Frequently Asked Questions.
OK, so what is “Anglicanism”?
The term “Anglican”, in its primary and historic sense, refers to the Church of Jesus Christ that was established in England , or “Angleland” as it was known in Old English. It is possible that Christianity existed in this part of the Roman Empire as early as the first century. The first major wave of evangelization, however, occurred in the fourth century as Celtic missionaries brought the faith to the pagan Romano-Celts living in the land. The second major wave of evangelization began at the 6th century, as Roman missionaries were sent to the Anglo-Saxon tribes that had conquered most of England by then. The Church of England came under full Roman authority in the 7th century, after several centuries of oversight by the Celtic churches. England became a solidly Christian land in the following centuries, and even retained most of its Anglo-Saxon Christian culture after the Norman conquest of the 11th century.
In the 16th century the theology and practice of the Church of England was shaped to a certain degree by the Protestant Reformation that took place in Western Europe. While English Reformers like Thomas Cranmer, architect of Anglicanism’s beloved Book of Common Prayer, agreed that certain reforms to the Western church were necessary, unlike most Reformation churches the Church of England took a very conservative tack, which is to say that it sought to preserve the “baby” of Apostolic and Catholic Christianity while throwing out the “bathwater” of some of what were deemed Rome’s unbiblical innovations. The result was a reformed English Church that had the Bible as its centerpiece of authority but also held to the historic Catholic creeds, historic three-fold ministry of bishop, priest and deacon (“polity”), and pattern of worship (“liturgy”) of the ancient church, as well as a devotion to collective theological wisdom of the early church theologians and pastors known as the “Church Fathers” and “Doctors”.
Anglicanism is not simply the faith of the English people, however. In subsequent centuries, missionaries from the Church of England took their faith and practice to various parts of the world: North America, Africa, India, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the world, establishing what came to be known as the worldwide “Anglican Communion.” Anglicanism flourished in these lands because at its center Anglicanism is about the biblical and apostolic faith, which Our Lord said would be preached to all the world, and not about a particular nation in the Northern hemisphere. While Anglicanism has a certain English imprint because of its unique history in the British Isles, at the end of the day it is not simply the faith of the English people and their descendants, but the faith of the Apostles and Fathers, a faith that is nowadays confessed by “every kindred tongue and nation.”
After the American Revolution, the Church of England in the States renamed itself the “Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America”, later to become known simply as “The Episcopal Church.” This means that the term “Anglicanism” here in the United States became equated with the faith and practice of what is commonly called “Episcopalianism”.
Unfortunately, like certain other churches that emerged from the Protestant Reformation, the Church of England and her sister churches in the USA, Canada and elsewhere came under the spell of the kind of theological liberalism that eroded the biblical and orthodox Christian faith everywhere in the West. Long story short, in the 1960s and 1970s conservative Episcopalian clergy and laity decided that they could no longer present to a world in need of Christ a true Anglican witness without separating from The Episcopal Church. Most of these conservative breakaway groups included “Anglican” in their name in order to highlight their distinction from The Episcopal Church on the one hand and their continuity with the older “Anglican” faith on the other. The Orthodox Anglican Church was one of the very first Anglican churches to secede from The Episcopal Church in the desire to carry forward the authentic Christian faith taught by the Apostles, Fathers and Doctors of the ancient church. The Orthodox Anglican Church, joining other faithful conservative Anglicans, seeks to present the authentic, classical “Anglican Way” to a world in desperate need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What makes one Anglican?
Unlike the belief of some, we do not hold that being an Anglican means being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, or even being a member of the so-called Anglican Communion. Being an Anglican means faithful adherence to the beliefs and practices of the Church of England in the days of her orthodoxy, and doing so under the supervision of a bishop in genuine apostolic succession. It means being faithful to the teaching of the apostles and Church Fathers, to the spirit of the Book of Common Prayer and other Anglican formularies, to orthodox Anglican theology as it developed under the “standard divines” (theologians) of the Church of England and elsewhere, and to the canons. Ultimately it means heartfelt commitment to “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
You're Anglican, but not Episcopalian?
