Friday, March 28, 2014

Why I am an Anglican

Over the course of interacting with various people via the World Wide Web or through personal interaction, I have come to realize that a good proportion (if not a majority) of the people in our churches have joined Anglicanism for the wrong reasons. Indeed, quite a few haven't a clue what Anglicanism is (of course, this is not their fault, how can one be expected to know what their clergy do not?). The purpose of this brief essay will be to explain the reasons for which I have embraced the Anglican tradition as my own.

1. Its doctrine conforms to the teaching of Scripture

The only reason for which one should embrace the Church's teaching is that it faithfully aligns with the teaching of Holy Scripture. This is the means by which doctrine is established in the Church of England (and, by extension, her daughter Churches throughout the world). As is prefixed to the Articles of Religion in His Majesty's Declaration:
That the Articles of the Church of England (which have been allowed and authorized heretofore, and which our clergy generally have subscribed unto) do contain the true doctrine of the Church of England agreeable to God's word: which we do therefore ratify and confirm, requiring all our loving subjects to continue in the uniform profession thereof, and prohibiting the least difference from the said Articles; which to that end we command to be new printed, and this our declaration to be published therewith...
Yet, not only are the Articles of Religion agreeable to God's Word (and for this reason, and this reason only, to be accepted by the Church) but also the acceptance of other traditional statements of faith, such as the Creed, is subjected to the same requirement:
The three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius' Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture (Article VIII).
God's holy and perfect Word "containeth all things necessary to salvation" and no other thing may be added to be necessary to salvation that is not contained in the Scripture, as the article continues, "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" (Article VI). This limits the medieval Church's (and the current Roman and Eastern Churches') understanding that the Creeds and Councils of the Church are infallible in teaching religious truth, on their own merit. They may be correct, if they agree with Scripture, and they may err, as they have, when they depart from God's Holy Word. Or as the Homily on the Reading and Knowledge of Scripture says:
Unto a Christian man there can be nothing either more necessary or profitable than the knowledge of holy Scripture; forasmuch as in it is contained God’s true word, setting forth his glory and also man’s duty. And there is no truth nor doctrine necessary for our justification and everlasting salvation, but that is or may be drawn out of that fountain and well of truth. 
The Church's own authority is determined by its faithfulness to the Scriptures so that "it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another" (Article XX). Likewise, "General [Ecumenical] Councils… when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture" (Article XXI). Not only has the Church of Rome, and the Churches of the East, erred, but also the Ecumenical Councils have erred (such as the Seventh Council at Nicea).

Scripture is the Word of God (note, it does not only contain but is in its entirety). It is without error and leads men to all necessary things for salvation. Is the Word of God to be found in other places besides Scripture, such as the Church, Tradition, or Reason? No, these are not the Word of God but are below it and rely upon it for their authority. Is the Word of God comprehensible to the average man? Yes, it can be interpreted by even the lowest of all men for its truths are self-evident and discernible by reading the whole of it. 

These assertions show the faithfulness of the Church of England and the Anglican tradition that stems from it, to the teaching of Holy Scripture. It is for this reason that the doctrine of the Church of England may be trusted in all of its declarations.

What are these declarations? What is the Scriptural truth that our Formularies so boldly proclaim?

First, the Anglican tradition is unabashedly Protestant in its doctrine, that meaning patristic, apostolic, and Scriptural. The Protestant Reformation was a conscientiously reactionary movement to an increasingly liberal Roman Catholic Church. Its intent was to return the Church to the truth of the Scripture as found in the early Church in its faithful believers and teaching. This includes the glorious truth of the reliability of Holy Scripture, as detailed above, the marvelous grace of our God through the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which grace alone we come to know God through Christ. Grace, as the Bible teaches, and which was so lamentably lost in the Middle Ages, is the unmerited favor of God to act on our behalf and to provide the means by which we may turn to Him, through no merit of our own but only by His power and grace. The means by which we receive him is faith, and faith alone. By faith is meant a childlike trust in God as our Father and in the work He has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. By this means, and by this alone, may we come to know Him and glorify Him through our lives.

The Anglican tradition is unabashedly Reformed, in the Calvinistic sense of the word, by its adherence to the aforementioned points and in its upholding of the biblical doctrines of predestination and election. Our Article XVII boldly proclaims the truth of this doctrine by saying most eloquently:
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honor (Article XVII).
We should all pause and rejoice in this truth. Were it not for the unmerited favor of God in his grace towards us, there would be no hope for salvation. As the Scriptures teach, man has so wholly rejected God by his sin, intentional and unintentional, that there is no one who desires God of his own merit. For this reason, we rejoice in God's intervention on our behalf and his turning us to Him by the power of His Spirit. 

