Anglican Essentials: Why and What?

The goals of these classes

  • To enable us to become more passionate and faithful followers of Jesus today
    • By looking at the roots of (Anglican) Christianity (people, creeds, councils)
    • To learn from the Christians from the early centuries of the Church
      • how they lived and thought, worshiped, read Scripture, engaged their pagan neighbors, in the light of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit
    • To understand the doctrine of creation “from nothing” (ex nihilo)
    • To see how “all things hold together in Christ,” even for our own time
  • To participate in these classes and contribute to them
    • Bring your questions

A problem and an answer

One of the most fundamental problems of the modern world is that it is atomized into isolated and unrelated parts. There is a separation of fact and value, science and faith, head and heart, public and private, etc., and so forth. Science and technology can not produce meaning or answer the most essential questions of life: why are we here in this puzzling cosmos and where are we going? We live in a “secular frame” where God, goodness, truth, and beauty recede into private subjectivity and fantasy.

The main focus of a modern person is on his being as an autonomous individual and the fulfillment of his or her desires. But does this way of living satisfy modern people? Are we not still haunted by Augustine’s address to God from the opening paragraph of his Confessions (from M. Boulding, A Translation for the 21st Century):

You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

If anything characterizes the modern mind, it is a restless unquietness, lulled by a technology that separates it from what is most real and true.

 The Tradition of classical Christianity–called “mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis–gives us a very different picture of things. The world is a whole and human beings have an essential part in it as bearers of God’s image. Desire and the good, truth and beauty, knowledge and life, head and heart are held together in a comprehensive picture that is full of meaning.

If one is seeking the way of “mere Christianity”, one’s focus as a human being can not be on one’s isolated “freedom” to do as one pleases. Rather each of us can focus on being a valuable and worthwhile part of a greater whole serving a common good under God. It all depends on how we see the world and our place in it. C. S. Lewis put it quite well:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen–not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.  

C. S. Lewis

The purpose of these classes is to help you surmount the modern problem by being more embedded in the wholistic cosmic vision seen by figures such as Augustine and Lewis, centered on the manifestation of the face of God in Jesus Christ. If one will open one’s eyes to it, this vision remains credible and powerful in our contemporary world.

Review of Anglican basics

The previous four Anglican Essentials classes set out the basics of Anglican Christianity, from the global perspective of all thing from Creation to New Creation, reminding us of the basic picture from Scripture of God and humanity, the significance of Jesus, the historical development of Christianity in the ancient world and in the British Isles, from which contemporary Anglicanism developed. Today’s class will review this picture and explain how we will “go deeper” into an appreciation of the “mere Christianity” that Anglicanism shares with the wider Christian world. Out approach will be historical, hearing from the words of voices spanning 2000 years of teaching and reflecting on the meaning of Jesus Christ. We will look at:

  • The big picture: Creation to New Creation, centered on Jesus
  • Early Christianity
  • English Christianity
  • The English Reformation

The overall context of Anglicanism is the cosmic vision of Christianity beginning with the creation of all things and ending in a “new creation.” Anglicans, like the early Christian “Church Fathers,” know that when dealing with such matters, the language of Scripture is richly symbolic, going beyond any merely literal reading of the words. The story of Jesus is set in the context of the story of Israel in the Old Testament, and the New Testament ends with the followers of Jesus confidently spreading the Good News of his life, death, and resurrection around the ancient Mediterranean Greco-Roman world. It took many centuries for the contents of the faith to be articulated precisely, giving rise to what was known as the catholic (universal) church. The “catholic” Christianity that spread to the British Isles later clashed with reformers’ views in the English Reformation of the 16th Century, leading to a uniquely English version of Christianity that drew from its ancient “catholic” heritage and the new reformation spirit. That form of Anglican Christianity came to America with the English colonists and was spread around the world by missionaries. leading to the worldwide Anglicanism of today.

