Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail
This blog is going to be a little different from the usual. Normally, I address a Catholic audience, but this time I’m going to address my Evangelical brethren. I’m going to speak as a former Evangelical, as one who’s been there, and understands the issues. I make no pretenses here. I hide nothing. Deep down, I want everyone to become Catholic. I know, however, that for many (a great many) Evangelicals, that is just not possible right now. I get it. It’s too much, and that’s okay. I encourage you to continue searching, read my blog which addresses Evangelical questions, and maybe get my book. Keep an open mind and pray about it. That, however, is not what this blog is about. This blog is about an ongoing trend among Evangelicals, which has been going strong since the 1980s, and appears to only be getting stronger. It’s the trend of Evangelicals moving over into conservative Anglicanism.
Webster’s Dictionary defines an Evangelical as a Protestant “emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual.” This would include churches ranging from Baptist, to Pentecostal, to Charismatic, to Nondenominational, etc.
Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail was a book first published in 1989, and has since been revised and republished in 2013. It chronicles the growing trend of Evangelicals who have been moving over to Anglicanism, and explores the manifold reasons why. I strongly recommend picking up a copy and giving it a read.
Some Evangelicals reading this will immediately catch on to what I’m talking about here. Perhaps you’ve sensed something missing in your Evangelical church. Perhaps you’re looking for something a little deeper than the weekly Bible Study, accompanied by the praise and worship band. Perhaps you’ve come to the realization that there are some doctrinal holes in the Evangelical belief system, including but not limited to such things as the “pre-tribulation rapture,” salvation by “faith alone” and “once saved, always saved.” Perhaps you’re wondering if there is anything more to Christian worship besides endless Bible Studies and singing songs. Perhaps you’re looking for something more Christ-centered, and in continuity with the way our Christian ancestors have worshiped for centuries, going all the way back to the days of the Early Church. Whatever the reason, or reasons, you’re looking for something more, and guess what? You’re not alone.
This sort of thing has been happening to Evangelicals since the 1980s! And it hasn’t stopped since. Every year, tens of thousands of Evangelicals leave Evangelicalism just in North America alone. And it’s not because they’ve lost faith. No! Quite the opposite has happened actually. They’ve increased their faith, and are seeking to nourish it with something a little stronger than the high-fructose corn syrup of Evangelical soup that has sustained them thus far in their walk with Jesus Christ. They’ve suckled on the milk of Christianity for years, even decades, and now they’re ready for some meat. Some have become Catholic (gasp!), and some have gone over to Eastern Orthodoxy (huh?), but the vast majority have actually stayed within Protestantism, moving over to an older form of liturgical Christianity. The one they choose the most, indeed the one most rich in liturgical tradition, and English heritage, has been Anglicanism. These are the Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail.
Webster’s Dictionary defines an Anglican as a Protestant “relating to the established episcopal Church of England and churches of similar faith and order in communion with it.” Of course, these days and Anglican Church doesn’t necessarily have to be in communion with the Church of England. The term Anglican is a bit more abstract than it was when I briefly worshiped in an Anglican Church. Today, it means relating to a church that is connected to the historical traditions, liturgy and customs of the Church of England, whether in full communion with that church or not. Canterbury is where it all began.
Christianity originally came to the British Isles in about the 4th century (early 300’s AD), in the days of the ancient Roman Empire. This early Christian faith was likely brought to the islands by Celtic missionaries from the mainland continent, as well as Roman legions and their company of slaves. After the fall of the Roman Empire, these early British Christians were attacked and driven to the west side of the island (Wales) by Pagan Germanic tribes: the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. This caused them to be cut off from the mainland Catholic Church on the continent for some time. In AD 595, Pope Gregory the Great dispatched from Rome a Benedictine prior by the name of Augustine, together with 40 monks, to evangelize the Anglo-Saxon Pagans of eastern Britain (England) by convincing King Ethelberht, and his Kingdom of Kent, to turn away from Anglo-Saxon Paganism (a variant of Heathenism based on the Germanic and Nordic gods). It is likely that Pope Gregory chose King Ethelberht as his missionary target because he had recently married a Christian princess from Paris. After a couple years, Augustine’s mission was a success, and King Ethelberht was baptized the first Christian king of the Anglo-Saxons on Christmas Day in AD 597. The king then gave Augustine land, in his own royal city of Canterbury, to build a monastery and convert as many of his subjects as possible. Augustine was then consecrated the first Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Gregory, and was later canonized a Saint. Today he is known as Saint Augustine of Canterbury. He should not be confused with the previous bishop in Northern Africa by the same name — Saint Augustine of Hippo.
