More Than a Compass by The Rev. Cn. Zachary Lanier Nash, M.Div.
Updated: Oct 26
After the death of Henry VIII, Nicholas Lanier took his aged father, John, and what possessions they could afford, and left the only home their family knew. So, when the time was right, Nicholas and John made their way across the Channel and into the court of Elizabeth I.
Nicholas and Lucretia Lanier are my 16th great-grandparents, and their lives mark the beginnings of a faith journey for our family in the Anglican Communion. Lucretia’s family, the Bassanos of Vicenza, were baptized by Roman clergy as Nicholas’ were in France. They would work out their catholic faith in the Anglican Communion, where they served in the courts of Elizabeth and James. Their descendants, cradled in the palm of Anglicanism, remained faithful to Church and Crown during the English Civil War and those descendants would receive land grants from Charles II in the Virginia Colony for their fidelity.
No thinking Christian can truly claim his father’s faith. Nevertheless, our faith is a second-hand experience: a second-hand faith once received. Our faith is handed down from the eyewitnesses of the hammered hands that offer, in the breaking of the bread, a firsthand experience of being first-born sons, and coheirs to the promise for Christ’s Church. I relish in the Providence of God that He so richly blesses the prayers of those who came before and the faith of Christ I see alive today.
I was the sixth generation baptized into a Cumberland Presbyterian congregation. Our worship was liturgical and largely an odd amalgamation of vestigial rites from Presbyterianism, 19th century revival hymns, and gangly liturgical renewal from the mid-20th century.
After college, Lara and I married and moved to Memphis where I was to attend the Cumberland Presbyterian seminary, Memphis Theological. We visited the school several times in the three months we lived in the Bluff City. It did not take long to realize there was no gospel there, only warmed-over social justice messages with smatterings of Barth sprinkled in for the appearance of orthodoxy, hiding a seething Liberation and Marxist interior.
We prayed and we knew I did not want to attend there. The committee charged with my formation was less than happy and even more so when I told them I was looking at Asbury Seminary. The committee even indicated they may not ordain me if I chose such a “fundamentalist school.” So, we set hearts toward Asbury and lived with Lara’s parents in Nashville, waiting for autumn and an uncertain future.
During our waiting time, I did some supply preaching at a small church in Middle Tennessee. That relationship formed into a stated supply pastoral call and an opportunity to attend The School of Theology at The University of the South, Sewanee. The committee on ministry was thrilled for me to go to an Episcopal school. Having only been to one service in an Episcopal parish, all I could remember was the phrase “it is meet and right so to do.” And so it is.
My junior year in seminary at Sewanee was a mixture of frustration and intellectual curiosity overload. To say I was out of my element is an understatement. The whole of the Anglican Communion was a marvelous enigma for my stunted pseudo-Presbyterian mind.
The rigid liturgy rubbed me the wrong way and though I found the construction of words foreign, the practice of the Daily Office and weekly Eucharist was also strangely familiar. Not familiar from experience; rather, familiar as if somewhere deep in my soul lay dormant an ancient faith that had endured through sieges, and seas, and centuries.
My middler year, 1999, would prove to be quite different. Lines were clearly being drawn in the Episcopal Church. Though most of the orthopraxy was intact at the seminary, the orthodoxy was strained to the point of breaking. I developed friendships with strong High Church Evangelicals.1 They became a study cohort, a school within a school. These men helped me navigate through the tough waters of seminary. And, more importantly, introduced me to a deeper understanding of the faith catholic. In our small group was an Oxford Movement scholar, an InterVarsity campus minister, a refugee from Liberia, and a recent graduate from Wycliffe Hall. The liturgy, so marvelously scriptural, was taking hold and I was learning with a wise, worldwide band of brothers.
I studied in Dr. Marion Hatchett’s2 last year at Sewanee and was later guided in the ways of the liturgy and worship history by Dr. Neil Alexander, future Bishop of Atlanta and now retired Dean of the School of Theology. One day, in my senior year, Dr. Alexander remarked that I seemed to be responding to the liturgies of the church in a deeper and more genuine fashion than some of my classmates who were cradle Episcopalians. He asked me about the Eucharist after an assignment of reading “Calvin’s Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper.” And, though I was headed toward Cumberland Presbyterian ordination, I told him that no amount of systematic articulation of the faith, as it concerns the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, can compare with experiencing it. I was becoming an Anglican. My journey to the Anglican tradition took another twenty years.
