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Easy Evangelical Answers to the Anglican Anomaly

Canadian Evangelicals often see a large gap between Anglicanism and Evangelicalism. Many of my friends have asked me how an Evangelical “Bible-guy” like me can settle for Anglicanism, and I have had the pleasure of attempting to bridge that gap. I would like to offer a very brief, beginner-level, and Bible-based answers to show that Anglicanism is rooted in and reformed by God’s Word written, and therefore compatible with the main thrust of Evangelicalism.

If Anglicanism and Evangelicalism are compatible…

Why do you have a liturgy?

Liturgy means the work of the people and speaks of what people do during worship. Every Christian worship service has a liturgy, but not every liturgy is by default “Christian” (see James K.A. Smith on cultural liturgies). There are many instances in the Bible where the true and living God gives specific instructions with underlying liturgical patterns and principles for worship. Liturgical patterns and principles exist to help human beings encounter the true and living God, on his turf (God’s written Word), together.

Generally speaking, what you sense in Anglican worship is a deep awareness of the doctrine of justification by faith, running along with the storyline of the prodigal son, while also peaking in and tapping into the eternal worship of heaven. While modern Evangelical liturgies are often designed to stir emotions and excitement in individuals, Anglican worship is explicitly tailored to shape a person and her community’s outlook, affections, and behavioural compass over a long and steady period of time.

Why do you baptize infants?

Anglicans baptize infants because it’s the Biblical and Gospel-inspired thing to do. When a person receives Jesus as Lord and Saviour, every aspect and sphere of their lives come under Jesus’ Lordship, including their family. The Apostle Peter announced to his Jewish audience that the promises of the former covenants are now given to those who believe in the Messiah, their children, and the Gentiles who come to believe also (Acts 2:14–41). As Acts develops, others receive the Gospel, and their entire households are baptized after that.

J.I. Packer helpfully points out that “Luke and Paul would hardly have said ‘house’ without qualification if they had meant us to gather that on principle babies were excluded” (Growing in Christ, 132). The word household is used throughout the Bible to mean every member of a household, and there is no time in Biblical history where this pattern was broken. Based on this theological principle, infants of believing parents ought to be and were indeed baptized through the faith-sponsorship of their parents.

To further this point, the apostles treated the children of Christian parents as Christians who ought to follow the fifth commandment (Eph 6:1; Exod 20:12). Otherwise, would the Apostles not have promoted a type of moralism/legalism when giving them the divine commandment of obeying their parents? The apostles certainly did not ask the children of believers to obey their way into the kingdom (1 Cor. 5:12–13), setting them up for a spiritual disaster. Anglicans thus follow the Biblical pattern that the Gospel not only transforms what a parent teaches their child but also their family identity as the foundation for faith-obedience.

Why do you believe you are eating the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper?

Not so fast! Anglicans believe it is ultimately a mystery of pneumatological (Holy Spirit) proportions. It seems that the closest explanation we can get to is that as we partake of the bread and wine, the Holy Spirit communicates the benefits of the body and blood of Jesus, further uniting us to the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus, who is seated in the heavenly realm. We are to “feed on [Christ] in [our] hearts, by faith with thanksgiving” (See the Communion service in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer).

The bread and wine are not merely empty symbols. Nor do they contain or transform into the literal body and blood of Jesus. They are the elements of God’s choosing to reach down to us and feed us again and again with the celebration-worthy truth of Jesus’ blessing and favour toward us.

Why do you pray written prayers?

The short answer is: for the same reason you sing written songs. No one ever doubts the validity of singing written lyrics on a giant screen. Yet written prayers are often met with suspicion among Evangelicals. Beyond this personal hurdle, one sees that the prayers in the Prayer Book are very Biblical and beautiful, and can shape personal belief (see lex orandi, lex credendi). We pray the content while also becoming inspired by it into deeper, more robust faith. Being taught to pray is not a bad thing. Jesus told us to pray a certain prayer with a certain pattern. Jesus also prayed the Psalms with his disciples. Praying written prayers, therefore, clearly follows a Biblical pattern.

Why do you have bishops?

A bishop is an elder who oversees other elders in charge of local churches. To put it in Evangelical terms, he is a pastor to pastors. The biblical basis for bishops is subtle; they appear in Titus 1:5–9, but the Greek word for bishop does not appear in many other places. Since a Bishop (overseer) is by default an elder, this limits our lexicon search. Yet the biblical basis for bishops is also blatantly obvious; without them, we would not have the New Testament Epistles. Timothy Keller sees “the pastoral responsibilities of leaders such as Paul, Timothy, and Titus [as] wider than those of congregational elders (2 Cor 11:28; Titus 1:5) … function[ing] more in a bishop-like capacity“ (Timothy Keller, Center Church, 347).

In other words, the apostles wore many hats, including the mitre. They were evangelists, missionaries, teachers, elders, shepherds, and, as the church grew and needed more infrastructure, acted as bishops. Paul and Peter, in particular, provided spiritual oversight to the elders of many local churches (through their visits and letters). They helped install new elders over local congregations to ensure the moral and doctrinal integrity of the church’s leaders. 

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