1. Christianity and Ice Cream
I admit it. I love ice cream. My favorite flavor is chocolate fudge ice cream from Baskin Robbins. There are plenty of other flavors I really enjoy, but chocolate fudge is my favorite. Don't get me wrong. I love all kinds of ice cream, not just chocolate fudge. If you offered me another flavor of ice cream, I would eat it because that is certainly better than not getting any ice cream at all. I would even eat vanilla ice cream, although it is pretty bland to me. But if given the choice, I would pick chocolate fudge. That's kind of how I feel about the Anglican Church.
You see, I think Christianity is a lot like ice cream. There is a basic recipe that you have to follow to get ice cream, including milk, sugar, cream, salt, ice, and just the right temperature. But within that recipe there is a lot of leeway to add ingredients to make the ice cream better. But you have to be careful. If you add too many extra ingredients, it can cease to be ice cream and become a cold glop of candy. Likewise, if you take away too many ingredients it can cease to be ice cream and become a slushee or popsickle.
In the same way, all truly Christian churches have a basic set of ingredients: One God eternally existing in the three persons of Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Spirit, worshipped by a fellowship of believers who have been baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We all believe the Bible is inspired by God to show us how to have a relationship with God and live for Him. These ingredients are basically summed up in the recipe of the Creed. But, some Church traditions barely add any flavor to their ingredients and are like plain old mass produced vanilla ice cream. Other Church traditions add so much extra stuff to their faith and worship that you don't know where the ice cream ends and the candy bar begins. And there are lots of other non-Christian religions that try to be ice cream, but they don't have the right ingredients to start with.
To me, the Anglican Church is the chocolate fudge ice cream of the Christian world. I love all of Christianity. Catholic Churches, Protestant churches, Independent Churches: they are all better than no Church at all. But given my choice, I pick Anglicanism over the rest. Why? Well, that is the purpose of this booklet. It is to describe to Christians and non-Christians the uniqueness and richness of the Anglican Church. Now, I will admit, I am biased. Other people may disagree with what I will say, and like their own "flavor" of Christianity better, but I will try to be fair and accurate in what I say about my own flavor and theirs. I have tasted most of the major flavors of Christianity. I have been a member of mainline Protestant Churches, Independent Churches, Pentecostal Churches, and Charismatic Churches over a period of nearly a decade. I can say that the Anglican Church is what tastes best to me.
2. What is Anglicanism?
Anglicanism is a member, a branch, of the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ. As the name Anglican suggests, this church originally comes from the land of the Anglo-Saxon peoples, which was shortened to Angle-land, then to modern England. From England, Anglican Christianity has literally circled the globe over the last 1700 years. Today the Anglican Communion of churches numbers nearly 80 million members in every continent, with nearly 60 million in Africa, 8 million in Europe, Canada, and the US, and another 10 million in various other places. In the United States, the Anglican Church is known as the "Episcopal Church" (I will explain why later).
What I love about the Anglican Church is that within it you can find all the best that Christ has to offer His Church, taken from all that is good in every other Christian tradition. Most Church traditions tend to isolate certain parts of what Scripture teaches, and certain thinkers and preachers, and then say: "This is what it means to be Christian. Everything must fit in this box." Not so in the Anglican Church. In it you will find the best of the early, medieval, and modern Church traditions celebrated and used in our prayers and in our services.
You will find beautiful liturgy, icons, and ritual like the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. You will find passionate, Biblical, Christ-centered teaching and preaching like many Evangelical Churches. Like many "spirit-filled" churches, you will find an openness and expectancy for the Holy Spirit to heal and speak through God's people today. You will also find a rich heritage of activism, or care for the poor and needy, and of standing for social justice against evil social systems.
You may not find all of these things at any one specific Anglican Church, but within the Anglican Communion as a whole you will find all of these things, and you will find an openness to learn from other Christian traditions without labeling them "sub-Christian". The Anglican Church puts a great emphasis on the Church being the Body of Christ, the continuing incarnation of Jesus, reaching out as His hands and His feet into the world (see Rom 12; 1Co 12). Because of this, we realize that all Christians, and Christian traditions, are members of the same body. We may look really different and have vastly different functions, but we are all part of one organism, and we all need each other (even if we don't want to admit it).
Also, much of this Anglican openness to all that God has to offer comes from being rooted deeply in the history and traditions of the Church through all time. The Anglican Church did not just open its doors last decade or last century without any historical roots. Who we are and what we do is a continuation of what Christ has been doing through the Anglican Church for almost 2000 years. With this in mind, to understand the Anglican Church we must first understand a bit about our history.
As a minister in the Anglican Tradition, I get confronted at least once a month with the idea that "The Anglican Church was started just so Henry VIII could get a divorce", and this drives me up the wall! The implication is that the Anglican Church was defective from the start, since it only came about by a "deal with the devil" to be a puppet Church for the English King. While it is true that in England the government has meddled a bit too much in the Church's business (and likewise, the Church has too often tried to play politics), it is not true that the Church is defective.
In fact, I do not know of any Church tradition that has not gone through times of playing, and being played by, politics and power. The truth is that the Anglican Church, like any Church, is made of saints and sinners, and that it has a tremendous history of reform and revival. We have never had a definitive moment of reform, like Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the chapel door of Wittenburg, but slowly and surely, the light of reform and revival has been carried by the Anglican Church since before the middle ages.
3. Early reform and revival
To understand Anglicanism, you must understand England's history of reform movements as well as the power of the English King. The reformation of England was not just something that sprouted over night, nor was it a whim from King Henry VIII. It was rooted in a history of grass roots reform that stretched from the middle ages to John Wycliffe and the Lollards to William Tyndale to Thomas Cranmer to Queen Elizabeth. Starting in the 200's, when Christianity first got a strong foothold on the English Islands, there has always been a strong history of reform and revival.
The Anglican story starts somewhere in the second or third centuries as Christianity comes to the Britain through Roman soldiers and traveling merchants. There are reports of early martyrs, and we know that England had bishops involved in Church councils by 325 AD. This early Christian movement sent out missionaries to take the Gospel to other lands. The most noteworthy is St. Patrick (390-461), who almost single-handedly converted all of Ireland to Christianity, by founding hundreds of Churches and monasteries, performing signs and miracles, and personally risking his life by converting powerful Celtic warlords. Yet, as the Roman Empire fell apart, non-Christian barbarians invaded England, killing and enslaving much of the Christian population.
In the 500's, St. Columba (521-597) started revival in England. This was followed up in 597, when St. Augustine was sent from Rome to convert the English people to Christ. He became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, which has remained the "home Church" for Anglicanism even to this day. He preached the Gospel with astonishing success, founding dozens of Churches and monasteries across England. Christianity spread like wildfire, and within two generations, all of England was Christian and became a powerful sending station for missionaries themselves. From England, missionaries like St. Boniface (680-754) were sent to take the Gospel to Germany and elsewhere. Like St. Patrick before him, Boniface single-handedly converted much of Germany through signs and miracles, powerful preaching, and risking his life to convert powerful warlords.
During this time, the dark ages descended like a shroud upon most of Europe. It was an age of famine, plague, anarchy, lawlessness, disease, and disaster. It was during this time that the monks and nuns of England and Ireland kept the flame of civilization burning by copying the Bible in Latin, and Greek, as well as copying the Church Fathers, ancient writers, and philosophers. As the flame of literacy and Scriptural knowledge was almost put out in Europe, the Anglican Church kept the fire bright. Many writers and thinkers in the early middle ages traveled to the English Isles for education. When society again became safe enough to learn and acquire knowledge, it was the Anglican Church that was able to supply much of it. Great thinkers like Anslem, the Archbishop of Canterbury (1033-1109), led the way in taking the Gospel and applying it to the new needs of Europe, as well as defending the faith from new enemies.
