I first came across a condensed version of this essay by Jordan Senner on The Anglican Digest blog. It was originally published in the Spring 2013 issue of Via Media: The Newsletter of the Regent College Anglican Studies Program. In it, Senner lays out eight ways he believes that "Anglicanism (at its best) faithfully expresses the fullness (breadth and depth) of the gospel." I share it below because I believe it is an excellent essay that deserves wide circulation.
I am an Anglican because I believe Anglicanism (at its best) faithfully expresses the fullness (the breadth and depth) of the gospel. There are eight primary ways in which I believe this to be true: Anglicanism is biblical, historical, sacramental, liturgical, pastoral, episcopal, ecumenical, and global. I will briefly unpack each of these defining characteristics of Anglicanism.
First, I am an Anglican because it is biblical. I appreciate the great authority that Anglicanism gives to Scripture. Article 6 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion states that the Bible is the ultimate and final authority in all matters of faith, and nothing should be taught as doctrine or necessary for salvation that is not clearly taught in Scripture. Moreover, I believe that Anglicanism rightly places Scripture at the very center of all its ministries (e.g., liturgy), devotion (e.g., Book of Common Prayer), and foundational documents. It wants to immerse God’s people in the Scriptures.
Second, I am an Anglican because it is historical. I appreciate Anglicanism’s respect for the history and tradition of the Church. While its official conception took place in the mid-16th century, it still identifies itself with the catholic Church of the centuries prior to the Reformation. It seeks unity with the historic Church. As such, it receives and affirms the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds as authoritative summaries of what Scripture teaches and what the Church believes. Also, it follows the traditional church calendar and draws wisdom from many of the great theologians of the past (e.g., Article 29 mentions Saint Augustine).
Third, I am an Anglican because it is sacramental. I appreciate the Anglican belief that God uses his visible, tangible creation (water, bread and wine) as a vessel to communicate his invisible, spiritual grace to people. I believe that the Anglican emphasis on Word and Sacrament together is healthy and edifying for the Church.
Fourth, I am an Anglican because it is liturgical. I appreciate the depth and breadth of the liturgical worship. It immerses people in many important truths of the gospel in various ways: confession of sin and absolution; confession of faith through reciting the creed and reading Scripture; preaching the Word and receiving the Sacrament; gathering for worship and sending on mission; prayer. Moreover, I believe that the liturgy helpfully engages the whole person – body and soul – in communal worship.
Fifth, I am an Anglican because it is pastoral. I appreciate the Anglican emphasis on discipleship and spiritual formation. Historically, it has taken catechism and confirmation seriously as an essential part of discipleship. Furthermore, the Book of Common Prayer provides people with helpful structures and resources for developing spiritual disciplines: prayer (morning, midday, and evening) and Scripture reading (lectionary). The Book of Common Prayer also provides pastors and laity with a diversity of prayers for different situations and spheres of life. I deeply appreciate the Anglican desire to ensconce all of life (family, work, city, church) with prayer and Scripture.
Sixth, I am an Anglican because it is episcopal. I appreciate the Anglican desire to express and maintain visible unity. It is unique among most Protestant denominations in that it believes the visible unity of the Church is important. Additionally, I believe that the episcopal structure of the Anglican church is pastorally wise. At its best, it allows parishes to support one another in gospel ministry, and it guards against personality cults and false doctrine by providing a network of accountability.
Seventh, I am an Anglican because it is ecumenical. I appreciate the Anglican belief that it is not the only true Church, but that it is part of a much larger communion that is the one, holy, apostolic, catholic Church. As such, it seeks unity of faith and mission with churches of all denominations. It seeks to work with all those who are participating in the work of the gospel.
Eighth, I am an Anglican because it is global. I appreciate the fact that Anglicanism is a global communion. Although it was conceived in England, its identity has grown to include many nations and diverse cultures. It is a worldwide communion that transcends national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries, while embracing simultaneously the diversity of worship in its various locations (see Article 34).
As to the question, ‘What difference does it make?’. All of the above characteristics of Anglicanism shape the form and content of pastoral ministry, corporate worship, and discipleship. Instead of focusing primarily on administrative and managerial tasks, pastoral ministry should focus on preaching and teaching the Scriptures, personally engaging with God and helping others engage with God through prayer, and building up the Church through the faithful and frequent celebration of the sacraments. Instead of focusing primarily on personal feelings and needs, corporate worship should be rooted in a long liturgical tradition of Scripture reading, prayer, song, and sacrament. Corporate worship should focus on God and enable each member of the congregation to see their individual and corporate life in the context of the gospel. Even more, corporate worship should lead people into a deeper communion with God and with each other. Instead of focusing solely on personal conversion by grace through faith, discipleship should also focus on personal transformation by grace through faith within the context of the Church. Discipleship should be viewed as a communal ministry that focuses on learning to read Scripture, pray, love people, and participate in God’s mission in the world. Discipleship will be deeply person, but not individualistic; it will involve every aspect of a person’s life – social, professional, familial, political, emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.
Ultimately, I am an Anglican because I believe that the Anglican tradition faithfully expresses the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and thereby gives a God-centered, Scripture-saturated, prayer-immersed shape to all pastoral ministry, corporate worship, and discipleship.