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English Speaking Protestantism


Doctrines The Anglican Communion is a fellowship of churches which are linked to the see of Canterbury forming one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. The churches all have the following characteristics:
  1. A commitment to uphold the faith and order found in the early primitive Church, and the Book of Common Prayer or the Alternative Service Book which is generally in the Protestant tradition. Because the various service books of the Church generally have been loosely worded there is a great deal of theological variation within it. As a result there is room in the church for theological liberals, evangelists, neopentecostalism, and Anglo-Catholicism. Only two sacraments are accepted as strictly valid, infant baptism and the Lord's supper, but other rites of the Church, such as marriage, often remain surrounded by ceremony.
  2. They are all national churches which promote an appropriate national expression of Christian life.
  3. They are bound together by a Common council of bishops in conference, chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, thus preserving apostolic succession, a line of clerical appointments which can be traced back to the apostles.

History The Church of England broke with Rome in 1534 because of Henry VIII's desire for a divorce and the Church's wealth. Radical doctrinal change did not come until Edward VI introduced a more Protestant Book of Common Prayer in 1552. But it was the Elizabethan Church settlement of 1558 which established the classic Anglican position. The settlement, embodied by the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion, was deliberately designed to provide a middle way, in which strands of both Catholic and Protestant belief would co-exist in a national Church. Yet the settlement dissatisfied radical Protestants, nicknamed Puritans, who wanted a church purified of all Catholic rituals and devoted to preaching. Under James I and Charles I the Puritans became increasingly identified as a threat, which meant the Crown backed a more ritualistic, anti-Calvinistic group lead by William Laud. It is this conflict between a High Church party, emphasising ritual and leaning towards Roman Catholicism, and a Low Church party, which is evangelical and more strictly Protestant, which dominates the history of the church.
In the English Civil Wars the Puritans triumphed briefly, but the Restoration of Charles II resulted in the mass expulsion of Puritan clergy who went on to form the non-conformist churches. (For more details see entries on the Congregationalism, United Reformed Church, Baptists and Society of Friends.) The 1662 Book of Common Prayer adopted Laudian ideas signalling this rejection. The eighteenth century saw the Anglican church pursue missionary activities in America, but remain complacent at home. This lead Charles Wesley to adopt an evangelical approach which was greeted with disdain and the Methodists felt compelled to leave the Church. Nevertheless, the nineteenth century saw the Anglican church becoming far more Low Church, evangelical and socially motivated under the influence of men like William Wilberforce and involved in world-wide missionary activities. In the 1840s a revitalised High Church party, known as the Oxford movement, lead by Charles Newman caused serious controversy. This period also saw the rise of Broad Churchmen, who were influenced by modern critical theology and liberal ideas. In 1867 the first Lambeth Conference was held, setting up the organisation of the world-wide Anglican Communion.
The Church has undergone serious change this century. In 1919 a lay element was introduced into the government of the church and a synod was set up in 1970. Recently it has been riven by conflict over the introduction of women priests and the adoption of a new prayer book and seems to be turning increasingly in an evangelical and liberal direction. Such issues have made some High Churchmen become Catholic. The Church has increasingly attempted to address modern issues, trying to play a role in revitalising urban areas, and playing a leading part in co-operating with other world churches.

Symbols A great deal of variation. High Church services are very ritualistic, with great similarities to Catholic symbolism in vestments, sacraments and language. The Oxford Movement sparked a Gothic Revival which dominated the architecture of Victorian church buildings. On the other hand Low Church services, which are becoming increasingly prevalent, are quite informal and dominated by preaching and hymn singing. Some services even have a Pentecostalist influence.

Adherents There are 70 million members organised in 28 self governing churches world-wide and 1.1 million regular worshipers in the UK (Whitaker, 1995, 396). Some examples of national membership figures follow: Australia, 4,018,800; Canada 784,102; Kenya, 2 million; Madagascar, 160,000; New Zealand, 732,048; Nigeria, 10 million; Pakistan, 700,000; South Africa, 2 million; Uganda, 4 million (Europa Pub. Ltd. 1995, I:421, I:737, II:1754, II:1962, II:2251, II:2315, II:2373, II:2782, II:3090).

Main Centre
 General Synod of the Church of England, Church House, Dean's Yard, London, SWIP 3N2, UK