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This is the fifth part in a series on what we love about the Anglican way. To read parts 1 through 5, click here.
6. The Anglican Way is Liturgical
As we noted last time, Anglican liturgy is catechetical, taking seriously the idea that how we worship affects what we believe. However, we didn’t really explain what liturgy is or why it’s important to us. That’s the purpose of this note—we also love the Anglican way because of its liturgy.
Worship is the recognition and proper appreciation of God’s worthiness. But, it’s much more than that—it is a communal action involving a gathering of people and the presence of Christ Himself. When we worship God, we give Him glory. We do this by praising, thanking, petitioning, learning from, obeying, and proclaiming Him. But what should worship look like? Are we free to just make it up as we go? The Anglican answer is NO! Our Lord prayed for His will to be done on earth “as it is in heaven”. Thankfully, God has given us pictures of heavenly worship, in, among other places, Isaiah and Revelation. These pictures inform as to the postures and language we should use when we worship.
The word liturgy comes from Greek and means “the work of the people.” Therefore, the work we do to worship God is our liturgy. God’s people from the earliest days worshipped in a prescribed structure, at God’s command. The Old Testament includes commands on when and where to worship, clothing during worship, the décor of the place of worship, how worship is to be conducted, and by whom it should be conducted. Why would God command a certain way to worship? Why not allow people to worship God in a way that seems fitting to them? God does not just demand any type of worship; as a perfect, holy being, he demands a holy worship, which gives God the “glory due his Name.” Psalm 29:2. The people of God give Him the honor due unto his Name by worshipping Him in a fitting way.
If we trace a line from the Old Testament to Revelation, several principles consistently govern the worship of God. In the Old Testament, God prescribed a calendar to celebrate His acts of redemption (e.g. Passover, Pentecost). He instituted numerous ceremonies to be performed by the people and the priests (e.g. sacrifices and offerings). He ordained certain clothing to be worn in worship. He wrote a hymnal to be used in worship (Psalms). And, worship was to be reverent and ordered. When we look at heavenly worship, we see liturgical worship also. In places like Revelation 4, we see repetitive praises that continue endlessly. This worship is not spontaneous. It is also antiphonal—God speaks to worshippers and they speak back to Him. We see specific postures for worship—bowing, in particular, is used frequently in Revelation. Incense is used in heavenly worship, as it was in Old Testament worship. Like the Old Testament, specific vestments are worn in Revelation (white robes). In sum, heavenly worship includes hymns, repeated prayers/praises, incense, bowing, and vestments.
What about New Testament worship though? Doesn’t that free us from all this Old Testament ceremony? The problem with this question is that it doesn’t deal with heavenly worship, which is the ultimate model, as Hebrews 9:24 makes clear. In any event, New Testament worship was formed out of Jewish worship, and history tells us that many of the liturgical elements of Judaism were retained. Acts reflects this continuity. For instance, Christians prayed set prayers (“the prayers” of Acts 2:42) in the temple at specific times (Acts 10:2-3). The early church celebrated certain Jewish holidays, keeping in view their completion in Christ. (Acts 20:6, 1 Corinthians 16:8). They worshiped on Sundays (a set day) and included the “breaking of bread” or communion at every service. (Acts 2:42, 20:7). We also see in the New Testament creedal formulas (1 Cor. 8:6, 15:3-5), doxologies and benedictions (Jude 24-25), and sacramental liturgical formulas (Matt. 28:19, 1 Cor. 11:23-26). 
These principles made their way into the earliest liturgies of the church. Anglican liturgy is rooted in the liturgy used in Ephesus, believed to have been written by St. John or St. Paul. Indeed, many of the elements of Anglican liturgy are found in the Apostolic Tradition, which is believed to have been written by Hippolytus in the 200s A.D. Anglicanism retained these liturgical principles because, as the Prayer Book says, “the wilful and contemptuous transgression and breaking of a common order and discipline is no small offence before God, Let all things be done among you, saith Saint Paul, in a seemly and due order. . . therefore no man ought to take in hand, nor presume to appoint or alter any publick or common Order in Christ’s Church, except he be lawfully called and authorized thereunto.” God has given us principles of worship and poured His Spirit into the Church to determine how that is worked out. Of note, Christian worship has never, historically, been intended to look like the world's way of gathering, and as such, Anglican worship, done correctly, will not look that way either.
In sum, we love the Anglican way because it has faithfully retained liturgical principles found in Scripture and used by the Church throughout the ages. Anglicans see the thread that began in the Old Testament and that ultimately manifests in heaven. We assume that if God wanted us to worship differently in this age, He would have told us so. And, we trust that the Holy Spirit, promised to guide the Church into all truth, did just that in connection with how we worship.
