In the 18th century, the Christians we now call Methodists were faithful Anglicans. Their eventual formation of a separate church was driven by Anglicanism's fear of religious "enthusiasm." Anglicanism rightly abhorred the violent excesses of European religious conflict, but at the risk of rejecting spiritual passion. Formal Anglicanism refused to make a place for the passionate, personal testimony of Methodists and the body of Christ suffered more fragmentation.
Yet Jesus took on our whole human nature in the womb of Mary. He lived with passion and enthusiasm, and these must find expression in his church if it is to represent him.
When we put a lid on enthusiasm for Christ, the passion seeps out someplace else, usually in the form of "causes." Here's a quote from an Episcopal priest caught up in enthusiasm for the gay/lesbian church, a strange emotional blend of jingoism, religious language and the Pledge of Allegiance:
"...the American church is willing to take whatever consequences may come in order to save its soul, which means boldly and consistently advocating for justice for all."
Wall Street Journal, Dec. 7.
These words are a judgment on Anglicans. Because we fear our own enthusiasm and passion for Christ, we wind up venting the power into these kinds of eccentricities.
What is our hope? It is expressed in a lesson that Episcopalians and many other Christians will be hearing in the next 48 hours:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
"Self-control" is not ignored - it is right in the middle of who we are meant to be. But there is also the passionate effort to renounce (the Bible uses terms like "crucify, put to death") our ungodly ways and to become zealous for the work that Christ assigns us as his ambassadors in the world.
It is too easy to be enthusiastic about that which brings us headlines or victory over perceived enemies. May we become zealous instead for "manifestations of the glory of Christ" which, like his birth, are surprisingly small, humble and "off the grid" from a worldly point of view.
UPDATE: The major bloggers are sharing Ephraim Radner's analysis of things Episcopal - worth the read.