Ask an Anglican: Becoming an Anglican

Pete writes:

Hello! First off, thank you for your blog! I love your articles and have learned a lot.  My question though, is kind of a random one.  First, context: I’m a 21 year old non-denominational Christian going to a Baptist church.  I converted to Christianity when I was almost 17 from a hosh posh of pseudo Buddhist and New Age beliefs.  The Lord has done AMAZING things since then at my home church (I still am an active member of the church where I was saved and love my elders very much.)  For about a year now, I have fallen more and more in love with the Anglican liturgy and tradition.  So I’ve decided, I want to be a part of this amazing thing, the Anglican Communion (I have been visiting different churches under the Anglican Church in North America and CANA banner).  Everything about it seems right.  But there are two problems:

1) I’m seeking ordination to the pastorate.  It’s been so far understood that my (Baptist General Conference) elders would lay hands on me to make me a BGC pastor.  How would that mix?

2) I have no idea exactly how I o about the process of “converting” to Anglicanism, if there is such a thing.  I use the Book of Common Prayer in private devotion, I adhere to about 37 of the 39 Articles of Religion, I’m baptized, and take Eucharist often.  But… is there something to do besides?  Confirmation or something?

Thank you so much for your time in reading and responding to this.  Be blessed brother, I hope to hear from you soon.

I usually tend to answer these questions in a pretty general manner. But since your questions are so specific, Pete, I’ll address them to you directly, though still with the hope that what I say will be helpful to others who may be reading as I know you’re not the only one to ask these kinds of questions. Before we can get to your questions, however, there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed, a question which goes to the heart of what Anglicanism is all about. What does it mean to be a Christian?

I really appreciate your story and especially your experience of your home church and the people there. Clearly you are someone who has come to know Jesus, which has had a profound impact on your life. It’s also clear that you have great affection for what you have experienced of Anglican worship, so much so that it has prompted you to investigate becoming an Anglican, which is great, but it is important to understand that appreciating Anglican liturgy is not the same thing as being an Anglican. I’ve had non-Anglican Christian friends, including clergy, who find within Anglicanism’s liturgy a rich deposit of faith that they wish to make use of in their own churches. That can be a wonderful thing. But the problem that inevitably emerges is that Anglican liturgy is designed to coincide with Anglican theology. So when, say, a Baptist preacher tries to make use of a little Anglican liturgy in his church’s services—a few candles here, a collect there—he will often end up either picking and choosing only the parts he likes or changing the liturgy to meet his theological presuppositions. In so doing, the liturgy ceases to be in authority over him, shaping him, helping him to understand the scriptures. Now he is in authority over it, turning it into something different than what it was intended to be.

Don’t get me wrong, there is much more that a Baptist and an Anglican have in common than that separates us. I certainly consider Baptists and those who call themselves non-denominational to be my brothers and sisters in Christ. But the differences that exist between us are important, and if they’re not acknowledged, we end up talking past each other, using the same words to say very different things to one another.

This situation is exacerbated by the fact that there is so little understanding among modern Anglicans about what Anglicanism is. Not every parish with the word “Anglican” or “Episcopal” hanging on the door is going to be a place where traditional, classical Anglicanism is practiced or understood. In fact, because the dominant strand of American Protestant Christianity is Baptist Evangelicalism, what one often finds in conservative American Anglican churches is a kind of Baptist Evangelical theology dressed up in Anglican vestments with Anglican prayers. While that may seem attractive to some folks, it is not classical Anglicanism, and ultimately it is doomed to fall under its own weight, because in a situation in which liturgy is not formative and magisterial but simply a pleasant enhancement that one may take or leave, liturgy will eventually warp and change until it is no longer recognizable as liturgy. For classical Anglicanism, liturgy is not a secondary matter. The Book of Common Prayer is not an enhancement or even simply a tool. It is an authoritative guide that points us to the truth revealed by God in Holy Scripture.

How does all of this apply to your situation? I think that you need to decide whether you are an Anglican or a Baptist who happens to appreciate some aspects of Anglican liturgy. In other words, is Anglicanism the truth or not?

