ESSENTIALS OF ANGLICANISM

Why are we Anglicans, or, what makes an Anglican an Anglican?

In discussing the practical implications of Anglicanism for the pattern of Church life and ministry, we need to ask ourselves what actually is the essentials, the ethos (spirit) of Anglicanism, as contrasted to the form or structure which people perceive is Anglican. In other words, what makes a church "Anglican" and what does not (and hence may be subject to change and adaptation).

The Lambeth Quadrilateral serves as a point of identity for the Anglican communion. Hence, for any church to be considered Anglican, it would be expected to adhere to the tenets of the Quadrilateral. The Quadrilateral sums up what the essentials of Anglicanism are, that which expresses what Anglican churches hold to be essential in the way both of Christian truth and Christian order, and that short of it would mean impoverishment and not enrichment for the church concerned.

The first article of the Quadrilateral states that the 66 books of the Bible contain all things necessary for salvation, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith. This is the same statement of the Reformers' "Sola Scriptura". Thus, Anglican churches will need to have the reference point of the Bible with which to pattern their life and ministry. The churches have to be fundamentally Bible-based both in their approach and application. As such, the Bible will be taught and studied in such a way that every member of the church will have a thorough and working knowledge of it and be in a position to teach others. If a church will not acknowledge the supremacy of Scripture, then it should no longer be considered Anglican, much less Christian. Though some "churches" elsewhere in the world may not acknowledge the infallibility of Scripture, the Anglican churches of the Diocese of Singapore and the Province of South-East Asia subscribe to this tenet as a basis of faith. A Christian must believe that the Bible is the Word of God in toto.

The second article acknowledges the Apostles' Creed as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith. This means that Anglican churches have to be in doctrinal agreement to the two Creeds. Practically, it means that a person to be baptised has to understand, believe and confess each of the truths stated in the Apostles' Creed, i.e. that the Creed is a summary of his faith. If he will not subscribe to it, then he is not to be baptised. The stand of the church (congregation) is to be found in the statements that constitute the Nicene Creed. This is taken to ensure that the church does not formulate extra-Biblical doctrines and thus fall away.

The third article defines the Church's two Sacraments - that of Baptism and of the Lord's Supper, ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of Institution. These two Sacraments sets out what the church is to do on a regular basis. The fact that it is called a sacrament means that it is also a means of receiving grace. Anglicans recognise only two such sacraments, as ordained by Christ Himself, and not any other. Baptism is the outward symbol of one's willingness to identify himself with Christ and is the entry to the Church. Communion, with its focus on Jesus, serves also as a point of unity and fellowship within the Church and is the central act of Anglican worship. Matthew 28:18 commands us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Sacrament of Baptism is therefore part and parcel of the Great Commission. It serves as a point of identity (Ephesians 4:5) of members of the Church universal. It also serves to segregate who are of the Church and who are not (eg. baptised into some other name, idol, etc.). In Matthew 28:20, Christ says that He is with us always, even to the end of the age. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or Communion, with the accompanying liturgical statements (eg. "that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us", etc.), constantly reminds us of His promise accompanying the Great Commission. Besides it being a means of grace, Communion also serves to link the local church with the universal Church of the Lord Jesus Christ ("though we are many, we are one body"). Thus, Anglican churches have to be Great Commission churches, the two Sacraments serving as a reminder to do so.

The final article stresses the historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of his Church. The Anglican church maintains a three-fold order of ministry consisting of bishops, priests and deacons. The Anglican church is quite unique in this form of church government among the Protestant denominations. However, as the Lambeth fathers put it, we do not call into question the spiritual reality of the ministry of other denominations which do not possess the Episcopate, but rather we thankfully acknowledge that these ministries have been manifestly blesses and owned by the Holy Spirit as an effective means of grace. While the structure seems rigid, the Lambeth article itself gives very wide leeway as to its application. The article permits the Episcopate to be locally adapted in the methods of administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples concerned.

The Lambeth Quadrilateral is, in a sense, the essence of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith condensed in four statements. The applicability of most of the articles, in one form or other, to the ministry of the Anglican churches in Singapore and South-East Asia would have been dealt with in discussing the Lambeth Quadrilateral. This leaves us with one major area yet undiscussed - worship. What should "proper", "Anglican" worship be in our churches? Should it be strictly 1662 Book of Common Prayer, or should it be "free charismatic" worship, or should it include local traditions and customs borrowed from the indigenous pagan culture? First and foremost, it is obvious that the entire worship service should be conducted in the vernacular of the congregation, be it English, Khmer, Mandarin, etc. What about the form of worship? We are told to worship "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). Forms do not matter, as long as in the order of service (liturgy) equal emphasis is placed on the various aspects of the worship service, to ensure adherence to Scripture, and to keep the focus on Christ (and not on the service itself). The liturgy should not bind, but serve as a vehicle for greater freedom in expressing worship to God without loosing track of Biblical doctrine. The driving principles of Cranmer's liturgical reforms sums up the situation. As to the type of songs, choruses or hymns, it will have to depend on what best edifies the congregation. We should not force our particular favourite form of worship upon the congregation, be it "high church traditional" or "low church contemporary", and claim it as Gospel truth. What matters most is that the congregation is edified, that they encounter and find God in the midst of the worship. However, the use of local traditions and customs which have their origin in pagan culture should be avoided. Much as we want to identify with local and indigenous peoples, there is a line which we have to draw concerning the cultures from which people come. Including pagan traditions not only desecrates the worship service, but will also draw the people back into spiritual darkness. Such cases have been observed in Africa and Asian nations where some churches have compromised, and as a result fetishes, talismans, idols and superstition have replaced faith in Scripture. The centrality of Christ and the Gospel must always be kept in the worship service. To answer the initial question of what is Anglican worship, we would say that there is no definite conclusion as to what type of worship service is "Anglican", but that true "proper" "Anglican" worship should always be "in spirit and in truth". The worship of God should set people free, not bind them, and it is for us to facilitate the people, through Scripture and the enablement of the Holy Spirit, to worship God.

In conclusion, the practical implication of a proper understanding of Anglicanism and its application to Church life and ministry is that it will ensure that the church will have a sound ministry of biblical doctrine and have a life patterned after Scriptural truth, thereby releasing the congregation to worship God "in spirit and in truth". The Anglican system is not a perfect system, but locally adapted, it does provide for a sound infrastructure for churches to be planted and to grow. That is what matters, so that the church may be released to harvest more fields.


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© Nicholas Tay 1996