In Europe during the middle ages, the Roman Church, led by the bishops of Rome (the Popes) gained more and more power over the rest of Christianity. In some ways this was good, because it unified Christianity during time of chaos and warfare, and provided a central "office" to direct the affairs of the Church. But, in many ways it became bad. Popes became more and more corrupt. They demanded more and more money from Churches in other nations. The office of Pope was bought and sold, and often countries such as France, Germany, or Spain used the Pope as a puppet to exercise power over their enemies. This is not to say that all Popes are bad. Many are great pastors and men of God, such as the current Pope John Paul II. And the Roman Church has reformed and solved many of its problems. But in the middle ages, as the Papacy gradually got more and more out of control, the Anglican Church was one of the foremost voices to cry out against it.
John Wycliffe (1329-1384) was one of the loudest voices for reform. As a priest and professor at Oxford University, Wycliffe cried out for the Church to return to the Bible, for the Bible to be published in the native tongue, and for all believers to become ministers of Christ (not just the clergy). He sharply attacked Papal abuses and wealth, and stood against the harsh taxes exerted on the English people by the French-controlled Pope. This earned condemnation by the Pope and nearly got him burned at the stake. After Wycliffe's death, his followers, named "the Lollards", called for reform all around England, often by preaching in fields, in pubs, and in the public squares. They circulated copies of Scripture in English (translated by Wycliffe), and taught people how to pray and study the Bible in their own language. These ideas spread to John Hus in Germany who started a similar reform movement in the late 1400's. Hus, many of his followers, and many of the Lollards, were imprisoned and burned at the stake for preaching the Gospel. Yet, their preaching sowed the seed for other reforms by people like Martin Luther in Germany and John Calvin in Geneva. In many ways, the Anglican Church served as a catalyst for the Protestant reformation.
Once these seeds were sown by the Anglican Church, and the ground was watered by the corruption of the Roman Church, the Reformation sprouted when Martin Luther broke parts of the German Church away from Rome in the 1520's. His reformation was followed John Calvin in Geneva and Huldrich Zwingli in Zurich in the 1530's to 1550's. A whole host of other reform movements followed these, some which were Biblical, and some which were destructive. The main teachings of this reformation were: First, a return to the Bible in the common language so all could learn and study it. Second, using the Bible alone as the determining factor for faith and practice. Third, salvation by grace alone, through faith in Christ, not through "earning" salvation in religious rituals. Fourth, returning to the "priesthood of all believers" in which every baptized believer has the responsibility to pray to Christ and minister for Christ. Fifth, getting rid of rituals, ceremonies, and saint-worship that hid Christ away from the people. These were largely the same issues and changes that the Anglican reformers had been advocating for decades!
As these reforms spread across Europe, clergy and professors began to take notice in England. One man, William Tyndale (1494-1536), was a Bible professor at Cambridge. He began translating the Bible into English from the original languages and speaking out against the Papacy. The local bishop censured him, and he fled to Europe where he completed the first English New Testament. However, at that time King Henry VIII of England was a staunch Roman Catholic who had published his own book against the reformation, earning him the title "Defender of the Faith" from the Pope. Henry sent spies to arrest Tyndale and eventually execute him, without ever finishing his translation of the entire Bible. Yet, the execution of Tyndale could not stop the growing desire for reformation. It was fueled by Biblical studies and reformation learning that was going on at English universities, especially Cambridge. Reform ideas were being talked about, debated, and believed in by many English clergy and university professors, and Tyndale's New Testament formed the basis for English translations of the Bible for centuries.
4. Cranmer, Henry, and the first English Reformation
The main thing that stopped a full out reformation of the Church in England was the power of the King. Because England is small, bordered by water, and well consolidated under the power of the crown, it was much easier for the king to keep a tight reign over his subjects, and kill those who disagreed (like the Lollards). This was unlike Europe, where political power was not as tightly consolidated under one King and there were plenty of lesser lords and barons to run to for protection if you upset your ruler.
In addition, most English clergy believed firmly in the "divine right" of the King to choose the religion of his subjects. The English Reformers operated on a model of Church and state quite different from ours today. They took quite literally Romans 13:1: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God." Furthermore, they looked to the Old Testament example of David as the King and religious head of the country. Thus, for very Biblical reasons, most English Reformers were against the European reformers who contradicted or overthrew the rule of their kings. After all, in the Old Testament we find very wicked, idolatrous kings, yet the prophets never attempted a political revolution, but rather a moral and spiritual reform. Thus, for a reformation to happen in England, it required BOTH the support of the clergy to enact it, AND the support of the King not to suppress it. It couldn't happen without both sides agreeing.
The reforming desire of the clergy and the needs of the king finally came together while Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) was Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer himself had gone to Germany to study under reformers and had secretly married the daughter of a reformer. On one hand, Cranmer and many clergy were ripe for a reformation of the English Church. On the other hand, King Henry VIII desperately needed a male son to continue his family line and keep the crown in his family. Yet, Henry could not produce this heir with his wife, Catherine of Aragon, because he thought his marriage was cursed by God. You see, Catherine had been previously married to Henry's brother, who died. Henry married his brother's wife in defiance of Leviticus 20:21, which says that "If a man marries his brother's wife, it is an act of impurity... they will be childless". The Pope had given Henry a special dispensation for Henry to marry against the "clear teaching of Scripture", because the royal family of Spain (which Catherine was from) had put pressure on the Pope. The prophecy of Scripture seemed to come true in Henry's case, because they were "childless" (or at least male-less), since they only had one child, a girl named Mary. Henry asked for the marriage to be annulled because it was un-Biblical, but the Pope would not grant it because he did not want to upset the Spanish royal family.
At this point Cranmer, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, stepped in and was willing to annul the marriage if Henry would break the Anglican Church off from Rome. Henry was more than happy to do this, not only to get remarried, but because he wanted to take back power and money from the Pope. For 100 years the English had been at war with the French. The papacy was controlled by the French and Spanish. English money, sent to the Pope, went to directly support policies which hurt the English people. For England, the Pope was not Christ's representative on Earth, but a French puppet to undermine the affairs of England. By cutting the Church off from Rome, Henry got a new wife and a new chance at a male heir to the throne, and he took power away from France and the Pope. In return, Cranmer and much of the English clergy got a chance to reform the church and bring revival. It is important to note that Cranmer's annulment of Henry's marriage was Biblically based, and it was done to gain the King's support for something that was even more Biblical: the renewal of an entire nation's faith and devotion to Christ. It was a slow reformation, but it is a reformation that could never have happened if the King had not opened the door by cutting ties with Rome.
So both king and Church got some of what they wanted. Henry took away the Pope's power over England and passed the Act of Supremacy which stated that the He was the "supreme head of the Anglican Church on earth". He then married Anne Bolyn who gave him another daughter, Elizabeth. Because Henry could not have a son with Anne either, he accused her of adultery and had her beheaded so he could marry again. His third marriage finally bore Henry the son he desperately wanted, a sickly child named Edward.
Consequently, Cranmer was able to produce a Bible and Prayer Book in English to be put in every Church and in the hands of anyone, clergy or laity, who would buy them. Cranmer was truly a genius, and a world class writer, who crafted the 1549 Prayer Book to guide the faith and practice of an entire nation. His belief was that your prayer life shapes your beliefs and lifestyle. In Europe, people's beliefs were changed mainly by the preaching of reformers and written theological documents called confessions and catechisms. Yet, in England, people's beliefs were reformed by shaping the way they prayed through a Book of Prayer that was common, or shared, by all people. This prayer book was designed to "form" the English people in the teachings of the reformation, most notably in regular Bible study, regular prayer, and salvation through personal faith in Christ. In fact, around 80% of the Prayer Book is composed of quotes or paraphrases of Scripture! By the time of Henry's death, all of England worshipped Christ in a tongue they understood and read the Scriptures in their own language.
