The Anglican faith is often considered to be midway between Catholicism and Protestantism, descended from the Church of England, or with similar beliefs, worships and church structures. The Anglican Communion is an international association of autonomous national churches in full communion with the Church of England.
Who Are the Anglicans?
The Anglicans are the third largest body of Christians
in the world, and the largest Protestant
denomination, yet there are many, of which I was one, from the other
Protestant denominations who are unfamiliar with the Anglican Communion.
What sets the Anglicans apart from the other flavors of Christianity? That can be a difficult question to answer, as there are few distinctives which, taken individually, cannot be found in other Christian denominations. Yet, the Anglicans are very different from other Christian denominations. What do they believe?
Scripture -- Anglicans believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that, together, the Old and New Testaments contain everything that is necessary for salvation. Anglicans believe in preaching the entirety of the Bible.
Trinity -- Anglicans believe in one God, who exists, and has always existed, in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Anglicans also believe that Jesus Christ is fully God, and that He is also fully human.
Salvation -- Anglicans believe that everyone is in need of salvation through Jesus Christ, and that salvation comes through Christ, by grace alone, and through faith alone.
Sacraments -- Anglicans recognize only two sacraments - Baptism and the Eucharist - as being ordained by Christ, and that the sacraments are external signs of internal grace, commanded by Christ for the development of His church.
Common Life -- Anglicans believe in the importance of liturgical disciplines of prayer, worship, and repentance, as well as the recognition of seasons, hours, fasts, and feasts.
Christian Mission -- Anglicans believe that they were called to proclaim the Gospel, and to live it out. Thus, they place great importance in establishing new churches, evangelization, and ministering to the poor.
Apostolic Succession -- Anglicans believe in Apostolic succession, and that its bishops were consecrated by other bishops, who were consecrated by other bishops, all the way back to the Apostles.
Semper Reformanda -- Anglicans believe that they are never finished, but that they are always reforming, or looking for ways to do an even better job of proclaiming the Gospel.
Via Media -- Anglicans believe that their tradition is the Middle Way, or one that is at the center rather than at the extremes.
Through its organizational structure, theology, and forms of worship, Anglicanism is often presented as navigating a path that is halfway between Catholicism and Protestantism. It is perhaps important to understand something about the origins of the Anglican Church in order to understand the place that it holds in Christianity.
For one thing, the Anglican Church began as a religion of geography rather than theology. While other Protestant denominations arose from theological differences with Catholicism, the Anglican Church came from the Church of England, which was formed on February 11, 1531, when King Henry VIII proclaimed himself to be the head of the Church in England.
On that day, regardless of their individual theological beliefs, every Christian living in England became Anglican, a denominational identity that had nothing to do with what they believed or the manner in which they wanted to worship God.
As England established a worldwide empire, the church followed. Away from England, it became known as the Anglican Church, which simply meant the English Church or the Church from England. As the English settled North America, they established Anglican churches.
After the American Revolution, having just won a war against England, the Anglican churches in the newly formed United States of America began referring to their churches as Episcopalian, thus forming a new branch of the Anglican Church.
Today, of course, there are all manner of Christians in England, and there are more Anglicans in Africa than in England. There are millions of Anglicans, living on every continent, and in nearly every country. While the Anglican Church was formed through a proclamation by the king, it has developed into a Christian denomination with its own beliefs and practices.
There are, of course, differences between different Anglican groups, but there are also commonalities. All Anglican branches accept the Bible as the basis for their faith, and hold to the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, as well as recognition of the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and the continuity of the line of bishops from the time of Christ.
The chief difference between the Anglican Church today, and the Roman Catholic Church, is that the Anglicans allow much more autonomy on the part of the individual churches, while maintaining a hierarchy of priests and bishops. While the basics of their beliefs are fixed, there may be differences in their style of worship from one parish to another.