The Way, The Truth and The Life
The Anglican Walk with Jesus Christ
By Two Presbyters of the Anglican Way
[Peter Toon & Louis Tarsitano]
St. Peter Publications, 1998
Preface Through Chapter 5: this page below
Part One: The Way
1. A Way not an “Ism”
2. A Way for Everyone Everywhere
3. A Way from Birth to Death
Part Two: The Truth
4. Revealed Truth: One Bible with Two Testaments
5. Practical Truth: The Bible and Common Prayer
6. Real Truth: Experience and Reason Chapters 6-End
Part Three: The Life
7. Celebrating Life in Christ
8. Vocation for Life
9. Sharing Life with Others
Index (omitted for web)
This book is intended both to describe and to witness to the classical Anglican Way in its length, breadth, depth and height and as it exists across space and time and in and through the varieties of churchmanship, language and cultural context. The Anglican Way here presented is intimately related both to Holy Scripture and to the Book of Common Prayer, especially in its normative edition of 1662.
It is the cooperative effort of two writers, both living in the U.S.A. (one a British and one an American citizen), and the completed manuscript was read and commented on by Anglican scholars in Canada and England. A grant towards the publication costs came from Concerned Clergy and Laity of the Episcopal Church, USA. (CCLEC, 2520 E. Piedmont, Suite F-6, Marietta, GA 30062.) The authors are most grateful to the Rev’d Richard Kim for arranging this grant and for his faithful support of the holy tradition of Common Prayer.
On behalf of the members and supporters of the Prayer Book Societies of the Anglican Communion, as well as for many others who want to see biblical teaching upheld, the writers seek to set forth and commend that vision of the Anglican Way which is wholly based upon Holy Scripture and found in the classic formularies of the Church of England and Anglican Communion, especially in the classic Books of Common Prayer, of which the latest is the Canadian of 1959/1962.
The date of publication, 1998, is significant. It is the year of the Lambeth Conference when nearly eight hundred Anglican bishops, together with many spouses and assistants, gather in London and Canterbury for three weeks of study and fellowship. The book is dedicated to the Bishops of the Anglican Communion.
One specific aim of the writers, sponsors and publishers of this book is to communicate to the bishops that biblical orthodoxy will only be maintained in the long term within the Anglican Communion of Churches, if, and only if, the Churches thereof remain steadfast in their commitment to the Holy Scriptures and to the doctrine of and use of the classical Books of Common Prayer.
A very real temptation at this time is for Churches to think that they will be more relevant and evangelistic if they are guided primarily by recent theology and ethics and use for their services only modern liturgies. Thus another aim of this book is to show that this urge to be contemporary, in the sense of having a message and way of prayer for the contemporary world, does not require either the rejection of orthodox theology and ethics or the abandonment of the use of the historic Book of Common Prayer. In fact, to be contemporary requires the freedom of its use in order to have the fullness rightly to express the Anglican Way of Christianity.
In the western world the Anglican Way seems to be contracting in both moral quality and numerical size and to be torn apart by internal strife and controversy, particularly over sexual issues. It seems to have little or nothing to offer to the larger section of the Anglican Communion, which is found chiefly in Africa and Asia. In these continents there is persecution but also growth and there is both material poverty and the poverty of spirit of which Jesus spoke in the Beatitudes. By the grace of God the newer members of the Anglican Communion have much to teach and share with the older parts.
If this Book plays a small part in the renewal of the Anglican Way as a biblically orthodox and integral part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, then all involved in its writing and production will have reason to magnify the Lord who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, by whom alone we come to the Father with the Holy Spirit for salvation and eternal life.
Part One: The Way
1. A Way and not an “Ism”
A nineteenth century anthropologist who attempted to codify Hindu beliefs grew so fatigued with competing definitions that he finally gave up and declared in frustration that anyone was a Hindu who said he was. At the close of the twentieth century, it may appear to many that the same has become true of Christians in general, and of Anglican Christians in particular.
We do not deny that there exists today a great deal of ambiguity and confusion in and about Christianity and the Church, although this is far more a problem of the industrialized West than it is of the churches of Africa and Asia. They remain coherent enough in their obedience to Jesus Christ to be the targets of persecution.
It remains true, however, that the past fifty years of experimentation and license in Western Christianity have imposed a self-protective and self-justifying vagueness upon the identity of most of the Church. One result is that the unevangelized and unchurched are inoculated against the Christian Faith by being first exposed to a severely weakened strain of it.
The remedy for these ills, however, is not an inquisition into the persons or parties responsible for the ambiguity that is a debilitating fact among us. It is to encourage, instead, a resurrection of the understanding.
Since the opposite of ambiguity is clarity, not recrimination, we propose in the following examination of the Anglican “walk” with Christ to assert as positively and compactly as we can the identity of one particular household within the Church of Jesus Christ: our Church, the Anglican Church. We hold this Church to be a complementary member of the One Church confessed in the Creeds, so that we may speak to all of the Church by speaking to our own, affirming what is common to us all.
The Christian Family
Families under stress, as we are now, experience crises of identity. Who are we, their members ask themselves, and why are we together? Whatever forces challenge a family’s peace and unity, whether they come from within or from outside its household, the questions of identity they raise must receive timely and satisfactory answers for the family to survive. If not, they soon spread like a cancer, to become the potentially fatal question, should we be together at all?
An answer that insists “we’re together because we’re together” simply will not do, because families are neither completely biological nor totally spiritual. If biology were all that mattered, then monkeys in a laboratory could serve as well as men as the models of family life, even though they lack the spiritual means of marriage and adoption to transform one who is born an outsider into a full member of the family. At the same time, if the spiritual alone were all-inclusive, there could be no tangible, physical family to join by any means. There could exist no common life to enter, or any common history to remember or to make together.
A family endures in time and space by providing specific answers, both physical and spiritual, to questions about its identity. Parents must deliver to their children the names of their ancestors and the places and circumstances of their family’s beginnings. They must recount to them the story of their family’s heroes and villains, and explain how to tell them apart according to the faith and hope that define what is best about their family. Children must learn that their own lives are part of a greater common life that gives special and particular meaning to a shared past, present, and future. The divinely inspired model for meeting these obligations is the Old Testament record of the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the ancestors of the manhood of Jesus Christ.
The Church is the family of the New Testament. She is a Bride descended from all the families of the earth, and Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom: the only-begotten Son of the Father, incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, the flesh of the particular human family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that we meet in the Old Testament. Through and in her husband, the Church receives the promises made to Abraham, she possesses a Father in heaven, and she is made the mother of all the redeemed.
The Church is the New Israel, not an idea or a recipe for a human organization, but a family, as the old Israel was, whose life is lived in a particular physical and spiritual relation to God. The Head of the Church is Christ, and the Head of Christ is the Father, so that by the indwelling of God the Holy Ghost, the Church is permitted entrance into the eternal life, love, and order of the Blessed, Glorious, and Undivided Trinity. Her flesh, which is become Christ’s flesh physically and spiritually by a covenant of blood and adoption, is not denied or discounted by this new relation in grace, but is promised perfection and resurrection on the Last Day and already participates by grace in its realization.
Because the Church is alive, she grows as other living families do. Over the centuries, by becoming the mother of many children, she has also become an “extended family” or a “family of families” sharing her one life in Jesus Christ. Even as the sons of Jacob became the patriarchs of the tribes of the old Israel, so the nations that the Church has evangelized and made disciples according to the Great Commission of her Bridegroom have become households with subordinate identities and vocations of their own.
And, just as our incarnate Lord was born of the house of David and of the tribe of Judah within Israel, so are Christians born again of water and of the Holy Ghost in a particular household of a single catholic or universal Church. Our Christian identity always comes with adjectives attached. Richard Hooker, the Anglican divine, offers the famous analogy that “...as the main body of the sea being one, yet within divers precincts hath divers names; so the Catholic Church is in like sort divided into a number of distinct Societies, every of which is termed a Church within itself” (Laws, III. i. 14).
Hooker’s illustration, however, will not help us if we forget that the Church, if a “sea,” is a sea of baptism and life in Jesus Christ. She is neither simply a human creation, nor a limited “pool” of human inheritance. Human beings do not create or control even a portion of the sea by giving it a name. The “distinct societies” Hooker describes are more than voluntary assemblies of individuals gathered from mankind for mankind’s purposes. They are the continuing associations of those whom God has chosen to call and redeem, each with a certain order, place, and limits. These societies are the local presence of the one Christian family.
The Tests of a Complete Church
We know the local presence of the Church, then, not because some group of persons calls themselves Christians, but because a local society bears the distinguishing characteristics that identify the Church in any other time and in any other place, in other words, universally. These characteristics are the “family resemblance” of one local church to another, and we discover them, first of all, in the Person of Jesus Christ himself, whose Body is the Church.
At the Last Supper, Christ sought to console His Apostles as they struggled with the most terrifying element of the birth of the Church, His own crucifixion and death. He promised them that there were many mansions in His Father’s house and that He went to prepare a place for them there. When St. Thomas, whose doubts represent so many of our own, protested, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?”; Christ responded, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:2–6).
The Way, the Truth, and the Life constitute both the personal identity of Jesus Christ and the identity His true Church shares with Him. Christ offers us more than a set of abstract philosophical principles in the Gospel, although there is a time and a place for the careful analysis of His teaching. He presents us with an entire way of life by participation and in imitation of His own, founded in the truth He teaches, a truth that encompasses the entirety of the Holy Scriptures. He is the promise of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of the New, so that in Him the members of the faithful Church are made the visible representation of both.
The Church is meant to be as much a living Gospel as Jesus Christ himself is the Incarnate Word of God. This calling requires more than a mental assent to a few points of doctrine or the modern “decision” for Christ that so often in practice means little beyond adding a “religious dimension” to the rest of one’s highly secularized life. The true Christian vocation consists of an entirely new life that “puts on Jesus Christ” as a new sort of redeemed human nature restored to peace with God (Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10).
Whether we are speaking of the identity of Jesus Christ or of the extension of that identity in His Church, the Way, the Truth, and the Life are not separable components, but the elements of an indivisible whole. We may not choose among them and maintain our identity in Christ. The “Truth” alone is not Christianity, and neither is the salvation or “Life” that we receive from our Savior. A complete Christianity requires that both be embodied in a “Way” of Truth and Life. A Christian “way,” therefore, is a particular and complete “culture” or “ethos” of truth and life, including language, art, music, doctrine, worship, and morality, shared with others in Christ. Further, the Christian Way is capable of engaging other cultures and bringing them to Christ.
Such a culture absolutely requires the participation of other people, not only in the present, but also in the past. Precisely because a Christian Way, like any other culture, is corporate and not individual, none of us possesses the power to invent a private or personal “way” of his own. An ancient Israelite, for example, who had claimed to found a new tribe or a new doctrine of his own would not have been “a new kind of Israelite,” but someone cut off and alienated from all the generations of Israel.
The embodiment of Christianity in specific “ways” begins with the Incarnation of Jesus Christ himself. He is the Son of man for all men, but He is in particular a Jew and not a generalized “everyman.” The Son of God became flesh in a particular culture with a language, customs, art, music, worship, Scriptures, and a Faith that His Father in heaven had chosen and prepared for Him. It is precisely this principle – the so-called scandal of particularity – that impels the challenge of the Gospel to every other particular culture and age, including our own.
The first Christian “Way,” as the Faith was first identified (Acts 9:2), followed from and completed the Old Testament culture into which our Lord was born. This Jewish Christianity was soon complemented by the providential extension to the Gentiles of a Way of Christianity with an identity and a culture of its own, which the Apostles took great pains to teach was one and the same faith in one and the same merciful God. A single Father in heaven united these apparently diverse households, just as the single paternity of Abraham once united the children of the old Israel.
God made the first Christians, then, in households or ways within Christianity, just as He had made His Son incarnate in a particular culture. God continues in the same manner today, calling human beings to a complete Christianity within one of the Ways that He has formed through the work of the Apostolic Church. The local and then national churches that the Apostles founded have continued to blossom and flourish into the great catholic communions of Christ, as other nations have been brought the Gospel of life and truth to be lived according to one of the ancient Ways. Together they form a single “family tree” of Christians, and the Ways are their identities within the one great family they share.
It is a serious error, however, to confuse these subordinate Christian families and their historic Ways with what are now called “denominations,” by both sociologists and the media. The denominations found, for example, in the American supermarket of religions and exported to many parts of the world may be assemblies of Christians, whom God continues to love and to bless, but they are not properly “Churches” or jurisdictions of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. This is because they are human organizations founded in modern times on the one hand to emphasize one or other aspects of Christianity and, on the other, to oppose or deny some part of the Church’s complete, God-given life in Jesus Christ. To say this is not, however, to deny that in their membership are many fine pastors and laity who love and serve God faithfully.
