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The Trials and Travails of Being an Anglo-Presbyterian Anarchist

July 2, 2011

My only excuse for not reading the plays I’ve promised to read is that I’m busy writing a play I promised to finish a long time ago. That said, I have, indeed, read a number of plays in my blogger absence, two of which belong to the title above: Jean Anouih’s Becket and A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt. Call it three, if you’re willing count the one that didn’t win any Tony Awards, namely, T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

Reading these plays in quick succession does quite the number on the brain. All three plays have in common the man standing on principle. All three plays present ponderings on the relationship of church and state and man’s duty to each, whether king, prelate, or commoner.  And all three take a stand on the issue, the specifics of which would be tedious to unpack. Suffice it to say that Eliot’s stand is a moral one, Anouih’s technical, and Bolt just takes a stand for taking stands.

The more interesting thing is deciding with whom one should side. That oft-heard truth about victors writing history books, also extends to playwrights. Having been raised in the Protestant tradition, my personal history tells me that the Reformation was a victory, not a damnable heresy. But history has also decided that Henry VIII, the man who turned England Protestant, was a villain. What with all the beheading, I’m inclined to agree. Additionally, the Reformers also had this neat idea of sphere sovereignty, to which I am mostly sympathetic, but the Catholic Church disagrees quite vehemently.

So now this Catholic-Sympathizing Anglo-Presbyterian Anarchist has a problem. Should I root for Sir Thomas More as he takes his stand against the apostatizing Henry VIII and in favor of the vacillations of the Pope under state pressure? Also, should I side with Becket’s preference of strong ties to Rome, whose supremacy I question, or Henry’s impetuous claims to authority over the Church?

This would all be much simpler if I could just go the way of Peter Kreeft and say, “The Catholic Church, right or wrong”; or the way of modern evangelicals and secularists who both claim a clear division between church and state. Or, even simpler, identify with a single denomination.

Ah, there’s the rub.

If you were to put that question to me, I’d tell you, “I attend an Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” The wording here is no accident. Saying “I’m a Presbyterian” or “I’m a Methodist” or even “I’m a Catholic” seems just as bad as the Corinthians shouting “I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas” (I Cor. 1:12). The fact remains that “as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Therefore, all who are of that one baptism are also of one Lord and one faith, denominations be damned (Eph. 4:5).

This motley crew of thrice-named persons, wet in various degrees from sprinkled to submerged, offends our Modern sensibilities because we’d like to pack everyone into nice boxes labelled Good Guys and Bad Guys or even Right and Wrong. But there are more complications in heaven and earth than can be drempt of in our catechisms. So perhaps we should instead make like Solomon and pray for wisdom.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. robinjharris permalink
    July 2, 2011 5:50 PM

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately: in some ways, it would be nice to claim allegiance to a denomination, but in other ways I think it’s dangerous. Sometimes it can become an excuse for your personality, scruples, and behavior. When I tell people that I attend an Anglican Church (I don’t even have to say that ‘I’m Anglican’) they generally like to tell me all sorts of things that this explains about me. It is not even consistent, which makes me laugh- some people think I’m liberal because I’m Anglican, some people think I’m narrow-minded and conservative. They immediately make assumptions about my actions and life based on my denomination. The fact that I’m Anglican and not Baptist means I am comfortable drinking; the fact that I’m Anglican and not Episcopal means I probably vote Republican; you could go on and on.

    But is that really helpful? If they see that your life is different, and you say, “well, my religion forbids me to do that,” or “I act this way because of my denomination,” does this tell them anything helpful at all? America is so pluralistic that you can’t even tell whether someone is really a disciple of Christ just based on their denominational loyalties. And even if you can, I think it is a cop-out to point to a religion to explain your life; we have a personal loyalty to a personal God. And THAT is what frames our life and dictates our actions.

    • July 6, 2011 6:36 PM

      I think those assumptions ARE helpful. I recently came across a pagan friend’s Facebook post in which she basically rejected gender. If we had no gender, there would be no case languages, for one, but more importantly, we’d have to go about referring to people and things in the ridiculously long-form way Nietzsche would have us do.

      But when God brought the animals for Adam to name, he named each kind. And kinds, whether in the animal kingdom or the domain of mankind, help us to communicate and interact in the world. Sure, you may make a few wrong assumptions that way, but the correct assumptions and the trouble it saves are likely to far outweigh any problems caused by the reverse.

      So I’m happy to tell people I attend an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The fun is, perhaps, in their finding out which lines I don’t tow. Paedocommunion, ftw!

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