“What did you say? Angel-ican?”
No, not angel-ican; and, no, we don’t worship angels. We’re just Anglicans, which is simply another way to say “originating from England.” The Anglican Christian tradition goes way back to the 2nd century and carries on to our day. Indeed, many American church traditions stem from the Anglican Church (even John Wesley was an Anglican priest to the day he died).
Today, there are more Anglicans worshipping in the country of Nigeria than in all of North America and the British isles combined. The worldwide Anglican Communion is incredibly diverse and growing.
So what does it mean to be an Anglican?
Anglicans are Christian
First and foremost, Anglicans are orthodox Christians. We believe what Christians have believed in all places and for all time. We believe that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, that He was born of a virgin, that He lived a sinless life, and that He was crucified, died, and was buried. He rose again on the third day, ascended to Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. To borrow from the ACNA catechism, we believe that “Turning to Christ brings us into fellowship with God. Baptism, which is the rite of entry into the Church’s fellowship, marks the beginning of this new life in Christ. The apostle Peter, proclaiming the Gospel, said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Through faith, repentance, and Baptism we are spiritually united to Jesus and become children of God the Father. Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” ( John 14:6). As we come to the Father through Jesus Christ, God the Holy Spirit enlightens our minds and hearts to know him, and we are born again spiritually to new life. To continue to live faithfully as Christians, we must rely upon the power and gifts which the Holy Spirit gives to God’s people.” (“To Be a Christian“)
Additionally, Anglican orthodoxy can be understood by affirming the following points of belief:
- The Canon. The Bible is the foundational source of all that we need for salvation and godliness. We believe and proclaim the 66 canonical books of the Old and New Testaments.
- The Creeds. The ancient baptismal creed, the Apostles’ Creed, accurately summarizes the core teachings of the Bible, along with the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed, which reflect four centuries of clarification on core Christian teaching.
- The Councils. The four catholic (universal) councils of the early church, reflected in the creeds and the writings of the early church fathers.
- The Church. We receive all of this, the Canon, the Creeds, and the Councils, through a long line of faithful guardians of the gospel message reflected in the historic episcopacy: faithful bishops going all the way back to the first Apostles and eyewitnesses of Jesus.
Anglicans are Reformed
Our Anglican tradition goes way back before the 16th century. But like other traditions that stem from the continental reformers, Anglicans are children of the Reformation. The 39 Articles reflect our Reformed heritage.
One hundred years before the Reformation, Anglicans translated the Bible into English (see John Wycliffe in the 14th century, and later, the King James Bible in 1611). In the 16th century, the first archbishop of the Anglican Church, Thomas Cranmer, compiled and wrote the first Book of Common Prayer (BCP) aiming to get the Bible and the Great Tradition into the hearts and minds of every Christian (not just clergy and monks).
Cranmer encouraged prayer and Bible reading as the regular pattern for all Christians, not just clergy, and this Reformed tradition continues to this day in our ACNA BCP, published in 2019. You may read the 2019 BCP here.
Anglicans are lower-case “c” catholic
Like most of the Reformers, Christians in England (Anglicans) rejected many of the extravagances and teachings of the church in Rome which were outside of the bounds of orthodoxy (sale of indulgences, popery, etc). However, Anglican reformers were convinced many of the continental reformers were throwing out the baby with the bathwater, in that they were eliminating many good practices in their zeal to correct theological and liturgical issues. Anglicans believed that not all grace was gone from the late medieval Church prior to the Reformation. So in an Anglican service, you might notice some things that might remind you of a Roman Catholic service in appearance, simply because there was nothing wrong with those forms and methods to begin with. Anglicans seek to live, not in rejection of a great catholic heritage, but in an attempt to rebuild among ourselves that which is good and pleasing to the Lord. However, Anglicans are not Roman Catholic — we are simply catholic (with a small “c”) in that we believe our faith aligns with historic Christianity, dating all the way back to the 1st century.