Above: A Depiction of the first Lutheran Divine Service in Brandenburg, 1539
Evangelical + Reformed + Orthodox + Catholic
Upon entering Church of the Incarnation, one might be struck that it looks very much like a Roman Catholic Church – at least as seen through the 1960’s. Church of the Incarnation is very happy that she shares many things with the Roman Church and this witnesses to the fact that both churches are legitimate heirs and branches of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Yet there are many things that one finds at Church of the Incarnation that are just as “Protestant” and the fact that this is not so apparent only speaks to how far Protestantism (and especially American Protestantism) has gotten away from its roots and the principles of its Forefathers.
The first hint that Church of the Incarnation is following the principles of the Reformation, and indeed the principles of the Eastern Christian Church, is that the Service of Worship is in English. Until very recently, Roman Churches said the Mass in Latin. This is not, in itself, completely bad (and some Anglican churches say the whole Mass or part of it in Latin) but as a Lutheran document from 1528 in Saxony, Germany puts it, “Some sing German and some Latin masses, which we permit, but where the majority do not understand Latin we regard it as profitable and good that the mass be held in German, so that the people may the better understand what is read and sung . . .” The Anglican Church too, from 1549 onwards, has said its Mass in English, where the people do not understand the Latin tongue. This also points out that in the original Reformation churches, like Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches, the Mass and other Church Services were sung or chanted. (“Instructions for the Visitors of 1528”)
But you celebrate Saints’ Days…
Yes, but to return to that same Lutheran document of 1528 again: “festivals, like Sundays and various other festival days should be observed according to the custom of each parish, for the people must have a certain appointed time when they may assemble themselves for the hearing of God’s Word. . . . It would be well that all should unanimously celebrate Sundays, the Annunciation, Purification, and Visitation of the pure Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Michael, the Apostles, St. Magdalene . . .” And such the Anglican Church has ever had in her Prayer Book. Having church only on Sundays and not on Saints’ Days and festivals too is a result of later innovations. (“Instructions for the Visitors of 1528”)
But you say the “Hail Mary”…
Yes, but these are simply words of Scripture. It was repeated often in the ancient liturgies of the Church and, as a matter of fact, was a part of the Reformer Zwingli’s own liturgy written in 1525, which he composed for the Christians of Zurich; Luther wrote an explanation of it and Henry VIII authorized its use. The final part, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, Prayer for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death” is a new addition and more controversial. Nevertheless, those words were first published and printed in a prayer book by the great Italian preacher, Savanarola, just a couple decades prior to the Reformation. He was himself considered a Reformer and was burned at the stake by a Pope. These last words are said by the congregation, voluntarily, and no one is required to say them who is uncomfortable with them.
There is a “Crucifix” above your “Altar”…
This is true. And if you return to many of the Protestant churches of Germany, Sweden, Norway and Finland, you will find that they never removed the beautiful “reredos” which adorned the backs of their altars complete with pictures of angels, saints, as well as a crucifix. In fact, the plain brass cross which is common in many American Protestant churches was considered controversial and “Catholic” in its day. Yet both the plain cross and the crucifix are perfectly permissible and “Protestant”. And, just to make the matter plainer, you will even find that there are monasteries in Germany and Scandinavia which are “Protestant” and have continued and flourished for centuries, both before and after the Reformation.
You also wear “vestments”…
This is also true. Both the “chasuble” and “cope”, however, were the distinctive and required garments of the ministers of the Church of England after the Reformation, as before it. It was not until subsequent attacks upon those vestments by the Puritans that just an academic gown began to be worn. It was also so in Germany and Scandinavia. For many centuries, the Church of Sweden, as well as the Church of Denmark and Norway, have worn the “chasuble” when celebrating Holy Communion and, as these are expensive, well-made and last for centuries, there are possibly parishes in Sweden which are still wearing the chasubles that they were wearing before the Reformation!
Why do you call yourselves “Evangelical”?
“Evangelical” means “of the Gospel”. It was the term chosen by the Lutheran churches, but, when combined with “Catholic” specifically and historically refers to the Anglican Church. William Augustus Muhlenberg, of the Muhlenberg family so famous in Pennsylvania, coined the term and applied it to the Anglican tradition. William Augustus’ great-grandfather was Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, “The Father of American Lutheranism.” William Augustus’ grand-father was Frederick Muhlenberg, a great figure in the founding of our Nation and also a Lutheran minister in Pennsylvania. William Augustus’ great-uncle, Peter can also be considered a “founding father” of our Nation. Peter Muhlenberg was also a Lutheran minister, but chose to serve in Virginia. Peter actually had to return to England to be ordained by Bishops in Apostolic Succession because Virginia was officially a Church of England colony. It is also the case that Peter wished to serve a Swedish Lutheran congregation and that the Church of Sweden also retains Apostolic Succession. It was at this congregation that Peter tore off his preaching gown, revealing a continental army uniform, declaring “there is a time for peace and a time for war.”