See, when you say that you only believe in some of the 39 Articles, the question I have to ask is, would you be able to teach that they all uphold and truly interpret the faith? And if you want to be ordained as a Baptist pastor, that raises all sorts of questions. Anglicans believe that Baptism brings true grace, that it regenerates. We baptize infants, not as a concession but because it is the right thing to do. Will you be able to baptize babies if you become an Anglican priest? Do you believe that the Sacraments really do communicate grace and are not merely symbols? Do you believe in the necessity for ordination at the hands of a bishop who is himself episcopally ordained and authorized? These are not just secondary issues. They are central to what Anglicanism is. Moreover, they are central to how we know Christ and receive His grace, which means they are central to how we are saved. If you really believe in Baptist theology, then you have to believe that I am a heretic. I regularly baptize infants. I was myself baptized as an infant and believe that it was sufficient to give me saving grace which becomes active in my life through the faith that God plants in me. Moreover, I believe that God is the one who plants faith in the believer, not the other way around. I don’t believe that a person can “make a decision for Christ” unless Christ has made a decision for them. From a Baptist perspective, that may not take away my Christianity, but it certainly makes me a false teacher.

Bearing all this in mind, let’s take your questions in reverse order as the answer to the second leads into the first.

How does someone become an Anglican?

A person becomes an Anglican by joining an Anglican church. Traditionally this meant being confirmed by an Anglican bishop, or received by an Anglican bishop if you were previously confirmed by a bishop in apostolic succession. In most of the Anglican Communion, a person has to be confirmed before receiving the Eucharist. This has been changing in the last forty years, however, as there has been a re-centering on our theology of Baptism. In the Episcopal Church, for instance, we give communion to all baptized Christians, which is probably the same in ACNA and CANA. That is because we recognize that Baptism truly makes you a Christian, truly brings you into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ, and that there is no further rite required for that purpose. If you have been baptized with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, you are truly a Christian, truly part of the Body of Christ, regardless of the way that we Christians have managed to divide ourselves into categories. So take heart in that. If you are baptized, you have received the promise. You are a member of the Church. You can worship in an Anglican church forever just having been baptized and no one will ever say that you are a lesser Christian than anyone else present.

Nevertheless, Confirmation is a very good thing, and it is something that is required for certain positions within the Church, including ordination. There are two very good reasons for this. The first is that it gives you an opportunity to make an intentional commitment to your faith. In the case of someone coming from another Christian tradition, this also means learning about and deciding whether the Anglican vision of the faith is the right one. After all, if you are to be confirmed by an Anglican bishop, you really ought to believe that Anglicanism is true Christianity. And it would be unrealistic to expect to hold a position of authority in a church in which you have no commitment to the church’s teaching. Moreover, because we believe that bishops are necessary in the life of the Church as a whole, being confirmed is good because it puts you in direct contact with your bishop, receiving the strengthening of the Holy Spirit at his hands (not by his power but through the grace that comes from Christ). It forms an organic connection and bond between you and the whole Church throughout the world and throughout time. You are in communion with the saints because you are in communion with your bishop. Confirmation strengthens that bond and makes it concrete in your life.

How does someone become an Anglican priest?

If you feel called to the priesthood, that is something that has to be discerned in community, usually starting at the level of your parish and then working up to the level of the diocese. The individual procedures differ from place to place, but ultimately the bishop will have to be convinced that you are called since he is the one who will ordain you. Generally, once a call has been discerned, you would attend an Anglican/Episcopal seminary for three years before being a ordained a Deacon. After six months to a year as a Deacon, you would then be ordained to the priesthood.

You ask about being ordained by elders in your Baptist church. It may be possible for your Baptist elders to lay hands on you, along with the other priests of the diocese in which you are ordained, but that is at the bishop’s discretion. While there is grace and a very real sense of unity that comes from having supporters and fellow presbyters place their hands on you, this alone is insufficient for true ordination to the priesthood to take place. Ordination requires a bishop.

Hope this helps. It seems like you have a number of questions that you’re struggling with about the faith. If you feel called to Anglicanism, I would encourage you to speak with a priest whom you trust and admire. Ask him to guide you in your discernment, to help you understand what the Church teaches, and to show you how the liturgy and the Scriptures point us to truth. Of course, you’re also always welcome to send more questions this way. Whatever happens, I pray that God will guide you and protect you, leading you into all light and truth, in the name of Jesus Christ.