Yes. Unfortunately, as explained above, we believe that The Episcopal Church and many other churches that are a part of the so-called Anglican Communion have departed not only from historic Anglican faith and practice, but from Christianity itself. Not that there are no faithful Christians in these churches, only that, by and large, these churches have sadly apostatized from the biblical and Catholic faith. The Orthodox Anglican Church – North America and the wider Orthodox Anglican Communion are a part of a movement of conservative Anglicans that have separated from the Anglican Communion and from liberal churches such as The Episcopal Church. We pray for the repentance of these churches and for the unity of those conservative Anglican churches that have found it necessary to leave the Anglican Communion.
Are you Catholic or Protestant?
Short answer: Yes.
Now for the long answer.
As noted in the section on Anglicanism, the English Church dates back to the earliest days of the English people, and has accordingly always seen herself as a part of the entire Catholic (“universal”) Church of Jesus Christ. However, the Church of England did become enmeshed in the tumultuous affair known as the Protestant Reformation. and because of that she has a certain “Protestant” or “Reformed” stamp. That being said, most Anglicans see themselves as “Protestant” only in a very conservative or restrictive sense. The 17th-century Anglican theologian John Cosin put it this way: Anglicans are “Protestant and Reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church.” Anglicans will commonly say that they represent “Reformed Catholicism.” One Anglican blogger expands upon this:
“The formularies of classical Anglicanism did a better job of retaining the wheat of the orthodox catholicism of the ancient Church while jettisoning the chaff of innovative medieval accretion than did any other segment of the Reformation. This is why Anglicanism can, perhaps uniquely, lay equal claim to the appellations Protestant and Catholic and affirm both without any sense of inconsistency or incoherence. Indeed, strictly speaking, in proper understanding of each term, to truly be one, you must be both.”
All that being said, and in keeping with the principle of Lex orandi, lex credendi (“The law of prayer is the law of belief.”), we believe our fundamental identity as Anglicans is Catholic. We believe so because of what we confess in the Creed during our prayers: “We believe one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic church.” For us, catholicity and apostolicity are inseparable. We are truly Catholic only to the extent that we are truly Apostolic, and we truly Apostolic only to the extent that we are truly Catholic.
One side note: all too often when people hear the word “Catholic” they think this is a reference to the Roman Catholic Church. When we Anglicans use the word “Catholic” with reference to ourselves we are referring to the beliefs, practice and polity of the undivided “universal” Christian church of the first millennium, before there was a “Roman Catholic Church” and an “Eastern Orthodox Church”. (The Christian church was one before the Great Schism of the 11th century, which gave rise two those two communions.) One good way of defining Catholic is found in the Canon of St. Vincent of Lerins, “What everywhere, what always, and what by all has been believed, that is truly and properly Catholic.”
OK, so what is this “Book of Common Prayer” you keep referring to?
The Book of Common Prayer is another one of Anglicanism’s “formularies.” During the English Reformation, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer and other English clergy sought to make the content of the Christian faith more accessible to the common people by producing both an English Bible and an English prayer book. Cranmer’s goal was to produce a one-volume book that contained texts for Morning and Evening Prayer, a Lectionary (schedule of Bible readings), the service of Holy Communion, the Ordinal (rites for ordaining deacons and priests, and for consecrating bishops) and other tools necessary for prayer, worship and living out the Christian church’s cycle of feasts and fasts.
Lex orandi, lex credendi is a Latin motto we have received from the ancient church and which goes to the heart of who we are as Anglicans. The English translation of the motto is, roughly, “the law of prayer is the law of belief” or “we pray what we believe”. What this means, essentially, is that everything we believe as Anglicans can be found in the official prayers set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. The prayer book is suffused with Scripture and a spirit of biblical belief that flows through all its prayers and rites. If you want to know what Orthodox Anglican theology looks like, read its prayers.