5. Reform, Regression, Renewal, and the Middle Way
When Henry died in 1547 Edward came to the throne as a child-king. Edward was surrounded by dedicated reformers, such as Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley, who guided his decisions about religion. Under Edward's rule, reformation spread like a fire across England. Thomas Cranmer created the second Book of Common Prayer in 1552 and made it reflect more Calvinist influences. At the same time Cranmer also authored the Forty Two Articles that served as an official "doctrinal statement" of what the Anglican Church believes. These articles were later revised and became the Thirty Nine Articles in the back of our Prayer Book today. The Prayer Book and the Articles clearly reflect the principals of the Reformation and a return to Biblical Christianity.
Edward died in 1553 and left no son to take his throne. As a result, Henry's first daughter, Mary, took the throne of England. Mary was a devout Roman Catholic and was dead set on returning England back to Roman Catholicism. As soon as Mary took the throne, she repealed most of the laws passed by Henry and Edward concerning religion, and made the Book of Common Prayer and Reformation teaching illegal. She persecuted, imprisoned, and killed hundreds (possibly thousands) of people who stood for the Reformation. Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley were all burned at the stake between 1555 and 1556. For this, Queen Mary is also known as "Bloody Mary".
Mary's reign was brief and violent, and she died in 1558. Henry's second daughter, Elizabeth, ascended to the throne. Queen Elizabeth I was an expert politician and shrewdly helped England become the strongest nation on Earth at the time. She wisely realized that her citizens were worn out by the religious wars, and that extreme Catholicism and extreme Protestantism were both equally dangerous to the security of England. Elizabeth also rejected being called the "supreme head of the English Church on Earth" as her father liked to be called. She choose instead to be called the "Defender of the faith", which weakened the "divine right of kings" and opened the door for religious freedom in England. She appointed Matthew Parker (1504-1575) to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Parker was a reformer who appreciated the good aspects of both the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions. It was because of Elizabeth and Parker (and not Henry VIII) that the English Reformation was finally completed.
Elizabeth and Parker designed a "via media", or "middle way", between Catholicism and Reformation. They accepted reformed belief with Catholic ritual, and the English Church became a "bridge" between Catholicism and Reformation. Parker issued a new prayer book, made sure every Church in England had a Bible in it, and drafted the final edition of the Thirty Nine Articles. In the coming years John Jewel (1522-1571) wrote "Apology for the Anglican Church", in which he defended the Anglican Church against the Roman Church. He claimed that the Anglican Church was truly "catholic" because it did not add new teachings to Scripture, as the Roman Church did. Later, Richard Hooker (1554-1600) wrote "The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity". In this book he defended the Anglican Church against the radical reformers who wanted to get rid of all bishops, much of the Liturgy, and anything good from the Catholic tradition. In Jewel and Hooker we see the "via media" in action through their efforts to keep the best of Catholicism and the Reformation without being controlled by either side.
This "via media" is the distinctive mark of the Anglican Church. Some have thought the "via" meant compromising on everything, so that the essence of the faith is lost to some kind of "lowest common denominator". Yet, this is not what the "via" means. It means to take the best of different Christian traditions, both Catholic and Protestant, and hold them together in creative tension in appreciation for the unity and diversity of the body of Christ. While this tension sometimes explodes into a huge mess and has to be corrected, the usual result is a Church body which values and uses all the treasures of the Christian tradition, and in which everyone can find a home. Because of the "via media" there has historically been four interlocking traditions within the Anglican Church: High Church, Low Church, Renewal, and Broad Church traditions. As I will touch on below, each of these traditions seems to me to bring special emphasis to the different members of the Trinity and our involvement in God's life.
6. Worldwide Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church
So, how did the Anglican Church move out of England and become a global faith? There are several answers for that. First, if you look at the Anglican Church as part of the worldwide Catholic Church before the split of the 1500's, you will see many English missionaries who took the catholic faith all around Europe. I have already mentioned how St. Patrick took the faith to Ireland and St. Boniface took the faith to Germany. From Germany the faith spread all throughout northern Europe. In a way, much of German and European Christianity actually has Anglican roots.
During the Reformation of the 1500's and early 1600's the Anglican faith did not spread much due to the amount of conflict at home. In fact, all of Christianity stayed locked in a civil war for about a century, and spread very little. It is hard to send missionaries out when your own church is on fire! Yet, after the Reformation and the Wars of Religion died down, England began to rise as a social and military power. Beginning with Queen Elizabeth, the British Navy became the most powerful force on the high seas for nearly 300 years. As a result, the English navy sailed across the known world, establishing trading posts and capturing lands all over the planet. At one time, it was said that "the sun never sets on the British Empire". Regardless of the motive of such military and commercial conquests, God saw fit to use the English Empire for His purposes as well. God is pretty good at using flawed human motives to accomplish His will!
Since the Anglican Church was the official Church of England, there is one thing that the English were duty bound to do in every place they took up residence: set up a Church! As a result, everywhere the English Navy and English settlers went, so went the Anglican Church. In a way, English naval power (both military and commercial) became the most effective missionary transport agency in the modern world. This is not to say that Anglican missionary priests were the most vibrant, vigorous missionaries out there. They weren't. All too often they were just there to pick up a pay check. Many "missionaries" were more concerned about turning the natives into good English subjects, rather than devoted disciples of Christ. As a result, many times the church and state tried to eradicate native cultures, traditions, and languages, only to replace them with imported English civilization. Yet, there were also many devoted, Christ-centered missionaries as well, and God still used the good, the bad, and the ugly to do His work.
As a result of English colonization, the Anglican Church got a strong foothold all over Africa (especially South Africa), India, North and South America, the Middle East, islands all across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and portions of Asia. These missionary footholds at first primarily served the English citizens who lived and worked there, but over time they started to minister to the local populations. The Anglican Church also started many of the schools and hospitals in these far flung locations, and over time these started to serve native populations as well. Gradually, the Anglican Church began to educate and ordain native clergy, as well as send out preachers and teachers to evangelize the native populations.
Then, around the turn of the 20th century, England started to pull out of its foreign holdings. Sometimes they pulled out because of local uprisings, sometimes they pulled out for economic reasons, and sometimes they pulled out because of being threatened by the Germans or Japanese in the world wars. When they pulled out, they generally took all English citizens with them. Many priests gave up their churches and returned to England, but many also stayed. In addition, most native clergy who were trained by the English stayed as well. Several of these clergy were ordained as bishops in England so that they could go back and ordain their own priests and deacons at home. As a result, the local Anglican Churches became more and more native, until, in many countries, there were no more English citizens in charge as clergy. This is how the Anglican Church ceased to be "just an English thing" and became a world-wide movement.
Then something funny started happening. In the second half of the 20th century, these native churches in Africa and South America started booming! As they experienced renewal, they grew double, triple, even quadruple or more. Some of the national churches in Africa have grown from tens of thousands around 1900 to over ten million today. Today the Anglican Church is the fastest growing Church in Africa, and Africa is one of the fastest growing places for Christianity in the whole world!
Now, at this point I must back track and talk about where the Episcopal Church in the United States came from, and how it fits in with worldwide Anglicanism. In 1607 the Anglican Church first came to America in the colony of Jamestown. During the next century and a half, the English established colonies from Georgia to Canada, and each of these colonies had priests and parishes from the Church of England. Many of these churches also tried to evangelize the native Americans with limited success. In fact, John Wesley himself was once a missionary priest in America and George Whitfield was a revival preacher here as well. Then, in 1774 a curious thing happened in which a small group of rag tag volunteers defeated the strongest military force in the world at that time. This was the American revolution.
