Every Tuesday we have a prayer meeting that is called “Freedom in Cleveland” and it is held at the house next to the church. Every Tuesday there is a big group of spiritually hungry people that come, eager to grow, to pray together, to see the power of God moving in our lives and those of this corner of the world. And weekly there have been different guest speakers in to share an aspect of prayer. It has been a great time set aside to learn, to pray, to grow, and to allow the Lord to knit our hearts together.
With the guest speakers also has comes variation in how faith is practiced. Different perspectives on prayer, the way it is practiced, and variation on how to pray. Last night the delegation came from Akron, and from an Anglican church. The leader of the group was a woman wearing a “roman collar” and black clothing. She brought a delegation from her church that is her prayer team.
The topic was to be inner healing. Inner healing is a wonderful topic… and in my heart i was looking forward to something powerful, self examining, scripture to search the heart, clear the rubble, and bring fresh clarity of God working in my life.
But her talk began with a list of rules for how to interact, touching, not touching, who can pray and when…. and slowly the confusion began to fill the room. Rules…. a whole page of rules. (From my years of youth ministry I know rules are good… set the groundwork well, and the ministry can function) But this is a prayer meeting, and we have come to pray, to seek God, to hear from heaven.
She is from the Anglican church. She brings a view of faith based on vials of holy oil, blessed by a bishop, and holy water, with special prayers said to make the water holy. Shades of my russian orthodox roots were creeping into my thoughts. I watched the room, realizing that some of the newer believers were fascinated, others looked very confused. Our church does not talk of holy water, or special prayers to bless water, and we do not have bishops who concoct a mixture of oils that they bless and pass out to their congregations. In some instances I have seen the pastors anoint someone with oil for healing, but generally that is rare in our church.
My theological hackles were in a bunch last night. Not for the idea of using holy oil and holy water, but for the discussion about how a bishop has to prepare and bless this. I did not realize how “eastern” the Anglican church is in their approach to faith. So last night i spent some time visiting church history to understand from where Anglicans have come, and why they approach faith the way they do.
The Anglican Church is best explained by this wikipedia post:
The faith of Anglicans is founded in the scriptures, the traditions of the apostolic church, the apostolic succession (“historic episcopate”) and the early Church Fathers. Anglicanism forms one of the branches of Western Christianity; having definitively declared its independence from the Roman pontiff at the time of the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, in what has been otherwise termed the British monachism. Many of the new Anglican formularies of the mid-16th century corresponded closely to those of contemporary Reformed Protestantism and these reforms in the Church of England were understood by one of those most responsible for them, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, as navigating a middle way between two of the emerging Protestant traditions, namely Lutheranism and Calvinism. By the end of the century, the retention in Anglicanism of many traditional liturgical forms and of the episcopate was already seen as unacceptable by those promoting the most developed Protestant principles.
In the first half of the 17th century the Church of England and associated episcopal churches in Ireland and in England’s American colonies were presented by some Anglican divines as comprising a distinct Christian tradition, with theologies, structures and forms of worship representing a different kind of middle way, or via media, between Reformed Protestantism and Roman Catholicism — a perspective that came to be highly influential in later theories of Anglican identity, and was expressed in the description “Catholic and Reformed”. Following the American Revolution, Anglican congregations in the United States and Canada were each reconstituted into autonomous churches with their own bishops and self-governing structures; which, through the expansion of the British Empire and the activity of Christian missions, was adopted as the model for many newly formed churches, especially in Africa, Australasia and the regions of the Pacific. In the 19th century the term Anglicanism was coined to describe the common religious tradition of these churches; as also that of the Scottish Episcopal Church, which, though originating earlier within the Church of Scotland, had come to be recognised as sharing this common identity.
So Anglicans have retained a Catholic-like approach to faith, even though great movements such as the Methodists came out of their pews. The catholic or Eastern Christian perspective adds a layer of ritual, of stiff tradition, of saying prayers that were penned millenia ago. Tradition is good, but it felt so heavy, like faith alone was not enough… this holy water, holy oil, and the like began to frustrate my heart. I love the traditions, and yes, saints of old have much to share with us about God, but I have learned that God speaks mostly through his Word, the Bible. I prefer to put my focus on his word and ask His Spirit to speak fresh through his Word.
