WHY CHOOSE THE ANGLICAN WAY?
When you search for “churches” you find a bewildering assortment of names and types of churches and denominations. As you drive through the streets of a town or city you see an astounding variety of names outside buildings which are churches or temples or mosques. It is as though there is in America a supermarket of religion where each of the churches and denominations is on display and we have the daunting task of choosing one or the other as we survey the packed shelves searching for our Sunday consumption.
In this fascinating but confusing supermarket of religion you will find the general category of “Anglican” and within this category you will “traditional” and “modern.” “Anglican” does not take the same amount of space on the shelves as do the names “Roman Catholic” and “Methodist” and “Southern Baptist” but it is easily identifiable there.
Why choose the Anglican Way (traditional) from among this bewildering display? Consider these reasons:
1. The Anglican Way has been around a long time. When it comes to such things as smart phones or vehicles we rightly buy the latest tested technology. However, when it comes to matters of the human spirit and soul and of man’s relation to God, looking to the accumulated wisdom of the centuries becomes vitally important. In religion what has been believed, taught and confessed for centuries and what has been prayed and performed for more than a millennium is more likely to be our guide in making a sound choice than what has been produced in the last few years. This is not just an arbitrary criterion but one based on the belief that what has been believed, taught, and confessed has been informed, guided and directed by the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Of course, having been on the scene a long time a traditional faith may look tired and may seem to be merely part of the way things are. However, this is not necessarily so and the Anglican Way as an historical religion can be as vibrant today as it was two, three, or four centuries ago. In fact a clear definition of the Anglican Way was formulated in the sixteenth century as part of the reformation of the Church in England. The intention was to keep it the ancient and biblical Church it had always claimed to be, thus confounding the popular notion that it was founded by Henry VIII. What actually occurred was that reform took place in his reign and that of his successors.
2. The Anglican Way is not a system of ideas but it is a living Faith. Therefore we do not refer to it as “Anglicanism” or “Episcopalianism” for such terms suggest an ideology where people are committed to certain ideas or principles or beliefs thus making it a religion only of the head, a cerebral faith. One of the first descriptions of Christianity was “the Way” (Acts ix.2) and our Lord Jesus Christ referred to himself as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John xiv.6). He is the Way to Almighty God, our Father, because he is the Truth and the Life. So the center of the Anglican Way is union with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the one and only Way. Thus this religion is a total way of life for every day or every year for the whole person, the whole family and the whole congregation. It is a walking with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit through the world to the heavenly Father in glory.
3. The Anglican Way is both personal and corporate. Each baptized person is encouraged to know the joy of a personal relation to the Lord Jesus Christ and to experience the witness of the Holy Spirit in his heart assuring him that he is a child of God our heavenly Father. Yet he is also taught to see himself as a member of the body of Christ, bound in the Holy Spirit to other members of the body. Part of limb separate from the body has no proper use; likewise to be fully Christian the individual believer is called Christ into a dynamic relation with fellow members of the body of Christ. This calling to be together and belong together occurs in public worship but it also takes place in a variety of forms of fellowship and service together in parish life. The belonging together in Christ Jesus is especially proclaimed by the rite of infant baptism wherein a child from a Christian family is made a member of the body of Christ. Later that child publicly embraces the faith of his Baptism at Confirmation, and receives the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So he learns to pray, “Our Father…” in both a personal and a corporate way.
4. The Anglican Way orders our lives a Way to the living God and with one another in the Body of Christ through the discipline of common prayer. In fact the service book that is used is called, The Book of Common Prayer, which was first produced (from earlier services) in 1549 in England. We find in the pages of this book provision for our relation with God on every day of the year, with special attention to Sundays and festivals. For each day of the year there are two services, Morning Prayer (Matins) and Evening Prayer (Evensong). Then there are services for every Sunday and for the great festivals of the Church Year (Christmas, Easter, etc.). Also there are services for holy Baptism, for Confirmation, for Matrimony and for the Burial of the dead. When a person or a family or a congregation follows the discipline of the Book of Common Prayer in sincerity and truth then he or they will be practicing the Anglican Way, walking with Christ Jesus in the Spirit and in the communion of saints to the Father.
5. The Anglican Way is preeminently a biblical religion. In fact, when practiced according to its own rules it places before Christians a full encounter with the contents of Holy Scripture, an experience which is probably not equaled in any other form of Christian religion. Each day in the two daily services there is the reading of a passage from the Old Testament and from the New Testament (so that the church reads through the whole Bible on a regular basis using a Lectionary); there is the meditative reading/praying of Psalms and there is the meditative reading/praying of biblical canticles (e.g. the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis). Further, there are readings from the Bible each Sunday and on feast days at the service of Holy Communion. The faithful who read the Bible and hear it read are not encouraged to understand it according to their own privatized judgment and feelings of the moment, but as members of the Body of Christ, the holy, catholic Church.
