“A Protestant Learns About Anglicanism”

Lately I’ve started seeing more and more suggested videos showing up on my YouTube home page from the Ten Minute Bible Hour, hosted by another guy named Matt who likes to learn and share what he learns.  A few of his videos are about visiting churches of traditions that are foreign to him and (most likely) the majority of his evangelical viewers.  His visit to an Anglican church was passed on to me for comment, so I thought I’d take a stab at it.  Be warned, though; the video is most of an hour long!

For most of the first 12 minutes, the focus of discussion is on Holy Communion.

  • The altar is the visible focal point of the room, reflecting the centrality of the sacrament, Holy Communion, in the worship of the church.  This is a common feature of Anglicanism today, but it should be noted that there were a good couple centuries or so (shortly after the Reformation) that the pulpit did take more prominence than the altar.
  • The terminology used in this video reflects a distinctly high church form of Anglicanism.  The prayer book tradition never really used the word “altar” but actually “holy table”.  The tabernacle, for the reserved sacrament, is a feature that was actually banned in the Reformation and has only returned to visible use in the past century or two.  The language of the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the elements of bread and wine is not universally agreed-upon; low church Anglicanism tends to emphasize a more Calvinistic view – symbolic participation – over object real presence in the sacrament.

Minutes 12-15 focus mostly on the Bible up front.

  • The Apocrypha or “Ecclesiastical Books” are included in the book, and are read in the service.  This is an historic feature of Anglicanism; the low church party has slowly pushed those books away from the public eye over the centuries since the Reformation, though they’ve never officially gone away.  Today, many (if not most) Anglicans are pretty unfamiliar with the Ecclesiastical Books as a result.
  • The KJV Bible is used there.  The translation of choice is usually paired with the edition of the Prayer Book used.  That particular parish (and the larger church body it’s a part of) uses the 1928 Prayer Book which utilizes the KJV Bible, so that’s naturally what they pair together.  Churches with a modern-style Prayer Book will typically use a modern-style translation, usually the NRSV or the ESV.

Worship & Architecture take up minutes 15-22.

  • The times for standing & sitting & kneeling are indeed directed in the Prayer Books.  The host of the video seemed a bit unfamiliar with it, but familiarity with traditional Protestantism will get you mostly on the same page as Anglican tradition on this front.
  • The Baptismal Font is historically by the entrance of the church, though many modern buildings may omit this feature.  Having an additional thing for holy water on the way in, however, is not common across the Anglican spectrum.
  • The presence of icons and candles was generally banned during the Reformation and have worked their way back in over the past century or two.  Initially these were signs of high church parishes, but today many (though not all) Anglicans embrace such visuals regardless of their churchmanship.
  • The “advocation of saints” is alluded to here in a way that would provoke quite a bit of argument between the high and low church parties of Anglicanism to this day.
  • The idea of architectural symbolism that teaches is true across the board.  How a church is built, used, and adorned speaks volumes of the theology of those who use it.

Anglicanism in General, minutes 22-40:

  • This parish priests talks about English Catholicism, emphasizing continuity to Roman Britain, and avoids applying the word Protestant to himself.  Historically, Anglicans frequently referred to themselves as Catholic, true, but also Protestant and Reformed.  “Reformed Catholicism” is a term perhaps more commonly acceptable across the spectrum of Anglican expression.  Nevertheless he does admit that the Reformation in 1549, the break with Rome, “was inevitable”.  The Roman doctrines of Purgatory and Indulgences were among the greatest offenders of that particular time.
  • He explains that the English Reformers emphasized the pre-1054-schism Church.  This is true of most of the Protestant Reformers, not just in England, though we do usually affirm that our reformers were more attentive to the Early Church than most of the continental reformers were.
  • His group is no longer in communion with Canterbury.  This is true for most Bible-believing Anglicans in this country, these days.  The church visited in this video is part of the Anglican Province of Christ the King, which is one of the more distinctly high church groups that left the Episcopal Church in the late 1970’s.
  • His explanation of Apostolic Succession (emphasizing the collegiality of bishops, citing the commission in John 20) is pretty standard across the board for Anglicans, though we do have a longstanding debate over whether that succession is necessary or simply beneficial.
  • They talk about Confession for the forgiveness of sins, noting that Anglicans primarily make confession within a worship service rather than in private, though the private option does exist.
  • They talk soteriology (salvation), “we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved.”  This is not particularly different from the way Lutherans talk about salvation either; it stands apart mainly just from the way evangelicalism gets popularly reduced.
  • When it comes to the centrality of the Cross & Resurrection, they are agreed with Protestants, and this is certainly true in all forms of historic Anglicanism.
  • He insists that they are Catholic but not Roman: meaning no papacy, indulgences, purgatory, or marian dogmas.  This is consistent with how the English Reformers described themselves too.