The Orthodox Anglican Church does not use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer used by The Episcopal Church, as we believe that it subtly changed the doctrine and liturgical ethos of historic Anglicanism. Orthodox Anglican parishes in the United States typically use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
What is apostolic succession?
Apostolic succession refers to a bishop’s standing in an unbroken chain of consecration stretching back to the first century. The term “apostle” refers to one who is “sent” by Jesus to carry on His ministry to the world. One of the earliest references to the succession of the Church’s first generation of bishops is found in the Epistle of I Clement, the bishop of Rome, to the Corinthians, which was penned around 95 A.D., before the death of the last apostle, St. John:
“Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.” (Ch. 44)
St. Irenaeus, writing c. 180 A.D., shortly after the death of St. John, refers to the chain of orthodox bishops as a bulwark against the teachings of the Gnostics:
“It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. . . . Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. . . .” ( “Against Heresies”, Book III, Chapter 3)
Anglicans believe that tactile apostolic succession is important because it is both the Church’s historic understanding of how Christ’s authority is conveyed down through the ages, and a guarantee of the validity of her sacraments. This does not mean that God cannot work through what we consider to be other “irregular” (non-episcopal) ministries. The Holy Spirit is not bound, and we know that there are other beliefs concerning the ordained ministry that have come to be as a result of the disagreements that arose during the Protestant Reformation. Accordingly, we are not so bold to say that these ministries are devoid of the grace of God. However, we are sticklers for tradition where tradition does not stand against Holy Scripture. The Church has always believed in the iconic, sacramental centrality of the bishop, that valid bishops stand in the chain of apostolic succession, and that valid bishops mean valid sacraments. This belief was unchallenged until the Reformation, some 1600 years after the Church was founded by Jesus and which was governed episcopally as early as 110 A.D., which we know from the epistles of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch. The English Reformers and perpetuated the historic threefold ministry of the ancient church and the succession of bishops.
Why do you have “priests”?
The English word “priest” is derived from the Old English “preost”, which in turn is derived from the Greek word “presbyteros” (“presbyter”; “elder”). That being said, Anglicans are not Prebyterians, that is, we do not simply view our priests as the Anglican version of Presbyterian clergy (“elders”). There is a sacrificial aspect to what our priests do, especially during Holy Communion. Some Christians believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is not supposed to have “priests”, since, as the arguments runs, the old sacrificial order of Jewish temple worship has been supplanted by our great high priest Jesus Christ, and we now have a sort of egalitarian “priesthood of all believers”. However, it is important to note that the earliest writings of the Christian church reveal that the church has always considered its “presbyters” priests, that is, clergy who offer sacrifices. During the tumultuous days of the Protestant Reformation, one of the chief objections to Roman Catholic theology brought forth by the Reformers was that the Roman Catholic Mass was a clear renunciation of the biblical teaching that Christ’s sacrifice was once for all, and therefore no more sacrifices are necessary. Whatever the merit of the case against Roman theology of the Mass might be, Anglicans do not deny that Christ’s sacrifice was once for all. This is reflected in the very words our priests say during the prayers of Holy Communion:
“ALL glory be to You, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who, in your tender mercy gave Your only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; Who made there (by His one oblation of Himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, offering, and complete payment, for the sins of the whole world;. . . .”
Nothing could be clearer. That being said, our priests, being priests, offer something there at the table. What is it? One Anglican seminarian puts it very succinctly:
“Not every sacrifice implies atonement. We * do* offer sacrifices on that Holy Table which makes it, by definition, an altar. There are “thank offerings”– which is precisely what the Eucharist is. We also offer incense (again, not as an atonement offering, but out of thanksgiving). We offer the prayers at the altar. We offer alms on the altar. These are all sacrifices and thank offerings. We are able to offer anything to God *because* of what Jesus has done for us in his once for all sacrifice *for sins* upon the Highest Altar of the cross.”
