The late Robert Webber, Wheaton professor of theology, a convert to Anglican Christianity wrote, “The best way into the future for Christ’s church is one organically integrated with her past.“
The heart of Anglican spirituality is seeking Jesus through common prayer, being formed by a shared immersion in the communal annual reading of the Bible, finding Jesus’ sacred presence in baptism, and weekly participation in the Lord’s Supper and giving ourselves away to the least, last and lost. We emphasize being transformed by God in a prayerful community (God’s calling out “a holy people”) rather than as discrete and disconnected individuals seeking our own subjective experience of God.
For most folks Anglicanism is hard to get their arms around. We tend to focus more on the process of sanctification: becoming like Christ, rather than the event of salvation, as with non-denominational Christians. As such, in America, the Episcopal Church hasn’t been very good at evangelism. So lots of people born in our church leave to “meet Christ” elsewhere – this is a major weakness of ours. Our strength is that it we are phenomenal at giving people a process of spiritual formation: helping people develop spiritual depth. Anglicans do this well because we have access to the deep well of 20 centuries of the church. That is why lots of people seeking Christian maturity join Episcopal churches. In Arizona, for example, 70% of our clergy come from other traditions.
Anglican Christianity is complex and sometimes counter-intuitive. I have found it to be sort of “Master’s degree level” Christianity, whereas most of us are used to high school level Christianity-simple and accessible. It is important to point out that not all need a Master’s degree, but all do need a high school degree. But for those seeking to go deeper-Anglicanism offers a great opportunity.
So I invite you to come pray with us. You will be blessed.
*”Anglican” means “English” and “Episcopal” means “bishops.” The Anglican/Episcopal Church originated in and is in relationship with the Church of England and is led by bishops. Our churches are all over the world. Together we are called the “Anglican Communion.” With around 78 million members, the Anglican Communion is the third largest branch of the Christian family tree, behind Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. In this article I use Anglican/Episcopalian synonymously. The Episcopal Church is the Anglican Communion’s constituent member church in the United States…although groups of former Episcopalians are now using the name. The disagreements between us are over matters of biblical interpretation, in particular around matters of sexual expression. Many, but by no means all, “traditionalist” Episcopalians have re-affiliated under the banner “Anglican” in the U. S.
8 thoughts on “Why would anyone join a “brand name” church? (What the heck is an Anglican pt. 2)”
Over time people have asked me “so why are you an Anglican”? At one level I had no say in it. Although both my parents are not Christians, on my school forms my Mother wrote Church of England, (even though she is Scottish!) So growing up the C of E (which in Australia changed its name to Anglican in 1981) to me was simply ‘the Church’. The other factor was that it was through the ministry of an Anglican church and through the attendance of an Anglican Church that I came to faith in Lord Jesus. So in essence it was all I knew.
However I attended a non-denominational Bible College (SMBC – Sydney Missionary and Bible College), attended Baptist churches for 2 of my 3 years at College, then worked with the Church of Scotland in Scotland and Presbyterian Churches in Australia. I tried hard to fit in but being an Anglican never went away, I found myself often praying prayers from the Prayer Book when I was praying out loud in the services. After serving in Baptist and Presbyterian contexts I then went full circle and I am now an ordained Minister with the Anglican Church of Australia in the Armidale Diocese.
In other words, one can take the man out of the Anglican Church, but cannot take the Anglican Church out of the man.
So why am I an Anglican? Here are a few reasons:
1. Because I am Reformed & Protestant
The Anglican Church stands in the great Reformed tradition that is rooted in the primacy of the scriptures (sola Scriptura) and the doctrine of salvation by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (sola Christus) to the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria), which is foundationally expressed in the classic Book of Common Prayer. Anglicanism rejects the Authority of the Roman Church and Pontiff, (Article XIX of the Church). One of the architects of Anglican Worship, Thomas Cranmer set out a pattern of liturgical worship that is very much in protest against the Roman Church. (I.E Confession is made to God through Christ, rather than to a priest; Rather than forgive a person on behalf of Christ, An Anglican Presbyter announces God’s forgiveness. The Anglican Church rejects transubstantiation (the physical presence of Christ in the elements) (see Article XXVIII Of the Lord’s Supper).
2. Because I am a Evangelical
The word “evangelical” is used in many different ways these days, and there is much debate about its meaning. A good definition is J.I. Packer’s six distinctives of evangelicalism, which are endorsed by John Stott and Alister McGrath, all three of whom are prominent evangelical Anglicans.
