Peter Matthews was raised Methodist, ministered as a Baptist pastor for ten years and now pastors a vibrant growing Anglican Mission in America congregation in Lexington, Kentucky. When it comes to evangelicalism and liturgical church, Peter is the man. He blogs at Guitar Priest, but you need to visit his church or catch his preaching on the web.
Peter’s insights into some of the questions I’m dealing with in recent blog posts will be appreciated by IM readers.
1. You were once a Baptist, now you’re an AMiA Anglican, but you aren’t a Roman Catholic. Can you tell us a little about that trajectory, particularly what moved you out of being a Baptist, but what specifically kept you from becoming Roman Catholic?
I was a Southern Baptist pastor for 10 years. However, I grew up Methodist. So some of the liturgical and sacramental piety of Methodism still hovered in my soul during my SBC years. There was always a longing to get back in touch with the church calendar, liturgy and a greater use and appreciation of sacraments than I was experiencing in an SBC context. Therefore, while still a Baptist pastor I explored the liturgical traditions by reading more than I should have — especially the early church fathers. I found what I was looking for in Anglicanism. Here was a tradition that was overtly liturgical and sacramental but retained the key insights of the Protestant Reformation. I spent a lot of time looking at the Roman Catholic Church and I found much to commend it. Nevertheless, at the end of the day Anglicanism is where I found my home.
Two issues posed an impassable barrier for joining the Roman Church. First, were the papal claims. As I studied writings from the first five to seven centuries of the Church, I saw that the Bishop of Rome played an important role in the life of the Church Catholic, but his role was not greater than that of other leading bishops. The Church of that era identified itself as Catholic, and yet did not claim the Bishop of Rome had universal authority nor did it claim he was infallible. I concluded that the Roman view was, well, not Catholic! To be a Roman Catholic I have to subscribe to the papal claims, and I cannot, in good conscience do so. A second issue was the doctrine of justification. I believe the reformers got this right. We are justified by faith alone through grace alone and the righteousness given in justification is the alien righteousness of Christ imputed to us. Rome believes we are justified by grace. However, Rome defines justification as infused righteousness. I think this conflates justification and sanctification and can lead to dire pastoral consequences — e.g., moralism and works righteousness. However, like the great Anglican theologian Richard Hooker, I do not believe one has to believe in justification by faith to be justified by faith. I am confident there are many Roman Christians who have a living faith in Christ and thus are justified.
2. At this point, a lot of “free church” types -D.H. Williams, for example- are saying that evangelicals can and should access the resources of the early church to renew their own churches. If you were doing a seminar for a bunch of us who are going to stay in our Baptist and evangelical churches, but who want to reclaim and reuse the resources of “The Great Tradition,” what would your recommendations or message be?
I would argue that one can get in touch with the Great Tradition without losing any evangelical distinctives. Take liturgy. There is nothing â€œun-evangelicalâ€ about liturgy. Good liturgy unveils the gospel every week. In the Medieval Roman Catholic Church, people rarely ever received communion. When they did, which was probably once a year, they only received the bread. The restoration of weekly communion and reception in both kinds was a gospel move. The reformers wanted the free grace of Christ set forth weekly in the liturgy. Much of what now seems â€œcatholicâ€ and â€œun-evangelicalâ€ was actually created out of deeply held evangelical convictions!
Two of the greatest expository preachers of all time are John Chrysostom and Augustine. Chrysostom was an Archbishop and Augustine was a Bishop. But they held a high view of preaching while at the same time holding a high view of the liturgy and the sacraments. If they could see the two realities integrating, then surely contemporary evangelicals can find a way to do so. I would argue that good liturgy that is done well support the preaching of the Word.
3. Many who will read this interview will be Baptists who believe we have sinned greatly in devaluing and demeaning the meaning and use of the Lord’s Supper even within our own tradition and confessions. What would you say or suggest to those Baptists who are open to a greater emphasis on the Lord’s Supper in worship?
Go back to early Baptist sources. Among other things, the London Baptist Confession says the Lordâ€™s Supper was, â€œInstituted by Christ to confirm believers in all the benefits of His death; – for their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him.â€ This is a strong basis for a higher and more regular practice of the Lordâ€™s Supper. If the Lordâ€™s Supper is for my nourishment and growth, then I need the Lordâ€™s Supper for my benefit. In fact, I want it every week! So many contemporary Baptists (in my experience) and evangelicals only see the Lordâ€™s Supper as point of public profession and as an opportunity to repent. They miss the means of grace and growth aspect that is rooted in the more ancient practices of the Church. If they would dip into their own tradition, they would see that early Baptists did not intend to devalue the Lordâ€™s Supper.
4. I took a few hits recently for saying evangelicalism needed to be renewed by mission efforts from the global south and third world. Your church is connected to Africa and African Christians. Share a bit of how this positively affects your church and ways you see it having more effects in the future?
Humility and perspective. It is humbling for wealthy white Americans to be under the authority of Africans. In the Anglican tradition, I have to swear obedience to my Bishop and Archbishop. Though this would probably never happen, if my Archbishop (Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda) wanted me to move to Africa and be a priest, he could order me to do so. I am really under his authority! The second thing the Africans give us is perspective. Africans have suffered, bled and died for Jesus. Not many Americans can say this. They do not have much and yet in many places they are spiritually vibrant. The truth is, many of our African brethren look at us with all our wealth and think we are impoverished. They have much to teach us. I hope we will be open to their lessons.
5. Any visitor to your church will feel that you could hardly be accused of deserting evangelicalism. There is a warm, evangelistic, committed spirit in your worship leadership and in the church. It immediately impressed me that the stereotype of liturgical churches as “dead” is far from a sure thing. Talk for a moment about your vision for a warmly evangelical, deeply rooted liturgical church.
The Anglican folk I hang out with often speak of Anglicanism, when it is at its best, being a movement of three streams: evangelical, catholic and charismatic. A cursory look at the patristic era shows a church where the preaching of the word and authentic conversion were held in high regard. Just read some things from Augustine and Chrysostom! At the same time, they believed in a hierarchical church that was liturgical and sacramental. Patristic Christians were unashamedly catholic. In addition, the power of the Holy Spirit demonstrated by healing and deliverance was a normal reality in the early Church.
I believe if the patristic Church could hold these three streams in creative tension, it can be done again today. That is my heart for Saint Patrickâ€™s Church. I want to hang onto the ethos I was given as a Southern Baptist that places high value on the preaching of the Word and is radically committed to the Great Commission while at the same time loving the historic liturgy and finding nourishment in the sacraments. I think we are doing that and I pray the Holy Spirit will continue to lead us deeper into this reality.