What Is Anglicanism?
By The Rev'd Dr. John W. Yates II
"Having grown up in a small Episcopal church in North Carolina, I was raised on the old Book of Common Prayer - the words, canticles and cadences settled themselves into my mind and heart, and those early years have had a great impact on my faith. Since those days, I have learned more and more about our Anglican heritage, our heroes, our highs and lows. I find my theological home in the Anglicanism of Cranmer, Whitfield, Simeon, and Stott.
I am grateful for our rich and varied heritage. There's a great need for churches in our Anglican tradition in the world today. Why? Because we exhibit an unusual collection of characteristics. Every church is different. The Baptists have their great traditions, the Methodists have their great strengths, the Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, they all have such strengths. But we're Anglican, and we're grateful for it, because it's something very, very special. Anglicanism at its best has always been known for several key qualities, some of which I list below:
- Anglicanism at its best is biblical. It finds its life and its teaching rooted in the word of God. We believe the word of God is true; not just that the Scriptures contain the word of God, but that they become the word of God spoken to us. We believe the Scriptures have authority and they're true, and we want to be biblical Christians.
- Anglicanism is sacramental. We value the sacraments, particularly of baptism and Holy Communion. We believe in the real presence of Christ in our midst. We don't think that we're just playing around with bread and wine and water. We believe that Christ is present in and through these elements, and we view them as a holy part of our life together. We're sacramental Christians.
- Anglicans, when they're at their best, are also evangelical. That means they're people who proclaim the good news of Christ to people who don't know the Lord. And every good Anglican church is seeing a little steady stream of new people coming in, who are coming to new faith, and finding new life in Jesus Christ.
- Anglicanism at its best is liturgical. That means that when we come together and worship God, we just don't do the latest fad that they're doing down the street. The way we worship God is rooted all the way back in the earliest days of the church. The first Anglican Christians came to England in the first century and started worshipping God there and laid roots in how we worship God and it was done in a particular Anglican way. The way our services are laid out, they're built on those early forms of worship. The liturgy, we make it important. We are committed to doing it the way it has been done through the ages. We bring new flavors to it, new emphases, but it's rooted in history.
- Anglicanism is worldwide. We're a catholic church. We're committed; we want to be linked closely to our brothers and sisters in the Two Thirds World. It's not just about us, it's about us together. We're a worldwide catholic church.
- Anglicanism is charismatic. That means we believe in, we're dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit. We believe that the community of the church is to be a healing community, it's to be an exorcising community, and we believe in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are taught in the Holy Scriptures. We want them all to be manifest.
- Anglicanism is about accountability. We have bishops; we believe in bishops, we want bishops. We want them not only to teach us and pastor us; we want them to hold us accountable, to tell us when we're gone astray and to hold us up to our best.
- Anglicanism at its best is musical. We love good music; the best of ancient music and the best of modern music.
- Anglicanism engages the society and the world around it. We're not about being in our own little 'holy huddle.' We're about being involved in politics, we're about being involved in the issues of the community, we're about serving on school boards, and working in clinics and working in food kitchens. We're about society.
- Anglicanism is prayerful. Some of our major services are the services of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Historically, Anglicans have met every day to pray to God. Anglicans go forward on their knees.
- Anglicanism at its best is a community of grace. There's something about Anglicanism that is particularly gracious, and I don't quite know what it is except that in 60 years of being part of the Anglican family, my experience has been that when we're together, we don't take ourselves so darn seriously. We are humble before God because we know we're all sinners. We know that we all kneel at the foot of the cross, and the ground is level there. And we know that God is doing such bigger things than we're doing. We're just a little part of it, and we believe the best of one another. We're not negative; we're gracious when we're at our best.
- Anglicanism loves children and Anglicanism is committed, not just to baptizing babies, but to beginning to work with them and make them disciples from the cradle to adulthood.
- Anglicanism also has a love for beauty, as Martyn, our bishop has said, we've always appreciated the value of aesthetics in Anglicanism. That's why you'll see so many beautiful Anglican houses of worship, that's why the furnishings are usually beautiful, that's why the way things are done are usually aesthetically pleasing. God catches our imagination through aesthetics. He speaks to us through beauty, and we learn to know God through the beauty of worship. So we're committed to reverence and beautiful aesthetics in worship.
I want to urge upon you faithfulness to this Anglican tradition and to these wonderful qualities. Listen to these encouraging words from Thomas Cranmer, the architect of the Book of Common Prayer and martyr for the Gospel: "If there were any word of God beside the Scripture, we could never be certain of God's Word; and if we be uncertain of God's Word, the devil might bring in among us a new word, a new doctrine, a new faith, a new church, a new god, yea himself to be god... If the Church and the Christian faith did not stay itself upon the Word of God certain, as upon a sure and strong foundation, no man could know whether he had a right faith, and whether he were in the true Church of Christ, or in the synagogue of Satan... Stand thou fast, and stay thy faith, whereupon thou shalt build all thy works, upon the strong rock of God's Word, written and contained within the Old Testament and the New, which is able sufficiently to instruct thee in all things needful to thy salvation, and to attainment of the kingdom of heaven."
The Rev'd Dr. John W. Yates II, is Rector of The Falls Church in Falls Church, Virginia.