Sacraments and Liturgy

Three-Leg Stool – a new perspective

For most Anglicans, the analogy of a three-leg stool being the foundation of Anglicanism is quite familiar. For those that don’t know, each leg of the stool represents the “central” thinking in Anglicanism, when it comes to the place of interpretation and discernment. They are: Scripture, tradition and reason.
Though quite true in regard to Anglican identity, even if these three are not the original intent of the early Anglican fathers, I believe it is time for a new take on Anglicanism.
It only takes a cursory look at the news to see the difficulties facing worldwide Anglicanism. Anglicans left and right are attacking one another under the guise of Biblical authority or Biblical truth. Others simply state the need for a contemporary response to the issues facing the modern Christian, such as homosexuality, poverty, modern slavery, famine, etc.
However, while all this is taking place, we seem to have forgotten the centrality of worship within the Church. Sunday is not only a day to hear the Word or to come together to focus on the latest social issue, but it is so much more.
I did not grow up Anglican, like so many, but experienced a vast array of worship and liturgical styles. Even within Anglican circles there is quite a broad spectrum, from “Anglo-Catholic” to “low church” evangelical and with everything in between.
These categories, while feeding the need to understand, in the end are unhelpful. We need to readdress the nature of our worship, in particularly as Anglicans.
In my own thinking, the analogy of the three-leg stool needs to be understood differently. Each leg does not merely deal with the framework of interpretation. But must move beyond simply a Scriptural scheme toward a holistic view of worship. The three legs of the stool then could be: charismatic, evangelical and sacramental.
Use of such terms, at the outset, might deter one to go any further. However, if we look at each definition critically there is the possibility to move beyond preconceived ideas.
CHARISMATIC: When we use this term, it is not a specific expression of “the gifts.” It is an understanding of the movement of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are called to be charismatic, dealing with and discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit which connects us to the presence of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit, which draws us into the intimacy of the Trinity through the redemptive work of Christ. We are called, as the Eastern Fathers note, to join in the dance of the Trinity. This is only possible through the Holy Spirit.
Having come out of churches that are either charismatic or pentecostal, I am very familiar with the preconceived ideas associated with this term. However, through my own experience, I believe that such a definition of charismatic is far too narrow. We are called to walk by the Spirit. We are told that by the Spirit we shall dream dreams and see visions. The new humanity, the Church, is meant to be saturated in the Spirit.
Yet, when this is the primary emphasis, we fall short of the fullness we are meant to receive as Christians. Without the other two legs of the stool, we are unable to be sturdy or secure. We are unable to be “rooted” in our faith.
EVANGELICAL: For many, particularly within my own experience, the word “evangelical” is to be primary. We capitalize it, showing its importance. I understand such a need, but in doing so we eliminate other possibilities. The term “evangelical” connects to an understanding of the Word. It is here that the original three-leg stool should reside. Our interpretation of the Word must rely on Scripture primarily, followed by tradition and reason. It is impossible to remove Anglicanism from the centrality of Scripture, for our heritage stands deeply entrenched in such reformational ideals.
Scripture is to be our rule and guide. It is how, if not the primary way, one comes to understand the character and nature of God. It is alive and active. It is meant to sit in the place of honour in our worship. However, it is not our only experience of the Trinity; nor was it ever intended to be.
The Word provides healing, discernment, life for those in Christ. We are shaped and molded by the Word. Through its proclamation in worship, we as the community of faith, hear the Word of the Lord. Without the Word, worship is feeble and weak. As someone once said: Preaching is not good advice, it is Good News! We must recover and maintain the reality of this statement if we are to fully enter in to worship.
SACRAMENTAL: For many who view themselves in one or both of the “camps” mentioned above, the question may be asked: ‘What else is there?’ Yet, to do so is stop short of a full understanding of worship.
The terms, sacrament or sacramental, carry such loaded issues that it is hard to many times move beyond them. I am stand with the Reformers when I say, ‘There are two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.’ However, there is an anemic quality to the sacraments for those who are “Evangelical” or “Charismatic.”
If we believe that the Word is of importance and that the Holy Spirits enlivens our spiritual journey, then why is there such an aversion to a fuller sacramental theology? If we believe that God is present in all that we do, then so He is in the sacraments.
I am not supporting a “transubstantial” understanding of the sacraments, but rather a “presence of Christ” found only through the Eucharist, particularly, but also in baptism.We need to recover the initiatory qualities of baptism and the confirming qualities of the Lord’s Supper.
The reality of the presence of Christ should confirm to those participating that there is a mystical reality, that of past act (the cross), with the current reality (present event), mingled with the future promise (kingdom reality), which is at play here. When we gather as the community of faith, we are drawn in to the community of the Trinity, through the presence of the Spirit, the preaching/proclamation of the Word and the connection to and with the body of Christ through the Lord’s Supper. “Evangelicals” in particularly are rare to recognize this mystery. I say this as one who considers himself an evangelical.
Yet, we do not stop simply at the Sacraments. We must develop a sacramental view of life. We must look beyond the reality of our physical eyes and see the ‘true’ reality found through a life lived formed by the Word and led by the Spirit. It is here that Robert Webber is most helpful. Without such a view of life, we tend to view life in a mechanistic way, which not only neutralizes the Word, but eliminates the possibility of the movement of the Spirit.

Each leg of the stool – charismatic, evangelical and sacramental – must be in place for the stool to be sturdy and secure. To have one or two legs leaves the stool unsupported. Moreover, if we do not have all three aspects mentioned above in our own Christian lives, then we will continue to walk into “Evangelical” churches where the Word is reverenced but there is a lack of awareness of the Spirit. We will walk into churches where there is an emphasis on the charismatic, but the presence of Christ is only experienced through “the gifts.” We will walk into churches where the mystery of Christ is present through the sacraments, but we will reverence the sacraments in a way which usurps the primacy of the Word.

All three must exist together, for our worship to move beyond what we currently experience. We are called to a fullness in Christ. Let this be our fullness, so that the Church, the body of Christ, may be glorified. Maranatha!


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