by Timothy Mann, Fanwood, New Jersey
Almost 2,000 years ago an itinerant Jewish rabbi teaching a radical version of an orthodox Jewish doctrine appeared in Palestine. He taught that you (each person) should love God with “all your heart and all your mind and all your strength” and should also love your neighbor “as (much as you love) yourself”. He also taught that God loves us, and he demonstrated God’s love by using that love to heal a large number of sick people with a variety of illnesses and even to restore a dead friend to life. This was Jesus of Nazareth. While he taught for probably no more than three years, Jesus made a startling impression on his followers, probably because he lived his teaching and radiated the presence of God.
He also made enemies, because he criticized the hypocritical religious leaders of the day and even went so far as to disrupt the lucrative business of selling “unblemished” sacrificial animals at the Temple in Jerusalem. His enemies denounced him to the local Roman governor as a dangerous revolutionary, and the governor, somewhat reluctantly, had him executed by crucifixion, a slow painful death reserved for the worst criminals.
His followers, men and women, then reported that, beginning three days after his death, Jesus appeared on a number of occasions to different groups of them and even on one occasion encouraged them to touch him to verify that he was real. Despite these miraculous events, however, his followers continued for a time to remain a band of frightened men, terrified that the fate of their leader might fall on them. This sad situation continued for about 50 days until, as Jesus had previously promised, the Spirit of God suddenly descended on them. At that moment they began fearlessly to preach a new Gospel — a teaching of belief in Jesus, now regarded as the Christ (the Anointed One), and repentance leading to the Kingdom of God and eventually to eternal life. On that day the Christian Church was born.
Over the hundreds of years since those events thousands of individuals have accepted the message of Christ and have discovered a real and lasting transformation of their lives out of darkness into light. They have lost their fears, weaknesses and deceits and have discovered Love, Joy, and Peace — the very real fruits of the Spirit.
This is an important message that may well apply to you. Don’t overlook it. Christianity is not a psychology or a philosophy or a subjective system of beliefs; it is a discovery of what is really true. The Living God is at the center of reality. Jesus the Christ portrayed God correctly, and you can allow Him to find you, change you, and bring you into the Kingdom of God.
The Episcopal Church
The Christian Church appeared in England during the time of the Roman invasion. From its earliest days there, the Church was a part of the universal, or “Catholic”, Christian Church. The Church in England looked to the four Gospels for the history of Christ, it expressed its beliefs in the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, it regularly performed the Sacraments, and its bishops consecrated new bishops in a line of succession that ran unbroken from the original Apostles of Christ. As a matter of organization it also recognized the Bishop of Rome as the “Pope”, or the head of the universal Church.
In the sixteenth century a wave of reformation swept through the Christian Church in Europe. Beginning with Martin Luther a number of preachers criticized numerous Church practices, and several of these persons succeeded in forming new “Protestant” churches, founded in protest against current practices of the original Catholic Church. The world previously understood by medieval Europe was in turmoil.
In England an essentially unrelated event interjected itself into the religious turmoil of the day. The king, Henry VIII, wanted the Church to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, by whom he had no living male heirs, but the Pope, who at that point was surrounded by the armies of Catherine’s nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, was in no position to oblige the king. Henry also needed money. He finally solved both problems by declaring that England no longer recognized the authority of the Pope, appointing himself the head of the Church in England, and sacking a number of wealthy monasteries.
Paradoxically, Henry was also a very orthodox Christian with a lifelong interest in theology. He made it clear that while the English Church was under new management, the Church beliefs and practices were to remain as he understood them — unchanged in all major matters though with a few minor shifts to accommodate his personal understanding.
While the new arrangement satisfied Henry that he had withstood the storms of reformation emanating from the European continent, the arrangement merely postponed the problem. When Henry eventually died, he was succeeded by his young son Edward, who, under the control of his mother’s family, was a fervent Protestant. While Henry had wanted the Church to remain essentially unchanged, the new king wanted to remodel the Church completely on the Puritan ideal. He never succeeded, probably because he did not live long enough. After a short reign, Edward died and was succeeded by his sister Mary, a fervent Roman Catholic who considered it her highest duty to restore the authority of the Pope. She proceeded to pursue this goal vigorously, both by marrying the Roman Catholic king Philip of Spain and by burning several hundred dissenters at the stake.
Fortunately for England Mary’s reign lasted only five years, after which she was succeeded by her younger sister Elizabeth. During Elizabeth’s long reign the religious controversy was finally resolved in a compromise that preserved the essentials of the Catholic faith and preserved Elizabeth’s position as the head of the English Church yet accepted some of the reforms demanded by the Protestants. The compromise, known as the Elizabethan Settlement, fully satisfied neither side, but it bought the time necessary for the furies of controversy to die down and ultimately determined the nature of the Church of England — fully a Catholic Christian church but one not recognizing the Bishop of Rome as the head of the Catholic (universal) Church.
The Episcopal Church in the United States derives from the Elizabethan Settlement within the Church of England. The Episcopal Church retains the four Gospels, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the Sacraments, and the Apostolic Succession, within which its bishops can trace their consecrations back to the original Apostles. The Episcopal Church is a part of the Anglican Communion, within which the Archbishop of Canterbury is recognized as “first among equals” but not as a ruler. Unlike the Church of England, however, the Episcopal Church does not accord any special status to the King (or Queen) of England, and the Episcopal Church, which of course is not supported by the government, “protests” against the “establishment”, or state support, of the Church of England.
In summary, the Episcopal Church of the United States is a fully Catholic Christian church. Some have called it the Via Media, the middle way between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.