The difficulty of the ‘high-church’ evangelical

I write this as one raised within the evangelical, ‘charismatic’ wing of Anglicanism who treasures the Prayer Book and the theology it and the 39 Articles espouse yet who finds himself at worshipping with Presbyterians at present.

I know of another evangelical Anglican, raised low-church evangelical, who attends one of the highest Anglo-Catholic churches I know of, and who sometimes wonders if he should leave — even mentioning a Baptist church in his neighbourhood as a possible destination!

What we two represent are the result of the tough choice that the liturgically-minded evangelical must face. I, personally, am more attuned to liturgical worship as the space where I can set aside my wandering thoughts and focus on worship of God and enter into His presence. However, I am also powerfully, inescapably, at times vehemently, attached to orthodox, biblical, ‘evangelical’ Christian teaching in line with the historic creeds as well as the Reformation principle of justification by faith.

What this means is that here, in Edinburgh, I have to make a choice. Worship in a way that I think brings great glory to God and where I am at my most natural in my response to His unchanging glory, or hear sermons where the Gospel is preached and orthodox doctrine clearly and unashamedly espoused and expounded.

I have chosen the latter, and chosen it outside of Anglicanism (there is one Anglican church here that might do the preaching [orthodox theology, but rumour has it shallow teaching] but misses the liturgy; it is easier for me to worship with non-Anglicans than Anglicans who don’t act Anglican). I use the BCP in my own private worship and sometimes turn up at Anglican churches for weekday services as well as my local Orthodox Church.

Other people I know choose the former; they worship with beauty and elegance and power. But they also read the Scriptures on their own and gather with Christians in the week. The person I mentioned above worships with the music of Palestrina and reads the books of J I Packer.

Why do we have to make this choice? I do not wish to abandon my evangelical theology and commitment to mission when I settle on a church home. Why must I abandon my love of liturgy that encapsulates that theology in ritual action and that ties me to a tradition over  a millennium long?

What times we live in!

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9 thoughts on “The difficulty of the ‘high-church’ evangelical

  1. Totally agree–this is such a common problem. Although my loyalties less dramatically split, I know my siblings have certainly struggled with finding a church that has both good liturgy and good theology. There’s actually a tiny home church/church plant in my hometown that’s been started by some theologically orthodox folks who aren’t willing to put up with the crazy theology that comes with the few churches in town with liturgical worship (Episcopal and Lutheran). It will be interesting to see what happens with that, but I know a lot of people who are frustrated, so I don’t know why there aren’t more options out there!

    One of my undergrad professors at Gordon went to an Anglican church where they were in conflict with the denomination over theological issues (the denomination eventually removed the theological orthodox rector, resulting in a church split where some folks stayed and others formed a completely new church that bought an old Catholic church building). My professor’s perspective on the whole thing was that we shouldn’t get into these big fights with the liberal denomination establishment–we should just wait them out, eventually the shrinking liberal congregation numbers will mean conservatives will own the denomination, if they stick it out. But I’m really not sure if he’s right about this. Seems like liberal seminaries are going to continue to produce liberal leadership, even if that’s not where the majority of congregants are… At any rate, it will be very interesting to see if this problem changes in the next few years due to such trends.

  2. I’m evangelical, training for anglican ministry in Scotland. I resonate with your quandary.

    However, what comes to mind is that there is something to be said for simply joining the anglican congregation closest to your home, whatever its churchmanship and theology, insofar as you can in conscience sit within that. I would guess that God might use you to serve and bless the people there, as well as using the experience, however uncomfortable, to deepen your discipleship, despite whatever inadequacies of churchmanship or theology you identify. Many Scottish Episcopal congregations are shrinking, but many are also re-framing and desire to be faithful and missional. They need prayerful committed, Christ-following, intelligent people to join them and help them. You clearly have a lot to offer, and I think it’s better to help build an answer than simply to ask the question. Isn’t it?

    (PS – that all sounds a bit high and mighty on my part. I must say that personally, I don’t currently take my own advice about worshiping locally: I go to a large city centre church where the preaching is orthodox and evangelical but only 1 service out of 3 uses liturgy. That will obviously change when, God willing, I’m ordained.)

    • Hi Diana,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I sometimes think about popping over to one of the near Anglican churches for more than just feast days and becoming semi-regular there as well as with the church I currently attend. Part of the difficulty with doing any shifting is that my wife and I have become quite attached to the people at our Presbyterian church and find praying and worshipping alongside them strengthening, even if I sigh every once in a while and say, ‘I miss being Anglican.’ We’ll see, perhaps, what prayer leads me into …

  3. Those of us who are in confessional Lutheran bodies in America (such as the LCMS, WELS, or ELS, but especially LCMS) see this routinely, even in the same church! Usually it goes like this:

    8:30 or so: Liturgical Service with vestments, liturgy, some chanting, hymns and organ etc…preaching usually for the body. In other words, a classic expression of orthodox western Christianity with a law-gospel (evangelical) emphasis.

    10:30 or so: “Contemporary” service with CCM, no vestments (although ours do still wear their collars and black, thankfully), and more “seeker” style preaching for baby Christians or those outside.

    When we have a joint service that is “mixed” or “blended,” it is rather interesting, because we basically have two congregations in the same church. Is this wrong? Is this even a problem? Still trying to think through this. Like you, I want the evangelical emphasis on the gospel, but the classic expressions of Christian worship. Such a combination when found is potent! It is interesting that when the ACNA and the LCMS work together (as they have as of late on social issues), the same factions exist in both bodies…

  4. I am a pastor in an Evangelical church. I grew up Catholic and I miss the worship expressed in Catholic mass. However, I love the proclamation of the Word. I wonder if you would share what a blending of evangelicalism and Anglicanism might look like to you? What might a “perfect” worship experience be (would there be liturgy? Communion / Eucharist? OT, NT readings, candle lightings, responsive readings? Apostle’s Creed? Etc…). Please elaborate. I sincerely would love to read your thoughts as wrestle through some similar issues. THANK YOU!

  5. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev. Justin Portal Welby, is best described as High Church Evangelical Anglican. He has a Low Church, Evangelical background leaning towards High Church/Catholicism.

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