Nothing but the Blood of Jesus, By The Reverend Canon Andrew Brashier, J.D.
It was an uneventful day, all things considered, when I came to a crisis. Not a crisis of faith, mind you, but a crisis in ecclesiology and doctrine. This crisis was precipitated with a fascination as to how the early church worshipped. At the time, I was worshipping blissfully ignorant in a Southern Baptist Church that branded it-self to blend in with the non-denominational movement. It led me to believe that we were in fact worshipping “just like the early Christians.” Yet somehow, I failed to critically evaluate whether in fact the early Christians indeed worshipped as my suburban church claimed. That is, until I picked up a copy of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History.
I embarrassingly had never picked up a copy of church history in my life. Embarrassingly, as I was a history major and could outline the history of Western Civilization and spout off minute details on the American Civil War – yet I knew nothing beyond a few of the great Doctors of the Church and the history of the church from the Reformation onward. The lesson to be learned? Catechize early, often, and yes – include church history.
I digress. Eusebius rocked my world as I read the early accounts of the Apostles’ disciples and their consensus that worship centralizes around two things: the preaching of the Word and the receiving of the Sacraments, namely the Body and Blood of Christ. Through Eusebius, I was able to discover the treasure trove known as the writings of the Church Fathers. My personal discovery of The Didache fascinated me. Here was the earliest Christian writing that pre-dated or was contemporaneous with New Testament Scripture and it anchored worship upon the eucharist. Justin Martyr’s description in his First Apology that Christians worship on Sunday, read the Holy Scriptures, hear a sermon, offer prayers, share Holy Communion, and make offerings to distribute and take care of those in need stood in stark contrast to my prior church experience.
This is not meant as a slight towards my Southern Baptist friends. If it had not been for them, I would have remained ignorant of the Gospel and justification in Christ. I was born, baptized, and raised in the United Methodist Church, but made my faith my own and was humbled by God in the Southern Baptist Church. I will be forever grateful to them for emphasizing the justification of Christ and His salvation. However, the emphasis on individualism, making “my decision” for Jesus, and creating a worship environment that mimicked a concert to entertain or evoke an emotional response left me, well ironically, empty.
There had to be something more to the Christian walk than focusing on inviting more people to church, recalling “my decision” for Christ (disregarding He chose us and the Lord God is the one acting within the Sacraments), and floundering without discipleship and sanctification. There is a desperate unrootedness within American Christianity that transcends many denominations. There is always an attempt to reinvent oneself versus defining one’s local church upon the long and living history of the church catholic. Americans collectively have a short memory, due in part to how young our nation is, and it is all too easy for many Protestant denominations to date themselves after our nation was founded! Is it any wonder so many Christians do not know the creeds professed for over a thousand years when only a few hundred years is considered ancient in the American context?
The more I read the Church Fathers, the more I was convicted that I could not remain in good conscience with the Southern Baptist Church. Eusebius and the Apostolic Fathers convicted me the church always had bishops – perhaps not overseeing large dioceses at first, but bishops, nonetheless. Re-reading the letters of Paul and seeing his own commissioning of Titus and Timothy as overseers of particular churches gave me pause as to how the church should be organized. It was clear the earliest disciples of the Apostles found it crucial that the local church maintains unity with the churches of the whole (catholic) world through its bishops who profess, teach, and defend the Apostles’ doctrine (orthodoxy).
Speaking of orthodoxy in doctrine, the Church Fathers (and the writings of the Magisterial Reformers) soon challenged my ignorant opinion that Holy Communion was merely a fond remembering of Jesus. Justin Martyr makes this point in chapter 66 of his First Apology, where he expressly denies the Lord’s Supper is “common bread and common drink.” Indeed, once the Word of God was prayed over the elements, then the church received the elements as “the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus.” Justin Martyr is not alone in this assessment. St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Cyprian of Carthage, and so many, many more from across the globe testified to the same. Even the Magisterial Reformers agreed, the bread and wine are no longer common but, as the 1662 Prayer Book catechism teaches, (plagiarizing from St. Augustine) “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Further, Article 28 of the Articles of Religion hammers that “the Supper of the Lord is not only a sign” but indeed as St. Paul teaches in Holy Scripture, “the Bread we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.”
