Anglicanism (from the Latin term for “English”), formally known as the Church of England, began in the 1530s under King Henry VIII. He was unhappy that the pope in Rome would not grant him an annulment of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon; this, along with political and economic reasons, led Parliament to enact legislation effectively dissolving England’s ties to the Roman Catholic church. Parliament also determined that the King of England was to be the head of the Church of England, and this was the effective beginning of the Anglican church. Over the next fifty years, certain doctrinal changes were introduced, most of them coming from the Reformation occurring on the European continent, along with the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer, which is still used today as the order for services in the Church of England. When England began to colonize other parts of the world, they brought Anglicanism along with them: in America, after the Revolution, the “Anglican” church there felt it better to be known as the Episcopalian church (from the Greek word episkopos, or “bishop,” since the church is headed by bishops), as it is known today. The Church of England is a mixture of Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox traditions along with the ideas presented in the Reformation, a synthesis not fully accepted by either side.
Sections on this Page
- General Considerations
- Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism
- Anglicanism and Protestantism
- The Book of Common Prayer
The Anglican church, as a collective, is known as the Anglican Communion, which is comprised of the different national churches, each headed by its own archbishop. There are Anglican churches in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and many other countries in Africa and Asia, and most are governed within those states. Anglicanism in America is primarily seen in the Episcopal Church (USA), and while they have bishops of dioceses, the hierarchical structure generally ends there. The heads of these Anglican churches meet with each other in Canterbury, England, regarding the challenges of the church at the time. The church is thus in name united, but has autonomous groupings in various countries around the world.
Furthermore, there is the distinction between the “high church,” which holds more strongly to ritual and tradition and is therefore more “Catholic,” and the “low church,” which is more evangelical and therefore more “Protestant.” The high church/low church distinction is especially evident in the United Kingdom, yet also exists in the United States.
In America, however, there have also been a few spinoffs from the Episcopal church. The Reformed Episcopal Church in America is more Protestant-minded, the Episcopal Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America is more conservative, and the Anglican Catholic Church is “catholic” in terms of being “universal” and sees itself as more aligned with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
See below for comparisons and contrasts with Roman Catholicism and Protestant groups.
Evangelicalism [some individuals, especially in the “low church”]
Observances Concerning the Lord’s Birth: Advent; Christmas
Observances Concerning the Lord’s Death: Ash Wednesday; Lent; Palm Sunday; Maundy Thursday; Good Friday; Easter
Other Observances: Ascension-Pentecost; Epiphany; Annunciation; Days Concerning Saints
Positions of Authority: A Hierarchy of Bishops; Female Deacons [Deaconesses]; Female Elders; Female Evangelists; Homosexual Evangelists [Episcopal Church USA]; Priests; Ordination; Synods, Councils, Conventions, and Other Meetings
Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism
The Church of England separated itself from Roman Catholicism not so much on the basis of doctrine but because of political reasons. Therefore, we see that Anglicanism shares much in common with Roman Catholicism, while also maintaining some traditions seen more clearly in Eastern Orthodoxy. Let us examine these now.
Apostolic Succession: The Anglican church has a system of bishops and archbishops, who (they assert) have authority similar to that of the Apostles’, but makes no comment concerning authenticity as has the Roman Catholic church.
Traditions Concerning the Scriptures: The Anglicans are more akin to the Eastern Orthodox, using all of the Apocrypha (save 3 and 4 Maccabees); the Anglicans also say that the Apocrypha is placed in a lower level of emphasis than the Old Testament1.
Traditions Concerning Sacraments: The Anglicans are between the Roman Catholics and the rest of Protestantism concerning sacraments: they believe that there are two sacraments of necessity, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, yet still hold that the other five sacraments of the Roman Catholic church, confirmation, matrimony, holy orders, anointing of the sick, and confession, are “sacramentals,” good to do but not as necessary as baptism and the Lord’s Supper2.
Traditions Concerning History: The Anglican church accepts the history of the English church, even those portions under the pope in Rome. It has not made any comment, however, on the sanctity of its history.
Traditions Concerning Mary: The Anglicans do not place as much emphasis on Mary as the Roman Catholics do, although she is still looked upon as the mother of the church, among other titles.
Traditions Concerning the Saints: The Anglican church accepts the existence of saints, although the process of canonization is not practiced. The notion of relics and other such things is rejected3.
Traditions Concerning Sin: The Anglican church believes that a priest/bishop has the authority from God to remit sins, and allows for its members to give confession to the priest. This action is not required to continue within the church as it is in Roman Catholicism4.
Traditions Concerning Consecration: The Anglican church has monks and nuns, although celibacy is not required for the clergy5.
Anglicanism and Protestantism
Even though the Church of England shares much in common with Roman Catholicism, it did not turn a blind eye to the doctrines developed on the European continent in Lutheranism and Calvinism. Let us examine these similarities now.
Lutheranism: Faith Alone: The Anglican church accepts the idea that we are saved by faith alone and that the work performed is done by God6.
Lutheranism: The Lord’s Prayer: The Anglicans believe in the prayer’s use as a part of their liturgy and personal life7.
Calvinism: Total Depravity: The Anglicans agree that man has fallen short and can do nothing to come to God; man cannot do any good work8.
The Book of Common Prayer
The Church of England has used a version of The Book of Common Prayer to guide its spiritual life since 1549. The Book of Common Prayer is essentially a handbook to all things Anglican: within its pages one will find the order and manner of the worship service; the prayers and the meditations (called collects) to be used at specific times of the year; the liturgies for the various observances and seasons; special ceremonies for baptism, the Lord’s Supper, confirmation, the consecration of bishops/priests/deacons, the consecration of a church; prayers; thanksgivings; a catechism; and historical documents of the church. It is held by many Anglicans that while a Bible may be considered helpful to have at an Anglican/Episcopalian service, The Book of Common Prayer is indispensable. The Book of Common Prayer is also considered to be the source of unity among Anglicans: all kinds of diversity are tolerated, but all agree on the value of The Book of Common Prayer. Is this in harmony with the Word of God?
God has not mandated a specific way to serve Him in the assembly, but to have your assembly confined to the pages of a book, even if just a guideline, could easily lead to the type of activity condemned by Jesus in Matthew 6:7-8:
“And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”
Rigid order easily leads to coldness and a loss of meaning. We can certainly commend the Anglicans for taking seriously the command of Paul for order to reign in the church in 1 Corinthians 14:40, but we should be wary to quench the Spirit by merely reciting words from a page with no life and no heart within them.
1: The Book of Common Prayer, “Historical Documents: Articles of Religion,” VI
2: Ibid, “Catechism: Other Sacramental Rites”
3: e.g., Ibid., “Collects: Contemporary: The Common of Saints”
4: Ibid., “The Reconciliation of a Penitent;” “Morning Prayer I: Confession of Sin”
5: Ibid., “Prayers: 16: For Monastic Orders and Vocations”
6: Ibid., “Historical Documents: Articles of Religion,” X-XIII
7: Ibid., “The Holy Eucharist: Decalogue I;” “Morning Prayer I: The Prayers”
8: Ibid., “Historical Documents: Articles of Religion,” X