 Much of this content is found in the blog article “The Biblical Foundations for Liturgical Worship,” by Rev. Jordan Cooper, found here: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/justandsinner/the-biblical-foundations-for-liturgical-worship/?fbclid=IwAR2Je2g_ptZxJCEHypNWnnptAbwnazNeo4hLwlkm9yezeKnNUM22RbsUMlY
This is the fifth part in a series on what we love about the Anglican way. To read parts 1 through 4, click here.
5. The Anglican Way Is Catechetical
If one spends just a little time reading about the traditional liturgy, he or she will come across a Latin phrase: “lex orandi, lex credendi.” Translated, this means that the law of what is prayed is what is believed. Sometimes, the words “lex vivendi” will be added to this phrase, and in adding those words, the idea is expanded to mean that the law of what is prayed is what is believed and then lived. This “law” is yet another thing we love about the Anglican way.
Anglicans use the Book of Common Prayer (“Prayer Book”) for their daily prayer/Scripture reading times, Holy Communion, and other services and events. The Prayer Book, by its nature, is catechetical. Rather than leaving the believer to his or her own devices to read the Word and pray, the Prayer Book shapes how we read and what we pray, by pounding into our heads on a daily basis the great truths of the Christian faith, and it does so in the larger context of Christian community, the Church.
An example: at the beginning of each Morning or Evening Prayer service, the participants, together, offer a confession of sin to God: “ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father, We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.”
It’s certainly fine to simply ask God to forgive us our sins, and we do that throughout the day as sins come to mind (perhaps, we hope, immediately after we’ve sinned!). But this prayer offers more than a mere prayer asking forgiveness. It teaches us, so that our prayer shapes our belief, and then, hopefully, our lives. How so? Well, first, this prayer starts by reminding us of God’s mercy and power. There’s no sin He cannot forgive and He has the power to assist us in overcoming sin. Second, we acknowledge our “sheepness” before God—we tend to wander. This prayer reminds us of that. Third, it teaches us how sin starts—the devices and desires of our own hearts (as St. James tells us also). Fourth, it reminds us that there are sins of omission and commission and both are grievous. Fifth, we are taught that the only health in us, spiritually speaking, comes from God. Sixth, it reminds us again that God is merciful. Seventh, it recognizes that God has made promises in Christ and asks in faith for God to honor those promises. Eighth, it appeals to God to sanctify us to live a more godly life, for His glory.
Sure, such prayers can become rote. But a rote prayer still has a catechetical value, for the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind to convict of sin in the same way He might use scripture. And, this is just one example. Whether it’s repeating the Gloria Patri (which reminds us that God is Three-in-One), the Nicene or Apostolic Creeds (which orient us to a proper view of the Trinity and God), or a host of other repeated prayers or songs, we are taught daily and consistently the Gospel story in our prayer and Communion services. If we participate frequently, we are certainly shaped by these prayers and liturgy. One need only read Exodus to see how quick God’s people can be to forget the truth. We need catechesis and to be reminded of the truth, and yet another reason we love the Anglican way is that it catechizes us as we worship and pray.
4B. Anglicanism Is Traditional
Last time, we expressed our love of the tradition of Anglican Christianity, in two senses. The first sense considered tradition as the ancient history of the Church: the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church located in the British Isles. We love this “tradition” because it demonstrates that the Anglican Church is not a “new” church or a denomination that arose out of the Reformation (though it did, certainly, reform in the 16th century). It is not named after a man or a theological system, but instead, is simply the Church of Christ in a location throughout time. You can read the first part here.
This time, we turn to the second aspect of tradition, namely, the theological traditions of Anglican Christianity. Simply stated, Anglican Christians seek to believe that faith “which has been believed always, everywhere, by all.” This quote, from St. Vincent of Lerins in the early 400s AD, captures what Anglican Christians believe theologically. Anglican Christianity, properly done, eschews novelty and innovation, instead searching for the truth embraced by Christians since the time of Christ. Another way of summarizing (loosely) Anglican theology is that we subscribe to: one canon (the Bible), two testaments (Old and New), three creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian), four general councils, and the first five centuries of the history of the undivided church.
Of course, as we explained earlier, the Bible holds the highest place of authority for us. But, we do not interpret Scripture in a vacuum. It is not “every man (or woman) and his (her) Bible” for us. Scripture, in its content, contains all that is necessary for life and godliness. But we only need to survey the fragmented nature of Christianity to see that it’s not enough to interpret the Scriptures for ourselves. Many Christians cannot even agree on what the essentials of the faith are, let alone on the details of those essentials. We bring baggage or our own worldview to Scripture when we read it. In doing so, we end up often substituting our own interpretation of Scripture as the infallible Word of God, when it is not—it is Scripture that is infallible, not us. This is why we think it’s vital to be rooted in the history of the Church and its teachings.
