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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

The Anglican Bridge (Part II of II)

October 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Conversion, Paul McCusker

Life as I See It

I have written elsewhere that the genius of Anglicanism was in its integration of aspects of Catholicism with Reformation thought. As a Protestant, this was appealing to me because of its familiarity. As someone who didn’t know much about Catholicism, I didn’t realize just how Catholic many of its practices were. The more I studied and became more engaged in Anglicanism, the more I believed it was the best of both possible worlds.

I could not have known that Anglicanism was introducing me to Catholic concepts. One day we visited a church in a small village called Nether Wallop. It was built in 900 and someone had recently discovered a mural under the plaster of Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper. I stood in amazement as I realized that many of the words I said every Sunday in church had been said in that building for the last 1100 years, my voice joining in a chorus with all those Christians who’d come before me. I became aware of being part of a very long and wondrous stream. The idea of a Communion of the Saints became real to me.

Within a year, my work necessitated a move from England to Colorado. There we found an Episcopal Church that was, in many ways, more Anglican than anything we had  experienced in England. It was soundly liturgical and deeply theological in all aspects of what it did. Nothing was taken for granted. Every aspect of the church was infused with meaning. I believed I had reached the end of my search for the church of Christ. I believed I could grow spiritually and engage in the disciplines of the “Ancient Church.” I had no idea what that really meant, but I was willing to find out.

I have often misquoted author Richard Foster as saying that most Protestants don’t know their church history very well. They think there was the First Century Church, a “blip” called the Reformation, and then Billy Graham. As an Anglican, I learned what had happened in the 500 years before Rev. Graham. I responded in all the right ways to the writings of Cranmer and Hooker and more contemporary writers like NT Wright.

I appreciated what it meant to pray prayers written by others, not only because they were beautifully worded and often articulated my heart better than I could, but because they got me out of the ruts of my own thinking, pushing me into new spiritual directions. I gained a whole new appreciation for beauty in worship. I explored spiritual disciplines like meditation and contemplation, never realizing they had come from the Catholic Church.

I also saw a loosening of my Baptist understanding of Sola Scriptura, as I came to understand the Bible’s interplay with Tradition and Reason. There was an undeniable dynamic between the three that had guided the church – at least for 500 years (I couldn’t address what happened before that).

I recognized the importance and necessity of Church hierarchy (not bureaucracy) as a Biblically-based reality, going back to the Book of Acts and the Ancient Church. I had only a vague notion of what Apostolic Succession was or meant, apart from being a remarkable lineage, like a royal family. The Anglican Bishops had authority but were not really authoritative.

Was I comfortable with everything Anglicans believed? No. There were tendencies in the national Episcopal church that struck me as anti-orthodox, where leadership dispensed with Scripture and Tradition a little too readily to accommodate so-called tolerance and a guilt-free form of repentance. Theological innovations seemed untethered, resembling secular sensibilities more and more. I was troubled, but not undone. It was easy to look the other way. Anglicanism allowed me to believe a lot of what I wanted to believe within the context of its structure. And our congregation was solidly orthodox, representing the best of Anglicanism, even when the national church didn’t. I thought we were safe as a congregation as long as we were left alone.

All of that changed as we entered the 21st century.  With breath-taking speed, the theology and policies of the national Episcopal church changed and collided with Biblical and Traditional teaching.  Our local assembly was no longer impervious to a “scorched earth” approach by national and diocesan leadership that would rather have an orthodox church dead than thriving with teachings it didn’t like.

My idealism about Anglicanism smashed against reality. I couldn’t imagine how Bishops could elect someone to the Bishopric whose lifestyle clearly contradicted Biblical and Traditional teaching. I heard other Bishops in interviews explain how the Apostle Paul and the writers of the New Testament simply didn’t understand these things as well as we do now. And I thought, Really? The writers of the New Testament were ignorant? The Son of God Himself didn’t understand?

So my relaxed notion of the church and Apostolic Succession was challenged by the alarming conclusions of the current Episcopalian Bishops.  I didn’t know what to make of it all. I read a lucid article by a renowned Bishop arguing that the “500 year Anglican experiment” was over. I didn’t believe it. My instinct was to fight the fight along with orthodox Anglicans everywhere. But I wondered what I was fighting for.

From many conflicting and contradictory feelings, I came to one of the most important questions of my life: who has the authority to interpret Scripture and establish doctrine?

To answer that question I had to go back in time, beyond the 500-year threshold I had maintained in my 15 years as an Anglican. I went to the Ancient Church to find out what it believed and why.  I wasn’t looking to become a Catholic. Yet, as John Henry Newman observed, “To be steeped in history is to cease being a Protestant.” And he was right.

 

Art: Nether Wallop – St Andrews Church Above this Norman arch is a much older wall painting that dates back to saxon [sic] times, photographed by Chris Talbot, 10 April 2010, CCA-SA 2.0 Generic; John Henry Newman, Sir John Everett Millais, date unknown (author died in 1896), PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923; both Wikimedia Commons.

