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!
Learn more about Anglican Christianity.