THE TEACHING OF CHRIST IN HOLY SCRIPTURE
Historically, Anglicans have defined their faith in the terms listed by Lancelot Andrewes in the late 16th and early 17th centuries as adherence to the teaching of:
I. One Lord, Jesus Christ
II. Two Testaments, Old and New
III. Three Creeds, Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian
IV. Four Councils, Nicea 325 A. D., Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431, and Chalcedon 451
V. Five Centuries of Catholic tradition in doctrine and worship
The order is critical: each item below depends upon and explicates the one above. The supreme revelation of God is in Christ, the living Word of God: the primary witness to the revelation of the Word of God is in Scripture; the Creeds, Councils, and Catholic tradition explicate, clarify, and embody the teaching of Scripture.
THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER (1549-1928)
To these ancient witnesses, however, we must also add the “historic formularies” first devised in the 16th century Church of England: the Book of Common Prayer (1549 to 1662, and in the USA 1789 to 1928), the Ordinal and Thirty-Nine Articles of religion. Their importance is this: they are the means by which the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ are received by the Church. Their authority stands under the Word of God in Holy Scripture and the tradition of the catholic church. In them we find the consensus of faith and practice that bound Anglicans together as a church.
These books, the historic formularies, did not make the mistake of rigid and excessive definition. While they were precise and clear in the most essential matters, the parameters set by these “historic formularies” were broad, flexible, and comprehensive of considerable diversity of emphasis and style in things inessential. Thus, they could assimilate legitimate development without losing clarity of focus. The unity they established could be maintained only by a fundamental commitment to the steadfast exercise of charity and humility.
A FUNDAMENTAL COMMITMENT
This historic and fundamental commitment was acknowledged by the Episcopal Church in the 1960’s in the adoption of a preamble to the Constitution of its General Convention: “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America… is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.”
The decades following the 1960’s evidenced this commitment ignored and abandoned. Critically, the Book of Common Prayer underwent radical revision beginning with the 1979 edition, deliberately breaking with the theological tradition of classical Anglicanism. One corollary of this theological revolution manifested itself in the drastically remodeled and mutually destructive recognition of holy orders and holy matrimony. The historic confessions are largely set aside; the creeds are explicated in vague terms. That most of these changes authorized by General Convention were probably ultra vires – beyond the powers – of that assembly troubled few. Predictably, the unity of Anglicanism has been deeply impaired and its witness compromised.
WORSHIPING THE FATHER
The unity of Anglicanism – its coherence as a community, its power to comprehend diversity, its capacity to bear witness to Christ – is not just a matter of jurisdiction and governing structures. These have their importance, but they are not what is first. What unifies Anglicans for mission and witness, if they are unified at all, is a communion of doctrine, discipline and sacraments; of faith and order. This communion in faith is expressed in a communion of worship – the tradition of Common Prayer. The primary mission of the Church is the worship of the triune God; everything else flows from unity of worship. For St. John’s Church, this is accomplished within the patterns of the historic editions of the Book of Common Prayer. By its clarity of doctrine, dignity and beauty, it commends itself to us and to Christians generally as the means of worshiping the Father as Christ has taught us, “in spirit and in truth.”
At St. John’s Church we do not believe that we have the right or the power to set aside the fundamental commitments of Anglicanism to historic Faith and Order, the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as set forth in the Word of God written, defined in the Catholic tradition, and received in the historic Prayer Book. And therefore, so far as in us lies, we are determined to uphold and propagate the same, and to transmit this legacy unimpaired to our posterity.
View the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
Texts for Daily offices of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
Listen to the daily offices of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
View the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
Download the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
Purchase a copy of the Book of Common Prayer.
For more information about the Book of Common Prayer, we recommend: