From Baptist to Anglican: On Apostolic Succession and the Real Presence of Christ

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I am an alum of a Baptist university, a graduate student at a Southern Baptist seminary, an active volunteer in Young Life, and a youth minister in an Anglican Church. You might be thinking, “One of these things is not like the others, what gives?”

I was a cradle-Baptist. I grew up around reformed theology and could defend the congregational church structure as well as anyone. To put it plainly, I knew what I believed. However, my convictions of Scripture and Church history led me down a four-year discernment period out of Baptist life and into the Anglican Church. So how did that happen?

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Of the many reasons that I left the evangelical Baptist world for the Anglican Church, two of them truly pushed me over the edge. The first being a deep conviction of apostolic succession and the second being the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Apostolic Succession

Apostolic succession refers to the “unbroken line of succession to the first Apostles, namely to Peter and finally, to Jesus Christ”.  There is nuance to this teaching, depending on who you ask. But the primary idea is that when Christ established His church with the Apostles, he established a tangible line of succession in which the succeeding bishops would inherit as the visible representation of “the faith once for all delivered” (Jude 1:3).

Apostolic succession is a visible representation of the invisible church. Figures such as Clement I in the first century taught the necessity of the “succession of bishops”(Letter to the Corinthians, 80 AD). Irenaeus is another example, who points to the succession of bishops as the “tradition of the apostles” that protects against heretical teachings in the church (Against Heresies, 189 AD).

This was the understood rule of faith as the Church entered into the early ecumenical councils to clarify the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and so on. I would argue that even Paul himself sets this precedent in Acts 15, holding the first ever ecumenical council of Jerusalem in the first century AD. I could go on, as this teaching was pivotal for me, but I will conclude by saying apostolic succession became such an apparent teaching from Scripture and the early Church to me that I could no longer ignore it.

The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist

The next domino to fall for me was the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This was a belief I never saw myself embracing. Clearly Jesus was using metaphor when he said “This is my body”, right? However, all of that changed when I approached John 6 with an open mind. There is a lot packed into that chapter, so I encourage you to read it yourself. But the climactic moment comes as Jesus is accused by the large crowd of teaching cannibalism. Instead of clarifying his point as mere metaphor, he doubles down and says ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).

If you read on you will see Jesus clarifies this point five times, a point which will become clear to the Apostles at The Last Supper when Jesus institutes the Eucharist. As I read this, among other supporting passages, I found myself fully in line with the historic teaching of the church regarding Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, a teaching that was unchallenged from the time of the apostles until the Reformation, and which is reflected in the ACNA Catechism.

Both Reformed and Catholic

My intention in writing this article is not to convert everyone to Anglicanism (well, maybe a little) but rather to tell my story. A story that it seems a lot of Christians in our culture, especially younger seminarians, share a variation of. Why did I choose Anglicanism, and not Catholicism or Orthodoxy? The Anglican church has a posture of reformation that is appreciative of our catholic history, a posture that yearns for unity in the midst of schism.

Anglicanism not only provides a tangible connection to the global church throughout its history, but also a public accountability to the teachings of the church through time. The Anglican Church has a deep and theologically rich tradition that values the tenants of the reformation, but does not plant its theological flag solely in the 16th century.

My Hope for Anglican Compass

So how does Anglican Compass fit into this? Well, it’s primarily because of Anglican Compass that I was able to discover all of this! I hardly knew any Anglicans when I was discerning these convictions, and articles like those linked above were incredibly helpful in giving me explanations and answers to questions that I had about church structure and historic Christian theology. My decision wasn’t made in a vacuum with myself and my computer, but Anglican Compass did provide me with concise, easy to understand explanations of key theological distinctives of Anglicanism, and how it is connected to the ancient Church in a way other Protestant groups are not.

For every question I had, Anglican Compass had four different articles addressing it. My hope is that as Anglican Compass continues to grow, it incorporates more young and aspiring leaders in the Anglican Church, especially those who come from other Protestant denominations. It was good for me to know I was not alone in my convictions to the tradition of the early church, and that there are many like me who are discovering how that tradition is preserved within Anglicanism. That discovery has since led me to a wonderful church in which I serve, making me a real life “rookie anglican” on the field.

My suggestion to anyone who has made it to the end of this article, especially one curious about the tradition and practices of the Anglican Church, is to do the same thing that I did four years ago: Scroll up to the top of this page, click the “Start Here” link, and get to reading!

We are glad to share Andrew’s story as part of our True North series, which demonstrates the missionary impact of Anglican Compass. Please help us serve Andrew and many others who are discovering Anglicanism, by supporting us on Patreon.

Author

Andrew Bass

Andrew Bass is the Director of Student Ministries for St. Francis Anglican Parish in Sanford, NC, and a master’s student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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