Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Journey of Faith: A Time to Confess

Durham Cathedral Nave from font to altar.

I was prompted to write the confession below due to a comment made by Mark Horne in the post titled, "Why do I care that he cares?" That comment by Mark reads as follows:
Really though, is anyone's skin as thin, or tone as shrill, as an offended traditionalist Anglican? It is easy to call for peace when peace means simply demanding conformity to ones damn recent convictions on a matter. How long ago was it, Jeff, that I was accused of violating the second commandment for defending images of Jesus. I seem to remember that that man was just as confident as the one I'm writing now.
There are times in our life when open confession is good. It makes the point of stating where we are on things. This is particularly true about theological positions. One thing that I have learned through my journey of faith and that is that it is always best to never say, “I will never!” That will get you into a place where you open your mouth and insert foot more than you care to. I’ve eaten a lot of shoe over my years in theological study and reflection. I hope to do so in humility and a teachable spirit and never resort to self-righteousness.

I confess that, in the past, I have believed very strongly about ecclesial matters of both theology and devotion where I have changed my mind while on this journey of faith. What I have consciously attempted to do is to conform myself to the teaching of the Catholic faith rather than holding matters of private opinion because it sounds good to me or agrees with my particular affiliation I may be connected to. When I left seminary (RTS Jackson) in 1998, I didn’t leave my brain there. I continued to read and mostly outside of my Reformed tradition. To my surprise, I came to learn what Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox and the traditional liturgical bodies actually taught. I often found it refreshing and liberating. Rather than taking Loraine Boettner’s view of the Roman Catholic Church to be gospel, I picked up the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read it myself. I read books on liturgy of the East, Anglican devotion and prayer and Catholic theology. I discovered Lancelot Andrewes by reading books on the Eucharist as I was becoming more and more convinced that the rite of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ was the centre of the gathered community and not my long sermon. Much of what I read I was finding was far superior to my own catechism of the Westminster Assembly! What I mean by that is that there were things within the RCC that spoke more clearly to the community in a pastoral way rather than what often seemed as dry abstract scholastic terminology that I found within my own catechism. I was looking for something to train my children in that spoke to them about God’s love and grace for them; something that they could memorise that reflected their being loved by God. I found other catechisms much more personalised and community oriented towards the whole Body of Christ. I learned something by reading the RCC; I learned what the RCC taught, not what I was told that they taught, which was often misinformed characterisations.

On another issue, when I was a Presbyterian minister, I came to experience the vacuum of not having a shepherd over me. I needed a pastor and the Presbyterian model of government did not provide that need for me. I remember one ecclesial case that could have been settled in a couple of months by a bishop that took over two years after ending up in the highest ecclesial court of the denomination that was concerned with following procedure and never mentioned the pastoral concern for the man’s soul involved. The case was argued and handled over a phone conversation with a committee from the Standing Judicial Commission. How pastoral is that? It was a terrible experience and it repeatedly continues to happen. That was not the incarnational way of ministry that I saw in the life of Jesus and that I saw in a more Episcopal model of leadership.

I often felt on my own because I was on my own. My lay leadership was a group of wise and godly men but they didn’t study at the depth that I was studying and I knew that they didn’t have the gifts or calling to be pastors/priests or they would be doing it. It simply was not their vocation and this statement is not to reflect negatively on them whatsoever. I simply state a fact of my understanding of vocation. So, I had to go outside of my tradition to speak to bishops who welcomed spiritual direction for me on my journey. I began to deeply study the Church Fathers and look again at the scriptural passages that I used to defend Presbyterianism and through my reading, serious questions were raised for me about the nature of ecclesial authority and my understanding of the Church. I entered into further studies in an Anglican seminary in pursuit of more knowledge and a time of “testing” my feelings. The leadership of the congregation I served were well aware of my struggles and we talked long about it. They even financially supported me to go do further study in an Anglican setting. They simply asked me not to leave. I had brought that particular church a long way in liturgical changes and even prayed from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer during the Eucharistic consecration since the year 2000. We used prayers from it often within the liturgy and I spent hours upon hours teaching and training the people with what I was learning. We used the evening prayer on Wednesday evenings and Sunday evenings and I said the daily office whether people showed up or not. Often, one or two and sometimes to my surprise, more would attend. I did that at 7 am at the church. That church, to this day, is liturgical and looked for a minister who would continue in that liturgical form of worship when they were looking for my replacement. All of that is to say that my liturgical convictions have been with me for some time. The actually really began developing in 1995 when I was a student at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, MO. What I came to realise was that I was simply out there on my own and knew that if I were to leave that congregation any other bloke could come in and change all that I did. Not much in my tradition would honestly defend where I felt called to lead the congregation. Something was missing from that picture and I had to think hard about my commitments to remain in that denomination. I did not want to move too rashly so I sought a lot of counsel and took years to make my final decision, which was to leave and become an Anglican.