The Anglican Way
The language we use can obscure the living nature of Christian Tradition. Anglicans belong to the Anglican Church, but it is quite common to say that their witness within the Christian religion is known as “Anglicanism.” Likewise Lutherans are said to embrace “Lutheranism,” Methodists “Methodism,” and Roman Catholics “Catholicism.”
While there is an integrity and necessity to such words as “Anglicanism” and “Lutheranism,” they may also convey an inaccurate sense of closed minds, fixed sets of ideas impervious to objective reality, and rites performed without joy, freedom, or glory. They can hide the very truth of the particular Christian identities which they are intended to celebrate.
When was the word “Anglicanism” first used? Surprisingly, perhaps, the religious philosopher Lamennais created it in France, in 1819, in the form “anglicanisme”. He intended it as a parallel term to “gallicanisme,” which he used to refer to authentic French catholic religion, free from Vatican interference. John Henry Newman made use of the English form “Anglicanism” from 1838, to refer to the English protestant (that is, “reformed catholic”) religion, confessed by the Church of England.
In current usage, however, Anglicanism has lost the clarity of its analogy with Gallicanism, and it seems to have no agreed upon content, except that it is the religion of those called “Anglicans,” now found all over the world and embracing many opinions, held together it is sometimes, rather optimistically said, by bonds of affection. But should we settle for this paucity of meaning?
“Anglican,” as such, derives from the Latin “anglicanus,” which means “English.” In official documents, the ancient Church of God in England was known as Ecclesia Anglicana, as in Magna Carta, where the freedom of “the English Church” was guaranteed. This name persisted through the Reformation, so that in 1562, Bishop John Jewel called his defense of this (now reformed) Church of England, Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae. Two centuries later, as the English were dispersed by trade and colonization around the world, the word “Anglican” lost the meaning of “English” as a mark of ethnicity and took on the meaning of “the religion of the Church of England.” Similarly, “English” has become an international language, rather than the dialect of a single nation.
Anglican Churches, therefore, expressing the order, faith, and worship of the Church of England, came into being all over the world, by the grace of God and through the heroic action of Anglican missionaries and their first converts to Christ, wherever the British Empire extended. The mature form of the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, adopted in 1662, used in over a hundred local languages, gave a definite, practical content to the word “Anglican.” Even as new national churches adopted Prayer Books of their own, the English Book of Common Prayer remained the pattern and standard that guided them, which fact international travelers much appreciated. They could understand what was being said and done in Anglican churches, even if the local language was unknown to them.
Further, there was a visible as well as a spiritual unity within the Anglican episcopate, because all bishops traced their consecration and lineage through the bishops of the ancient Anglicana Ecclesia. There were, of course, differences among Anglican Churches in ceremonial, custom, and churchmanship, especially from the mid-nineteenth century, but these were variations within a general family resemblance, making the family lively but not dividing it.
At the end of the twentieth century, virtually all of these Churches are independent of the Church of England and self-governing, and as an international association of equals they are known as “The Anglican Communion.” At the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, their bishops have met in conference in London or Canterbury every ten years since 1867. These meetings are called “Lambeth Conferences,” from the name of the Archbishop’s residence in London, as a reminder that they are meant to be a homecoming of brothers who also head households of their own.
Today this brotherhood and the larger family it serves have been weakened by the seeming inability of the Anglican Churches of the industrialized western world to resist the inroads of secularism. Their “Anglicanism” has lost confidence in the authority of Holy Scripture and the guidance of sacred tradition. They have turned, instead, for guidance in faith, worship and morality to modern “experiential movements” rooted in materialistic theories of psychology, sociology, and social liberation. Regrettably, the western churches have attempted to export this revised Anglicanism to the rest of the Anglican Communion, where it is, thank God, frequently and rightly resisted.
Some have argued that the moral and theological drift of the western churches is “proof” of the failure of “the Anglican experiment,” but such arguments seek only to reduce the almost two thousand year history of the Anglican Way to a leftover nineteenth century ideology known as “Anglicanism.” The Providence of God stands against such a conclusion.
It may be possible to think of the Anglican Way in the following manner. Three great apostolic Ways, Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican, continue the life of the ancient and undivided Church. Each of them possesses a character, a vision, and a purpose that flow from the circumstances of their particular calling by God. They preserve three permanent truths about the Church of Jesus Christ, until such time as God chooses to put aside their human divisions and to give them visible reunion. [Note: In speaking of three Ways we do not mean to exclude from the one Church other historic Ways whose life began as National Churches of old, northern Europe and which sought to keep the historic faith and order of the Church – e.g., the Lutheran Way.]
The Roman Way, established in what was a great imperial capital and the center of the known world, witnesses within Christianity that there is one divine law, one divine order, and one divine Lawgiver whom all of mankind must obey. While we may certainly disagree with some of the members of the Roman Communion in their historic actions and interpretations, this vocation is good and true. “Christianity as law” is a truth we must remember, even if we are required at times to point out that Christianity is more than law.
Another imperial capital, Constantinople, the center of a Christian empire, became the home of the Orthodox Way. God uses the glorious art, music, and liturgy of the Orthodox Communion to remind us that Christianity is a civilization and a culture of holiness, a foretaste of the City of God come to earth. Our understanding of the possibilities of a Christian culture may, at times, be broader than that of our Orthodox brethren, but the truth of “Christianity as a civilization” cannot be denied.
And yet, the holy truths of “Christianity as law” and “Christianity as civilization” are not enough, on their own, to express the richness of Christianity. Even taken together, they lack, in the end, a principle to unite them, as the Great Schism between Rome and Constantinople, begun in 1054, continues to demonstrate today. It may be the Anglican vocation to reveal that uniting principle that protects law from legalism and puts civilization into a human context.
The first Christian missionaries to Britain found no great metropolitan cities. They encountered, instead, a variety of peoples living on the same island, not as a single nation, but in families, clans, and tribes. The Gospel did more than convert these peoples. It began to unite them, in a common family under one Father in heaven, even as they retained their local loyalties and identities.
As new waves of people migrated to Britain, new missionaries from the local Church herself delivered to them the message that Christianity is a family from whose common life under its Father in heaven law and civilization are derived and established. Whatever separated the Celts, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, and Normans as they encountered one another, the Church insisted that they find their commonality in their own love of family, and in the love of a divine Father who had loved them first and from eternity. To spread this message, English emerged as a Christian language, taking “king” from the Anglo-Saxon word for “the head of the kin” and “church” from the Greek for “the Lord’s house.” Thus, the faithful household of God would gather in His house to worship their true King, to whom all other kings must bow. If necessary, words were made up, as in the case of “atonement,” our being made “at one” with the Father through Christ.
In the rough and tumble of history, the English Church was not so much a product of England, as England was the product of a Church that God had called to the most basic vocation of all: to preach “Christianity as a family.” Later, when Anglican missionaries brought Christ to other lands, they brought with them this Anglican Way of Christianity. The Anglican Way continues as a mission to the world and to the rest of the Church that all good things come from a common life under a common Father, and that differences that do not separate us from Him need not separate us from each other. This Anglican mission cannot fail because it is God given. We can, however, fail the One who gave us this mission, if we forget it or try to change it, as some erring national churches have done. To depart from this mission, moreover, is an act of violence, requiring the denial of every memory of our shared life in Christ and the destruction of the Church that God has given us for the sake of an imaginary “church” that has never been and never will be.
In the remainder of this book, we shall attempt to commend and explain to you, not a lifeless “anglicanism,” but the permanent vocation and the robust Christian life that we have been calling “the Anglican Way.” By “Anglican” we mean simply that religion professed by the Church of England before, during, and after the Reformation of the sixteenth century, and embodied in the classical Books of Common Prayer (1549 to 1962). It may be allowed that they have their generic and summary form in that of 1662. By “Way” we mean a total Christian life, beginning with our Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who has taught us that He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Through Jesus Christ alone can we come to the Father in heaven to be made His children by adoption and grace.
Thus “the Anglican Way” is the dynamic Christian life, with its identifying culture, vocation, and forms, centered on the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, which God our Father in His providence caused to be the Faith of the reformed Church of England and of such other churches as grew from her.
2. A Way for Everyone Everywhere
Jesus Christ is the one and only Way to the eternal Father in heaven. Without exception, all people who would reach the Father must travel on this one Road: young and old, rich and poor, Asian and African, European and American, male and female, ordained and lay, bishops and archbishops, kings and queens, presidents and governors. All sorts and conditions of mankind are called to this one holy and changeless Way leading to the presence of the Father.
The Way of Christ is both visible and invisible, physical and spiritual. It is no mere mental assent to disembodied ideas, but our incorporation, body and soul, into the Body of His own incarnation. It is the path of His humiliation, His resurrection, and His glorification, administered to us by God the Holy Ghost as the graces of repentance, forgiveness, and the sanctification of our entire lives, to be perfected on the Last Day at the General Resurrection of the dead.
The Way of Christ is His Life lived in our lives, as it has been lived by His faithful Church from the beginning. It is, moreover, precisely their continued preservation of Christianity as an entire life in Christ that makes the Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican households, as discussed in the previous chapter, “catholic”: complete and universal. Other Christian bodies exist, certainly. Their members are loved and blessed by God, and they are more or less complete according to their conformity to the Holy Scriptures. The catholic Churches, however, as they walk the Way of Christ, even with their imperfections, do more than “look back” to the Primitive Church. They are the Primitive Church alive in the world today. As Tertullian explained:
Every kind of thing must needs be classed in accordance with its origin. And so the churches, many and great as they may be, are really the one Primitive Church issuing from the Apostles, which is their source (De praescriptione haereticorum, xx).
While the visible unity of these catholic households remains obscured by human sin, we can visualize the spiritual unity that God has preserved for them by an analogy to the Exodus. They are tribes within one family, the whole of which is greater than the sum of its parts. These tribes share a single Exodus and follow a single leader on a single shared path, even if, at times, they squabble with one another. Each tribe has its own history and identity within a single Israel, and its own place and vocation within God’s providential plan of salvation. The tribes may pretend they are alone, but in the Israel of God they never can be.
For hundreds of years, the Roman “tribe” has devoted itself to the beauties of the Law. The Orthodox “tribe” has dedicated its existence to revealing the perfection of the culture of Sion. The Anglican “tribe,” meanwhile, has passionately defended the family itself, and the domestic glories of its particular households, for the sake of the One Father who calls them into being.
The true Church is both catholic and local, and until the confusions and departures of certain national churches in recent times, the defining Anglican vocation has been to witness to this truth.
Throughout history, the Churches of the Anglican Way have themselves been strengthened and renewed by a return to the Pauline vision of the Church as made up of human “cells” joined one to another in ever more complex structures, families, parishes, dioceses, provinces, and communions, until they are built up into a perfect Body of Jesus Christ by the grace of God (see Ephesians 4:11–16).
The Book of Common Prayer
The Church of England clearly recognized these truths about the Anglican Way, when it summarized and proclaimed them in its first fully English service book, The Book of Common Prayer of 1549. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father Almighty, is the only Way for all persons to enter into heaven, and they must do so as a family of grace. Christ is the one and only welcoming door into the glories of heaven and into the fullness of the communion of saints and angels, who adore the Father unto ages of ages and from glory unto glory.
The Anglican “world without end” is an eternal order of praise in which each human being, whatever his calling or station, has his own appointed place. Thus, the Anglican Way is the way of the Te Deum: to enter into the Son’s glorification of the Father and to join the hosts that praise the Lord God of Sabaoth:
The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee;
The Father, of an infinite Majesty;
Thine adorable, true, and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.
The Church of England, therefore, did not produce one prayer book for the king, another for bishops and priests, and yet another for the laity. The title of its comprehensive service book declared that it was “common.” Its prayers and praises were for all who lived in the commonwealth of England, understood as a single nation with a common law, a common justice, and a common faith in Christ Jesus.
Used in this way, “common” is a profound and holy word, lacking any sense of the “mean,” the “cheap,” or the “second rate.” It partakes of the dignity of two related words derived from the same Latin root, “community” and “communion”; and it is only “ordinary” in the technical sense of “that which gives order to a shared life.”
Political or institutional analyses of “common prayer” are always incomplete, because they give the false impression that it was “invented” during the Reformation for the sake of expediency as a “least common denominator” to hold the Church of England together. Nothing could be less like the truth, or miss the point of the English Reformation so completely.
While, obviously enough, the Reformation did not take place in a political or institutional vacuum, its spiritual purposes were twofold. The first was to recover the universal faith and practice held in common by the undivided Church, purified of subsequent errors or scholastic non-essentials. The second was to reassert the Anglican witness that the Church is a family held together by its loyalty to God-given essentials, but patient of local customs and variations not contrary to the commonalities in Christ.