They got back to the subject of the Bible briefly in minutes 40-41.

  • It’s described as God’s self-revelation through history, pointing to Christ the true Word.  He says it’s unchanging, and that it sets the standard of truth.  This is in line with Protestants and Catholics alike, as far as I know.
  • He goes on to say that the Bible comes from the Church, so the Church is the interpretive guide.  While the latter is true to basic Anglican doctrine, the specific idea that the Church produced the Bible is not how all Anglicans describe it.  Many will agree with the standard evangelical approach to say that the Church simply affirmed the New Testament canon, not chose it as such.

The Creeds were discussed, in minutes 42-44.

  • We indeed hold to three Creeds, which summarize the faith found in the holy scriptures, as he said.  American Episcopalianism, back in 1801, tossed out the Athanasian Creed (I don’t know why), but most of us outside the Episcopal Church have brought it back.
  • He also references seven ecumenical councils, where “officially” only the first four are cited as foundational for the Early Church.  The preference to look to the seven is a feature of high church Anglicanism.

They talk about the Book of Common Prayer for a surprisingly short time, 45-47.

  • He explains that Thomas Cranmer translated & reformed Roman liturgy into English, rightly noting the balance between continuity from pre-existing tradition and the fresh arranging of Scripture for the purpose of worship.
  • He describes the Prayer Book as “The Bible set to prayer“, similar to how my church body (the ACNA) has tag-lined our new Prayer Book: “The Bible arranged for worship.”  It is true, indeed, that Prayer Book liturgy is comprised of an enormous proportion of biblical quote and paraphrase.
  • Their church uses the 1928 Prayer Book, and he emphasizes its beauty, like he did with the KJV Bible.  He didn’t get into the major arguments that have existed regarding the 1979 Prayer Book that his church body rejected, which is just as well, though if you want to learn about current American Anglicanism in general, that is an issue that you’ll have to confront sooner rather than later.

They finish with the question of the experience of visiting this church, 48-49.

  • The beauty of experiencing the worship, again seems to be his emphasis.  Come and be immersed in our tradition, our liturgy, our way of worship, and let it speak to your heart.  This appeal to beauty (and “authenticity” as the hipsters among us like to say) is a common appeal among many stripes of Anglicans.  He did note that there would be a leaflet to help a newcomer follow the order of service and tell them what they’re doing, but the implication was that a first-time visitor unfamiliar with liturgical worship would inevitably feel a bit out of place.  (To be fair and turn the tables, someone used to liturgical worship would feel just as out of place and lost in a charismatic worship experience.)

On the whole, I’ve got to say that this video introduces high church Anglicanism, but says nothing about the low church form of our tradition.  We’ve always had a duality, some pulling toward the high/traditionalist/catholic end, and others pulling the low/reforming/protestant end.  The chasm between these two ‘parties’ is wider today than it ever was before, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) both groups tend to preserve different elements of historic Anglicanism.  So if you want to understand Anglicanism as historically established and practiced, you need to look at both the high and low church expressions of it today, and then work inwards and backwards to see where they coalesce.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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