Our Lord’s own words “This is my Body” were famously written in chalk by Luther on the table where he and Zwingli sat as they attempted to discuss union between their reform movements at The Marburg Colloquy. It failed due to the lack of agreement over the eucharist.
Doctrine matters. Word and Sacrament matter. As Flannery O’Connor once remarked, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” But the Lord’s Supper is far from a symbol; it is a sign where “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner” through faith. The 1662 Prayer Book catechism teaches, “The Body and Blood of Christ, which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord’s Supper….” Not a symbol, not a fond memory, but truly we take and receive what the Lord Jesus Christ gives us – His body, His blood.
The great irony is that within the Southern Baptist Church, I boldly sang “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus”, yet it was in Anglicanism that I fully understood what this means. My time in the Baptist church taught me to anchor my faith in Christ alone. My formation in Anglicanism taught me faith in Christ consists of more than faith in what Jesus accomplished for us circa 33AD upon the cross. It also means faith in Him as I receive His blood in the divine mystery of Holy Communion, where we participate in the blood (and body!) of our Lord and Savior. The Southern Baptists rightly emphasized my need for the blood of the crucified Christ Jesus to be redeemed. However, Anglicanism centralizes actual participation in the blood of our incarnate, crucified, and risen Lord and drinking from the eternal well of Christ.
During my search for the church, I narrowed the search parameters to one question: Which churches profess that God acts through His sacraments? Which faith traditions would concur with St. Ignatius of Antioch that Holy Communion is the “medicine of immortality”? My journey towards Anglicanism was relatively straightforward at this point. The church existed always with bishops, the Sacraments, and orthodoxy to the Holy Scriptures. By simply examining which church professes that the Sacraments actually provide grace, most Protestant denominations are eliminated. The lack of bishops (in the American) Lutheran churches removed them from consideration. Meanwhile, despite the reforms it has undergone post-Vatican II, Rome requires subscription to dogmas unfounded in Scripture (the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin and papal infallibility). As much as I admire the Eastern Church, it too clings to doctrines lacking the apostolic witness from the Holy Scriptures. The departure of Rome and the East from Holy Scripture - despite both of their claims to being the “one true church” left one option: Anglicanism.
Granted, this is an oversimplification, but is an accurate depiction as to how I approached my situation. There was much reading, prayer, and long nights before my wife and I became Anglicans. After all, the Anglicanism I was familiar with in my youth was The Episcopal Church – and it was not attracting the best headlines in terms of adherence to the Holy Scriptures and catholic doctrine. Fortunately, my wife and I were becoming Anglicans at the time when other Anglican provinces were providing orthodox Anglicans a “lifeboat” – be it from Bolivia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, etc.
However, Anglicanism is not a “pure church” nor without her warts and serious problems. We have erring parishes, rebellious provinces, questionable bishops, and a disregard for our own Formularies that make Anglicanism distinctive in the first place. But it was through the Formularies that I was called to become an Anglican in the first place. Though men are sinners who fail to adhere faithfully to the Lord God, the Anglican Formularies are tried and true to God’s Word. They are a solid anchor in the violent seas and storms of the zeitgeist. The magnificence of the Anglican way is its commitment to ancient worship rooted in Biblical language, resting its doctrines upon Holy Scripture, and led by the catholic order of bishops, presbyters, and deacons.
As stated earlier, it was the Formularies that confirmed my call to become Anglican. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal attached thereto, and the 39 Articles of Religion cast a spell upon me. Here one finds the orthodox faith according to the catholic church reformed from the errors accumulating over time; worship which liturgically matches the description of the early church fathers and inundated with the Holy Scriptures; order and discipline that retains the trifold ministry; and doctrine that leaves untouched the ancient landmark, as it is timeless, eternal, and “the faith once delivered to the saints.”