The Book of Common Prayer embodies these goals. There is nothing in it that forbids other sorts of prayer as long as they are faithful to Christ, edifying to the local Church, and understood as voluntary additions to the work of prayer and praise common to the whole Christian Church. Common prayer, then, serves as the foundation for all other prayer and for the life in Christ formed by prayer. One may add to common prayer, but one may not subtract from it, or put anything else in its place. It must be accomplished first, and without fail, as the shared duty of all.
This duty, however, does not exist simply because Anglicans say so in their Prayer Book. The Scriptures reveal the principles of “commonness” and “foundation” enshrined there. St. Paul, for example, writes to Titus of our “common faith” (Titus 1:4). St. Jude explains that our “common salvation” follows from “the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). One might even take St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians as a “purpose statement” for both the English Reformation and the Prayer Book:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19–22).
Rather than a form of religious minimalism, common prayer is the exhibition of the unchanging faith held by the Fathers of the undivided Church, as described by St. Vincent of Lérins in his “canon”:
Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. ...We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality, antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity; if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike (Commonitorium , II.3).
To disconnect a local or national church from the common faith and common prayer is to detach its remaining structure, however complex, from the foundation of Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Such detached churches will inevitably fall, rather than becoming that impossibility “a new kind of Christianity.” At the same time, those churches that remain firmly attached to the foundation of Christ and the Apostles by maintaining the common faith and common prayer, however dissimilar they may appear to the untutored eye, are one Body of Christ and one catholic Church. The first of these facts is the Anglican Churches’ admonition to themselves and to all the other local churches in the world. The second is the explanation of the Prayer Book’s power to unite an Anglican Communion formed from many nations, cultures, and tongues.
Should the Anglican Communion ever abandon its foundation in common prayer, disaster will follow. The Episcopal Church in the United States of America is a cautionary example. It replaced its traditional Prayer Book in 1979, not with a revision but what was, intentionally, an entirely different book, as part of its search for a new basis of existence. Instead, it lost its corporate life. Hundreds of thousands of its members have departed, and fundamental divisions in religion and morality rack those who remain.
A Single Family Demonstrated
Although there was nothing new in 1549 about the contents of the first English Book of Common Prayer, what was new was its compact power and the clarity of its demonstration that Christians share a common life within a single family. Of course there were words to be said and actions to be performed only by the clergy or ministers, but these were to be said and done on behalf of all who were present. The hand that delivers the bread to the mouth feeds the entire body.
Thus, king and peasant received the same sacramental body and blood of the Savior at the holy table where the Lord’s Supper was administered to all. Bishop and servant were laid in their graves by the same burial rite. There was one form for the solemnization of the marriages of both the members of the servant class and the aristocracy. There was one service of holy Baptism for all babies, whatever their Christian or their family names.
Further, and very importantly, the Prayer Book did not present the daily services of Morning and Evening Prayer (Matins and Evensong) as the private business of monks and nuns, or even of the parochial clergy. These Daily Offices were intended to be the daily expression of the common prayer of all parishioners. Even if, for practical reasons, the public recitation of the daily office was often in the hands of the parish priest and a few parishioners, the praise and intercession they offered to the Lord were for all as the one offering of the parish. Those who were otherwise occupied in home or at work were included as a matter of principle, and invited to offer the same words of worship in their personal or family prayers.
So important was this principle of inclusion that later Books of Common Prayer provided even simpler forms of daily prayer for families to use in the home. These were not substitutes for the daily public office, but an extension of participation in it, exalting the Christian home and preparing its inhabitants to take their public place with the rest of the Church.
The scriptural doctrines that informed this profound commitment of both the ancient Church and the English Church of the mid-sixteenth century to daily corporate prayer, 365 days a year, in cathedral, parish, and home are twofold and still inform the Anglican Churches today. They are the doctrine of the praying Christ, our great High Priest, and the doctrine of the Church of God as His royal priesthood.
The people of God pray through Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between the Father and His creation, as one people. As the living members of one body, they pray in Jesus Christ, the Head of the Body. They pray, as the children of grace, with Jesus Christ, their Master and Brother. Thereby, the priestly prayer of Christ in heaven becomes their prayer in space and time; and their prayer becomes His prayer through the unique, invisible activity of the Holy Ghost, who is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, indwelling the people of God and making them into a holy temple.
Let us consider these two basic doctrines for worship briefly, before returning to the theme of daily corporate prayer.
The Praying Christ
Jesus Christ, the crucified, risen, ascended and exalted Lord, is presented in the magnificent Letter to the Hebrews as the incomparable High Priest of the new and eternal covenant between God the Father and mankind (see especially Hebrews 8 & 9). In heaven, before and with the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, one Person in two natures, offers the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15). He intercedes for His Church and world in His Office as the Priest-King (Hebrews 7:25; cf. Romans 8:34).
We know from the Old Testament that priestly prayer is always related to, even centered upon, sacrifice, and that it involves intercession, a praying for others. The priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus is perfect and complete, for it arises from a perfect sacrifice, a pure offering of the Lamb of God on Calvary’s Cross. Jesus Christ offered Himself for the sin of the world and was raised as the perfected, living Sacrifice into heaven so that our Lord, who now praises the Father on behalf of the whole creation and who intercedes for the world, is the very same One who redeemed us by His precious blood. He is both Priest and Sacrifice, and within His continual Self-offering to the Father is contained His priestly praise and prayer.
It is most important that we believe, teach, and confess that in His glorious ascension into heaven Jesus Christ did not lose His human nature, which He had assumed in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. His humanity was not absorbed into divinity or left behind on earth when He was exalted into the heights and glories of heaven. Jesus Christ has ever been, is now, and ever will be truly God of God, one in essence and being with the Father, the one and only eternally-begotten Son. But also He possesses, and will do so unto ages of ages and everlastingly, His humanity in its resurrected and glorified state. Thus as Man, the God-Man, the Lord Jesus is perfected and glorified according to His humanity. He is the Model for all His people who aspire unto the resurrection of the dead and to eternal life in the kingdom of God. By grace they will be raised and given a heavenly body like unto His glorious body.
Since He is God made Man, Jesus Christ’s humanity is vicarious, assumed for our sake. He possesses it for us and for our salvation, sanctification, and glorification. He is, thus, not only the one Mediator between God and man. He is also the unique heavenly Man who offers praise and prayer for the world: the living Person through whom, by whom, and with whom the Church on earth and in heaven actually offers her sacrifice of praise and intercession for all men.
The Book of Common Prayer confesses that Jesus is the Way through whom all prayers ascend to the Father by closing collects and prayers of all kinds with the words “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This confession is crucial to understanding the sort of Christian mind formed in those who use the Prayer Book diligently.
A Praying Church
The New Testament describes the people of God, gathered together as one for praise and prayer, in priestly terms. Peter, first of all, announces to his fellow Christians that “ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Secondly, John proclaims: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God his Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:5–6)
If we are going to understand these statements in the light of Christ’s unique Priesthood, it is a mistake to follow popular evangelicalism and to speak uncritically of “the priesthood of all believers.” Such an expression, in the context of modern individualism, moves the emphasis from “all believers” to “priesthood,” suggesting that each believer, whether male or female, is actually in some sense, in his or her individuality, a priest, who has a kind of one-on-one relation to God, severable from the rest of the Body of Christ.
In contrast to modern individualistic interpretations, these two texts truly point to the role of the Church as God’s united, worshipping people in terms of a corporate priesthood. They underline and unfold what the Lord Jesus told His disciples: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The whole Church as the priesthood, united to the great High Priest, offers praise and intercession to the Father in heaven, by and with the Holy Ghost, through Jesus Christ, who is both in heaven and in their midst.
Put another way, the members of the Body of Christ, united one with another and with their Head, offer adoration, praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition, and intercession to the Father Almighty, in and with the Holy Spirit. There is no “solitary” prayer, as each and every one, and all together, engage in praise and prayer; and thus the Bride of Christ unites with her Bridegroom, and both unite with God the Father in and with the Holy Spirit. It is this order, relation, body, and transcendent household of worship that the Book of Common Prayer makes visible as a foretaste of life in the holy place not made with hands.
To participate in the daily office, then, is something very different from having “a quiet time” or performing “personal devotions” or doing one’s religious duty. Though praying the offices begins with an individual act of the will (for I have to make the effort), it becomes an intensely personal experience of “wholeness” and of a divine calling shared within a corporate activity. It is praying within the Body of Christ, united to the Father, in and through the Son, assisted by the Holy Spirit. So to join in the daily office is to join with the Church, to be active in the royal priesthood, and to be united to the Lord Jesus Christ and to His Father, who is our Father by adoption and grace. It is to see the Lord’s Prayer unfold as a flower in our lives, and the sweetness of it is our communion with the life of the Blessed and Glorious Trinity in love.
Daily Corporate Prayer
It takes time to enter wholly into the fullness of the daily office, which is truly for all of God’s people. It is the daily prayer of the whole “laos” of God, understood as all the “laity,” as well as all the clergy who are called from among them to serve them. This praise and prayer is offered in words and by actions that have been tried and tested over the centuries. Most of the matter in Morning and Evening Prayer is taken straight from the Bible, and the rest from what we may call holy tradition. The Canticles have been sung, and the Collects prayed, and the Psalms chanted in English and a host of other languages since 1549, by countless thousands of people. Before the first English Prayer Book much the same diet in Latin and Greek had been sung, prayed, and meditated upon by a great throng of pious souls. To enter into these services, therefore, is to be united across space and time, in the Holy Ghost, to the communion of saints and with the angels in heaven.
Within these offices a major way to praise the Lord our God is the active remembering of His mighty works as recorded in the Bible. The Canticles, the Psalms, and the Creed provide the most basic texts for this as we, His people, proclaim His steadfast love and faithfulness. And at the end of each we say a hearty “Amen” to concur in the act of praise through remembrance. Our immersion in the Word of God continues as the lessons from the sacred text of Scripture provide the occasion for God to address us, and for us to continue to proclaim His Name by reading of His saving deeds and His Self-Revelation in a complete and regular way according to the lectionary.
Underlying the Daily Office and the Sunday Office lectionary, as this came to be developed in the Common Prayer Tradition, is the creeda1 or doctrinal understanding of Scripture presented in the classical Eucharistic lectionary of the Western Church. This venerable ecumenical lectionary – common for the most part with Lutherans, Roman Catholics and Anglicans until the revisions post-Vatican II – not only provides the conceptual framework for the reading of the Scriptures in the Daily Office and Sunday Office lectionaries; it is also the central and distinctive feature of the Book of Common Prayer. The most obvious characteristic of the Prayer Book is the sheer amount of Scripture – the Collects, Epistles and Gospels and the Psalter – which is ordered and presented for our regular and daily use. One does not pray the Daily and Sunday Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer without reference to the Eucharistic lectionary by way of the Collect of the day and week derived from the Scripture with which it is presented. As Bishop Cosin observed in providing some additional “double-duty” Collects for the last Sundays of Epiphany and/or Trinity season, “And ye Collect for ye day is alwayes most properly used together with Epistle & Gosple, whereunto many times it relateth”.
The Daily Office lectionary and the Sunday Office lectionary together with the Eucharistic lectionary are understood in their interrelation and not as independent systems for the reading of the Bible. Together they constitute a complete doctrinal pattern for “praying the Scriptures”. This is also one of the glories of the Anglican Way. No other Christian Church has provided such a complete and user-friendly way of praying the whole of the Scriptures in their doctrinal integrity. It is, moreover, an intentional feature of the Book of Common Prayer in the desire to make one “wise unto salvation”. As Archbishop Cranmer put it in the First Homily, “He that keepeth the words of Christ is promised the love and favour of God; and that he shall be dwelling place or temple of the Blessed Trinity.”
The reciting, praying, and meditating upon the Psalms appointed for each day can be understood at various levels – as hearing the word of God and as acts of prayer. For centuries the Church in the West has followed the insight of St. Augustine of Hippo that the words of the Psalter are the words of our exalted Savior, of His people crying for salvation, and mystically of both together. The Psalms are, thus, the inspired songbook and prayer-manual of the whole Christ, Head and Body, who speaks in the Psalter “of us, by us, and in us, while we speak to him.”
This disciplined, meditative, prayerful, and Christ-centered use of the Psalms is very much at the heart of Anglican tradition, first in Latin and since the sixteenth century in English. In recent times however, it has been minimized, and in some places wholly forgotten, because of (a) the influence of the “scientific” study of the Psalms, seeking to place them in their original Jewish situation; (b) the prevalence of an individualistic desire to use the Psalms as “my individual prayers”; and (c) the call for “inclusive language” translations of the Bible, which render for instance “Blessed is the Man [Christ]” of Psalm 1:1 with the plural, “Happy are they.” Ironically, such translations are not only unfaithful to the literal text, they also obscure the universality of the Psalms by obscuring the Person of Christ.
