Oh, No! I Feel Like I’m Coming Down with a Case of . . . Anglicanism! Or, Maybe Not

This past Sunday afternoon, it was my great privilege to attend a service of the Anglican Diocese in Edmonton in which four priests and two deacons were ordained, and an Archdeacon was collated.  The service was held at the downtown All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral.  The reason I attended the service was that two of my former students (in a Baptist college and seminary) were among the four being ordained to the priesthood.  It was really a very wonderful service.

I am not an Anglican.  I am a Baptist.  However, some of my greatest heroes are Anglican (I suppose this counts as a variation of “Some of my best friends are . . .”): John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Baxter, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Michael Green, Leon Morris, R. T. France, John Stott, J. I. Packer, to mention only a few.

There are, however, a number of things that would keep me from becoming an Anglican.  One of them, as I tell one of my former students, who is already an Anglican priest and was at this ordination service, has to do with the history of the Anglican church.  I sometimes try to engage in some good-natured ribbing (I hope) by noting that if we were to update 1 Cor 1:12 (“I am of Paul,” “I am of Apollos,” “I am of Cephas”) to modern times, the Presbyterian would say, “I am of Calvin”; the Lutheran would say, “I am of Luther”; others could say, “I am of Zwingli,” or “I am of Menno Simons.”  Then I tell my former student that she would have to say, “I am of Henry VIII”!

But for a couple of hours this past Sunday afternoon, I felt myself coming down with a severe case of Anglicanism.  There were many reasons for this, but in this blog, dedicated as it is to biblical theology, I will only mention two:

(1) Scripture held a hugely important place in the service.  There were readings from Isaiah 60, Psalm 72, Ephesians 3, and Matthew 2.  Aside from these readings, the rest of the service was very much Scripture-oriented. The songs, the prayers, and the various liturgies were suffused with Scripture.  There was a hardly a line anywhere in the service where I did not hear an allusion to, an echo of, some passage of Scripture.  In our less liturgical and more “spontaneous” and “popular” evangelical churches, we say that we base our beliefs and practices on Scripture.  But frankly, we do a very poor job of demonstrating that when we come together for worship.  Many times, the only time Scripture is read is at the very beginning of the message, and even then the reading seems to take on the role of “opening act” for the headline act, the sermon.  There was a homily in this service I attended; but I believe the time given to the reading of the four Scripture texts was just about equal to the time given to the homily.  I am by no means arguing for shorter sermons.  But, at the same time, I wonder if there is a subtle message being communicated when so little time is given to Scripture reading in proportion to the time given to the sermon.  Are the preacher’s words and musings on Scripture more important than God’s words themselves?

(2) This past Sunday was the Eve of Epiphany.  And the four passages read in the service all had to do with the Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the coming of the magi to worship the Christ child.  We read in Matthew 2 the narrative about this coming, the adoration, and the gift-giving of the magi.  We read in Isaiah 60 about how “nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn,” about how the “wealth of the nations shall come to you,” and how “they shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”  We read in Psalm 72 a prayer for the King, that he would “rule your people righteously and the poor with justice.”  And we read that “kings shall bow down before him, and all the nations do him service.”  And we read in Ephesians 2 that Gentiles (like the magi) would become “fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”

Here’s what so important about this second point.  The passages chosen to be read had nothing to do, as such, with the ordination of the priests and deacons and the collation of the Archdeacon.  To be sure, I and many others were there because of the ordination of these new priests, two of whom I knew.  And, no doubt, the reason the cathedral was so full on this Sunday afternoon was the ordination or collation of a family member or good friend.  But the service itself, the liturgy, and those who officiated at this ordination refused to make the ordination the most important thing that happened in the service.  The ordinands were not the stars of the show.  Neither were the officiants, the priests who processed in their white liturgical garb into the sanctuary, the choir, the readers, the homilist, the litanists, or even the Bishop herself.  Rather, the “star” of the show was Jesus Christ, the one who is called the Word of God incarnate.  And the readings from Scripture, the written word of God, all worked together to remind us that there was only one narrative that day that was truly important: the narrative of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The individual narratives of the ordinands were made subservient to, and subsumed in, the larger meta-narrative of the history of redemption recorded in Scripture, culminating in the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned before, there were other things I greatly appreciated about the service which I can list very briefly: the multi-sensory nature of the worship; the liturgical “work-of-the-people” character of the worship; the recitation of the Nicene Creed; the Eucharist; the fact that all the other Anglican churches around the world that day would be reading the same Scriptures, fostering a tremendous sense of unity; and the balance in the service of transcendence and immanence.