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9 Responses to Ask an Anglican: Becoming an Anglican

  1. Great post Jonathan!

    Pete,
    I’ve fairly recently converted to Anglicanism myself. My background is Evangelical and Presbyterian. At the time I was taking classes in an Evangelical seminary and on the road to ordained ministry. I went through the process that Jonathan describes above and eventually transferred to Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. In fact I’ve just started my first week of classes! I just want to encourage you to go ahead and talk with the priest of whatever parish you attend about your sense of calling. God bless! I hope everything works out for you.

    Matt

  2. Robert F says:

    “If you really believe in Baptist theology, then you have to believe that I am a heretic.” I’m not sure this is necessarily true. The converse would be that if you, Fr. Jonathan, really believed that Anglican theology is true, then you would have to believe that Pete, as a Baptist, is a heretic. Is that what you believe? It doesn’t seem to be from what you say about Pete as being “….clearly….someone who has come to know Jesus….” I think it is possible to view another communion’s theology as inadequate and/or distorted without thinking it heretical. As an Anglican that is the way I view Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as well as many Protestant communions.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Well, one has to ask the question, what is heresy? If heresy is a departure from the truth of the faith, then yes, I would have to say that those who are practicing Baptists are heretics at least in regards to those places where Baptist theology contradicts scripture and the Fathers (restricting Baptism to adults, for example). But that does not mean that everything they believe is heretical, nor that they cannot have a true relationship with Jesus Christ that will bring them into salvation. It just means that the road there is going to be harder because there is the millstone of false teaching that stands in the way.

      We’re awfully squeamish about using the language of orthodoxy and heresy these days, particularly when we’re referring to those of other Christian churches who would subscribe to what often gets referred to as a kind of baseline orthodoxy (the Trinity, the Resurrection, the Atonement, etc.). I think there are probably some good reasons for this. It doesn’t generally endear you to people to call them heretics. But I think that we have to be honest about our differences. Obviously, there are some things we can differ on that do not rise to the level of core principles, but there are fewer of those things than we tend to like to admit. How we understand the sacraments matters deeply. How we understand the structure of the Church matters deeply. If we’re unwilling to say that something like a memorialist, non-sacramental understanding of Baptism is heresy, we are effectively saying that Baptism doesn’t matter very much, which has huge implications for how we actually practice our faith.

      But, again, none of this is to say that someone who holds a heretical viewpoint is worthless or even that he or she is not truly a Christian. Origen and Tertullian held heretical viewpoints on some things and we consider them great Fathers of the Church. I may be holding heretical views on some things right now, and if that is the case I pray that God will lead me to clarity, that I may have a deeper, richer, and truer relationship with Him in Christ. But I don’t lose too much sleep over it. God’s saving me is not dependent on my perfect understanding of Him, after all, but rather on His choice to rescue me by the Blood of His Son.

  3. Pete says:

    I’m truly, deeply grateful for your post. I’m going to meet up with the rector of an ACNA church plant near where I live to further investigate. You asked some good questions (adult’s baptism, for example) that I do need more clarity on. I’m sure I’ll have another one for you soon. Thanks again!

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      My pleasure, Pete. I hope I didn’t seem like I was being too harsh on Baptists. Not trying to be uncharitable, just trying to bring the differences to light. I really do hope that God will bring you clarity and make known to you the path forward. Many blessings to you!

  4. Ann says:

    I actually just decided to become Anglican for officials last week! Told my priest. Now I’m super nervous because I’m not sure what the process is going to be like. We’ll see!

  5. Pingback: Appreciating Liturgy Isn’t Enough… at least for me. « genu(re)flection

  6. Caleb Roberts says:

    Fr. Jonathan,

    Thanks for this post. The part about the difference between appreciating liturgy and truly being a liturgical Christian resonated very much with my personal experiences before I became an Anglican and I actually just wrote a post about this issue that you raised.

    http://genureflection.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/appreciating-liturgy-isnt-enough-at-least-for-me/

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