But there is a growing concern I've had, a concern I'd like to present, subsequently offering what I believe to be a reliable path upon which to move forward. One of my greatest disappointments, having now "lived" in the ACNA house for the past three years, is the ironic lack of Anglicanism when it comes to how we define, practice, and discuss "discipleship." The first time I noticed the deficit was at the 2017 Provincial Assembly when I attended a seminar on discipleship. It was the only seminar offered on discipleship, and I was eager to learn how the discussion looked at the provincial level. Since then, I have paid close attention to discussions on the topic, publications on its ideas, and the general terms used when trying to speak of it. The same deficit I experienced at Wheaton resounds broadly in the ACNA: there is far more "Evangelicalism" in our understanding of discipleship than there is historical Anglicanism. There is far more "Protestantism" in our understanding of discipleship than there is Biblical Reformation or Christendom. As the ACNA sorts its way through the 21st century, as dioceses become geographical, as doctrine is recovered and lived out, as we get serious about a distinctly Christian way of life together, we must recover Anglican discipleship.
For us to recover a true Anglican discipleship, we must recover a deep and abiding sense of ten important features of Anglicanism and discipleship. Much can be said on each feature, but I will limit each explanation here to only a few sentences.
1) The Sacraments. Baptism will provide for us the sign and seal inaugurating one's discipleship, and the Eucharist will provide for us the activity to which and from which all discipleship flows. In this way we will be able to clearly distinguish between having friendships with non-Christians, evangelizing non-Christians, and further forming Christians. The Sacraments are the earthly beginning, middle, and end of discipleship. So, that's where we begin.
2) The Scriptures. Knowing, abiding in, memorizing, and loving God's Word is not just a mark of a true disciple; it is how a Christian is discipled. To be discipled then does not simply mean we accrue as many proof texts to support our denominational distinctions. It means we rest in the Scriptures, we saturate our imaginations with the Scriptures, we study the Scriptures, we sing the Scriptures, we pray the Scriptures, and we share the Scriptures. This it is, along with the sacraments, which are most important to making disciples of Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God.
3) The Church Calendar. Here is the importance of the feasting and fasting of discipleship. It is the idea that a disciple of Christ will have a particular posture, a maturing and sacred posture, concerning time, humility, and joy. We cannot be discipled into anything, secular or sacred, without altering our sense of time.
4) The Liturgy. Discipleship cannot happen outside the body of Christ, and it cannot happen without attention to one's individual body. As Anglicans, the liturgy satisfies both needs in discipleship. A strong liturgy disciplines the heart, soul, mind, and strength. It does so in fellowship with others. It does so with consistency and repetition.
5) Education. There is no discipleship without education. I do not simply mean the narrow sense of elementary schooling. I do mean that, but I also mean a Christian view of education in general, a biblical understanding of the life of the mind and the five academic disciplines: reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking. Discipleship means knowing what to do with our children, knowing that they are being formed toward or away from God everywhere they are and by every person we put before them as instructors. To put it mildly, the lack of classical Christian education in the Anglican church is alarming, though there are pockets of intentionality across the United States. Anglicanism, however, is not alone in this confusion. It has simply followed 21st century Christianity in its educational lethargy and ignorance. This cannot remain the case if we intend to recover Anglican discipleship. In addition to a strong and Christian academic formation, a Christian disciple ought to also be formed by way of catechesis, an important part of historical and Anglican discipleship, and one too often relegated to Confirmation. However, while catechesis would fall under the more general title of "education" it also has "cross-jurisdiction" among the ten features here.
6) The Fathers. Anglicans have an important and peculiar history concerning "fathers." As Anglicans, we have high regard for the Church Fathers. We, in our priests, have spiritual fathers, and even call them by this name. We have a high view of biological or domestic fathers. And of course we are overtly Trinitarian, and so we honor God the Father. All that to say, Anglican discipleship is distinctly paternal at many levels, and therefore it is deeper and richer than the current state of Evangelical or Protestant principles and practices concerning discipleship.
7) A Vocation. As Anglicans we believe God calls individuals to not just be in the Church, but to also be in the world, to fulfill their civic involvement for the glory of God and love of one's neighbor. This means discipleship is not just a matter of spiritual and emotional maturity, it is likewise a matter of philosophical, vocational, and political maturity. That is to say, discipleship is not just about "making better Christians," it is about making a man a more mature artist or plumber, or making a woman a more mature mother or doctor. In this way, the vast majority of discipleship programs are doing great harm to true discipleship.
8) Our Literature and Art. Anglican discipleship is as much about the imagination as it is about one's spiritual health. To be an Anglican is to see the world and oneself in a unique way. It is to see the story of the world in a way which may be distinct from one's Roman Catholic or Southern Baptist friends. In this way, systematic theology or 40-day Bible programs will not do for recovering an Anglican discipleship. We must read the great Anglican poets, contemplate those great artists in our tradition, and study the great Anglican literature which God has so sweetly given to us. And we must do what we can to raise a new generation of the same.
9) Extraordinary Relationships. In a recent group discussion on discipleship, I heard a fellow clergyman say that one-on-one discipleship schemes are "extraordinary means of discipleship." What he meant by this is that discipleship happens first by those ordinary means of grace and community we have as Anglicans: our home, our children, friendships, Sunday liturgy, the Daily Office, and private prayer and study. The one-on-one, structured discipleship moments are indeed special, but they are few, and they are extraordinary to recovering Anglican discipleship. Not only because of their practical difficulty, but also because of their essential attributes, which are more schematic.
10) Life Together. Anglican discipleship is life together; it is the organic power of a domestic godliness which finds its way into each and every relationship. This it is which will form our children, our churches, and our communities to Christ. Whether laity or clergy, we need not think that we must choose between "discipling" our families or "discipling" the new college student who has started coming to the church. We disciple the college student by living as God has called us to, day in and day out, and by bringing him, and whoever else, alongside that daily Christian work. As Mcluhan said, "the medium is the message." The "medium" of Anglican discipleship is daily life, life together.
It's important to note that while many of these are not exclusive to Anglicanism, the Anglican Church gets its portraiture from placing emphases on these over other features. That is to say, while some of these may be found in other denominations, they must be found in a recovery of Anglican discipleship, and it is only there where all ten will show up with the kind of vigor and centrality they deserve.
I spent the vast majority of my undergraduate studies in a campus ministry which taught me that discipleship meant one-on-one coffee meetings, Bible studies between individuals, co-evangelizing the dorms, and the occasional nod toward the local church. My attraction to Anglicanism some years ago had to do with the fullness by which it approached all of life, filling out those areas which the college ministry had neglected. When people ask why I am Anglican, as opposed to Presbyterian or Roman Catholic or Orthodox, I tell them, "Because it is the most mature expression of the Gospel." This maturity must be recovered in how we think about and practice biblical discipleship. If Anglicanism is the most mature expression of the Gospel, than a mature Christianity in the United States must mean Anglicanism. And a recovery of Anglicanism will require a recovery of Anglican discipleship.