When Anglo-Saxon missionaries from Canterbury encountered the previously isolated Celtic churches in various parts of Britain, there were some differences in discipline and practice. These were resolved at the Synod of Whitby in AD 664. From that day forward, Christianity in the British Isles remained united until AD 1535, when King Henry VIII legally broke the Church of England away from the Roman Catholic Church, establishing his own English version of Christianity in the British Isles. As England became an imperial superpower, and began colonizing other continents, English Protestantism came along with it, and eventually came to be known as Anglicanism, with Anglo- or Angli- being the old Latin way of saying “English.” This terminology is still used in many Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, French, etc.) in reference to “English.” To say “Anglican” is to say “English Christian.” The term is not directly tied to Protestantism, as the “Anglican Patrimony” is a term used in the Catholic Church as well. However, it is usually associated with the Protestant/Reformed tradition of the Church of England, following the separation of AD 1535.
So what’s the attraction for Evangelicals?
It’s simple, really. Anglicanism offers a deeper spirituality, based on liturgical worship, and total immersion in the Scriptures as part of a regular prayer-life devotion. Perhaps you’ve heard of praying the Psalms? Maybe not? Well, that is how the Psalms were meant to be read. They are not just a book of poetry. They were meant to be prayed, sung and even chanted. This is how the ancient Hebrews prayed the Psalms. Well, that tradition was carried on by the Apostles, and is still carried on by liturgical churches like the Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox churches. However, no form of Protestantism does a better job at this than Anglicanism, as evidenced by the enduring tradition of the Book of Common Prayer. There you will find a liturgical formation that stretches back to the most ancient times, the early days of Christianity, but specifically geared for English-speaking Christians.
Modern English simply will not do when accurately translating the Scriptures and worshiping in a way that is totally consistent with ancient Christianity. The “King James Only” advocates are right about this one, but not for the reasons they think. Yes, while it is true that the King James Version is, in some ways, more accurate than modern translations, it’s not because of the source text the King James translators used. Rather, it’s because English has deteriorated over the last 500 years, and actually separated into two forms — Contemporary and Traditional. Contemporary English is what we speak today. It’s easier than Traditional English, but limited, in the sense that it doesn’t pick up on all the pronouns and verbs of ancient Greek and Hebrew. Traditional English does. So when you read the words, thou, thee, thy and thine, you’re actually picking up on the second-person singular pronoun in Greek and Hebrew that contemporary English lacks. When you read the verb suffixes -est and -ith, you’re actually picking up on who is doing the action, which again is something that Contemporary English implies, but doesn’t explicitly state. That hurts the translation from Greek and Hebrew into English. I wrote about this more extensively in my blog entitled The King James Version (KJV) Only?. The traditional Book of Common Prayer picks up on this, and most conservative Anglican denominations use this version for regular worship. Using Traditional English in worship is not about trying to be “more holy,” or “more spiritual” or just “more fancy.” It’s about trying to be more accurate.
Another attraction has to do with a Christ-centered way of worshiping. If you look at a typical Evangelical church. The denomination or affiliation doesn’t matter. This trait is common among almost all of them. What is front and center on the stage of these churches? It’s usually a podium or pulpit. This is the most front and center article of furniture. This is telling. It indicates that the sermon is considered the most important part of the worship service. It indicates that the focus of Evangelical worship is the interpretation of Scripture by the pastor. Thus, the pastor becomes the central focus of the Evangelical worship service. This is why so many Evangelical churches have become personality cults. When the pastor becomes the center of attention this much, the congregation quickly becomes little more than disciples of that particular pastor. Christ is pushed off to the side. This doesn’t happen intentionally, and certainly nobody thinks of it that way, but if you really stop to think about it carefully, that is essentially what happens.
Contrast this with liturgical churches, and the first thing you’ll notice that is front and center in all liturgical churches is not a pulpit, but rather an altar of some kind. It could be a traditional altar affixed to a wall, or it could be a stand-alone altar table. This altar is always front and center in liturgical churches, while the pulpit is off to the side. Again, this is telling. It sends a clear message that Jesus Christ is the center of liturgical worship, in the form of holy communion. What the pastor does in the sermon is important, and should be taken seriously, but it’s not the center of attention. The pastor’s sermon is meant to expound upon what follows, which is always holy communion. Thus, Jesus Christ is the center of attention, and the focus of every Sunday liturgy.
The word “liturgy” comes from the Greek word leitourgia (λειτουργία) and literally translates into English as “work for the people.” In Christianity, it is meant to convey an act of worship whereby the people assist through their own words and actions. Yes, it is primarily an act of the clergy done for the people, but it is also an act of the laity done by the people. In other words, everyone gets involved in the act of worship. The people in the pews are just as involved as the minister at the altar.
Like other liturgical churches, there are two main liturgical actions within Anglicanism, as there were in the Early Church. These consist of the Daily Office and the Holy Eucharist.
The Daily Office, found in the Book of Common Prayer, is the regular prayer of Early Christians, which carried over from the Temple prayers used by Jewish priests during the time of Jesus. You will recall, in Acts 3:1 and Acts 21:23-26, this is what the Apostles were doing. They were participating in the Daily Office as it existed in ancient Israel. Then they carried over this tradition into the Early Church, requiring all the clergy to regularly recite the Psalms as prayers. Laypeople could participate if they wanted to, but were not required to.