After the revolution was over, the Anglican Church had three problems in the newly formed United States. First, it was perceived to have loyalties to the English (which many clergy did). Second, it still carried the name "Church of England" which did not fare well in a country that had just fought England and won. Third, it had no bishops to ordain new clergy. All the bishops were in England. It seems the English had never given the colonies any bishops, in one more attempt to keep English control over the colonies. All three problems had to be resolved for the Anglican Church in the U.S. to survive.
Even though the Anglican Church had many "pro-English" clergy and members, many of the founding fathers of our country were also members as well (and some of them clergy). They made sure the Anglican Church survived here. Not long after we gained independence, a decision was made to drop the name "Church of England", or "Anglican", and replace it with a name that represented how we are governed as a Church. The name we took was "Episcopal", or rather "The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America". We are called Protestant because we are not Roman Catholic. We are called "Episcopal" because we are governed by bishops. The Greek New Testament word for bishop is "episkopos", and hence we are named "Episcopal".
With the name Change, the newly founded Episcopal Church still had to figure out how to get bishops to run the new church. Bishops are necessary for the Church to be fully what Christ intended, because Christ has given bishops the authority to ordain new priests and pastors (see Tit. 1:5; Acts 14:23). Since England was still angry about the Revolution in America, neither the English Parliament nor the English bishops would ordain bishops for the United States. Therefore, the Episcopal Church made an agreement with the Anglican Church in Scotland. The agreement was that if their Bishops would ordain an American Bishop, the American Church would in turn use the Scottish prayer book as the model for the new American Prayer book. The deal was struck and in 1784 Samuel Seabury was ordained the first Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America.
Only three years later, the Episcopal Church was restored to fellowship with its English brethren and William White and Samuel Provoost were ordained Bishops in London in 1787. By Church tradition, it takes three bishops to ordain another bishop (just to make sure one of them is not a heretic). With three bishops, the Episcopal Church could now ordain its own bishops and become a fully self-sustaining church body. This restored the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion, because even though the English Church held no power over the American Church, there was still brotherhood between the two, and we were agreed on matters of faith, doctrine, morals, and worship.
At first the Episcopal Church was largely a Church of the East Coast, lacking the ability to deal with the rapidly expanding western frontier of the United States. But it slowly matured and became ever more strongly a part of the young nation's life. There were several giants of the Episcopal Church who's contributions will never be forgotten. Among these, Bishop Whipple spent his life as a missionary to the Indians of Minnesota. Bishop Tuttle established the Episcopal Church in Utah despite strong opposition from Mormons there. Bishop Griswold evangelized so effectively that his diocese grew and subdivided five times before he died. Many other Bishops, such as R.C. Moore, Hobart, Kemper and Polk were noted evangelists who spread the Episcopal Church from coast to coast and established a number of colleges and seminaries.
In 1874, a young bishop named Alexander Garrett was sent to establish the Episcopal Church in North Texas. He was a circuit riding preacher, which meant every week he rode his horse from city to city performing Church services and establishing new Churches. He named his area "the Big Pasture", and he labored over twenty years sharing Christ with the people of North Texas. During this time he suffered many hardships, including loosing his son. In 1895 his efforts were rewarded and the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas was founded. Since that time Dallas has thrived and has become known across the country as a defender of catholic, Biblical Christianity. This is my diocese, and I'm proud of it.
Today, within my own diocese, and across the Anglican Church worldwide, there are several movements, or flavors, that need to be understood in order to fully understand the Anglican faith. These flavors are High Church, Low Church, Renewal, and Broad Church traditions. Each of these traditions are held together as one Church body by the Anglican "via media", and each of these traditions brings special emphasis to the different members of the Trinity and our involvement in God's life.
7. High Church Anglicanism
"High Church" Anglicanism is that part of the church which has always looked and felt closest to the Roman Catholic Church. By just looking around, you will hardly be able to tell the difference between a high church service and a Roman Catholic service, except that a high church service will use the words of the Book of Common Prayer. For this reason, the high church segment of the Anglican Church is often called "Anglo-Catholicism".
Perhaps the defining trait of the high church movement is that it seeks to emphasize the glory, majesty, and mystery of God the Father through the actions that we offer Him in worship. It places a high value on anything that brings a sense of awe, wonder, and majesty into the worship of God. For this reason, you will find a number of wonderful traditions in a high church parish:
+ You will see vestments, robes, and hats of all different styles and colors. Each style and color has different significance, and will be discussed below. These vestments are an attempt to visually represent the holiness and majesty of humans being involved in the worship of the King of the Universe.
+ You will see many candles, icons, and symbols. Each icon and symbol has a distinct purpose and meaning, and some of them will be discussed later. These icons have two purposes: First they are meant to be visual aids to teach the stories and truths of the faith, so that by seeing them we are reminded of them. Second, they are meant to be portals through which we can look and be drawn into the life of God.
+ You will see the priest and the congregation use many rituals, such as bowing and crossing oneself. This is designed to get our bodies, as well as our hearts and minds and mouths, involved in worshipping God. These rituals are non-verbal prayers that help our bodies take our souls into a sacred place to encounter the majesty of God.
+ You will hear chants and bells and triumphant, majestic music that is often played on a pipe organ. These sounds are meant to transport us into a holy space, and remind us of God's presence. The ominous majesty of the pipe organ is meant to arouse in us the awe of God.
+ You will smell incense and smoke, and taste wine and bread. This is designed to get our sense of smell and taste as involved in worshipping God as well as the rest of our bodies. The incense and smoke represents our prayers going up to God, and the taste of the Communion meal reminds us that God came down to be one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Because you frequently hear bells and smell incense at high church services, those churches that are "Anglo-Catholic" have frequently been called "bells and smells" churches. If you tell someone that you visited another Anglican or Episcopal Church, they are likely to ask you "Were they a bells and smells church?" This does not mean that all churches that use bells and smells are "high church" parishes, because in reality most Anglican Churches are somewhat of a mix of the four traditions. But, if you go to a church that uses bells, organ, incense, lots of ritual, and many vestments, you can be sure that it is heavily influenced by the high church movement.
The high church, or Anglo-Catholic movement has always been around in the Anglican Church. Remember, the Anglican Church once was part of the Roman Church and once used all of its rituals and services. When the Anglican Church finally split away from Rome under Queen Elizabeth, there was a strong desire by many English to keep all of the Roman ritual in the worship service, but use Protestant theology. The idea was to keep the outward form of worship, but replace the inner belief system, or theology, that it was built on.
There was also a strong desire on the part of a sizeable minority in the Anglican Church to get rid of all Roman rituals along with Roman theology. This was the beginning "Low Church" movement. The low church movement argued that it was not really reform to keep the outward form but change the theology. You must change both at the same time, or else the outward form would corrupt the theology. They wanted to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. The budding low church movement wanted to strip the worship service of all rituals, icons (except the cross), incense, and vestments. Some even wanted to get rid of priests and bishops, and replace them with a different system of church government altogether.
Strong opposition arose against this from the beginning, and this was the birth of the high church movement. The fight to keep "High Church" traditions was led by a group of scholars and preachers usually called "the Caroline Divines" (because they taught and wrote during the reigns of the Caroline Kings, Charles I and Charles II). Men such as Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) and William Laud (1573-1645) were their leading writers. From the 1550's to the 1830's there were many heated arguments and divisions in the Anglican church between those who supported high church ritual and those who wanted to abolish it, and those who wanted to abolish it were generally on the winning side.
