The Anglican Church

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Our History

Often we hear from visitors that it is Henry VIII who started the Anglican church.  But the history of our Church is just a little more complex!

The Church of England is ancient – it was established in England in the 2nd century when the Romans first invaded and some brought the Christian faith.  That church sent missionaries to Ireland and Scotland.  After invasions from the pagan Angles, Saxons and Jutes in the 5th century, Christianity was largely lost in the south of the Britain.  It was Gregory the Great who sent St Augustine of Canterbury on a mission in the late 6th century (597) to re-evangelize the South, and his mission was a success.

The Church all over Britain was, in time, united and developed in the middle ages under the same learning and influences as the larger Western Church and under the authority of the pope.

But popes and kings through the middle ages struggled with confusions about temporal and spiritual authority.  And among lay people there was great desire for reform of abuses in the practices and teaching of the Church.  In England that struggle came to a head in the 16th century, as it did in other European countries. Finally under Elizabeth I, it formally broke its ties with Rome.

The religious settlement that eventually emerged in the reign of Elizabeth gave the Church of England the distinctive identity that it has retained to this day. It resulted in a Church that consciously retained a large amount of continuity with the Church of the Patristic and Medieval periods in terms of its use of the catholic creeds, its pattern of ministry [bishops, priests and deacons], its buildings and aspects of its liturgy.  But it also embodies Protestant insights in its theology and in the overall shape of its liturgical practice. The way that this is often expressed is by saying that the Church of England is both 'catholic and reformed.'

(from the Church of England website)

In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a great emphasis on evangelization.  As the British influence in various parts of the world grew and with the movement of immigrants to non-Christian lands various Anglican churches were planted around the world.  Each of these national churches are now independent, but share a common theological and liturgical tradition.  Today there are about 70 million Anglicans worldwide.

There have been reforms through the centuries – sometimes from the more Protestant side of the church (18th century) and sometimes from the more Catholic side (19th century).  Within our Church you continue to find both these expressions of the Anglican tradition, as well as influences from the liberal and charismatic movements.

The Book of Common Prayer, prepared largely by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in the 16th century – with its liturgy, its pastoral offices, its ordinal, its catechism and its Thirty Nine Articles – is the expression of our shared theological tradition.  There are also newer liturgies in the various national Churches.

What do we believe?

We are “catholic” in that we hold the same Scriptures (Old and New Testament), the same Creeds (Apostles', Nicene and Creed of St Athanasius), hold to the same Councils of the undivided Church and follow the same patristic tradition as the Western Church.  Our church’s greatest teachers are probably St Augustine of Hippo and St Thomas Aquinas. Our spirituality is primarily Benedictine.  The most important Anglican theologian from the Reformation is Richard Hooker.

We are “reformed” in that we stress:

  • Scripture, tradition and reason as the foundation of the Church’s doctrine, but they are not three equal authorities. Tradition or reason never equal or trump Scripture, but help in the interpretation of God’s Word.  There is a great respect for academic study.
  • We are justified by faith alone – is a core element of our reformed theological tradition and is expressed in the liturgies of the Church.  We are counted perfectly righteous by our faith in Jesus Christ: justifying righteousness is perfect and imputed to us because of our union with Christ.  We are made righteous, sanctified, in this life by our faith in Jesus Christ: sanctifying righteousness is imperfect and infused.  On our death we receive the righteousness of glorification: it is perfect and infused.
  • Our sacramental theology looks back to the teaching of the early Church Fathers, it rejects the Zwinglian position that the sacraments are a mere memorial.  For more, please click here.
  • Liturgy and Scripture should be in a language understood by the laity.
  • We stress the uniting of the active and contemplative lives.  All people are encouraged to engage in a discipline of daily prayer and reading of Scripture to nurture a lively faith and continual conversion of heart – and to live their faith in whatever is their daily work.  We are all monks or nuns in the world.
  • What about the saints?  We hold up the saints as examples in godly living as they glorify Christ in their lives, but we a less apt to seek their help in prayer.  We encourage people to pray directly to the Father through Jesus Christ His Son in the Spirit.  A special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has been recovered in some parts of the Anglican Church, through the Oxford Movement of the 19th century.
  • On clergy: As with the saints, we would want to ensure that the clergy do not become an obstacle to people having a direct relation to God.  Our position on confession before a priest:  all may, none must, some should.
  • Celibacy is not required of bishops, priests or deacons – they can marry.
  • There are women deacons, priests and bishops in some but not all parts of the Anglican Communion.  We see the issue as being in a process of discernment.

Structure of Authority

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and the Church is his body.

The Queen of England is Defender of the Faith in the Church of England – she provides the legal protections and security within which the Church can flourish in that land.  She has some responsibilities in appointments.  She has no legal authority in Anglican churches outside of England.

Anglicans worldwide look to the Archbishop of Canterbury as a figurehead, but he has no canonical authority over any national church – he is first among equals when he gathers the bishops every 10 years at the Lambeth Conference.  The bishops make joint statements, but they have no canonical authority.  Our authority is quite dispersed and exercised primarily by local bishops and diocesan and national church synods.

In recent years we have been witnessing fragmentation in our Communion as different national churches take different doctrinal stances on modern questions.  This is causing us to rethink whether we need a greater structure of mutual accountability to hold us together and to be faithful.  The idea of a Covenant was proposed but received mixed reactions in the Communion and was finally rejected.

Relation to other Churches

The Anglican Church has never claimed to be the Church – but always a part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

We believe that all churches can and have erred – we are not perfect and neither is any other.  We try to be as perfect an expression of the Church as is possible – but we readily acknowledge we are imperfect.  We can learn from other churches and are active members of ecumenical initiatives.  We are represented on the World Council of Churches, and we have entered into formal dialogue with other churches – the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox and Protestant Churches – with the aim of moving towards greater visible unity.

Our position regarding Baptism is that we accept all baptisms that are conducted with water and in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Baptized persons who are communicant members of other Churches which subscribe to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and are in good standing in their own Church are welcome to receive Communion in our Church.

DGP