What Intrigues Me about Anglicanism

Some have wrongly assumed that I joined The Episcopal Church based solely on its post-postmodern views of human sexuality and a pro-LGBTQ affirmation. Actually, as I have noted in the past, initially that affirmation hindered me from joining The Episcopal Church sooner, even though I am gay (and trusting in Christ Jesus to save me), and even though I had already embraced Anglicanism. (Though, I will boldly confess, I am now grateful that The Episcopal Church is LGBTQ-affirming!) What allured me into the via media of Anglicanism was, primarily, the beauty of the Book of Common Prayer.

I briefly attended a Charismatic Bible college in Columbus, Ohio, and was, after a few months, disgusted with the fanaticism and shenanigans of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Though students of this college were not supposed to attend any other church, I would at times sneak off to other churches in the area, one of them being an Episcopal church. I was a new convert to Christ, reared in conservative evangelicalism, and taught that churches like The Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church were liberal, and ungodly, nominal believers in Christ guilty of holding to a form of godliness but denying the power thereof (cf. 2 Tim. 3:5 KJV). I now view many evangelicals as guilty of this charge.

In 2010, having discovered at a Southern Baptist college that I am not a Baptist, I began exploring what faith tradition corroborated with my core beliefs. I investigated Lutheranism, Methodism, Roman Catholicism and, finally, Anglicanism (having rejected and not identified with the Southern Baptist, Pentecostal/Charismatic/Holiness/Nazarene, Presbyterian (considering I am theologically Arminian) and Church of Christ traditions). Roman Catholicism was appealing to me, I admit, but mainly because of its history. Lutheranism was not appealing. Methodism, to me, seemed like the Baptist tradition, except that they sprinkle infants, allow women to be pastors and were more friendly.

But that late May of 2010, in a downtown Raleigh, North Carolina Episcopal church, we all opened the prayer book and the priest began to pray: "Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." To which we responded: "And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen." To which the priest responded: "Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen." (Book of Common Prayer, 323) We just acknowledged that God knows intimately our hearts, our desires, and all our secrets; we asked for God to cleanse us by the ministry of the Holy Spirit; and we asked this so that we could love God and magnify God's holy name. I was misty-eyed. Truth be told: I still get misty-eyed during these prayers.

Most Southern Baptists and Pentecostals have voiced their opinions about praying to the Lord from a prayer book -- they are not in favor of the practice. The same, however, do not understand that praying written prayers is an ancient tradition of faithful Jewish followers of YHWH and early Christians. In the earliest days of the Christian movement exists "some kind of universal pattern or ordo [order] of worship that the diverse churches of Christian antiquity ... see as providing a universal norm which determined its understanding of what constituted Christian worship and which did appear to transcend diversity and variety."1 If you think to yourself, "I could never worship as the early Christians did, praying from a prayer book, singing ancient hymns," then my advice is that you introspectively consider whether your idea of "worship" resembles modern entertainment rather than genuine worth-ship.


Must a believer pray from a prayer book, and sing ancient hymns, in order to genuinely demonstrate the worthiness of God, in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit? No. My comments above are less about form and more about critique. In other words, before you dogmatically insist that believers should not pray to God from a prayer book -- actual words I have heard spoken from Southern Baptists and Pentecostals -- read from history how early believers demonstrated the worthiness of God in prayer, in song, and in sermon. M.J. Wilkins, regarding ancient forms of written prayer, writes:
While continuing the ancient practice of personal, spontaneous prayers (note that Cornelius as a God-fearer both kept traditional times of prayer as well as prayed "continuously," Acts 10:2-4), Jews of the late Second Temple period gathered for increasingly fixed, communal prayer [praying from the prayer (and hymn) book of Israel: Psalms]. ... In Diaspora Judaism Jews were characterized by their commitment to times of communal prayer (see Acts 16:13, 16). ... We find that the early church was a distinct entity gathered for prayer (Acts 1:13-14; 2:42), while at the same time they carried out the traditional times of prayer individually (Acts 10:9) and at least at the beginning attended the temple at the prescribed hour of prayer (Acts 3:1; cf. Acts 2:42, 46, "the prayers").2
Mention is made of "the prayers" at Acts 2:42: ταῖς (the, plural form) προσευχαῖς (prayers, plural form). The Following English translations render the plural form correctly: ASV, AMP (but without the article), CEB (but with an incorrect possessive their), CJB, Darby (but without the article), Douay-Rheims (but without the article), ESV, HCSB, ISV ("times of prayer"), KJV (but without the article), LEB (but without the article), MSG, MEV, NABRE, NKJV (but without the article), NRSV, OJB, RSV, Wycliffe, and YLT. The English translations that prove incorrect include: CEV, CSB, God's Word, NASB, NCV, NET, NIV, NLT, The VOICE, and WEB. The Greek word προσευχαῖς is, clearly, plural. At least the International Standard Version (ISV) renders the phrase "times of prayer," noting the plural form for various times of the day in which the believers are engaged in praying. One wonders about a doxological and theological bias against uttering written prayers that influences some Bible translators when they engage the scriptures.

The beauty of the language in the Book of Common Prayer was the primary element leading me to appreciating this ancient liturgical tradition of worship; but what I found most intriguing is the Anglican notion that prayer shapes belief. Praying these prayers becomes a God-focused way of thinking, feeling, and believing. We create God-habits, if you will, so as to ever be mindful of God's presence, goodness, love and power. In the repeated prayers, the repeated liturgical worship and the reading of the scriptures, we "create habits [in our thinking] so that we no longer run the risks of sin. We want to become vehicles that radiate the love of God. We don't simply want to be able to turn down opportunities for sin; we want to become people who don't want to sin."3 Will we become sinless? No.

Dr. Ian Markham notes: "Overcoming our propensities toward sin will take some time [most likely a lifetime]." Yet, "God," thankfully, "is deeply aware of the human inclination to praise God one day and behave in ways that are deeply distorted the next."4 But in this ancient-modern Christian community we are reminded that every believer who has ever prayed these words to the Lord they love, every believer who has ever sang these hymns or heard these scriptures read, struggles in the same exact way. Truly, whether or not we realize this reality, we are one in Christ. So we pray; so we sing; so we read and speak the scriptures -- all of which contributes to forming who (and what) we are becoming.

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1 The Oxford History of Christian Worship, eds. Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 68.

2 M.J. Wilkins, "Prayer," in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, eds. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 944.

3 Ian S. Markham, Liturgical Life Principles: How Episcopal Worship Can Lead to Healthy and Authentic Living (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2009), 20-21.

4 Ibid., 21.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.