My Journey to the Sacramental Life, The Reverend Canon Daniel W. Hardin, M.Div.
Updated: Sep 29, 2022
I first heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ in an independent fundamental Baptist Church in the mid-1970s as a child in Ohio. I recall feeling a strong compulsion to ask Jesus to forgive my sins. I remember praying “The Sinner’s Prayer” with my mother in 1977. I remember a similar desire to be baptized two years later. While I remained in that church and was raised in its youth group, I did not develop beyond the typical Protestant understanding of the preacher is in charge; read the Bible and pray God helps me understand it; and follow the rules of this church. I was thankful for the foundation of that church and the Gospel. Regarding communion, we had it infrequently and we did it because Jesus commanded it as a memorial. Regarding baptism, we do it to profess our faith. If my life was easy, this kind of religion could get me by in most circumstances and certainly fit in with the culture around me.
However, the more I read Holy Scripture, the more I saw things that did not match with how this church made sense of things. When I asked questions, the simple explanation was “that’s now of the Devil,” “that died with the last Apostle,” or “that was for that dispensation.” The standard for interpretation of Scripture was complex, inconsistent, and illogical. I eventually grew out of that Baptist church into the Pentecostal movement. I was hungry for an experiential encounter with God. What I was looking for, and what I could not articulate at that time, was an incarnational and sacramental experience with the Triune God. The Pentecostal movement was one step closer to satisfying the incarnational, sacramental hunger that was developing in me. But Pentecostalism was not enough.
By my late thirties, I had finished an enlistment in the Army, was called to chaplaincy, endorsed with a prominent Pentecostal denomination, completed seminary, rejoined the Army as a chaplain, and was deployed to Iraq in 2007. The stress and horrors of war taxed my theological formation. My seminary education was not enough. “Me, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit” were not enough. By Providence, I packed away a Book of Common Prayer prior to deployment. Seeing so much death and being injured myself in combat, my world began to fall apart. God felt distant. I did not know how to pray or preach. I did not “feel” or “sense” the leading of God for anything. It was hard to lead worship. I turned to the Book of Common Prayer and the lectionary for directing worship for the remainder of the deployment. I leaned into the BCP and allowed the word of God to master me rather than trying to master the Bible.
In Iraq,soldiers were hungry for the sacraments. I sensed this hunger developing in me as well. Soldiers wanted to be baptized and to receive Communion before entering enemy territory, facing improvised explosive devices (IED), and sniper fire. My first service in combat was Christmas Eve, 2006. As a Pentecostal preacher, I thought it novel to offer communion and preach about the second coming of Jesus on Christmas Eve. Little did I know two soldiers who received communion in that service would be killed in an IED blast less than twelve hours later. I learned a lesson that day – the sacraments matter. Soldiers were hungry for an encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ and the sacraments are a point on Earth where we meet with Jesus in a real spiritual way – where Jesus is truly present. Christians intuitively know this. Even the Baptist, and Pentecostal churches I came from intuitively knew this.
When pastors offered communion, they reminded the people to “examine themselves before they eat, lest they eat judgment on themselves.” In quoting Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, those pastors rightly admonish Christians to repent prior to receiving Communion because it does have power to release judgment if taken in an unworthy manner. Only a sacrament, a physical sign with spiritual grace, has such power. This awareness serves as an indictment to a flawed understanding of what is really happening at the Lord’s Table. For, on the one hand, their formal theological position states Communion is merely memorial – nothing spiritually is happening, it is an ordinance, Jesus said do it, so that is why it is done. But on the other hand, they intuitively recognize it has spiritual power to release judgment if taken in an unworthy manner, so it must be more than a memorial. When I realized this, I concluded that it was illogical to be “semi-sacramental.”
