What does it mean to make a statement of personal faith? What elements constitute such faith? In any recounting, there will likely be a number of elements: historical – a personal spiritual history; theological – core personal beliefs; confessional – personal adherence to particular creedal formularies; ecclesiastical – personal membership in a particular church or churches; and social-psychological – particular exterior and interior conditions. This is certainly the case for me. While employing basically a historical structure, my account of personal faith includes all of these elements. All have worked together over time and space in the formation of my personal faith.
Raised in the Methodist Church from childhood, I have long been involved in church in terms of Sunday worship and Sunday school. In the course of this involvement, I believe that God grasped me well before I was terribly conscious or intentional in terms of personal faith, inasmuch as I always experienced a sense of something “special” in the worship service. Perhaps I apprehended the holiness or mystery of God’s presence in a manner accommodated to my young nature. At any rate, this sense played an important role in my life, for it kept me going to church when others in my family were slowly drifting away from it.
In high school, in addition to my church participation, I became involved in Young Life, a trans-denominational evangelistic ministry to youth. This came at a significant time for me. I was beginning to think much more consciously and intentionally about life and faith, purpose and meaning. Through Young Life especially, I encountered people, both peers and adults, who clearly possessed something as Christians that attracted me. I came to hear in a straightforward and powerful way that God, in redemptive love for the world and for me, had come to us in Jesus, who suffered death and then rose to new life for us. I saw in others whom I respected the fruit of this saving love, the transforming and appealing effect of this saving act. I began to know this new life in me: know in the full sense of knowledge which engages the whole person, cognitively and affectively. I began to experience this great truth, written in Colossians 1 concerning God’s message long hidden but now revealed in Christ, “The secret is this: Christ in you, the hope of a glory to come.” [Emphasis added.]
Out of this spiritual experience in high school, in my university years I began a search for a new church home. With no denigration of the particular Methodist church to which I had belonged, it no longer seemed a church home for me. I was restless and searching in many ways; church was one. For two years I attended a Mennonite church. In this congregation I found a community with the genuine warmth and love of Christ’s Spirit, and I vitally encountered the Anabaptist vision of a new ethic for a new people. Yet, as deeply and favorably impressed as I was by this community and this tradition, after a time I knew it was not the church home for which I was looking.
Hence, I began attending Sunday Mass at a Catholic church – worshiping but not communicating. That year of attendance and reading in Catholicism was deeply formative for me. Exposure to liturgical worship and spirituality opened up for me substantial forms for the profound expression of my worship of God. I seriously entertained the possibility of joining the Catholic Church, but in the process I realized that my questions about some aspects of Catholic theology and spirituality would make this difficult. That left me continuing to search for a church home.
Shortly after this, and so shortly after graduating from university, I decided to attend a small Episcopal church. I say without exaggeration that from those early weeks of attendance I felt with certainty that I had found a church home. What convinced me of this? In attending the services, in reading through the Book of Common Prayer, and in beginning to explore Anglicanism, I found great attractions at two points. (1) Anglicanism provided beautiful and theologically substantive forms of liturgical worship for individuals and congregations through its prayer book and services. (2) Anglicanism stood, in its classical formulations in the prayer book and articles of faith, squarely in the great strengths of the Reformation: namely, emphasis on the historical Christ and the historical work of Christ; the centrality of Christ for the individual’s and the church’s life of faith; the high intercessory priesthood of the ascended Christ whereby we are bold to have intimate intercourse with God; the principle of justification by grace by the saving work of Christ; and the Bible as the rule for faith and life, thus “containing all things necessary for salvation.” In short, I found Anglicanism to be rooted in the great truths of the Gospel set forth in Scripture and passed on in apostolic Christianity, as reinvigorated in the Reformation, while still standing in rich relationship with the heritage of the church up to the Reformation. I continue in this conviction, in this ecclesiastical stream.
As I have since reflected on my journey and undertaken formal theological and religious studies, I realize there are different ways of thinking about matters which have threaded through my searching, for in this very personal experience are profound and knotty issues of faith and life, of authority and tradition, relating to baptism, conversion, spiritual formation, ecclesiology, liturgy, mission and witness. These issues have long occupied the Church. The different church traditions – Orthodox, Catholic, varieties of Protestantism – have expressed a range of theological positions with corresponding organizational forms and practices.
As for me personally, on the one hand, certainly over the space of about a year in high school I had a conversion experience. I had a new sense of divine realities, new consciousness and awareness, new purposefulness. This was novel for me. It had not been my experience up to that point in the Church. On the other hand, just as certainly, I had been baptized as a child and exposed to the “gifts and graces” of the Church all my life. I had long experienced a peculiar sense of something “special” in church. What I found much more personally in high school was not entirely new to me. God had been there before me.
What then is the proper language for my story of faith? Realization of the divine initiative in baptism and the vows then made on my behalf as a young child? Conversion at an age of sufficient understanding, with subsequent reorientation of life and direction? Language fails finally to grasp and convey the profound realities – divine and human – attendant here. Yet language must be used to strive for grasp and expression, as language is one of the great individual and social gifts God has bestowed upon his human creation, and as God has revealed himself to us in deed and in language. Through my own experience and through subsequent reflection and study, I am convinced of certain basic theological and experiential truths.
* For the cosmos and for individuals, in this age and in the age to come, the triune loving God initiates and effects creation, salvation, sanctification, and ultimate consummation.
* In this priority of God’s creating and redeeming precedence and consequence, we as created and then fallen beings have the opportunity and indeed necessity, by grace, to respond gratefully to God’s love with our love and obedience to the fullest extent we can.
* Our response in faith, hope, and love should involve the whole person, not mere cognitive understanding of theological propositions nor mere affective experience.
* The lives of individuals and the life of the Church – formed and informed by divine grace in faith, hope, and love as fully as possible – must bear vital witness in word and deed to God’s creating and saving love for the world.
In view of all of this, I strive to live faithfully and (I hope) humbly within God’s creating, saving, and perfecting acts in Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Friday, October 18, 2013
It is mid October, with a great brilliance spreading above the eastern horizon early on this clear, cool morning. The branches of the tulip poplars, in the screen of trees which stand between the sun and the back of the house, stir in the breeze and enleaf a spectrum of greens and yellows, variously shaded and then illuminated. Such does light's dazzle, playing through wind and foliage, briefly but truly instantiate textures of glory.