Historically, Anglicans have defined their faith as adherence to the teaching of:
- One Lord, Jesus Christ
- Two Testaments, Old and New
- Three Creeds, Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian
- Four Councils, Nicea 325 A. D., Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431, and Chalcedon 451
- Five Centuries of Catholic tradition in doctrine and worship
The order is critical: each item below depends upon and explicates the one above. The supreme revelation of God is in Christ, the living Word of God: the primary witness to the revelation of the Word of God is in Scripture; the Creeds, Councils, and Catholic tradition explicate, clarify, and transmit the teaching of Scripture.
THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER (1549-1928)
To these ancient witnesses, however, we must also add the doctrinal standards known as the “historic formularies” of Anglicanism. First devised in the 16th century Church of England, these principally comprise: the Book of Common Prayer (1549 to 1662, and in the USA 1789 to 1928), the Ordinal, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (as adopted in the USA in 1801). In them is set forth the Church’s understanding of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ. Their authority stands under the Word of God in Holy Scripture and the tradition of the Church Catholic. In them we find the consensus of faith and practice that bound Anglicans together as a church.
These books, the historic formularies, did not make the mistake of rigid and excessive definition. While they were precise and clear in the most essential matters, the parameters set by these “historic formularies” were broad, flexible, and comprehensive of considerable diversity of emphasis and style in things inessential. Thus, they could assimilate legitimate development without losing clarity of focus. The unity they established could be maintained only by a fundamental commitment to the steadfast exercise of charity and humility.
A FUNDAMENTAL COMMITMENT
These historic and fundamental commitments were acknowledged by the Episcopal Church in the 1960’s in the adoption of a preamble to the Constitution of its General Convention: “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America… is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.” In this preamble there was an acknowledgement that the self-governing autonomy of the Episcopal Church is not absolute, but conditional: it is not independence, but “autonomy-in-relation”. Its power to govern itself, through its Bishops, other Clergy, Conventions (legislative assemblies) and Canons (church laws) does not stand over the tradition of historic Faith and Order embodied in the historic Prayer Books and shared with other churches in the Anglican Communion, but stands under it. This tradition both gives the Episcopal Church the right to act in the service of Christ, and at the same time sets limits to what it may do. The spiritual community defined by historic Faith and Order and embodied in the Prayer Book does not follow but precedes the governing structures, and the latter should be shaped by the former.
From the early 1970’s, however, the Episcopal Church embarked on a series of changes in liturgy, ordained ministry, and marriage, that were at least inconsistent with this preamble to the constitution. In these innovations the Episcopal Church arguably exceeded its authority. Critically, the Book of Common Prayer underwent radical revision beginning with the 1979 edition, in a deliberate break with the tradition of classical Anglicanism. These unilateral changes to historic Faith and Order have impaired the unity and mission of Anglicanism both in the United States and abroad.
At St. John’s Church we do not believe that we have the right or authority to set aside the fundamental commitments of Anglicanism to historic Faith and Order, the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as set forth in the Word of God written, defined in the Catholic tradition, and received in the historic Prayer Book. And therefore, so far as in us lies, we are determined to uphold and propagate the same, and to transmit this legacy unimpaired to our posterity.
- View the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
- Texts for Daily offices of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
- Listen to the daily offices of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
- Purchase a copy of the Book of Common Prayer.
- View the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
- Download the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
For more information about the Book of Common Prayer, we recommend: