What is the Anglican Way
and why is it good?
The following series of short reflections relates closely to a series first put out in the precursor to the Anglican Way then known as The Mandate
by The Revd. Dr. Peter Toon, in 1997
(The first five reflections are included in this post
and the second five in Part II the post which follows)
When you go online or search a directory for “churches” you soon find a bewildering assortment of names, types and denominations. As you drive through the streets of a town or city you also see an astounding variety of buildings which are churches, 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 from which we have the daunting task of choosing one or another for our Sunday consumption.
In this land of the free market, of individualism and human rights, there is no likelihood that the supermarket of religions will shrink or close down. It will probably get larger. This means that the oldest forms of ordered Christianity — e.g., the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches — have to compete with the newest forms — e.g., charismatic, independent, community churches. The Episcopal / Anglican Church, which has been in America since the late sixteenth century, likewise has to offer its wares in this competitive environment, with religions for all tastes.
But while the general category of “Episcopal” and “Anglican.” may not take up as much space as others, it can still be found! Some products may present religion in terms of a form of true self-realization, self-fulfillment and internal harmony. To be fully human, it may be said, is to live with God and to be fully inclusive of all forms of sexual and gender orientation. But also there are other products which present the Christian Faith in terms of a right relation of man with the almighty Father, through his Son and by the Holy Spirit. These also speak of heaven and hell, of sin and repentance, of personal salvation, and of worshipping the Lord our God in the beauty of holiness with a most excellent liturgy. To be fully human, it is said, is to be in communion with the transcendent, holy God of righteousness.
Why choose the traditional form of the Anglican Way when there are not only more supposedly up- to-date forms of Episcopalianism and thousands of other forms of American religion on view?
Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things; graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The first five of ten further reflections follow that expand on what this means (each concluding with a collect) with the remaining five to follow in a separate post of Part II
1 The Anglican Way is both Ancient and Modern
When it comes to such things as cars and televisions we usually buy the latest tested technology. This makes sense because such things are being constantly improved with advancing science. But when it comes to the human spirit and soul in search of the living God, the sensible person looks to the accumulated wisdom of the centuries. Such wisdom is not merely found in ancient texts, but is alive in traditions of meditation, prayer, worship and direction of souls. Taking account of ancient knowledge that is still alive becomes vitally important when our search is to find and know God and be in friendship and communion with him.
In the Anglican Way there is a living tradition of wisdom and knowledge, which may be traced back through the New Testament into the period of the Old Testament. It is supported by the writings of the early fathers and offers an understanding and piety that has matured over the centuries within the life of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Those who seek godly wisdom and holy knowledge will find it as they persevere in Common Prayer and that holy tradition of prayer and meditation, doctrine and discipline, that enfolds that Prayer.
As a living, historical religion the Anglican Way, can be as vibrant today as it was two, three or four centuries ago. Let us never forget that God, the Holy Trinity, has not changed in his relation to us. What is required of us is the wholehearted commitment to the fulness of the Common Prayer Tradition.
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are 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 Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
2 The Anglican Way is not an Ideology but a living Faith
One of the first descriptions of Christianity was “the Way” (Acts 9:2) and our Lord Jesus Christ referred to himself as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). He is the Way to Almighty God, our Father, because he is the Truth and the Life.
Since being in and on this Way is a genuinely personal experience, one’s whole being is involved, for this is a Faith asking for total consecration: it is loving God with one’s whole heart, soul and mind, with all one’s strength.
The Anglican Way which came to America from England, (the “land of the Angles” in famous phrase of St Gregory the Great to Saint Augustine of Canterbury) in the late sixteenth century) is a total way of life for every day of every year. It is for the whole person, the whole family and the whole congregation. It is a constant and continuing walking with the Lord Jesus Christ and in his Body with the Holy Spirit through the world and the evils of the present age to the heavenly Father in glory.
Many states, groups and people have formed their lives on the basis of an ideology with a program of political action. But the Common Prayer Tradition is anything but an ideology, being rather, a relation with the Holy Trinity within the communion of saints engaging body and mind, soul and spirit, head and heart as well as the will.
It stands thus in contrast to the individualist, privatized religion which is so common today in the West. Historically it has preferred to use the biblical images of the believer as a soldier in an army, a disciple in a school and as a member of a body rather than the modern language of “a personal relationship” to describe how the believer stands with regard to the Lord Jesus Christ. Such language involves the personal within the corporate and avoids individualism and the modern tendency to see “relationship” as a as some kind of essentially ephemeral union. To be in union with Christ in his Body is an everlasting relation.
In terms of relations with other Christian “Ways” the Anglican Way lays down four principles for inter-communion known as the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral and comprise affirmation of the Scriptures, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the two Dominical Sacraments, and the Historic Episcopate.
