This is Andrew Russell’s second installment in his mini-series on Anglican Spiritual Formation for our “Ecclesia Anglicana” series. You can read his introductory post here.
The Christian life is fundamentally a life of worship. More than growth in holiness, proclamation of the gospel, or working toward social justice, the Christian Church exists to sing praises to God, offer her gifts to him at the table, be nourished by the Scriptures and sacraments, and commune with him in worship (though holiness, evangelism, and social justice are all natural outgrowths and consequences of that worship). This article is concerned with an Anglican view of spiritual formation and the central role worship plays in the formation of an Anglican Christian. However, Anglicans have often found help for explaining the importance of worship—and the world’s value for assisting human beings in their worship—in the writing of the great Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann:
All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation. (For the Life of the World)
This means the entire world is a temple in which worship of the triune God is eternally being performed. Humanity’s decision to love the world more than God—to love the world for its own sake—caused the death of the world. But Jesus Christ, in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, has “taken up all life, filled it with Himself, made it what it was meant to be: communion with God, sacrament of His presence and love” (Schmemann). The cosmos again worships God, as it was originally created to do.
It is the joyous responsibility of Christians to take part in this grand cosmic worship service. This is done, of course, by daily living, but also—and perhaps most meaningfully—in the liturgy of the Eucharist.
Liturgy is essential in worship. The Church inherited liturgical worship from the Jews. It is as old—and perhaps even older!—than the Scriptures themselves, and it follows a pattern because the God of Israel is a God of order. This, along with the conviction that liturgy creates an atmosphere of beauty and reverence, is summed up nicely in the catechism of the Anglican Church of North America: “Anglicans worship with a structured liturgy because it is a biblical pattern displayed in both Testaments, and because it fosters in us a reverent fear of God.” In the liturgical traditions, the command to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” is taken seriously.
Though Anglicans differ amongst themselves on Eucharistic theology, it is universally accepted that the Eucharist strengthens believers and communicates the grace of God to them. More specifically, the Eucharist unites believers with Christ. It is the means through which we repeatedly receive the benefits of his atoning work and sacrificial death. In the Eucharist, we enter into the joy of the resurrection and sit at the festal table with the triune God in the Kingdom. The world to come is brought to this world, and we are able to see that all of creation is shot through with the presence of God. The world [again] becomes sacrament.
In the Anglican tradition, the Daily Office is also central to spiritual formation. The Daily Office is more than a time of prayer; it is a time of praise, confession, study of Scripture, intercession, and thanksgiving. Furthermore, the Daily Office claims the time of the day for God and recognizes that time itself benefits from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. American society tells us to frame our days with rush and relaxation, but the Scriptures tell us to frame our days with worship and prayer: “From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised.”
As far as what makes up Anglican worship, Anglicans are in keeping with the vast majority of the Christian tradition: Word and sacrament. The Word of God is the foundational witness to the saving work of God in the world. It is the source of our belief and practice, and because of this it is one of the most precious possessions entrusted to the Church. This is why, every day, Anglicans sing psalms and read passages from the Old and New Testaments, with the end result of reading the entire Bible once a year (or once every three years, depending on which lectionary you use). Not only does the Bible provide the raw materials for our worship and doctrine, it also recounts our history as the people of God. Gerald Sittser is worth quoting here:
The Bible tells a story of human resistance and God’s persistence. The story is full of flawed heroes and strange twists of plot, of the wretchedness of evil and the triumph of good, which was accomplished in a way that no one could have predicted, namely, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a wonderful story; it is also a true story that speaks to the depths of the human condition. This story provides us with the truths we need to make sense of our own stories. What God accomplished then he can accomplish now because he is the same God who works in the same way. Even more, we come to realize that our stories are given meaning not because they are our stories but because they are located within the story of salvation history. (Water from a Deep Well)
Sacraments are the other element of worship in which Anglicans undergo spiritual formation. We believe that the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ signifies not only the union of God and humanity, but also the resanctification of matter itself.
As we discussed earlier, all of creation may in some sense be seen as sacramental. There is no location where God is not present, and there is no activity in which God is not working. Jesus Christ is the perfect demonstration of this as the quintessential sacrament. He is the place where heaven and earth meet. He is the foundation and proof that God works with human beings in ways they can most easily understand. Thus this world is not a necessary evil; it is, for humanity, a necessary good.
Anglicans believe that God forms human beings spiritually through material things, in keeping with the Great Tradition going back to the ancient Church. Through mundane things like bread and wine, human beings are united to God and transformed into who they were made to be. However, it is important to remember that the sacramental nature of reality is only made possible and sustained by the Word of God (both the personified Word, Jesus Christ, and the written Word). It is both together that form the basis of an Anglican view of worship and, consequently, spiritual formation.
Andrew Russell is an M.Div. candidate at Beeson Divinity School. He is an ordination candidate in the Anglican Diocese of the South and hopes to serve the Church as a parish priest. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Anna. Follow him on Twitter: @andrew_05.