There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so surely established, which (in continuance of time) hath not been corrupted: as (among other things) it may plainly appear by the common prayers in the Church, commonly called divine service: the first original and ground whereof, if a man would search out by the ancient fathers, he shall find that the same was not ordained, but of a good purpose, and for a great advancement of godliness: For they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over once in the year, intending thereby, that the Clergy, and specially such as were Ministers of the congregation, should (by often reading and meditation of God’s word) be stirred up to godliness themselves, and be more able also to exhort other by wholesome doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the truth. And further, that the people (by daily hearing of holy scripture read in the Church) should continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true religion.
(From the preface to the original Book of Common Prayer, 1549)
The Episcopal Church in the United States is one of 38 “provinces” that comprise the Anglican Communion—a body of some 77 million believers worldwide, that traces its structure, liturgy, and traditions back to the English Reformation in the 16th century. In 1886-1888, the bishops of the Anglican Communion identified four principles inherent in Anglicanism, which have become known as “The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral”. They offer a helpful basis for beginning to understand what Anglicanism is all about.
“The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation’, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.”
The church stands under the authority of God’s word and is called to live it and to proclaim it in the power of the Holy Spirit. We receive the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as the wholly reliable revelation and record of God’s grace, given by the Holy Spirit as the true word of God written. The Bible has been given to lead us to salvation, to be the ultimate rule for Christian faith and conduct, and the supreme authority by which the church must ever reform itself and judge its traditions.
“The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.”
We uphold these two statements of faith, formulated by the early church in the third and fourth centuries, as faithful, accurate summaries of what we believed, and of what all Christians everywhere have always believed. The Articles of Religion (Book of Common Prayer, pages 867-876) further state that they “ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture”.
“The two Sacraments ordained by Christ himself—Baptism and the Supper of the Lord—ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him.”
To quote once again from the Articles of Religion: “Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in him.” Baptism is the sign of forgiveness of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, new birth to righteousness in union with Christ, and entry into the fellowship of the people of God. The Holy Eucharist is the sign of the living, nourishing presence of Christ through his Spirit to his people; the memorial of his one, perfect, complete and all-sufficient sacrifice for sin, from the accomplishment of which all may benefit but in the offering of which none may share; and an occasion to offer through him our sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise.
“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 Communion has long recognized the principle of “mutual responsibility and interdependence” among churches, whether that be on a congregational, diocesan, or national level. Individual parishes, dioceses, and even provinces, do not function without reference to the others, but are part of a wider church family. As such they are subject to its disciplines and upheld by its support. Bishops function as the senior pastor in a diocese. (The word comes from the Greek “episkopos”, which means “overseer”—see 1 Timothy 3:1-7.) The bishop’s responsibilities include maintaining the unity of the church, both within his or her diocese and among dioceses, guarding its doctrine, ordaining and shepherding its clergy, and representing both the church and the gospel to the wider world.
For further reading:
- John W. Howe, Our Anglican Heritage (Elgin, IL: Cook Publishing, 1977)
- Stephen C. Neill, Anglicanism (London: Mowbray, 1977)
- Robert E. Webber, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1985)
- Alister E. McGrath, The Renewal of Anglicanism (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1993)
- James E. Griffiss, The Anglican Vision (Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 1997)
- John R.H. Moorman, The Anglican Spiritual Tradition (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1985)