In fact, we offer our very selves to God at the altar. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”, writes St. Paul in Romans 12:1. Interestingly, Paul here conflates the idea of our living self-sacrifice with the idea of worship, and that is exactly what Anglicans do when they offer themselves to God in the Eucharistic sacrifice. As St. Augustine put it, “If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying ‘Amen’ to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear ‘The body of Christ’, you reply ‘Amen.’ Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true!”
So yes, we have priests – and bishops and deacons — as we hold to the historic threefold ministry, which finds attestation in the Church Fathers as early as the first decade of the second century (The Epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch). Unlike the practices of the Church of Rome and the Orthodox Churches, however, Anglican clergymen are allowed to marry, both before and after ordination.
There are so few Anglicans here in Western North Carolina. If Anglican Christianity is so mainstream, please name me some well-known Anglicans.
Most famous Englishmen and Englishwomen have been and are Anglicans, as would be expected, as were a number of famous early Americans. Here is but a smattering, representing various fields and vocations:
C.S. Lewis, famous English novelist, poet, medievalist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist, beloved of Protestants, Roman Catholics and Orthodox alike. Known especially for his Christian allegory novels “The Chronicles of Naria” and the “Space Trilogy.”
P.D. James, English writer and mystery novelist featuring police inspector Adam Dalgleish.
T.S. Eliot, famous English poet, essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic, whose thought has greatly influenced English and American conservatism.
Dorothy Sayers, English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, and member of the “Inklings” literary club along with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein
Jan Karon, Episcopalian author of the delightful “Mitford” series of novels about an Episcopal priest, Fr. Tim, and his life in Mitford, North Carolina, a fictional town based on Karon’s former home, Blowing Rock.
Peter Hitchens, conservative English journalist.
American presidents George Washington and James Madison, along with a number of other Founding Fathers.
Robert E. Lee, iconic general of the Confederate States Army and later president of Washington College, 1865-1870.
Absalom Jones, first African American Anglican priest.
David Pendleton Oakerhater, famous Native American Anglican deacon and missionary.
J.I. Packer, scholar, professor, and author of “Knowing God” among other known books.
John Stott, pastor, scholar, and author of “The Cross of Christ” and “Basic Christianity”
Canon Andrew White, Vicar of St. George’s Anglican Church, Baghdad, Iraq, who has bravely stood with his flock against the depredation of ISIS.
What do Orthodox Anglicans believe about the Gospel?
We believe that men and women, who are “dead in their trespasses and sins”, are saved by grace through faith, and that this salvation is wholly the gift of God (Eph 2: 1; 8-10). Salvation is God’s gracious act in Jesus Christ by which He reconciles mankind through the blood of the cross:
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Cor. 5: 18-21).
The 39 Articles of Religion, one of Anglicanism’s historical “formularies” (doctrinal statements), has much to say about the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
Article X. Of Free-Will: “The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing (“preceding”) us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.”
Article XI – Of the Justification of Man: “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.”
Article XVIII – Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ: “They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.”
This Gospel is also summed up in our liturgy of Holy Communion, found in the Book of Common Prayer, where the “Comfortable Words” are proclaimed by the priest or deacon to the congregation after the prayer of confession and absolution:
Hear what comfortable words our Savior Christ says to all who truly turn to Him.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. St. Matthew 11:28.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. St. John 3:16.
Hear also what Saint Paul says.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Timothy 1:15a.
Hear also what Saint John says.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins 1 John 2:1-2a.
Later in the service, the priest prays audibly:
“ALL glory be to You, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who, in your tender mercy gave Your only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; Who made there (by His one oblation of Himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, offering, and complete payment, for the sins of the whole world. . . .