Send, we beseech thee, Almighty God, thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, that he may direct and rule us according to thy will, comfort us in all our afflictions, defend us from all error, and lead us into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the same Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen
3 The Anglican Way is both Personal and Corporate
Individualism permeates much twentieth-century, western Christianity. At its best it means that an individual person really believes that Christ died for him, truly for him, and that he has to live wholly for Christ in this world. At its worst, it means that an individual person equates salvation with the search for self-esteem, self-worth, self-realization and self-fulfillment, and may see little or no value in truly corporate worship and service of the living God.
The personal and the corporate are found in a harmonious relation within theBook of Common Prayer. Each believer 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. In the words of the Service of Holy Baptism — “He is not to be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.”
Yet we are each to understand ourselves too as a member of the body of Christ, bound in the Holy Spirit to other members of the body. To be fully Christian the individual believer is called by 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 highest form of this fellowship one with another is experienced in the service of Holy Communion when the faithful on earth are united in Christ Jesus, the great high priest, by the Holy Spirit with the “whole company of heaven” [the Blessed Virgin, apostles, martyrs, and saints together with all the holy angels] in praising and thanking the Father Almighty. Then, as one Body under Christ their Head, they are fed by him with his own Body and Blood at his Table. So the faithful are in him and he is in them for salvation and unto ages of ages.
This 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 personally embraces the faith of that Baptism at Confirmation, and receives gifts of the Holy Spirit.
So we each learn to pray, “Our Father…,” and to confess, “I believe in God the Father….” in both a personal and a corporate way. The “Our Father” is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and thus his Father, and it is the Church as Bride of Christ (of which he is a part) which says/ sings her Creed to her Bridegroom.
O almighty God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son, Christ our Lord; grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou has promised to those who un feignedly love thee; through the same thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
4 The Anglican Way involves Orderly Prayer
Anglican Prayer orders our lives as a Way to the living God and with one another in the Body of Christ through the discipline of what is usually called “common prayer.”
The service book for this daily Prayer called,The Book of Common Prayer, goes back to that first published in 1549 in England. Though even then, its content was not wholly new, much of it was the English translation, with editing, of forms of prayer and worship that had already been used in the Church for centuries. It was new, however, to have all the services in one book and be the same for everyone from the king and clergy to the laity and in a dignified and understandable form of English. It thus sustains the personal and corporate relation with God on every day of the year, with special attention to the Lord’s Day, Sunday, and certain festivals and saints’ days. Thereby we are within the communion of saints and looking always to Christ, the author and finisher of our salvation.
For each day there are two services, Morning Prayer (Matins) and Evening Prayer (Evensong). Then there is the Service of Holy Communion for every Sunday, for the holy seasons of the Church Year (e.g., Christmas, Holy Week, Whitsuntide, Ascension), and for other holy days (commemorating the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles). There is also the Litany together with the occasional services for Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony and the Burial of the dead.
The daily practice of this Anglican Way of prayer, is to walk with Christ Jesus with the Holy Spirit and in the communion of saints to the Father.
The Common Prayer Tradition does not prohibit our use of extempore or unspoken prayer. It simply sets before us a disciplined form of prayer to guide us. For example, it teaches us that the normal way of worship and prayer is to address the Father almighty through his only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and with/by the Holy Spirit.
Since the 1549 BCP, there have been further definitive editions. Of these, the best known is the English edition of 1662 to which the edition of 1928 is closest in America where it remains widely used. The 1662 however remains in widespread use around the Communion worldwide.
O Lord, who never failest to help and govern those whom thou dost bring up in thy steadfast fear and love; keep us, we beseech thee, under the protection of thy good providence, and make us to have a perpetual fear and love of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
5 The Anglican Way is based on the Bible
The Anglican Way is pre-eminently a biblical religion. Through the traditional lectionary it places before us a full encounter with the whole contents of Holy Scripture that reflects the way the Scriptures were understood and used by the early Church.
Each day, in the two offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, there is the reading of a passage from the Old Testament and from the New Testament and the saying of psalms (all of which are read or sun or prayed each month) and there is the meditative recitation of biblical canticles (e.g., the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis). On each Sunday as well as Feast days, there are also, at the service of Holy Communion, readings from the New Testament, Epistle and Gospel, that supplement the Daily Office.
Heard and received in this way, the faithful are helped to understand sacred Scripture as members of the Body of Christ, the holy, catholic Church, rather than according to their own feelings of the given moment and privatized judgment. The Bible is the gift of God to the whole Church and it is as members thereof that each believer reads the Bible within the Faith of the Church.
Even if the faithful of the Anglican Way are not able to keep to the full discipline of the reading and praying of Scripture in the Daily Offices, this commitment upheld before them as the ideal, while such simplified options as “Forms of Prayer to be used in Families” are also available that can help children to learn the discipline of daily prayer.
The biblical basis of the Anglican Way informs thus the whole structure and content of the services within the Book of Common Prayer. They point to the Father almighty who sends his only begotten Son to become man, for us and for our salvation, and who sends his Holy Spirit upon his Incarnate Son to sanctify and empower the Church. They contain the call of God to repent and be baptized, to die to sin and to rise in Christ to life eternal.
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou has given us in our Lord Jesus Christ Amen.