Whenever I have a question about liturgy, the sacraments, or the Anglican church, I always tweet at Preston Yancy, author of Tables in the Wilderness. Preston is one of those guys who has studied a ton of theology but has never lost his grounding in the church, and that commitment to serve the church shows in his moving blog posts, instructive tweets, and eerily spot on use of animated GIFs. A former Baptist who migrated to the liturgy of the Anglican church, Preston and his book are excellent guides into the depth and beauty of the sacraments. Where many dabble in liturgy, he helps us take the plunge. He writes today about the Anglican church in America:
Anglicans can be the most neurotic Christians. I say that upfront so as to not surprise you with it later. Known for our tendency to gravitate toward the middle of theological extremes, it can feel frustrating to try and grasp exactly what we are all about, what it is we believe. You’ll meet Anglicans who lean hard into our Roman Catholic roots of practice and Anglicans who run fast into the charismatic freedom of nondenominational-like belief. You’ll meet a few like me, too, who tend to feel most comfortable between those poles: happy-clappy Jesus-lovers who believe in sitting with the writings of the saints and the reverence of worship with common prayer. There are some essential beliefs that define us broadly, however, and if I were to ever try to convince someone of why they may find Anglicanism a good fit, it would be focused on these: we are a people of the Book, we are a people of the Sacrament, we are a people of the Community.
People of the Book
Anglicans are deeply devoted to the Scripture. Our prayerbook is mostly a weaving together of various psalms, Gospel readings, epistles. Half of our traditional worship service is devoted specifically to the hearing and reading of the Bible. A cycle of readings—one from the Old Testament, a psalm, the New Testament, and finally the Gospel—are read or read communally, are pronounced over us and by us, and then the preaching that follows ideally seeks to make clear the ways in which the readings for a cohesive whole, how God reveals Godself to us when we put the texts of Scripture in conversation with each other. There are more ways than this that Anglicans take the Bible seriously, but this is the one that most often comes to my own mind. We don’t believe in exclusively personal reading of Scripture. We need the community, we need to hear the Gospel literally spoken aloud, the Word, Jesus, literally proclaimed by words. We believe the Spirit makes itself known to us in the reading of Scripture, which pivots into my next point.
People of the Sacrament
Anglicans have a complicated understanding of God’s presence, but it could be said it distills into essentially this: we believe that God is everywhere (a classically Christian perspective) and that the Spirit of God makes itself known in the lives of individual believers (a classically Evangelical perspective). So between the way God is present outside of us and how God is present within us, we have a deep belief in the power of God to guide and direct us corporately and individually into becoming more and more like Jesus. Moreover, we believe that there are certain ways in which God has said that God makes Godself known to us particularly. One such way is Communion. In the Gospel of Luke, we read of the disciples walking with the unknown Jesus on the road to Emmaus that it was in the breaking of the bread that Jesus was made known to them. First they hear Jesus speak of the Scriptures—this serves my first point—and then Jesus breaks bread in a Eucharistic feast. In the breaking the disciples move from having their hearts stirred to recognizing Jesus fully as He is. Anglicans say that in Communion, Jesus makes Himself known to us, that we are filled with the power of the Spirit to continue in that good work that God has called us to personally and together. We are fed from the Table so as to go out into the world to feed it, to tell it where it too can be fed, where it can come and known this Jesus, which leads to this:
People of the Community
Because of our belief in God’s presence and work in this world, Anglicans are naturally inclined to social and political concerns. Our belief about the end times and the afterlife aligns less with a hope in a disembodied heaven where we have harps and sing forever and more about the beautiful and redemptive kingdom that God will bring into fullness with the return of Jesus but has already begun in shadows and imperfection now. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” the Gospels remind us, and so we are committed to realizing that kingdom at present. The ways in which this is expressed is as varied as preferences of worship, but it would be fair to say that Anglican theology is essentially practical. We believe in an incarnate Jesus who hallowed bodies in His birth and that such a mystery leads us to make certain conclusions about life, about what we believe about bodies, of what we think God cares most about. We are a people of the community, because our faith obligates us to recognize the ways in which God is making Godself known outside of the walls of the church and, at the same time, how the Church is to be in service of the world in leading it back to the abundant Table of the risen Lord.
These are not features exclusive to Anglicans, of course. As I mentioned above, our middling position often means we share territory of belief and boarders with many in the larger Christian community. What tends to be unique, what keeps me confirmed an Anglican, confirmed in its ways of teaching me to pray, is the sense of great freedom the tradition offers within a context of accountability that is not only to a local community or a larger denomination but also to the Church in and across time. Within this vast territory, there’s room to express faith in a variety of ways that keep both a hold on a sense of orthodoxy and a lose grip on preference of tradition.
Some people find it chaotic, I find it oddly reassuring—we’re family here, struggling through and fighting and laughing and eating and celebrating. There’s a chair at this table for you, too.
About Today’s Guest Blogger
Preston Yancey is an Anglican priest-in-training, an author, sometimes-painter, sometimes-baker, sometimes-scholar interested in Christian theology and the arts.
He’s a happy-clappy, Jesus-loving, liturgy-liking evangelical Anglican confirmed in the Anglican Church in North America. He wrote a book about that and is also in the process of becoming a priest, with a likely ordination in November 2015.
About Denomination Derby
This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.
We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.
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