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The Council of Nicea (Photo Credit: Facebook)

The Council of Nicea (Photo Credit: Facebook)

by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)

Last week, young classical Anglicans gathered at the Church of the Holy Communion in Dallas to learn about “Creeds, Councils and Christ.” Aimed at Christians under thirty and clergy, the Anglican Way Institute highlights deep theological teaching and extensive liturgical worship. This year’s featured speaker was the Rev. Dr. Gerald Bray, Church of England minister and professor at the evangelical Beeson Divinity School.

The mastermind behind AWI remains one of its founding visionaries, the Rt. Rev. Ray Sutton, bishop coadjutor in the Diocese of Mid-America of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC). When asked about the conference’s purpose, Bishop Sutton explained, “The Anglican Way Institute really started with a desire to perpetuate this way of being a Christian that we call Anglican. And it began in a time where there was much reorganization of Anglicanism going on. It seemed that there was a need to try to articulate what this Anglican Way is – to provide teaching.” “[T]here was a concern to see beyond generations, to catch hold of this way for which all the churches with liturgies and ancient traditions in the West have been frontally assaulted for decades and told to give up their traditions to reach people through culture,” he furthered, “And they’ve given up their traditions, and they haven’t really reached more people because they gave up their traditions.”

Bishop Sutton opened the conference with his own lecture, observing that “[e]ven when some Christians claim ‘No creed by Christ, no book but the Bible,’…but even those churches have doctrinal statements, Sunday School material, hymns, songs–all statements of faith.” He highlighted Lancelot Andrewes’ five-fold approach to Anglican spiritual authority: one Bible, two Testaments, three creeds, four councils, and the first five centuries of the Church. Classical Anglicans have long focused on these sources in their faith and practice as a means of protecting both catholicity and orthodoxy. Sutton noted that the councils and creeds speak to a broad range of issues, but especially the nature of Christ, the Trinity, and the Church.

Professor Bray organized his four plenary messages according to the Nicene statement “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” He tailored his concerns to a personal level, hoping to avoid an abstract discourse of theology. In his first address, he declared, “We have a message that cannot be diluted, compounded, exchanged, or optional.” Jesus, the Incarnate God, came down from heaven to provide the only way of salvation to mankind. This exclusive message proved almost as unpopular back then at the Church’s early days as it does today: Rome tended to favor unity over truth. The Jewish people before Christ tended to be left alone since they kept to themselves; the early Church, on the other hand, went out into the world to “bring the message of an exclusive Deity to the world.”

In his explanation of holiness, Bray worried that, after the socially-engaged Holiness Movement, “holiness becomes something that must be visible—just like the Pharisees.” The British theologian called for a revived understanding of holiness as a distinctness and separateness of God’s people. “Often, holiness is a whole lot of little, non-heroic things, but they’re the difference between life and death.”

Bray also discussed catholicity, reminding that, if I Corinthians 8 is trustworthy, personal feelings and preferences can cause many of the controversies within the Church. “You can go up into the pulpit and preach Buddhism, and only one or two people will notice…People will notice other things.” Thus, it is important to learn what matters and what does not in order to preserve true catholicity—“catering to everybody leads to chaos.” Bray recommended the Book of Common Prayer as a helpful tool to achieve this kind of informed unity.

In addition, he commented on how apostolicity looks like on a practical level. “[The second epistle to St. Timothy] is about handing on the apostolic message…This tradition is a way we’re connect to the apostles.” Bray highlighted the fact that it was a miracle that different groups did not go their separate ways in the early Church. Even in the midst of illegality, persecution, and geographical separation, the Christian forefathers attested to one apostolic deposit and message: “We are of Jesus.”

In typical Anglican fashion, Bray saw a split between the Church and orthodox belief as a false dichotomy. He coyly surmised, “In the Prayer Book tradition, we have both faith and order. Together, they are like a jug of milk. Order is like the jug—if it has no milk, then it’s simply empty and you can only use it for decoration, really. However, faith is like milk. If it’s spilled all over the floor, you can lap it up if you wish, but you never know what you’ll pick up with it.”

Workshop sessions proved erudite yet useful. Eschewing both detached ivory-towered academics and dumbing down, AWI assigns active clergy to teach conference participants. Workshops tended to focus on particular ecumenical councils, the harm of heresy, and Anglican spirituality (which springs from patristic and monastic sources). Participants also enjoyed much time in congregational prayer and sacramental worship. Especially noteworthy was AWI’s music, thanks especially to the formidable talents of organist Christopher Hoyt and choir director Andrew Dittman.

Combining theological depth with vibrant worship, the Anglican Way Institute represents an important foundation for church renewal in the coming years.