The Good News of Jesus Christ is not only that we are saved from the consequences of sin, but that we are now new creatures, destined to live a truly authentic human life in deepening communion with the Holy Trinity as we are transformed into the likeness of Christ – the only true authentic human – by the power of the Holy Spirit. The power and grace to live a holy life, is, once again, wholly the gift of God:
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13) “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (II Cor. 3:17-18)
We Anglicans believe that the Good News of Jesus Christ is that our salvation, from the first to the last, is from God and not ourselves. This Good News has both life-changing and eternal significance, as the Holy Spirit empowers the believer to be transformed from one degree of glory to another in this life, and promises eternal life in the world to come. We believe that the Church offers us the means of grace through Word and Sacrament and through a life devoted to individual prayer and prayer with the saints. (For us, salvation is not individualistic, but communal. The Church is the ark of salvation.)
What are your basic beliefs?
We believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as set forth above.
We believe that the Bible is God’s Word written. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are divinely inspired, and contain all things necessary to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
We believe the Sacraments of the Church are God’s Word in action. The Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion are ordained by our Lord Jesus Christ for all Christians.
We believe that the written Word and the holy Sacraments are joined together and rightly proclaimed in the classic editions of The Book of Common Prayer. (Editions 1662, 1928 – US, 1929 – Scottish, and 1962 – Canadian.)
We believe that the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are to be taught in the Church and to be received by the Faithful.
We believe Christian Marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman.
We believe the Ordained Ministry of the Church (the “threefold ministry” of bishop, priest, deacon) is reserved to godly men.
For further information, see our “What We Believe” page here.
What do you believe about baptism? Do you baptize babies? If so, why?
Orthodox Anglicans believe that Christian baptism is the initiatory sacrament of two “dominical” sacraments, that is, the two sacraments instituted by Our Lord, the other one being Holy Communion. While Baptists and certain other Evangelical churches believe that baptism is an “ordinance” Christ commanded be administered to persons who have reached an “age of accountability” and who have had a “born again” conversion experience, Orthodox Anglicans along with many other Christian communions believe that the sacrament of baptism is actually a covenantal sign of initiation to be administered to everyone who has entered into the New Covenant, infant, accountable young person and adult alike. Baptism thus replaces circumcision as the initiatory rite into the covenant people of God, except that it is now administered to males and females alike. (See Col. 2:11-12). The provision on baptism from the 39 Articles of Religion reads as follows:
XXVII. Of Baptism.
Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.
The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.
So, yes, we do baptize infants (“paedobaptism”), a practice to which the church of the earliest centuries attest. (Readers interested in just *how* early may consult Joachim Jeremias’ magisterial work Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries.) Baptists and other Christians who insist that only young people and adults may, upon a credible profession of faith, be baptized (“credobaptism”), do so on the basis of a number of texts in the New Testament that describe the baptisms of adult believers. There’s just one thing wrong with this: these accounts are just that – *descriptions*. They are not, however, *prescriptions*, and nowhere in the Bible is a believer-only baptismal rule prescribed. Nor, for that matter, is there a prescription regarding the baptism of infants, though there are possible indications that the New Testament church baptized babies, since baptism became to the New Covenant what circumcision was to the Old. Almost certainly, the early Jewish Christians, hearing St. Peter’s promise that the gift of salvation under the New Covenant was being made “to you and your children”, would have heard in those words echoes of the familial and corporate nature of salvation understood under the Old Covenant, and would have viewed the baptism of infants as “most agreeable with the institution of Christ”. The Jewish faith of the first century had already adopted a practice called “proselyte baptism”, in which *both* Gentile converts and their infants were brought into the faith through baptism. As Jeremias notes, Jewish proselyte paedobaptism stands in a parent-to-child relationship to Christian paedobaptism.