Petition and intercession conclude the office, where there are not only set prayers for the Church, our particular nation, and the world, but also the possibility of including the specific local intentions and requests of the faithful.
In one way or another, all of God’s people are called to engage in daily praise and prayer: “Through Christ let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15). And Paul, the apostle, urged that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men” as Christians “prayed in every place” (1 Timothy 2:1–8).
The Anglican Way points to the privilege and duty of all Christians to engage in daily praise and prayer through the corporate prayer of the daily offices. By doing so, it proclaims across the centuries that Jesus Christ is exalted as our great High Priest, and that we in Him are truly God’s royal priesthood on earth.
3. A Way from Birth to Death
Each one of us was born, is living, and will die. We are God’s creatures from the moment He wills our conception in the womb. He has made us to live as faithful creatures in His image and after His likeness, to the praise of His glory. Thus, our very existence as human beings proves that we are loved with an everlasting love by the Father and the Son, through every moment of our lives. It is supernatural grace, more than the forces of created nature, which bears up our lives as we proceed from the womb, through all the occasions of life, to the rest of the tomb and unto ages of ages.
We are born, not only to the human race in general, as God’s creation, but also to a specific human family, from which we take our name and identity. God in His providence has ordered human life so that we only mature as human beings through life within families. This is “procreation” in its original and best sense: not merely God’s blessing on the physical relations of our parents, but the interaction of God and man in producing complete human beings in a particular time and place. Children are to be brought up for God and not simply for ourselves.
The Church is also a family, in the business of producing complete human beings according to the pattern of Christ. Other sorts of “extended families” produce other sorts of human beings, as people at every age continue to learn how to connect the spiritual and the physical in their lives. So necessary is family life to human nature that even when every semblance of normalcy breaks down, something like a family is cobbled together. The youth gangs that haunt the slums of our great cities inspire the tremendous loyalty in their members that they do because, in the end, they are substitutes for the families they have lost or never possessed.
It is no accident, then, that we find in the Bible, and in the Book of Common Prayer as a manual of biblical life, so much emphasis upon family, upon the connection between the physical and the spiritual, and upon the human vocation to “redeem the time” in the world that God has created (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5).
Redeeming the Time
Living in God’s world, we experience time as the passing of the days, weeks, months, and years. The changing of the seasons imparts a rhythm to our lives, and a series of vivid backdrops for placing our memories. Whether we know the winter, spring, summer, and autumn of most of the West and the temperate zones, or the dry and rainy seasons that divide the year in vast regions of Africa and Asia, we know with the author of Ecclesiastes that we are under the ordering providence of God in His creation: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (3:1).
Time is our fellow creature, both an environment for our learning and a medium by which God teaches us His eternal purposes. God measures time in the Bible in three complementary ways. He measures it, first, by our physical circumstances, as when He says in Creation: “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years” (Genesis 1:14).
In the second place, God measures time by our need to worship and adore Him. His division of Creation into six days followed by a Sabbath day of rest tells us nothing about any limit to His power, but everything about how our lives are to be organized around His worship. He confirms this order of adoration in His commandment to keep the Sabbath-day holy, and by the addition of other holy days to memorialize His mighty saving acts in history.
Thirdly, God teaches man by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to divide and measure time by the lives of His chosen ones. In place of the chapter divisions we would find in a modern book, for example, the events and scenes of the Book of Genesis are divided by genealogies. The truest calendar of the Chosen People is the lives that God Almighty gives them, and the continuity from one life to another within God’s saving purposes. St. Matthew and St. Luke mark time in this way and provide genealogies of our Lord in their Gospels to prove more than His “pedigree.” They are announcing that the fullness of time has come and that this One Life of the Chosen One of God fulfills and completes the lives of all those whom God has chosen in the past or will ever choose.
Following these divinely given measures of time, the Anglican Way, by means of the Book of Common Prayer, makes provision for us to enter into communion with our God and His purposes through each year, in the life of each member, and within the variety of seasons.
First of all, the Church provides services and prayers related to the world of nature and to the record of history as we know them in our own part of God’s world.
Secondly, the Church gives us a life of worship by providing rites, administrations, and prayers for every major moment of our lives, both as human beings belonging to this world, and as human beings adopted by our heavenly Father to be His children and the brothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the third place, the Church provides the Christian Year as a whole new sphere for our existence. This Christian Calendar is not an arbitrary invention, nor is it regulated by the changing seasons or by the names and months inherited from Jewish and Gentile calendars. The Christian Year is based on the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, exhibiting for all to see His birth, death, and resurrection in the lives of those who love Him.
We shall look now more closely at each of these areas of God’s provision for our lives under the care of His Church, our “mother” who is above and free (Galatians 4:26).
In relation to nature and history
In the Book of Common Prayer (1662, and similarly in later editions), a section entitled “Prayers and Thanksgivings upon Several Occasions” follows Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and the Litany, which make up with the Holy Communion the regularly appointed worship of the Church. The rubric instructs that these are “to be used before the two final Prayers of the Litany or of Morning and Evening Prayer,” indicating the expectation that faithful pastors will use them to address the important occasions of mortal and civil life.
Included in this selection of Prayers are petitions and thanksgivings for rain and fair weather; for help in times of plague, famine, and war; for the good ordering of parliament and civil government; and for the salvation and well being of “all sorts and conditions of men.” There is also a General Thanksgiving for all blessings received from God. Of course the Church has the authority to expand this list of petitions and thanksgivings as is appropriate in different places and at different times, but here she offers up to God a representative sample of the cares and challenges of human life.
These occasional prayers may also be used as final collects before the benediction at the Holy Communion, reminding us that the office, Litany, and Holy Communion were originally understood to be a single act of worship. Even if the “parts” are used separately, as is more common today, the whole sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is represented.
The Litany itself is a most ancient form of general supplication and the first common prayer of the Reformation, introduced in English before the completion of the rest of the Prayer Book. If a parish follows the rubric concerning it, it will be sung or said at least on each Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday. The reason for this requirement becomes clearer when we recognize that the Litany is a “short course” in the means and causes of prayer.
Within this appeal to the “holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, Three Persons and one God” there are petitions not only for the deliverance of the Church but also for the welfare of the whole world. We ask God to guide rulers, magistrates, and courts of justice; to establish unity among nations; to help and succor those in weakness and tribulation; and to protect travelers and those in danger.
We proceed, at the celebration of the Holy Communion, to offer the prayer of the local church for the whole Church of Jesus Christ. Gathered as the people of God before the Holy Table, we obey St. Paul’s admonition to petition our heavenly Father as well for the right ordering of the work of the civil government as God’s servant and for people in every kind of need or trouble (see 1 Timothy 2:1–4).
It is clear that the person who follows the discipline of common prayer prays in and with the Church, in the communion of saints. Of necessity, he will be engaged in daily petition and intercession for others, in the full knowledge that all Prayer is made in and through Jesus Christ, “who ever lives to make intercession for us.” His spirituality cannot be individualistic or self-centered, for he will always be looking to the Lord our God as the Supreme Governor and judge of all men, and always concerned in Christ’s Name for the needs of others in God’s world.
The Anglican will also have his feet firmly planted on the earth within the civic order in which he lives day by day. In each church of the Anglican Communion, the Book of Common Prayer provides for services to mark the great days of national life and history. These are reminders of God’s providential rule over every nation, and of our duty to pray for all He has set above us in authority.
Rites and administrations for Christian life on earth
Our “independent” life in this world begins at our birth from our mother’s womb. We call that day our birthday, and we celebrate it each year. The Book of Common Prayer, however, offers us a more profound understanding of the beginnings of life, flowing, first of all, from the life of our Lord. The feast of the Annunciation (March 25) compels us to see that the Incarnation begins, as does all of human life, at conception. The feast of the Visitation (1662: July 2) demonstrates that we are alive to God, and called to His purposes, before we are ever born. John the Baptist leaps for joy in His mother’s womb at the presence of the child in the Virgin’s womb, and St. Elisabeth confesses Him as Lord by the Holy Ghost.
Monthly, we say with the Psalmist, “Thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb ...Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book were all my members written; which day by day were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:12,15,16). In these words, we see both the prophecy of our Lord’s Incarnation and the divine promise of our own lives.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the Book of Common Prayer includes a brief service for the Christian woman who has recently given birth to render thanks to God in her parish church for the safe delivery of the child whom she has nourished for nine months in her womb. This service is often known by its short title, at least eight centuries old, “The Churching of Women,” but the fuller title is “The Thanksgiving of Women after Child-Birth.”
Because the Church is not an abstraction, but the living Body of Christ made up of many members, an infant’s first contact with the universal Church will normally be through the local church, represented by his parents’ love and the visits of the parish priest and godly laity. Their attentions will bring the infant within the prayers and the influence of the Body of Christ. But Christianity cannot be inherited, no matter how many generations of Christian ancestors the child might be able to claim.
The only way for this child, even of Christian parents, to enter into the Body of Christ himself and to become a member thereof in his own name is to be born again (“born from above”) by water and the Holy Spirit. The same is true of every human being, so the Book of Common Prayer makes full provision for baptism not only of infants but also for “such as are of riper years and able to answer for themselves.” Whether the grace of God’s calling comes to us through our parents or through the labors of evangelists and missionaries, our death unto sin and rebirth unto righteousness must, by Christ’s commandment, be made visible in the sacrament of Baptism.
The Baptism of an infant is a complete Sacrament, but there is an “open end” to it, in the sense that the person baptized is not yet able to answer for himself. He answers at his baptism through his sponsors, who take on the vocation of his Christian nurture. The office of the sponsors dates back to at least the fourth century, and in the discipline of the Anglican Way they accept the particular duties of seeing that the child learn the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and “all other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health.” The sponsors are also responsible for bringing him to Confirmation when he is “sufficiently instructed” so that he may answer publicly for his faith before the bishop and receive through the laying on of hands the seven-fold gift of the Holy Spirit to enable him to live faithfully for Christ in God’s world.
To assist in a candidate’s preparation for Confirmation, the Anglican Way provides in the Book of Common Prayer a Catechism. Learning the Catechism teaches the candidate the beginnings of how to pray to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, how to live in God’s world by keeping His commandments, and how to read and understand the Scriptures with a mind formed by the truth of the Creed.
The proper spiritual formation of an Anglican Christian includes, as well, an introduction to the daily prayer of the Church at home and in the congregation. By experience and good example, he learns to participate personally in the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, to worship God every Lord’s Day in and with His Church, and to come in faith and humility to the Holy Communion. In so doing, he becomes more than a “generic” or “selective” Christian. He becomes a Biblical Christian in the Way of the undivided Church as maintained for most of two millennia by the churches of the Anglican Way. He is thus prepared, as the saints of old, to fulfill his vocation in God’s world (see, further, chapter eight).
One vocation to which many Christian adults are called is to live in the married state, and so the Book of Common Prayer provides “The Form of the Solemnization of Matrimony.” In preparation for this solemn act, the “Banns of Marriage,” a proclamation of a man’s and a woman’s intention to marry in Christ, are read in church on three successive Sundays. This publication of Banns affords the members of the parish the opportunity to make known to the civil or ecclesiastical authorities any legal reasons why the two named persons may not be married in church. It makes clear, as well, that marriage, while being the union of two individuals, is also a necessary part of community and social life, and therefore, of public concern. In this manner, the whole society of faithful Christians commits itself to the sanctity of the estate of matrimony.
The Preface to the Service of Marriage in the Book of Common Prayer (1662) begins by declaring that Christian marriage is to be a sign unto the world of the mystical union that is between Christ, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride. Such an exalted vocation, therefore, is only to be entered into with due care and preparation and reverence. The Preface also asserts that marriage has three sacred purposes ordained by God. The first is the procreation of children to be brought up to love and serve the Lord. The second is the defeat of sin, fornication, and defilement by the grace of God. The third is the mutual society, help, and comfort that were shared by the man and the woman in mankind’s innocency before the fall.
However much modern individualism and sentimentality have obscured the true nature of marriage, the Prayer Book will not permit us to see a wedding as a private event. Before God, the minister, and in the presence of witnesses, the bride and the groom marry each other by making a public vow and covenant. Only then does the minister pronounce the solemn words, “Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder,” and proceed to bless them in the Name of the Blessed, Holy, and Undivided Trinity.
The ideal of the holiness and the permanence of the vocation of Christian marriage is an important and visible feature of the Anglican Way as the vow and covenant of the service in the Book of Common Prayer proclaim. This text is the ur-source for most wedding services in the English speaking world. We have perhaps forgotten, through familiarity and abuse, much of the strength and the beauty of its teaching. Yet there are signs that what the marriage service has to say is both wanted and can be heard again even in the midst of the disorders of contemporary life.