 

Part I of this series can be found here.

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About Paul McCusker

Paul McCusker is an author. He converted from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in 2007. He still works for an Evangelical organization. Paul has over 40 published works, including novels, plays, scripts, and lyrics.

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  • Camila

    Paul, I’m curious. How did you search in “Ancient Church”? I mean, did you know to read the church fathers (but you probably didn’t know where to go or who to read, or maybe you did). Once you realized you needed to back in time – where did you go? What did you read? How did you get your sources? I’m wondering this, because your journey is incredible and you just keep seeking and seeking and you are restless – your heart just doesn’t stop.

    • Paul McCusker

      Thanks for your questions, Camilla. My first exploration was in the Bible itself, but stripping out the assumptions I’d taken on as an Evangelical Protestant. I read and re-read what Jesus communicated to His disciples by way of His authority. Then I read how the disciples implemented their understanding of His commission in the Book of Acts. The various Letters from Paul, Peter, James, etc., followed. From there, I began to read various histories of the Early Church, along with summaries of the writings of the Church Fathers (knowing that I’d get completely lost or overwhelmed if I tried to read the vast amount of writings they did). Mixed in with the readings were discussions with friends of various denominational persuasions, an Orthodox Priest, an Anglo-Catholic priest and later, a couple of well-informed Catholic Priests. So my search wasn’t centered on one approach, but several different approaches. I’ve never actually compiled a bibliography of what I read. Maybe I should.

      • Camila

        Your story is fascinating, Paul.

  • Yule

    Chuckle. Like me, I keep on attending other services though I am born Catholic. I was just curious and when I was in Middle East, there’s no Catholic service on that particular area but only Protestant services held in individual houses, so I attended anyway just that I can’t really feel anything holy on the service.

    I only find it in the Catholic mass. 😀

  • jrbarrytx

    Great article and as always very enlightening with a bit on “tongue in cheeK” twist to it. But I found myself wanting more. It seemed as though you left it open for further reflection. I’m looking forward to a Part III at some point down the road.

  • DianeVa

    Great article, thank you for sharing your experience. My husband is Episcopalian and I could have easily dropped completely from my cradle Catholic upbringing if it hadn’t been for grace inspired research into the early church Fathers. I asked God when He broke through my life, in pride “show me it doesn’t matter to you what denomination I am, thinking for sure He would be fine with me leaving my roots for any Christian denomination. I am sure He had a good laugh at this “child” telling Him I knew what was best for me rather than He did! Gently and lovingly He revealed the treasures of the Catholic faith which I continue to uncover each day. Thank you God for guiding me in Truth! I pray I have grown more humble and less prideful.

  • MaryofSharon

    Thanks for telling us more of the rest of the story! Your last series of articles left us really hanging, but as jrbarrytx wrote, now we’re still going to be waiting for the next chapters.

    I had the blessing of attending one of those fine Anglican liturgies. It was in a tiny newly planted church with a small congregation. I found myself struggling because it was one of the most beautiful and reverent liturgies I’ve ever attended, complete with kneeling for the reception of communion (which, by the way, I did not receive). Their fine priest actually gave a sermon about the role of beauty in the liturgy! I realize that all that beauty was inherited from their Catholic roots, and this bittersweet experience caused me to lament. Why, oh why, have most Catholic parishes let go of that legacy when it is that very beauty that has a remarkable power to draw the soul into an encounter with the transcendent?!?

    Bishop James Conley spoke eloquently of the role of beauty in enabling one to see and hear the Gospel in his address to the Catholic Answers apologetics conference.

    • Camila

      thanks for the link MaryofSharon

  • Patti Day

    So many Catholics don’t know the history of our Church, and so would be unable to direct an interested protestant. One book I found very helpful, easy to read and understand for someone like myself, who doesn’t have a background in Scripture or Apologetics, is ‘The Fathers Know Best’ by Jimmy Aikens.

  • GHM_52

    I thibk you should compile a bibliography of what you read! There must be hundreds out there, hungering for the truth as you were hungering. Your work could save them precious time! Imagine the treasure you would be storing!

  • Thank You! I recently attended an “Anglican-use” Catholic parish and noticed that same breadth of liturgical tradition that could teach us Catholics something.
    (This parish converted en masse about 2 years ago but had been considered an Anglo-Catholic parish before that.)

  • Gabrielle Renoir

    I’m currently a theology major and Church History is one of my favorite subjects. I do have a beef with Catholic priests who leave the Catholic priesthood (I realize they are a priest forever) to marry and then become Anglican priests, but I guess if the Anglican Church accepts them, who am I to complain? I do support a non-married clergy in the Catholic Church, though, so I guess it’s best if the priests leave rather than have a forbidden affair behind the congregation’s back. I guess I just feel they should live up to the promise they made when they became a priest. Perhaps I’m too harsh.

    I have been to a few other church services, but I only find God in the Catholic Church.

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