Taking our white paper “to do” list out of order, we begin with #4, Gospel Worship.
In 1961, Evangelical Anglican, J.I. Packer wrote: “Historic Anglicanism is not just a style of worship; it is also, and fundamentally, a confessional stance.”
At the time historic (or what we would call Evangelical) Anglicanism was dormant. Tractarianism and Liberalism had taken hold of the Church of England (and the rest of the Anglican Communion) and the future of Evangelical Anglicanism was dim.
The Articles were unknown or ignored and the only figment of Evangelical Anglicanism that survived was 1662 prayer book worship. Packer’s argument was that there was more to Evangelical Anglicanism than just worship led by a man in a cassock, surplice, and scarf: Evangelical Anglicanism was a confessional position centered on the Thirty-Nine Articles and our other formularies.
In the past few decades, there has been a grassroots resurgence of Evangelical Anglicanism as a confessional position. A new generation has uncovered our Formularies.
The Articles of Religion have been brought back out of the drawer of “historical documents” and shown to have tremendous value in defining Anglicanism — not that the idea of clergy subscription to the Articles has caught on in many places (though the practice does still exist) but a step has been taken.
The Prayer Book has seen a resurgence with a generation starved for want of “ancient books” (as C.S. Lewis termed them) discovering afresh the beauty (and more importantly, the theological truth (as if the two could be separated!) of the Prayer Book’s collects, confessions, and communal worship.
The Homilies are being studied afresh with top-rate scholars presenting them to the Church both academically/critically as well as presenting them in an accessible way that the sheep of the Church may be nourished by their rich nutritive value.
The Ordinal is the formulary that has received the least amount of attention in this resurgence, yet many clergy have discovered in it, direction, guidance, and encouragement as they live out their ordination vows.
In all of this, we see ample evidence of the truth of the second half of Packer’s sixty-one-year-old comment.
But what about the first half of his comment? We now have a generation that is coming to embrace Evangelical Anglicanism as a doctrinal position, but what of Evangelical Anglicanism lived out?
For our moment in Anglican History, Liturgical Scholar and Musician, Dr. Zac Hicks, Professor of Music and Worship, at Samford University in Birmingham Alabama, flips Packer’s line on its head when he comments:
“Historic Anglicanism is not just a confessional position; it is also a way of worship governed by that confession.”
This is our new challenge. Now that the work of embracing Evangelical Anglicanism as a confessional statement, as a point of theology, and a point of placing ourselves on the map of Church history, has begun, how are we to live it out, especially within the context of gathering as church on a Sunday morning?
What role does the Prayer Book (and which prayer book at that?) play in our worship? Are Evangelical Anglicans those who flaunt our past, free to play fast and loose with the liturgy?
Are we as Evangelical Anglicans to embrace an “ancient-future” approach to Sunday mornings, appropriating any historical liturgical practices that seem to fit the needs of the present?
What are we doing when we gather for worship? What is our aim? And once we discover our aim, what are the pitfalls to that aim and how might we avoid them?