It upholds an ideal, to be sure, but it is one which is capable of “setting love in order” (Song of Songs). For its strong gospel message is that marriage is only possible by the grace of God in Christ. Without Christ, “we have no wine” as the allusion [in the Preface to the Service] to the wedding miracle in Cana of Galilee would remind us and, even more, that the joy and the fulfillment of the marriage vows are only possible through the “hour” of Christ, namely, His passion, death and resurrection. The provision of wine, indeed, the best wine, likewise speaks to the fruit of Christ’s passion, His resurrection. Sacrifice lies at the heart of Christian marriage, but it is the sacrifice of Christ. We can only die to ourselves and live to the other in the covenant of marriage through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The failure to intend what the Church intends in Christian marriage is equally a failure of the Church to teach. In the face of our moral and social confusion what is needed is a renewed confidence in the strength of the ideal of Christian marriage. The reasons for Christian marriage are non-negotiable. Procreation, for example, is not an option; it is implicit in the sexual union of a man and a woman regardless of intent, capability and age (one would do well to remember Sarah before laughing). The same cannot be said of same-sex partner ships. The reasons for Christian marriage are the counter both to the sentimental and self-destructive tendencies of our age and to the efforts to redefine the family and the nature of marriage in ways that contradict their truth. Like the efforts to re-image God, so the attempts to redefine the family belong to a despair of Revelation.
Marriage is not just any kind of “committed relationship.” While it is a kind of friendship, it is not just any kind of friendship. It is the COVENANTED RELATION of “this man and this woman” in the “holy Estate of Matrimony” established by God and “instituted in the time of man’s innocency”. Whatever the blessings of friendship, same-sex partnerships or otherwise, might mean, they cannot be the same thing as Christian marriage. Against the confusions that result in moral disorders such as divorce and same-sex “marriages”, there is a pressing necessity to recover the fullness of understanding of Christian marriage and to proclaim it with clarity and with compassion. (See further Chapter 8.)
Just as the Anglican Way and the Book of Common Prayer guide us through the beginnings of our lives, our adulthood, and our vocations, they support and comfort us in the times of our weakness, loss, and death. When we, or those we love, are ill, Christ’s ministers call out for us to our heavenly Father, beseeching His mercy, in “The Order for the Visitation of the Sick.” Our pastors celebrate for us “The Communion of the Sick,” that we may be strengthened in body and soul by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
We learn patience by our sicknesses, and we learn to rejoice when the gift of healing is given. We learn, too, if it is the will of God that the end of our life has come, why we have prayed all our lives in the Litany to be delivered from “sudden death,” so that we could prepare to die in the full faith of Christ crucified, the only Way to the Father’s presence. There is joy here, even in this, as we face death knowing that our sins are forgiven and that we are the adopted children of God.
We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. When every pretense it stripped away, our only hope is in our merciful God. “The Order for the Burial of the Dead” in the Book of Common Prayer concentrates on nothing but this hope, proclaiming the Gospel of everlasting life in Christ. Mourners are comforted by this message of hope and grace, because there are no distractions from its clear delivery. This one form serves for the funerals of all, whatever their station or circumstances, and there is no provision made for speaking of the achievements or virtues of the dead apart from the grace of Christ. It is Christ whose merits save us, and as we live and die in Him, shepherded in the Anglican Way, there is no other qualification needed to rise again in Him unto eternal life.
The Church Year
The Church Year laid out in the Book of Common Prayer does more than furnish us with names for Sundays and other Christian observances. It sets us as a chosen people within a sphere of divine grace in which to live as Christians. Through the Church Year, we enter into God’s saving actions and holy words recorded in the One Canon of Scripture with its Two Testaments. We become a part of the history of salvation by measuring out our lives according to the life of Christ.
The progression of the Church Year, from Advent to the end of the long Trinity season, is a powerful reminder that, though we live in this evil age and sinful world, we belong by the grace of God to the kingdom of heaven. It proclaims to us that we walk daily, weekly, and monthly in the Way of Christ and that, though we belong for a time to this world, with its secular calendars, our real home and true future are with Christ in the kingdom of God.
In Advent we join the saints of the Old Testament looking for the coming of the Messiah. We greet and adore that same true Messiah at Christmas, along with angels, shepherds, and the righteous remnant of Israel. At the Epiphany we see the glory of God manifested in the face of Jesus Christ, and we offer Him our gifts side by side with the oriental sages. We behold the wonder of the Incarnation, seeing for ourselves how the Son of God, who is infinitely rich, became poor for our sakes, and how the Lord of all became a servant.
From Ash Wednesday we travel with the Israelites in the desert that looms between Egypt and the Promised Land. We feel in our own bodies and souls the temptations that they faced and the trials by which God tested them. We see, share, and understand their failures, so that we may recognize how Christ Jesus is the New Israel recapitulating and perfecting that history in obedience, faithfulness, and pure worship offered to the Father. We fast and pray with Christ for forty days in the wilderness, and learn more day by day of the reality of His humanity, the Son of God made like unto us in every way except for sin.
Reaching Palm Sunday and Holy Week, we follow Christ daily as He goes in and out of the city of Jerusalem. We carefully hear what He said and watch what He did, knowing that He did and said it all for us and for our salvation. And we follow, with our own crosses in imitation of His, as He is led to Calvary. We are overcome with awe and humility that God the Father gave His only-begotten Son to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption. There by His full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, He took away the sins of the world. In His sacrificial Atonement, His dying for us, are salvation and our reconciliation with His Father.
Then, with Paul, we declare that by faith in Jesus Christ we are crucified and buried with Him. Thus we come to the silence and expectancy of Holy Saturday, but soon it is Easter Day and the proclamation is heard, “Christ is risen from the dead.” Now with Paul we declare that we are risen with Christ to newness of life, for He who is the Way is now our Hope and our Life.
As the next forty days proceed, we meet with the risen Christ as He visits His disciples, teaching them everything they need to know to carry on His work. We are there with them for Jesus Christ’s final visit on the fortieth day, when He is received from their sight into a luminous cloud, the sign of God’s holy presence, and thus into heaven itself. The Incarnate Son of God takes our common humanity, assumed in the womb of the Virgin Mary, crucified on the Cross, and raised from the tomb, to the right hand of the Father in heaven. There, true God and true man, He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and our great High Priest and Mediator. Again with Paul, we ascend with our Lord by faith to sit by Him in the realms of glory (Colossians 3:1–2).
From Ascension Day we spend ten days in expectation, waiting for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit to occur. Then Whit-Sunday, or Pentecost, arrives. With immeasurable joy we join the disciples in the upper room and experience with them the descent of the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son. We receive with them, as members of the one and the same holy Church, the virtues and gifts of the ascended Lord Jesus. Henceforth we know that we are called to walk in the Spirit, to be filled with the Spirit, and to allow the fruit of the Spirit to grow and be seen in our lives.
So it is that, walking and living in the Spirit of Christ, we celebrate the identity of our God on Trinity Sunday. We proclaim in worship the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. We lift our voices in the “Holy, Holy, Holy” that sounds eternally in heaven, rejoicing that we are called to life in communion with this LORD, whose sacred Name (YHWH) was first revealed to Moses at the burning bush and is now revealed completely at the feet of Jesus Christ.
The remainder of the Church Year is dedicated to our life in communion with the Blessed Trinity, through Jesus Christ, once crucified and now alive for evermore. We learn from Him how to live this new life, as we return to the sacred Scriptures that tell us of His words and deeds, and of the apostolic teaching concerning Him. This long season of Trinity is given to us so that we may grow in love and knowledge of our Savior, and thus to make our walk with Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life that much more fruitful and glorious.
Part Two: The Truth
4. Revealed Truth: One Bible with Two Testaments
Jesus Christ is the Way of life and salvation because He is the Truth. We come to the Father through Him, in Him, and with Him because the Truth is who and what He is, permanently and unchangeably the same, yesterday, today and for ever (Hebrews 13:8).
We may not think very much about doing justice towards God, but we do the only-begotten Son of God a gross injustice if we account Him anything less than the one, only, and final Truth. Jesus Christ is not “a truth” to be numbered with “other truths” that mankind has discovered. Jesus Christ is not “a part of the truth” to be completed by some other sort of wisdom. Jesus Christ is not “most of the truth” to be put into perspective by “further revelations.”
Truth is a Person
Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega: the perfect and complete revelation of God, so that all Truth begins and ends in Him (Revelation 22:13). Whatever is true in any place, in any discipline, or in any other person points to Jesus Christ and finds its fulfillment in Him.
In heaven or on earth, Truth is the eternally begotten Son of God who became incarnate of the Virgin Mary in time and space. For angels and for mankind, since that incarnation, the Truth has had human arms and legs, human hands and feet, for the Father has chosen “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). This one Person, true God and true man, is the Truth unto ages of ages because He is the “express image” of the Person of His Father, “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).
He is the eternal Logos who has taken to himself a human nature and body; He is “the Word made flesh” and the fullness of grace and truth (John 1:14). There is no truth apart from Him, and nothing that can be truly communicated, truly believed, truly understood, or truly reasoned without Him. Whether fallen man acknowledges Him or not, He is the reality behind the experimental “truths” of science and philosophy, and all claims of truth will be judged by Him alone at the end of time.
Even these statements cannot do Him justice, however. For all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made, or can anything exist, saving only the one true eternal Godhead, the Blessed Trinity of which He is the Second Person, with God the Father and God the Holy Ghost (John 1:1–4). There is no other god, so no other Truth can exist than that which He reveals, makes present, and communicates as the incarnate and living God on earth.
He is the Truth as God knows the Truth, and because Jesus Christ is God’s Living Word, when we call the Holy Scriptures “God’s Word Written” we mean that they are the Spirit-breathed administration of His Person to both the original writers and to ourselves. Whether we speak of “God’s Word Made Flesh” or of “God’s Word Written,” we speak of one Lord Jesus Christ. The Old Testament looks forward to His coming, and the New Testament describes His arrival and His work on earth and in heaven. The two are a unity in Him, as the embodiment of the purposes of the Blessed Trinity, for “The New is in the Old concealed: the Old is by the New revealed.”
Furthermore, when we say with the Scriptures that the Church is the Body of Christ, we must also necessarily commit the Church to being a “Body of His Truth.” To be apart from His Truth is to be apart from His being, and to be either woefully incomplete or no church at all. So intimate is the identity of the Church and the Truth, that the Acts of the Apostles describe the growth of the Church as the “increase,” “growth,” or “multiplication” of God’s Word (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20). It is the testimony of Jesus Christ that is the spirit of prophecy within the Church (Revelation 19:10). It is the indwelling of the Word of God that gives the Church the grace, joy, and wisdom to teach, to admonish, to pray, and to sing (Colossians 3:16).
Take away the Truth, and we take away the Life of the Church, the Life that Jesus Christ sacrificed on the cross that we might live and become the Truth in Him. The Truth is both the cross and the resurrection of the Church, as was revealed to St. John in his vision of the glorious Christ in heaven: “And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13). Blood is the price and value of Truth, both in heaven and on earth.
As the twentieth of the Anglican Articles of Religion declares, the Church is “a witness and keeper of holy Writ” and may not decree anything against the Word of God or require for salvation anything besides the Truth of Jesus Christ. Here the churches of the Anglican Way only bind themselves to the life and hope they share by grace with the undivided Church of the Apostles and the Fathers. This is the Church’s permanent standard of freedom.
To stand against confusion and for the Truth of Jesus Christ, the Anglican Way embraces certain safeguards, even as it trusts in Christ alone. The simplest list of these safeguards remains the “1-2-3-4-5” of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes: One canon of the Bible, given by God in Two Testaments, summarized by the Three Creeds, taught by Four General Councils, and understood by the life and practice of the undivided Church of the first Five Centuries.
One cannot understand the inheritance of Truth preserved by the Anglican Way, or the authority of the Anglican churches, without considering these five tests that serve a single Truth. Such a consideration is the purpose of this chapter and of the two that follow, as we examine the Anglican Way as a Way of the Truth of Christ.
God’s Word Written
Within the One Canon of the Bible, with its Two Testaments, God gives unto mankind in human words the record of His Truth. This record is unique and perfect because it is, above all else, a work of God. While we may study the history and composition of these Two Testaments, our purely literary or archaeological studies are incomplete and misleading, if we forget for a moment that they constitute a single providential gift of divine self-revelation.
By the will of God, we creatures learn from this one Source of the nature, character, attributes, and purposes of our Creator. We encounter, by a grace beyond our control, God the Father, together with His only-begotten Son, in the unity of His Holy Spirit. In this Book, we read of the work of the Holy Trinity for human salvation, reconciliation, and final redemption. Through the secret operation of the Holy Ghost, the faithful in each generation meet, in and by this holy book, the Person of Jesus Christ. We see and hear for ourselves what He has done, is doing now, and will do unto the ages of ages for us and for our salvation.
The early Christian Church recognized the unity and the power of this Book. Following the tradition of the Jewish synagogue, the first Christians made the public reading of the Scriptures a central element in the public act of worship. They could not have done otherwise, since the Lord Jesus had taught the disciples on Easter Day to read the sacred Scriptures in relation to His own Person and work: “Beginning at [the books of] Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
After Christ’s exaltation into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit to fill and guide them, the apostles and disciples continued to read and interpret the Scriptures in the light of the Gospel concerning Jesus Christ their Lord. The earliest Christians enriched and enlivened this interpretation of the Scriptures by the life of Jesus Christ with the eyewitness testimony of the apostles and other disciples. Soon this apostolic testimony was written down, becoming what were later to be known as books of the New Testament. Later still, with the addition of certain apostolic letters and a history of the infant Church as the Word of God at work in the world, the churches had the full collection of writings we know as the New Testament. This collection they combined, by faith and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, with that of the Old Testament, in order to make the One Canon of the Holy Scriptures that we call the Bible.
The Bible is God’s written Word for it is the God-given basis for preaching the same “Word, who dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” The faithful Church today declares to all men what St. Paul first announced to the Corinthians: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1–2).
Faithfulness can consist in nothing else, since God the Holy Trinity is the “owner” of the Bible and the Revealer of the complete Truth written therein. The Bible, with its One Canon and Two Testaments is, therefore, both the common treasure of God’s elect people and a trust they bear as the Body of Christ and the Household of God for all the people of the world.
Each and every believer, of course, shares in this inheritance of Truth and has the great privilege of reading the Bible for himself. No believer, however, is a “law of truth” unto himself. He must read the Bible prayerfully as a member of the one Body of Christ, and he must be guided by the whole Body, in the sense that he reads as one holding with and in Christ’s Body the Common Faith. Since the conscience of a faithful Christian is formed by his life in the Body of Christ, he does not exalt the right of private judgment. Rather, he humbly develops a profitable and edifying way of reading the Bible that is informed by the wisdom already present within the Church and her tradition of interpreting the Scriptures.
This principle of reading the Bible within the Body of Christ and in a communion of Truth is not some political or managerial scheme of the Church for controlling her members. It is a principle of the Bible itself and belongs to its doctrinal understanding. St. Peter underscores the point of keeping the Common Faith revealed to the whole Church, and not to her members individually:
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon them selves swift destruction. (2 Peter 1:19–2:1).
This principle, moreover, binds scholars and the officers of the Church just as much as it does every other Christian to that common understanding of the Scriptures that the Holy Ghost has delivered to the Body of Christ. The finest minds, prepared by the best education, may often stumble where a humble faith goes safely. The custodians of the Truth may sometimes confuse themselves with the Source of it.
At the same time, humility can also become exaggerated. In the sixteenth century, it was necessary for the Anglican reformers to make clear once again to the Church that the Bible is a book, not for the clergy and experts alone, but for all of God’s children. All believers who read the Bible in faith and sincerity will not miss the divine clarity of its message concerning the way of salvation in Christ Jesus. The first of the official Homilies of the Church of England, written by Archbishop Cranmer, put the matter in elegant style:
And concerning the hardness of Scripture; he that is so weak that he is not able to brook strong meat, yet he may suck the sweet and tender milk, and defer the rest until he wax stronger, and come to more knowledge: for God receiveth the learned and unlearned, and casteth away none, but is indifferent to all. And as the Scripture is full, as well of low valleys, plain ways, and easy for every man to use and to walk in; as also of high hills and mountains, which few men can climb unto.
Having articulated this sacred calling of every Christian to know the Scriptures, the same reformed Church also engaged herself to provide the opportunity for its fulfillment. She called upon her children, at least as often as possible, to hear the Scriptures read daily within those regular acts of morning and evening worship known in the Anglican Way as Matins and Evensong. This intentional connection of a common worship with a common study of the Scriptures makes clear the Anglican belief that the content of the Bible is a living Truth to be understood and interpreted within the dynamic context of the Church’s fellowship, theology, and prayer. This shared discipline, furthermore, only enhances and reveals the wide area of one’s personal life where the words of God can be applied to the specifics of personal or family circumstances in the daily vocation to serve the Lord and to be obedient to Him in all things.
The Book of Common Prayer continues to be the Anglican churches’ most visible witness to Christianity as a scriptural life, and their best guarantee that Christianity lived according to the Anglican Way will remain such a life. In the context of the Prayer Book, every action and administration common to the Church is explained or accompanied by lessons and citations taken from the Holy Scriptures.
The Lectionary, or “list of appointed readings” provided by the Church in the Book of Common Prayer, does more than provide for a variety of Scriptural lessons in Anglican public worship. It liberates both pastor and parishioner from the tyranny of a privatized judgment and the reading of only a few familiar or favorite parts of the Bible. In the course of every year, the Lectionary takes the Christian through the majority of the Old Testament once, and the majority of the New Testament twice.
On such a basis, the Church Year cannot help but be Scriptural, and the additional Bible study of church members, whether corporate or private, united to the entirety of God’s Word Written. Those who are hindered by travel, illness, or other circumstances from gathering in the flesh with the rest of the Church have the further comfort of knowing that by following the Church’s Lectionary they are reading and pondering the same Scriptures as their brethren in the spiritual communion of Christ.
The Book of Common Prayer also teaches the Anglican by experience how to use the Holy Scriptures as prayer. In the Daily Offices, the Scripture is prayed and sung as anthems, Canticles, and Psalms. The Psalter, in fact, is the very heart of this ancient form of daily prayer. To pray the Psalter is to be in Christ and in the communion of saints, and not merely to express a personal piety or that of the local community. We recite or chant the Psalms as the prayers of the Lord Jesus Christ in His Body, and as the prayer of the members of His Body in relation to Christ the Head.
This is not to say that an individual psalm cannot become a personal prayer for a worshiper. It is, rather, to affirm that first and foremost in the corporate prayer of the Church, the Psalter is prayed with, through, and by Jesus Christ. This sort of praying in Christ is the highest goal of all Christian prayer.
The Scriptures, Dogma, and Tradition
The Bible, as Anglicans have affirmed throughout the ages, is the primary source of God’s Revelation and Truth. In the words of VIth Article of Religion, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation.” Everything mankind will ever need to know concerning a right relation with the righteous God, in this world and for the sake of eternal life in the world to come, is written clearly in the pages of this holy Book.
On the basis of the Bible’s dynamic and inspired content, the Church has produced from within her living communion with God in Christ: doctrines and dogma; liturgy; canon law; spiritual and moral disciplines; and ethical and moral teaching. This accumulation of the living Church’s doctrine, discipline, and worship across the centuries may be called the Tradition of the Church.
There are, of course, in every place local traditions and customs practiced by the people of God, but there is a greater Tradition that is the common possession of all. There is the greater Tradition with respect to the essentials of the Faith: for instance, the dogma of the Holy Trinity, the dogma of the Incarnation and the dogma of Redemption which are proclaimed in the Creeds, especially the Nicene Creed. There is the greater Tradition with respect to Worship and Order: for instance, the celebration of the first day of the week as the Lord’s Day when the people are to gather in His name; the commitment to Daily Prayer using the Psalter; the threefold ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons for the ordering of the Church’s sacramental and pastoral life; and the governance of the Church according to divine order.
Let us reflect for a moment, then, on the relation of the classical dogmas of the Church to the Holy Scriptures. What we may say is that the Truth is written in the Scriptures so as to address the whole human person as a seeing, thinking, feeling, and acting: being. In this providential way, the Truth speaks through what used to be called “common sense.”
Major controversies arise in the Church, however, precisely when the Truth spoken in the language of “common sense” is twisted, as the followers of Arius twisted it in the fourth century over the precise relation of Jesus Christ to His Father in heaven. They refused to believe that the Son of God could be eternal with His Father, picking and choosing from the Scriptures to make what seemed to them only a “logical” point, even at the expense of the faith of others.
Obviously enough, such failures of “common sense” are not unique to the Church. In modern times a generation of doctors mocked Pasteur and Lister for telling them to disinfect their hands of “germs” before touching a patient. After all, the doctors said, it was only “common sense” that what could not be seen with the naked eye could not possibly kill a human being so much bigger than itself. It took a great effort of refined thought, terminology, and teaching to produce the antiseptic hospitals that we know today.
Similarly, the Church had to focus in the fourth century on the question, What is the real truth, the truth which the mind as intellect, guided by all of the Scriptures, sees clearly concerning the relation of Jesus Christ to the Father? To answer this question, the Church had to reach beyond the potential imprecision of “common sense” language into the more technical language of “being” itself, called “ontology.”
This specialized language had been developed by the Greek philosophers as a way of examining very carefully “what makes anything what it is.” Following from such simple insights as “a ham and cheese sandwich must have some ham in it,” the technique of ontology is still with us today. Thus, without adopting the philosophers’ beliefs, the Church used their technique for thinking about “being” to study what God had revealed in the Scriptures. From this study came the dogma of the homoousios: that Jesus Christ in His true divine being is of “one and the same substance” or “of the same essence” as God the Father.
Here the many truths of Scripture, given in images and metaphors, in common sense descriptions and statements, are reduced just as providentially to one focused statement and to one complex Greek word – homoousios. And once the Church has made this step in the name of Truth it cannot be undone. It ever remains as a pointer to the true identity of the Lord Jesus Christ (see further chapter 5).
Tradition is, indeed, always open to renewal through the light which God causes to shine from the Written Word for the sake of the Incarnate Word. But renewal means “being made new” and not “being made different.” It does not mean that the dogmas of the Holy Trinity and of the Person of Christ, so carefully worked out by the councils of the early Church, could be found to be wrong. Rather, it means that their fullness of truth, their roundedness as truth, their pointing to the truth, and their relation to the practical living of truth can be seen afresh and appreciated more deeply by each generation of Christians as it is moved by the Holy Ghost.
True renewal will always consist in seeking to know the Lord in obedience and in striving to perfect our communion in Truth with His saints in heaven, as well as those on earth. Likewise, while there will be no setting aside of the Threefold Ministry, the ways that it is adapted through space and time and from culture to culture will differ, as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral stated in 1888. Nevertheless, the Anglican bishops who produced that effort to establish a basis for Christian reunion understood, with the eighteen centuries of apostolic Christians who had preceded them, that “an adaptation” and “a substitute” are two very different things.
Tradition, at its best, may be described as the Church’s considered and obedient response to the Truth of the Word of God, shared over time. Thus Tradition can never be elevated above the written Word, but the living content and ethos of Tradition are important means through which the Church in each generation is enabled to read the Word of God with profit unto holiness. For Anglicans, living Tradition is primarily experienced in the use of the classic Book of Common Prayer (see further chapter 5). By it, the individual person, family, and congregation is united to the holy, catholic Church of heaven and earth: to her liturgy, dogma, communion of saints, concern for the salvation of the world, and order of daily life.
A Contemporary Concern: Education
The written Word of God is not always regarded, in practice, and sometimes in explicit argument, as the final authority for faith and conduct within the life of the Church today. A major reason for this departure from fidelity to the Bible has been the undermining of the Bible itself in modern theological education. This problem is more profound than the introduction of liberal theories about the origins, inspiration and relevance of the various Biblical books. The very method used to study the Bible is at fault.
Because of the separation of the so-called “disciplines,” the Old and the New Testaments are studied apart from one another, with little or no effort made to demonstrate their intrinsic unity in the Person of Jesus Christ. In many seminaries, Old Testament, New Testament, and Inter-Testamental Studies are hostile departments unabashedly competing for students, funding, and prestige. These conflicts may parallel those in other sorts of “professional” schools, but what is lost in the process is any sense of “One Bible in Two Testaments.”
Instead, the Old Testament is studied as one book in terms of its origins, history, original audience, and meanings; and the New Testament is studied as another. This approach, which amounts to the notion of two testaments combined arbitrarily to make one Bible, renders the Scriptures, at best, an anthology of textual resources for studying ancient religions. Depersonalizing the divine connection between the Testaments ends in desacralizing their content. But unless these books are, together, one Holy Bible in Christ Jesus, they have little authority for guiding the life of the Church or of anyone else.
This approach is often defended as being more “modern” or “scientific,” but it is really as old as the heretic Marcion’s abbreviated Bible. It is even addressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles:
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and the New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind in Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises... (Article VII).
Too many theological students continue to enter the ministry with little or no sense of how the Lord Jesus and the early Church looked at and read the Old Testament, or of how they used it in the teaching of doctrine, morality, and worship. A major portion of the mind of the early and medieval Church remains closed to them because they do not know how to read, to interpret and pray the Old Testament as having its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In practice their prayer life will be narrowed, for they will not know how to pray the Psalter as it was prayed by the Church in ancient, medieval, and early modern times. Except as the record of varied, human experiences of God, the Psalter will be a closed book.