1. The supreme authority of Scripture for knowledge of God and as guide to Christian living.
2. The majesty of Jesus Christ as incarnate God and Lord, and the saviour of sinful humanity.
3. The lordship of the Holy Spirit.
4. The need for personal conversion.
5. The priority of evangelism for both individual Christians and for the Church as a whole.
6. The importance of Christian community for spiritual nourishment, fellowship and growth.
(See Alister E. McGrath, Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity, Leicester: IVP, 1995, p. 51.).
Here we see the evangelical commitment to the Bible as not only being the word of human authors but also the word of God; the unique person and work of Jesus Christ by which sinners may be justified before a holy God by putting their faith in him; the encounter with God’s Spirit who inspired the Scriptures and speaks through them; the call to personal (though not individualistic) repentance; the commission to proclaim the Gospel in all the world; and the commitment to the life of the Church. It is a set of short and simple statements but between them they define the movement well.
I understand Packer’s distinctives to mean that these are the Christian doctrines that need to be stressed if we are to keep the Gospel front and center. It is not to belittle any other teachings of the historic creeds, but it is to say that unless these are deliberately underlined, they have a disconcerting way of migrating to the margins of Church life. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is always unsettling people, and the sinful desire to tame it is ever present. Specifying how that can be avoided is one of evangelicalism’s greatest gifts to the Church.
Before the Reformation there was one church, the Church Catholic. The word Catholic is a combination of two Greek Words [Kata Holis] ‘according to the whole or “Universal”– however the gospel of God had been slowly replaced by the traditions of men. Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the time of King Henry VIII, was able to bring Martin Luther’s rediscovery of justification by faith alone into the heart of the Church of England. It has since spread around the world in Anglican and Episcopal Churches and is now the third largest Christian denomination with about 77 million members.
Anglican doctrine and practice have been traditionally defined by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine articles, which originate in the work of Thomas Cranmer. Both are deeply rooted in the Scriptures.
So why am I an Anglican?
What excites me about Anglicanism, and what I have come to see all the more clearly with the benefit of further study, is that it offers the historical anchoring that many evangelicals seek. It allows us to root our convictions in the riches of the tradition of Christian thought and prayer that faithful followers of Jesus Christ have passed down to us. We can discover an ancestry that goes back two thousand years – right back to the teaching of Jesus himself, with great theologians, liturgists and saints whose writings can help us to be the disciples that Jesus calls us to be. It also makes us more clearly part of the one, holy, catholic (i.e. universal) and apostolic Church.
These are some of the reasons why I am an Anglican and seek to promote evangelicalism amongst Anglicans and Anglicanism amongst evangelicals. This blend of biblical authority and evangelistic fervour makes for a powerful Christian witness and nutritious soil for growing disciples.
Joshua, this is brilliant:
“The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is always unsettling people, and the sinful desire to tame it is ever present.”
How thoroughly true.
Prayers that we would never be ones to attempt to tame the Untameable One. All it does is beg the Holy Spirit to move on to vessels who would be of more use.
Robert Webber wrote a book titled Liturgical Evangelism in which, among other things, he commented on the way the gospel is presented in the BCP. The weakness in Episcopal Church evangelism may be in the pulpit. How many priests really understand the gospel message and proclaim it? How many bishops understand it. Maybe more than I think, but it seems to me that the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ is missing.
Every bishop I know would say that preaching is our weakest link. I would say this is both with content as well as method- myself included. As has been said, “Go takes u as we are, but never leaves us there.” A gospel without transformation doesn’t seem like very Good News to me.
I really like Joshua’s reply because it shows how we need to remember the “high water mark” of the Reformation. The one thing I would add to Soli Deo Gloria is that we are to know God in all that by which He makes Himself known, in all the works of creation and providence. Here I am putting together the answers from the Westminster Shorter Catechism #’s 1, 46, and 101. Since the Reformation, Christians have been challenges by Enlightenment Rationalism and Atheistic Naturalism to show that God can indeed be known from general revelation. The current challenges facing the Episcopal Church in the US are primarily challenges about our ability to know the natural moral law and apply it to our lives and to society in general. Each of the major denominations involved in founding the US, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, and Anglican, seem to have been hesitant to address this challenge at the general revelation level, and I hope this can be remedied. If not, I suspect that fideistic appeals to the Bible, or to tradition and forms of church government, will be insufficient.
I can picture you, Matt, or another Anglican priest delivering a sermon just like this:
[audio src="http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/turning-the-church-into-a-christian-boot-camp.mp3" /]
Tell me if I am wrong.
Great message. I am not sure how common that message is in our tribe. Many Episcopalians are not as clear on grace as one would hope. Many of us are moralists…proclaiming the virtuous life- much like many conservative churches only with a different set of virtues. The cross has always been a stumbling block as it leaves us all without justification and on equal footing as needy recipients.
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