Jesus at the Center of Episcopal Life

My parents raised up my brother and I in the Southern Baptist tradition and this tradition is all our family had ever known. We were taught that this tradition has a great history and that we are "biblical," "people of the Book," and, of course, "right" (all others are mistaken). When I was confirmed at Emmanuel Episcopal church, I asked my mother to attend the event that Sunday, and she agreed (dad had the prior obligation to teach his Sunday School class at his Southern Baptist church and could not attend). She confessed to me that she was, actually, quite impressed with the worship and confirmation experience.

First, she was impressed that, during the baptismal liturgy (someone was also being baptized that Sunday), the individual was asked to "renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God," and wondered why her tradition did not require the same of those seeking baptism. Secondly, and more importantly, she said: "I couldn't believe how much the worship centered around Jesus." I laughed, in my response, and asked: "What did you think we did during worship but worship Jesus?"

Sadly, there remains a perception that liberal Episcopalians don't worship Jesus, at least not as conceivably "radical" as do some Christians. I disagree. Dr. Ian S. Markham, Dean and President of the Episcopal Virginia Theological Seminary, emphasizes the fact for us that the revelation of God is not the Bible but a life: "Contrary to the popular perception, the primary Word of God is the life, death, and resurrection of a person--namely, Jesus of Nazareth. All Christian theology is in the business of reading this life."1 I think that is well stated. Samuel Wells adds that the "central statement of Christian belief crystalizes a number of distinct, but related, convictions ... Jesus is the centripetal goal to which all searches for truth must look, and Jesus is the centrifugal force from which all goodness flows."2 Jesus stands at the center of our faith, our worship, and our spiritual life.

Dr. Markham reminds us that the way we get to know God is by reading in the scriptures "what God is like in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus." He states further: How do I know
that God is loving and identifies with those who are suffering? Because I can see this in the words and deeds -- to quote Acts 1 -- of Jesus of Nazareth. How do I know that God understands our pain? Because I can see this in the death and resurrection of Jesus. How do I know that God understands vulnerability? Because God was vulnerable as a babe in a manger. Knowledge of God is grounded in the revelation of God, which is supremely found in Jesus.3
Hence the significance of reading the scriptures! "This means that it is vitally important to read and study Scripture, for it is in the written word that we learn about the Eternal Word."4 But let us agree that the Bible is not the final revelation of God: Jesus is the final revelation of God and the very imprint of God's nature or being. (Heb. 1:1, 2, 3)

Do we find Jesus in our liturgical worship? Indeed, Jesus is at the center of our worship, as my Southern Baptist mother discovered, and that is exactly where Christ belongs. We appeal to God, in and through Jesus Christ (BCP, 355), upon whom was laid the guilt of the sin of all of us (BCP, 356; cf. John 1:29). From the Book of Common Prayer we seek forgiveness, praying to God, asking: "For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen." (BCP, 352, 360) Intermittently we sing of the glory of God in Christ.

After the sermon we confess Christ Jesus as our Savior in the Nicene Creed (BCP, 358). Prior to Holy Eucharist we remember the night Jesus was betrayed, the night He had determined to give the world His love by willingly subjecting Himself to cruelty, mocking, and eventually crucifixion. (BCP, 362-65) Having partaken of the Body and Blood of Christ we then thank God for this grace, this acceptance as a child of God, and all "through Jesus Christ our Lord." (BCP, 365) We then go in peace to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

As Episcopalians, we are People of the Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), this Way being the manner of living as prescribed by Jesus. First-century followers of Christ's Way were "not so much members of an institution or adherents to a particular set of developed doctrines as they were disciples (learners, students, or apprentices) of a holistic way of life in Christ, through the power of the Spirit."5 What is Jesus' "way"? We find Christ's commands for living Kingdom values in scriptures like Matthew 5-7. Christ's Gospel is not the social Gospel proper; social justice issues are not the Gospel, proper, but are merely the result of following the Way of Christ -- encapsulated in this statement: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27, emphasis added)

He also preached: "Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets." (Matt. 7:12 NLT) How we treat others, and in particular how we treat our perceived enemies, matters to God. (cf. Matt. 5:21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47) After all, an identifying marker of a regenerate child of God is in the manner of how we treat others, demands Jesus Himself. (John 13:35) If God loves us, in and through Christ, then we are called to the same manner of living and loving. (John 3:16; 13:34, 35; 15:12; 1 John 3:16) We honor Christ as the central figure of our faith and life when we love God and love others with our very lives.


1 Ian S. Markham, Liturgical Life Principles: How Episcopal Worship Can Lead to Healthy and Authentic Living (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2009), 16.

2 Samuel Wells, What Episcopalians Believe: An Introduction (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2011), 1.

3 Markham, 16-17.

4 Ibid., 17.

5 Dwight J. Zscheile, People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2012), 5.


Hugh Krone said...

But, but, evil liberals, LOL. You actually almost meake me want to visit an Episcopalian church. I was brought up in the Catholic Church and really don't care for Liturgical churches except maybe the UMC because they've let me preach a half dozen times. But seriously after a rather unpleasant church split I became a church hopper and have attended churches you probably wouldn't even walk into. I cureently attend an Evangelical Free Church mainly because it's hard to find a Non- Calvinist church in my neck of the woulds without going Pentecostal, but what I have found is that none of them were evil or satanic like one pastor I know thinks, they all have their pluses and minusesI wish we could be more accepting of each other there are good people in every church and most are just doing what they have been taught is right. There will always be bad apples but that is everywhere

The Episcocrat said...

Oh, so so true! I've been in very few churches in my 22 years of walking in Christ that were unfriendly, from Southern Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian to all kinds of Charismatic/Pentecostal churches. I really like your final thought: we're all just trying to proceed in the manner we think is right.

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.