William Augustus Muhlenberg also chose to embrace the Anglican Way and Apostolic Succession, becoming assistant to Bishop William White at Christ Church, Philadelphia in 1817. He was a great friend of the Swedish congregations in the newly-formed United States and it is no wonder that so many Swedish congregations joined with the Anglican Church in the U.S.A. known at that time as the Protestant Episcopal Church.
For William Augustus, “Evangelical Catholic” incorporated the best of the Reformation and the best of the Universal Church of Christ. It meant a church with Apostolic Succession that preached the Gospel tirelessly and purely. That very much describes what Church of the Incarnation thrives to be.
Why do you call yourselves “Reformed”?
“Reformed” does not mean new. In fact, it is a word that is very consistent with “Evangelical” and “Catholic”. It is similar to the way in which the People of Israel reconstructed or re-formed the Temple of God at Jerusalem after it had fallen by the hands of Heathen armies. It implies a converted heart, a heart rejuvenated by the Gospel, a heart that has turned from its sin and embraced new life in Jesus Christ and is being built up in the same. That too describes the mission and ambitions of Church of the Incarnation.
“Reformed Catholic” also has historically been associated with the Anglican Church in the U.S.A. When the Anglican Church in the U.S.A. (known at that time as the Protestant Episcopal Church) threatened to be split by the War Between the States, plans were set in place to form an Anglican Church for the Confederate States of America. One of the proposed names for this was “The Reformed Catholic Church.”
Generally, when we say “Reformed” we mean “Calvinist”. And, indeed, Calvinism has had a deep and meaningful impact on the Anglican Way. Martin Bucer, Calvin’s own mentor, spent his last years in England and was very influential. Some have said that the Anglican Church is an important “middle way” between Lutheranism and Calvinism. Others have said that she is a “middle way” between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, and still others between “East” and “West.” All of these are in their own ways true. We should ultimately pray that where the Church is “corrupt” God would “purify” her and where “she is in want” God would “provide” for her. We also pray that where she is “amiss” God would “reform” her. (Prayer For the Church from The Book of Common Prayer)
Why do you call yourselves “Orthodox”?
“Orthodox” generally refers to those churches of the East which accept the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Christian Church. These Seven the Church of the Incarnation readily accepts as evidenced by The Affirmation of St. Louis to which Church of the Incarnation subscribes. Yet there is a deeper meaning.
“Orthodox” is the combination of two Greek words. The first part “Ortho” means “straight” or “true” – as in the word, “Orthodontist,” a doctor who makes your teeth straight. The second part, “doxa” refers to “opinion” or “belief”. In this, we see that “Orthodox” refers to somebody with correct opinion. But “doxa” has a second meaning, “glory” – as in the word, “Doxology,” “Glory Words.” Those churches which are Orthodox are those that “believe correctly” and accept the Creeds of the Undivided Church. When those Orthodox churches recite the Creeds, they proclaim “True Glory” and the recitation or chanting of the Creeds is, in fact, a “Doxology,” a hymn of glory recited to our Lord.
Why do you call yourselves “Catholic”?
“Catholic” in the context of describing the Church is synonymous with the Church. Strictly speaking, there is no Church besides the Catholic Church. All the words we have described before are adjectives which are used to describe the noun, “Catholic”. So we have “Evangelical Catholic,” “Reformed Catholic” and “Orthodox Catholic.” Many do not know it but every Orthodox Church of the East is not just an “Orthodox” church but an “Orthodox Catholic” church. The Russian Orthodox Church is more properly referred to as the “Russian Orthodox Catholic Church”.
“Catholic” is also the combination of two Greek words and means “according to the whole.” It was used by Aristotle to describe plants or animals of the same genus. In fact, the Latin word, “genus” is a pretty good descriptive of what “Catholic” means. It means that the fruit is the same because the tree is the same; the thing generated or born of it is the same genus as the thing breeding it, no matter where it is geographically. So it is with the Church Catholic. Wherever she is geographically she produces or generates the same thing.
The head or overseer of such a church is a bishop in Apostolic Succession. In this way he serves as the military “General” of that place. “General” comes from the word “genus”. A General in a military sense is one who directs the course of action against the enemy. This surely the Bishop does against our spiritual adversary. Furthermore, the Bishop as “General” produces and generates Christians (or fruit) according to the pattern or genus of Jesus Christ through Holy Baptism and Confirmation, and through the other Sacraments of the Church. (In the early Church, the Bishop was normally the one to Baptize.) In some places, a head bishop is called a “Catholicos” – here again we see that the Latin and Greek words are consistent.
The important reason for combining “Evangelical,” “Reformed” or “Orthodox” with “Catholic” is to emphasize two parts: Form & Function. Catholic is the “Form”: Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, producing and generating by Doctrine and Sacraments the fruit of Faith, disciples of Jesus Christ. But sometimes the Form is there but the Function is dysfunctional. The Church is not producing what She is supposed to produce and therefore we add Evangelical, Reformed or Orthodox to describe where in fact she has, not only the Form, but the Function of the Church. The Function of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel (Evangelical), call sinners to repentance and new life in Christ (Reformed), and to teach the correct things (Orthodox).