Consider this. For a Pentecostal, the laying on of hands for ordination and saying of prayers is believed to convey a real spiritual grace of filling an individual for the office to which they are called, and it is believed that the Holy Spirit fills the person with power. That is a sacramental view of ministry. The laying on of hands and anointing with oil of the sick and believing that God does something spiritually for the sick is sacramental ministry. To lay on hands and pray that someone be filled with the Spirit (what an Anglican would call Confirmation) is incarnational and sacramental ministry. While the charismatic or Pentecostal would not call these things sacramental, that is, by definition, what they are. But when it comes to Holy Communion or Baptism, most Protestants refuse to see them as sacramental. One cannot pick and choose which things to be sacramental about without maligning Holy Scripture. It is more logical to be sacramental or not. It is most logical and Biblical to embrace the sacramental life.
When this sacramental understanding became clear, I knew what I needed to pursue – the fullness of the sacramental life. For me, the options seemed limited – The Roman Church, the Orthodox Church, or the Episcopal Church. The Roman Church, in my assessment, had added too many things that were contrary to the plain teaching of Holy Scripture that were required of the faithful to be believed as necessary for salvation. The Orthodox Church was attractive, but somewhat nationalistic. One priest told me that because I was not Greek, it would take me about twenty years of formation before I would be welcome and trusted as clergy. The Episcopal Church had lost its biblical moorings and embraced liberalism, progressivism, and political correctness. I remember saying to my wife, “I simply want to find a place where I can receive Holy Communion each Sunday and hear the Gospel … I don’t think that is too much to ask!” God heard my desire and placed me in the path with an Anglican Chaplain, Father Patrick Lowthian. We had a chat and he told me about the Anglican Church in North America. I had not heard about this – a biblical expression of the One, Holy, Catholic Apostolic Church that embraced the fullness of the sacramental life.
Father Patrick invited me to chapel on Fort Jackson during Christmastide, 2015. I experienced the sacramental life! I participated in the life of Jesus Christ! After years of starvation, I was nourished. I heard the Gospel three times – twice in the liturgy and once in the sermon. My soul was revived. After ten years of hunger, searching, and wandering, I found what I was looking for – a biblical, incarnational, and sacramental, expression of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Within a forty-five-day period, I re-read the Apostolic Fathers, and several other books on Anglicanism, and applied to the Special Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy of the Anglican Church of North America.
My story is not unique. For many, Anglicanism has called us from where we were and the narrative sounds remarkably similar. There is something very distinct about Anglicanism compared to the other two great traditions and the many Protestant denominations. That distinction is what attracted me. I could summarize the distinction in this way: the primacy of Holy Scripture, the sacramental life, the Apostolic Faith once delivered to the saints, and being deeply connected to the historic Episcopacy.
Anglicans are grounded in Holy Scripture as our hermeneutical foundation. Article 6 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion says, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”1 Scripture is the authority for the Anglican. Not the teaching magisterium of the Church, and not self or some other voice from within. When there is a question or concern, the place to start is Holy Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments in their plain written sense. When Scripture is not clear, Anglicans turn to the tradition of the Church, or the Church Fathers for clarity in so much as they do not speak contrary to Holy Scripture. 2 Finally, Anglicans turn to their formularies for a third authority under Holy Scripture and the tradition of the Church for right interpretation. The formularies include: The historic Book of Common Prayer (1662), the Ordinal (1662), and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Anglicans make sense of the world, process theological questions, see moral issues, study and proclaim the Word of God, and train and equip others by means of the primacy of Holy Scripture, the Church Fathers, and tradition of the Church, and finally the Anglican Formularies.
Another distinctive of the Anglican Way is the sacramental life. The sacramental life is a natural implication of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus, “begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so, the two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and the Manhood, were joined together in one Person”3 and entered the natural order to redeem it. Almighty God transcends time-space as humans understand the concept. Prior to the Incarnation, God entered this realm in moments or by means of theophany. But with the Incarnation, God chose in Jesus to become “very Man” to reconcile his Father to us and to be a sacrifice “not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.”4 With the Incarnation of Jesus there are tremendous implications. Not only is salvation made available to humanity, but Jesus invites humanity to participate in His life, suffering, death, and resurrection. This is not a mere intellectual exercise, or a simple recollection of what Jesus did in times past. When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me”5 He is incarnationally and sacramentally inviting the believer to active participation in His once-for-all sacrifice.
