Sunday, April 22, 2007

Evangelical Catholic

The Catholic Faith is that which is the heart and proclamation of the Church at its best and in its fullness. Anything less is a diminishment of the birthright of all Christians; anything other is a corruption of the revelation of God to his people. When Anglicans speak of “the Catholic Church”, they don’t mean the Roman Catholic Church—they mean the Church that proclaims, “the whole Faith to all people to the end of time”. (Catechism, Book of Common Prayer, p. 854)

The word “Catholic” comes from two Greek words: kata (according to) and holos (the whole). Thus the word, although commonly understood to mean “universal”, is better understood as “according to the whole”. It means “the whole Faith” and not just the parts we happen to agree with or like.

If the Church is to be fully Catholic, then, it must also be evangelical—also from two Greek words: eu (good) and angelos (roughly, “news”). The New Testament clearly imposes the preaching of the Gospel—the Good News—upon all believers. By “evangelical” I do not mean adherence to a particular brand of churchmanship; I mean that the Church must be dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel. In particular, preachers must be fully dedicated to preaching the fullness of the Faith and be able to do so with power, conviction, and effectiveness.

The most evangelical preacher I ever heard was a Roman Catholic priest in Kona, Hawaii in October 1989. He was incredible. Several times in his sermons, which were preached with boldness and confidence and which fully engaged the congregation, he would inject the word, “Amen” as a question, with a long “A”—“Ay-MEN?” And the congregation responded with a resounding, “AY-MEN!”

This evangelical preacher knew that a sermon was not just a lecture, an address, a spoken essay, or a treatise. He knew that a sermon was not the words that were preached, but rather an encounter with the Holy Spirit which the preacher and congregation both experienced together. That is, the sermon was quasi-sacramental. It could not be something that people merely “listened to”. It absolutely had to be an experience of God’s presence.

A woman named Sheila Kaye-Smith wrote an outstanding book called Anglo-Catholicism, which was published in 1925. In the foreword, she wrote: The distinguishing marks of Catholicism are two. First—the subordination of the part to the whole, so that the individual cannot exist without the fellowship, and must combine his separate experience with the corporate experience of the fellowship, and consider the fellowship in all his thoughts, words, and works. Second—the use and sanctification of matter by spirit, the inward working through the outward by virtue of the Incarnation of the Son of God; in other words, the Sacramental System. All details of doctrine and practice ultimately resolve themselves under one of those two heads for their cause and justification.

The sanctification of matter by spirit” is not limited to the sacring of water, oil, bread and wine, and touch—the outward elements of the Sacraments. The hallowing of words offered to God in near-sacramental authenticity is the essence of true preaching. Of course, the words must be true to the Gospel in every way. Catholic preaching, then, must teach and proclaim “the whole Faith” and not just the preacher’s opinion, and cannot deviate from the accepted fullness of Christian Faith.

Anglo-Catholic liturgy is not uncommon. Ritual, incense, vestments, chanting, and so forth can be done very well, but without the fullness of Catholic Faith, the liturgy is not much different from theater. If liturgy is to be authentically Catholic, it must be evangelical as well. Sadly, evangelical Catholic preachers are scarce. To our shame, really good Anglican preachers are also rare.

One of the best was Father Arthur Henry Stanton. He was the Curate at St. Alban’s, Holborn for roughly fifty years. He died in 1913, but his reputation remains.

Here is a photograph of him preaching. Note the confident posture and the crowd, but note also the biretta—the hallmark of the Catholic. Note also the vested servers, processional crucifix, and banner.

Here is a website that tells more about Father Stanton:

I am particularly gratified by a couple of sentences from this source: In one week Fr. Stanton received two letters—one from a militant Protestant who told him he ought to go over to Rome, another from a sober Anglican who complained that the service might have taken place in a Methodist chapel! Fr. Stanton characteristically read both letters from the pulpit, and considered that his ministry was successful.

Oh, AY-MEN! One Sunday about ten years ago at Blessed Sacrament there were visitors at the second Mass. One said upon shaking hands at the church door on his way out, “This place looks and smells like an old-fashioned Roman Catholic church!” The other said, “If I closed my eyes, I’d swear this was a Baptist church!” Both were excited about their experience. Like Father Stanton, I can consider that our ministry is successful. Blessed Sacrament is an evangelical Catholic church.

As a footnote, one might add that a Catholic church must also be charismatic—rich with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The modern charismatic movement can be said to have begun on April 3, 1960 when Father Dennis Bennett, the Rector of St. Mark’s, Van Nuys, California, preached a sermon extolling the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He had recently been “baptized in the Holy Spirit” and chose to teach about the experience with the congregation. St. Mark’s was my home parish and I was present when he preached that sermon. Although I was only eleven years old and didn’t know what was happening, I realize now that I was privileged to be present at the launching of one of the great renewal movements of modern times.

Evangelical, Spirit-filled, high liturgy: living and proclaiming “the whole Faith to all people, to the end of time.” Catholic. The Church at its best and in its fullness. Anything less is a diminishment of the birthright of all Christians; anything other is a corruption of the revelation of God to his people.



Steve said...

Thanks Father David.

Emily said...

I think you should take up that preaching style for a few weeks. Just to see what sort of response you'd get. :) How many people do you think would respond "Ay-men"? Maybe we'd all says "ah-men" instead. :)

Really good post, Fr. David.

Joi said...

Amen! (and yes, when one grows up in Texas, that IS pronounced "Ay-men"!)

Zakk said...

I must say that I thoroughly appreciated the thrust of this post. It has been a bit irksome to me to see friends and family flitting from church to church simply because they could not decide which theological emphasis they wanted to follow most, especially when it seemed to me that they should find a tradition of worship that unifies all theology. My thought has long since been that this meant one should pursue a catholic faith, but it is gratifying to see that another, more experienced person adheres to this reasoning.

Thank you for your service to the Church!