St. Paul’s is a traditional Anglican church, upholding the one Faith of Jesus Christ through the use of a historic liturgy and profession of the Christian creeds. Anglicans have always lived out the Faith in a way that is biblical, liturgical, sacramental, catholic and evangelical.
Before there were Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episco-palians, all English speaking Christians worshiped together in one unified church, the Church of England. Christianity in England dates all the way back to the 3rd century A.D., and ever since then the Anglican way of worshiping and imitating Christ has remained mostly the same.
During the Reformation of the 16th century, the English church reformed the unorthodox teachings of the Medieval Roman church (i.e., papal supremacy, clerical celibacy, transubstantiation, etc.). The English Reformers (Bishops Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, John Jewel, etc.) helped return their beloved church to the Faith of the early church fathers. They did this by reforming the ancient liturgy into a book of worship called the Book of Common Prayer, and they wrote articles of faith called the Thirty-Nine Articles, which we at St. Paul’s still use and profess today. The English or Anglican way of being a Christian has inspired and sustained intellectuals like C.S. Lewis and Bishop Berkeley, revivalists like John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield, political leaders like Queen Elizabeth I and George Washington, social reformers like William Wilberforce and Hannah More, poets like Edmund Spencer and William Wordsworth, playwrights like William Shakespeare, and novelists like Jane Austen and Jonathan Swift. St. Paul’s is a part of the Reformed Episcopal Church, which is a founding member of the The Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). Though Anglicans in America are historically known as ‘Episcopalian’, the ACNA is in communion with Anglican bishops from abroad (see GAFCON), who represent the majority of the Anglican Communion and who endeavor to uphold the biblical and traditional orthodox Faith.
The Book of Common Prayer that we use to pray and worship consists mostly of direct quotations from Holy Scripture. So, when we meet together to pray to God, we say and sing His words back to Him in order to honor Him and ask Him to fulfill His promises to us even now.
We do this when we pray the Lord’s Prayer that Christ taught us, which is one way that we honor Christ’s Great Commission to go and baptize all nations “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). We believe, like all Christians of all ages, that the Holy Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit (via human authors), and so they are the infallible word of God. The Scriptures contain all that is necessary for our salvation, and we read and interpret them with the voice of the Church throughout the ages. At St. Paul’s we make the reading and studying of Scripture a top priority, as it contains the promises and instructions of God for our salvation and sanctification. As the Psalm says, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11). During Holy Communion we read and sing the Psalms and portions of the whole Bible. Also, we read through the whole Bible together every year, and all 150 Psalms are read (or sung) over a period of weeks in our services of Matins and Evensong. We study the Bible together in Sunday School and on Wednesday night, and we teach it to our children through the use of the catechism and family prayer.
Liturgical worship is worship that gives order to our prayer and our lives by the use of written prayers and responses. Many churches require very little participation from the congregation in worship, as most of the prayers are said by the ministers. At St. Paul’s everyone, both young and old, shares in the prayers of the congregation.
Christ did not come to establish a mere religion but a Way of life. The “Way” of Christ is structured and ordered around daily sacrifices of prayer and praise (see Psalm 5:3; 55:17 & Luke 22:40). The early church fathers wrote liturgies for these daily sacrifices of prayer, and they understood liturgical worship as a means that Christ himself established in the Lord’s Prayer (“When you pray, say: Our Father…”) to shape us into a holy and acceptable people before Him. In fact, Christians have always believed that the order (or rule) of corporate prayer determines what we believe about God and how we live before Him (i.e., lex orandi, lex credendi). In liturgical worship, God renews His promise to save us and we renew our vows to be faithful to Him, and this renewal changes us more and more into His image. In worship we reflect the self-sacrificial love shared mutually between Christ and His bride, the Church. As we give ourselves in sacrifice to the Lord on Sunday, He gives us a greater share in the one Sacrifice of Christ and new life in Him.
