What is Anglicanism?

Anglicanism is HistoricalAnglican Communion
Anglicanism is Biblical
Anglicanism is Catholic
Anglicanism is Reformed and Reforming
Anglicanism is Sacramental
Anglicanism is Evangelical
Anglicanism is Episcopal
Anglicanism is Parochial
Anglicanism is Liturgical





Anglicanism is Historical

To find the roots of Anglicanism, one must go back to the height of the Roman Empire. At that time, the church was united under Patriarchs and Bishops who were in direct succession to the original twelve Apostles. As early as the fourth century, there are records of Bishops in the remote corner of the Empire called Britannia and, sometime during the third century, St Alban became known as a British martyr.

When the Roman Empire yielded to the Germanic tribes, the Romans abandoned Britannia. The Christians there were largely forgotten by the rest of the Empire, but the Celtic Christians in Whales, Ireland, and Cornwall continued to flourish and develop their own distinctive customs. Soon, they emerged to convert the Scots and Germanic tribes that had invaded England. Ss. Aiden, Cuthbert, and Hilda (and others) left behind a vibrant, British Church.

In 597AD, St Augustine of Canterbury was sent to England to restore contact between the British Church and The Church of Rome. He established his See at Canterbury and in time not only converted the Anglo-Saxons of Southern England but he also brought the Celtic Christians under the authority of the Pope. Under the Anglo-Saxons, the English church produced artistic marvels, moving religious poetry, and The Ecclesiastical History of St. Bede. Also, remaining true to its Celtic roots, the English church retained a distinct character.

Then in 1066, William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxons at Hastings and took the English crown for himself. He replaced the Anglo-Saxon clergy and bishop with those from his own country, Normandy, which brought the Church of England more into line with the rest of the Western Church. The first great theologian of this Anglo-Norman church was St. Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury. A later successor of his, Thomas Becket, was murdered at the foot of the alter for refusing to submit the church to the crown.

During the middle ages, the Church of England spread into every aspect of daily life. Thousands of poor priests ministered to the needs of peasants, merchants, and nobles alike while monks and nuns dedicated their lives to God. Beautiful cathedrals, like Lincoln, Salisbury, and York Minister, were built in the major cities. Monks, who valued knowledge and learning, founded the now-famous universities at Oxford and Cambridge.

Despite all this, the medieval English Church had grown corrupt and many began to press for reforms. Capitalizing on this feeling, King Henry VIII challenged the authority of the Papacy within Britain. A formal break with Rome came in the sixteenth century when the House of Parliament passed an Act of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII to be the “supreme governor” of the Church of England. For the first time since the sixth century, the Church of England was not under the authority of the Pope.

After a brief return to Rome under Queen Mary in 1553, the Church of England began the long process of reformation. Using Scripture and the teachings of the early undivided Church as guides. the English Church retained bishops, sacraments, ceremony, and vestments, while dispensing with indulgences, enforcing celibacy of clergy, and Latin services. The King James Authorized Version of the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer made Scripture and worship comprehensible to all people, high and low.

The settlers who founded Jamestown, Virginia were members of the Church of England. Later, Church of England parishes would be found throughout the thirteen colonies, especially in Virginia, Maryland, and New York. When the colonies gained independence after the Revolutionary war, those churches came together to form the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America: “Protestant” as opposed to “Roman”; “Episcopal” as opposed to “Congregational.” After the consecration of their first bishops by bishops in England and Scotland, the Episcopal Church flourished for over a hundred fifty years. Many of our nation’s presidents –such as George Washington, James Madison, and Franklin Roosevelt-were Episcopalians.

Sadly, starting in the 1960’s, the Episcopal Church, like many other mainline churches, became more concerned with social agendas than with the Gospel. Our jurisdiction was formed in 1968 to preserve the old, established ways of Anglicanism. Our faith remains in solidarity with the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Christians, the saints of the Middle Ages, the first Anglican reformers and all traditional Anglicans and Episcopalians throughout the world.


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Anglicanism is Biblical

We believe the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God and to contain all things necessary unto salvation. As God's revealed word to us, the Bible is the lens through which we view and evaluate all other claims to the truth. We believe also that Scripture infallibly reveals God and his ways to us.