This changed in the 1830's with a group of young preachers and professors called "Oxford Movement" who wrote a series of articles and booklets called "Tracts for the Times". The leaders of the Oxford movement were John Henry Newman, John Keble, and Edward Pusey. The goal of the Oxford Movement was two fold: First, they wanted to turn the Church back to catholic ritual and catholic theology that they felt was Biblical, and which they thought had been almost completely taken out of the Church of England. Second, they wanted a renewal of seriousness and intensity among Christians in their Sunday worship, as well as in their outreach beyond the Church to the poor and needy. The Oxford movement believed that seriousness in our worship of God should be modeled in the seriousness of our outreach to God's people.
The Oxford movement became very successful in certain areas, especially among the poor and middle class. It was also hated by many from a more "low church" stance. Perhaps the single most important thinker to come out of the Oxford movement was John Henry Newman, who ranks as one of the top theologians of his century. Yet, the amount to controversy, and even hate, caused by Newman's attempt to revive the catholic tradition in the Church drove Newman, as well as Pusey, to transfer to the Roman Church. While their loss to Anglicanism was great, the high church movement kept spreading. Today you will find high church parishes all over the world.
The strength of the high church movement is its attempt to bring beauty, awe, reverence, glory, and majesty to the worship of God. The weakness is that it all too often degenerates into a dead traditionalism that is too concerned on the particulars of the ritual, rather than the substance of the worship. Many high church parishes become so worried about the "little pretties" of the liturgy, such as how people are dressed, who does what ritual when, and how things look, that they forget that the purpose is to worship the God and Father of all. While our Father loves awe and reverence and beauty, it is the heart of the worshippers that He cares about most. For He has said "these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote" (Isa 29:13). Those who practice the high church tradition must be particularly careful to keep their heart and mind engaged in the acts of worship they perform. Yet, when you worship in a high church parish where people are passionate about Christ, it is an experience of awe and wonder!
The genius of the high church movement is that it believes in the Latin saying "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi et Agendi". This means that "The law of prayer is the law of belief and action". How we pray and worship guides and transforms how we believe, and how we believe in turn transforms how we act. Our prayers shape our thoughts which shape our lifestyle. Based on this, high churchmen pay very careful attention to how we pray and how we worship, so that everything that is said, done, seen, and even smelled in a worship service is aimed toward transforming us into the image of Christ. As we experience the awe and mystery of the liturgy, as we pray the prayers, as we hear the readings and the worship, and most importantly, as we bow to take the sacrament, we are actors in a great drama that ends with our transformation into Christ's image. This is why the high church movement stresses worship so much, because in worship, we encounter God and are transformed by Him.
8. Low Church Anglicanism
The term "Low Church" has been used since the time of the Caroline Divines, and was used especially against the Oxford "High Church" movement of the 1800's. The reason why the word "Low" is used is because this movement puts a "low" value on the role of ritual, icons, vestments, and catholic traditions in the life of the Church, sometimes going as far as trying to eliminate them altogether. This contradicts the Anglo-Catholics, who give a "high" value to all of these things. In a low church parish there is low, or no, use of ritual, vestments, icons, candles, or titles such as "father" for the priest. All of this is because the low church tradition places an incredibly HIGH emphasis on the authority and sufficiency of Christ and His Word alone. People from the low church tradition generally feel that to give a "high" place to anything in worship other than Christ, and the teachings of Scripture, is to lower Christ and Scripture. They would argue that to put Christ in first place means to eliminate anything else that might possibly distract from Christ. Therefore they strip away everything that could draw us away from Christ, whether it is ceremonies, rituals, clothing, traditions, or titles.
You find this low church impulse in every age of the Anglican Church. Anslem of Canterbury tried to bring us back to the centrality of Christ and His Cross by writing the book "Why God became man". Later on Wycliffe and his followers, the Lollards, sought to bring England back to a Christ-centered, Biblical faith, as well as preaching and teaching the Bible in the everyday language of the people. Tyndale followed with his protests against the Pope, attempts to reform the Church, and efforts to translate the Bible into English.
Yet, perhaps the greatest spokesperson from the low church movement was Thomas Cranmer himself, as shown in his 1552 edition of the Prayer Book. In it, he tries to strip away every last vestige of Roman ritual and replaces it with straight Scripture (as much as possible). In his later years Cranmer wanted to make the Church of England look much more like John Calvin's church in Geneva, instead of allowing it to look like the church in Rome. He has been followed by a long line of low church writers and teachers throughout the ages, such as the revival preacher George Whitfield, and modern Evangelical teachers J.I. Packer and John Stott.
Because the low church movement has usually used the reformed theology of John Calvin as its basic theology, it is sometimes called the "reformed movement". Also, because the low church movement stresses the preaching of the Gospel of Christ above all else, it is often called the "evangelical movement". Evangelical comes from the Greek word "euangellion", which means "Gospel" or "Good News". Therefore, the low church movement is the part of the Anglican Church that is always trying to reform it from the inside, and always focused on preaching the Good News of Christ found in Scripture.
For the low churchman, everything the Church does must be explicitly grounded in Scripture. If something is not explicitly taught in Scripture, it is at best un-necessary, and at worst a deception that takes us away from the true worship of Christ. You could look at it this way: Low churchmen believe in minimal tradition. They say we should use tradition to supplement what the Bible says only if it is absolutely necessary. High churchmen believe in maximum tradition. They say we should use tradition as often as we can, as long as it does not contradict Scripture. On the basis of this logic, low churchmen throw out ritual (because it is not stated clearly in Scripture); They throw out vestments (because it is not clearly stated in Scripture); They throw out incense and elaborate ceremony (because it is not clearly stated in Scripture). Some even have tried to throw out priests and bishops (because they argue that they are not clearly stated in Scripture either). The result is that you get a very basic worship service. The walls are unadorned. The altar is replaced by a table. The vestments are replaced by an academic robe. There is usually no crucifix (with Christ hanging on it), but rather a simple cross above the table.
All of this is done to highlight something very important: the preaching of Christ crucified and resurrected. Low churchmen see themselves following in steps of the great reformers of Europe, such as John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, who abolished as many Roman rituals as they could to get back to the pure essence of the Gospel, unveiled and untarnished by human traditions. In low church parishes, you will find that the Bible and Biblical preaching is central. The worship service is not so much a place where you experience the glory of God in the liturgy, as a place where you are changed by Christ through the preaching of the Bible. As a result, in a low church parish you will encounter long sermons that are dedicated to examining Scripture in depth and applying it to our lives right here, right now.
This highlights another difference between low church and high church traditions: the answer to the question "How are we transformed by Christ?" The high churchman will answer this by saying "We are transformed by how we pray. We must structure the liturgy and worship so that we are transformed by Christ in prayer." The low churchmen will answer this by saying "We are transformed by what we are taught. We must structure our sermons and our statements of doctrine so that we are transformed by Christ in instruction." The perfect example of this is found in the Prayer Book. In the back you find the 39 Articles of Religion, which state in systematic form, what Anglicans believe from a low church perspective. In the middle you will find the Liturgies for Baptism, Eucharist, and the other sacraments. These pray what Anglicans believe from a high church perspective.
What is incredible about Anglicanism is that we can function together, using the same prayer book, despite these differences. Sometimes high churchmen, such as John Henry Neuman, will try to interpret the 39 Articles as if they were really written from a high church perspective, but this interpretation always feels forced and hollow. Other times, you will read where a low churchmen tries to interpret the liturgy as if it were made for low church theology. This doesn't work either. Yet, the beauty of the Anglican Church is that it is able to hold both sides together in a creative tension, because we know, deep down, that we really need each other.