6. The Anglican Way looks especially to the Early Church for guidance, illumination and inspiration. Obviously the early centuries of the Church in the Roman Empire were the time when the Church developed its worship, doctrines, disciplines and pieties. So when the Anglican Way was emerging in the sixteenth century as the English Way of being the Church of God in England, the bishops explained the relation to the early Church in terms of a 1,2,3,4,5. They said that the Church of England (Anglican Way) is committed to One Bible which has Two Testaments. This Bible is to be read and interpreted by those who believe the Three Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian), who have learned the Church’s dogma and doctrine and discipline from the Four Ecumenical Councils (Nicea 325; Constantinople 381; Ephesus 431; & Chalcedon 451). Further, the Church is to learn from the way such things as Piety, Liturgy, Canon Law, Ethics and Sunday observance developed in the First Five Centuries. Yet being in this Way does not mean looking back to live in the past but learning from the past for the sake of the present and the future.
7. The Anglican Way is associated with the pursuit of excellence in the way it performs divine service in the public place. The Book of Common Prayer was not written in the English spoken in the market or the tavern in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was written in a dignified, understandable English whose meaning can be quickly appreciated and learned by people of average intelligence. The very title of the prayer book, The Book of Common Prayer, suggests that this is a Way of Prayer/Worship for all people whatever be their class or their profession. Related to the Book of Common Prayer is the translation of the Bible known as the King James Version (1611). These two book have had a tremendous influence not only upon the development of the English language but upon the formation of millions of souls in the love of God. Th emotion of the dignity of language is an expression of the supreme dignity of God himself and also of the dignity of his Church where we gather in his holy Name. Further, as used in the Anglican Way they have also attracted the production of memorable music, poetry and art. Thus, for example, we now have (where there is a good choir) such beautiful services as Matins and Evensong where much of the whole act of worship is offered to the Father through the Son and with the Holy Spirit in chant and song with fine music.
8. The Anglican Way is committed to Christian education for the whole Body of Christ. The clergyman is seen as “the godly and learned minister” able to teach the flock of Christ from the Scriptures with wisdom and knowledge. The laity is seen as called to acquire a working knowledge of the whole content of Scripture, to believe the Creeds and to practice the morals of the Christian religion. Further, through parochial schools, colleges and universities, the Anglican Way is committed to the ideal of bringing all human knowledge under the rule of Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. Thus it is not surprising that Anglicans have spoken of commitment to Scripture, Tradition and Reason, not as equal partners but in terms of acknowledging the authority of Scripture, through the help of Tradition and with the use of godly reason. So the expression, Credo ut intelligam (“I believe in order that I may understand”), is taken seriously, for Anglicans seek to bring everything into subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ and the revelation of Truth from the Father through him.
9. The Anglican Way is committed to the educating and sanctifying of the whole person, body and soul, and as a thinking, feeling and acting being. The Way leads not merely through this life but to the life eternal, to the joy of the life of the age to come in the glory of heavenly bliss. Thus Christians are encouraged by the grace of God to begin now to be what they shall be in the fullness of life in heaven. We are to love the Lord our God with heart and soul and mind and strength. So while the Anglican Way places a high premium on the development of our minds (so that we think as Christians) it also seeks o develop our affections and emotions so that they are directed to that which is good and true and beautiful. In fact there is a beauty in orderly, spiritual Christian worship which elevates and purifies the affections, feelings and desires and directs them to their fulfillment in Christ. Likewise in godly meditation upon the sacred Scripture each day there is not only a quickening of the mind but, as the mind drops into the heart, there is a raising and purifying of the affections and desires. Finally, there is the vocation to be the willing servants of Christ daily at home and at work, in school and in leisure. This is the practical outworking of loving the neighbor for Christ’s sake.
10. The Anglican Way in obedience to the command of Christ is committed to the evangelization of the world and especially to each parish/congregation proclaiming the Gospel in word and action in its own area. There are many ways of bringing people of both sexes and all races to know Jesus Christ, but when inquirers are ready to enter into the worship of the local church, then, in preparation for the common life in Christ, they are instructed in the meaning of the Creed, the Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer (what to believe, how to behave, and the art of prayer/meditation), in the reading of Scripture, participating in Christian liturgical worship and fellowship and service. On this foundation they grow in maturity in Christ through sharing in Common Prayer.
11. The Anglican Way is an ordered, hierarchical form of Christianity confessing Jesus Christ as Lord of all in a modern, egalitarian, secularist world. Thus it is perceived by many as being anti-cultural, for it stands in opposition to the drift in our culture towards selfishness, self-destruction and chaos. The Anglican Way promotes the ordered and generous living that gives the peace that passes understanding in God for God transcends all temporary and transient cultural fads. Following divine order in creation and by grace it seeks to guide and control for the purpose of sanctification, our natural desires. Being hierarchical, it does not fit into modern ideas of equality for, following the Early Church, it has three grades of clergy—bishop, presbyter (priest) and deacon. Further, it confesses that, according to the mind of our Lord Jesus Christ, only those men called by God ought to be bishops, priests, deacons in the Church. Moreover, this divine order is seen not a constricting but as liberating, for it releases man to serve the living God in ways which are pleasing to his Majesty and ennoble humanity.
O God our Father, forasmuch as without Thee we are not able to please Thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Lightly edited. The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon, President of the Society, Whitsuntide, 1997]
Saint Athanasius Anglican Church
10811 Staples Mill Road, Glen Allen, Virginia 23060
10811 Staples Mill Road, Glen Allen, Virginia 23060
Christian Education 9:30am / Holy Communion 10:30am
The Anglican Province of America
The Anglican Province of America