The problem the church has to tackle, however, is how to best interpret Scripture. It is one thing to say this picture offers truth without error and another to say that we can interpret Scripture without error. Roman Catholicism holds that the Magesterium and the Papacy can infallibly protect Orthodox teaching. Many Protestants take either a more academic route relying on the studies of the scholars or else believe that the Holy Ghost will ensure that individuals will correctly interpret Scripture. In opposition to Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism holds that because we are human, there is always the potential for misinterpretation; therefore, the church must always remain open to self correction. As do the Protestants, Anglicans feel free to use modern biblical scholarship, but Anglicanism first seeks to determine how the church has universally interpreted Scripture.

Traditional Anglicans keep in mind that the Holy Scripture arose from and was inspired through a worshiping community-the church. The Old Testament was written and used by those who worship the one, true, God, and the New Testament was written and used by those who had been saved by Christ and who worship God-the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Bible was not discovered and then incorporated by the church but rather was born within her. Even modern biblical criticism has supported these assertions through its demonstration that the Gospels were written, within and for, a community. For example, St. Paul, "a slave of Jesus Christ," was explaining the faith to worshiping communities and addressing particular concerns. In other words, Scripture was not written in a vacuum, but contains the very "stuff" of the church. For this reason, Scripture should always be studied reverently and prayerfully and with the guidance of the church.

Just as Scripture was not written in a vacuum, it is not to be read in a vacuum. Anglicans believe that Scripture is to be read with the aid of a holy tradition. Tradition is the living experience of the Church found primarily in the writings of the early, undivided Church, and those men and women who witnessed the faith to their several generations. A priest or a bishop never teaches his own opinions but rather the universal and ancient understanding of the Scripture. In this way, Scripture joins us not only to God but also to the countless Christians who have gone before us.


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Anglicanism is Catholic

Because we are so attached to the world immediately around us, Christians can all too easily focus on the present-day church. This is referred to as "horizontal" thinking, or picturing the church only as spread out geographically. We must remember that the church spans time, that she includes those who have gone before us in time and those who will come after. This is what "Catholic" really means: the church spread throughout the entire world and all the ages. In this way the church is truly universal.

Anglicans, like the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, strive to remain faithful to the teachings of the church in all places and at all times. These teachings are important for two reasons. First, they establish a standard by which the present-day church compares and reforms herself; interpretations of Scripture and controversial issues can be tested to see if they are in conflict with the "faith once delivered." Second, particular cultures, generations, or societies are prevented from permanently corrupting the teachings of the faith with their own ideas. This is particularly important in this age with its optimistic view of human reason.

For example, very often someone will decide that his teachings or his practices are better. An Anglican can respond that we, as individuals, really can't know what's better or worse. But we can know if the teaching or practice dates back to the earliest times of the church and if it was acceptable then. Many Protestants will argue that extemporaneous (not written) worship is better than liturgical. What we know as a fact is that Jesus used liturgical prayers and that the church, from the earliest times, had a liturgical, or written, form of worship, and before that there were memorized forms of worship.

With Anglicanism, there are several documents or bodies of works that are used to keep the church faithful to the Catholic faith. First and foremost, of course, is Holy Scripture itself. But lest we interpret Scripture individually or culturally, we read Scripture with the aid of the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. These creeds (from the Latin credo, meaning I believe), and especially the Nicene Creed, are the church's statement about what Scripture teaches us about the Trinity and the essentials of the faith. Second, Anglicanism abides by the decisions of the first four Ecumenical councils (whose rulings are considered incontrovertible) and likely all seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church. Anglicanism strives to remain faithful to the orthodox fathers of the church. Finally, Anglicans make use of medieval, Reformation, and even modern theologians whose teachings are harmonious with Scripture, the Creeds, and the early church fathers. Within Anglicanism, The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, as found in our prayer book, is one example of such teachings.