The high church movement needs the low church movement because without it, we would become bogged down in layers of tradition that take our focus away from Christ. A great example of bogged down traditionalism is the Roman Catholic Church in South America. In many of their parishes, devotions to the Virgin Mary and the saints have overshadowed devotion to Christ. Their chapels are so filled with statues of saints that it is hard to find a cross, much less a Bible. Tradition tends to build up and crust on over time, like rust, so that if you are not careful you will soon not be able to tell what is really underneath all the traditions. Without the low church movement constantly saying "Do we really need this tradition?", "Why do we do that?", and "Let's get back to Christ and the Bible!" we would become bogged down just like those churches in South America.
On the other hand, the low church movement needs the high church movement to keep them from throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We have learned an incredible amount about following Christ over the last 2000 years of Christianity, and it is essential that we incorporate all that we have learned into living tradition. Without living tradition, we will have to re-learn the mistakes and accomplishments of the past in every generation. Without living tradition guiding us in how to understand Scripture, we are likely to come up with our own new and flawed interpretations of Scripture every few years. God has given us great thinkers and great saints to learn from in our past, and the high church movement keeps them alive in the present. Without high churchmen constantly asking "What have we learned from the past about this?", and "What has God taught us through our forefathers in the faith?", Anglicanism would loose its foundation and have amnesia about the lessons that God has taught us in Church history.
I feel like the high church versus low church struggle is largely a case of two sides heading toward the same goal from different directions. For instance, the Bible clearly states that we are transformed by both prayer and teaching. Yet one side stresses prayer and the other teaching. Some parts of the Bible speak of elaborate ceremony in worshipping the true God, while other parts speak of minimal worship with just singing and preaching. High churchmen stress former, while low churchmen stress latter. This tension even comes out in the teaching of how we are saved. High churchmen often stress the need for good works and a transformed life in our salvation, while low churchmen stress God's grace and our faith alone. In reality, both are true, for St. Paul says "by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life" (Eph 2:8-10). Low churchmen stress the first sentence, while high churchmen stress the second.
Who is right? I think both. Both are seeing a side of God, and truth in Scripture, that the other misses. Both need each other. The genius of Anglicanism is that it allows space for both to exist. In many Christian traditions, one side is kicked out and the other is kept. The result is an imbalanced church that has no one to correct them. In Anglicanism, while we may occasionally have "civil wars" amongst ourselves, we do it because we keep each other accountable to the mission and message that Christ gave us. The civil wars may knock us out of balance for a while, but in the end we come back to the "via media" and stay balanced in Christ.
9. Renewal Anglicanism
So far we have looked at high church Anglicanism, with its emphasis on the glory, majesty, and mystery of God the Father encountered through our worship. Then we looked at low church Anglicanism, with its emphasis on the authority and sufficiency of God the Son encountered through teaching the Scriptures. Now we look at the tradition in Anglicanism that emphasizes the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Unlike the other two traditions, this one does not have a well defined name.
Some call it the "renewal" movement, because it seeks to renew the heart and soul of Anglicanism through the direct experience of the Holy Spirit. Others call it the "charismatic" movement because it emphasizes the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which in the Greek New Testament are called "charisma" (see 1Co 12). In Church history, it has been called "mystical" Christianity, because Christians called "mystics" have experienced the mystery of God through direct contact with the Holy Spirit in visions and experiences. Finally, some have made fun of this movement by calling it "happy-clappy", because in worship these Anglicans are usually joyful and exuberant, with loud singing and clapping.
Whatever you may call it, I will call it here the "renewal movement". The interesting thing about the renewal movement is that it is not so much a movement instituted and taught by people (like high and low church movements). Rather, it is a advancement of the Holy Spirit to revive the faith of Anglicans all over the world. As a result, you will find members of the renewal movement in both high and low church parishes. In fact, the Holy Spirit does not stop there, but pours Himself out on all Christian traditions. From Anglicans to Roman Catholics to Greek Orthodox to Baptists to Presbyterians to Pentecostals, the Holy Spirit is touching lives and pouring out His gifts on God's people for the service of Jesus Christ.
The renewal movement has three distinct elements to it that transcend "high church" and "low church" labels. First, the renewal movement is characterized by intense personal experience of Christ through the Holy Spirit. Those who experience spiritual renewal report encountering Christ personally, intimately, and passionately. They are excited about Christ and transformed by His presence. They feel His Spirit living within them. There is usually some type of intense emotional experience that accompanies this experience.
Second, the renewal movement is characterized by powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit being given to all kinds of people. A hallmark of the renewal movement is that the gifts of the Spirit are for everyone, not just a spiritual elite. The Spirit pours out His gifts on whom He pleases, when He pleases. Those who undergo renewal report speaking in tongues, healing, miracles, visions, and prophecy given by the Holy Spirit.
Third, the renewal movement is characterized by exuberant worship in singing and prayer. The "praise and worship" style of music has largely come out of the renewal movement. This music is usually upbeat, exciting, rock-and-roll-oriented, and uses contemporary rhythms and instruments such as guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards. In a renewal worship service you will hear clapping, tambourines, and you will see hands lifted high in praise to Christ. You may hear shouts of joy, amens, and halleleujahs. All of this expresses excitement for Christ and the experience of being renewed by His Spirit.
The renewal movement is nothing new. It has been a part of Anglican Church life since the beginning. In the lives of St. Patrick and St. Boniface we see the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in healings, miracles, and visions. The ministry of these men were accompanied by revival and renewal across England, Ireland, and Germany. In the middle ages there were countless English and Irish monks, nuns, priests, and even lay people who experienced visions and miracles wrought by the Spirit. One such person was Julian of Norwich, a lay woman who was given a series of intense visions of Christ. Her writings are profound records of intense mystical experience of Christ and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
During the revivals of the 1700's the Anglican Church experienced spiritual renewal and great enthusiasm as the result of the preaching of men such as George Whitfield and John Wesley. Both of these men had ministries in which people were healed and miracles happened, while many others got excited, fainted, saw visions, and cried out in ecstasy (possibly even speaking in tongues). This out-flowing of emotion and uncontrolled spiritual experience was scandalous to many church authorities who would rather have a tame and domesticated Holy Spirit rather than uncontrolled revival. It is even reported that when Wesley told bishop Butler about the wonderful things the Spirit was doing, the bishop replied "Sir, pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Spirit is a horrid thing, a very horrid thing." Throughout the history of the renewal movement, it is common for traditionalists to get scared and condemn those who are undergoing spiritual renewal.
Around 1900, a tremendous thing happened to Christianity in general: the Pentecostal movement began spreading from Topeka Kansas and the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles California. The Pentecostal movement was characterized by intense experience of the Holy Spirit, miracles, visions, healings, and most controversial, speaking in unknown tongues. This "tongue speaking" revival spread around the world, but most of the people who experienced this revival were kicked out of their churches and were forced to start new churches and denominations, thus splintering Christianity even more. The Pentecostal revival did not directly affect the Anglican Church (other than drawing away some of its members), but it did indirectly influence many Anglicans. One such Anglican was Agnes Sanford. She was raised as the child of missionaries in Asia, and was regularly exposed to healings and miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. Later, she married an Episcopal priest and had a very fruitful, world renowned ministry of healing and prayer.
In 1960 as a result of the influence of Pentecostal Christians, Father Dennis Bennett, a priest in Van Nuys California, received the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" and spoke in tongues. He was ostracized by his parish, but remained an Episcopal priest. Within a decade, he was leading a worldwide spiritual renewal movement in the Anglican Church, and in many other denominations. This renewal included speaking in tongues, prophecy, visions, healings, and miracles. This movement was called the "Charismatic" movement, and it was different from the Pentecostal movement because most of its followers remained in their church traditions rather than leaving them. It continues, even to this day, as a movement of the Holy Spirit to revive and renew historic Christian traditions both Protestant and Catholic.
