What is an Anglican?
Looking out on religion in America can be a very daunting task to say the least. Numerous churches and denominations market themselves as having the key for spiritual growth. It is important to note that Anglicanism is not a denomination. The word “Anglican” simply means the Christian faith that has been believed and practiced throughout the ages for some 2,000 years. The Christian faith, which was called “Catholic” (meaning universal), was firmly planted in the English-speaking world by way of missionaries that came from the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire extended into the British territories where Christianity spread by way of persecution from the Roman Emperor. The term “Anglican” then, is simply a term for the English-speaking branch of the Catholic or Christian Church. This Catholic Church predates what became known as the Roman Catholic Church where the Bishop of Rome claimed universal supremacy over all churches.
Denominations began with a split between Eastern and Western churches in 1054 called The Great Schism. This fracturing continued with the Eastern Church (often called The Orthodox Church) declaring certain churches in Africa, the Middle East, and Persia as containing beliefs outside of mainstream Christianity, like disagreements concerning the nature and will of God.
The Western Church, on the other hand, had an even greater separation with the rise of the Reformation in the 16th century. These divisions centered on the role of Scripture and the Pope, faith and works, as well as the Sacraments, just to name a few. This led to numerous churches beginning, which often followed various beliefs influenced by certain preachers and theologians. An example of such allegiance is that Lutheranism looks to Martin Luther, Presbyterians look to men like John Knox or John Calvin, Methodists look to people like John and Charles Wesley, Baptists often look either to men like Calvin or Ulrich Zwingli depending on which one they believe to be true, although Baptists appear a bit later in the mid 17th century.
So in this mess of factionalism, schism, and denominationalism, whom does the Anglican Church follow? Given the fact that all Christians follow Jesus Christ as Lord of the Church, Anglicans hold to the faith prior to the Reformation and the Great Schism of 1054. Although reform movements help challenge and clarify beliefs by going back to the Scriptures, as understood by the Church throughout the ages, Anglicans do not claim to be THE CHURCH, but inheritors of the faith that was “once and for all delivered to the saints.” Anglicans believe in the authority of Scripture as the standard above all standards, which is understood and applied by the Church throughout the ages. Anglicanism believes in apostolic authority that goes back to the time of Christ and His Apostles. It adheres to the Catholic principal of being governed by Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Anglicans believe in seven sacraments, maintaining that the primary means of God’s grace exists in holy baptism and the holy Eucharist. Anglicans believe that prayer shapes our belief and worship, which harkens back to the rhythm and structure of the Jewish Temple. Jesus Christ fulfills the Temple, as he stands as the perfect sacrifice and high priest. Christ is the Temple, and the Church is engrafted into him to offer spiritual sacrifices of thanksgiving.
Anglicans do not seek to be a purity cult; instead it is the universal and Catholic faith expressed in the context of the English-speaking world. Contrary to popular myth, the Anglican Church did not begin with King Henry VIII, although he did separate the Church politically from the Pope. Its history transcends certain reform movements and schisms. Beliefs like marriage, when life begins or ends, racial equality, and environmental issues are guided by the greater tradition of the Church, which goes back some 2,000 years, not simply the cultural opinions of the present day. St. Philip’s is an Anglican parish that desires neither to be innovative or individualistic. In the words of St. Vincent of Lerins in AD 434, the church is simply, that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. This is the Anglican tradition and you are invited to come & see!