The Holy Eucharist is a reference to the bread and wine of holy communion, but it is also a reference to the liturgical act that culminates in the reception of holy communion. This happens on Sundays, and sometimes at other times during the week. Laypeople are required to participate in this, but only on Sundays, and a few specific holy days throughout the year. Understood as a liturgy which culminates in holy communion, the Holy Eucharist is a liturgy and sacrament the Apostles celebrated, and passed on, which combines the Jewish synagogue service (consisting of chanting psalms, Scripture readings and a sermon), with an abbreviated Jewish Passover Seder. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word eucharistia (εὐχαριστία) meaning “thanksgiving.” It is found in the New Testament fifteen times, along with its related verb eucharisteesis (εὐχαριστήσας). It is almost always used in relation to the Lord’s Supper, which was originally a Jewish Passover Seder.
The bottom line is this. While Evangelicalism continues to grow as the mainstream face of Protestantism, a number of Evangelicals have become disenchanted with the overly simple, and emotion-driven nature of Evangelical worship. Still more have found problems with common Evangelical doctrines, and have begun to wonder if there is something more to Christianity than just this. It’s nothing new, actually. It’s been going on since the 1980s, and the trend only seems to be growing. Every year, tens of thousands of Evangelicals go liturgical, and a large number of them are turning to Anglicanism.
Most Evangelicals appreciate the writings of C.S. Lewis. There is a reason for that. He was an Anglican, and he brought much of his sensible and practical Anglican tradition into his writings. I think Evangelicals inwardly crave a sensible and practical Christianity, which is often lacking in many Evangelical churches, being more emotionally and sensationally driven. Anglicanism is basically the cornerstone of English Protestantism from which most other English denominations came from. If you’re an English-speaking Christian, you’re probably a lot more connected to Anglicanism than you realize. Think about the way you say the Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name… You’re using Traditional English. How Anglican of you. Many of you read from the King James Version of the Bible, or the New King James Version. Again, how Anglican of you. Methodism is a direct offshoot from Anglicanism in AD 1735. From Methodism eventually came the Holiness churches, followed by Pentecostalism, Assemblies of God, Foursquare Church and Calvary Chapel. All of which can be traced directly back to Anglicanism. Then there are the Baptist churches, which also branched off Anglicanism with John Smyth in AD 1609, giving rise to the Church of God, Church of the Nazarene, and Adventists of all types, including Seventh Day Adventists. All of these can trace their lineage back to Anglicanism. In fact, with the exception of the Lutherans, Amish and Presbyterians, most Christian denominations in North America come directly from Anglicanism. So this might explain yet one more reason why a growing number of Evangelicals are turning to Anglicanism. It’s just a matter of getting back to their spiritual roots.
If you find yourself as one of these Evangelicals with a growing dissatisfaction with the “Bible Church” or “Nondenominational” approach, you’re not alone. Lots of others are going through the exact same thing, and many more have already gone before you. I was one of them. You may feel isolated right now, but you’re not alone. The way to find others like you is to explore. Like I said above, I would encourage you to keep an open mind about the Catholic Church, but recognizing that this may be too much for you, I want to encourage you to look into the Anglican Church in North America. This is a conservative Anglican jurisdiction that is “safe” from an Evangelical perspective. I say this as a former Evangelical. I get it, and I empathize with you. You need a church environment where you’re not going to get surprised by something super liberal or super weird. The Anglican Church in North America is the best Anglican solution I would recommend in this case. I would also recommend you read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis if you haven’t already (I recommend the audio-book on this one), as well as Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail by Robert E. Webber and Lester Ruth.
Now, if you happen to be a pastor of an independent Evangelical church, then I’m going to encourage you to do something different. While you could always leave your ministry to explore Anglicanism, and maybe even find a ministry within Anglicanism, there may be another way. You could instead help your congregation understand the importance of liturgical worship, while at the same time reconnecting them to their spiritual, linguistic and cultural roots in English Christianity. In other words, I’m encouraging you to be a pastor, to shepherd and teach the flock you already look over. To do this, you will need the Book of Common Prayer, and you’ll need to learn how to use it in your church services. You can find many guides for this online, and you can also watch videos online as well. If I were you, I would look to the way the Anglican Church in North America does things as a guide. Of course, some modifications may be needed for your particular congregation, but the Anglican Church in North America is by far the most reasonable and balanced form of liturgical Protestantism in North America at this time in history. There are other conservative Anglican jurisdictions, but they’re so “Catholic” in approach, that they might as well go all the way and just be Catholic, if that’s how they want to do it. Honestly, there is literally no difference between High Church, Anglo-Catholic Anglicanism, and the Anglican Patrimony Ordinariates within the Catholic Church. If you’re going to go Anglo-Catholic, you might as well just be Catholic. They’re basically the exact same thing. Meanwhile, the Anglican Church in North America retains the Reformed and Evangelical elements of classical Protestantism. So if you’re trying to keep it Protestant, follow the example of the Anglican Church in North America. Bringing Reformed Anglican spirituality into your Evangelical church may be just what the doctor ordered to give your congregation a deeper appreciation for Jesus Christ and ancient Christianity.