The word Jesus uses that we translate “remember” is anamnesis. Anamnesis means to bring a past event forward to the present, and therefore make it efficacious. This renders anamnesis much more significant than simple “remembrance.” In fact, the New Testament uses a different Greek word to “remember, to recollect, or to call to mind.” Anamnesis echoes to the Hebrew mind and back to Passover, inviting the believer to bring the Passover into the present. In other words, as the Jews celebrate the Passover, year-by-year, they understand themselves – by anamnesis – to pass through the Red Sea on dry land with Moses. So, through “remembrance” of that past event they too are redeemed with all Israel and become a people “for his own possession” (Exodus 19; 1 Peter 2). In the same way, we are invited by Jesus to participate in His Passion, death, and resurrection and it is efficacious for us by His grace. Jesus, being fully God and fully human, tells us from the past to take and eat his flesh and to drink His blood via the physical “creatures” of blessed bread and wine, which now sacramentally bring to the believer his real presence. 6 This mystery allows Christians to participate in Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection.
The implications of the sacramental life go beyond Holy Communion. The sacramental life is a way of seeing and moving in life and ministry. The sacramental life has implications for how the believer approaches Holy Scripture. In John 5:39-40, Jesus rebukes religious people for failing to relationally and incarnationally engage Holy Scripture. The sacramental life has implications for how we order time. The Church invites us to order our lives with the rhythms of Holy Scripture in synchronization with the life of Jesus Christ through the Liturgical Calendar. Doing so sanctifies our time and forms us. There is much more to say about the sacramental life, but to do so is beyond the scope of this paper.
Another distinctive is the Apostolic Faith of the Church. The faith Anglicans hold to can be summarized in the historic Creeds of the Church: The Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Developed in conciliar manner to combat heresy, and later to catechize converts, the words contained in the creeds are “proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.”7 More importantly, the creeds were received by the entire Church, East and West, as sufficient for summarizing our faith and have stood the test of time.
The final distinctive of Anglicanism is the historic episcopacy. Anglicans are connected to Jesus and the Apostles today by means of the bishops of the Church through apostolic succession. Just as it is today, this concept was important to the early church (see Ignatius of Antioch), and the ongoing practice is biblical. From its beginnings, the Church has fought heresy via conciliar gatherings of bishops. When strange doctrines arose, the standard was to compare the teaching and teacher to the source – did they have apostolic succession? If not, they did not speak with authority. As early as ~105 A.D. the three-fold ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon manifest through the Christian world as we see it today. The concept of a “minister” apart from this biblical model is an innovation made during the Protestant Reformation and was a reaction to Roman Catholic abuses. The Anglican Way was to reform and return to the tradition of the primitive Church rather than to innovate.
The Anglican Way of Christianity offers a fullness of Christian experience and expression that I have not found in the other Christian traditions or denominations. Anglican Christianity is satisfying because I am able to participate with my whole being in the redemptive drama that leads me to a saving and sanctifying experience with the Triune God.
The Reverend Canon Daniel W. Hardin serves in the Special Jurisdiction of Armed Forces and Chaplaincy, and as an active-duty chaplain in the U.S. Army. He currently serves as the Clinical Director of the Watters Family Life Chaplain Training Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Chaplain Hardin has served in the military since 1987. He and his wife, Ann, have four children an one grandchild.
1 Article 6, Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Book of Common Prayer (2019), page 773
2 Article 7 & 8, Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, and The Jerusalem Declaration, 2nd & 3rd Statement, Book of Common Prayer (2019), page 792
3 Article 2, Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Book of Common Prayer (2019), page 772
5 Luke 22:19
6 John 6:47-58; 1 Cor. 10:14-17
7 Article 8, Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Book of Common Prayer (2019), page 775