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Anglicanism Is Reformed and Reforming

Much of our distinctiveness was hammered out during the English Reformation of the 16th century. We hesitate to use the word "Protestant," because it has lost its original meaning, and it is associated with over 200 groups who have repudiated much of the Catholic tradition. Perhaps the easiest way to remember the difference between the English Reformation and the continental European Reformation is that Anglicans did not "throw the baby out with the bathwater." The English reformers themselves refer to the work as 'we gained by not plowing under an overgrown field'.

One of the major ways in which the English Reformation differed from that on the European mainlands, is that simple Scripture and the early churches were used as guides. Lutherans and Calvinists believed in the doctrine Sola Scriptura (meaning Scripture alone), which is the belief that the Scripture by itself was and is sufficient guide to the faith and practice. Anglicans took a more moderate approach, stating that the church cannot teach anything as necessary to salvation which cannot be proven in Holy Scripture (see Article V), but had the right to form her own liturgies, customs, and practices. Anglicanism held that any practice or interpretation of Scripture maintained since the earliest times of the Church, was sound and wholesome.

Thus, Catholic essentials such as the creeds, sacraments, and Episcopacy were retained by the Church of England. However, as the Bible and the liturgies were translated into the vernacular, sermons were given a more prominent role, the laity were given a larger part in worship, and devotions to the saints were severely curtailed. For these reasons, Anglicans are at times referred to, paradoxically, as "reformed Catholics.


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Anglicanism Is Sacramental

Anglicans believe the Creation consists of two realities-that the solid, true reality is the spiritual world and that we live in another reality that is but a shadow of that true reality. What we sense all around us- the blue sky, the cold rock, and the colorful flower-is only a tiny hint of all that is. To say that only the physical world exists would be like an Islander saying that only dry land exists and that the whole wide ocean is imaginary. There is a spiritual part of creation, too.

Not the entire spiritual world is outside our daily experience; we ourselves are hybrids or half breeds: part spiritual, part physical. We exist both spiritually and physically. If, as mentioned above, the physical world is like a dry island and the spiritual world like the ocean, then we are mud! Take away our bodies and we are spirit; take away our spirit and we are dust. Because we are hybrids, God feeds both parts of us. If He had given us only physical food, our souls would have been left to starve. And as we are not angels, our diet can't be entirely spiritual. God feeds us with the sacraments, for they, like us, are hybrids. In the words of our tradition, they are "outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace." They exist in both realities. That means, like us, they share in the greater spiritual reality. Anglicans believe that two sacraments, Baptism and Holy Eucharist, were unquestionably ordained by Jesus Christ as necessary for salvation. Most Anglicans also believe that confirmation, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, Holy Unction, and absolution are also sacramental.

The sacraments remind us who and where we are at all major occasions of life. We are born, we are baptized. As children or adolescents, we are confirmed. Many of us, as adults, are married. When we are sick, we are given Holy Unction. When sorry for our sins, we are given absolution. And of course, throughout life, we are nursed by the Holy Eucharist. Thus, the whole life of an Anglican is surrounded by the grace given by the sacraments and those sacraments are administered by those who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders.

God gives us His grace through the sacraments. The full prayer book definition of a sacrament is as follows: an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us; ordained by Christ himself, as means whereby we receive His grace, and as a pledge to assure us thereof. In other words, we are assured by Christ himself that when we are baptized, when we receive the Eucharist, when we are absolved by a priest, something really and truly happens; we actually receive God's grace. At other times in our lives, when we pray alone, help someone out, successfully resist temptation, we may hope that we receive grace. But we can't be certain and that uncertainty is undone in the reception of the sacraments. While our minds and bodies may not register or comprehend that grace has been given and received, our souls do and benefit from it.


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Anglicanism is Evangelical

Evangelical is one of those words that have come to have a new meaning than it was originally intended. Today, "evangelical" often means a type of Christian who focuses on the exposition is richer in sermons, considers itself to be "saved," and who often most employees and informal and contemporary style of worship. Quote evangelical," however, comes from the Greek word meaning good news or gospel. An evangelist was originally someone who tried to spread "good news" of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to the world.