There are things that I have taught in the past that I now believe were wrong and ill-informed. For those, I confess my ignorance. So, it came to a time to make a decision. I had the struggle of realising that I was not a hired hand but a shepherd who had brought a congregation a long way down the road in six years. What was I going to do? I didn’t want to abandon them but I could no longer remain a Presbyterian. Since there was not a consensus about wanting to be an Anglican church, and rather than splitting a congregation that called a Presbyterian minister, I concluded that it was best for me to resign. I was received into postgraduate studies at the University of Durham and I resigned from my parish in February 2004 and moved to Durham England that summer and joined the Church of England. Now that I have spent almost two years studying at the doctoral level in the area of Eucharistic theology, I have become even more convinced of errors that I have held in the past and I continue the attempt of submitting myself to the teaching of the undivided Catholic faith of the first five centuries concerning Eucharistic theology. I have not arrived, but I remain on the journey of faith to learn all that I can in submission to Christ and His Bride, the Church. I am sure there is a whole lot more that I will learn as I continue down this journey. As a Catholic Anglican, I am all the more refreshed now that I am a part of a Church and tradition that defends me, not one that I have to defend. Though there are present problems within the Anglican Church and questions of authority for us to think hard about and decide on our direction, I continue to find the breadth and depth of Catholic tradition to be a deep well from which to find refreshment in a parched environment. It has freed me to be Catholic in the best sense of that word. It also gives me a place where real talks of unity can be pursued rather than merely doing so in small private chat rooms where mere talk of it bring no fruit.

Therefore, I have now given my life to theological studies in the Eucharist with the hopes of building solid bridges of ecumenism shaped by deep theological reflection. Due to my belief in episcopacy being of the esse of the Church, I have become convinced that there will be no real visible catholicity without bishops. Therefore, it was for that reason that I submitted myself to the teaching of the Church on this matter and left Presbyterianism. I moved into a Catholic community that is bigger than me and I am honoured to be given the opportunity to make some small impact towards the reconciliation of the Church at the Altar. Many issues stand in the way of that unity at present, but I give my life to labour for it. Lancelot Andrewes has reminded me of one very important point about the ecumenical enterprise; I speak of an ecumenism with substance. The point is that it is one thing to pray for the unity of the Church and altogether something else to labour for it. I trust that God is leading and guiding me to do both. May He give me the mind and heart to keep me on the journey where I am able to become a servant of servants for the good of His whole Church! I walk the journey of faith, but no longer alone; I do it with a formative and authoritative Church behind me. May God heal the divisions created by sinful men and keep me humble in His grace on the journey of faith!


Blogger Bobby J. Kennedy said...

Wow. I guess it has been about 2 years hasn't it. I am thankful for the influence that you have had on me during your journey toward the catholic faith. Especially concerning the neccisity of bishops in the Church, I know we were on a similar path when you were still here in Ruston. Since that time, I have become more catholic, and I still am thankful for the influence that you have provided for me. I am very much in debt to you, as it were, for many changes in my devotional practices, even recent changes. Even if it is just a brief answer to a brief e-mail that I have sent to you about the intercession of the saints or monastic vocations, you have still been willing to help despite your schedule and the distance in time and space that seperate us. For all of that, and all of the hours upon hours that we spent in your office discussing so many issues (theological, pastoral, or personal) I want to say thank you.

3:59 pm  
Blogger lexorandi2 said...

I can't help but reflect that I was in a similar place about 10 years ago. You will no doubt pick up a few disciples along your way, which is an awesome responsibility, both in terms of the danger of the journey and the privilege of it. Yet I can't help but be a little melancholy for you at the same time, because where you would lead them in your heart of hearts is not necessarily where they will end up. Anglicanism is a mess. We all know that. Only a few will stay the course, and commit themselves to the catholic resucitation of the Anglican tradition (for is that not our calling?). The rest will opt greener pastures in Rome or Orthodoxy. They may gain a more consistent expression of catholicity, but at the cost of the vision of ecumenicity for which you presently labor. It breaks my heart each time a former student of mine leaves the Anglican way for the greener pastures on the other side of the Tiber or the Bosphorus. I do not mourn their loss to the "cause." Rather I mourn for the tradiion that suffers their abandonment.

6:01 pm  
Blogger Jeff said...


I could not agree more. Especially as one of your disciples!! Anglicanism is a mess and it's understandable that guys are just throwing in the towel but frustrating that we are losing good English Catholics. But, it is a tradition that is growing in England and young men are putting themselves forward for ordination and being accepted for training. The Catholics do need to re-think their philosophy of mission and return to what grew in the C19 missionary movement but more inclined to serve the needs that we face today. Let's keep praying to see this happen.

all the best to you dear friend! Just had a pint and thought about you.

7:01 pm  
Blogger Luke Strawhorn said...

