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Being Anglican

There are many different ways of being a Christian. Being Anglican remains a way that offers room to breathe, to think, to pray, to explore and to grow wise in the knowledge of God.

The Anglican Church is an affiliation of independent national or regional churches in full communion with the Church of England (which may be regarded as the ”Mother Church” of this worldwide family). So, more accurately it should be refered to as the Anglican Communion. There are currently 77 million Anglican Christians in the world.


The Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior archbishop of the Church of England, whilst having no formal authority outside his own English jurisdiction, is recognised by the churches of the Anglican Communion as a symbolic and historic focus and he is honoured as being ”first amongst equals” amongst the other archbishops.


A Little History

While Anglicans acknowledge that the repudiation of papal authority by Henry VIII of England resulted in the Church of England existing as a separate entity, they also believe that it is in continuity with the pre-Reformation Church of England.

By the end of the 17th century the Church of England was describing itself as both Catholic and Reformed – it maintained the creeds and threefold ministry of the deacon, priest and bishop and also outlined its theological disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church but without following the influence of any particular Protestant Reformer.

One reformation historian, MacCulloch, comments on this situation by saying that the Church of England “has never subsequently dared to define its identity decisively as Protestant or Catholic, and has decided in the end that this is a virtue rather than a handicap.”


A Broad Church

Consequently there is a very wide divergence of opinion and worship-style to be found within Anglican churches – Catholic, Liberal, Evangelical – and everything in between. Traditionally the Anglican Church has been termed a ”broad church”, a large home in which people can find somewhere to worship, learn and find friendship.

The advice of St Augustine rings true to Anglicans: ”in the primary things, unity; in the secondary things, generosity; in all things, charity”.

Worship is most important for Anglicans and, indeed, the English Reformation is best known, not for drawing up dogmatic documention, but for creating a Book of Common Prayer. Instead of Anglicans wanting people to sign on dotted lines, they instead prefer to offer them a prayer book, inviting them to join in and to learn who they are, and what they believe, by immersing themselves in their liturgical landscape.

Because Anglicans have a high doctrine of the mystery of God they have a rich tradition of music, poetry and art which both enriches their worship of God and teaches human souls to fly nearer the divine reality God, unveiled in his body-language and self-portrait, Jesus Christ.


Points of Reference

The four defining points which focus Anglican belief, identity and practice have been identified as:

  1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation”, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
  2. The Apostles’ Creed, as the baptismal symbol: and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
  3. The two sacraments ordained by Christ himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him.
  4. The historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration, to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his Church.

This means that as Anglican Christians reflect theologically and ethically they hold together the primacy of the Scriptures with the traditions of the Christian Church, as well as using the gift of human reason and the insights of contemporary learning and experience.


A Middle Way

Whereas many vocal Christians are those with extreme views, the Anglican way has often been termed the “via media”, the middle way, between Rome and Geneva, between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, between biblical fundamentalism and papal infallability, between an unthinking traditionalism and an unreflective relativism.
As one Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, put it in 1981:

“Compared with Rome, Anglicanism has a higher evaluation of the primitive over the medieval tradition of the Church. Compared with Constantinople, it has a higher evaluation of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment , and a greater respect for the autonomy of the scientific method and the realm of ethics. Compared with Lutheranism, it is less sharply defined doctrinally, but more insistent on the centrality of liturgy and worship in the life of the Church…In the matter of doctrine, the Anglican tradition has been to insist on adherence to the primitive catholic faith while allowing a greater diversity of theological opinion than is permissible in other Episcopal churches, and not proceeding to what has been seen as the over-systematization and definition of doctrine which was given an unhappy impulse by the religious quarrels of the sixteenth century and which has proceeded to our own day, creating new dogmas out of inessentials, which really ought to be left in the realm of theological opinion.”


Useful Resources

For a short and accessible introduction to Anglican tradition you might look at How to Be an Anglican by Richard Giles (Canterbury Press). Other books and websites which might be helpful are:

  • The Anglican Understanding of the Church by Paul Avis (SPCK, 2000)
  • Anglicanism and the Christian Church by Paul Avis (Continuum, 2002)
  • Anglicanism: a Very Short Introduction by Mark Chapman (OUP, 2006)
  • The Poetic Imagination: An Anglican Spiritual Tradition by William Countryman (DLT, 1999)
  • Anglicanism: The Answer to Modernity by McDonald Dormar (Caddick (eds) Continuum, 2003)
  • The Anglican Tradition by Wright Evans (eds) (SPCK, 1991)
  • The SPCK Handbook of Anglican Theologians by Alister McGrath (SPCK, 1998)
  • Anglicanism and the Western Christian Tradition by Stephen Platten (ed) (Canterbury, 2002)
  • Aspects of Anglican Identity by Colin Podmore (Church House, 2005)
  • The Anglican Spirit by Michael Ramsey (Seabury, 2004)
  • Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness by Rowell, Stevenson, Williams (Oxford, 2001)
  • The Transformation of Anglicanism by William L. Sachs (CUP, 1993)
  • The Study of Anglicanism by Sykes, Booty, Knight (SPCK, 1988)
  • Anglican Identities by Rowan Williams (DLT, 2004)
  • The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today: A Reflection for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion by Rowan Williams (2006)