The Anglican tradition continues in its acceptance of the one true Reformed religion (as established by law in England) in its rightful teaching on the Sacraments, which are two in number, Baptism and Holy Communion, and effectual means of grace, when received worthily in faith. The Sacraments themselves are signs by which God works on our behalf. In Baptism, God accepts us as members of His Covenant and begins His work in us (completed in our response to Him in faith). In the Lord's Supper, our Church rightfully teaches that Christ is present to believers by faith (and not in the bread and wine). 

Our Church is also Evangelical in its teaching of the responsibility of personal conversion in our turning to God by grace through faith to save us by the sacrifice of Christ. The necessity of spreading the message of the Gospel of salvation by faith alone is a call to personal conversion. 

2. Its worship preserves the good of the historical Church yet it rejects that which is not Scriptural.

Not only is the doctrine of the Church of England Scriptural and worthy of belief, but its worship biblical and historical. This was the wisdom of Archbishop Cranmer in his reform of the English Church, by God's Providence.

This is often known as the normative principle of worship, as it is contained in our Church's Formularies:
It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the Traditions and Ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.
This teaching gives our Church the liberty to allow diversity in worship, so long as it does not contradict the teaching of Scripture. It also has preserved the structure of the historic Church, whilst rejecting those things that had crept up into the life of the Church via foreign and pagan sources. The nature of the Church's teaching requires that what is approved by public authority be used and not that each minister be a Pope unto himself, devising liturgies as he please. Our Church is a Church of order and not anarchy.

 The nature of our worship is ritualistic but not ceremonialistic, meaning that it prescribes the exact wording of the services to be conducted in Church but does not allow for an elaborate ceremonial. The nature of our Prayer Book is simplistic, enough so that the common man may use it with confidence. The purpose is not to distract worshippers from God by showy gestures but to concentrate him on God's goodness through constant exposure to Scripture and non-superstitous ceremonial.

3. Its discipline is biblical, historical, and pragmatic

The discipline of the Church are those things that the Church requires for its worship or other matters which do not pertain to its doctrine but the manner in which it orders itself. As the Article says:
Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying.
The most famous aspects of Anglican discipline are the episcopacy and liturgy. The nature of our worship was discussed above but the episcopacy has not been mentioned as of yet. The nature of episcopacy is mentioned in the Ordinal:
It is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles' time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ's Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Which Offices were evermore had in such reverend Estimation, that no man might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and known to have such qualities as are requisite for the same; and also by publick Prayer, with Imposition of Hands, were approved and admitted thereunto by lawful Authority. And therefore, to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in the Church of England, no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, in the Church of England, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he be called, tried, examined, and admitted thereunto, according to the Form hereafter following, or hath had Episcopal Consecration, or Ordination.
The purpose of maintaining the episcopacy was to note that it was for the well-being o the Church in the Apostolic age and it does not contradict the teaching of Scripture. It is good the ministers have some form of oversight over their cure of parishes. The Church of England historically allows two perspectives on the nature of orders in the Church. Some accept that there are two biblical orders of presbyter and deacon. The nature of the episcopacy is presidential in function, not in essence. This means that a deacon and minister are ordained to an order but a bishop is consecrated to an office. The other point of view is that there are three distinct orders: bishop, presbyter, and deacon. The Church of England rightly rejects the sacerdotalism of pagan religion. There is but one High Priest, Jesus Christ, and all believers are his priests in the world. The nature of the ministry is presbyteral, a ministry of elders, called to teach, preach, and administer the Sacraments. This shows the wisdom of the Church of England in maintaining the ministry of bishops but rejecting a false understanding of the nature of it.

These three general principles demonstrate the faithfulness of Anglican doctrine to the Scripture, the rightness of its worship and its discipline in connecting it to the historic Church whilst rejecting the errors of Rome and the East.


Isaac said...

"The nature of our worship is ritualistic but not ceremonialistic, meaning that it prescribes the exact wording of the services to be conducted in Church but does not allow for an elaborate ceremonial" (emphasis added).

Jordan, is the lack of ceremony in the BCP a prohibition of ceremony or is it a lack of prescribed ceremony? I.e. I've always seen it as being similar to Shakespeare: precise script with anemic stage direction, allowing a certain degree of interpretation in the latter. In fact, to me that's some of the genius of both the BCP and Shakespeare: the flexibility in 'stage direction.' I'd see a high-church service that is faithful to the 'script' of the BCP to be as legitimate as a low-church service of the same, provided that the rubrics are not violated. Would you agree?

The Hackney Hub said...

I don't think so. The BCP is rather prescriptive. The only case I can see to be made is the additional ceremonial permitted by canon law (bowing at the name of Jesus). The Anglican Church was marked by ritual and ceremonial conformity for most of its history, it was only rebellious clergy in the late 19th c. who changed this (by disobeying their bishops, both in the US and England).