Any good Anglican, when asked what he or she believes, is likely to grab his or her Book of Common Prayer to answer. This reflex is sometimes misunderstood as an indication that the Bible takes a back seat to the prayer book with us. What it really indicates is our sense that the best guarantor of the scriptural content of one’s belief is the scriptural content of one’s worship. We appeal to an old Latin phrase, Lex orandi, lex credendi: the law of prayer is the law of belief. Our beliefs are measured by our worship of the Lord together rather than our worship together being pattered after our personal beliefs. If you really want to know what we believe, come worship the Lord with us. In order, though, to show you a bit here about what Anglican Christians, particularly we at Redeemer believe, I’ve focused here on a few things that we are (and in no particular order of importance).
We are a CONFESSIONAL people:
We hold to and profess/confess our faith in the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. This faith is summarized best each Sunday in the Nicene Creed and affirmed at each baptism by profession of the Apostles’ Creed. These creeds constitute our faith because they are the Church catholic’s distilled summary of what the Bible contains. They are not just lists of beliefs: they are confessions we make in worship before God that tell the story of God in Christ. You see, these are prayers that shape belief.
Some Protestants get antsy because we don’t put our belief in the Bible at the top of our list of beliefs, ahead of the Trinity. That’s because our belief in the Bible is secondary to our belief in the God who inspires it, not the other way around. Don’t get us wrong: we believe the scriptures to be inspired and of supreme authority in the Church. But the relationship of scripture to deity is not like the old “chicken and the egg” dilemma. God precedes scripture.
If you want to see how Anglicans navigate the theological issues of Western Christianity (including the role and value of scripture), charting the way to be both catholic and reformed (and yet neither Roman nor Protestant!), see the 39 Articles of Religion which have been for us the qualifying factors of our particular faith and practice beyond the essential Christian confessions above. There is also a very good theological statement in very good theological language here produced jointly by the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Province of America.
We are a WORSHIPING people:
We say a lot about this under “Redeemer’s Mission”, but here we are again. Christianity is a call to join the worshipping community that gathers itself around Jesus as Lord of the whole earth. We gather at certain times and places with certain objectives and, yes, rituals which are utterly pointless unless Jesus really is Lord. If he is, though, then these times, places, objectives and, yes, rituals are of ultimate importance to us because it is through them that this passing world and age is discerned as under God’s judgment and the coming age of Christ’s Kingdom is entered and enlarged. Call us crazy, but it is that important to us, and is not just a matter of our convenience or preference. What we believe is not a matter of the propositions we profess (see above), but what those propositions enjoin us to do. We may even do well to add to the Latin phrase we appealed to above. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivandi: the law of prayer is the law of belief is the law of living.
We are a SACRAMENTAL people:
This means we are more than just fans of Christian symbolism. We believe, with Jesus, St. Paul, and the whole history of our faith, that when we bless and receive bread and wine together Jesus is present in them and we are “feeding on him in our hearts through faith”. We believe that when we pass through the waters of Baptism, we really are crossing (like Israel through the Red Sea) from death into life with Jesus and becoming a part of his body, the Church. We are not commemorating, but participating in divine mysteries/sacraments. God is acting through the Church in real rather than symbolic ways when we join folks in Holy Matrimony, anoint the sick, ordain ministers, lay hands, and forgive sins. The Kingdom of God is among us, after all. We are Christ’s Body empowered by the Holy Spirit to act in Christ’s name.
We are an EPISCOPAL people:
We hold to the ancient ordering of the Church under the care and governance of bishops, priests, and deacons. “Episcopal” just means “having bishops”. As a matter of our belief in scripture and its interpretation within Church tradition we submit to Christ’s ordained authorities as they have ruled in the Church from the time of the first apostles to the present time of those who sit in their “seats”. Our pastor is a priest in submission to a bishop in submission to other bishops who are together in submission to the Word of God and the witness of the Church catholic by the agency of the Holy Spirit. We are not free agents operating under our own authority or personal sense of calling. Our calling is discerned by the whole people of God and our authority delegated rather than usurped. Thus the collar around our pastor’s neck is a sign of his servanthood, and of our own, to Christ.
We are a CHARISMATIC people:
We do, like the saints of the early churches, believe in the life and ministry of the Holy Spirit among God’s people in extraordinary and powerful ways. Being charismatic is not a commitment to noisy worship or even necessarily to speaking in tongues. It is an understanding that our lives and our common worship ought to be conducted with our hearts open to the Spirit, who does extraordinary things. God the Holy Spirit does speak in words of knowledge and in prophecy. He does give powerful demonstrations of his presence. He does heal. And, yes, he sometimes prays through us in spiritual language. The purpose of the gifts of the Spirit, though, is the edification of the church, not to show off how spiritual we are or to freak out the visitors. “In decency and in order”, not in emotionalism, we are to allow the Spirit to fill us and use us.
We are a CHRISTIAN people:
What it all boils down to for us is that God has saved the world through the victory of Christ over sin and death and has given his Spirit to all believers. What we pray and sing and do in this world is all about our Lord Jesus Christ.