Now, more than ever, Anglicanism faces an identity crisis of its own making as many abandon her roots, her anchor, her reformed catholicity. Yet we are called – clergy and laity alike – to “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” We should not seek our identity through validation from Rome or the East, nor compromise our formularies to be “relevant” or “missional” as Protestant bodies have a tendency to do. Instead, we should have faith that the same God who spread the Church of England globally through her prayer book and faithfulness to the Lord is alive and well. He goes before us, and through the Word preached and Sacraments received, He continues to redeem “miserable offenders” like you and me.
There is a richness in our tradition that speaks boldly and loudly in a Christian culture devoid of depth. It is easy to be a mile wide and an inch deep in Western Christianity or to abandon it for something that tickles one’s ears. But as Anglicans, we preach Christ crucified. We not only sing “Nothing But the Blood,” but give evidence in preaching His Blood and receiving it at every celebration of Holy Communion. Oh, that we would embrace our distinctions in order to proclaim the Gospel and not shy away from proudly clinging to our worship, our doctrine, and our ministry!
Instead of lamenting what we have lost the past 70 years or becoming triumphalist, I encourage the reader to go deeper in their encounter with our own tradition. If you come into Anglicanism from another tradition, then pick up and read the entirety of our Formularies. Become immersed with the language of the prayer book – the prayer book of 1662 which we profess to be our standard. Marinate in the formative prayers and lessons of the Daily Office, once required canonically for all clergy to recite daily. Archbishop Cranmer simplified the Benedictine hours while requiring all clergy to take up this monastic discipline. Let us deny ourselves and take up this easy yoke and light burden so we may be formed by praying Holy Scripture. Indeed, may we take hold and memorize our catechism – the prayer book catechism is quite straightforward, and the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer has an excellent two-part public service that walks the parish through the catechism. Finally, dive into our Two Books of Homilies and see how our Reformational Anglican fathers reformed the ecclesia anglicana by diving into the works of the Church Fathers and Holy Scripture.
My journey to Anglicanism is not because she triumphs over other communions, but because she humbly admits she is not the “one true church,” but she is in fact, part of the Church, the bride of Christ. When we dwell within the safe harbors of our Formularies, we can boast that we reflect the ancient faith, profess orthodox doctrine, and remain catholic Christians. The Anglican Church excels when we witness to Protestants that one can be reformed AND catholic, liturgical AND evangelical, countercultural AND relevant. Meanwhile, we bear witness to the East and Rome that they do not maintain an exclusive claim to the title, ‘the church,’ and indeed should be humbled to admit that they “hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith” (Article 19). Given the events of the past century within Anglicanism, we can shamelessly point to this truth while acknowledging our Communion’s own failure to abide in the faith once delivered. Hence the need for discipline within our own ranks so that we may be a better witness to fellow Christians, and to the world. As the Homily for Whitsunday states:
The true Church … hath always three notes or marks, whereby it is known; pure and sound doctrine, the Sacraments ministered according to Christ’s holy institution, and the right use of ecclesiastical discipline.
May we be convicted by these words; convicted in such a manner that we take action to reform ourselves and spread the Good News to a hopeless West, and water the thirsty desert of the 10/40 window that needs to drink from the everlasting spring that is Jesus Christ. We have a great inheritance from our Anglican forebears. Let us be watered, nourished, and grow through the conviction to pray, read, and live the ancient faith received by the Apostles and revealed in the Holy Scriptures. Let nothing separate us from the blood of Jesus.
The Rev. Canon Andrew Brashier serves as Chancellor for the Jurisdiction of Armed Forces and Chaplaincy, Rector of Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Pelham, Alabama, and is employed full-time in governmental affairs as the Senior Legislative Strategist for the nation’s largest prison ministry. His most important ministry is raising his family in the faith of Christ Jesus and leading the flock entrusted to his care by the Good Shepherd. He earned his Juris Doctor from Cumberland School of Law, Samford University.
 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” John 15:16, ESV.  See Article 28, Articles of Religion.  “"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" 1 Corinthians 10:16.  Proverbs 22:28.  Jude 3.  1 Corinthians 16:13.  See Offices of Instruction.