What is the Anglican Church?

Rev. Jason Clark

Deacon/Church Planter
Diocese of Cascadia
Anglican Church in North America

Often people who are part of evangelical Christian churches or those outside of the church altogether ask me, “What is an Anglican?” It is difficult to answer concisely.  In short, the Anglican Church is a communion of churches with a relationship to the Church of England and is in continuity with the undivided church of the first 1000 years of Christian history. The Anglican Church is unique within western Christianity since it is neither Roman Catholic nor technically Protestant. Instead, the Anglican Church follows a path known as the Via Media, which in Latin means ‘middle way’. The Via Media is a synthesis of Christian belief which seeks to preserve the vast body of historic truths and some rituals found within the Catholic tradition while omitting the unbiblical theological excesses found in Medieval Roman Catholicism that Protestant groups have strongly reacted against. The purpose of this article will be to describe the Anglican Church primarily by what we do. To accomplish this task, I have created six categories that help organize my description. The Anglican Church is catholic, apostolic, sacramental, liturgical, adheres to biblical authority, and is a global communion.

First, the Anglican Church is catholic. By catholic we do not mean Roman Catholic. The term catholic simply means “universal” and is often used as a reference to the undivided Church of the first 1000 years of Christian history; a time when the multitude of denominations we know today did not exist. The catholicity of the Anglican Church is rooted in our faithfulness and commitment to the ancient creeds of the Church; the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. The Nicene Creed is typically recited weekly on every Sunday during Holy Communion.  The Apostle’s Creed typically is recited during Morning and Evening Prayer. The creeds provide a summary of the essential beliefs of the Christian faith according to the authority of the ecumenical councils of the early Church and they are indisputably in agreement with Scripture. When we recite the creeds together in worship, we are making a statement that we believe what all orthodox Christians at all times and in all places have believed. The creeds are the universal truth statements of the Church.

Second, the Anglican Church is apostolic. Anglicans are apostolic because the Gospel we preach is the same Gospel that has been passed down to us by the apostles through ordained bishops, priests, and deacons. This threefold order for clergy is known as the Episcopate. The original bishops of the Church were Jesus’ apostles and these bishops served as the chief shepherds of the Church just as bishops still do today. Bishops ordain priests who are called by God from among the people to be shepherds of individual congregations and perform the sacramental ministry of the Church. Bishops also ordain deacons to assist the bishops and priests in their sacramental duties, to teach the faith to new disciples, and to serve the poor. Every priest is first ordained a deacon and every bishop is first ordained a priest. This unbroken chain of ordination, from the original apostles to our present day clergy, is known as apostolic succession.

Third, the Anglican Church is sacramental. A sacrament is an outward, visible sign of an inward, spiritual grace that is given to us as the sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. For example, the outward, visible sign of baptism is water and the inward, spiritual grace of baptism is the forgiveness of sin, our adoption as God’s children, and new life in Jesus Christ. We believe that God fundamentally changes us through our baptism as we become a member of the Body of Christ. The two sacraments that were instituted by Christ are baptism and The Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is at the very center of Anglican worship because we believe that the bread and the wine become for us the body and the blood of Jesus. When we partake of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we are united with Jesus and our fellow believers as one body—a church. The Anglican Eucharist is open to all Christians who have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Anglicans also recognize five other sacraments of the church; including confirmation, reconciliation of a penitent, healing of the sick, marriage, and ordination.

Fourth, the Anglican Church is liturgical. Liturgy simply means “the work of the people” and it provides an order for our worship service. Our liturgy is found in the Book of Common Prayer. The Anglican Eucharistic liturgy begins with a call to worship as the people gather in sacred space to acknowledge the presence of God in their midst. Next, the liturgy of the word begins and a Scripture passage from the Old Testament, the Psalter, the Epistles, and the Gospels is read to the congregation, followed by a sermon, and then the recitation of the Nicene Creed. This is followed by a time of reconciliation as we ‘pass the peace of Christ’ to one another, corporately confess our sin to God, and receive absolution. Finally, the priest begins the Eucharistic liturgy which is a celebration of God’s atoning sacrifice that unites the people together with Christ as one people. We conclude with a benediction as the people are sent out to love and serve the world as Jesus’ representatives.  Anglicanism follows the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi, which in Latin means “the law of praying is the law of believing.” In other words, if you want to know what Anglicans believe, then pray with them. The ‘Daily Office,’ found in the Book of Common Prayer, provides a liturgy for daily prayer that forms the inner spiritual life of Anglicans.

Fifth, the Anglican Church submits to Biblical authority. There are three pillars of authority within the Anglican Church: Scripture, tradition, and reason. The greatest among these three is Scripture since nothing we claim to believe can contradict the witness passed down to us through the Bible. Anglicans also have a great respect for apostolic tradition which has been formed and passed down to us through the leaders of the Church throughout the ages and informs our interpretation of Scripture. Reason also informs our faith since the academic disciplines have greatly aided the Church in our discovery of how God has created and ordered the universe. The catechism of the Anglican Church in North America has been written to aid Christians in their discernment of truth and to teach them the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith.

Sixth, the Anglican Church is a global communion. In fact, Anglicanism is the third largest grouping of Christians in the world with about 85 million members. The historic center of Anglican unity has been the Anglican Communion which has been guided by the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. However, recent changes in the church have caused a new Anglican Communion to develop known as GAFCON which is an emerging global communion of faithful Anglicans who share a common partnership in their submission to biblical authority, in their common confession of Jesus as Lord, and in their shared mission. The Anglican Church in North America is a member of GAFCON.

It is my hope that this explanation of the Anglican Church answers any of your basic questions. For the more ambitious inquirer, I encourage you to explore the ‘network’ and ‘resources’ section of the menu. I have also opened up the comments section for this article so that you can personally ask me any questions about the Anglican Church that you may have.

 

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