Anglicans believe that the Church is both sacramental and evangelical. Indeed, both are really flip sides of the same coin. Our Lord commanded his apostles to go out unto all nations begin parentheses literally, peoples and parentheses, baptizing in the name of the father, the son, and the Holy Ghost. Going out onto all nations is evangelical, and baptizing is sacramental. For this reason, Christianity is meant to be a proselytizing faith that strives to win all people to Christ. Anglicans have normally been at the forefront of a missionary work in the world, so much so that today more Anglicans reside in Africa and Asia than in Great Britain and America.

St. Peter called Christians ambassadors, and like ambassadors, Anglicans strive to represent their homeland, heaven, to the world around them by ministering to those in need, uplifting the downtrodden, easing other people's burdens, and striving to live a godly life. Anglicans believe that the best way to spread the faith is by loving others unconditionally and selflessly as Christ did.

Both converting souls and feeding them are equally important. Over time, the church is stayed too far any and evangelical direction or too far in the sacramental direction. A church that is sacramental and Outlook, without being evangelical, can become cultic tick, introspective, and cold. On the other hand, a church that is evangelical without being sacramental can become too caught up in the here and now, forgetful of the spiritual life, cut off from important means of grace, and overly focused on a particular minister or pastor. To use an analogy, if the church is a hospital, the first group is so focused on the patients in the hospital that they forget the sick outside, while the latter group is so focused on advertising the hospital that they forget to give patients medicine upon admission.

It is when the two sides, sacramental, and evangelical, are held together that the Church thrives. The church that goes out into the world, converts others, and feeds them by the sacraments is a church aglow with the Holy Spirit. This is what is meant by being evangelical.


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Anglicanism is Episcopal

Modern scholarship that shown that at the earliest times of the church, the clergy consisted of Bishops (or elders), and deacons. The bishops were responsible for governing the church and celebrating the Eucharist. They were assisted in the services and administration by deacons. The first Bishops were the apostles themselves.

St. Clement of Rome, writing around 90 A.D., states in a letter that, as the apostles faced death, successors were appointed on whom they laid hands. Shortly thereafter, we know several important bishops such as St. Ignatius of Antioch. In his letters, written as he was being taken to Rome to be fed to the lions, St. Ignatius teaches various churches the essentials of the faith. Over and over again, he talks about the central role of Bishops and the church to serve as unifying symbols. In short, the church was united through bishops to the original apostles. This is what we call apostolic succession. Our bishops today can trace their succession through the laying on of hands all the way back to the original Apostles.

As a church expanded, bishops could no longer handle a whole bulk of services, and so junior partners called presbyters served as the bishop's representative within the parish while the bishop himself governed a diocese. In the West, the press biter was called by a Latin name, sacerdos, which in English is priest. Thus, today we have a church with deacons, priests, and bishops.

The bishop remains a central figure here it without him; neither a priest or deacon is permitted to function. This is why a diocesan bishop is often referred to as the ordinary. He is the ordinary, meaning normal, minister of the church. A priest is the extraordinary, or the stand-in for the bishop. This is why most parishes have a bishop's chair. It symbolizes the presence of the bishop. This echoes a custom of the early church, when a priest or press biter would have to go to his bishop to receive the consecrated bread and wine to take back to his parish for Eucharist.


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Anglicanism Is Parochial

At the Reformation, everyone living in England and Wales belonged to a parish church. If one lives within a parish's borders, once baptized, one was a member. Unlike the latter congregations, the parish church applied no ideological litmus test, other than baptism, for the laity. The parish was not meant to be a place where only like-minded people gathered.

This idea of a church that comprehended a wide range of beliefs was not compromised in the modern sense of the word. The nation was made up of communities and these basic communities, the parishes of the land, were the bricks and mortar of Christian England. But people differed in belief. Therefore the comprehensive church provided latitude. Unlike the continental Reformation, the English Reformation was born on campus and kept alive by professors who believed in education. They were the new generation of scholars to whom the widening variety of knowledge was now available through printed books. They believed that if people were educated by the rote recitation of common prayer and by reading the Scriptures in a manner that tied the text to the Christian year, they would grow in faith and be good subjects of the crown. If Roman Catholicism was a sacerdotal religion, and Puritanism a moralistic religion, Anglicanism was an educational religion.