But most important to me was how everything in the service worked together to emphasize the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to suppress anything that might smack of promoting a “cult of the personality,” which, unfortunately, is so prevalent in evangelicalism.

Also, as I mentioned before, there are a number of things that would prevent me from crossing the aisle becoming an Anglican.  But I won’t mention those in this particular blog post: I have not come to bury Caesar (perhaps not the most flattering comparison, but perhaps actually a step up from Henry VIII!), but to praise him.  In any case, for two hours this past Sunday, perhaps you could have called me a BaptAnglican.  It was a glorious service and it was refreshing.  I have some disagreements with my Anglican brothers and sisters; but everything in that entire service was oriented toward the celebration of Jesus Christ and his Gospel.  “Christ was proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

Oh, yes, I should also add, “Congratulations, Sarah and Fred,” and “Belated congratulations, Susan.”

Jerry Shepherd
January 9, 2014

16 thoughts on “Oh, No! I Feel Like I’m Coming Down with a Case of . . . Anglicanism! Or, Maybe Not

  1. How about AngloBaptist? We must not forget that English speaking Baptists were all Anglicans once. Back in the 1990’s I preached in our town’s Baptist church in Christian Unity Week. It was one of the oldest Baptist churches in England – 1690. The church interior was arranged like an Anglican Church of the same period, even down to the triple-decker pulpit. They were very proud of their early history when while still Anglicans some were imprisoned by the local magistrate for baptizing adults by immersion in the River Welland.

    • Ha Ha! Which one gets top billing?! Aside from the importance of this history, which I very much appreciate, does the “Anglo” really communicate Anglican? Wouldn’t that just mean “English Baptist”?

  2. You keep referring to Henry VIII. I think you mean Thomas Cranmer! Henry has almost nothing to do with Anglicanism in either its theology or its liturgy.

    • Hi Robert. Thanks for the comment. You are certainly right about Cranmer and the wonderful work he did with regard to Anglicanism’s theology and liturgy. But, still, good-naturedly ( 🙂 !), I maintain that if Henry had not wanted a divorce, there would have been no separate entity called the Church of England. The Act of Supremacy, in essence, makes Henry VIII, still very Catholic in his own theology, head of the Church of England, and in essence, founder of a separate entity. I know it’s more complicated than this, and, God be praised, Cranmer directed this newly separated entity in the way of the Reformation. But the Reformation was not the reason for the separation.

  3. Well written, Robert. Reformation would have come to England whether Henry was king or no. To credit him with the translation & printing of the Scriptures, the BCP, the Ordinal, the Homilies, and the canonical revision is a bit like the Reformation in Germany was down to Duke Frederick of Saxony.

    • Hi Henry. Yes, I believe you are right that the Reformation was bound to come to England. But as far as taking over the English church–decades? A century or more? And I don’t think your Duke Frederick analogy works. Frederick remained a Catholic. He gave Luther protection; but unless I am wrong on this, never made any pronouncements regarding the establishment of a Lutheran church.

      • Thanks for posting this Jerry. I beg pardon. In my haste I got my Fredericks incorrect. I meant Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, who died as Henry did, a Protestant.
        And yes, the Reformation in England is much more complex than the King’s Great Matter. It is because of that very complexity that I would suggest the pace of the Reformation would have been swift and comprehensive, not decades or a century.

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