Some may not like this idea, but Jesus gave us some assurance on this point. In John 14, Jesus promised his Holy Spirit—“another Advocate to be with you forever.” In doing so, He would not leave His Church as orphans. In John 16, Jesus promised that this Spirit would guide the Church “into all truth.” In Matthew 28, Jesus tells his disciples (the first leaders of the Church), that all authority had been given to him, and therefore, they were in the position to go out and make disciples, “teaching them” to obey all Christ commanded. He also promised He would be with them. In John 20, Jesus, who had full authority from the Father, passes that same authority on to the Church’s leaders—“As the Father has sent me . . . I am sending you.” The Spirit of Truth did come, of course, at Pentecost. St. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “stand firm and hold to the traditions” he taught, whether in person or by letter. 2 Thess. 2:15.
G.K. Chesterton sums it up this way:
“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”
In sum, Anglican Christianity recognizes that Jesus created the Church; the Bible didn’t. Jesus vested the Church with authority to teach and interpret the Bible. And the promise of His Spirit assures us that we can trust the Church to teach the truth, particularly on key things (like who Jesus is, the Trinity, salvation). In effect, we test the teaching of the Church against Scripture’s plain language, but in those areas where there may be some question (such as, what happens in baptism? or who should be baptized?), we look to the consistent teaching of the Church through the ages and defer to it. We recognize that some parts of Scripture are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16). We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We trust Christ’s promises to guide the Church into truth. And this is one more reason we love being Anglican Christians.
This is part 4 in a series on what we love about Anglicanism. To see the previous articles, click here. This week is the first of a two-part article on the traditional nature of the Anglican Church.
4A. Anglicanism Is Traditional
The fourth reason we love Anglicanism is because of its tradition. Tradition is often seen as a bad thing in the eyes of some Christians, but Anglicanism embraces it to the extent it is not inconsistent with Scripture, which, as explained earlier, is the highest authority. There are two types of tradition, different in nature, that we will discuss. The first one refers to the history of the Anglican church. It is not a “new” church and it is not a “denomination.” Instead, it is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, which has existed in the British Isles since, perhaps, the first century A.D. The second aspect of tradition, which will be discussed in the next installment, concerns theological traditions.
When did Anglicanism start? Many history students will answer: with Henry VIII’s desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon. This is not an accurate assessment, however. The English Church existed long before Henry VIII claimed to be its head in 1534. What about 597, when St. Augustine of Canterbury, on a mission from Pope Gregory, arrived on Great Britain? That’s certainly a key moment in the life of the English church, but the Church started much earlier than that.
Though it cannot be proven, there is a tradition that Joseph of Arimathea visited the British Isles in the first century A.D. While this may or may not be accurate, it is rooted in the truth that Christianity appeared in Great Britain, which was a Roman territory at the time of Christ, at a very early date. In one writing, dating to around the early 200s, an Aristobulus (thought to be, perhaps, the one in Romans 16:10) is mentioned as having visited Britain in the first century. Whether this is true or not, we have writings from Tertullian and Origen that confirm ancient, apostolic Christianity in Great Britain as of their own times (mid-second to mid-third century).
Tertullian wrote that even “the regions of Britain which have never been penetrated by Roman arms have received the religion of Christ.” St. Jerome, in the fourth century, wrote of the British church and stated that it had the same faith as all the other churches, with bishops of equal dignity as successors of the apostles (thus, the British Church was episcopal then, like the entire church at the time, as it is now). This British Church, in fact, sent its own bishops to the Council of Arles in 314 A.D. There are several other early church historians who mention Christianity in Great Britain before the arrival of St. Augustine, the Roman Catholic Pope’s emissary, in 597.
It is certainly true that the English church voluntarily subjected itself to the Roman Church at and after the Synod of Whitby in 664 A.D., but this admission underscores the fact that the English Church existed, independent of Rome, for nearly 600 years before that. Thus, another reason we love the Anglican Church is that it is a historical, traditional church that traces its roots not to the reformation, but to the apostolic, or immediately post-apostolic age. It is now, and has always been, part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
This is the third part of a series on what we love about Anglicanism. The first part, on the gospel-centrality of Anglicanism, is here. The second part, on Anglicanism's high view of Scripture, is here.
3. Anglicanism Embraces the Sacraments
The third reason we love Anglicanism is that it embraces God’s work through the sacraments. You might be asking, what is a sacrament? According to our Prayer Book, a sacrament is “[a]n outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us; ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive this grace, and a pledge to assure us thereof.” So, a sacrament has four parts. First, it includes an outward and visible sign. Second, it includes an inward and spiritual grace given unto us. Third, it causes internally what it signifies externally: the outward sign was ordained by Christ as a means by which we actually receive the grace represented by that sign. Finally, it is a pledge to assure us of the foregoing.