What then does baptism mean to a tiny human being that has yet the capacity to make a profession of faith? The theological answer to this question is somewhat detailed, but essentially it is this: firstly, the infants of believers are brought into a covenant relationship to God, just as the infants of the Jewish people were, and secondly, the Holy Spirit can be just as active upon a baptized infant as He was upon John the Baptist in the womb. That is to say, the work of the Holy Spirit is not limited to only those mature enough to make a profession of faith. The baptism of an infant is a perfect picture of the grace of God, which is bestowed upon us before we ever believed in Christ – something to which the conversion of St. Paul clearly attests. (See Eph. 1; 2:8-10). The personal faith involved in the act of baptism is expressed by both the child’s parents and godparents, who promise to raise the child in the Christian faith. Furthermore, the sacrament of baptism is complemented by the sacrament of confirmation, which is bestowed by the bishop upon a young person after he or she is taught, and personally receives, the Christian faith after a process of catechesis (“teaching”). See Peter Leithart’s article, “Do Baptists Talk to Their Babies?”
For more information on what Orthodox Anglicans believe about baptism, please see these short videos:
See also this article at bible.org:
What do you believe about the Lord’s Supper?
We Anglicans do not believe that the Eucharistic elements are mere symbols of Christ’s body and blood. To us, Holy Communion is not merely “a moment of silence in memory of the late, great Jesus”, as one Lutheran theologian said of the view commonly attributed to the Protestant Reformer Ulrich Zwingli and which is espoused by many Evangelicals today. We believe that when we receive the consecrated elements we actually “participate” in, or are in mystical union with, the body and blood of both the crucified and glorified Christ. This is exactly what St. Paul says I Cor. 10:16: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Paul knew the Greek world well, and the Greek word for “participation” here is suggestive of the practice of certain Greek religions that believed oneness with their gods was effected by a sacral meal.
Note, however, that St. Paul does not go into any detail about *how* that union with Christ is effected in the eating of the meal. This is why Anglicans reject the Roman Catholic view of “transubstantiation”, a well-meaning construct based on Aristotelian philosophical categories but which we feel is both unbiblical and unnecessary. Rather, we hold to a view of “real presence” that is more mystical in nature, summarized well in this quote often attributed to the Anglican priest and poet John Donne:
“Twas God the word that spake it,
He took the bread and brake it;
And what the word did make it;
That I believe, and take it.”
To partake of the Eucharist is to be mystically at one with the sacrificed, resurrected and glorified Christ. If Christ is personally present to us in our personal prayers, how much more is He so in the sacrament of His Body and Blood? The Church of Jesus Christ has always believed in this doctrine of “real presence”.
Evangelicals often speak of their conversion experience in terms of how and when they “received” Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Anglicans literally, albeit sacramentally, receive Jesus Christ every Sunday as they partake of His most blessed Body and Blood in the form of consecrated bread and wine.
In addition to enjoying clear biblical warrant from texts such as I Cor. 10:16, this idea that consecrated elements are no longer mere bread and wine finds support from the very first Church Fathers. St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing just after the turn of the 2nd century, laments the fact that the Gnostic heretics “abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again.” St. Justin Martyr, writing about 50 years later, describes the Eucharistic rite and what Christians believe about it: “For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.”
Again, there is clearly nothing in either the pertinent texts from the New Testament or these writings from the earliest Fathers that suggests the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation. Just as clearly, however, neither do these texts and writings support the idea that the Eucharistic elements are mere symbols designed to be consumed as we merely remember the life and saving work of Jesus. Instead, to partake of Holy Communion is to enter, weekly or however often, mystical but real union with the crucified and risen Christ.
For more information, see the FAQ here entitled Why do you have “priests”?
What is "liturgical" worship and what's up with all those movements and gestures you do?
The word “liturgy” comes from the Greek word “leitourgia”, which means “service”, or, more literally, “the work of the people” (from “laos”, “the people”, and “ergon”, “work”). Liturgical Christians worship liturgically simply because until relatively recently, this is how the Church of Jesus Christ has always worshipped. Non-liturgical worship is an innovation, and we would say a very radical one. Liturgical worship, on the other hand, is rooted in the practice of the ancient Jews, and that form of worship naturally carried over into the Christian church. Far from being “rote”, as many Evangelicals view it, liturgical worship leads the individual worshipper along with the whole congregation into deep and meaningful encounters with God, as long it is done with heartfelt intention. If liturgy has become “rote”, the problem is with the hearts of the congregants, not the liturgy.
