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Why follow the Anglican Way? A question answered in the writings of Dr Peter Toon

by sinetortus

The Revd. Dr. Peter Toon

(1939-2009)

A long serving President of the Prayer Book Society and Editor of its Magazine

 

WHY FOLLOW THE ANGLICAN WAY?

 

The Anglican Way is both Ancient and Modern

In religion what has been believed, taught and confessed for centuries and what has been prayed, tested and performed during two millennia is more likely to be a sound guide in our quests to find God than modern insights which pay no attention to “ancient wisdom.”

In the Anglican Way, there is a living tradition of wisdom and knowledge which may be traced back through the period of the New Testament into the period of the Old Testament. A large part of the theological education and formation of ordinands has traditionally been an immersion both in the contents of the Bible and in the writings from the early fathers. In public worship the Bible is read from within a piety and understanding that has matured over the centuries within the life of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Those who seek godly wisdom and search for holy knowledge will find it in the classic Anglican Way if they open themselves up to what it can and will give unto them as they persevere in their searching. For it is to be encountered there by those who truly seek and diligently look both in the content and discipline of Common Prayer and in the holy tradition of prayer and meditation, doctrine and discipline, related to that Prayer.

As a living, historical religion the Anglican Way, however, 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. Therefore, what is required is the wholehearted commitment of those who call themselves Anglican or Episcopalian 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.

 

The Anglican Way is not an Ideology but a Living Faith

Nations and peoples, not to mention individual persons and groups, have formed their lives on the basis of an ideology. They have sought to live out the implications of a set of linked beliefs or concepts. Obvious examples are communism, national socialism and fundamentalist Islam. Where a religion is an ideology it is an intellectual assent to doctrines, accompanied usually by an intense commitment to a program of action. In the long term ideological “isms” do more harm than good to the human race.

Bearing this in mind it is best to make the effort not to refer to “Anglicanism” and “Episcopalianism.” This is because the religion ofthe Common Prayer Tradition is anything but an ideology, a religion only of the head, a cerebral faith, with a program of political action. In contrast it is a relation with the Holy Trinity within the communion of saints and as such it involves the whole person — body and mind, soul and spirit, head and heart and will.

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. So it is preferable to speak of the Anglican Way, the center of which is personal, living union with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the one and only Way. “Anglican” distinguishes it from other forms of the “Way” — Roman Catholic and Lutheran, for example.

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 all one’s heart and soul and mind and strength.

The Anglican Way does not use the modem religious expression “a personal relationship with” to describe how the believer stands with regard to the Lord Jesus Christ. It prefers to use the biblical images of the believer as a soldier in an army, a disciple in a school, a patient in an hospital, a member of a body and so on, because these combine the personal with the corporate and avoid individualism. In modem usage “relationship” points to a temporary and often ephemeral union of two persons. To be in union with Christ in his Body is an everlasting relation.

Thus this Anglican Way (using the English language and coming originally from England [the land of the Angles] to America in the late sixteenth century) is a total way of life for every day of every year 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 present evil age to the heavenly Father in glory. As such it contrasts with the privatized religion which is so common today in the West.

In terms of relations with other “Ways” the Anglican Way lays down four principles for inter-communion and they are known as the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral. They comprise the Scriptures, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the two 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

 

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 per- son equates salvation with the search for self-esteem, self-worth, self-realization and self-fulfillment, or sees little or no value in genuine corporate worship and service of the living God.

The Anglican Way existed before the birth of modern individualism. In it there is a blending of the personal and the corporate as this unity is found in Holy Scripture, tradition and the experience of the Church through space and time. The personal and the corporate are also found in a harmonious relation within the Book 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 he is also taught to see himself as a member of the body of Christ, bound in the Holy Spirit to other members of the body. Part of a limb separate from the body has no proper use; likewise 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 embraces for himself the faith of his Baptism at Confirmation, and receives gifts of the Holy Spirit.

So he leams 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 hast promised to those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

The Anglican Way involves Orderly Prayer

There are many ways to pray and within Christendom there is a variety of forms of prayer. Anglican Prayer, well tested by many saints, 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.”

In fact the service book that is used for this daily Prayer is called The Book of Common Prayer, and it was first published in 1549 in England. Not that its content was wholly new, for much of it was the English translation with editing of forms of prayer and worship used in the Church for centuries. What was new was (a) that all the services were in one handy book and they were the same services for king and people, for clergy and laity, and (b) that the effects of the Renaissance and Reformation were evident.

Anglican Prayer is thus Common because it is one basic structure and content of public prayer for all the people, whatever their age, sex, social position and educational status. As such it is in a dignified and understandable form of English.

We find in the pages of this Book of Common Prayer provision for our 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 of the year 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). Also there is the Litany to gather with occasional services for Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony and the Burial of the dead.

Not only our passage through space and time walking with the Lord and his saints, but also our relation to heaven is covered and set forth by this ordered and disciplined way of prayer.

When a person or a family or a congregation follows the discipline of the Book of Common Prayer in sincerity and truth then he or they will be practicing the Anglican Way, walking 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 unspoken prayer or prayers composed by ourselves. Rather it sets before us a disciplined form of prayer to be used and to guide us in our praying outside this order. 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 1662 BCP. In America, the latest edition of the classic Book of Common Prayer is that of 1928, which is still in print and used all over America.*

O Lord, who never failest to help and govern those whom thou dost bring up in thy stedfast 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.

 

*Editor’s note: — A new edition of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: International Edition, expressly arranged for use outside the United Kingdom (edited by Professor Samuel Bray and Drew Keane)  is about to be published by the Inter Varsity Press. This will be widely available -including from the Prayer Book Society USA.

 

 

(The material in this article was first published by him in the September 1997 edition

of the precursor of the Anglican Way then known as the The Mandate (Vol. 16. No 5)

which was also published by the Prayer Book Society)