In response to this, some might ask: why would God use physical means to give us His grace? Aren’t we spiritual beings who worship only in spirit? Because God is invisible and wants to be known (Romans 1:20-21), He has used visible means to convey His attributes to mankind in creation. God’s pattern of using physical substances to convey spiritual reality did not end with creation, however. God has employed physical things as avenues for mercies, as evidenced by Naaman’s washing in the Jordan, Moses’ rod splitting the Red Sea, and the trumpet blasts at Jericho. These actions (i.e. washing in water, touching a rod to the sea), in and of themselves, are powerless, and yet, God has invested them with power symbolically and sacramentally to accomplish His purposes.
As our priest has frequently said, we are not simply “brains on a stick.” Our whole being—soul and body—needs saving. To treat Christianity as a merely an intellectual exercise is to risk falling into Gnosticism, which treats the material world as sinful and salvation as lying in doctrinal understanding and assent. The sacraments, then, speak to both our souls and our bodies. They signify in a sense what God actually conveys by His grace by symbolizing what God intends to do for us. God uses physical material to say to our bodies what His Word says to our souls, and, because we are body and soul, these physical and spiritual communications are joined in the sacraments, which have both physical and spiritual components.
To be clear, the Anglican position is not that the inward grace is conveyed automatically, without qualification. Instead, while a sacrament may be validly performed, it will not be effective without faith. God, in fact, gives grace and works through the sacraments, but the grace conveyed in the sacrament will only be effective in the life of one approaching the sacrament in faith.
While there has been a debate between Protestants and Catholics (and even between Protestants) as to how many sacraments there are, all sides agree that the two major sacraments are Baptism and Holy Communion. In Baptism, the outward and visible sign is the water in which the person is baptized. The inward and spiritual grace is “a death unto sin, and a new birth, unto righteousness; whereby we are made the children of grace.” Thus, the Anglican position is that baptism is an outward sign that actually conveys the inward graces of regeneration, death unto sin, and adoption. In Holy Communion, the outward and visible sign is the Bread and Wine. The Body and Blood of Christ, who is truly, sacramentally present in the Bread and Wine, are the inward part of the sacrament. And through this sacrament, God strengthens and refreshes our souls by the Body and Blood of Christ, as our bodies are strengthened and refreshed by the Bread and the Wine.
Most Anglicans celebrate Holy Communion every week, and we love to do so, because we know that God is at work! And this is another reason we love Anglican Christianity!
Last week, we started a series on things we love about Anglicanism. You can read the first installment, about the Gospel, here. This is part 2 of the series.
2. Anglicanism Exalts Scripture
The second reason we love Anglicanism is that it exalts Scripture—certainly in theory, but especially in practice! The Articles of Religion explain that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” What does this flowery, Elizabethan-era language mean? It means that what we need to know about salvation God has revealed in Scripture. While Christians may believe doctrines traditionally held by the Church (e.g. that Mary was perpetually a virgin), if those doctrines are not proved from Scripture, one need not believe them to be saved or to be a member of an Anglican church.
This exaltation of Scripture is clearly manifested in our services. In our Morning and Evening Prayer services (as found in our Book of Common Prayer), we read at least one Psalm (usually more), an Old Testament reading (usually a whole chapter), and a New Testament reading. That’s just the Scripture readings—the Prayer services themselves are laden with prayers and canticles (liturgical songs, such as Mary’s Magnificat) that are, themselves, repetition of various Scripture passages. Depending on the church, we use a lectionary that takes the Christian through most of the Bible each year and the Psalms every 30 or 60 days.
Our Divine Liturgy (or Holy Communion Service) is even more-Scripture heavy. Each Sunday, we hear the Word of God read from the Old Testament and New Testament. We also pay special attention to a Gospel reading each Sunday, when the priest moves among the congregants to read the events and teachings of Jesus’ life. This action by the priest is meant to remind us that Jesus went among the people to teach and preach. On top of this, we sing a Psalm each week. Then there’s the homily, which is focused on Scripture. All in all, about 85% of the words, phrases, and language of our weekly worship service are directly from the Bible. Our homilies (or sermons) may be a little shorter than those in a typical Protestant evangelical church, but we more than make up for it with a super-abundance of Scripture reading. God’s Word is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword—we believe this truth and it is reflected in our practice. And it’s one more reason we love Anglicanism.
This is the first installment of a series on what we love about Anglican Christianity. This is intended to be a positive assessment of Anglicanism, rather than a negative assessment of other traditions. As such, any statement about a positive feature of Anglicanism should not be viewed as taking a negative view of any other tradition.
Learn more about Anglican Christianity.