Celtic Christianity’s Diversity in Practice

May 17, 2008

Celtic Christianity is quickly becoming a popular expression of Christianity. However, many misconceptions abound about what Celtic Christianity is, and many people are confused by the multitude of Celtic Christian groups with varying types of theology. Are Celtic Christians devout Irish Catholics? Or, perhaps, Anglicans? Are they, maybe, a unique brand of western Orthodox Christianity? Is there space in the Celtic Christian movement for evangelical Celtic Christians? In short, the answer to all of these is yes.

Celtic Christianity cannot claim any one group within the Christian faith. It’s a truly para-church expression of faith. Celtic Christianity encompasses those in historic denominations, those who attend distinctly Celtic churches, and those without a regular church home. It’s easy to hear the term Celtic Christian, and automatically assume that Irish Catholicism or Scottish Presbyterianism is meant. The Christianity of the ancient Celts was distinctive, and while some groups have retained Celtic practices, I’m not aware of any Celtic churches that have existed in a continuous line since the introduction of Christianity in the British Isles.

In short, ancient Celtic Christianity was more community-based, very incarnational, and managed to avoid most of the heresies and controversies that plagued the early Church. Many of the more divisive theological issues have their origins in teachings that the Celtic churches never embraced. For example, many Celtic Christians reject the belief of Original Sin, mainly because it wasn’t a part of Christian teaching at the time Christianity was introduced to their lands. Many Celtic Christians today are able to take the best of Celtic Christian belief and adapt it to their own faith. Here, I’ll highlight some of the “streams” within Celtic Christianity.

Probably the largest group of people who identify as Celtic Christians are in established denominations, often Catholic and Anglican churches. These Christians are able to bring Celtic Christianity into the mainstream, so to speak. Many Episcopal parishes here in the US are offering Celtic-style Eucharist services. Christians from many backgrounds are using Celtic prayer books to enrich their worship. Authors such as George G. Hunter have been very influential in bringing attention to Celtic Christianity in a modern context.

Celtic denominations typically tend to follow an Old Catholic, Anglican, or Orthodox form of worship. Most of these denominations have an apostolic succession that includes bishops from various backgrounds. Beliefs differ as to whether women may be ordained to the diaconate or priesthood. Many Old Catholic and Anglican Celtic groups are liberal in theology, while many Orthodox Celtic groups are conservative. Franciscan theology is very popular, since many Celtic Christians consider St. Francis to be an “honorary” Celtic saint due to his love for all creatures.

Yes, evangelical Celtic Christians exist as well! One such group in existence is a communion of Celtic Christian Anabaptists. Anabaptists represent the tradition within Christianity that the Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren belong to. Some independent Celtic groups are more evangelical in their approach. Another common expression of Celtic Christianity is what is known as the convergence movement. The convergence movement blends catholic, evangelical, and charismatic expressions of faith. Many Christians are embracing the convergence movement, as it brings together varying beliefs in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

As we can see, Celtic Christianity is not a monolithic movement by any means. It brings together Christians of all backgrounds, united by a unique theology about God’s incarnational presence in the world He created.

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4 Responses to “Celtic Christianity’s Diversity in Practice”

  1. “Yes, evangelical Celtic Christians exist as well! One such group in existence is a communion of Celtic Christian Anabaptists. Anabaptists represent the tradition within Christianity that the Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren belong to. Some independent Celtic groups are more evangelical in their approach. Another common expression of Celtic Christianity is what is known as the convergence movement. The convergence movement blends catholic, evangelical, and charismatic expressions of faith. Many Christians are embracing the convergence movement, as it brings together varying beliefs in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”

    I’m not sure I’d agree with this because the Celtic Church simply does not evangelize. I’d say that the true Celtic Church believes that all religions worship the same God and each man or woman follows their own path to God. Therefore, rather than the need to convert, the onus is put on the Celtic Christian to accept other faiths.

  2. A Celtic Xtian said

    Hi MacCoinneach,
    What evidence do you have suggesting that Celtic Christians don’t evangelize? That’s a kinda broad generalization to make. Yeah, maybe Celtic “Christians” that attempt to synchronize Christianity and paganism don’t, but the orthodox, Anglican, etc. variations?

    Celtic Christians evangelize without scare tactics. You can be respectful of where someone’s coming from without denying Jesus’ own words that no one comes to the Father but by Him. JMO.

  3. I’m not exactly sure what you mean by evidence. What I have said is the teaching of a friend of mine who is a Coarb of the Celtic Faith. The Celtic Church is known as the Church Invisible for good reason, it doesn’t evangalise. It is simply there for those that seek it. It should not, in any manner, interfere with any other person’s path to God.

    But then, as you say, there are many flavours of Celtic Christianity in the world today:

    “Yeah, maybe Celtic “Christians” that attempt to synchronize Christianity and paganism don’t, but the orthodox, Anglican, etc. variations?”

  4. Hi guys,
    This is the type of interesting discussion I hope this blog will generate.

    There are so many different types of Celtic Christians out there that it really is unbelievable. Unfortunately, I have yet to find discussion groups online that are truly diverse. The last one I was involved was more along the lines of “why Russian Orthodox-style folks are right and Anglican-style folks are depraved”. Somehow I suspect that group’s main intention was promoting their particular variation of the Celtic way.

    I do agree with Celtic Xtian’s assessment that evangelism is found in Celtic groups. Evangelism for me means letting it be known that Jesus is the Way, Truth and Life but leaving the final results to God. Coercion and the like certainly aren’t good ways to promote Christianity 😦

    Mac Coinneach, is your friend’s ministry function similar to what’s described here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-arb ?

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