Concerning those movements and gestures, how many times in non-liturgical churches have you heard the instruction to “bow your head and close your eyes” before prayer? Or how many say their prayers at night kneeling by their bedsides? These are biblically-based instances of how God’s people have always worshipped, that is, with their bodies as well as their hearts and souls. The Bible is full of examples of how saints worshipping God prostrated themselves or bent the knee. Liturgical worship simply expands on this, adopting a code of physical gestures, such as kneeling and making the sign of the Cross, to be used at various points in the liturgy. The Christian faith is an incarnate faith; what we believe and feel in our hearts and souls we express in a physical way. There is nothing “rote” about any of this as long as it is understood that it springs from a believing and grateful heart.
Icons, statues and stained glass? Isn't that idolatry?
The use of icons, statuary and other sacred images (e.g., stained glass) is no more idolatrous than is taking pictures of your loved ones and displaying them in your home. The typical Reformed and Evangelical argument against images is based upon a faulty reading of the Second Commandment:
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” (Exodus 20:4-5)
Rather than a prohibition of all and any images, the Second Commandment must be read in the context of God’s desire for the people of Israel to fully divorce themselves from surrounding pagan religions, in which the making and worship of “gods” played a central role. If any and all imagery is to be avoided, then what are we to make of the imagery that God commanded be used in the Tabernacle and the Temple? Interestingly, archaeologists have unearthed an ancient Jewish synagogue in Syria that dates to the third century A.D. and whose walls are adorned by many images. In fact, the iconography in the interior of this synagogue looks almost exactly like that of churches from the same area, and in the catacombs where Christians worshipped in Rome.
Because of this, Anglicans and Lutherans have historically taken a position that differs from that found among the Reformed and Evangelicals. We believe that imagery is to be permitted in the church as they serve to lead the worshipper into a deeper contemplation of God, and as they tell the biblical story in the form of art.
Why does your clergy wear those funny clothes?
Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and other clergy wear distinctive clothing both on the street and during worship. Many Evangelical Christians argue that there is simply no biblical justification for clergy to wear clothing that distinguishes them from laity. Our initial response to that charge is that there is really nothing whatsoever said about the matter in Holy Scripture one way or the other, and following the “normative principle” of worship, we say that what the Scripture does not expressly or implicitly prohibit may be allowed, provided the practice is both reasonable and is amenable to the cause of the Gospel. The following explanation not only pertains to why Anglican clergy wear distinctive clothing, but why their churches are often adorned with art and other sacred symbols.
It has to be understood that since its beginning the Church of Jesus Christ has embraced a theology of “signs” and “images”: earthly symbols that point to a divine reality. Men and women are created in the “image” of God, that is to say, there is something about their existence that points in a relational and symbolic way to God (Gen. 1:26). Jesus is said to be the “express image of (the Father’s) person” (Heb. 1:3). The bread and the wine consecrated by the celebrant at Holy Communion are symbols (but not bare ones!) that signify in a sacramental way the body and blood of Christ. The early church, employing this theology of signs and images, began to consecrate mundane things to serve as symbols that pointed to divine reality: artwork; architecture; candles, incense; clergy attire.
The symbolism of clergy attire, both the “clericals” that deacons, priests and bishops wear every day and the “vestments” they wear during worship, can have several meanings, but the bottom line is that they do not point so much to the man himself, who is a sinner like everyone else, but to the apostolic office he holds, and most importantly, to the Christ he serves. Here is one web site showing the spiritual meanings of the distinctive clothing worn by clergy.
Still have questions? No problem! Send us a note!!