There’s been a trend in recent years to assume that evangelism and tradition are somehow mutually exclusive. I was trained in the English evangelical school of theology. My faith was formed by people like Stott, Packer, Ryle, and Green. But my faith was also deeply formed by Catholic theology (particularly in regards to ecclesiology and sacramental theology) and experience of liturgical worship. I can remember, quite vividly, being a young boy of 8 or 9 and singing the Gloria, smelling the incense, worshipping in this ancient pattern week after week. It became part of the rhythm of my life. It worked in me and, contrary to popular church thought, it helped evangelize me. How can weekly proclamation of the Word and reception of the Sacrament not draw us deeper into our relationship with Christ?
For most of my ordained life, I’ve felt I was too Catholic for my evangelical friends and too evangelical for my Catholic ones. Yet here I am; and I am convinced that Anglicanism, in its most authentic form, demands excellence from us in both Word and Sacrament. It is not an “either/or” but a “both/and”.
When we diminish either part of our worship (Word or Sacrament), we lose a vital part of our Christian life. Moreover, we diminish our disticntive evangelistic approach. In an article published in 2015, Jesse Cone, a high school English teacher observed, “If you ask me why kids are going high church, I’d say it’s because the single greatest threat to our generation and to young people nowadays is the deprivation of meaning in our lives. In the liturgical space, everything becomes meaningful.”
Yes, those of us who love the liturgical approach can be nit-picky –sometimes to a fault. But the truth is that liturgy is proclamation. And if it is done sloppily, half-heartedly, ignoring rubrics, or with little to no training or understanding, then the proclamation is hampered. Where symbolism is muddled, so is the message.
I pray we will challenge ourselves to an Anglican life that demands excellence from us in both Word and Sacrament. I hope we will boldly proclaim the saving message of Jesus Christ with all the evangelistic fervor the Holy Spirit provides. But I also hope we will faithfully uphold the time-tested sacred traditions that have proclaimed the Gospel powerfully for generations. Anglicanism is a wonderful and beautiful approach to the Christian faith and one, that I personally believe, has the potential to do incredible work for the Kingdom of God.