting at a church in Arizona it deeply resonated with him. After a few long and comfortable phone calls he went to interview at the church and the rest, for him, is history.
The truly amazing thing, for me, was that he hasn’t lapsed his credentials. He’ll hold on to them until he is ordained into the priesthood, and he’s in good standing with his district. The district officers know what he’s doing, and he has gotten no flak over it!
I asked him what was the biggest challenge in adapting to the Episcopal way of doing church, and he told me it was the liturgy more than anything else, even though it was comfortable and felt like “coming home” due to his Lutheran childhood. I asked if his theology had been challenged, and both he and his wife said, “No!” simultaneously. His perspective on things has changed, but not his core doctrinal outlook.
I asked him, “If Tom Trask were to ask you what one piece of advice you would give to the Assemblies of God as we listen to the Spirit and try to follow God’s leading, what would you say?” He replied, “Be more open to the rich traditions of the church.” He related how the symbology and the liturgical traditions have a deep meaning that have added to and strengthened his faith, not distracted him from it. His focus is not on the ritual, but the ritual sharpens his focus and teaches at the same time. He talked about the so-called “Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” the four lines of authority for the believer: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience—with the Bible having preeminence. Noting that the Assemblies of God and Methodism share a lot of theology in common, he remarked that we accept scripture, we accept experience (a major bulwark of Pentecostal theology), we accept reason—with less suspicion now than we used to—but we are weak on tradition. Jack has come to believe that this is something we are missing in the A/G, and we would do well to learn from the deep well-spring of church history.
I tend to agree. Turn on TBN and you’ll see the evidence of a Pentecostal/Charismatic faith that is not rooted in tradition: it’s easily influenced and swayed by every “new thing” that comes along. Admittedly, TBN is not an Assemblies of God entity, but who in the A/G hasn’t noted the winds of “new doctrines” that sweep along from time to time?
In truth, we do have our own traditions. And we do have our own liturgy—though it is not recognized as such. But couldn’t our traditions be enriched by the larger church world rather than rejecting it all outright as dead faith? I don’t know. What would such a church look like?
It might look a lot like an AMiA church.
[tags]BlogRodent, amia, anglican-mission-in-america, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Anglican, Episcopalian, ECUSA, Episcopal-Church, Anglican-Church, diaconate, ordination, Assembly-of-God, Assemblies-of-God, liturgy, communion[/tags]