Holy Oil is something i grew up seeing used in the Russian Orthodox Church. I understood the value of using this as an outward symbol of God’s inward work. But I am not certain i understood the origins or basis of its use in the Christian Church…back to research
The idea of ‘Chrism” or holy oil dates back to writings of early church fathers (Theophilus (d. 181) and Tertullian (d. 220)) who spoke of using holy oil to anoint the sick. Cyril of Jerusalem states that the “ointment is the seal of the covenants” of baptism and God’s promises to the Christian who is anointed. Cyril taught that being “anointed with the Holy anointing oil [Chrism] of God” was the sign of a Christian (Christos means “anointed”), and a physical representation of having the Gift of the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost), and it retains this meaning in Catholicism and Orthodoxy today. He says, “Having been counted worthy of this Holy Chrism, ye are called Christians, verifying the name also by your new birth. For before you were deemed worthy of this grace, ye had properly no right to this title, but were advancing on your way towards being Christians.”(On the Mysteries 3.5)
OK, The early church modeled their use of oil after old testament passages, in fact dating to Mosaic law and dedication of priests and holy places to God- and my thoughts turn to an old testament passage where Samuel is visiting the sons of Jesse to select the next king. When David is brought to Samuel God confirms this is the one, and Samuel pours a vial of oil over his head to consecrate him for this purpose. In fact the old testament gives a lengthy recipe for the oil and its purposes:
Moreover, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take also for yourself the finest of spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of fragrant cinnamon half as much, two hundred and fifty, and of fragrant cane two hundred and fifty, 24 and of cassia five hundred, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin. You shall make of these a holy anointing oil, a perfume mixture, the work of a perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the laver and its stand. You shall also consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them shall be holy. 30 You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister as priests to Me. You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations. It shall not be poured on anyone’s body, nor shall you make any like it in the same proportions; it is holy,and it shall be holy to you. Whoever shall mix any like it or whoever puts any of it on a layman shall be cut off from his people.’”
Whoa… stong words… so holy oil was to have sanctified purposes. It was not to be used frivolously under penalty of death. I turned to the commentaries to fully understand this passage. David Guzik, of Calvary Chapel writes a clarifying entry about this:
a. Make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer: This oil was used for anointing the priests and the articles pertaining to service. It was regarded as a sacred compound that could not be imitated nor used as normal perfuming oil.
b. It shall not be poured on man’s flesh: Since oil is emblematic of the Holy Spirit, we see that the Holy Spirit is not poured out to enhance our flesh, but to glorify Himself.
c. Nor shall you make any other like it . . . it is holy, and it shall be holy to you: This shows that the work of the Holy Spirit is never to be imitated. There is to be no place for encouraging a fleshly imitation of the gifts or operations of the Holy Spirit. To do this denies the holiness of the Holy Spirit, regarding His work as something we can do just as well on our own.
So Holy Oil had Holy Purpose….i get that too.
Having spent my childhood exposed to holy water, and blessing of homes, cars, pets and graves I get the idea. It has always been a visible symbol of the invisible work God does. As we pray he sees and hears us, and responds. So holy water was a throwback to my youth.
But i return to Martin Luther’s take on faith – “Sola Scriptura! Sola Fide! Sola Gratia! Solo Christu! Soli Deo gloria!” Scripture alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, To God Alone is Glory! – and all of these other things are not bad, but if they thwart your faith perhaps they are not necessary. Luther, Calvin and most of the reformers rose out of the confusing state of a corrupt church that was selling indulgences, flagrantly overlooking some gross sins, and bringing confusion to the simplicity of belief. That church had drifted from the framework of God’s Word, adding, embellishing, and finding ways to hide behind the power that was the church. Having been saved, and come to know the Lord I don’t want all that extraneous stuff. I want to know Jesus better, deeper, without the rigid stiffness of ritual and tradition.
My theology of God is solidly built on God’s Word, and the ways God has worked in my life these 28 years I have walked with him. When i was a young believer i was admonished to search for the common doctrines. If we agree on the uncompromising truths of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, of his redemption on the cross, of his virgin birth that is great. But how we practice our faith may vary, and we can agree to disagree. In the case of our visitors last night we shall disagree on the rigid structure of their view of faith.
There is one more thought that lingers on my mind today. I have been a believer for 28 years, and would say i am seasoned and growing in my faith. It is difficult sometimes to sit under teaching that is so different than what i have known to be accurate and true. I worry that some of the young believers in our group will get a different interpretation of faith based on the Anglican perspective. Several people looked confused, seemed sidelined by such foreign concepts. To that end i express concern, and offer prayer that their faith will not be sidelined for confusion. That would not be good. The enemy of our soul would love that. It ought not be so. The responsibility of the older believer is to step in, respond to confusion and correct misunderstandings. Thank God I have some idea of church history, and a working knowledge of the differences between their ways and ours. One person seemed relieved to know that there are different ways to practice our faith, and that Anglicans choose a more ritualistic way. But we need to be careful of what is presented, and think through how it might impact new and young believers. Lets promote growth, not confusion. And truthfully it all starts in prayer.