What is Anglicanism?
The Anglican Church is a branch of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church instituted by Jesus Christ. The word ‘Anglican’ refers to our spiritual heritage and roots in the Church of England. Traders, merchants and soldiers seem to have brought the Christian Faith to Britain shortly after it became part of the Roman Empire in the middle of the First Century AD. Sixteen hundred years later, during what we call the Reformation, the Church of England emerged as a unique institution. It retained its ‘Catholic’ heritage enshrined in the Creeds, the decisions of the General Councils, its liturgy and sacraments, and in the threefold ministry of bishops, priest and deacons in Apostolic Succession. It ‘reformed’ itself by eliminating some nonessential accretions of the later medieval Church, by restoring much of the practice of the earliest Christians, and by insisting upon the authority of Holy Scripture as the rule and guide of faith.
Members of the Church of England came to America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In many of the original colonies, the Church of England was the established or official Church. After the Revolution, American Anglicans established an autonomous branch of the Church, which became known as the Episcopal Church. Recently, during the last thirty-five or so years, that body abandoned most of the tradition of historic Anglican Faith and Practice. It is this tradition that many former Episcopalians and other faithful Anglicans are seeking to preserve and proclaim.
In 1968 a meeting of such faithful Episcopalians, clergy and lay, was held in Mobile Alabama. From that meeting emerged the ‘American Episcopal Church’. Nine years later a Congress of Concerned Churchmen took place in St. Louis, Missouri. It was attended by United States and Canadian Anglicans committed to continuing our Church without the fatal deviations espoused by the Episcopal Church in recent times. A statement called ‘The Affirmation of St. Louis’ was agreed upon which affirms as unalterable the received Faith and Tradition of the Church; the essential core of Christian belief and practice. This includes the Holy Scripture, the Church’s ancient and universal Creeds, the writings of the Fathers of the Early Church, the decisions of the General Councils held by the whole Church before any grave divisions took place, and the historic Apostolic Ministry of male bishops, priests and deacons descended in unbroken succession from the first Apostles. The statement called upon faithful Anglicans to “reorder such godly discipline as will strengthen us in continuation of our common life and witness.”
As a result of this meeting, several groups of Anglican traditionalists in the United States and Canada began efforts to form a continuing, still-Anglican Church. While the work in Canada prospered, events in the U.S.A. were complicated by a lack of unity, and several “jurisdictions” emerged working separately from one another. In 1978, 1981, and 1991, bishops were consecrated through the Anglican Apostolic Succession to provide for the continuation of the Ministry as instituted by Christ.
Our Faith and Worship are set forth in the last orthodox and seemly American edition of the historic Book of Common Prayer, that of 1928. This treasure of English language, scriptural spirituality and Catholic worship has shaped the lives of countless faithful Christians through the centuries and is the basis of our services of worship.
As we have seen, the Anglican Church affirms its ‘Catholic’ heritage. That term is used to affirm our fidelity to the whole Faith as revealed by Jesus Christ (without either additions or subtractions) as proclaimed by the Apostles, evangelists, saints, scholars and martyrs of the Early Church and taught in Holy Scripture. At the same time Anglicans give thanks for the witness of those pastors and teachers, who in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought to “reform” the Church, some of whom gave their lives in witness to the authority of the Bible as the principle rule of Faith and Practice.
Anglicans do not regard the terms “Catholic” and “Reformed” (or “Evangelical”) as contradictory claims, but rather as affirmations of the wholeness of the one Faith. The task of the Church in every generation is to transmit faithfully that which God has revealed. The test of that fidelity is the Gospel itself, the “Good News” revealed by God the Father, in His Son, through the Holy Spirit, primarily in the words of Holy Scripture, but also in the living witness of the Church called Tradition. While Anglicans treasure their “Catholic” identity, shared by the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Old Catholic Churches, they also demand that Catholicity be continually tested by the fidelity of ‘particular’ Churches to “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3; RSVCE).
Anglican faith is thoroughly grounded in Holy Scriptures. Anglicans believe “the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the authentic record of God’s revelation of himself, his saving activity, and moral demands – a revelation valid for all men and for all times” (The Affirmation of St. Louis). The ‘Apocryphal Books,’ found in some, but not all Bibles are used also in our worship, being read for instruction, but they are not used to establish doctrine.
We hold that the ancient creeds – the ‘Apostles’, ‘Nicene’, and ‘Athanasian’ – express the faith of the Church and are to be understood as they are written. The Anglican Church is a creedal church, not a confessional one. The creeds, which come from the earliest years of Christianity, summarize the “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3; RSVCE). By them we are taught that God is one God in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that God the Son became man, born of a virgin as our Lord Jesus Christ; that by our Lord’s sinless life, death and resurrection He gained access for us to God the Father and opened the way for us to be children of God and to live with Him for all eternity.