They will fail as the ministers of God’s Word, because they will tend to preach only a truncated Gospel from an incompletely understood New Testament seen in opposition to the Old. They need to be taught, for their own sake and the sake of the people they will serve, to understand the unity of the Scripture first, and only then proceed to the study of each Testament, relating the one to the other.
Cranmer and Hooker speak of Scripture as “a doctrinal instrument of salvation.” Such a way of understanding is capable of embracing a variety of interpretations and various methods of approach to Scripture but always subordinate to the purpose of Scripture. As Hooker puts it, “The end of the Word of God is to save, and therefore we term it the Word of Life. The way for all men to be saved is by the knowledge of that truth which the word hath taught.... To this end the Word of God no otherwise serveth than only in the nature of a doctrinal instrument. It saveth because it maketh ‘wise to salvation’.” Such a sensibility belongs to that larger tradition by which the Bible has come down to us as the Bible.
A Contemporary Concern: Bible Translation
Since the Bible is central to the life of the Church, and since it was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, the importance of accurate and readable translations can hardly be over-emphasized. In terms of the English language, the Anglican Way has been singularly blessed with the availability of the King James Version of the Bible and Apocrypha, published in 1611, nearly five centuries ago.
Within the last few decades, however, there have been so many different translations and paraphrases produced in English that even the librarians are getting confused. This confusion has been intensified by the debate over where, if at all, to use so-called “inclusive language” in translating ancient texts. Of recent translations we commend the Revised Standard Version (RSV) but not the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
The Anglican Way has never been to confuse “translation” with “commentary,” but to consider them two separate tasks. The first task is a clear translation of the sacred Text, as nearly literal (“word for word”) as possible, given the differences in vocabulary and grammar between English and the language being translated. In this tradition, brief linguistic notes are provided when necessary, and a device like italic print is used to indicate where words had to be inserted by the translators to form grammatical English sentences.
It is also usual, within the Anglican tradition, that Bible “versions” (complete translations from the original tongues) be produced under the guidance and authority of the Church, as the Body to which the Scriptures are addressed. Bible translation as a commercial venture, while lucrative, is a recent innovation. Its danger is that the translators, precisely because they are seeking a profit, may force the sacred Text into meanings congenial to their customers.
Commentary is the method that scholars and teachers use to attempt to shed light on the meaning of the original text and its translations. Commentary, for example, provides an explanation of why or why not words like St. Paul’s “brethren,” (Galatians 1:2) are inclusive of women. Commentary also discusses such matters as the meaning of “honor” in “Honor thy Father and thy Mother” or the varied meanings of the words translated into English as “sin.”
This distinction between translation and commentary is not an Anglican invention, of course, but the ancient tradition of the undivided Church, inherent in the idea of a “canon” or official list of Scripture. However brilliant or well intentioned, human commentary or the insights of any age must not be confused with the divinely given text of the Scriptures.
Having received a sacred text so jealously guarded by the Church through space and time, and often at the price of blood, the modern Church is duty bound to continue to guard that text. She must only commend or approve translations that are accurate and seek the end for which the Scriptures exist – to prepare a people to enjoy and glorify God forever.
5. Practical Truth: The Bible and Common Prayer
We saw in the previous chapter how the Church, in the service of the revealed Truth of God, must at times summarize that Truth in very exact language. Preserving the truth as exactly as is humanly possible is a pastoral duty of the Church, and not just something to keep her scholars busy. The ministers of Jesus Christ are “the stewards of the mysteries of God,” the custodians of the revealed Truth, whether in doctrine, worship, sacraments, or order (1 Corinthians 4:1).
Nevertheless, faithful and well-meaning people sometimes grow impatient with the technical theological language of God’s Truth, as the Church has developed it over the centuries. “It’s too complicated,” they say. “Give us the simple Truth instead.” And the Truth should be delivered as simply and clearly as possible, but “simplicity” and “clarity” require a great deal of advance preparation, not just in Christianity, but in any endeavor.
In our everyday lives, for example, few of us need to know the full range of scientific terminology used by doctors of medicine. If we fall and injure an arm, however, we depend upon our doctor’s knowing a library of precise medical information when he examines and treats us. “Your arm is broken” may be a simple, clear summary of his findings, but we expect him to have a more profound understanding of our problem than that, along with a detailed plan for our healing. Preventive medicine, furthermore, seeks to keep us healthy, and to teach us the potential differences between “feeling good” and “being well,” without requiring that we all become doctors of medicine ourselves.
From the viewpoint of eternal life, seeking the health of our souls is even more important than preserving the health of our physical bodies. The Church cares about both, but she gives priority to our spiritual well being and salvation, since that is her primary commission from God. Thus, to extend our medical comparison one step further, when the Church deals with false doctrine, wickedness, and sin, she is treating the injuries and spiritual diseases that can cripple or kill the new life of the soul in Jesus Christ. This is her equivalent of curative or restorative medicine, but the Church practices her own version of preventive medicine as well.
Good health, whether of body of soul, requires a wholesome environment, sufficient nourishment, and regular exercise. The Church works to preserve the spiritual health of her members, therefore, by providing a stable common life of moral and spiritual order in Jesus Christ. Within that common life of order, she nourishes her members with the revealed Truth of Biblical doctrine and Biblical preaching. She provides them with the practical means of Biblical discipline and Biblical worship to exercise their calling in Jesus Christ and to grow strong in the life of His grace.
The Church’s structured life in Jesus Christ is really her “preventive medicine” of the soul, but such an orderly existence is contrary to the fallen nature of man. Although Christian order makes possible all the true joys of life, in heaven or on earth, it is not always describable as “fun.” On the contrary, we fallen human beings often declare that we “feel good” when we are doing those things which separate us from God and make us morally repugnant to Him.
But “being a Christian” and “living as a Christian” cannot be separated from one another. Neither can “living as a Christian” and “living in Christian order.” To discuss these realities of life in greater detail, the Church has developed another specialized language, this time a technical language of “living order.” It is called “economy,” and it complements “ontology,” the technical language of “being” discussed in Chapter Four.
The Law governing the Household
The word “economy” comes from the Greek words for “household” and “law,” so it means literally “the law that governs the members of a household.” The specific purpose of Christian economy is to teach the Biblical truth that life is more than static or abstract “being”: it is also an order of relations and actions among persons. The most famous statement of Biblical economy comes from St. John:
Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:13–16).
Our new life in Jesus Christ is much more than our simply “being” Christians. It is a new order of relations, God to man and man to God, established by the Blessed Trinity. The Father sends the Son to be our Incarnate Savior, and the Holy Ghost is given to quicken us. Thus, the life we receive from the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Ghost is God’s own life revealed as an order of love in action, as He dwells in us and we dwell in Him.
On our part, for us to dwell in God, we must be changed by the Divine Love that dwells in us, testifying by our lives and by our actions that true love begins, not in ourselves, but in the blessed order of the Trinity. “God is love,” because from before all worlds the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are Three Divine Persons of equal might, majesty, and dominion, and One eternal God. God is One God in being, and He is One God in order, as the Son and the Holy Ghost do the Father’s will, not out of inequality or weakness, but for love. In this, the Three-in-One and the One-in-Three are mutually glorified, and united in glory live, create, redeem, and sanctify together, One God.
We shall contemplate these divine mysteries of order throughout eternity, but to dwell in God as His adopted children we must live our daily lives according to them now, as nearly as we can. Unless the order of the Trinity penetrates our own lives, the statement, “We are Christians” is a bare abstraction or an outright lie. The faithful Church witnesses to the Divine Economy through the economic order of her own life and the lives of her children.
True Christians, for example, are one in dignity and being in Jesus Christ, but just as the eternal Son obeys the Father in love, these adopted children of God both obey their Father in heaven and submit to one another in mutual love, humility, and order. Within the order of the Church, those who bear the greatest authority are not only expected to be the most obedient to the Father, but also to be the most submissive to the brethren whom they serve: “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27–28).
This calling to manifest the divine order of love among men is intrinsic to the Gospel of life and common to all of the Church. It is, however, uniquely central to the Anglican Way. The particular Anglican vocation is not to organize the life of the Church as a universal system of law or as a universal culture. Rather, it is to be a covenantal family in Christ, a New Israel, which is itself a communion of local covenantal families sharing the same faith and order. Put another way, the economic place of the Anglican churches in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ is to be a familial order of mutual submission in the revealed Truth of God Incarnate.
To live the Truth in love and order is anything but an open-ended vocation. The clear goal of the Anglican Way is to grow up into the fullness of Jesus Christ, and in Him to be faithful children of the Father in heaven (see Ephesians 4:11–16). Our identity as Anglicans is diminished the moment that sentimentality replaces Truth, or any other “order” than the Biblical Covenant with God in Christ is intruded among us.
As has been demonstrated repeatedly in the West in recent years, the churches of the Anglican Way are also uniquely vulnerable to the techniques of modern partisan politics. Where the lines of authority within a familiar order have been clearly drawn for centuries, the pursuit of domination and power must divide and weaken a household. Power can be had in such circumstances only at the expense of order. The Truth that buttresses that order must be undermined, and the manipulation of votes and of parliamentary procedures must replace brotherly love.
No family can survive partisan power seeking for very long, least of all the spiritual family of the Anglican Communion. Even before there was a communion of Anglican national churches, the Church of England understood that her life as a family in Christ had to be preserved and nurtured by explicit and practical means. During the Reformation of the sixteenth century, the coherent order of Church of England came close to disintegrating due to the pressures exerted by various factions that wished to remake the Church in their own image. The Church responded by gathering the essential and constituting elements of her daily Scriptural life, as she had lived that life through history, in the Book of Common Prayer.
The Book of Common Prayer is the “simple truth” of the Anglican Way: the single, clearest expression of both the family inheritance and the cohesive order of the Anglican churches. Following the discipline of the Prayer Book, the conscientious Anglican applies the entirety of the Holy Scriptures, the Living Word of Christ, to the entirety of life. He shuns partisan excess and insists only that his brethren maintain in common with him that which constitutes the unchanging basis for a complete Christian “walk” in Jesus Christ.
The voluntary suppression of partisanship, both personally and corporately, through the use and contents of the Book of Common Prayer, is sometimes derided as a mere “Anglican compromise,” but it is a highly principled act. In so doing, the Anglican Church submits herself to the fellowship of the saints, to the Creeds of the ancient and undivided Church, and to the work of the General Councils in articulating the Christian Faith definitively, both for the sake of peace and for the sure salvation of her members. Common prayer, thus understood, like the common life it enshrines, may be supplemented, consistent with the underlying and changeless Truth of Christ, but it may not be replaced or reduced without weakening the Anglican churches’ union with Jesus Christ and with one another.
The Book of Common Prayer does not merely “contain” the Creeds and the truth of the Councils. It lays them out as a way of ordered Christian living, founded in the one Canon of Holy Scripture in its two Testaments. By observing this, we have accounted for the first four elements of Andrewes’ 1-2-3-4-5 of Anglican authority. In the following chapter we will discuss the fifth, the Anglican inheritance from the life of the undivided Church in the first five centuries, more fully. But now, let us examine more closely how the life and unity of the Anglican Way are presented to us in the traditional Book of Common Prayer, as it has been used throughout the Anglican Communion.
Most Anglicans over the centuries have learned the meaning of the Bible through the use of the Book of Common Prayer. Constructed itself from the Scriptures, the Prayer Book has placed in their hands, on their lips, and in their hearts Canticles, Epistles, Gospels, Psalms, sentences, and phrases given and inspired by God. And when Anglicans have used the appointed readings of the Lectionary within the Daily Offices, it can truly be said that they have been immersed together in the hearing and reading of the sacred Scriptures in such a way as to receive their Truth according to God’s comprehensive design.
Preparation for active and thoughtful participation in the Anglican Way has been based over the centuries on receiving in mind, heart, and will the objective Biblical standards of the Prayer Book Catechism before being confirmed by the Bishop. In its basic form this simple explication of the Christian Faith has contained explanations of the Ten Commandments as fulfilled by our Lord, of the Lord’s Prayer, and of the Apostles’ Creed that summarizes the vital content of the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. Knowing how to behave, how to pray, and what to believe has thus been maintained as an indispensable beginning to obedient and fruitful life in the Body of Christ within the communion of saints.
Life in the Body of Christ within the Anglican Way is always life in relation to Scripture, God’s Word written, for this is the primary means through which the Lord speaks to His people in every time and in every place.