I was introduced to the Anglican tradition by Providence. I was drawn to the Anglican tradition because of the truth that lies in lex orandi, lex credendi (what is prayed is what is believed). What I lacked was lex vivendi (what is lived). Over the next two decades, I used Rite II, Prayer A from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer for communion services. For a decade and a half our ministry has been in a military chapel setting. When I was stationed in Germany, I oversaw the liturgical service. One of the families in that service was Episcopalian and we struck up a friendship. In time, the father of that family and I realized we shared the same middle name, Lanier. Indeed, we shared the same 16th great-grandparents, Nicholas and Lucretia. After nearly five centuries, the sons of Nicholas shared in the body and blood of our Lord on the continent he left as a spiritual refugee. I cannot know Nicholas’ personal prayers, but I do know his corporate ones, and I am struck by the promise of God, “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”3
As I sought to be faithful to a discipline of prayer, to develop a pattern of belief, I was finding the way to live. I began leaving the Puritan way of thinking. No longer did I look to an individual interpretation of Holy Scripture. No longer did I look to a 16th century explanation of the faith. Now I was on a journey toward the ancient, sacramental way – The One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
What was I leaving? The continental Reformed and Presbyterian movements are robust in Scripture and reason. If one is inclined to an academic expression of faith and finds confessional documents from the late Middle Ages compelling, these various Protestant Reformed denominations provide a wealth of theological depth. Indeed, their rigorous commitment to the five solae: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria, led to many needed reforms in the faith catholic. However, what I ended up leaving was a series of denominations that had either become too nostalgic or too wrapped up in the zeitgeist. Both had left the noble attempt at Sola Scriptura and devolved into Solo Scriptura. To put it in blunt terms, “conservative” Reformed bodies are largely swimming alone in the waters of Scripture chlorinated with 16th century Puritans.4 Liberal Reformed bodies are swimming alone in the waters of Scripture polluted by a desire to be relevant to the spirit of the age. Both are a form of Gnosticism that is lacking the corpus of catholic tradition. We need more than a compass, even, dare I say, an Anglican compass, to participate in the faith once received. I was leaving a group of congregations that embraced mind and heart respectively over incarnation. I was leaving a revolutionary body of innovators and entering a truly reformed Church. I was entering one of the grand traditions of the faith catholic where Scripture, tradition, and Godly Reason are lived out in the sacraments of the Church under the watchful protection of the Apostolic Faith once received.
Between 2014 and 2017, I was the operations group chaplain for our nation’s remotely piloted attack aircraft program. Irreverently known as the “drone” program by the uninitiated, our Airmen did the noble work of flying over-watch and combat air patrols, saving countless American and allied lives. We also played an offensive roll against terrorists and, in the time that I lived, and moved, and had my being among these warriors, our units killed approximately five thousand enemy combatants. Even under the most noble of circumstance, that much death weighs heavily on a body. I finally hit a breaking point, and it happened in worship.
One Sunday, while trying to remain emotionally and intellectually present during a forty-five-minute sermon on antinomianism, I realized my brain was broken. I could not participate in worship any longer. I could not “will” myself, through gnosis, to receive. In short, within a religion of thinking, I could not think. That was my last Sunday in a Presbyterian congregation.
Lara and I decided to attend Jesus the Good Shepherd (Anglican) in Henderson, Nevada. A new parish startup from the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, Jesus the Good Shepherd struck quite the contrast to our long stint in the Puritan world. Suddenly, I was swept back into the arms of lex orandi, lex credendi, and this time, lex vivendi was on full display.
As the weeks and months went by, I began to heal. Early on in worship, I would simply receive the sacrament. As the reality of the incarnation worked in my life through the Anglican liturgy, I, once again, began to internalize the well-worn collects of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. No longer was I simply intellectually engaging the Scriptures; rather, I once again learned to “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” I became ripe on the incarnate vine and primed for the harvest.
Our next military move took us to Virginia where I had the privilege of working with Canon Stephen Linkous. Canon Stephen did not take long to recognize I was a lousy Presbyterian, and once he heard our story, he became an unabashed apologist for the Jurisdiction (JAFC). He also knew he did not have to pick fruit; he need only bump the side of the tree and watch the harvest. Within a few months, I was graciously received by our bishop.
Once again, the descendants of Nicholas are cradled in the arms of the Anglican tradition. Once again, we look to the strength found in our fathers. Once again, we receive the faith that endured sieges, and seas, and centuries. Thanks be to God. We will need that faith in the seasons to come.
Anglicanism’s greatest strength is her nestling in the great ship of Holy Scripture. This strength is coupled with her rich anchoring in tradition and Godly Reason, held fast by the Apostolic and sacramental Faith once received. Our greatest challenge in the coming years is the same challenge we have always had, i.e., not listing away from strengths listed above. Just like the denomination I left, the Anglican Communion has two extremes that quite simply are not Anglican and thus, not catholic. Again, in blunt terms, the one extreme tends to gravitate toward a kind of puritanism, devoid of a Eucharistic centrality, leading to an individualism of “solo” gnosis. The other extreme is whipsawed from one societal fancy to another in a never-ending ear-scratching contest that replaces Christ and his sacraments with a saccharine “solo” social justice. The danger for Anglicans today, is that both of those extremes are part of the same self-eating snake. We must never find ourselves in the center of that consumption, lest we be strangled.
We hold to a classic Anglicanism. Our tradition is not a via media of compromise; rather, a strong central current of orthodoxy is the Anglican way. The faith catholic will not be enchanted by the lust of intellectual navel gazing nor will she be enraptured with the zealots of the zeitgeist. Our tradition holds to an ancient, abiding, and abundant faith. We hold to a faith handed down from the eyewitnesses of the hammered hands that offer, in the breaking of the bread, a firsthand experience of being first-born sons, and coheirs to the promise for Christ’s Church.
1 This usage of “High Church” should be understood as meaning a high view of the Church and “Evangelical” should be understood as meaning of the reformed catholic faith.
2 Hatchett, M. “Commentary on the American Prayer Book.” (1980). Dr. Marion Hatchett held the liturgical chair in the School of Theology at Sewanee, edited the 1982 Hymnal, and wrote a robust commentary on the prayer books in America.
3 Ex. 20:5-6 (KJV)
4 Humanists such as John Calvin should not be confused with atheistic humanism of the late modernity.
The Reverend Zachary Lanier Nash serves as the Joint Base Senior Chaplain at Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Communications from Middle Tennessee State University and a Master of Divinity from the School of Theology, University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee. In addition to his military ministry, Fr. Zachary is the host of the Classic Anglican Podcast and manages www.anglicanchaplains-etf.org and www.anglicanchaplains.org