a Virginia Mission Parish in the Orthodox Anglican Church
Serving Poquoson and surrounding communities.
Note: this page was inspired by my friend, Andrea
An Apology for Formality in the Anglican Church
The formality of the church is based on the ideals of common prayer and good discipline for a very, very wide berth of people - not just for certain niches.
This “generic” liturgy requires the least adaptation effort from most of the people, most of the time.
The Church continues its form from the earliest times, not by choice, but by necessity. Although the form of the Church evolves as culture evolves, both liturgical culture and general culture develop within parameters created by God. Although there is some variation, a ships hull is essentially an unalterable mathematical statement; there is only one general set of parameters to which a ships hull must conform if it is to maintain structural stability and integrity and achieve effective propulsion through the water. Whether we speak of the design of a hull or the design of worship liturgy, we depart from those normative parameters at our peril.
The Church’s visible form makes lasting fellowship and its fruit possible. People use Church as a substitute for a day to day spiritual program; Church cannot shoulder that responsibility. Just as family cannot shoulder the responsibility of personality development. The family is for producing physical, biological fruit; the Church is for producing spiritual fruit – not only in the salvation of souls, but in the knitting of those souls together in true fellowship. Not emotional or psychological or sociological bonds primarily (although there is that) but in true spiritual fellowship in the Holy Ghost.
The church’s structure makes discipline possible. And discipline makes accountability possible. Not only accountability to the people, but accountability to the whole structure of the Church. Accountability is not an accident of the Anglican Church it is the design of the Anglican Church. Also the hierarchical nature of the Church gives everyone a practical and very real opportunity to practice obedience. Obedience means compliance. But obedience is not difficult unless it is not convenient to us. The Church provides this opportunity – to practice “tough obedience.”
The form and structure of the Church provides for sustainability and stability. While it might seem a heavy price to cultivate something that is essentially free – that is spiritual worship and spiritual fellowship (which may happen anywhere), to achieve survivability and stability and fertility, considerable investment must be made in the infrastructure of the Church. We are not planting kudzu; we are planting a vineyard – or an olive garden. It needs a wall and a tower and a press and all sorts of accouterments and equipment to bring wine and olive oil from nature to narthex, to nourish ourselves, to offer to God, and to share with the poor.
The liturgical forms of the Church allows the soul to enter into a relationship setting with God which our one-dimensional sociological forms cannot achieve. Much of our praise and thanksgiving and expressions of Love for God sound pompous or stilted or insincere in any other context. The formality of the liturgy allows for a much higher expression of praise and worship. British royalty does everything in the context of formality and royal demeanor, because formality is always becoming to royalty.
The formality of the service properly dignifies the most important occasions of our life. Baptism, Proms, Graduation, Marriage, Dinner Parties, Anniversaries, Funerals - all demand a more formal context for proper celebration. Not many would choose a less formal context for these events. These contexts dignify and solemnize the event. We should do no less for the weekly celebration of our corporate communion in Christ
The Formality of the service follows the pattern of military culture, which is uniform and very ancient. We salute the flag, and superiors, we speak to our superiors in formal language; we differentiate our offices and function with uniforms, and we have uniforms for various occasions – from ordinary work to formal parade. The Church has a very similar militaristic mission – that’s why she is often called the Church militant, and why the images of warfare so often occur in the NT. It is an important and serious job to “fight the good fight.” That’s why we must conduct ourselves at least as professionally as the military culture – for our stakes are higher.
The formality of the Communion allows for a gate-keepers role to the priest to discriminate between believers and non-believers or to those who have serious mental reservations about the creed or serious deviations from the moral practice of the Church for 20 centuries. Thus we all stand up in Anglican churches and formally confess the creed before we come to communion. If we do not discriminate formally, we will discriminate informally, setting up “iron curtains” against vested ownership or leadership within the church. And the criteria of who gets behind the curtain will not always (or often) be belief – but spirituality. Do you have our spirituality? Do you think like us? That’s why the Anglican Church is so diverse – because if a person believes, he need not have the same spirituality or psychology. He is a functioning part of the body – with all his differences, with all his idiosyncrasies, with all his sins.