Nonconforming & Conforming

Regular readers will know of my virile Protestantism. They may therefore be a little bemused to learn that I spent some time last week switching the altar cloths, hangings and associated paraphernalia at St Andrew’s episcopal church, in Banff. Episcopal is what Scots call their version of Anglicanism and it seems to be universally Catholic in its manner of worship. I was visiting my old university tutor who lives up there. We both love church history, but alas, before we could go out for the afternoon, we had to honour his church cleaning commitment. I was responsible for replacing the white of Whitsun with the green of Ordinary time. Although I would normally disdain such 'rags of Rome', I will confess to some satisfaction at having successfully completed the job. I dare say my fellow worshippers at Aberdeen’s Free Presbyterian Church would not have approved.

The Scottish Episcopal Church is far too 'high' in my estimation. St Andrew’s has several statues of Mary and some questionable paintings of Jesus. In a culture saturated by Presbyterianism, those northern Anglicans emphasised their distinctiveness by ‘going high’. Conversely, Irish Anglicans of the Church of Ireland, in response to an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic context, became rather 'low church' and were traditionally evangelical. It is interesting to think that our churches often seem to reflect negatively the religious landscape in which they develop. Congregationalism was a protest against powerful bishops and a state church in which all and sundry were deemed members. Early Methodist services were characterised by lusty singing and ‘enthusiasm’, providing a contrast with the state church’s staid and dry prayerbook recitation. Most of the churches around us today are charismatic or pseudo-charismatic, which is why perhaps we have swung the other way. While claiming to be faithful to the scriptures, we cannot get away from the fact that we are also influenced- positively and negatively- by our theological and ecclesial surroundings.

Each generation of Christian is called to go against the flow, to make a stand, to be different. Although this may express itself in various ways, we must always seek to faithful to Christ. As well as not conforming to our surroundings, may we more fully conform to Him.

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Romans 8:29, NKJV.