The Bible in Public Prayer
It is impossible to offer the Daily Office to the Lord within His Body without having a Bible. Certainly much of what is required for this sacrifice of prayer and praise is already there, printed clearly in the specific pages of The Book of Common Prayer. All the required collects and prayers, all the Canticles, and the Creed are in place. What is not printed in the Prayer Book are the two Scripture Readings, called the Two Lessons, where we sit to hear read by one of our fellow Christians the inspired words which God has provided for our benefit, education, and salvation each morning and evening. Here the Bible is understood as the Book of God’s wisdom, which He shares with us as we engage together in prayer to Him. Thus the appropriate responses to hearing what God has to teach us are both humble silence (to let it sink in) and praise (via a canticle or psalm addressed to God) for His gifts of wisdom and grace.
Of course, when the service of Matins or Evensong is used as a public act of worship, especially on the Lord’s Day or on Saints’ Days, a sermon is usually added to the Office. This sermon, properly understood, is a further proclamation of the Word of the Lord, so that the invisible Holy Spirit may take the Scriptural message given from heaven into the depths of our hearts and minds.
Apart from being the substantial content of the Daily Offices, the Scriptures also supply what we may call the “supernatural basis” for these daily acts of ordered prayer. The early Church did not “Invent” the Offices. She learned from Scripture that it is good and right to make a daily offering of prayer and praise, both morning and evening, to the Lord our God. She learned that the content of such prayer should include confession of sin, declaration of God’s pardon, praise, thanksgiving, petition, intercession, silence, and meditation. She learned that such worship is) joined by the Holy Spirit to the heavenly prayer of our great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, and in Him to that of the saints and angels who surround Him to magnify and glorify the Father. The early Church learned and obeyed, teaching us an obedience that we continue today.
Whether we say “the Lord’s Supper,” “the Holy Communion,” or “the Eucharist,” the reality is the same. The whole sacramental act is offered within a common discipline to the Lord our God in obedience to the Lord Jesus, who said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Thereby, we are united in Christ, “we in him and he in us,” for human salvation and to the glory and praise of God.
At the beginning of the Order for Holy Communion, the Commandments of the Lord, taken from Exodus, are declared as the will of God for His people. After one or more appointed “collects,” prayers intended to focus our intention and will on what follows, the Epistle and Gospel are read from the Bible. Then the Creed is recited or sung as a summary of the facts of the Gospel that we have received from the Scripture. Following the further teaching of the Scriptures in the sermon, the mercy of our God in Christ our Lord is proclaimed in Scripture sentences to begin the Offertory. In obedience to the Scriptural command that we pray for those who are set in authority over us and for those who are in need, we offer prayers of petition and intercession (1 Timothy 2:1–4).
Then the Exhortation, too often neglected today, lays out the Scripture’s admonitions concerning the solemn nature of our coming to the Lord’s Table to be fed by His Body and Blood. We are addressed as “Dearly beloved in the Lord,” so that we will understand that it is Christ’s love that teaches us that no one shall receive the Body and Blood of Christ who is not spiritually prepared so to do.
After preparing themselves by a confession of their sins, the faithful are then enjoined in the “Sursum Corda” to lift up their hearts unto the Lord. The Holy Spirit unites them to the Lord Jesus and with the angels and the saints, who cry out “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts,” as recorded in Isaiah (6:1ff.) and Revelation (4:8).
In the Prayer of Consecration, the words of Institution spoken by our Lord in the upper room are carefully recited from the New Testament. We recall here, too, other major events in the life and work of the Lord Jesus, both to offer praise and thanks for them, and to make clear our understanding that He has offered His entire Life for us. Thus, we offer Him our entire lives as well.
When the communicants actually receive in their hands and mouths the sacramental Body and Blood of our Savior, they hear again words from our Lord in Scripture: “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood.” These proclaim to them what it is that they are being fed at His messianic banquet.
The written Word of God permeates the whole Service of the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament. The Bible creates its ethos of mingled joy and solemnity, provides its content, and supplies its doctrinal basis. The written Word is the means for the Holy Spirit to make known to God’s people the living Word who was made flesh, who was crucified as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and who feeds the faithful in the Sacrament with His Risen Body.
Flowing also into the content of this Service are major biblical concepts – atonement, redemption, reconciliation, salvation, judgment, forgiveness, communion with the Father through the Son, faith and faithfulness in God’s redeemed people, and so on. Only as a person becomes familiar with the actual themes of sacred Scripture and how these have been assimilated within the piety and faith of the Church can he truly begin to see just how fully Scriptural is the liturgy for the administration of Holy Communion.
The Bible in the Occasional Offices
The much-used services for Holy Baptism, the Burial of the Dead, and the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony are likewise filled with biblical content and constructed on biblical principles.
Our Lord commanded His disciples to go into the whole world, to preach the Gospel to all nations, and to baptize converts in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19). The churches that the apostle Paul and other missionaries formed of both Jews and Gentiles in the Roman Empire were made up of baptized adults and the children of their households. In Baptism all redeemed persons are declared equal before God in their new saving relation to the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit. As the apostle Paul expressed it: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians.3:28).
The service of Holy Baptism was constructed in order to fulfill in a dignified, holy, and effective manner the command of the Lord Jesus to baptize converts. Again, a large part of the service consists either in direct scriptural quotation or in appropriate biblical allusion, e.g., to Noah’ Ark and to the Exodus from Egypt. Its structure is informed by the biblical doctrine of baptism, as opposed to a particular “theory” of baptism. Thus Baptism is presented in its entirety in the Prayer Book order: as a washing away or remission of sin; as a being united through the Holy Spirit with the Lord Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection; as spiritual regeneration; as entry into the kingdom of God and into the Church; and as the fulfillment of the sign of circumcision under the old covenant.
The service for the Burial for the Dead is profound in its biblical simplicity, for it is in essence a proclamation of the Gospel of the Resurrection, both from the New Testament scriptures and from the Psalter. This liturgy is not intended by the Church to praise anyone except the God of all grace. It is He, through His own Living Word, who comforts the bereaved, just as it is He who promises to give eternal life with new resurrection bodies of glory to those who believe in His Son.
The service for the solemnization of Holy Matrimony is constructed around these solemn words, spoken originally by the Lord Jesus: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (see Mark 10:1–12). God’s intention in creation, and His continuing will for His people, is declared from the Scripture to be that a man and a woman should be joined in marriage as one flesh for their earthly lives. On the basis of the Scriptures, the Church teaches further that marriage is a particular work of God’s grace, so that a husband and a wife may enjoy communion with one another in the Lord, in good times and in bad, to their mutual comfort. It is within this marital communion, and according to God’s will, that they are to procreate children, who are to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of His holy Name.
The Book of Common Prayer offers a very different picture of marital fulfillment from that offered by the selfish and disordered modern world. It is a life of self-sacrifice and mutual submission, modeled on the relation between Christ and His Church (see Ephesians 5:20–33, esp. 32). This vocation to manifest the loving order of life in Christ exalts the individual Christian family to an honored place in the order of the entire Church, as an intimate center of worship, learning, and grace.
The Bible and the Creeds
The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are the two major Creeds in use among Anglicans. The Apostles’ Creed is so called because it preserves the teaching of the apostles, and not because (despite some early legends) it was constructed by the apostles, each one contributing a clause or phrase. It is used in the occasional service of Holy Baptism and each day in the Daily Offices.
The Nicene Creed is really the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, for its present form is to be traced to the Council of Constantinople (381) rather then to the Council of Nicea (325). Subsequent General Councils confirmed this Creed and added to our understanding of it, but they did not change its content. It is used as a baptismal creed in the East, and in both the East and the West as the Creed in the Holy Eucharist or Divine Liturgy.
The liturgical form of the Nicene Creed is in the first person singular, “I believe,” for in divine worship it is the Creed of the one Bride of Christ addressing the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. It is also the Creed (the baptismal faith) of each and every member of the One Body of Christ. Although, since the 1970’s many Roman Catholics and Anglicans in the English-speaking West have recited the Nicene Creed in the first person plural (“we believe”), this practice has no historical precedent in the liturgy of the Church. The original text of the Creed as the profession of bishops in council did begin with the words, “We [bishops] believe”; but when it became a baptismal creed it naturally became, “I believe.” Wittingly or not, the return to the conciliar form by certain Western churches claims for their assemblies the authority of a General Council, and undercuts the authority of the Creed by treating it as something that must be re-ratified every time that Christians gather.
The earliest confession of faith in the Gentile Churches was the brief “Jesus is the Lord,” attributing to Jesus Christ the sacred title of the Lord our God (2 Corinthians 4:5; Philippians 2:11). The baptismal confessions developed in local churches were developments from this simple yet profound base. Further material from Scripture concerning God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Church were added over time, and the result was the Apostles’ Creed. The whole Creed is in what may be called simple, declarative, common sense language, and it seeks to present in a dynamic way the facts of the Gospel, which Christians believe, teach, and confess.
The Nicene Creed is longer and contains not only more factual material, but also (as we indicated in chapter four above) a brief but important addition and extra dimension. This addition is the truth as to the identify of Jesus Christ in relation to the Father in an ontological form – “of one substance with the Father.” The Greek word used here, homoousios, may be regarded as the single most important word of the Church outside of biblical terminology. This word points to the truth of Jesus Christ in such a way as to ask for the whole concentration of our intellectual powers to grasp what is being confessed in terms of His eternal relation to the Father within the one Godhead.
One important function of the Creeds for the Christian is that when they are learned and understood they form a kind of structure of demonstrated biblical Truth in the mind, in and through which the faithful Christian is able to develop deeper theological, spiritual, and moral understanding. The mind is not like a vacuum into which ideas come to settle. Rather, it is more like a processor of information, using either developed or undeveloped habits of thought and basing its judgments on what has been previously learned, whether true or false. Thus, the “mindset,” or what is already in place in the mind, is very important in terms of receiving, evaluating, and making use of information and experiences received from all sources, and especially from the Bible. The Creeds are the Christian mindset, just as, moving one step further, the Book of Common Prayer is the Anglican mindset.
Another Creed, used in the West and printed in the Book of Common Prayer, is the “Quicunque Vult” (“Whoever will be saved...”) or “the Athanasian Creed.” This third Creed is to be traced back to the fifth century in its Latin form. It was originally written to preserve the Church from major heresies concerning the Trinity and the Person of Christ (Modalism and Arianism) by confessing the true Faith concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and the Incarnation of the Son God in exquisite detail.
The old rubric in the Book of Common Prayer required that the Athanasian Creed replace the Apostles’ Creed at Morning Prayer on the feasts of Christmas-day, the Epiphany, Saint Matthias, Easter-day, Ascension-day, Whit-Sunday, Saint John Baptist, Saint James, Saint Bartholomew, Saint Matthew, Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Saint Andrew, and upon Trinity Sunday. Today this Creed is often forgotten, and it is certainly widely neglected, but it has great value as a teaching medium, for it can easily be learned by heart due to its poetic rhythm.
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi
Certainly anyone who faithfully prays according to the spirit and content of the Book of Common Prayer will learn what it is to be dynamically orthodox in mind, heart, and action. “The law of praying” will provide a “law of believing” which is true to Scripture, as Scripture was initially received and understood by the Early Church. These “laws” are primarily constructive, rather than punitive, since a life ordered by right worship and right belief will be lived in a right relation to Christ and to one’s fellow Christians, both in heaven and on earth.
Regrettably, it cannot be said that “the law of praying is the law of believing” applies in terms of biblical orthodoxy to much of the content of the many new services which have been produced within the various Anglican Churches by their Liturgical Commissions since the 1960’s. This venerable principle, which may be traced to Prosper of Aquitaine, is now often reduced to a mere slogan, used to justify enactments that are diametrically opposed to its original sense of preserving right belief by maintaining right worship.
In fact, what has happened far too often is that “modern” liturgies have become the means of teaching a watered down version of the classic, biblical Anglican Way, rather than being a renewed and invigorated expression of it. This has led to the further harm of a warped version of the Anglican Way that often cannot tolerate the mere presence of the older, more wholesome faith and order of the Church, or of the persons who continue to abide by them. This process of decay has further resulted in a horribly distorted version of the Anglican Way, where the classic biblical Names and metaphors for God have been set aside because of feminism and other ideologies and where the substitutionary Atonement of our Lord at Calvary has been treated as marginal.
If these assaults on the well being of the Church were not enough, the apparently never-ending series of “trial services,” “alternative services,” and “additional services,” with few exceptions, have opened the way into the Churches (especially in the West) not only for a liberal theology, but also for a new morality. Cultivated disorder, however intended, has not brought creativity to the Church but spiritual and moral chaos. Given the nature of the Anglican Way as a familial order in love, this outcome should have been predictable, but the lessons of experience may still be learned to our mutual benefit.
Though the pastors in the Anglican Way must never cease to teach the true Faith, their work as teachers is always the easier when they use on the Lord’s Day, and every day, a Liturgy which fully witnesses to biblical orthodoxy and maintains those in their care in a right relation to Christ our Lord.
Next Section Toon Home