Anglicanism is a particular way of being Christian -- it is the Anglican Way. The Church of England’s Latin name is Ecclesia Anglicana and so the Church of England may be called, “The Anglican Church.” Likewise, Churches created and formed from this Church, or from Churches related by origin to this Church, are called Anglican, and the worldwide fellowship of them has been called in recent time, “The Anglican Communion of Churches.” Since this whole family of national Churches or regional provinces has developed from one Church, itself a National Church, it has been the tradition to speak of the Anglican Way as a unity and thus as a jurisdiction, or a branch of, the one, holy, apostolic Church.
Secondly, it is the Reformed Catholic Way. Anglican Churches claim to be Reformed Catholic in character. This associates them with two separate entities—the Roman Catholic Church (or the Catholic Church as it calls itself) and the (Protestant) Reformation of the sixteenth century. The Anglican Way was not created in the sixteenth century since the Ecclesia Anglicana had existed for many centuries prior to this; but it took particular shape, form and content in the middle of the sixteenth century. The Church of England reformed the mediaeval form of Catholicism which it inherited, and it reformed itself by the Gospel, and specifically by the Gospel as it had been rediscovered by Martin Luther and John Calvin through St. Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone through the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. Unlike Protestant Churches in Switzerland and Scotland, however, the Church of England maintained the Catholic Order of the Threefold Ministry, government by bishops (under the godly monarch), and the Catholic tradition of an authorized liturgy.
It may be possible to think of the Anglican Way in the following manner. Three great apostolic Ways, Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican, continue the life of the ancient and undivided Church. Each of them possesses a character, a vision, and a purpose that flow from the circumstances of their particular calling by God. Latin, Greek, and English – Catholic Churches all.
Thirdly, the Anglican Way is a Scriptural Way. The Church of England committed itself to the absolute authority and sufficiency of Scripture in all matters concerning salvation from sin and into everlasting life. This commitment included from the beginning the availability of the Bible in English in printed form in every parish of the land. In its Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion the supreme authority of Scripture was stated with clarity; in The Book of Common Prayer it was expressed liturgically, in The Book of Homilies (1547) it was expressed warmly and attractively, and in The Ordinal candidates for the ministry were asked whether they accepted and would abide by this divine authority.
Fourth, the Anglican Way is an Evangelical Way. Inside the Book of Common Prayer, and within the primary service of Holy Communion, and in other services as well, is expressed St. Paul’s doctrine (expounded in Romans and Galatians especially) of Justification by Faith. By this doctrine the apostle explained the Gospel, and how the Good News is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth … for therein is revealed a righteousness of God by faith unto faith” (Romans 1:16-17). There is no doubt that the first duty of the worshipping Church is to proclaim the Gospel and to share it with all sinners so that they may repent of sin, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and receive eternal salvation.
Fifth, the Anglican Way is a Traditional Way. The Church of England did not ditch everything from its medieval past in the sixteenth century. It conserved and renewed that which was good, and since then has developed its own “traditions.” Some of these have stayed around and others, having served for a time, have been dropped. Anglican Churches in other countries have done much the same, according to their own needs and circumstances. The point is that the Church of today receives a living heritage from the Church of yesterday and passes it on refined and reformed to the next generation.
Sixth, the Anglican Way is a Contemporary Way. It is a worshipping and serving of the Father through the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit now, daily in Morning and Evening Prayer and in consecrated lives. Since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and since his Almighty Father is gloriously eternal, Anglicans serve the living God and know him in love and devotion, even if they use a Bible written millennia ago and liturgies designed centuries ago. When they address God, and God speaks to them, everything is in the present, even if the words and music were composed yesterday, for the Holy Spirit gives life to what God says and provides. Anglicans do not have to use only that which is created today in order to be credible for today, since credibility is provided by the presence of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in human beings as his temples.
Of course, there have been various major movements through recent history which have deeply affected the ongoing tradition of the Anglican Way as a worldwide phenomenon. Here it will be useful to point to three of these as having left their mark. First of all, there was the Evangelical Revival in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which left a profound mark on the Church of England and the Churches in colonies and mission fields abroad. Anglicans still sing hymns composed in this revival and support missionary societies created by it. The primary emphasis was upon the duty of each person as a sinner to repent of sin and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and unto eternal life. One general effect of this movement was to underline and strengthen the “Reformed” part of “Reformed Catholicism”.
In the second place, there was the Catholic Revival, which began as the Tractarian Movement and became the Anglo-Catholic Movement. Here the “Catholicism” of “Reformed Catholicism” was underlined and emphasized. Rites, ceremonies, church fittings and clergy vestments that belonged to medieval Catholicism, or Continental Catholicism of the nineteenth century, were introduced in modified form into college chapels and parish churches in the late nineteenth century. The primary emphasis was upon the Sacraments as effective means of grace, and to have valid sacraments meant having a rightly ordained and equipped priesthood. Today the use of the word “Mass” for “Holy Communion” and the calling of a clergyman “Father” are tokens of the influence of this movement.
In the third place, there was the Ecumenical Movement, which in the twentieth century inspired separated Churches to enter into dialogue, to create means of inter-communion, to share common aims, to use similar versions of liturgical texts and creeds, and to attempt to find common doctrine. In general, this movement, especially since the 1960s, has been deeply influenced by the more liberal groups from the member churches and denominations, including the Anglican provinces. It has also, through what is called the Liturgical Movement, produced common texts for use in worship—usually liberal and politically-correct translations. Thus to worship God by means of any modern Anglican liturgy is usually to be using some texts which have been created within this movement.
Now, when an autonomous Province or Church or Communion of Churches possesses some or all the six characteristics mentioned previously, (Anglican, Reformed Catholic, Scriptural, Evangelical, Traditional, and Contemporary) it is not surprising that different members tend to emphasize one aspect of the whole more than others; and so there have been what have been called “schools” of churchmanship—e.g., High Church, Low Church, Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, Latitudinarian, Liberal, Affirming Catholic, Open Evangelical and so on. Because of this diversity, it has generally been agreed that the Anglican Way provides the possibility of comprehensiveness, where different schools or parties, possessing a common centre, agree to differ in details and expression. The key to any unity, however, is necessarily the common center - the use of the basic Liturgy of Common Prayer and Ordination Services and commitment in general terms to the four principles of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888: 1) the Bible as the rule and standard of Faith, 2) the two Creeds, 3) the two Gospel Sacraments (Holy Communion and Holy Baptism) and 4) the historic Episcopate, locally adapted.
~ Adapted with permission from the Reverend Dr. Peter Toon, with thanks.