Bible Freedom ScienceCopyright © 2011, Charles Henry Johnsen, III

An Anglican Nonconformist

Oxymorons can highlight a truth and are in the same humor category as puns. I enjoy them and use them—inflict them—on my readers to make a point. The more obscure, the better. For example, I have used names like The Western Abzu and The Faithful Heretic. Both of these proved more offensive than obscure, more humiliating than humorous. What is my excuse? Well, I do work alone. Number Four in the list of reasons Why Writers Need Editors is simply Charles. The retreats I make in these two links should give a rational writer pause before he tries one again. But not me, I have to be just as (oxy)moronic and obscure as ever with my new name: The Anglican Nonconformist.

An Anglican is a Christian in the tradition of and in communion with the English Church. One of the great things about Anglicans is the habit of latitude within the boundaries of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. For example, as long as we follow The Book of Common Prayer we are free in the way we vest ourselves. There is also rather more doctrinal variation allowed than in most Christian denominations.

But it was not always so on that small set of islands. In those bad old days politics trumped religion. The King was Henry, not Christ. So, to be a nonconformist was pretty serious, dungeon and gallows serious. Since the Seventeenth Century the term Nonconformist has been applied to those outside of the Church of England including Quakers, Pagans, Methodists, Roman Catholics, and Puritans.

I encourage you to use the internet to define Nonconformist for yourself. Unless you are a history buff specializing in English history, this will be a strange new world for you. Some of the sects listed as Nonconformist are odd and even bizarre. That is not the sort of Nonconformist I mean. And you will notice that some folks moved in and out of the Conformist-Nonconformist categories, depending on the political winds. Some of these I would be proud to call my spiritual ancestors. I have my problems with Methodists, but not many. The Puritans as well. After all, if it were not for the Puritans taking the label Nonconformist, America as we know it would not be here.

The history of the Anglicans is full of intolerance, suffering, and blood. By that suffering of the Body of Christ, the Holy Spirit has taught us the lessons of tolerance and personal choice where faith encounters politics. In England and her colonies, especially in America, freedom of religion has become settled political doctrine. Not because it protects the State from moral judgment but because it protects the people and their faith from the State. If a Buddhist is free to be a Buddhist, then Christians are free to be Christians. The whole pagan idea that the monarch or president or Parliament ran the country or set values for everybody is cast aside with idols and polytheism.

I proudly join myself to that tradition and pray the Anglican Church in North America will see fit to re-ordain me as a priest. At the same time I am an odd sort of candidate. Baptized into the Holy Catholic Church by a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod pastor, ordained as pastor myself in that same synod, I come to Anglicanism with ears for different hymns. Always engaged with science and engineering, I sometimes ask questions no others ask. And I am such a radical libertarian that ideas of individual freedom, under the Covenant, sneak into every public utterance. These are not bad things, actually valuable in the right place and time, but they are different from the usual Anglican priest.

So I chose this oxymoron, The Anglican Nonconformist, in all humility, as one way to keep you unsurprised when I write. If you hear a sermon by me, or a prayer, all the Nonconformist bits are quiet as I discipline myself to keep to Law and Gospel, Word and Sacrament. Unwarned, you would be surprised when you read my writings on politics, religion, and the philosophy of science. Not that there is anything heretical or pagan about what I write, not anymore, but it is unconventional and radically biblical, rational, and open to new argument.

A more humble person would phrase that differently, turning it from a claim to prayer.

What is the difference between Charles vested and Charles not vested? Nothing but this: I love controversy and free inquiry. But, like eating your lunch, there is a better time and place for debate than when leading God's People in sermon and Eucharist.