A brief recap of Anglican roots

  • The early centuries after Jesus saw the growth of the Christian faith and churches and the development of basic Christian doctrine. 
  • The Greek East and Latin West drifted apart and formally split in 1054AD.
  • “Catholic” Christianity reigned in the British isles from early in the Christian era.
  • The 16th Century Protestant Reformation brought great change to Western Christianity.
  • The English Reformation set the course of Anglican Christianity:
    • An established Church with bishops (loyal to the crown).
    • Use of the Book of Common Prayer and the English Bible in worship.
    • Scripture as primary source of faith and practice, guided by sound thinking (“reason”) and religious custom (“tradition”).
    • Stress on sacraments and common prayer in worship rather than preaching.
    • Human awe and wonder before the holiness of God (an aesthetic inclination).
    • An appreciation of the created order pointing to the things of God.
    • “Creative tension” between Protestant and Catholic elements.
  • Missionaries carried Anglican Christianity to America and around the world.

Some aspects of the Anglican way

Anglican priest, Geoffrey Rowell (later a bishop), noted in a 1992 sermon that the Church of England gave great prominence to the doctrine of creation, commenting that its renowned Elizabethan-era theologian, Richard Hooker, wrote that

‘all things are partakers of God, they are his offspring, his influence is in them.’ 

Richard Hooker

As the Tradition of “mere Christianity” knows, our material embodied nature matters. It is significant. Rowell says “The world is important, matter is important; they are in God’s creation, and to be seen and known as such.  The world is sacramental, pointing beyond itself to God.  And the worship of the Church is inescapably sacramental, embodied.

C. S. Lewis picks up on a similar thought in his book, Mere Christianity, saying it in a quite direct and even playful way:

There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God.  God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature.  That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life in us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.  

C. S. Lewis

It is thus important to have a clear idea of what we mean by “creation,” which involves the nature of the relation between the world and God, where God radically transcends the world yet is intimately present to it. It is not about “how God did it” or about some presumed conflict between “science” and “religion” based on mutually exclusive claims to “explain” reality. “Creation” is a philosophical/theological category, not a “scientific” one that can be adjudicated  by “science.”

Later in the sermon, Rowell mentions another Anglican leader, John Keble (1792-1866), who injects a realistic note about God and humanity, lest we be too prideful of our human capabilities: “If Keble shared with Wordsworth and Coleridge a vision of the glory of God in creation; he know also that the world was fallen, and that sin and evil were not shadows but realities. ‘Some persons think,’ he wrote, ‘that because “God is love” there can be no severity in Him.’  But the holiness of God and that very love is judging in a sinful and unloving world.  And so the Christian life is penitence entwined with praise.

The sources of Anglican worship, belief, and practice:

In the back of the new 2019 Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of North America (pages 766-767), seven sources are listed for the basic statement of the Anglican way of being Christian. They include the Scriptures, the faith expressed by the creeds and councils of the ancient church, and content and worship in the Book of Common Prayer (which includes the creeds and the Thirty-Nine Articles from 1571). All of these, of course, are subject to reception and use within the councils of the contemporary Church.

  1. The canonical books of the Old and New Testaments … the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.
  2. Baptism and the Supper of the Lord as sacraments instituted by Christ himself to be administered with the words used by him in the Gospels.
  3. The godly historic Episcopate as an inherent part of faith and practice.
  4. The historic faith declared in the ancient Catholic Creeds: the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian.
  5. Concerning the seven Councils of the undivided Church, the teaching of the first four Councils and the Christological clarifications of the fifth, sixth and seventh Councils, are affirmed, in so far as they are agreeable to the Scriptures.
  6. The Book of Common Prayer (1662) as a standard for Anglican doctrine discipline, and worship.
  7. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571.

What will the classes cover?

  • Class 1 will introduce/motivate the other classes and provide a review of Anglican basics
  • Class 2 will survey the first 3 Centuries of Christianity, how the Christians thought and engaged with their pagan neighbors.
  • Class 3 will look at how the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the humanity and divinity of Christ came to be
  • Class 4 will survey the Christian concept of creation ex nihilo (“from nothing”), as it developed over a millennium and came to a synthesis in Thomas Aquinas.
  • Class 5 will tie it all together as we consider some contemporary Anglican voices and others to help us understand how we can see that “all things hold together in Christ” in our own time.

Slides for this class

Return to Introduction to Anglican Essentials: Going Deeper (2022).