The Book of Common Prayer (BCP), with its prayer offices of Holy Communion and daily Matins and Evensong – along with the family prayers and private prayers – acts a rule of life, sanctifying all of our time, from morning to evening, Easter to Epiphany, with the holy word of God. As our prayers express our common desires for renewal in Christ, our common concerns for the Kingdom of Heaven and for one another, so we make use of written “common prayers.” As God’s promises never change and our common spiritual needs never change, so our prayers change very little from week to week. Though in its present form the BCP comes from the time of the English Reformation, most of the prayers contained within it are ancient, deriving from the old Sarum Rite (an 11th cent. version of the 6th cent. Roman Rite). That our prayers are ancient is very important, as this is a testament to the antiquity of our Faith, our way of life, and our unity with orthodox Christians of all ages.
When God became man in Jesus Christ, He demonstrated the importance of the body and bodily resurrection for our salvation. Because God made us with a body, with senses and emotions, He uses physical signs and human ministers to feed His flock. The sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion are the most important of these physical means of salvation.
When Jesus met the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, he preached to them from the Old Testament Scriptures about the Messiah and the promise of salvation, but it was not until He broke bread with them that they recognized who he was. A sacrament is a sign, a physical place where Christ comes to meet his Church. Our catechism says a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” and a means whereby we are united with Christ. In the sacrament of Holy Communion (i.e., Lord’s Supper) Christ promises to feed us from His heavenly altar with the spiritual food of His most blessed body and blood. Just like the early church fathers, we believe that God accepts our offering of bread and wine as a commemorative sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. We believe Christ is really present in the sacrament of the altar and that this ‘unbloody sacrifice’ is, as St. Paul says, “the communion of the blood of Christ” and “the communion of the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16).
Baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the Church, which Christ refers to as His “body” and “bride.” As Israel was baptized into Moses (1 Cor. 10:2), so we in the Church “were buried with [Christ] through baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). Baptism reminds us that we are saved, not by our works or even because of our belief, but by the grace of God alone, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). The other five “commonly called sacraments” as the Thirty-Nine Articles say, are “Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction.” These are “not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel” because Christ does not command them for everyone, but we do hold them in high regard as means of grace and our Prayer Book has rites for them as well.
Catholic & Evangelical
The word “catholic” does not mean “Roman Catholic” but “whole” or “universal,” which refers to the Faith of the whole Church. As Anglicans we are both catholic and evangelical, confessing our faith in the Gospel using the ‘catholic’ creeds professed by all Christians from the earliest times until today, a practice that our historic liturgy enshrines.
As St. Vincent of Lerins said, we believe “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” At St. Paul’s we use the historic creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, & Athanasian) to profess our faith because they are very ancient and clear expressions of what we believe as Christians. When we read the Bible, we read it along with our fathers in the Faith from ages past because the Lord has been with His church throughout the centuries as He promised, teaching her and building her up in wisdom and stature (see Eph. 4:11-13). The devotions of the past are like an aged wine or a tried and proven method (e.g., Euclidean geometry) for reading Holy Scripture and using it to order our thoughts as well as our daily and yearly spiritual lives in imitation of Christ. Because Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” (Jn. 14:6) we profess that same Truth in our creeds, in our preaching and our liturgy. He is the Truth, and no one can be saved apart from Him. He is the Truth, and the Truth never changes or grows old. As one of our learned Bishops of old (Lancelot Andrewes) summed up nicely, Anglicans believe in one Bible, two Testaments, three Creeds, four ecumenical councils, and we read the Bible along with Christian authors of the first five centuries, who were closest in time and teaching to the New Testament church. We are also connected to the early church through the historic episcopacy. Our churches are united and governed by three holy orders of ministers: bishops, priests, and deacons. Our ministers received their ordination from bishops prior to them, who can trace the lineage of their ordination to the Apostles, to whom Christ said “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt. 28:20).