To this day, Anglicanism holds that it has a geographical mission to all people no matter their ideology, race, ethnicity, sex, or even their state in life. The church building sanctifies place as its bells sanctifies time. The parish priest is to minister to all who accept baptism and who will use the Prayer Book, and even to those who won't.

Each Sunday Anglicans find themselves perched in their pew next to others whose views and conduct may well differ from their own, and who have all sorts of virtues and vices, good intentions and unworthy motives. If human frailty offends one, the parish is the place to avoid! To put it another way, Anglicans believe that the church is a school for sinners, not a place for saints. Our policy invites us to participate in an inclusive faith.

The parish remains a powerful illustration of New Testament Christianity. Sunday by Sunday we meet together. We hear the Bible read to us. We hear Bible-close sermons. If our hearts are not hardened, we hear our besetting sins and weaknesses described. Perhaps we feel guilty. Perhaps we feel angry because we feel guilty. And if we listen with grace, we may discover something about the basis of Christianity. Kneeling next to us are other human beings. They struggle with the process of living. They feel drawn to be in the pew. We may like these people or we may dislike them. We may praise them or gossip about them. We may delight in their understanding of the faith or they may horrify us.

Yet, at every Eucharist, the moment will come when, side-by-side, through bread and wine, the living Lord touches us and for a moment allows us to tread the courts of heaven with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. For as St. Paul puts it, the guilt we feel when the word exposes our sins and follies is the teacher who brings us to the Christ. He fills us corporately in Word and Sacrament.


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Anglicanism is liturgical

Our worship and life draw from the rich treasure of the Judeo-Christian experience. In structural terms, our worship has changed little since the first centuries of the church. Our Book of Common Prayer (1928 edition) contains the Catholic treasure of corporate worship and enables us to use it every time we gather together for praise and prayer. Catholic balance of Sacrament and Word in our worship is evidenced by our frequent celebrations of the Holy Eucharist and our emphasis on biblical preaching. Furthermore, over 70% of the sentences and phrases in the prayer book either directly quote or closely paraphrase the Bible, so that we not only learn scripturally, but also pray scripturally. In short, our words become like God's Word. The rich inheritance of the Christian year with its seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, pre-Lent, Lent, Passion tide, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity, and centuries of sacred music make the year alive with a Christ centered liturgy, shared by all the faithful.

Anglican worship is quietly reverent and dignified. Our human uniformity of worship, while allowing for some variations from place to place, serves to remind us of the universal nature of the faith. In our liturgy we are united with past, present, and future generations of Christians. Such worship is carried out with a view to the glorification of God, not for our entertainment. Anglicans are not spectators but participants in liturgical worship. Not only do we offer ourselves in words but also in gesture. We usually kneel to pray, stand to praise, and sit for instruction. Other optional devotional gestures, such as the sign of the cross, genuflecting, etc., show that we worship not only mentally and spiritually, but physically as well. To Anglicans, worship is the most important thing we do in life, and, ultimately, this attitude characterizes our moral behavior as well, for we believe that we must do all things as doing them unto God.

It is for the same reason that Anglicans stand against one of the great fallacies of this age: egoism. Anglicans come together and worship not so much to gain from the experience as to make a sacrifice of themselves. Anglicans offer their selves, their souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto God. So often, one hears someone speak about "getting something out of the service." Anglicans believe that, thanks to God's love and mercy, we do "get something out of the service" namely, Grace, but that is of secondary importance. Worship is all about giving oneself to God.


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St. Paul tells us that we are to hand on to our heirs the unchanged faith that was handed down to us. We believe that the faith that Christ revealed to us and which we find in Holy Scripture is a faith that does not change with the times. It is truth, and as such, depends on the author of all truth, Christ, and not on the whims and fancies of human societies. And just as it was a truth sufficient for the apostles of the first century, sufficient for the Christian martyrs during the Roman persecutions, sufficient for the Christian who over the centuries have faced wars, famine, pestilence, and tyranny, so is sufficient for us today. In a simple, Biblical phrase, to be an Anglican means to be "in the world, but not of it." 


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This website is dedicated to my momma Carole Ann Miller Paine and her love of this church! - WeirDave