What is Anglican?
by Abe Martinez
Small Groups and Assimilation Pastor
St. Andrew’s Church, Little Rock, AR
What is an Anglican? A textbook answer might focus on Christianity with roots in the Church of England. Or it might mention the story of King Henry VIII and his dramatic break with the Church in Rome to get out of an unfruitful marriage.
While both elements are part of the story, they miss a much greater reality.
To get to the real roots of the Anglican faith, you have to go much further back in British history — to the Celtic church, which may have been established as early as the second century. Given their distance from Rome, these Celts developed a style of worship all their own, based on monastic communities rather than dioceses modeled after the Roman political system. This dramatically shaped the early English church, and is a trait still present in the “DNA” of Anglicanism.
You find it in the way Anglicans encourage people to “come, belong and believe” — in that order — as opposed to the more typical route where visitors are expected to come, believe and then belong.
Another distinction of the Anglican Church is its legacy of reform. Long before Martin Luther and John Calvin were to lead the Protestant Reformation in 16th-century Europe, the seeds of reform were already bearing fruit in England. By A.D. 1380, the Oxford scholar John Wycliffe had already translated the entire Bible into English with the intention of making the scriptures accessible, for the first time, to common church members. This was a central tenet of the Reformation and one that the English reformers were quick to understand.
It’s fair to say that by the time Henry VIII made his famous break with Rome, the stage had already been set, with some of the greatest minds in English history ready to shepherd the new church into its future.
This is key to understanding why the Church of England chose “the middle way” when it came to reform. Many of the excesses of the medieval church were abandoned, but the rich liturgy, robust tradition, and faithful commitment to Biblical teaching remained a key part of Anglican worship, as it does to this day.
Today the Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian body in the world, with the fastest growing segments of the fellowship in a region known as The Global South, situated mainly in Africa and Southeast Asia. In fact, the vast majority of orthodox adherents to Anglicanism today are not in English-speaking countries. This remarkable twist in church history contributed to the creation of The Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA). In a courageous demonstration of commitment to the larger Body of Christ, Anglican archbishops from Rwanda and Southeast Asia joined with orthodox leaders in this country to provide oversight and support for the mission of spreading the gospel throughout the United States. Their decision could not have been better timed, since this country is now home to the largest un-churched and spiritually disconnected population in the English-speaking world.
For more information about the worldwide Anglican Communion, including statements of doctrine such as the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Nicene Creed, visit http://www.anglicancommunion.org/