In order to understand the history of the Anglican Church, it is necessary to understand the beliefs that have been constant throughout that history. Anglicans believe, and strive to teach, Christianity as it is presented in the Bible.
We believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and our doctrine is based upon Scripture as it was understood by the Early Church. Anglicans believe that nothing may be taught as being necessary to Salvation unless it can be proved from the Bible. The Biblical teaching about the being and nature of God and His Church is summarized in the three ancient Creeds – the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Of course, without adequate guidance the Bible is liable to be misunderstood. Anglicans therefore use the most ancient and reliable authorities in the interpretation of Scripture to aid their understanding of the Bible. The greatest commentators on the Bible are known as the Fathers of the Church or the Early Fathers. The earliest of them were taught by the Apostles, and they handed down the Apostles’ understanding of Jesus Christ and His teaching from generation to generation.
From time to time this teaching tradition was attacked and when the disputes became serious enough Bishops representing the whole Church would meet together in what was known as an Ecumenical (universal) Council. Seven of these were held between AD325 and AD784, and were attended by British Bishops. The Anglican Church accepts the doctrinal statements made by these Councils as authoritative. It is this Faith rooted in Holy Scripture and explained by the Seven Ecumenical Councils that Anglicans refer to in the creeds as the “Holy Catholic Apostolic Faith“.
In 597 AD, St. Augustine, a monk sent by Pope Gregory to Britain, was consecrated the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and Archbishop of the English. In 669 AD the British, Latin, and Celtic missions were united under Archbishop Theodore. This united Church was to become the Church of England, the Anglican Church. The Church of England remained independent of Rome until William the Conqueror brought it under the influence of Rome by force of arms in 1066. After 800 years of independence, the church was dominated by Rome until the sixteenth century. The Eastern Orthodox Bishops were strong enough to resist the power of Rome, and remain independent to this day.
During the Middle Ages the Church overlaid its core teaching with many practices and beliefs which obscured the original faith. Inevitably the renaissance, with its emphasis on classical languages led to a revival of interest in the Greek text of the New Testament. It wasn’t long before scholars were doing a compare and contrast exercise between the faith as presented by the unreformed Catholic Church and the faith as it is presented in the New Testament. The inevitable explosion occurred first in Germany with an obscure friar and professor called Martin Luther who began promoting a return to Biblical Christianity in 1517.
It took a generation for the ideals of the Reformation to take root in England. Although King Henry VIII had broken with Rome in 1534 on political grounds, it was a convocation of English clergy that declared: ”the Bishop of Rome hath not by Scripture any greater authority in England than any other foreign Bishop.” It wasn’t until c.1545 that the process of Reform for under way in England. The Anglican Reformers were determined to purify, rather than reinvent, the existing Church, so the English Reformation was very moderate. The service books were revised, and both they and the Bible were translated into English.
The reformed Church of England was to be both Catholic and Evangelical. Catholic in its reverence for the Faith delivered to the Apostles and explained by the Early Fathers, and Evangelical in its emphasis on Scripture. The Reformers, led by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, wanted to put the Bible back at the center of Christian teaching and restore Holy Communion to the central act of Christian worship, the Mass. The reforming bishops made sure that the substance of the Faith was preserved, but many practices that formed no essential part of the Catholic Faith were abolished.
The old Church, that had originated with Christ and the Apostles, was not destroyed, it was set free. It regained its independence but retained ancient Faith. There were changes, but it still remained the same Church, and it is the same today as it was in the times of St Augustine, still Catholic, but not Roman.
As a result of the Reformation, the Bible once again became the standard by which the Church’s teaching was measured, and increasing attention was paid to the writings of the Early Fathers and to the Ecumenical Councils. The ancient services of the Church were abridged and translated into English as “The Book of Common Prayer” so that everyone could follow the Mass (also called the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion or the Eucharist) and Offices (Matins and Evensong).
The Bishops also pushed for a better educated clergy, and put an end to many abuses of Christian teaching such as the selling of indulgences, fake relics, and the over-preoccupation with shrines, pilgrimages and Masses for the Dead that had characterized late Medieval piety.
The Anglican Church retained all that was ancient and good in the Catholic Church – the Bible, the Creeds, the ancient Apostolic orders of ministry – bishop, priest, and deacon, the writings of the Early Fathers and the decrees of the ancient Ecumenical Councils. They kept all the sacraments, and laid great stress upon the two sacraments instituted by Christ Himself – Baptism and Holy Communion; and sought to return the life and witness of the Church to the way it had been in the days of the Fathers of the Church.
The Anglican Church came to North America in 1607 with the foundation of the Virginia Colony. Indeed, Virginia was long the heartland of American Anglicanism as it wasn’t until the mid-eighteenth century that Anglicanism spread to New England. Due to possible repercussions from the name “Church of England”, after the revolution, the Church in America renamed itself the Episcopal Church.
The Church in the USA was very strongly influenced by both the Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic revivals during the middle years of the 19th century. The Evangelical Movement was very influential from 1820 to about 1870, especially in the ante-bellum South. Evangelicals stressed personal conversion, personal commitment, the reasonableness of Christianity, and the preaching of God’s Word. Anglo-Catholicism had a major impact on the Episcopal Church from the early 1850s onwards. It fitted in with the popular Romanticism and mediaevalism of the period. The Anglo-Catholic emphasis on Sacramental worship and “the beauty of holiness” appealed to many who wanted orthodox Christianity which appealed to the head and the eye, as well as to the heart.
In the second half of the twentieth century, American Anglicanism (the Episcopal Church) suffered a series of shocks. In the 1960s, when Bishop James A. Pike of California publicly denied the basic tenants of Christianity, a committee of his fellow bishops decided that he would not be charged with heresy. Then, in the 1970s, the national synod of the Episcopal Church decided that it was free to depart from more than nineteen centuries of Christian history by admitting women to Holy Orders; at about the same time, General Convention abandoned the traditional Book of Common Prayer and substituted a new liturgical standard of its own devising. General Convention also turned its back on scriptural morality, approving abortion and homosexuality as acceptable moral choices.
Finally, this failure of the national Church to correct the false teachings of some of the more extreme liberals led to the formation of the separate traditional Anglican Church in the USA. Since then the traditional Anglican movement has grown from a few hundred people in half a dozen parishes to the world wide Communion of over 500,000 members.
The Traditional Anglican Communion is the world-wide association of churches which continue in common with the essentials of the Catholic faith in its Anglican expression. All are in communion with the Anglican Church in America and with Forward in Faith, North America. Our ways are ancient and our faith is unchanging. We stand on the Rock of Jesus Christ as he has been made known to us in the teaching of the Holy Apostles, the Holy Church and the Holy Bible. We stand on this rock in the midst of the turbulent sea of the ever-changing world around us, and we offer you this firm foundation in order that you may have that peace which the world cannot give: the peace of God, which passes man’s understanding.
So if you are a Protestant who wants to reconnect to the Apostolic Church, an Episcopalian looking for a traditional parish, or a Catholic looking for a truly reformed Catholic Church, the Traditional Anglican Church is for you.
Information received from Bishop Owen Williams.