Today, the renewal movement is best represented by Holy Trinity parish in Brompton England, the Cursillo movement, and African Anglicanism. Holy Trinity Brompton is a parish that underwent charismatic renewal in the 1980's. Since then, they have developed the "Alpha Course", which is a ten week small group program designed to spread spiritual renewal to local churches. This course has been used in churches around the world. The Cursillo movement is a three day retreat, started in the 1940's, which is based around small groups and designed to bring people into an intimate encounter with Christ in a caring community environment. Finally, the fastest growing segment of the Anglican Church is the African Church. In Africa you will find a church 60 million strong and growing rapidly. The African Church has high church, low church, and renewal aspects all woven together by the Holy Spirit.
Despite all its gifts and strengths, there are a couple of weaknesses that the renewal movement is prone to if not held in check by the high church and low church movements. First, if left unchecked, the renewal movement tends to breed a type of spiritual snobbery. Many who undergo renewal have gotten the idea that they are "super spiritual" and they look down on others who have not experienced "spiritual renewal". They see themselves as true Christians who are "Spirit-filled", and non-Spirit-filled Christians are seen as second class Christians. Yet, the high church movement places a high value on the Church as a community of differently gifted individuals who are all cells in Christ's body. When you combine high church with renewal, what you get is people who realize that any gift they have received is given to share and to build up the Body of Christ. There are no "second class" Christians, just Christians with different gifts to share.
The second weakness of the renewal movement is that there is a tendency to make feelings and personal experience the authority, rather than making the Bible the authority. Once a person has a powerful experience of the Spirit's presence, it is easy to put that experience above all other sources of knowing God, even above the Bible. Yet, the low church movement always stresses the Bible as the final and primary authority in knowing God. When you combine renewal and low church, what you get is people who test their spiritual experiences by Scripture and who make sure the renewal they experience is always Biblical and Christ centered. Whenever renewal, high church, and low church movements combine, they form a beautiful symphony that highlights the majesty of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
10. Broad Church Anglicanism
So far we have looked at the high church movement and its emphasis on God the Father experienced through the liturgy; the low church movement and its emphasis on God the Son experienced through Biblical preaching; and the renewal movement and its emphasis on God the Spirit experienced through passionate prayer and praise. Now we look at the movement within Anglicanism that focuses most on God's people, rather than on God Himself. This is the broad church movement, and it focuses on God's people in three main ways: First, it seeks to make the Church a loving, inclusive fellowship that respects and values all people. Second, it seeks to minister to human needs and rally for social justice. Third, it seeks to explain our faith in terms that are understandable to people immersed in contemporary culture and science.
The broad church movement has been around ever since the beginnings of the Anglican Church, in the development of its distinctive "via media". It is the attempt to keep different movements together in one Church, while respectfully agreeing to disagree. Without the Anglican Church being a "broad church", it could not exist with high and low church movements within it. For this reason, an early title for the broad church movement was "Latitudinarian", because there was much "latitude" within the Church for both high and low churchmen. It is an attempt to provide the broadest possible interpretation of the Christian faith in order to keep everyone together, rather than bitterly splintering into thousands of denominations.
A great example of the spirit of the broad church movement is found in C.S. Lewis' book "Mere Christianity". Lewis' project in Mere Christianity is to present the basics of Christianity that all Christians have agreed on across the ages. For instance, all Christians agree that Jesus' death and resurrection is the cause of our forgiveness and salvation. Yet, we disagree on HOW His death and resurrection causes our salvation. Broad churchmen would say: "We don't have to agree on HOW Christ saves us, as long as we agree THAT it is Christ who saves us". (After all, you don't need to know how a life preserver works for it to save you from drowning!) Another example is the Lord's Supper. All Christians agree that we should partake of the Lord's Supper regularly in communal worship. Yet, we disagree on exactly what it means. Is it Christ's body and blood, or just a symbol? As big of a difference as this is, the broad churchman would still say: "We don't have to agree on WHAT the Lord's Supper means as long as we agree THAT we must partake of it regularly". It is agreement on the major issues, while allowing freedom in the minor issues.
In this way, the broad church is open-minded and broadly accepts Christians of all types as true Christians. In the best sense, the broad church is "liberal". By liberal I do not mean part of the Democratic party or socialist. I mean the original definition of liberal, which comes from the Latin word "liberalis", meaning "free, generous". Liberal means "generous, open-minded, ample, full, not strict". The broad church movement is a liberal movement that realizes how limited we are as humans and how little we know. In recognition of our weakness and our limitations, the broad church movement seeks to bring together different perspectives into one Body, and so we can respect, understand, and even learn from one another.
An ancient Church Father summed up the heart of broad church Anglicanism long before there was an Anglican Church when he said "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity". St. Paul himself said something similar when he taught us to "live in harmony with one another; do not be prideful, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are" (Rom 12:16). And he forever reminds us "As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable... But God has combined the members of the body... so that there should be no division... but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (1Co 12:20-27) This is why the first goal of the broad church movement is to make the Church a loving, inclusive fellowship that respects and values all people and their different viewpoints.
The second goal of the broad church movement is to minister to human needs and rally for social justice. One of the passions of the broad church movement is to reach out to the most impoverished, most mistreated, and most misunderstood people and share the Love of Christ with them in concrete, practical ways (see Psa 82; Luke 4:17-19; Mat 25:31-46). Broad churchmen create homeless shelters, daycare centers, food pantries, free clinics, and educational programs to help the poor and needy. But they go beyond this and stand up against evil social systems and public injustices that oppress and injure the needy. They stand against prejudice based on sex, age, race, and religion. They try to make sure that society is fair and equitable for everyone, so that all can experience the abundant life that Jesus promised.
The last goal of the broad church movement is to listen seriously to the questions of today's culture and give them answers about God that make sense. The broad church movement has produced many great "scientist-theologians" who try to incorporate the findings of modern knowledge with the timeless truths of Scripture. One of the best current examples of this is found in John Polkinghorne, a theoretical physicist, priest of the Church of England, and passionate defender of the Christian faith. He has written dozens of books and articles showing how science sheds light on what we believe as orthodox Christians, as well as how orthodox Christianity makes science more (not less) understandable. One of the things the broad church movement does best is to explain Christianity in a reasonable way to modern people by using modern examples and analogies.
These three goals of the broad-church movement are noble and good. One Anglican writer, Robert Webber, has pictured Christianity as "three streams" flowing together as one: high church, low church, and renewal joining together as one mighty river. The banks that hold these three streams together come from the broad-church movement. We need an inclusive movement that joins these three streams because each stream needs the other. Held together by the broad church movement, the Anglican church flows strong, sure, and powerful. The broad church movement challenges all other movements to explain the faith in a way that makes sense to someone in today's culture. The broad church movement challenges all other movements to stand up against social injustice and to reach out to the needy and the poor. The broad church movement challenges all other movements to listen to one another and stay on the same ship without jumping over board. This is the strength of the broad church. But, there are glaring weaknesses as well.
I have said that the broad church, at its best, is "liberal". Yet, at its worst, it is "revisionist". Revisionist means that it changes, alters, and revises the substance of the faith in order to fit with the tastes of the times. There is a difference between taking the timeless truths about Jesus Christ and translating them into modern language, versus changing who Jesus is to fit with the spirit of the Age. For instance, you might use very different language, analogies, and examples to describe what the resurrection of Christ means to someone in 2004 AD than you would use in 1004 AD. That is quite different than saying that the resurrection did not really happen because the current culture does not believe in miracles. Yet, this is just what many broad church Anglicans have done. A worst-case example of broad church revisionism is found in retired bishop John Spong (formerly bishop of Newark, New Jersey).