Thanks for sharing that Jeff. I am in a conundrum at present myself. I am totally convinced of Anglicanism- which has come over years of study. But, I am a Deacon at a PCA church- and I plan to pursue ordination as an Anglican priest. I grow so tired of the PCA- I love the people at the church at which I attend, but I could never minister in the PCA. The disregard for Church history (except for the things convient to "reformed histiry"), and the authority of the church is really frustrating. I have some decisions to make in the next year or so. Anwyay, keep up the good work. Peace to you brother.

12:47 am  
Blogger James the Thickheaded said...

The work you are doing on Andrewes...and particularly looking for the Orthodox and Roman antecedents seems essential to the sincere future of catholic anglican faith. This is an anglicanism which is inspired by the early church traditions, focused on the councils of the undivided church...and not merely a Roman one-off wanna-be less the pope or plus married clergy. I'm not sure whether it is truly a third way, a recovered catholicism or just what...but I am just as sure your head scratchings will contribute to more than just your personal understanding and "private judgment" as some others are certain that they cannot.

If I recall from the convocation at my B-school graduation many moons ago, the Chineese symbol for crisis is also the same symbol for opportunity. It is indeed our curse to live in "interesting times"...yet the opportunity is vast: the anglocatholics are scattered and divided. There is a call for vision....your work my friend can be a part of that vision. We need it, people are searching for that vision....through out the anglocatholic world. Small though that world may be...the opportunity to grow it in true faith is ripe. Keep plugging away! And many thanks for sharing the journey. I feel less adrift simply for knowing there's more in the boat.

P.S. I think I'm at last adjusting to the new type face.

3:07 am  
Blogger joseph said...

I too have had a journey from Evangelicalism to Presbyterianism to Anglicanism and now Orthodoxy. I am one of those students mentioned earlier. My reason for converting to Orthodoxy is probably for many of the reasons you converted to Anglicanism from Presbyterianism. Those reasons are because of the conviction that one is true and catholic and the other one is less so. I have not thrown in the towel as you say. Some do convert to Orthodoxy or to Rome out of frustration with the Anglican Communion but heck I was in a conservative and orthodox jurisdiction and really had it quite good for an Anglican. If you are convinced that one church has full catholicity and the other lacks it do you not go to where the fullness is and pray and encourage others to follow? This has been a much more successful approach than whatever ecumenical effort the Anglican communion has made in the past. Just because one converts to Orthodoxy or Rome does not mean he has given up on the hope of Anglicanism becoming catholic. It just means that one tries to pull from the front rather than push from behind. I pray that the Holy Trinity will continue to bless your journey.

4:27 pm  
Blogger lexorandi2 said...

I certainly hope I was not misunderstood. Every man to his own conscience. If that conscience leads to Rome or Orthodoxy, then I support those students of mine who have made that decision. My last two sentences in my previous post are meant to convey that my "mourning" is for the tradition that loses those talented, gifted individuals. But my friendship, prayers, and support are not lost to those who leave Anglicanism for the greener pastures.

8:11 am  
Blogger Joseph said...

Dr. Dunlap,
I am not offended by what you or Jeff has said. When Jeff used "throwing in the towel" I do not think he meant it in a put down kind of way. I just wanted to make it clear that many have left Anglicanism for concerns over truth and catholicity and not simply because we did not want to stay to fight the liberals, evangelicals, etc... If I thought the fullness of catholicity resided in Anglicanism I would have stayed and fought to the death. Anyway Dr. D, I consider you to be one of the top Anglican theologians and I wish you would do more writing so others could learn from your scholarship. I am forever indebted to what you taught me at Cranmer House. Thank you.

4:48 pm  
Blogger Pontificator said...

Jeff, I'm just now catching up on your blog over the past couple of weeks and so just found this article of yours. Thank you for writing it.

Alas, I fear that your catholic heart and mind cannot be fulfilled in Anglicanism. There is a critical difference between being catholic and being patristico-Protestant. It's hard to articulate that difference, but one clearly experiences it once one has entered into the Catholic Church.

Catholicity is simply not part of the Anglican DNA, which is why folks like Andrewes and Pusey always remain a minority within Anglicanism, are always but just a tolerated, or not-so tolerated, party.

I grieve the loss of many things Anglican. But the reality of living and praying within that Church that is truly Catholic, that Church that does not have to work to be Catholic but simply is Catholic, more than compensates the fantasy of a catholic Anglicanism.

12:59 pm  
Blogger Jeff said...

Thanks for the comments Al. It's funny that what you write was spoken to me this past Saturday. We had a RC priest from Sydney in our home who was here to promote a new university beginning there (Campion College). He is a former Anglican priest who has become a RC priest via the pastoral provision. His question to me was: "Is the Anglican Church Catholic with Protestants in it or is it Protestants with Catholics in it?" It made for a very interesting discussion.

1:01 pm  

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