Spong, and Anglicans like him, have revised the faith so much that it is unrecognizable as Christianity. They have made the Bible just a book of mythical stories; God is no longer perfect and almighty, but is evolving with us; Jesus was not born of a Virgin, nor did He really teach or do most of the things we read of Him in the New Testament; Jesus did not rise from the dead physically and historically; There is no actual hell or final judgment; There are no moral absolutes except tolerance of all ideas and all moralities; And most of what we say in the Creed and the Liturgy every Sunday is a fable written for simple people! Perhaps revisionism comes from the broad church's focus on created people rather than the Creator. It is easy to get off track if we take our eyes off of our goal, which is Jesus, so we can focus on the things of the world (see Col 3:1-2).
The Anglican Church in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. has struggled greatly with this revisionism for the last century. One writer said of Spong (and people like him) that they are "fighting a holy war to make the church safe for atheism". As a result, the Church in the United States has dropped from over six million in 1960 to just over two million today. It is well documented that churches who are revisionist loose their message, their meaning, their membership, and then slowly die out. However, churches that remain Biblical, Christ-centered, and passionate about Jesus, are the fastest growing churches in the world. This is shown clearly in the Anglican Church in Africa, which is Biblical, Christ-centered and passionate. In the same amount of time that the U.S. Church lost over half its membership, the African Church has nearly tripled its membership to around 60 million people (over 20 times the size of the U.S. church!).
At its worst, the broad church movement produces shrinking churches that are devoid of faith and are completely molded to the world's ways of thinking and living. They may give help to the needy, but that help is ultimately useless if the Good News of Christ's resurrection is not offered as well. They may try and include everyone, but including everyone means nothing if there is nothing left to stand for once everyone is included. This is the broad church at its worst. But all of the movements have a dark side.
At its worst, the high church movement is dead traditionalism. At its worst, the low church movement throws out the baby with the bathwater in a barren orthodoxy. At its worst, the renewal movement is shallow emotionalism. And, at its worst, the broad church is hopeless humanism that revises Christ out of His Church. But, we do not have to be at our worst. Christ gave us each movement to challenge each other and make each other the best we can. When we all work together and listen to each other, and allow ourselves to be corrected by each other, we form a mighty river flowing with all the strength and power of the resurrected Christ.
11. Communion, Community, Disunity, and Reunion
These four movements, or flavors, of Anglicanism have spread around the globe over the past several centuries. In reality, you are probably never going to find a "pure" Anglican church that is just high church, or just low church, or just broad church, or just renewal. Most Anglican churches are a mixture of two or more traditions. For instance, the parish where I am a pastor right now is a mixture of renewal, high church, and low church. Like a renewal church, you will find all of the "spiritual gifts" functioning at my Church, with praise and worship music, as well as prayer teams that pray for healing in the back of our sanctuary. Like a high church, you will also find a fairly "high" liturgy, with everyone dressed in vestments, along with icons, candles, and sometimes incense. Like a low church, you will also find Christ-centered, Biblical preaching, that is aimed at salvation, and usually lasts a little over 30 minutes. But that's just my local church.
If you go to the diocese next to ours, you will find mostly high church parishes. In fact, it seems that the central United States is largely high church. The southern United States tends to be low church, while the east and west coast tends toward being very broad church. I have a friend from Sydney Australia who says it is extremely low church there. I have other friends from Uganda and Nigeria who tell me that they are very renewal oriented, yet high church in their liturgy (which must be very hot in the non-air-conditioned African heat!). But all of this is merely my own personal experience. Each individual diocese and parish has its own flavor, but the beauty is that we all use similar Prayer Books! No matter the "flavor" of Anglicanism, you can be assured that millions of Anglicans across the globe are reading and praying the same thing as you each Sunday. It is our way to "be of the same mind" and pray "in harmony" with one another (see Mat 18:19; Phi 2:2; 1Pe 3:8). It truly is the "communion of that saints" across time and space.
My parish, my diocese, the Episcopal Church of the USA, the mother Church of England, the Anglican Churches in Africa, South America, Canada, Australia, and many other nations all remain members of the Anglican Communion. This communion is best thought of as a brotherhood, rather than a monarchy where one bishop holds power over all the other bishops. Instead, we are a group of churches who share a common faith, a common way of governing the church, and a common way of worshipping according to the Prayer Book. In our communion, clergy from any one of the churches can go and minister anywhere else in the world and be recognized with full rights and responsibilities by the local bishop there.
Our unity is centered around the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. The Archbishop is seen as the "eldest brother" among the bishops in the Anglican Communion. He does not hold more power than anyone else, but he does hold a position of respect, and he serves as the worldwide spokesman for the Anglican Church. Every ten years, the Archbishop hosts the Lambeth Conference, at his palace in Lambeth, England. All Anglican bishops from around the world are invited to come there and work out issues together that deal with our common life and faith as Anglicans. In 1888, the Lambeth Conference published the "principals of unity" that bind the Anglican communion in brotherhood. These are:
1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the revealed Word of God.
2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
3. The two Sacraments, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord, ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
4. The Historic Episcopate [system of government with bishops, priests, and deacons], locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church. (BCP, p. 877)
Any church body, wishing to abide by these principals of church unity, and duly recognized by the Archbishop and other bishops of the Anglican Church, can become part of our communion. The Episcopal Church recently entered into full communion with one of the Lutheran Churches on the basis of these principals. It is our hope and prayer that we can enter into full communion with all churches, because Christ does not desire His body to be divided, but to be one as He is one with the Father. He wants us to be one visibly and one spiritually (see John 17:11; Eph 4:1-6). The best way Anglicans can see to do this is on the basis of the four principals above.
Unfortunately, there have also been many "schisms" in the Anglican Communion throughout its history. A schism is where one member of the church body separates from the rest of the body because they feel like the larger church body has ceased to be healthy, or ceased to be Christian altogether. Instead of staying to nurse the wounded patient back to life, they leave them to die from their disease. Sometimes schism happens over something really major, such as whether or not Christ is God in human flesh or whether or not He really rose from the dead. Other times the schism is over lesser things, such as which words are used in the prayer book or what the priests wear in the worship service. Whether silly or serious, schism is never a good and joyful thing. At best, it is like amputating a diseased limb from Christ's body. At worst, it is like Christ's body committing suicide. We must always remember that God values unity a great deal (see John 17; Eph 4), and is very negative about schism and division (see 1Co 1 & 3).
Nearly all of these schisms have resulted from over-emphasizing one movement within Anglicanism to the exclusion of other movements. For instance, many who emphasize the high church faith have left the Anglican Communion and have become Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox. Many who emphasize the low church faith have left to start splinter movements such as the "Reformed Episcopal Church", "Anglican Mission in America", or any number of other independent Anglican groups. Many who emphasize the renewal movement have formed separate groups such as the "Charismatic Episcopal Church" or "The Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches". Finally, the revisionist movement has caused many to leave the Church for one of two reasons. First, revisionist attacks on the historic Christian faith have caused many to completely "loose their faith" and give up on Church altogether. Second, many who are still orthodox believers get so fed up with revisionists that they leave for more conservative Christian groups such as Roman Catholics, Baptists, or Independent Protestants.
The solution to this splitting is for all four movements within Anglicanism to listen to each other and allow themselves to be corrected by each other. We must allow the three streams of high church, low church, and renewal, to flow together within the banks of the broad church, to become a mighty river. Christ has given us a "via media", a "middle way", to respect each other and support each other. By returning to our strength, our ability to have unity-in-diversity while staying focused on Christ, we can stay strong and unified and allow Christ's river of life to flow from within us (see John 7:38)!